Is Southwark Diocese changing for the better?

Well firstly a confession…..

Sunday was the first time that I had attended a service in Southwark Cathedral in nearly nine years of being in post. Now maybe part of it is where Springfield Church is in the Diocese. I am on one of the slowest train lines to London Bridge from this area. But that was only part of it. The other part of it was the almost gleeful way that certain of the Cathedral authorities seemed to be so partisan.

So I absented myself. I didn’t kick off or go round muttering (well not too much anyway!). I just didn’t go.

We had a well loved area bishop in Nick Baines and I was active in other aspects of the diocesan life such as the Evangelism group and the Children and Youth Development Group. Others in Springfield were involved with Deanery Synod, Churches Together etc.

But it was sad that the diocese was so divided.

It has therefore been interesting to see what moves were made on the appointment of Christopher Chessun to being Bishop of Southwark. Bishop Christopher had been an Archdeacon in the Diocese of London before becoming area Bishop of Woolwich. He was held by people I know in London diocese as being very pastoral.

So, what have we seen so far?

Well I suppose that I am optimistic.

Bishop Christopher Chessun - Bishop of Southwark

Bishop Christopher Chessun

I have now heard Bishop Christopher three times and each time he has emphasised our shared mission and that he wants an outwardly focussed diocese. I have heard him say that people are welcome to have strong opinions but that our focus needs to be on Christ. I have heard a person who appears to be listening and challenging people to not just focus us on what divides us. Someone who is gentle and pastoral.

But back to the Cathedral.

I was asked earlier in the year to be on a group looking at the Pentecost service at the Cathedral. Sadly, I was unable to as I was in Kenya at the time. But this was an enormous and gracious step forward by the Acting Dean Andrew Nunn. He agreed to have a service devised between the Diocesan Liturgical Committee and the Diocesan Evangelical Union. This resulted in a rather strange mix in places but a glorious service that showed the engagement of different groups in the Diocese. The speaker, Martin Cavendar, of ReSource a charismatic group in the Church of England. As it says on their website:

ReSource is a ministry with an Anglican distinctive, seeking to serve the church by teaching, training, and encouraging people to renew their lives and their church through the power of the Holy Spirit, so that God’s message of life-changing love reaches out to others.

I believe that the service was a bold move to re-engage churches such as Springfield and other charismatic and evangelical churches within the diocese who may have kept themselves at arms-length. I have not come across any such attempt before by the Cathedral to engage with those they disagreed with in all the years I have been in Southwark. Martin Cavendar certainly believed that he would never have been invited a few years ago.

It was lovely when about a dozen of us from Springfield went to be part of the service and several were also involved in prayer ministry at the end.

This may seem to be a small step but I really do believe that this is a really significant step forward by Southwark.

There was much comment recently about how the Bishop of Southwark was appointed and why one or two others weren’t appointed. I have no inside knowledge of how they appoint bishops (other than I know one of the people who recommended Sentamu to York!) but I was one of the people asked to give my opinions to the crown appointments secretary (along with many other clergy) and I did ask (plead) with him that we needed someone to bind the church together and not to have a divisive figure from any wing of the church.

I believe that a divisive figure could have been disastrous for the church in Southwark. No organisation divided against itself is likely to do well. To appoint a divisive person in the situation Southwark faced would, I believed, pour fuel on the fire. We needed someone who could seek the common good amongst us. Someone who could seek out and search out the best from all wings of the church. It may well be that we have such a Bishop and I hope and pray that other appointments for Dean and two area bishops will similarly help the diocese and not further divisions.

Its easy to call for a pure church. A church that reflects our views and our opinions and reflects what we believe about God – wherever we stand on the spectrum. But maybe its more Christ-like to deal sensitively and pastorally with the mess that you and I are.

Maybe that is the core of the problem of the Church.

That all too often we want to win.

Maybe, like we are doing with Mother Angela on Roundshaw, with a parish of a very different background and ecclesiology that we need to work towards seeking the best in the other and learning how and where we can co-operate. Sometimes to do that we need space to build trust and goodwill. With Angela we are already seeing a growth in both congregations and a building of trust and openness. It has been really exciting and a wonderful work of God to do this amongst us.

I hope and pray that this is what we are seeing happening in Southwark more and more. That the Pentecost service will see the start of something new and exciting in the diocese of Southwark as the Spirit speaks to us and leads us.


5 comments on “Is Southwark Diocese changing for the better?

  1. Jean
    June 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

    This all sounds very positive. I have just received an invitation to hear Christpher and was planning to go, until I realised it is on a Thursday lunchtime. Not too good for laity under a certain age. Another source of division? The diocese isn’t made up of retired churchgoers!
    Commenting though and not complaining, I could have gone to the Pentecost Service but chose not to. I hope there will be another evening opportunity soon and I won’t miss the out next time.
    We have been blessed with some great bishops. Long may it continue. Does he skittle and eat curry?

    • Will Cookson
      June 14, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

      Well Jean, he did ask me about coming to see the place when I was at the “how to train a curate” course! Of course, it may have been a ploy to get me to be quiet!!

  2. Anna Robbins
    March 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    ‘The other part of it was the almost gleeful way that certain of the Cathedral authorities seemed to be so partisan’…………Sadly that is still very, very true. And it can be very distressing to those of us in the congregation who feel able to cross certain of the ‘anglican divides’ There is an intellectual and spiritual arrogance amongst some there. But it seems there is now hope.

  3. JJ
    April 14, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    Changing for the better?

    have you seen front page of CEN this week?

    Those at the DEU seem to think not !

    • Will Cookson
      April 14, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

      JJ, The Church Times commented on it last week. I am very disappointed in the recent situation and the decisions made in the diocese. I was at the meeting of the DEU with the Bishop and I am sad that this is the current situation. I only hope and pray that there will be a good solution and an imaginative way forward.

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