This is the text of my Presidential Address to the fifth Diocesan Synod in the Diocese of Leeds in Harrogate:

Yesterday I spent the morning with over 100 headteachers from schools in our diocese for their annual conference. Speakers included Bishop Toby and Professor Mona Siddiqui. Bishop Toby helpfully and clearly addressed the question of how to handle the teaching of “British values” in our schools, recognising that democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and respect for diversity are easier to pronounce than to understand. Yet, rather than simply complaining about them – or their imposition on schools by government – we have a leadership obligation to take the agenda and shape it. It is always easier to spot the gaps than to fill them – to identify problems than to offer solutions.

In her address Mona Siddiqui lamented a culture that elevated what she called 'smartness' over 'wisdom' – that is, one that sees children and people as marketable commodities rather than cultural beings, and one that sees an ability to negotiate technical data (information) as an end in itself rather than a means to an end … wisdom for living.

Tangential to these observations was a notion I have been thinking about in a different forum: the iterative process of thinking and debate. How do we learn – before we even think of teaching anyone else – to learn? That is, how do we learn to take time to think and to argue and, potentially, to change our mind about something that really matters?

In my case, the question has to do with the EU Referendum and the role of the Church of England – especially in the form of its bishops – in interpreting or engaging in such a debate. Surely, if ever there was a debate in which wisdom should be prioritised over mere information (or shouting), this is one. And the rhetoric around it forms the backdrop to discussions about just about anything else at present.

Christians have a head start in encouraging people to slow down, to think and consider, to test argument, to reflect and deliberate, and to not be pushed or rushed into drawing premature conclusions. We are currently living Lent. The gratification of Easter has to be delayed while we live with the desert journey of God's people, heeding the exhortation of the Asian theologian Kosuke Koyama who tells us that we should stay in the desert and not try to escape it. If, like Jesus after his baptism, we are led “by the Spirit” into the place of emptiness, we must stick with it and, to quote someone else, “look for the flowers that grow only in the desert”. As Anglicans we live with the cycle of the calendar and the seasons – we give as much priority to contemplation as we do to activity.

This is pertinent to our Synod today because it locates our conversations and deliberations in something deeper than a mere exchange of opinions. We come together not to push our pet agendas, or to hear our voice heard for its own sake, but to try together to discern the will and purposes of God for ourselves, for our diocese and for our world. We seek wisdom, not just information. And to pay attention to this end, we need to attend with generosity and grace to listening and hearing as well as speaking.

For our agenda is heavy in its import for the life of our developing diocese. You will remember that we had to get to the end of 2014 – our first seven or eight months – legal, viable and operational. We just about managed it. 2015 saw a huge amount of work – much if not most of it away from public gaze – to identify what sort of diocese we want to be, and which structures we might need to enable us to shape ourselves accordingly. 2016 sees us migrating into those structures – structures like the lines on a tennis court that define our remit, constrain our resources, and set us free to play the game we are here for. We are not here to admire the net.

By January 2017 we should be up and running as a single diocese. No longer working from three offices, no longer working according to three inherited sets of processes or structures, no longer trying to keep the show on the road while the road itself is being dug up and diverted. One diocese heading in one direction and with a clarity of intention. We are still in the desert, deliberating and trying to identify the flowers that we will miss if we keep looking only for daffodils. But, because of the immense hard work of a relatively small number of people, we are pretty well on track to start 2017 in good shape.

At least two items on our agenda illustrate both the opportunity and the ongoing challenge.

We will not be asked today to vote on a new Parish Share system, but we will be asked to weigh up the work done so far and to recognise the complexity involved in coming to a conclusion. Options have been considered and debated. Formulae have been applied and then disapplied – or, at least, tweaked. Yet, what we can say about any proposed Share system is that it will never satisfy everyone. So, the Diocesan Board at its first meeting decided we should delay a decision until the July Synod, but have a first go at it as a synod today. As we do so, I pay tribute to those who, having been commissioned to do the work, have subsequently had to endure argument, debate and complaint as we struggle to find an equitable and viable way ahead.

However, payment of the Parish Share simply tells us whether we really believe what we say we believe. If we set our course as a diocese, we then have to pay for it and resource it. We will get what we pay for. If we choose not to pay for it, we won't have it. Yet, probably uniquely among churches in this country, we work a system of mutual resourcing and accountability – the only way we can maintain ministry and mission in places from which most others have long ago departed. Our eventual budget must be realistic. We have held things for the last few years in order not to rock any boats while the sea was rolling, but we now need to catch up with ensuring that we can pay our way as a diocese. The Archbishop of Canterbury once described a budget as “theology by numbers”; he is right.

