All human life

Tuesday was a very focused day, concentrating as we did on the ordination of women to the episcopate. To be honest, the day ended in not so good a place. I think we were all tired from having concentrated so hard on what we were doing. The final business of that day was on revisions to the Church Representation rules – such as how many times should a PCC meet, how large should the Standing Committee be and should you be required to publicise the date of a PCC meeting. It didn’t go down well and the time was running out and so in the end the debate had to be adjourned and then we had to pick it up again on Wednesday.

So Wednesday, the final day of the Synod, began with a Presidential Address delivered by Archbishop Justin. It focused on not being driven by fear and was a helpful reflection. One of the interesting things that ++Justin said was

‘Consistency and coherence are not the ultimate virtues. The Church of England is not tidy.’

There are those who look for tidiness and find security in that. But perhaps in the new church that the Archbishop was describing, with a different culture, we need not fear the untidiness that may need to be created. The problem is that so much of what seems to be essential to the nature of Anglicanism is about order, and indeed that is a real feature of the western catholic tradition in the church. How do good order and untidiness find their place in whatever the church looks like in the future?

Following this Address we returned to the Church Representation rules. The lawyers had been pondering overnight and their advice to the Chair was that one of the amendments that gained support on the Tuesday would not produce the desired effect. It quickly became clear that we were in a bit of a mess. There were quite a few amendments and the danger was, as I reflected on Twitter, that we were in danger of creating a camel. Sense prevailed and the debate was adjourned until July when a considered paper could come back to Synod.

The thing about Wednesady was that by contrast with Tuesday the agenda took us through so many issues and so many aspects of life. Like the News of the World used to say of itself ‘all human life is here.’

So after deferring the debate on PCCs we moved to a debate on Safeguarding. The proposals that we were considering had come out of the response to the report on what happened in Chichester Diocese. It was good to see some survivors in the gallery to hear the debate. It was a serious debate on an issue that we simply have to get right and, I think, are increasingly getting right.

A result of climate change?

A result of climate change?

From there we went to the Southwark motion on Environmental Issues. Canon Giles Goddard had done a really great job at bringing this together and introduced the debate expertly. One of the Southwark members of the House of Laity had put down a series of four amendments. They represented a completely different way of thinking about the issues that the motion was trying to address and were successively defeated. The one amendment that was accepted brought back into life the Church of England’s ‘Shrinking the Footprint’ group.

There were lots of interesting speeches and facts that came up as people spoke. The most amazing for me was when we were told by one speaker that a Google search uses as much electricity as boiling a kettle. That is frightening. I haven’t checked its accuracy – but you know, I can believe it.

There was a debate on whether the word ‘excessive’ should be introduced alongside energy use. But it was rejected. As one speaker said, ‘What does this mean? More than I use?’. It was a debate that challenged each one of us especially as the flood waters were rising in so many communities in the land. One speaker commented that if we didn’t have the Thames Barrier than a large part of the Diocese of Southwark would be flooded – including my house I thought!

The amended motion was approved by Synod with enthusiasm – but that has to translate into action.

There's a 'Keep calm' for everything

There’s a ‘Keep calm’ for everything

After lunch we debated the new Girl Guides’ Promise. The issue that prompted this was the removal of ‘God’ from the promise and the focus instead being on ‘me and my beliefs’. It was actually a good debate and though the final motion bore little in common with the one that we started with, the promoter of the debate very graciously encouraged us to support it – which we did.

I was never a Scout or a member of any other uniformed organisation as a child – it just wasn’t my kind of thing – but since ordination, and especially when I was a curate, I have had the pleasure of working with leaders of these youth organisations and they do a fantastic job. So I was glad that the final result of our debate was a celebration of all that the Girl Guide movement has achieved in the last century.

There was then meant to be a debate on robes and the wearing of them by Ministers in the church – strange after talking about another organisation that has a very recognisable uniform. But time was pressing and the debate was adjourned before it even began so that we could give it proper consideration at another Group of Sessions. That was the right decision – even though I had a lovely speech up the sleeve of my dalamatic!

So we ended with sex – you see, I told you all human life was here! In fact it was a report on what is known as the Pilling Report. This is on Human Sexuality and Sir Joseph Pilling – who came cross as a very gracious, irenic man – told us where we were and in questions after we suggested some of where we want to go with this.

Basically the report recommends two years of facilitated conversations, such as the ones that we had in the General Synod in July of last year to talk about women bishops. But this will mean that we need to create a safe and trusting space if those who are in same-sex relationships – and especially those who are ordained – are going to be able to speak honestly and openly. I tried to ask a question but didn’t get called. It was to be ‘Given that some in this chamber are homosexual and some in this chamber are heterosexual and that what we have in common is God given sexuality, will the process not just look at the issue of same-sex relationships but human sexuality as a whole, for there are issues we must address in hetero as well as homo sexuality?’

