Diocesan Synod Summary June 2021

Saturday 19 June saw nearly 100 members of the Diocesan Synod come together online for the last meeting in the current triennium. Documents discussed at the meeting are available to view online.

Joint Chair of the Diocesan Synod John Sykes welcomed all those attending, and in particular Revd Mike Todd, Church Engagement Manager for The Children’s Society, and Canon Terrie Robinson, who was to be commissioned as ambassador for The Children’s Society in the Diocese of Oxford during this meeting. Dr Matthew Salisbury, national liturgy and worship advisor for the Church of England was also welcomed to observe the Witney Deanery Motion, as was Tony Wilson, director of the ODBE, who had been invited to present the education agenda items.

John reminded members that the current term of office for synod would be ending on 31 July 2021 and as such elections were now taking place for new members. Whilst Zoom meetings have proved successful, he was optimistic that the induction meeting for the new Synod would go ahead in person on 27 September.

Thanks were also extended to the current Diocesan Board of Finance Chair, the Revd John Tattersall, who will be stepping down at the end of the year. Applications would soon be invited for the role to allow time for interviews prior to a nomination being brought to the November synod meeting.

The full recording of synod includes amendments to diocesan standing orders and full plenary discussions is available to view online.

Presidential Address

Bishop Steven began his presidential address by sharing the inspiring voices of several young Christians who will be undertaking a pilgrimage from Cornwall to Glasgow, arriving in time for the COP26 Climate Summit in November. Bishop Steven went on to remind us that 2021 would be a seminal moment in the fight against climate change with the COP15 summit, held in China in October, focusing on biodiversity and COP26 in Glasgow focusing on climate change. He then proceeded to explore the links between the two themes of climate change and biodiversity and the links with our own mission as a diocese. You can read the full address on Bishop Steven’s blog.

Following the presidential address, Bishop Olivia reflected and updated Diocesan Synod on what churches across the diocese are doing to help protect the environment. She reminded members that we are all one community of creation but that we had lost our sense of interdependence and needed to get it back, and fast! She drew focus to several key initiatives already happening within the diocese, including the 25 churches who took part in the national Church’s churchyard nature count, highlighting Lambourne school, who took every class to their local churchyard and counted over 38 species of plants and wildlife throughout the day. Bishop Olivia also mentioned St Lawrence’s Hungerford, who had already planted over 1,600 trees and were planning on planting more before the end of the year. She also advised synod members to visit the website of Wargrave Church, who are actively addressing the climate emergency by placing it right at the heart of their mission; something we hope all our churches will be able to do imminently.

As well as highlighting the use of digital tools such as social media and the diocese’s e-newsletter, Care for Creation, she also commended Eco Church, an award scheme for churches in England and Wales who want to demonstrate that the gospel is good news for God’s earth, saying that she hoped that by the time of her retirement, all churches in our diocese would be bronze award holders.

Bishop Olivia concluded her reflections by imploring us to be the ‘restoration generation’; re-using, recycling and repairing what we already have and changing our behaviour and mindsets. She finished by referencing the Dasgupta Review;

“Although time is not on our side, it’s not too late for us, both individually and collectively, to make the conscious decision to change our paths – our descendants deserve nothing less.”

Approval of the Annual Review

Synod member Julie Dziegiel shared her views on the newly designed Annual Review, on behalf of Bishop’s Council. Commending its new colourful and engaging format she said,

“What I enjoy about this report is that it shows we all belong, all work together, in one diocese to serve the Lord and grow his kingdom in this quite large and diverse place on his earth.”

Julie highlighted a number of the case studies used in the report to show how the central services of the diocese were able to support parishes, churches and their communities in their local context as well as noting the agility, resilience, and innovation of communities across the diocese. Church at Home was also noted for its extraordinary reach and as a silver lining of lockdown, with more people committing to their faith and God.

The financial impact of the pandemic was discussed, but Julie was able to highlight the generosity of parishes and deaneries who, despite the negative impact of COVID on their own finances, have been able to pay Parish Share.

The ‘floor’ was opened up for discussions, with one synod member applauding the review but asking for clarification on why more challenging issues, such as sexuality and the Church, weren’t highlighted. Bishop Steven agreed that this was an area that needed further work and that it was right to encourage us to engage in these conversations, highlighting that next year’s Annual Review would be able to share the impact of the Church’s Living in Love and Faith programme, which is currently being rolled out across the diocese.

Whilst the Annual Review has already been approved by Bishop’s Council, synod members were asked to note its publication and it was overwhelmingly supported by a digital vote.

Finance

John Tattersall began his presentation by paying his respects to former chair of the ODBF, Brian Newey, who recently passed away.

Diocesan Synod members received and approved the minutes from September 2020 and the Director’s Report and accounts for the year ending December 2020. John then gave a financial update and presented the draft budget for 2022. He thanked all parishes who continued to contribute to Parish Share, which, Bishop’s Council was only too aware, had been difficult over the last year.