The second item pertinent to these observations is the Quinquennial Inspection scheme. Buildings, what they are for, whether we see them as assets or liabilities, how we maintain them as a visible – and never neutral – witness to what we believe about the presence and glory of God. The recently retired former Archdeacon of Bradford has piloted for us a process called 'Living Stones' – working with a small group of parishes in Leeds and Bradford initially, to find a way of assessing the value and potential of specific buildings as assets for mission. We hope to roll this project out across the diocese in order to help parishes make decisions about the future and potential of their church and ancillary buildings.

UI use these two items to illustrate the interconnectedness of the items on our agenda today. They do not stand in splendid isolation from each other. They will tell us who we think we are as a diocese, and whom we are for. And the answer to those questions will further be shaped by our approach to fair trade and wider questions of economic equity across the globe. It all hangs together – even safeguarding. There is no point being grand in theological or missiological vision if people are at risk of harm in our churches – so, far from being a bureaucratic burden, safeguarding goes to the heart of who we are and how we want to be. (In October our diocese will be audited by the national church, and we have already been required to submit hundreds of documents to the Goddard Inquiry – a hugely demanding task in recent weeks.)If some buildings are a burden – and we keep being told they are – then we need to resource the parishes to attend to the challenge. To do so we need to ensure that we can pay for this resourcing.

However, there is one item which hangs over all this. It might sound trivial to some, vexing to others. It is our name. Prior to deciding on options for our visual identity as a diocese, we need to decide on our name. I will say more later, but out in the big wide world there is considerable confusion about who we are, who we aren't, our nomenclature and our reach. For reasons with which we are all familiar, we decided to be known as the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales despite our legal name being 'Leeds'. This has proved problematic for a host of reasons. We need to sort it out and then, having seen ourselves through the eyes of the media and other outsiders, bring simplicity and clarity to the matter. As with everything else, there is a cost as well as a gain when deciding. In doing so we have to pay attention to both ecclesiology and missiology. So, we will have a consultation today which will be taken into consideration as we move forward.

All of this has to do with the mission of the church in the areas to which we are committed in mission. Money, buildings, branding, safeguarding. We discuss these matters conscious of our partnership links with Sudan (from where Bishop Toby returned last week), Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Southwestern Virginia, Skara and Erfurt – our partnership with them bringing into our own consciousness the call to discipleship and mission appropriate to or demanded by each context. Early tomorrow morning I will set off for a week in Iraq with Christian Aid, visiting Christians and other persecuted people. Their experience will form a check to our own preoccupations as a church in which discipleship is unlikely to cost us our life.

As we turn to our agenda, I thank this Synod and the people of our parishes for their maturity in sticking with us as we try to shape our future and our structures. Most people have taken the frustrations and complications in their stride and given the space for disciplined development to take place over nearly three years. From 2017 we have three further years to bed it all in before we review our progress and, subsequently, set out our strategy for the next five to ten years.

Through it all we must not forget our core vocation: to equip confident clergy to enable confident Christians to live and tell the good news of Jesus Christ in West Yorkshire and the Dales. Worship, evangelism, nurture, ministry, mission. The old, old story. Our prayer, as we stick to these themes, must mirror that of Paul who prayed for the church (in Ephesus and beyond) as follows: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”

Surely the way to confident Christians in growing churches transforming communities.

 

Following on from my last post – which was sparked by a visit to Sudan and the reading of Walter Brueggemann (again) – it is important to move on from the phenomenon of how we face potential change to addressing the content of those changes. Objections to change often appear in two forms: (a) a natural, but false, comparison between the status quo (arrived at after years of development) and the potential birth of something new (which, by definition, can only be imagined or envisaged) arising from it; and (b) a natural and right caution that we should never engage in change for the mere sake of change itself.

Since coming to Bradford in May 2011 I have deliberately not instigated any great change. I might be wrong, but it seemed silly to initiate necessary change in some areas when a greater, more wholesale, change might be coming down the line with the Dioceses Commission proposals – if agreed in March 2013 – kicking in relatively soon. So, I have paid attention to structural clarity, missional encouragement and confidence building among clergy and lay people. I cannot be the judge of whether that policy has been effective or not. Nevertheless, the point is that I do not believe in wasting time changing things that do not need to be changed. I seriously resist that old recourse of fantasists or the fearful: to avoid the serious challenge by simply re-engineering or re-ordering the furniture. At the heart of any change worth doing lies the fundamental question of vision: what is the end that this means is intended to achieve?

