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The Bishop of Blackburn, Rt Rev. Philip North, spoke movingly and passionately today about the importance of prioritising people who live on the margins of society.

In a wide-ranging and often hard-hitting speech to General Synod in London (the Church of England’s ‘parliament’) the Bishop - pictured - called the church to make sacrifices, have courage and embrace the need to support those living on estates and income deprived communities across England.

He also thanked laypeople and priests ministering on estates everywhere for supporting their communities during an unprecedented five years of pandemic, followed by the cost of living crisis; a period which has had devastating consequences for many who were already living in extreme hardship.

Watch a video of Bishop Philip's full speech on our YouTube channel here or click the embedded video above which is taken from the General Synod livestream. 

  • BBC Radio Lancashire: Deep-dive interview with the Bishop following his recent speech on estates evangelism at General Synod; also touching on 'the wealth disparities between Dioceses'. (Listen here from 2h 07m 30s)

Bishop Philip was speaking at Synod to a paper and motion from the Estates Evangelism Task Group (EETG) of which he is a member and also former Chair. 

A lengthy debate followed with many excellent contributions from around the country, before the motion (with amendments) was successfully passed - unanimously - by 364 to 0 with no absentions. See below for full, final motion. 

During his speech, text version available here, Bishop Philip said: “As those called to leadership, it is imperative upon us to ensure that such vital Gospel work can continue. We must act now to reverse the slow erosion of Christian life on our estates. That will require sacrifice, it will require prayer, it will require huge courage. But it is essential if the Gospel is to flourish once again in our land.”

Bishop Philip also called for urgent moves to address what he described as the ‘scandal’ of wealth disparities across the CofE itself, alongside the need to counterbalance the ‘culturally middle-class’ church by ensuring a new generation of leaders are raised up from working class backgrounds.

The Bishop acknowledged much work had been done since this subject was first discussed at General Synod several years previously but since then, and partly due to the pandemic, there have been some setbacks.

He remained optimistic about the future however and encouraged those attending to take his strong message back to their own Dioceses and ensure those most needing support were front and centre in their strategic planning.

Reflecting on his own experiences to help focus the minds of Synod, Bishop Philip said: “A year ago I went to preach at a new church on an estate in Blackpool. I sat at a table with a mother and her two children. The mother looked grey and tired and was so riven with anxiety that I later found out that this church service was the only time she ever left the house.

“The children were painfully shy and took a long time even to make eye contact. The father was at home and had no time for church or faith. The whole family felt bound by poverty and fear. Just before Christmas I went back to that church.

“The mother now has a full time job and has just been promoted. The father has come to faith and is doing the Diocesan M:Power course which forms lay leaders from urban backgrounds. And the shy little boy was up front, dressed as a donkey, narrating the nativity play and grinning from ear to ear.

“That family has been unbound by the Gospel. How was it possible? Because of a loving, serving, worshipping Christian community confidently present on that estate.”

The Bishop also took the opportunity to remind Synod it had previously committed itself to both racial justice and also becoming a ‘younger church’.

He explained this only serves to further emphasise the importance of reaching those on the margins because statistics show that 85% of the UK's global majority heritage population and two-thirds of our under-19s live on estates and in lower-income parishes.

Bishop Philip leads Blackburn Diocese (The Church of England in Lancashire) as Diocesan Bishop where work is ongoing to support deprived communities across the County … but he acknowledged more still needs to be done, both here and elsewhere.

The Bishop added: “The work of the churches in our nation’s most deprived communities, most of it unseen and unmeasurable, has been utterly beautiful. Thank you for all you have done on our behalf in witnessing to the Gospel in word and deed.

“This motion is an fresh invitation to Synod to make a renewed commitment to the social estates of England. Jesus brought about a transformative ministry by going to the marginalised places and the people living with poverty, knowing that when you do that, the rest will catch up.”

Wording of final motion to General Synod was as follows:

Call on General Synod to ...

  • Dedicate itself afresh to the goal of achieving a loving, serving and worshipping Christian community on every significant social housing estate to mark the fifth anniversary of Synod Motion GS2122
  • Commend the work of all who minister on our estates and gives thanks for those Dioceses who have responded positively to the 2019 Motion
  • Call on all Dioceses to include in their strategic mission and ministry plans the goal of planting and renewing churches on and/or doubling the number of young active disciples in social housing estates/other economically marginalised communities
  • Call on the whole church to address as a matter of urgency the structural and financial injustices that prevent flourishing and sustainable worshipping communities on every estate (for example the financial inequalities between dioceses and the distribution of LInC Funding)
  • Commit itself to taking the necessary steps to raise up and support a new generation of lay and ordained leaders from estates and working class backgrounds (by for example addressing the recommendations of the Ministry Council’s Report report ‘Let Justice Roll Down.’) at all levels in the church including a commitment to invest creatively in local and grassroots forms of ministry and leadership training.
  • Request the Estates Evangelism Task Group to work alongside diocesan vocations advisors, the 30,000 Project and other related bodies to ensure that priority is given to the formation of young people from estates and low income communities to serve as children’s and young people’s leaders, as well as in other forms of Christian ministry. 





Ronnie Semley, February 2024