So we may get the women bishops issue behind us this year but sexuality will be the next big thing to absorb our energy and eat up our time. Oh that we could just get on with mission and the proclamation of the good news and celebrate who we are as people – male, female, black, white, young old, gay, straight – and just be able to tell people who are not part of the church that God really loves them and welcomes them into his home, for they, each of them, are already members of his family.

Bishop Stephen Platten

Bishop Stephen Platten

Synod ended with a farewell by ++Sentamu to the retiring Bishop of Wakefield. Is he retiring or has he been made redundant? I don’t know the technical answer to that but I know that it will be good to have Bishop Stephen Platten in the City of London as Rector of St Michael’s, Cornhill.

So we went our separate ways. Good work had been done, in a good atmosphere. To God be the glory for that. We meet next in York but there is a great deal of work to do before then. This is a prayer by Archbishop William Laud for the church – a good prayer to pray at any time.

Most gracious Father,
we pray to you for your holy catholic Church.
Fill it with all truth;
in all truth with all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purge it.
Where it is in error, direct it.
Where anything is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, strengthen and defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, heal it and reunite it in your love;
for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Take a breath

If you’re desperate to read my reflections from the final day in Synod, I have to disappoint you and ask you to wait until tomorrow. This is one of those evenings full of other things. But we did a great deal of work today and there’s lots to say. So relax and enjoy the evening and say this prayer before you sleep.

Lighten our darkness,
Lord, we pray,
and in your great mercy
defend us from all perils and dangers of this night,
for the love of your only Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.


I have to admit to being worried about what Synod would be like today. After the Eucharist, at which Archbishop Justin presided and preached, the morning and, as it turned out, the first part of the afternoon was given over to the ordination of women to the episcopate. There was a great deal of business to get through and just looking at the Twitter feed will show you how the morning went.

What I was really struck by was the gracious generosity which was evident in the Chamber. I had reflected that this was not a ‘done deal’ and it still isn’t of course. There is still the referral to the dioceses to go through – but let’s face it, the support was overwhelming last time. Why would that have changed? And then it does have to come back to Synod for the final stages with the result of that consultation reported to us.

A window onto the world from Church House

A window onto the world from Church House

I’m glad – thankful – that the support for a shorter process was overwhelming. There is no way that this Measure should be sent down to deaneries and parishes for debate. Not that I mind that happening but in this instance, when people were so incensed by the refusal of the Synod to take real note of the opinions of the diocese last time, I don’t think we would have found a welcome beyond the Diocesan Synods with this referral. But there will be joy, I think, that we are getting on with it.

I was proud of April Alexander in her speech when she said ‘We have done so much damage; now is the time to repair it.’ There has been such damage done to our reputation in the diocese. At last it looks as though we mean business and that we are organised and have a plan. At least we can now get on with moving this forward.

Sir Herbert Baker, architect of Church House

Sir Herbert Baker, architect of Church House

The place in which our discussions happen is the beautiful Synod Chamber. Church House, Westminster, was designed by Sir Herbert Baker who was also the architect of the Union Buildings in Pretoria as well as many other buildings. It has a quiet dignity. Close to the Chamber is the Chapel and one great innovation has been to have a constant praying presence there. Members of the new Community invited by Archbishop Justin to establish a house within Lambeth Palace, are helping to look after this.

I went and sat there for a while this afternoon. There’s a screen set up in the corner so you can see – but not hear – what’s going on in the Chamber – so you don’t feel too separate from the continuing business which this afternoon has been legislative in nature. The Chapel is beautiful though – a calm, holy space in what can be a frenetic environment. It brings you back to the heart of what we are about – Jesus Christ and proclaiming the Good News incarnated in Him.

The Chapel - a gentle and holy space

The Chapel – a gentle and holy space

So a good day and wonderful to breathe more generous air!

Generous God,
thank you for today.
Help us as we move forward
that we may continue
to be gracious and generous
with each other
as you are gracious and generous
with us.

The gathering

Despite all of the difficulties being presented by the weather the Synod Chamber at Church House, Westminster looked suitably full for the beginning of this Group of Sessions. It was going to be slightly odd for me as I had to leave early in the Session because I needed to be back at Southwark Cathedral for the Annual Service for the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass (one of the livery companies who are neighbours of the Cathedral).

Waiting for customers at the affirming catholic stall

Waiting for customers at the affirming catholic stall

Before I went into the Chamber it was good to be able to see the affirming catholic and WATCH stalls next to each other in the exhibition space. The affirming catholic stall brings together the Society of Catholic Priests, the Company of Servers, Gospel Imprint and Anglican Catholic Futures. It’s good that we’re working together in this way and having a visible presence in the Synod.

