A Mercian Diocese

Published: 7th November 2016
"The Diocese of Mercia, this diocese, is a borderland diocese. Living in borderlands is risky business; crossing boundaries generates anxiety; that is why we need a culture, locally of informed risk-taking, and centrally of thoughtful permission-giving. "

So said +Michael in his first presidential address to Diocesan Synod on Saturday.

Listen to his speech or read his full address below:

Diocesan Synod, 5th November:

Presidential Address

"I want to begin with a particular thank you to six people, and an apology to the same six people. Those people are the representatives chosen by your Vacancy-in-See Committee to serve on the Crown Nominations Commission. I want to thank you for the trust you have put in me by recommending me for this role of 99th Bishop of Lichfield; and I want to apologise to you, because much of what I am going to say now you will have heard before. When the CNC for Lichfield met in January this year, those of us who had been invited to interview were asked to give a ten minute presentation of what we would say in our first Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod. It was an extraordinary moment for me the six of you, along with eight others and the Archbishop, were all seated on chairs around the edge of the drawing room at Lambeth Palace, your faces framed by the setting winter sun so that you all appeared to me like speaking silhouettes. Well, its good to be able to see peoples faces this morning; and the other difference is, that I have a bit longer than ten minutes at my disposal so make sure you are sitting comfortably. But I do still want to repeat today the three things that I said then about this great Diocese of Lichfield: that we are a Midlands Diocese, brought together to grow as one body; that we are the Diocese of Mercia, invited to work imaginatively across boundaries; and that we are the Diocese of our beloved Chad, called like him to walk in faith as disciples of Jesus.

Growing Together: A Midlands Diocese

"I am a Midlander though from the east, not the west and I rejoice to be back in the Midlands. It irritates me when people underrate this part of England, because it is the Midlands that hold our country together, and they are neither mediocre nor boring as people sometimes suggest. We here in Lichfield are in a region of remarkable variety, creativity and opportunity a great representative slice of England, with some very dramatic bits at the edges, including some slivers of Wales. And we are called to mirror this landscape in our life together as a diocese.

"Lichfield is a remarkably large and diverse diocese; I have been finding out about that at first hand. In the last two months, I have visited 49 churches, but that still leaves another 524 to get to thanks for your patience. The scale is large: during the same period, the milometer on the car the Church Commissioners provide for me shows that I have driven 1680 miles within the diocese and thats not counting all the kind people who have given me lifts. And it is hugely varied in physical and social geography; in income levels and educational background; in ethnicity and culture; and in theology, liturgy, churchmanship. I want all of these to be honoured equally, because here in this Midlands diocese we are called to grow together as one body not just to be together, but to grow together. Pauls image of the church as the Body of Christ tells us that growth is for all its parts, individually and together: growth inwards, outwards, and upwards. I want to affirm our strong commitment to growth in every dimension, and the way in which that is expressed in our five themes: Discovering the Heart of God; Growing Disciples; Reaching New Generations; Transforming Communities; Practising Generosity. I have a set of five coasters tastefully emblazoned with those themes to remind me of them every time I drink a cup of tea or give somebody else a cup of coffee. I believe that they will continue to serve us well. For years, Lichfield has also used the headline Going for Growth, and I recognise the focus that has given to being intentional about our mission, though sometimes it can feel that the figures have been unresponsive. I believe that particular form of words has now served its purpose, and in due course I anticipate that a new strategic headline will be formulated but I do not yet know what that will be; if I did, I would tell you.

"We need to ensure that all parts of the body share in the growth to which we are called in this large, varied Midlands diocese. We need to look at what we can together do to help every tradition of church grow in every dimension of our five themes. Growing Disciples is not just for evangelicals; Discovering the Heart of God is not just for catholics; Transforming Communities is not just for radicals; Practising Generosity is not just for those in the middle of the road; Reaching New Generations is for us all. We need to look carefully at how our church life, our ministry, our parochial and diocesan governance reflect at every level who we are as the people of God, and there are challenges here: for example, in growing vocations from Black and Minority Ethnic people; in the representation of women in leadership roles; in the age profile of many of our churches. We dont need to beat ourselves up with guilt over these challenges, but we do need to recognise their reality. And, in a diocese as gloriously diverse as this, we need to look at how we do business together across our differences, which can be deep. The formulation of Five Principles has been a good model to hold us together in our differing views on womens ordination, and I am thoroughly committed to upholding the letter and the spirit of them. We will undoubtedly face equally significant challenges over issues of human sexuality, which will test the quality of our life together. My hope is that by Gods grace we will be able to win through to a pattern of being together which will not only provide for what has been called good disagreement, important as that is, but which will lead us into genuine mutual flourishing. Our call to grow together can be satisfied by nothing less than this, difficult as it may prove to achieve.

