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Bishop Victoria's Synod Charge

Here is the full charge which Bishop Victoria Matthews delivered at the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral during the opening Eucharist of Christchurch Diocesan Synod in 2017.

Bishop Victoria Matthews   |  07 Sep 2017

“There is nothing fast about a Cathedral”, said the Art School graduate when I mentioned the delay caused by the court cases and Government.  She said that in studying cathedrals at Art School, that was the refrain.  Cathedrals tend to emerge over centuries, not decades, and the end result is often a departure from the original design.  The original George Gilbert Scott design was eventually not followed exactly.  Since February 2011 we have seen many depictions of what might become the Cathedral in the Square.  At this Synod you will make a very important decision for the life of the Diocese and city.  But none of the options mean we will wake up next year and suddenly find a functional building in the Square.

Consequently, as I approach this September 2017 Synod I have reminded myself to keep the main thing front and centre.  In other words, let us remember we are a Gospel people saved by Jesus Christ and called to live transformed lives to the greater glory of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Each and all of us, transformed by Christ, then live for others and gradually whole communities are in turn transformed by both social justice and social service. That is who we are in Christ and it is what we do. If you travel about the Diocese, be it Christchurch, North or South Canterbury, or the West Coast or Chatham Islands, there are communities that are supported, challenged and changed because of the presence of the local church.  We don’t make a big deal of this but we know it is who we are and what we do.  Through the grace of God, we are in the business of proclamation and transformation.  We are a Gospel people.

Therefore what challenges me most is not the possible outcome of the Cathedral vote. I am fine with any one of the options.  Rather I am concerned that we live in a country with many living in poverty.  We do not have clear and agreed upon means and measurements for describing the child poverty in our midst. We live in a country where the prison population is overwhelmingly Maori and the actual penal system is in desperate need of reform. We have a housing crisis that is being inadequately addressed. In this city there are many who are living in compromised housing dating back to the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.  I remind you, we are now in our eighth year since the quakes and aftershocks began.

We also have in this Diocese an epidemic of youth and young adult mental illness. Depression; anxiety; eating disorders; self-harming and suicide are on the increase and that increase is exponential.  So I do hope this Synod will do more than debate the Cathedral in the Square, as important as that is. We need to live the Gospel and that means a lot of hard work at the grass roots.

Over the course of the last year the Rev Stephanie Robson has undertaken some sobering research about our statistics in this Diocese, as did the Ven. Canon Helen Roud previously about our children’s ministry.  We have to face that we are in decline.  Yes there are some parishes modestly flourishing but overall we need to think and pray really hard about how we are meeting the needs of the communities that are in the lower decile areas. We need to reach children and families in our communities.  We need to be aware and responsive to the isolated and lonely.

In order for this to happen, we need a culture in which discipleship flourishes.  The word culture is very important.  It’s about identity and how we do things holistically.  We do not need more programmes or strategies.  We need parishes which have a disciple making culture that proclaims God’s love and communicate it is okay not to be okay, because the Gospel offers healing and wholeness.  In short, we want to make disciples who make disciples, all the while finding healing for themselves and each other on the Kingdom journey. When we make disciples we have the Church, the Body of Christ.

At the 2016 General Synod we spent a great deal of time talking about same sex attraction and same sex relationships.  We again delegated authority to a group to go and do some work on our behalf.  At this Synod we will consider the Working Group’s Interim Report and ask Standing Committee to forward our thoughts to the Working Committee.  In this Diocese in Late May and June, we held Respectful Conversations about same sex attraction and relationships across the parishes.  I thank those who organised and facilitated those Respectful Conversations. Meanwhile the society in which we live largely wonders what we are on about.  I sometimes think our beloved Church has a special gift of distraction so we never quite manage to focus on the Gospel in order to make Christ-centred disciples whose discipleship transform communities and make disciples. 

I am enormously grateful to our Diocese Manager, Edwin Boyce, who found and then oversaw the move of the Anglican Centre to 10 Logistics Drive after six and a half years of hospitality at Church Corner. One huge advantage to this new space is that the Mission Team, which has been scattered far and wide, is now back under one roof and able to spark each other’s thinking and ministries.  I am especially delighted to announce Phil Trotter who up to five years ago worked for our Diocese in youth ministry, and who really put us on the map with young leaders, is returning to the Diocese of Christchurch in a new position as the Diocesan Director of Discipleship Development next month.  We will hear from Phil in the context of Synod tomorrow.  We also hope in the near future to have a member of the Mission Team in a support position in South Canterbury.  

This Diocese has eight Anglican Schools, and given the shift in how families spend their weekends and free time, it is a challenge to keep the Anglican Special Character alive and well in our Anglican Schools.  Special Character is more than chapel services.  It is the quality of community; it is an appreciation of the arts as the students learn to express their God given talent, and it is a way of thriving as young people learn to live fully to the glory of God. This means encouraging a keen hunger and thirst for social justice because our students and teachers know that when we care for the least of God’s family, we care for Christ.  At our schools it is fair to say, given the society in which we live, we now have fewer Christians across the teachers, staff and students and administration than ever in the history of our Anglican schools.  That means the proclamation of the Gospel, making of disciples and transforming lives need to be prioritised. 