So, objections to the scheme before us are not trivial and, indeed, are necessary if we are to effectively (but realistically) stress-test the proposals for an alternative way of being. That is to say, any proposals for change need to be poked, pulled, prodded and stretched in order to identify where they are sound, where they lack, or where they open up potential that cannot yet be measured. Yet, going back to the point of my last post on this, objection should always be on the basis of an imaginative engagement with the proposals and not simply a reactive resistance arising from pique or fear.

A number of objections to the Dioceses Scheme are obvious and I will look at some of them in turn here.

'Big is not always beautiful'

The objection is that a larger diocese must be remote, unwieldy and unfamiliar – a far cry from the 'family-like' nature of the existing three smaller dioceses. Well, yes, a large diocese does feel different and brings certain challenges (as well as opportunities) not faced by smaller ones. But, sometimes big is beautiful – in the sense that it provides a wider canvas on which to paint a bigger picture.

I think I am the only senior staff member of any of the three dioceses who has direct and long experience of such a large diocese working with an area system. I spent eleven years in the Diocese of Southwark, three as Archdeacon of Lambeth and eight as (area) Bishop of Croydon. I learned a huge amount about communication, coherence, 'brand identification', structural identity and effective use of resources. The particular model of an area system worked well, but was under constant review – as will any shape emerging, if approved, in West Yorkshire and the Dales.

The suggestion that the current scheme should put in place a structure that must work completely on day one and be guaranteed to remain successfully intact for the next ten years is a complete nonsense: any shape devised will need to be re-thought as time goes by and as change happens around us. What we have to focus on is the potential of a larger diocese, broken down into an area system, to enable a larger vision for the resourcing and encouragement of parish mission and ministry, better development potential for clergy, a more coherent engagement with the area covered by the new diocese (civic, political, social, economic, etc.), and clear profiling of the Church of England in its unique vocation (working with ecumenical partners, who, incidentally, support this scheme).

Ecclesiology and area bishops

The scheme proposes a diocesan bishop (who would also be the Area Bishop of Leeds – a mistake, in my view) and four other area bishops (Bradford, Ripon, Wakefield and Huddersfield). How would the diocesan bishop know and be known by the people in his parishes?

Well, that is an interesting one. Of course, it begs the question how well known are the diocesan bishops by the parishes in the existing dioceses – and the judges of this should not be the diocesan bishops themselves! If I have 165 churches in around 130 parishes and aim to be in at least one of them every week,… work it out. Yet, we speak of 'knowing' and 'being known'. We need a bit of realism here: the diocesan bishop needs to 'order' the diocese in such a way that (a) clergy are properly appointed and pastorally resourced – and let's not romanticise the limitations of that, (b) communicate effectively with all parts of the diocese, using all the resources available judiciously and adventurously, (c) be out and about in the parishes and institutions – listening, learning, questioning, encouraging, challenging, articulating the good news and inspiring (which comes down to more than just role, office and structure). This involves systematic and realistic prioritising – nothing new there, then.

Currently, the diocesan bishop cannot be everywhere and, so, exercises his episkope through colleagues such as suffragan bishops (except in Bradford where I don't have one), archdeacons, area deans, diocesan secretaries, and so on. Indeed, the parish system assumes that a 'vicar' is exercising in the particular parish the ministry that belongs essentially to the bishop. So, how would the area system proposed be any different in kind?

In a larger diocese the ordering of these matters is done through having smaller episcopal areas, each led by an area bishop (who is as much a bishop as the diocesan bishop!) working with a cathedral dean/minster vicar and an archdeacon. If the right people are appointed to these posts (and the same question applies if we retain three dioceses), this offers clergy and parishes a strategic and pastoral leadership team that is closer to the ground, oversees a smaller territory and number, can apply itself to the particularities of that (more homogeneous) area, offer more accessible pastoral care of clergy, and inspire mission at a more local level. In practice, this means that one episcopal area might drive initiatives that would not be as applicable or effective in others… but would bring that experience and drive to the wider diocese. Such cross-fertilisation is challenging and inspiring when you work in such a context.

Of course, this allows a larger diocese to deploy people in areas who bring to the diocese as a whole their particular expertise – thus allowing the whole diocese to benefit from the particular spread of gifts and experience deployed in the areas.

