Diocesan Conference 2014: Presidential Address

“WE ARE NOT ALONE”

The Gospel:

Luke 10 3, 17: Go on your way….The seventy returned with joy…
Luc 10, 3, 17: Ewch: dychwelodd y deuddeg a thrigain yn llawen.

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Heddiw yw Gwyl Ffransis o Assisi. Today is the Feast of St Francis of Assisi. Beth tybed a ddaw i’r amgyffred wrth feddwl amdano? Can I ask you what might come to mind when we think of him?

For me, what comes to mind is exuberance and enthusiasm and high spirits; and his discernment,his compassion, his humility and his faith; his passion, his sense of wonder; his joy, his simplicity and the single-mindedness which so often accompanies it; his discernment of the hand of God in the created order and his discernment of that order in the harmony of all created things praising God together.

But above all, for me at least, it is humility, wonder, joy and a strong sense of the Incarnation which come through so strongly; but above all: joy..
All those are the qualities, in fact, which should be revealed in us as disciples and followers of Jesus in our day and age. Today in this diocese; and in working through its Strategy of Growing Hope and at this Diocesan Conference, that is what people should recognise in us as disciples of Jesus.

If this Diocesan Conference is anything it is a celebration of discipleship; of us together enjoying and expressing our discipleship and through it expressing our faith in the Triune God.

In Francis all those qualities were brought together and single-mindedly focussed. Francis carried all those qualities through and expressed them in discipleship and apostleship and in mission and ministry.

He expressed them in compassion in the work of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ especially to those on the margins of life. So must we, as disciples in our day. Francis’ exuberant and enthusiastic discipleship is seen in that dynamic response to the God whom he saw in creation and in the humanity of Christ. That should be our response too.

Francis’ heartfelt response to the needs of the world as he saw them meant not only responding to beggars and lepers and getting alongside them in Christ-like compassion and recognising Christ in each of them, that went alongside – and this perhaps is surprising – rebuilding ruined churches. Perhaps it is not surprising, given his emphasis on creation and on the incarnation, and on time and place, that he felt the need for place in which to focus devotion on the one who entered the world in human form, maybe not in a church, but in a stable, a place in space and time.

And that should be our response too: and in so many places in this diocese, places I have visited over the past few months that is exactly and joyfully how I have seen and experienced so many of you expressing your discipleship.
But Francis’s response was not just an individual response: that is something else he is telling us today. Francis did not work alone. Nor must we.
Francis did not express his calling to discipleship and to apostleship; to mission and ministry, the joyful work of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to those on the margins of life: Francis did not express his calling alone. Nor must we.
We are called not to express our calling as disciples alone, or as apostles alone; or as evangelists alone; or in service or in mission or in ministry alone but together. We are called to serve together as members of the body of Christ; so that the Body, the single Body of Christ, so that the church can be the one Christ to the one world we live in today.

Francis’ calling, his discipleship, his ministry and mission: not one of them was accomplished alone. He gathered around him a band – just as indeed they gathered around him – he gathered around him a band, a community, a team indeed of twelve which grew to so many more. And those qualities are still evident and still active in our world today through the work of the Order which still bears his name.

Francis did not exercise his discipleship alone. Nor must we. Francis did not do mission alone. Nor must we.

Francis did not evangelise alone. Nor must we. Francis did not do ministry alone. Nor
must we.

And not doing all that alone did not in any way constrict or restrict Francis’ exuberance, his enthusiasm, his discernment; his compassion, his high spirits, his sense of wonder, his joy, his simplicity and the single-mindedness which so often accompanies it.
Francis’ discipleship, his ministry, his mission, his evangelism was not a matter of self expression or about him alone. And he worked within the structures and discipline of the church. He was not a one man band.

Nor did he expect his companions, his followers, his team, colleagues, his community to be one man bands either. When he sent them out, he did not, when the time and the occasion arose, send them out alone to evangelise. He sent them out two by two, just as Jesus had sent out the seventy whose joyful, enthusiastic, exuberant return from exercising their discipleship together, their apostleship together, their mission together, their ministry together, their evangelism together we heard about in the Gospel for today.

Just indeed as we move into the future of mission and ministry in this diocese, we do so together: indeed I have already, last Monday, in fact, commissioned the first Local Ministry Team to serve a Local Ministry Area. And while there may not have been seventy, there were twenty worship leaders, seven congregations, two stipendiary clergy and a Non Stipendiary Self-Supporting Local Minister.

And last Saturday we ordained eleven to that Ministry who are already working in
Ministry Teams in the Diocese.

As it happens, the Gospel reading which I have used for Conference today is about discipleship and togetherness and joy as exercised by the returning seventy, and may I say, at this point, how good it is that we are met together once again in Conference: first of all to worship together and that, surely, is the first and fundamental reason for our coming together.
For that reason, I make no apology that this Diocesan Conference begins with the Holy Eucharist; and may I thank the Revd Gareth Reid for organising the service; and for the Acting Chaplain and Chaplaincy Team here on the Lampeter Campus of UWTSD, for their ready assistance and support; and also to the pioneers behind and around me like cherubim and seraphim, I do not know about angels, those eleven Deacons whom we Ordained at Michaelmas / St Matthewstide to the Self Supporting Ministry and Local Deployment who will be assisting us at this Eucharist.

