Acts 1:12- 2:2 'When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.'

When I called this session of synod I indicated that we have a number of reasons for meeting. There is a meeting of Provincial Synod in September for which we have to choose delegates and make any input which we wish, to that synod's agenda. We need to make certain preparations for the transition to a new bishop in this diocese and in particular we need to populate various committees for a 2-3 year term of office so that my successor is not forced to call synod in a hurry. We need to launch a new phase of our diocesan planning process, to which end I have asked everyone to send in reports which can be given to my successor both as a briefing for her (or maybe him) and as a basis for the next phase of planning over which the new bishop will preside.

Some years ago when we were all focussing on the renewal of the Holy Spirit in the life of the churches, I heard a sermon on Acts chapter 1 which has stuck in my memory. The speaker was asking why, if the Holy Spirit came in Acts 2, we bother to study Acts 1; indeed, why would God bother to put Acts 1 in the Bible at all?
He answered his own question by saying that of course the Spirit had been around for a long time before the Day of Pentecost and indeed Jesus had explicitly breathed the Spirit upon his disciples before his Ascension. He went on to use the analogy of a sailing ship: if the sails are set and the ship is ready to go before the wind blows, it will catch the breeze and move powerfully through the water. But if the sails are tangled up, the decks are untidy and the crew is asleep, the wind will simply create damage and confusion, blowing the tackle into the sea and setting panic among the sailors. His point of course was that because the church spent Acts 1 preparing for the coming of the Spirit even in what seems like rather mundane administration, they were ready for Pentecost and were able to take off freely when the wind blew.
Look for a moment at three key aspects of Acts Ch 1.

 

Firstly the apostles were at prayer together, 'along with the women'. If you have been watching the debates on television between candidates for the presidency of the United States, you will know how leadership elections can slip into ugly competitiveness, slanging and envy. Sadly church elections can do the same; but the remedy is to keep our focus on God and God's purposes for a parish or a diocese, so that we can follow Jesus into the future and do so hand in hand with each other. The Archbishop has not yet issued the mandate for the election but this is the time to unite in prayer and stay there through the process.

Secondly they did have to be quite practical about the need for new leadership.  The Archbishop has it in mind that the new bishop, if elected in June, will lead our delegation to Provincial Synod and will be consecrated, if they are not already a bishop, on Saturday 24 September 2016.

Thirdly we read that the disciples were all together in one place. This seems to suggest that the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost was greatly facilitated from God's point of view by the fact that the church was not divided or scattered, but expressed its unity by being visibly together. That search for unity also speaks to us, because dioceses have been known to suffer ongoing division and paralysis after an election like this, with continuing rivalry and distrust between groups of people or candidates, to the detriment of the church as a whole. While it is essential for me to stand outside this process, I have sat both in this seat and in the Synod of Bishops long enough to know the damage that can take place, and to appeal to all of you as you pray and seek God's will in this election, that you may continue to respect and love and care for each other even if you are asked to undertake nomination, and that once the Church has made its choice, you all throw your love and loyalty behind my successor for the sake of the diocese and the future.

In recent weeks I have been in a number of interesting conversations about finance in dioceses. Even in Virginia which is the largest diocese in the USA, and where there is significant wealth in some of the parishes, it is a struggle to draw in the funds to run the diocese as such. As we sometimes find here, strenuous efforts can be made to conceal funds or to ensure that they cannot by any means be used by the wider church beyond what is often a tiny and elderly local church. Meanwhile in some dioceses in this Province, the principle that everyone shares in the burden has been abandoned in favour of what seems to be a voluntary system but is in fact a way of ducking responsibility and leaving it to a very few stronger parishes to bear the whole load. That leaves dioceses extremely vulnerable in the event of a dip in the financial status of those churches.

In this diocese we inherited a system which had been agreed by the parishes of our mother diocese in synod and which we have repeatedly reaffirmed, which spreads the burden by a form of voluntary taxation modified by pastoral flexibility where an individual congregation finds itself struggling. If everybody is transparent and honest, it works well; even in a small budget like ours, everyone is involved, and we do not become dependent on donors who may let us down or on inherited assets which we take for granted. We live from hand to mouth on resources raised entirely among ourselves, on a basis of sharing which is as fair as we can make it. Although it is complicated, in this diocese there is no-one who contributes nothing. That is a very healthy state of affairs because we are in it together and we are committed to behaving as a family. I want to plead with us that we do not abandon that principle. If we did, I think we would be making three mistakes: we would be making the diocese financially vulnerable, as some much bigger and older dioceses than ours are today. Secondly we would breed resentment and resistance in those who end up carrying everyone else. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly we would disempower and demean our smaller or newer or more disadvantaged communities in a way which  South Africa has done far too much in the past - undermining people's dignity, treating them like beggars asking for ten cents at the traffic lights, and shutting them out of discussions and decisions because they are second-class. Imagine how the representative of a smaller congregation feels about making a speech at this synod if they know they represent people who are not standing on their own feet, holding up their heads and bringing their own offerings to the common altar.
St Paul's principle, set out in 2 Corinthians 8 & 9,  that EACH ONE SHOULD GIVE is usually referred to individuals but it seems to me that it also applies to groups of Christians together  in congregations; 'each one should give not reluctantly or under compulsion'. There is something dignifying, empowering and uniting in shouldering the practical load together even if some are much better able to contribute than others.

But the principle does also apply to individuals. St Paul can be translated as saying 'each should give as he has decided' or 'each should give as he is able' - that is, in proportion to his or her income. I do not want to pre-empt the discussion about funerals and the ticket system but I do want to say again that if this diocese is going to flourish, we have to get the giving right. I know this is possible because I have seen it in parishes; once the culture of generous and regular giving is established, that parish can be solid and flourish for years to come. So can a diocese. We are still doing it the wrong way round and squeezing the pensioners to death when we ought to be giving them a free ride out of honour for what they have done over many years when they were working. It is the ones with the jobs and the cars who should be carrying the church financially.

No priest can preach about giving without doing it themselves and no church warden or councillor can ask for money unless they are giving themselves. We as leadership need to take that time out and ask our people to do the same. What I am asking for here is a turning of the corner for the parishes of this diocese during this Lent which may set us on a wholly new course for the future and give my successor a very different life from mine.

I must close with a word of thanks to say how much Gill and I have appreciated the love and support which have been generously given to us over the years of this ministry. It has been an extraordinary privilege in one of God's very own special corners of the universe. Slightly unexpectedly but very happily, we have decided to remain in the diocese in retirement; obviously I need a long holiday and sabbatical after 30 June and I will respect my successor's need for space to establish her - or his - own leadership. At a certain point, if we are fit, we will offer our service in whatever role may be helpful to my successor and may be agreed together; meanwhile you need to move forward and we shall rejoice to remain part of the body of Christ where we have been placed.

Let us then move into this time of transition in prayer and in harmony, clearing the decks so that we can catch the wind of the Holy Spirit when it comes.

+Peter