Working Across Boundaries: A Mercian Diocese

"Lichfield has been a little disparagingly referred to as the left-overs of the ancient Diocese of Mercia, what was left when other bits were carved off perhaps the biblical idea of the remnant is a better image. And what was Mercia? Mercia was Mercen-rice, the kingdom of the borderlands (the marches). Historians are not absolutely sure which borderlands those were, but certainly boundaries run through this diocese. We have, most obviously, bits of Offas Dyke in Shropshire; I am told that it is impossible to move any distance in the Black Country without crossing a boundary of some sort; I came away from a day in the Potteries thoroughly briefed on the difference between Stoke-on-Trent, Stoke-upon-Trent, and Stoke City Centre, but please do not ask me to explain that now; as a diocese we include some or all of one Welsh and four English counties.

"Boundaries are important because they define places, but for Christians who serve the universality Kingdom of God they must not become barriers. Cutting across all geographical boundaries, the aftermath of the Referendum on EU membership revealed deep divisions within our society, and our work of Transforming Communities must take on board the need to build bridges across difference.

"Places matter for us. As the Church of England, we are committed to maintaining a Christian presence in every place, and it is at local level, in our parishes, schools and Fresh Expressions of church, that there is energy for growth. On the other hand, for that energy to be maximised we need to work across boundaries, and we also need to recognise the important missional role of other patterns of Christian ministry, such as the many chaplaincies with which we are blessed here. The missional role of the diocese, as I see it, is not to organise and impose a grand central plan but to germinate ideas and expertise, to encourage the mutual sharing of resources, to foster a culture of cross-boundary working.

"I want us to think creatively, imaginatively and radically about how we resource ourselves in this diocese, and I hope that in the new year we can begin a conversation about that which draws in all aspects of our diocesan life. My aspiration is for a diocese in which all the baptised, the great people of God, feel they have the confidence to shape our life together; in which there is a holistic vision for mission and ministry which makes sense in each one of our extraordinarily diverse contexts; in which our existing stress on putting parishes first is strengthened and developed so that our normal way of thinking about resourcing is not top-down or centre-to-edge but neighbour-to-neighbour; in which we are nimble and free to invest where there is potential, not simply to reinforce success or to squander on proven failure. Being Released for Mission is what this is all about; we will look at that later on in the setting of rural churches, but it applies to every one of our missional contexts.

"So I want us to foster and sustain a culture where clergy, lay ministers and the whole people of God expect to work collaboratively and generously together, while maintaining the distinctive calling and gifts of each ministry. I was immensely heartened last week by the number of Readers who came to the Cathedral to affirm their commitment to that particular ministry; as I said to them then, as those who hold my licence in this diocese, I want to see them accorded a parity of esteem with clergy who are similarly licensed. I want parishes and benefices to expect to share resources for mission in mutual support, particularly within deaneries, while maintaining a strong continuity of presence in their local communities. I want our churches and agencies, while maintaining our Christian Anglican distinctiveness, to work in partnership with other churches, with other faith groups and agencies: that is at the heart of the Transforming Communities Together item later on our agenda today.

"The Diocese of Mercia, this diocese, is a borderland diocese. Living in borderlands is risky business; crossing boundaries generates anxiety; that is why we need a culture, locally of informed risk-taking, and centrally of thoughtful permission-giving. If that is to be real, we have to recognise that some risky ventures will not work out well but then they would not be risky if there were not that chance. As we will hear this afternoon, our current financial situation is sufficiently healthy that we can be encouraged, not indeed to be reckless, but to be audacious and imaginative.

Walking in Faith: St Chads Diocese

"This diocese is Chads diocese, and I became conscious of that in a new way as, with fellow pilgrims, I walked along the Two Saints Way from Stoke to Lichfield for my installation. Chads holy and humble witness is threaded through the landscape, history and spirituality of this land. Think of leadership in this diocese, and you have to think first of him. That is a daunting example for any bishop in this diocese; but what it means before anything else is that Clive, Geoff, Mark and I are first and foremost disciples together with you, and so are your parish priests, and all your ministers. For you, I am a bishop; with you, I am a Christian said St Augustine to his people, and those are the words a teenager reminded me when I first sat down on Chads throne. Discipleship has to be our priority, and we have a long way to go on putting that first at every level of our life together, including in the meeting and deliberation of this Diocesan Synod.

"We do not really know what Chads strategy for mission was, though given the lasting results of his work it must have been effective; but we do know the pattern of discipleship he embodied, and the cultural change it made among the pagan Mercians of his time. I do not yet know what a strategy for mission in the Diocese of Lichfield for our own time will look like, but I do know the culture of discipleship within which it needs to be set. That will be a relational culture, where we all are prepared to travel far to get to know, to encourage and support one another. It will be a hospitable culture, where we are not afraid to welcome one another, to trust one another, to be enriched by one another. And it will be a prayerful culture. All we undertake together must be soaked in prayer, for our only strength comes from Gods grace. And any leadership that I or my fellow bishops can offer to you must always be a leadership which comes from our own followership of Jesus. The two most important items on our agenda today are No 1, Worship and No 10, Prayers.

"Thank you for your attention; I promise I will not go on so long at my next diocesan synod!"

Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave
5 November 2016

Page last updated: Monday 7th November 2016 8:03 AM
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