There are two other elements of an area system that are worth mentioning: (a) area bishops are not automatically on the General Synod, are not in the House of Bishops, do not find themselves committed to work beyond the diocese in the same way as diocesan bishops, and, can, therefore, be more present in their area and diocese. In other words, the clergy and parishes get a better deal; (b) the bishops work as an episcopal team, ensuring both stronger mutual support/challenge and imposing a check on wild ideas, plans or judgements.

So, parishes and civic areas get two bishops: one local and one 'regional' who gain an intimate and informed understanding of life on the ground. One can be a check on the other.

Of course, as I keep saying, no structure of itself achieves anything; it all depends on how the structure is populated, led and exploited… and that comes down to the nature and abilities of the people you appoint to do it. Which, of course, is no different from the challenge we have if we remain as three separate dioceses.

Practicalities

That said, a large diocese (and before thinking this proposal is dangerously radical and untested, we need to look at the dioceses of London, Southwark, Chelmsford, Lichfield, Oxford… to name a few) means further to travel for diocesan meetings, and so on. Well, potentially, yes, of course it might. But this is hardly unique and is an odd objection. People are different – some won't travel more than to the next-door parish for a deanery meeting and others will travel further because they believe in the importance of what they are doing. There seems to be an assumption around that all diocesan meetings would be held in Leeds – but it is unclear where that assumption comes from. In other dioceses with area systems, 'central' meetings move around – partly in order to acquaint the decision-makers, both clergy and lay, of the nature of the parts of the whole diocese.

This of all other practical objections is the one that seems to me to be clutching at 'resistance straws'. How these things will work out will depend simply on the breadth of vision, sense of adventure, creative imagination and visionary energy of those who lead the new diocese. And that can't be laid down in detail before the thing comes to be.

Enough now. Change is inevitable. If the scheme does not go through, it will not be 'business as usual' in any of the three dioceses. And the (in some people's minds)'reserve option' of Bradford and Ripon& Leeds going ahead together without Wakefield is a non-starter – it does not answer in any way the question addressed by the Dioceses Commission in bringing their proposals in the first place. Going forward the questions will not go away and the need for change will not evaporate in a cloud of safety, imagined certainty or wishful thinking.

As I have kept saying, we either see ourselves as victims of change (compelled by the decisions of other people) or we shape our future by choosing change. And that means having the sort of courage to recognise that choosing anything new will bring problems, challenges, unforeseen difficulties and the perpetual pain of those people who look for opportunities to say “I told you so”. But, courageous leadership arising from vision has to be big enough to handle all that, bracket the personal stuff, press on, take responsibility… and take the incalculable risk of inspiring both church and society that we can do what Jesus always invited people to do: leave something behind in order to walk in a different direction in order to go somewhere unpredicted… and to do it all with some sense of adventure as well s attention to detail.

More anon.

If the idea of academic ecumenical conferences doesn’t float your boat, now is the time to click onto a different site. However, if you can get beyond thinking it will be dry or abstract, you might well find that the conversations stimulated by the papers given in Salisbury this last week float your mind and theological imagination off in unexpected directions. I was tired when I arrived at Sarum College on Tuesday, but totally ‘alive’ when I left last night (unfortunately, missing the last morning). Anyway, here’s a summary of key points from the papers and a reflection: it might be quite long, but you have been warned.

Bishop Graham Cray, Ecclesiology, Culture & Mission: This began with an explication of the ecclesiological heterogeneity inherent in Fresh ExpressionsEmerging Church and the churches involved in and around them. Starting with a brief survey of the changing context of English society and the place of the church within it (set out in the Mission Shaped Churchreport), the challenges facing a ‘traditional’ church are not hard to detect. The challenge to the churches is, therefore, to engender new forms of church which stand alongside, emerge from or extend the reach of existing churches.

The key point about Fresh Expressions is that there is no standard model to adopt or replicate; rather, there is a process of thinking, questioning, planning and discerning which has to do with genuine love of neighbour and not the prioritising of preferred worship styles. The theological underpinning derives from (according to the paper) (a) deciding what constitutes ‘church’, (b) the trinitarian nature of the ‘Missio Dei’, (c) mission as incarnational, (d) the church as ‘sign, instrument and foretaste’, and (e) our understanding of the ‘economy of God’.

Fresh Expressions have generated significant challenges, particularly at the interface of ecclesiology, mission and culture. The place  (and dynamic) of sacramental life in the priority of a new Christian community is a key challenge within the church, but this has also to do with the nature, identification and generation of appropriate leadership. The ecumenical challenge is not the least of these.

