Diocesan Synod 20 March 2021

A Diocesan Synod motion and debate on the future of work, an update on the vision and progress of the new congregations team and an overview of the current work of Christ Church Cathedral were just some of the issues discussed at this month’s online diocesan synod meeting; one which was bookended with warm welcomes to the Bishop-Designate of Dorchester, the Venerable Gavin Collins, and hearty thanks and farewells to the Joint Registrar of the Diocese, Revd Canon John Rees.

By now well used to the remote nature of this meeting, members were welcomed by Bishop Steven, who reflected on the difficulties of the last year but also the positives that have emerged, including the successful launch of the diocesan-wide initiative Come and See, which has seen around 1,000 people take part in daily reflections and view online testimonies from church members.

“It has been wonderful to have feedback from people who have been encountering Christian faith for the first time, or who have been journeying back into Christian faith.”

Worship was provided in three parts – with a video from USPG around the theme of climate change, prayers from three of the diocese’s children and a musical piece by the Oxford Girls Choir.

Recording of meeting

The full recording of synod includes amendments to diocesan standing orders, an update from General Synod and plenary discussions is available to view online.

Presidential Address by the Bishop of Oxford

With the sombre passing of the first anniversary of national lockdown this month, Bishop Steven spoke of the magnificent work of the church community – churches, schools and chaplaincies amongst others – who have stepped up in ways that have brought comfort and support in these unprecedented times of difficulty. Bishop Steven counselled that whilst we should hold those who have been so badly affected close to us, our focus should be on looking forward to the many signs of hope that are beginning to emerge, not least of which will be a return to something like ‘normal’ worshipping patterns from Pentecost Sunday, if the national roadmap out of lockdown remains the same.

Bishop Steven spoke of the invitation in John 21 to help frame how we eventually regather physically as the Church, reminding diocesan synod that the sacraments offered came before the more challenging dialogue between Jesus and Peter, noting how important this order is in the context of our society today. This coming season will need to be one where we set a tempo of gentleness and grace – now is not the time to chastise or hector, instead we must listen, love, shepherd and woo to support one another and remind ourselves that we are a church of both word and sacrament.

Now is not the moment to revive theological debates and schisms from centuries past, instead it is a moment to reset the Eucharist at the centre of our shared life again – it is the time to come and eat together as one body.

Read Bishop Steven’s presidential address in full, here on the blog.

New Congregations

Bishop Steven introduced this agenda item noting that, in the past, the normal rhythms of society – festivals, church attendance and education amongst others – have subtly and powerfully drawn people into the orbit of Christian faith. What happens though if our culture changes and these rhythms shift and people are drawn away from the life of the Church?

Whilst these changes are not caused by the Church, we are called to address them. At the heart of the New Congregations programme is the desire to be with people in different places and ways and it is for every church and all communities to work towards growing new expressions of church.

“Our culture is changing, and we need to hear the call to go as well as the invitation to come.”

Members were shown a short extract of a new film (above) presented by the Revd Will Donaldson, Head of New Congregations, demonstrating the different ways churches and communities are heeding the call for new expressions of church which was followed by break out discussions and plenary feedback.

The Venerable Jonathan Chaffey concluded the session by urging people to use the film across their congregations and PCCs to encourage discussions around this vital area of growth: “This is very much a journey working alongside the Holy Spirit with a renewed focus on outward missions, shaped by the local context.”

Read the report on the New Congregations Programme.

Diocesan Synod Motion on Work

Following his presidential address in November, Bishop Steven presented a motion on the future and quality of work in our society which it is hoped will be carried forward to General Synod in due course. Following the opportunity for diocesan synod members to debate and reflect on their own experiences of issues surrounding work, which will be used to inform debate as it goes forward to General Synod, the motion was passed overwhelmingly.

Closing Remarks

Dr Bethany Sollereder, in giving our reflection on the meeting, asked that those listening dwelt for a moment longer on their longing for lunch and use it to think about Bishop Steven’s address to come and eat.

Inviting members to think on how they can support those oppressed by employment laws and systemic injustices, she reminded those present not to divide discussions on work from those prompted by the themes in the opening worship of climate change and creation and that we must strive to find mutual solutions.

“The cry of the earth, is the cry of the poor.” – Leonard Boff

Reminding members that there was much to chew over following the morning’s meeting, with come and eat being a crucial invitation, she finished with the instruction to ‘now, go and eat’ before Bishop Steven’s closing blessing.

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 oxford.anglican.org/diocesan-synod

Watch a recording of the meeting