Nor do I apologise for setting my Presidential Address this year again within the Eucharist. For unless we can bring before God and unless we can offer, indeed unless we can in the first place organise our agenda prayerfully– unless we can offer all the items on that agenda and all our reports and all our accounts and whatever we do in the way of a direction and strategy for the future, unless we can offer all that on the altar of God then there is something radically wrong with the way we organise the life of the diocese; and with our discipleship together, our apostleship together, our mission together, our ministry together, our evangelism together. For that is what our agenda
embraces our discipleship together, our apostleship together, our mission together, our ministry together, our evangelism together.

For where better can we place our agenda and what we say and do in ordering the spiritual and practical, the administrative and financial life of the diocese of St Davids than within this fundamental sacramental act of worship which distinguishes us as Christians? Where other than embraced and enfolded by this foretaste of the great feast which marks the consummation of the kingdom, the restored rule and harmonious reign of God?

For our agenda shows that we are about the business of the kingdom in the business of this Conference. What we say and do in ordering the spiritual and practical, the administrative and financial life of the diocese of St Davids is what we say and do seriously and conscientiously about the business and building of the kingdom.
And again, as I give this Presidential Address within the context of the Holy Eucharist, as I reminded both myself and all of us here last year: this was a custom of Archbishop George Noakes, to set his presidential addresses in the context of the Holy Eucharist. I am more than reminding myself of that his year, for the vestments I am wearing are his; as is the pastoral staff I am using.

So here we are gathered together in our Diocesan Conference, gathered together for worship; meeting together in fellowship; debating and discussing together, taking counsel together as disciples together about matters which are to do with the building of the kingdom in this diocese.

You need only look, and I am sure that you all have looked through your papers and you can see the range and depth and relevance of those matters in the report of the Standing Committee – the sheer variety of what the diocese does through its various teams and committees, the bread and butter which sustains and nourishes the life of the diocese in the intervals between the meetings of this Diocesan Conference; the nurture which grows hope for the future of the diocese, the variety, the focus, the sacrifice of time and talent and effort on the part of those who serve in those various
capacities, on our committees.

And may I on behalf of Conference, on behalf of the Diocese and on my own behalf, both as Bishop and personally, thank each and every one of you for your contribution towards the work which you do, especially the Chairs and Secretaries of the Committees and I am sure that you will forgive me if I mention in particular the Chair and Vice Chair of the DBF: Mr Martin Presdee Jones; and Mr Peter Campbell; who is also the chair of the Diocesan Parsonage Board.

And may I also thank those who support, administer and finance that work: and in particular may I, as Bishop and personally, thank all the parishes and all the people in the pews of every congregation in this diocese for their sterling day in and day out support of the mission and ministry of the diocese of St Davids through the ministry share.

My thanks to Mrs Val Hockey and the Staff of the Diocesan Office, Mr Mike Scutt for his work as our Diocesan Parsonage Inspector: and to the staff in the Diocesan Office who service and support that work. The joint secretaries of this Conference, Mrs Hockey and my Chaplain and a formal welcome to him since he has taken up his post since the last Conference: and he is still with me!

And thanks to Archdeacon Dennis Wight for his sterling work as his predecessor; and my thanks to his two archidiaconal colleagues and the Area Deans and the Dean, Bishop John Saxbee, the Assistant Bishop, and my PA Anne Rees for all the support they give me as Bishop. Thank you all: Diolch o galon i chi i gyd.

And there is more. Because I have been talking about discipleship. Your discipleship. For all of you, in the service you offer the diocese in whatever capacity you are exercising your discipleship; your ministry, your mission, your evangelism, with that same exuberance and enthusiasm and high spirits; yes – even in the committees of this diocese – discernment and compassion, humility and faith; the same passion, the same joy, the same single-mindedness in discipleship revealed and
expressed in St Francis of Assisi.

As did those seventy or seventy two whom Jesus sent out, not on their own but together in pairs to prepare the way before Him. That is what we are doing in this conference; in our lives in church; in our lives in the world. We have been sent on ahead by God in the Risen Christ to prepare the way for Him.

And as I have been making my way around this diocese in the steps of St David and those who were his contemporaries as disciples and leaders of faith communities, I have been reminded of their joy, after all Dewi Sant’s last words were Be Joyful: Byddwch Lawen – and I am constantly reminded of them for they are engraved on my pectoral cross and their discernment of the hand of God in the created order and their discernment of that order and their discernment all created things joining together in harmony to praise God together. And their compassion and their enthusiasm and their
faith and their single-mindedness.

Their names are so intertwined with the landscape of Wales. They formed our Christian landscape in Wales. They exercised their discipleship together; their ministry together, their mission together, their evangelism together, in community with that same with that same enthusiasm and exuberance and joy as did Francis long centuries after them.

And then there are their forerunners – the seventy who were sent out in pairs together and who returned with joy and with their faith confirmed and enhanced because of what they had done and seen and experienced.

That is why I chose the Gospel for today as a focus for this Address. And it is not the Gospel set for St Francis’ Day but that which is set for this day in ordinary time: as a remarkable touchstone for the discipleship of Francis yes, but also for all discipleship.
Such is the discipleship, the loyal joyful discerning discipleship I have seen in the forty four churches I have visited in the steps of St David: you can trace my progress on the blog: there are another three hundred to go; and I have seen the same loyal joyful discerning discipleship at all the other churches at which we have administered confirmation or celebrated anniversaries over the past year.

I see that same joyful discipleship at parish and congregational level which I have mentioned at diocesan level: and may I thank all of you for your welcome and hospitality: my waistline can testify to that: but it is that focussed discerning discipleship, that ministry, that mission, that service at local level which enables us to grow hope in the diocese and enables us to cooperate joyfully, just like the seventy, with God and enable him to carry his mission for the establishment of his kingdom in the whole of his world.
Amen.