Bishop’s Charge at Diocesan Synod

April 7, 2015

I had a very interesting few moments in the Cathedral last month.  I was talking to Rev Donald Strachan, he had joined us for Evensong while he was having treatment at the hospital in Dingwall. Donald had been an itinerant priest in this Diocese in the late sixties and early seventies. He was standing looking at the wonderful banner that was created following our anniversary celebrations, looking for his charges and commenting on the number of new ones since his time. He was delighted that all those he knew were still  worshipping, with the exception of St Mary’s, Highfield and he was amazed at the number of places now served with regular worship.

I must confess that the banner itself looks stunning and my thanks to Kate for all she did to complete that project.

It also seems highly appropriate that the banner should hang in the cathedral,  by the door that has opened up the building for everyone of all physical abilities.  The banner is studied by people every day and lots of conversations have been generated by local people who had no idea we had so many worshipping communities – eyes have been opened.

The reality of course is that we only have those worshipping communities because of the hard work and determination of so many people. And so I want to thank those who faithfully turn up to prepare the church for worship , both those who sustain an old and often chilly building and those who turn the local hall into a worship space after the keep fit class have left. I am also often left humbled by the distances many people drive to attend church, determined to be present for that short but so important moment.

I also want to thank those who have the courage to take on all the detractors, officials and planners and managed to improve the church or the hall, the house or in some cases the gardens. The toilet at Huntly, new lighting in Grantown, restored rectory at St Michael’s Inverness, garden at Poolewe, the list goes on. I also want to offer thanks to those who are struggling with the reality that some things can’t be fixed and might need letting go of,  for that is just as important.

The clergy of the diocese are also  an inspiration, when gaps and seemingly unfillable rotas appear, the offers of help flood in.  So many initiatives in mission and ministry which reveal God’s love in the communities we serve, prayer rooms in the local school, care and prayer to nursing homes and hospitals, chaplaincy to youth organisations and community groups, so much more than simply serving the people of the church.

The lay readers and Eucharistic ministers of the Diocese are also an inspiration. The missions and the traditional congregations are so well served by those who preach and lead sacramental worship, it is very rare for a church to remain closed due to lack of ministry. My special thanks to Canon Ian Pallett for his work as Warden of lay Readers and to Very Rev Gerald Stranraer-Mull for his work as DDO. We have one deacon in training, we have one priest in training and one about to start her training , a number of people beginning lay reader training and a group of potential ordinands awaiting the church decision, a good and healthy sign of our life. We are also blessed with the ministry of our Curate Rev Sarah Murray who has brought so many new and fresh ideas with her in her ministry in the diocese.

There are a number of issues which we as a denomination face, a number of them have been discussed here today, and it is incumbent upon us all to ensure that the voice of the diocese is heard in the Boards and Committees of the Church.  Please remember, you might sit at a meeting in Edinburgh wondering what possessed you to volunteer, but the moment might come when your voice will need to be heard, so thank you to all who serve as members of provincial and Diocesan Committees.

So to the immediate future and to my continuing vision for my ministry as your Bishop. I have as always reflected before preparing this charge, and listened to the voices that whisper in my ears, voices that make it all sound too good to be true and voices that keep telling me that it is all going wrong. Being bishop can be a bit like sharing your life with members of the Dad’s Army team.  Fraser telling us we are doomed, Jones panicking, sergeant Wilson too laid back for his own good and Pike getting all wrong.  As to Godfrey well I leave you to decide where he fits in. The remarkable thing is in the end they usually get it right, or nearly right.

So what have the voices helped me reflect upon?

In the seven years I have been your bishop I have walked with 35 of the congregations as they have journeyed through vacancies, I have chaired the Vestry meetings of many of our charges and I have journeyed continually to offer love and hope to those communities and whatever you may think about that, I am happy with that work and it certainly means I know the people of the Diocese.

Things have changed and will continue to change, some will be excited by those changes, others will be anxious about them, some will refuse to change and others will run so far ahead of me, I will wonder if they are still with us at all. That is all good, everything we do needs to be done because we believe it to be right, and we need to walk alongside those who won’t or can’t change at the same speed. I am clear through my regular contacts with the communities we serve that we are very much a part of those communities, and seen as thoughtful, prayerful and honest brokers.

And so to the cathedral.  I am convinced that we are doing the right thing with the cathedral, and an example is our lent discussions  which brought people together from across the Diocese. In the four weeks we have been meeting on a Sunday afternoon we have had people gathered from 8 of the charges, sharing their local ideas with people from across our area.  Day by day people join us for worship and comment how welcome they feel and how good it is to know where to see and hear the bishop. I have still been able to visit and lead worship in the churches of the Diocese and have not found myself pushed to the limit, if anything I now have a more ordered life and therefore a healthier life. Yes of course there are many tasks of ministry that I need to share with others and that will slowly develop as people trust us enough to offer themselves for the tasks required.

The Cathedral was built to be the centre of mission for the Highlands and Moray, a place of refreshment and sharing , a place we all belonged to, that is our aim.  To help us all to feel we belong and to support the ministry and mission of the cathedral as the cathedral seeks to support yours.

The ordained team at the Cathedral includes Rev Iain Macritchie who is charged with seeking to grow the spiritual links from the cathedral to the Diocese, Rev Peter Simpson, Cathedral Chaplain and Deacon,  a number of retired clergy involved and also Rev Pam Shinkins who brings a breath of the West to the life of the Cathedral. The Cathedral Canons share Sunday and Weekday worship and that has created a real sense of family amongst the congregations and the chapter. We have appointed a Cathedral Steward who takes care of all the bookings and publicity. There is one more appointment to make and that will hopefully create a real community of within the ministry team.

I will soon be seeking the appointment of  Vice Provost and Associate Rector,  a ministry that will allow innovation and education to be at the forefront of the life of the cathedral, that appointment awaits the renovation of the Cathedral Lodge in Ardross Street and the right person to take on the task.

The vision is still to enable this Episcopal church to be heard in every corner of the diocese, for the sacramental life to be available to each community and for us all to feel we truly belong to one another through the shared experience of worship, prayer and fellowship.

Who knows,  we might yet need a new banner with more squares, filling more of us with the joy I shared with Donald as we looked back with nostalgia and forward with faith.