Bishop looks to future as diocese recovers from a tainted past
The Bishop of Chichester has launched a new mission strategy focusing on education, the arts and encouraging parishes to further their work in the community.
The Rt Rev Martin Warner has been in post for about three years and after making the issues of child protection his first priority, he has now turned his focus to working with all parishes in the area.
The diocese stretches the length and breath of East and West Sussex and he has now visited each parish at least once.
Launching the new mission strategy this month, he said he would be concentrating on the church’s involvement in education and exploring ways to incorporate the arts into church life.
In the wake of the government’s announcement about turning failing schools into academies, he said the diocese would continue to work with church and non-church schools to improve education.
“If we are taking responsibility for delivering education, it’s got to be outstanding. If we are not, it’s got to be taken out of our hands.
“It’s too important a responsibility for us to be presiding over poor-quality schools. I welcome that.
“We also need to interrogate it. I’m not going to buy into the government’s policy without critique of that.”
The diocese has increased spending on its education support department from about £250k to £1.2m. Part of that will be spent on training teachers.
Bishop Martin wants to also increase the church’s relationship with the arts and has appointed the first Bishop Otter scholar, named after William Otter, the 19th century bishop of Chichester.
He said: “Chichester as a diocese has a glorious history. Naomi will look at the relationship between Christianity and the arts and really looking at the development of an arts policy for the diocese – saying to contemporary artists, what’s your motivation for art? What’s it all for?”
The Bishop’s Palace is already used for recitals and he would like to see more.
The third strand of his vision is a commission to all churches to give themselves a new challenge in their communities.
He said: “We’ve had two quinquennials (ten years) of mission action planning. I’ve said now you are going to act and the next stage you choose one thing you are going to do; cost it, time it and do it.
“We are also committed to delivering the resources that people will need for that.”
The diocese has come a long way under his leadership.
The news of a sex scandal spanning decades broke weeks after he took up post.
It has resulted in several prosecutions of former clergymen including the former bishop of Lewes, the Rt Rev Peter Ball, who awaits sentencing.
Last week Bishop Martin described his first few weeks. He said: “The fear that emerged was palpable.
“I don’t want to say we have dealt with it and moved on. It’s going to be part of our working life.
“I am confident as I can be that we have opened all the drawers and looked in all the filing cabinets.”
He added: “The thing that I have wanted to draw out of that is how we have started to change the culture and rebuild trust.”
One area the Church of England has struggled with nationally is declining church attendance and there are also fewer church weddings than in the past.
However, in the Chichester diocese he said the decline had slowed and in some areas CofE congregations were growing.
In Felpham, for example, one church had three morning services of varying styles, attracting up to 300 people in total. When Bishop Martin visited, there were people queuing to get into the next service.
In East Sussex there is one which attracts thousands of worshippers every Sunday.
He said: “Talking about the Church of England brand, it’s about children abuse; it’s about gender, sex, women bishops and about homophobia.
“They are three significant areas of life, all of which we have managed badly in terms of PR.”
But despite these challenges, he did not rule out building new churches to serve the new communities as towns and cities expand.
He said: “Building a school with a church is the best model. At St Andrew’s in Furnace Green (Crawley) they both feed off each other and both use the building.”
He added building a care home alongside a church and school could also be a good model for the future.
Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.
Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.
1) Make our website your homepage
2) Like our Facebook page
3) Follow us on Twitter
4) Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.
And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!
Always the first with your local news.
Be part of it.