It was a Diocesan Synod with a difference this month; the first evening gathering for some years, taking place on Tuesday July 16 at St Cuthbert’s church in Fulwood, Preston.
More than 70 people who attended heard Rt Rev. Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, give an upbeat Presidential Address on the theme of ‘God’s favour’ looking at the achievements of the last year; giving an overview of the work for Vision 2026 and looking ahead to future plans – including the next Diocesan Conference in 2021.
Other business included reports on the financial accounts for the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF) and the Diocesan Board of Education (DBE); a motion to ratify that Lower Income Communities Funding (LICF) from the national church should be targeted directly at parishes in most need; and a further motion for sending to General Synod calling for weddings fees to be set at nil or a minimal amount.
During his Presidential Address, Bishop Julian said: “It feels now, in God’s purposes, there is a time of favour in this Diocese in terms of the work that so many people are doing. There are so many examples of encouragement that can be seen in so many places.
“The Diocesan Conference last year was a particular gift from God and a sign of His favour towards us. And then there is the very remarkable work on our estates at the moment including the work of the ‘M:Power’ urban ministry training centre in Lower Darwen, training up people to be leaders on our estates.
“The resourcing churches in Preston, at the Minster and St George’s, start formally at the end of September.
“Then there are the people God is sending to us to join the team, recently bringing Nick McKee as Director of Vocations; Ruth Hassall as Director of Discipleship and Carolyn Barton as our new Vision Coordinator – all joining the central team.
“And there are important appointments in parishes all around the Diocese. Men and women of vision and energy. So, it feels like a time of favour.”
Bishop Julian continued: “We have a focus on making disciples at the moment and we see that as a key to unlocking all sorts of issues that we face. It isn’t all plain sailing and there are many challenges and I am fully aware of them.
“But we must see them in the context of all the good things that are also taking place.”
Bishop Julian concluded by reflecting on our freedoms saying: “When we believe this is a time of God’s favour we must also remember the freedom to worship that we have in this country compared to other parts of the world.
“We forget how blessed we are with that freedom. In the news recently we learned of the murder of 100 Christian villagers in Mali on June 10 for their faith in Christ.
“We have got to be grateful for the glorious and wonderful freedom we have and seek to make the most of it. ‘For I tell you,’ says Paul, ‘now is a time of God’s favour; now is a day of salvation’.”
Elsewhere on the agenda for this Diocesan Synod, David Barlow, Chair of the Diocesan Board of Finance (DBF) presented the accounts for the DBF and Director of Education, Stephen Whittaker, spoke to the accounts for the DBE.
A debate on a motion to be sent to General Synod then followed. Submitted by Blackpool Deanery and proposed by Rev. Canon Andrew Sage and Rev. Steve Haskett the motion said: ‘That this Synod call on the Archbishops’ Council to introduce an order 2 to amend the Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2019 so that the fees relating to marriages are set at nil or at a minimal amount in order to demonstrate the Church’s commitment to marriage and pastoral care.’
A passionate debate then followed with good contributions from all sides before the motion was put to a vote and passed by 32 votes to 27 with 8 abstentions. It will now be sent to General Synod and will be added to their roster of motions from dioceses to be debated, most likely within the next two years.
A further motion centred around the money given to the Diocese for Lower Income Communities Funding (LICF) and plans to target this money directly at parishes in most need.
The motion, tied to a report for Synod with recommendations, was proposed by David Barlow, and was asking Synod to accept the recommendations to direct the LICF monies accordingly.
A letter of explanation will be sent to parishes in due course, and before the plans are initiated; as well as further related updates on other Diocesan communications channels.
The Synod was told by David Barlow that, in recent years, LICF funding which was previously distributed by National church as the Darlow formula had been distributed using the share formula.
Changed restrictions to the grant when it became LICF monies means it must now be targeted to parishes in lower income communities which the DBF will commence from January 2020.
Synod heard there will be an impact on parishes that are not in defined ‘lower income communities’ as they will see increases in their Parish Share as a result of this change.
Going forward, the LICF monies will be available to distribute to lower income parishes initially from 2020-25 but with no guarantees beyond that point as yet.
Following a supportive debate, the motion was proposed by David and was passed unanimously.
Links to the Presidential Address