Buon giorno e Roma!
People say there is less of the Bishop of Sheffield than there used to be. It’s about a stone less to be precise (and still going down as of last Saturday). This is partly due to Ann becoming very fierce on the matter of diets and partly to the Hairy Bikers’ recent television series.
A hazardous time then to be in Rome. So far I’ve managed to resist the bread, the pasta and the pizza (well, almost). However I have discovered gelati – Italian ice cream. It’s very warm here at the moment (sorry about that!). I have to walk through Rome four times a day in a cassock (more on that another day). There are gelateria on every corner including one under the window of the room where I am staying. Coconut is my favourite flavour so far but there are many still to try…..
The Synod had its first session in groups this morning. The groups are divided according to language and I am in one of the English speaking groups but with a real spread of nationalities. There is more of a dialogue and for deeper sharing than is possible in the plenary.
The last twenty-four hours have been a chance for me to think about the dogs which are not barking yet: the words or concepts which would feature on a discussion of this subject in the Church of England and which haven’t yet been a part of the conversation here.
There are several, as you might imagine. Some of them I don’t miss. But the most striking absentee so far is the idea of discipleship and of making disciples. The concept doesn’t feature, as far as I have discovered, in the Instrumentum Laboris, the preliminary document for the Synod. The focus is largely there on apologetics, the initial proclamation of the gospel and on catechesis (all associated with the inital passing on of faith).
But my reflection back to the Synod through the group this morning was that the conversation about Evangelisation must be joined to a conversation about discipleship: the fruits of a mature faith which is able to endure and to flourish in the midst of a secular society and culture. The Church also needs to give careful thought to a vision of Christian discipleship and flourishing – to define the ends as another member of the group ventured so that we can then develop the means. There have been a number of very positive references so far to small Christian communities from different places in the world which are of course immensely important as places for the forming and sustaining of disciples.
The thought connected for me with the presentation Ann Morisey gave to our Diocesan Development Day on Saturday which focussed on Methodism as a discipleship movement working for “transformation on an industrial scale”.
One of the fruits of coming away from your own situation is that you see some things more clearly. One of the insights I will be taking back to Sheffield is that any conversation about sharing the faith needs to connected to a vision for growing disciples: Christians who will not melt in the heat of the day but endure and be sustained an grow stronger in their witness.