When I set out to our Diocesan Conference, stuck as I am in a funny place half-way through ordination training, my sense of calling dry, and confused as to how and where God is shaping my future, my personal prayer was that witnessing the development of Bishop Tim’s vision for the Diocese of Winchester would lead to a revitalising of my sense of purpose in ministry and my passion to serve God.
God did do some business with me, but there was an overwhelming sense was that he did a whole load of business with the diocese. Through the inspirational Biblical teaching of Prof. Tom Wright, through Bishop Tim’s modelling of a passionate and prophetic focus, and through the the work of the Holy Spirit work in the 200 Synod and ministerial representatives present, a corporate re-imaging of church took shape. On Thursday, the priorities were set that require us to become a pioneering ‘mixed-economy’ of culturally relevant Christian communities, living sacrificially as agents of social transformation. If you live, worship or minister in the Diocese of Winchester I do recommend you watch (start at the bottom & work up, slides here) or read the presentations in detail – they will be changing our lives!
Bishop Tim’s use of a video clip where people build an aeroplane whilst in flight was, frankly, terrifying. It was also honest and realistic. We can’t stop being church whilst we re-imagine how we function, not just as a diocesan structure but at every level of our mission and ministry. Witnessing the pain being caused to the ministries of friends and supervisors wasn’t comfortable either, as the speed and direction of progress for some functions of the diocese were subjected to what might be termed a hand-brake turn. The letter of due synodical process may not always have been completely adhered to and some unheard questions may need close examination in the near future, but then I’m not a synodical specialist. Importantly, there was a sense that the Spirit of God visibly moving through the event was of greater importance, if only the pastoral and personal implications can be handled swiftly and effectively.
There were several specific words of challenge for the ordinands present. I silently wept for myself and others as Tom Wright quoted his own words to others “Don’t be surprised if you go through fire & water, it is the norm. Ministry & mission is cruciform.” Yet, I was consoled to know that even our spiritual leaders have at times spent years surrounded by a sense of darkness whilst in ministry, and I was challenged by interview questions Tom Wright and Bishop Tim have heard of being placed before candidates in their pre-ordination interviews:
- How would I lead someone to Christ? (My answer would I am afraid, vary hugely depending on the circumstances and experiences of the person concerned – no one size fits all, I would suggest.)
- What are my two favourite Biblical passages and why?
We were reminded we have to carve the stone, or stones, that are our contribution to God’s Kingdom here on earth, in the context of the groaning and sorrow of this world, so that the master mason can draw them together with all the others his followers have produced to build something incredibly special. My private conversations may have suggested this isn’t necessarily possible, but I just hope and pray I have a small stone to carve in this diocese as the journey continues.
At the other end of the emotional scale, there was strong affirmation that though “‘the parish’ is an invented, not a God given structure”, God (and our Diocesan leadership) take a real delight in the variety of ministries we can offer and the desire to change not just our missional focus, but the structures that support it, so that both parishes and pioneer ministries, and particularly pioneering parish mission initiatives, can be resourced, encouraged, affirmed and celebrated.
There was no witnessing the development of our corporate vision; the whole event was participatory even for non-Synod members like me. However, Bishop Tim and the other participants who facilitated our deliberations, made it clear that we’re on a long-haul flight – the changes that have started, including the desire for a Diocesan ‘Rule of Life’ to re-found our mission in keeping with our Benedictine roots, are designed to make the Christian life of this region engage “deep into the mission of Jesus” as our participation in the coming of his Kingdom and his glory, but it can’t happen over-night.
As individuals, as parishes, as departments and deaneries, we might not always sense it, but God really is building God’s kingdom in God’s way… through us!