A Presidential address given by the Acting Bishop of Coventry, The Rt Revd Ruth Worsley, at the November 2023 session of Coventry Diocesan Synod.
Sisters and brothers, I wonder if like me, you feel a bit like those sea-sick disciples in that fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee, wondering if the storm will ever stop. it’s been a tumultuous week in the life of the world, our nation, and the Church. So, thank you for being here!
Of course, those disciples realised that it would be foolhardy to get out of the boat on this occasion, with the storm at its peak. They cried out to Jesus instead, blissfully asleep, and seemingly unaware of the fear in his friends. His word of ‘Peace’ stilled the storm and the fear.
There have been many moments of fear in the history of the people of God. When indeed it has felt easier to cut and run. And yet in the moment of anxiety and deepest dread, God has been there. Jacob, looking to escape the fury of his brother, has a revelation of God in a dream at Bethel and declares that ‘surely God is in this place’. Moses, on the run after killing an Egyptian slaver, hears the voice of God in a burning bush, and discovers a calling. Elijah, at the end of himself, depressed and exhausted, finds God in the still, small, whisper.
The incarnation of Christ, God choosing to dwell with His people, was just such a moment. The world had turned upside down for the people of God. Once again, they felt oppressed and abandoned. Roman rule had shaken their sense of purpose and well-being. Finding God was there, present, in the person of Jesus, was a game-changer.
So, when that same Jesus was taken from them and killed on a cross, their devastation can only be imagined. No wonder they locked themselves away in fear. Two of them hurried home and it was on that journey back to Emmaus, where they thought they might feel secure and safe, that Jesus draws alongside, listens to their fear, and talks with them.
Today we are part of a society which is fearful. We see that the world in which we live is undergoing huge challenges. Conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Israel and Gaza, and many other parts of the world, threaten the possibility of escalating war, and cause us to wonder what next. In this week when we have remembered how war touched our city and destroyed our Cathedral, we look with horror at what damage humanity continues to inflict on those who we should recognise as sisters and brothers. The hope of the reconciliation we have found in Christ is what moves us to persevere for that reconciliation to be realised in human relationships and to draw us closer to God.
Today at Diocesan Synod we will be considering matters that cause us growing concern, that make us fearful for the future. The threat of the climate crisis is beginning to really dawn on us, requiring us to respond. Alongside such global concerns are the more personal fears of not being able to provide for one’s family due to the cost-of-living crisis; and the sense that some feel they have no place within our society, or the Church. Our agenda reflects something of these dilemmas. This morning we will have an update on ‘Our Shared Future’, further shaped, as to how we might listen to God’s leading and how we are seeking to be God’s Church for God’s world at a time of change and challenge.
We will hear from Jonathan on behalf of our General Synod members, about this week’s meeting which included the lengthy debate over Living in Love and Faith. Over the past 6 years we have been seeking to listen to one another and discern God’s voice in the conversation. It has been hard for all involved and we remain deeply divided but with a desire to keep walking together. There is still much to do to build trust amongst us, and to recognise that each of us, whatever our differences, is a gift to one another, and to be cherished.
Today we shall also be calling us as a diocese to commit to ways forward to tackle the environmental challenges and reduce our carbon emissions. It may feel a small contribution in the grand scale of such a global problem and yet it is significant and a vital part of our commitment to change. The fifth mark of mission requires us to treasure what God has given to us in the beauty of this world and to ensure we care for it.
In the presentation of the diocesan budget for next year, we will hear of the considerations and conversations which have helped to inform it. Much work has gone in to make it both realistic and aspirational. I know you will want to join me in thanking Jacqueline, Steve, and the team for taking such care and paying such attention to both need and resource.
In our conversation and debate today, as we listen to one another and talk together, I pray that, like those disciples, in the boat on Galilee, on the road to Emmaus, we might discover something of the presence of God amongst us.
As we approach Advent, we continue to look for His coming today, in our situation now, as well as in that future when all things will be resolved, and we will know Him fully. I am delighted to be joining you here in the Diocese of Coventry for the next stage of our journey together. And that Bishop Saju is accompanying us as well for a day a week! I hope it will be a journey of discovery, of learning and one where we can recognise that surely ‘God is in this place’. May we hear words of peace spoken, stilling the storms of our fear; may our hearts burn within us as He speaks into our lives along the way; and may we, as we break bread together, have our eyes opened to the realisation of Jesus in the midst of us.