Diocesan Synod 2008
Our recent Diocesan Synod was a great event, including a wonderful Diocesan Family Day Eucharist on the Sunday with the celebration of Bishop Jo’s 10th year as Bishop of Pretoria. Among many important areas of church and society addressed by Synod, the following stand out:
New Focus—Turning Houses into Homes
Excitingly, as a Diocese, we have made substantial progress over the last 10 years from maintenance to mission, and this was marked by Bishop Jo’s challenge to the Diocese in his Charge to now focus on equipping and strengthening families by turning houses into homes.
As part of a strategic move to realign our structures towards greater effectiveness in mission a motion was passed in principle (to be ratified by DSC in mid-November) to refocus our parish structures: this included the amalgamation of struggling parishes into clusters, moving some from parish to mission parish status, others to parish status. Excitingly, this included the amalgamation of our mission congregation in Willow Glen with the parish of Silverton into the new Mission Parish of Equestria.
A motion was also accepted to form a commission to review our Archdeaconry structures towards greater mission and ministry effectiveness.
Our Bishop’s call to focus on equipping and strengthening families comes at a critical point in our social, political and economic context. While we can find much to bemoan in our present socio-political crisis as a nation, there can be no doubt that the breakdown in family life is a significant factor. Partly a cause of urbanisation, partly the rise of individualism (a negative consequence of Western-style democracy), “community” as a way of life, as a place of belonging, is increasingly rare. Families are communities; villages are communities; churches are communities; God, the Trinity, is a community. Huge, sprawling cities are not.
A house is a place, but a home is a relationship; and homes are relational networks for emotional, Spiritual, as well as economic and social, support. A home is more than just a place to sleep and store our clothes. A home is so much more than just a house.
In past centuries, mothers were often the relational centre around which family life revolved. With women, rightly, increasingly gaining economic and political power, this centre has been lost, and society has been unable to redefine the centre, and reform the nature of family into a viable 21st century social structure. The wider Church also appears largely impotent, and even—with people like Angus Buchan, of “Faith like Potatoes” fame, calling people back to an outdated social concept of family—contributing to further family confusion and chaos.
The Bishop’s Charge is effectively a call for us as Church to become creatively involved in reforming family life. We have resources, but we also need a willingness to interpret these resources in a new way for a new century with new challenges. Scripture is a prime resource, built as it is on communities of Faith over the ages, but a resource that needs to be reinterpreted for the times in which we live, rather than just a “cut and paste” job that takes no account of human evolution over two thousand years and more.
We need to re-explore “community”: we need to define how we choose to “belong” and recognise that some of our present choices may be dangerous to our relational, emotional and Spiritual reality; we need to experiment in finding a new centre, one that is not gender specific; we need to recommit to the centrality of meaningful relationships despite a consumerist global society that focuses us on possessions and teaches us a “throw-away” mentality. We need to be less discriminatory and more discriminating; we need to begin to see the wood for all the trees.
I suspect here is much we can learn from each other if we are willing to share, in particular, the areas of family life with which we struggle. A starting point may be to begin taking inventory of the reality of the family we are presently a part of, honestly and without shame.
We are all a part of this journey.