One of the greatest blows this year was the sudden death of the Rev Andrew Starky on Easter Eve.  An exceptional priest who was Deputy Vicar General, and the Warden of CSN, Andrew had served as the Archdeacon of South Canterbury and a Cathedral Clerical Canon prior to becoming the Vicar of St Michael and All Angels.  We miss Andrew very much and offer our love to Kathryn and Daniel in their bereavement.

As we enter our eighth year since the start of the earthquakes, I am deeply aware that clergy and lay people alike are exhausted and stretched to the limit.  I am also conscious I have spent more time in conversation about and administration of buildings and property in these past seven years than in the previous 31 years in parish, teaching and episcopal ministry altogether.  It is an important ministry looking after church property and I don’t resent the time and effort, but I am very aware that when I am focused on the Cathedral, or another parish building, there is less time for mission.  I am very grateful to Gavin Holley and Patrick Murray who have shouldered the weight of the building damages in their separate entities and I thank God for Suzanne Price and Jackie Crampton of the CPT Recovery Team. 

 We are very blessed to have the teams we have in the Anglican Centre.  Thank you also to those who serve as Church Property Trustees and as members of the Board for Anglican Care as well as those who have served on Standing Committee and General Synod.  Our governance structures are diverse and demanding.  I am equally aware that every parish has had more than their share of headaches and I thank the wardens and vestry members for carrying their share of the burden.  I believe Anglican Care has turned a corner and has a new vision.  There is a new Anglican care Christchurch City Missioner, Matthew Mark, and elsewhere new partnerships are being developed. Anglican Advocacy lead by Deacon Jolyon White is doing some fabulous social justice work at the grassroots. 

Let me return to where I began.  There is nothing fast about a Cathedral.  It is time consuming and painful in its complexity yet the end result is an inspirational work of art.  Regardless of the Option chosen by this Synod, we are writing history.

 Option A, to reinstate the Cathedral building in the Square, recognises the history of this city and Diocese.  Christchurch became a city because of the Cathedral in the Square.  Building the Cathedral was not easy or quick and it won’t be if we choose to reinstate now.  But Option A affirms our deep connection with the first four ships and the founding of the Canterbury settlement. Option A would lead, I hope, to improving the relationship the Government and City Council have with the Anglican Church and this Diocese. The secular governing bodies tend to forget the contribution the church makes in every locale.  We don’t especially want to be thanked but it might be wise to remember just how present we are at the local level, and that listening to our experience is helpful.

Option B  is the new build.  It will require deconstruction of the present Cathedral building. Design work and consent will be required.  Option B will be a lot of work.  However, there is the advantage that if we do it well we will have a fit for purpose building and there will be no need to fund-raise.  Will there be hard feelings about the loss of the cathedral?  Yes I have no doubt but do remember that the recent poll said that the people polled are divided over a new build and reinstatement.  They just want something to happen.  “Just get on with it”, was the refrain.  Option B is very forward looking but it does need to consider the cost of turning away from our place and role in history.

Option C sounds easy and quick but it too will require negotiation.  The details are not worked out but I know the Government, regardless of who is elected, may require the insurance money to be part of the gift.  The best explanation for Option C is theological.  We are servants of God and are free to choose to be generous as we live out our lives in thanksgiving for the extraordinarily generous love and life we receive in and through Christ. 

Regardless of the choice made, we have a lot of work ahead of us.  I ask you from the bottom of my heart to make a prayerful decision which gives glory to God and demonstrates our commitment to the people of God.  Every one of the Options, whether there are three or four, requires taking a risk for the Kingdom.  Each Option says something important about being disciples of Jesus.  Each Option conveys a message about how we relate to God and the people we serve both inside and outside the community of the baptised. 

As you make your decisions for the various resolutions at Synod, please keep in mind the reading from the Acts of the Apostles chapter 15 and the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25.  Like the Council of Jerusalem we are faced with a divisive situation.  We need to listen and speak with care.  Secondly, what we do for ourselves must never overshadow what we do for the least, the lost and the last.  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”, said the Son of Man seated in glory before all the gathered nations.

Climate change; child poverty; refugees; Living Wage; mental health, prison reform and the housing crisis all cry out for the Church to care sacrificially.  People won’t care what we know, until they know that we care.

Most of the media coverage the church receives these days is negative.  The media is especially interested in reporting our disagreements.  But that is neither our identity in Christ nor our calling which is to be communities of transformation and care.

 Whether or not your preference for the Cathedral in the Square is chosen by Synod, remember who you are.  We have had a hard time here in the Diocese given the earthquakes over the past 7 years.  I know the recent Kaikoura earthquake did more damage outside this Diocese than here but there is still extensive damage in some areas like Waiau.  The call to faithful stewardship and Christ-centred mission means we still have much work before us.  But first and foremost we are people who receive grace upon grace from Jesus the Son of God, who died that we might live.  It is because we have received so much that we are able to share and give to others. 

There is nothing fast about a Cathedral and it takes time for a people and diocese to grow into the stature of Christ, the people God created us to be.  So please, dear friends, keep your life and calling in Christ, that which leads to the transformation of people and communities, foremost in this Synod. 

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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