My speech to the General Synod on Friday February 22 2019
Chair thank you for calling me. Archbishop thank you for the encouragement to speak and the plea for extra time. I need to declare an interest as one of the authors of the paper which set up the Task Group. One of my sons, Andy, was a member of the group. I think they did a great job. Thanks be to God.
Synod, we need to leave behind us the idea that evangelism and the passing on of faith in today’s culture is easy or straightforward. It’s very difficult. Technical solutions are inadequate for the spiritual challenge we face. Reminding the church of our decline simply saps our energy and morale. Pretending the solution is obvious when it clearly isn’t, undermines our confidence.
The work of an evangelist at this moment in time is primarily the work of listening and asking questions and deep theological reflection on our culture. We need to recover the seven classical disciplines which have been at the heart of passing on the faith in every generation: listening in prayer, love at the heart of our mission, apologetics, initial witness, catechesis, ecclesial formation and forming new ecclesial communities. Each is essential. We need to set them at the heart of our ministerial formation. There are more details on each in the article on my blog.
I want to focus what I have to say in this debate on our motivation and our vision to hand on the faith. What is it that sets our hearts on fire? We will find our inspiration in two places. The first will be a deeper understanding of the needs in our culture and the second will be catching a fresh vision of Christ and of Christ as the pattern for the Church.
We need to see the crowds as Jesus sees them, like sheep without a shepherd. The deep question of our age is, without any doubt, what does it mean to be human? The question is asked of us by the environmental disaster we are living through, by rapid developments in technology, by the complete erosion of privacy by big tech and by our popular culture. If you have any doubt about that listen to the beautiful, brave and heartbreaking song by Jesse Glynn, I don’t wear makeup on Thursdays which she performed brilliantly at the Brits on Wednesday.
We need to see and proclaim afresh the God who came to live among us, the creator of the universe, who took flesh, became a human person and who gave his life that we might live.
What would it be like, I wonder, if we took as our guide to evangelism the beatitudes of Matthew 5. Eight beautiful qualities which are a portrait of the character of Christ. They show us what God is like. They show us what it is to be human. They show us what it means to be the church.
Our evangelism is meant to be poor in spirit, dependent on God’s grace and God’s spirit and witnessing to a life lived in relationship with God. Our evangelism is meant to weep with compassion and take seriously the suffering of the world, held within the deeper context of God’s joy.
Our evangelism is meant to be meek and gentle, like our saviour: listening and modelling a different way to a world confused by power and treading softly with the frail and vulnerable. Our evangelism is meant to be hungry and thirsty for justice, like Jesus, and proclaiming the upside-down values of the kingdom in a world longing for fairness.
Our evangelism should be clothed with mercy: practical love and service but also carrying the good news of God’s forgiveness and strong love to a fragile and fragmented world, much of which believes it has fallen short. Our evangelism should be pure in heart, offering a model of integrity because that is who Jesus is. We are offering fullness of life to a world hollowed out by chasing appearance or fame or fortune or afraid to show its real self.
Our evangelism should be peace-making, for God sent his son to make peace through the blood of the cross, shaped by a vision of one humanity and a new heaven and a new earth. Our evangelism should be willing to bear the cost of following Christ, the long obedience in the same direction as we heard this morning; the cost of love, for the sake of the one who went before us.
Synod, I hope in each of these debates we will hold before us these key questions. I hope we will take note of this report.