The paper led on to discussion of key points, such as the nature of consumerism as both context and (potential) content of Fresh Expressions. The Germans are interested in how the Church of England in particular – given its particular history and culture) has come to a point of agreeing (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) that permission should be given for such risk-taking and ground-breaking initiatives.

Bishop Professor Dr Friedrich Weber, Current Missiotheological Discussion in the EKD following the 1999 Mission Synod in Leipzig: The German context differs from the English in that (a) membership of the Church is counted according to those who pay the Church Tax (two thirds of the population – 50 million – belong to a church), and (b) the division of Germany and subsequent reunification has profoundly challenged not only society in general, but the churches also. Projections in Church Tax income over the next thirty years led to the Reformprozess and some renewed thinking about the raison d’etre and mission of the Protestant Church in Germany. (The English cynics need to realise that the huge income from the Tax also funds massive and massively impressive social care provisions.)

Based on the image of ‘breathing in’ (worship, teaching/preaching, sacraments and fellowship) and ‘breathing out’ (mission, outreach and service), mission is not an optional add-on for churches that like that sort of thing. A brief survey of German social trends (de-christianising of society; reducing church membership; individualism of faith; the eclectic provisionality of personal ‘meanings’) explains why the mission question has gained in urgency since the late 1980s. The Mission Synod in Leipzig in 1999 was a key point in getting mission on the agenda of the EKD.

The state of play in Germany in relation to mission theology is characterised by such themes as: mission as a worldwide partnership for questions of peace, justice and the integrity of creation; mission as keeping alive the question of God beyond territorial borders; mission in the context of globalisation as intersubjective dialogue; mission as the recruitment and winning of people for the community of the church; mission as the conversion of people to one another and, therefore, the struggle for the unity of the church; mission as planned dialectical behaviour.

This has all led over time to specific initiatives in the EKD and its constituent churches, including: the establishment of centres of mission and evangelism training; courses on church growth, evangelism, nurture, education and service; nurture course resources; church planting.

There is a lot going on, but there is also resistance to these impulses for mission. Nothing new there, then!

Revd Professor Loveday Alexander, Mission & Unity in the Acts of the Apostles: Every church uses the Acts of the Apostles to justify (or direct) their (wildly diverse) ecclesiology and missiology! We are given a paradigm for a church that is apostolic, but also (and often forgotten or ignored) one that demands “strong – and equally costly – commitment both to the unity of the church and … to the catholicity of the church“. Luke gives us not a propositional model, but a narrative illustration of the first churches.

Via an exploration of the word ‘ekklesia’ and its use to denote both the ‘local church’ and the ‘whole church’, we can see mission as key to Luke’s narrative explanation of what the church is for. The church has always allowed space for diversity within its overall unity (of origin, place and practice). Antioch is the ‘fresh expression’ model of church, but Paul insists on its (and his) accountability to the ‘traditional/centre’ church in Jerusalem: the ‘centre’ and the ‘marginal’ are mutually dependent and mutually accountable. It was his taking this so seriously that ultimately cost Paul his life.

So, mission is not the sole preserve of the ‘fresh’ or marginal churches, but permission, generosity, complementarity and mutual accountability are the hallmark of a genuine missiological ecclesiology.

Professor Dr Martin Wallraff, Mission & Media: Remarks on the Spread of Christianity in Late Antiquity: Christian mission always uses certain media for communication and these also shape that mission and the church itself. (a) Communication of the church’s mission in the early post-apostolic centuries (up to the fourth century) did not centre on the use of media: “For the church, the widespread communication of its missionary activities was not important.” (b) The spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire coincided with the proliferation of the new medium ‘codex’ (i.e. from ‘scroll’ to ‘book’). The early Christians soon learned how to positively take advantage of this new medium. But it raises questions about what it means to call Christianity a ‘religion of the book’. (c) Stories of mission in late antiquity often emphasise that the conversion of whole peoples began not with a church government initiative or a bishop’s commission, but with surprising and ‘humble mediators’. (d) Christian mission often corresponded with a historical quantum leap in terms of media: (e) Liturgy (preaching, performative acts & aesthetics) acquired an exceptional position on the ‘religious market’ in late antiquity. (f) More work is needed on the correlation between media and mission – and this must be done ecumenically.

Discussion went on to the disaster for mission that is the unruly horrors of the internet when used by competing Christians engaging in their theological controversies. However, this particular genie is already out of the bottle.