It was confirmed that Parish Share would not increase in 2022 and that whilst a difficult budget to compile, Bishop’s Council had approved what they felt was reasonable and fair. Whilst there were concerns from members that some areas of the diocese’s work, such as Partnership in World Mission, had had their budgets cut and that further work needed to be done on cleansing financial data and reviewing the numbers of stipendiary posts versus self-supporting ministers, overwhelmingly, the budget for 2022 was supported.

Commissioning of Canon Terrie Robinson as Diocesan Ambassador for The Children’s Society in the Diocese of Oxford

Bishop Steven led the commissioning of Canon Terrie Robinson, with the liturgy shared digitally allowing members to take part.

Terrie then addressed the members, thanking and updating those present on the work of The Children’s Society, and how their new ten-year strategy would help focus the organisation to do everything in its power to overturn the long term decline in the wellbeing of children in the UK, brought into sharper focus due in part to the pandemic.

Terrie provided information on ways in which churches and communities can support the charity through fundraising, prayer and campaigning and reminded synod members that she and her colleagues were available to visit parishes if appropriate, to help support their mission.

Witney Deanery Motion

The Revd Dr Tess Kuin-Lawton began by giving the background to her paper, describing the diversity of her deanery and the pain and worry caused by the uncertainty surrounding communion and COVID restrictions. She thanked Bishop Steven and Dr Matthew Salisbury for the response paper which she said was excellent and provided real advice and legal support to the clergy.

Before the floor was opened up for debate, Tess confirmed that Witney Deanery was asking Diocesan Synod to raise the concerns around communion that are felt at parish level to the House of Bishops. An interesting and robust debate followed. A formal poll was then undertaken which overwhelmingly passed the motion to raise concerns to the House of Bishops.

Committee Governance Review

Sue Scane led the discussions around the review of committee governance, highlighting that it had been long overdue and that the diocese had to take note of developments in charity governance that have progressed significantly in recent years.

The review process has been an ongoing one, with draft proposals considered on two separate occasions. Whilst Diocesan Synod were not required to approve this version, Sue re-iterated that for transparency, it was important members were involved in the process.

Sue addressed the confusing nature of the structure of some committees and the variable terms of office and membership routes of some committees – all of which have been addressed in the review. She advised that although the review had been quite restrained, the need for improved governance and the importance of improving diversity in the church were now being addressed.

Diocesan Synod members had the chance to voice their opinions with many supporting the review and being clear that diversity should not just focus on race – it needed to concentrate on age, gender and disability, with a move to ensure groundswell for support was from the bottom up.

Oxford Diocesan Board of Education (ODBE)

Bishop Alan began this agenda item with a profound offering of thanks to the teachers, staff and students across the diocese who have been unrelenting in their agility, professionalism and support in the face of such adversity. He also offered hearty congratulations to Kathy Winrow on her nomination to the Order of St Frideswide and her appointment to MBE. Director of Education for ODBE, Tony Wilson, was also offered congratulations for his unwavering support to schools across the diocese and beyond during the last year.

Tony proceeded to update members on the improvements made to schools and MATs, noting that the Oxford Academy was now out of special measures and was cited in recent national government reports for its improvements. He also highlighted that 93% of schools were now Ofsted good or outstanding, and that the Board had ended the last financial year in a positive balance. You can view his full presentation as well as further comments and questions from members of the Diocesan Synod in the recording of synod.

General Synod

Dr Andrew Bell gave a brief update of both the February and April meetings, which had focused, amongst other things, on the Church’s response to COVID, its vision and strategy, safeguarding and the Church’s response to racism.

Closing

Bishop Steven thanked all those members who have been a part of Diocesan Synod for the last three years for their tireless dedication, especially in the development of the common vision strategy and for their guidance through COVID.

Bishop Gavin brought the session to a close by highlighting how the day’s agenda had helped to celebrate God’s vision for the Church and that we must celebrate life’s variety and richness together to ensure an abundant life.

 “Our church is both local and national and international, and we need to safeguard and work for the richness and diversity that this brings.”

About Diocesan Synod

The Diocesan Synod is the governing body of the Church of England in Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes. Alongside the bishops, its membership is drawn from parishioners and clergy, and new members are elected every three years.

The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, has a duty to consult the Diocesan Synod on matters of general importance and concern to the diocese and, in turn, the Diocesan Synod provides a connection to deanery synods and PCCs.

Members of Diocesan Synod gather three times a year to discuss issues facing the Church and to share experience from across the diocese. Members can also put themselves forward for boards and committees, such as the Bishop’s Council. Diocesan Synod plays a key role in helping the Church respond to the challenges that face us all and to become the best Church we can be for this generation. Find out more at Diocesan Synod.