This contribution was written by Sandra Sue
From the 5th October tot he 7th October seven of us from Holy Trinity Church Utrecht attended the Archdeaconry Synod for North West Europe (i.e. Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) in Belgium. They were fathers David and Grant and the archdeaconry reps Maria Koppenol, Adrian Los, Sandra Sue, Simon Urquhart and Nora Westerbeek van Eerten. (If you are wondering why I do not mention All Saints Amersfoort, it is because reps and priests are invited by chaplaincy to Synod and not by church. So, for instance, the priest and reps of the Anglican church in Heiloo are listed under Christ Church Amsterdam for archdeaconry and diocesan purposes).
The days were filled with sessions about the Diocese, Mission Action Planning, business meetings and reports from churches and projects all over the archdeaconry.
I think I can speak for all of us, if I say that what stood out were the sessions by bishop Robert on what is happening in the Diocese and what the goals are for the future and the sessions by archdeacon Mark Ireland about Mission Action Planning.
Diocese in Europe
As Nora Westerbeek van Eerten put it:
“This year’s Archdeaconry Synod in Drongen, Belgium, was the first Synod I attended. The Synod’s theme was ‘Walking Together in Faith’. To hear about the issues facing the Church of England and the broader Anglican Communion was very informative. To see what God is doing among us, and to share our ‘success stories’ was great! It has inspired, equipped and encouraged me, and hopefully I can share this knowledge, wisdom and joy with All Saints.”
“To worship, have daily prayers and communion services in the chapel of the abbey with so many Anglicans, who each have a life very much dedicated to Christ, was absolutely amazing. I’ve chatted with a lot of new people from all different chaplaincies in Europe, and I really enjoyed the fellowship. Hearing what their issues were, made me realise that all chaplaincies have very different challenges. But the nice thing about the Synod was that everyone was passionate with one common goal.”
“What stood out for me most were the workshops by Bishop Robert Innes and archdeaconMark Ireland (who wrote the book ‘Mission Action Planning’). Dr. Innes
started off by naming seven factors that play a key role in today’s mission context. For example the ecological threat, the refugee/ migration crisis, insecurity in the East, religion and violence, economic injustice, nationalism, continuing secularisation. Huge, gigantic issues that we are very much aware of, and sometimes overwhelmed by. He admits that leadership is difficult at the moment, BUT; no matter what time you live in, the gospel of hope stays the same. It only means that christian unity, christians working together, is more important than ever.”
“We shouldn’t forget that whatever seems to be the modest act in mission work, is still a sign of hope, has true meaning and value. A tiny seed can grow into a huge tree, with long branches, giving lots of fruit. For example, local kids playing soccer with refugee children can be the start of immigration. Mission is not about saving the church. Mission is saving the world. There is mission because God loves people.”
I myself was most impressed by the report from the bishop about what the Anglican church is doing all over Europe. So the fact, that there is once again an Anglican church in Moscow with a priest after many years of hard work from the community there which had remained faithful. Also that the Diocese is setting up a three year project to help the refugees in Calais and give them basic support, because since the camps there have been shut down by the government, there are many refugees in dire circumstances.
I also loved the reports from sister churches in the Archdeaconry. For instance Ypres, which has an electoral roll of about twelve people, but make it their business to receive 60.000 pilgrims a year, whether they are Christians or not. The pilgrims come to mourn the loss of their family during World War I or out of historical interest.
Mission Action Planning
The other outstanding speaker at Synod, Mark Ireland, archdeacon of Blackburn, wrote the book on Mission Action Planning (MAP), which helps churches to formulate and answer questions like where they are going and what they think God’s vision is for them?
It is not about mission in the sense of evangelisation, but about the mission of the church. It is also not about quantity, but about quality. So the idea is to have a vision of what you want to do or where you want to be in about five years time as a church. Depending on how many people are members of your church, your vision and mission can be bigger or smaller. It is not a competition with other churches, but how to tailor what you think God wants you to do as a church, to your own needs. So a church with a small congregation might have a mission action plan to renew their bell tower before it falls down.
As Mark Ireland puts it: “MAP is a process to reflect on experience, to develop vision and to turn vision into action”. A good vision statement: “Serves as a magnet – drawing people together – and a compass – pointing the direction of travel”.
To get there we should listen to God, to the community and to the church membership. So we should ask ourselves questions like: “If all our prayers were answered, what would our church look like in five years time?” and “If all Jesus’ prayers were answered, what would our church look like in five years time?” Do we get the same answers to both questions or are they different? A good vision statement should have elements of answers from both questions.
There are four elements to develop an action plan from a vision statement: review (where are we), discern (what are our choices), plan (what do we need for the journey), act (set out and celebrate). It is a cycle which should be repeated every year to see where you are on your way to fulfilling your vision strategy, to tweak what you are doing and to see if you will make it in five years or need a bit more time.
I would like to end with something which was not officially part of Synod, but which was offered to people who came to Synod early. Which was a Quiet Day, which I found very inspiring.
Our archdeacon Paul Vrolijk, led this day, which was about the psalms and the way psalms can help you with questions you might be struggling with. He would read a part of a psalm and then give us tasks to do, which funnily enough completes the cycle as it resembled what churches should do for Mission Action Planning, but then at a personal level. So for instance, we had to imagine we were taking a walk and sat down to rest on a park bench with a companion of our choice (Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit). And we would speak to our companion and look back on our life to reflect on where we had been and where we were now. We also had to look through the book of Psalms to see if we could find Psalms which reflected our situation or could help us with it.
There were several of these tasks, which were not only insightful, but put me in a calmer mood for Synod.