The Revd Dr Paul Weston, The Missionary Church in the Theology of Lesslie Newbigin: This paper was an excellent and timely reminder of the greatness of Newbigin. It looked at ecclesiology in (a) eschatological perspective, (b) corporate perspective, and as (c) ‘foretaste’. Newbigin writes: “The disunity of the church is a public denial of the sufficiency of the atonement. It is quite unthinkable that the church should be able effectively to preach that atonement and to become, in fact, the nucleus of the reconciled humanity, while that denial stands.”

The connection between the doctrine and its consequent ethics has clearly still not been understood by the squabbling church whose Gospel lacks credibility in the light of its behaviour and discourse.

Professor Dr Michael Weinrich, Missio Dei and the Mission of the Church: Systematic Theological Suggestions in the Perspective of Karl Barth: This paper (in the absence through sickness of the author) represented a Reformed understanding of the church – one that drew criticism from all sides of the conference. However, it put emphasis on the activity of God in mission and placed a question mark over a church which busies itself with self-justifying activity aimed at self-preservation or self-perpetuation for its own sake. Mission begins and ends with God and is not primarily about bigging up the church. However, one comment suggested that an ecclesiology that reduces the church to nothing raises the question about why anyone should bother with it in the first place. (Weinrich disputes that reading of his text.)

Professor Dr Corinna Dahlgrün, Protestant Theology in a Religious Vacuum: This offered a searching and moving reflection on the experiences and challenges of  ‘a missionary perspective on the study of theology in Eastern Germany’. It covered the differences between the experiences of the church in the two Germanies and the particular challenges faced (particularly by the East) since reunification – which include small membership in the post-Communist East, residual ignorance of church and Christianity, materialism, and the imbalance between churches of East and West. The three concluding theses were: (a) the churches need individuals to undergo a ‘spiritual reformation’ in order to renew the church and society; (b) to do this, the church must learn to translate its message into a language people can understand; (c) the church needs to worry less about its internal purity and take seriously its vocation to mix it in the world for the sake of the world it is called to serve.

Dr Cathy Ross, An Exposition & Critique of the Five Marks of Mission: This paper offered a clear tracing of the development of mission understanding in the Anglican Communion in the last thirty years. It is remarkable how much energy and how many words can be expended in trying to sort out ‘mission statements’ when there is less evidence of their fruit to be seen. How on earth has the church managed still to obsess about the artificial division between evangelism and social action? “When Jesus was asked to sum up what God required of us, he did not answer in terms of either a set of ‘projects’ to be performed or a set of ‘doctrines’ to believe. Instead we are called to love God with our whole being, and to love our neighbour in the same way we love ourselves.” (Ramachandra) We were helpfully reminded (with reference to Oscar Romero) that “no mission statement can say everything, that we cannot do everything, that the final responsibility lies with God and that we are only ministers, not messiahs.” The ‘five marks’ were summed up by CMS as: ‘Proclaim, Teach, Respond, Seek, Renew’. But, perhaps ‘worship’ ought to be in there somewhere?

Bishop Martin Schindehütte, On the Missionary Dimension of Diaconal Service/Work: God wants everyone to be helped, saved, healed. That is the basis of the German church’s vast and expansive service of young, sick and vulnerable people through its Diakonia work. This led on to reflections on how those who work in this way (both employed and volunteers) are supported professionally and spiritually.

The Revd Hans-Hermann Pompe, The Recovery of Mission at Parish and Regional Level in Germany: Mission is back on the agenda, but there is still denial of its importance and urgency. This paper looked at some of the challenges to a recovery of mission and the implications of effective mission for the shape of the church.

The Revd Dr David Holgate observed the impact of mission thinking on the training of clergy and church leaders and called for  ‘robust theologies of culture’. In a changing world the church needs to get to grips with new demands and fit its leaders accordingly. (This followed an earlier contribution by Canon Dr Vernon White in which he described the changes in ministerial training and formation in the Church of England in the last thirty years or so.)

Canon Professor Paul Avis, Toward a Missiological Ecclesiology: The conference concluded (in my absence) with a paper that drew on the 1910 Edinburgh Conference and the emphasis on unity that ran through it. There is an “inseparable biblical and theological connection between unity and mission and … this deserves to be recognised in theological study, ministerial training, church policy and pastoral practice”.

So, there it is. Far too long a ‘digest. And I didn’t mention the worship, the pub, the meals or the fact that the conference was excellently chaired by the Bishop of Guildford, The Rt Revd Christopher Hill and Professor Dr Friederike Nüssel from Heidelberg.

You really had to be there…