Friends on the WATCH stand

Friends on the WATCH stand

So to the opening of the Synod. The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed us and Prebendary David Houlding led the worship. In the particular welcomes it was good to see Bishop Elijah from the South Sudan in the gallery. Our prayers are with his people. I remember the great celebration we had at the General Synod in York for the creation of that new nation and the role of the Anglican Church there. That was just a couple of years ago and who could have anticipated then where we would be now.

Synod always begins with the Report of the Business Committee. In the debate particular mention was made of the Palace at Wells, which will come up in Questions this evening (I’m sorry not to be there for that) and the crisis being undergone by those suffering as a result of the floods.

The Business Committee then presented the dates for forthcoming Groups of Sessions. So, if you want to populate an empty diary here are the dates that were accepted.

2016 Monday-Friday 15 -19 February Friday-Tuesday 8 – 12 July
Monday-Wednesday 21 – 23 November (contingency dates)
2017 Monday-Friday 13 – 17 February Friday-Tuesday 7 – 11 July
Monday-Wednesday 20-22 November (contingency dates).
2018 Monday-Friday 5 – 9 February Friday-Tuesday 6 – 10 July
Monday-Wednesday 19 – 21 November (contingency dates).’

The Ethical Investment Advisory Group then made a very good presentation on their work. They spoke about three areas of investment in particular – alcohol, pooling funds and in relation to climate change. Professor Burridge spoke well about the biblical principles behind their work. Having £9 billion across the institutions to invest means getting the ethical policy right is vitally important. I was pleased to hear about the work going on and it will be good to bear all this in mind when we debate the Southwark Motion on the environment on Wednesday.

So I had to leave the Synod then and was very sorry to miss the debate on Gender-based Violence. But lots of prayers please for the debates tomorrow on the ordination of women to the episcopate.

The night before

It hardly seems any time since we were meeting in November – well, it isn’t long actually. But there is plenty to engage with in the agenda for this Group of Sessions. Principally, of course, it is the business engaged with the ordination of women to the episcopate that will take a great deal of the time. There’s an old English saying, ‘There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’ implying that even when the outcome of an event seems certain, things can still go wrong. The atmosphere at the Synod in November was very positive. I’m just praying that we still feel inclined to work together to see this legislation move towards being brought into effect. But none of us should take our eye off the ball, or the cup (you shouldn’t mix metaphors!).

There is a motion on the agenda about the environment and that is important as we are perhaps looking now in the west country at what the effects of climate change might be. There will be debates on gender-based violence, on the use of vestments, safeguarding, the Girl Guide Promise and much, much more.

The Synod Chamber

The Synod Chamber

So there is quite a bit of internal stuff but also important debates about issues beyond the walls and structures of the church – which has to be a good thing.

So please pray for this Group of Sessions of the General Synod. These are prayers prepared by the Archbishops for the last meeting of the Synod. They haven’t passed their ‘sell-by date’.

Sending God,
you call your people to be salt and light in a dark and needy world:
set our eyes on the poor, the helpless and the lost,
open our lips with the good news that you have proclaimed to us,
fill our hearts with love for those you put in our path,
and lead our feet in the ways of your Kingdom;
in the name of Jesus, our Saviour and our strength.

++Justin Cantuar

Almighty and everliving God
grant to all your faithful people
in the Church of England
a new understanding of your Kingdom,
a new knowledge of your suffering-love and power,
a fresh vision of your glory:
and so awaken us to the reality of your presence
that we may be caught up in your purposes,
be generous in our judgements,
and serve you with a burning spirit and a quiet mind.
Keep us, good Lord, in the Joy, simplicity
and compassion of your Holy Gospel;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

++Sentamu Eboracensis

A good Synod

It was a good Synod as far as I was concerned. Unfortunately, as a result both of a Chapter meeting this evening and the visit of Her Majesty The Queen to the Cathedral tomorrow, I had to leave early and so missed the final debate. But it was so refreshing to have a very different feel in the chamber. Who could have predicted this time last year that we would be in this position today? Last year I felt so dismal, now it feels as though we are in a better place and I have to give thanks to God for that, but also to all those who have worked so hard and with such inspiration to get us to this place on the issue of women in the episcopate.

The Synod Chamber

The Synod Chamber

But as they say ‘there’s many a slip between cup and lip’. As the Bishop of Rochester said, now is not the time to open up the bubbly! There is work to be done – but we are ready and eager for that and I believe when the matter is referred to the dioceses – it is Section 8 business – the dioceses will engage positively with the process.

So we leave Westminster and get back to life and ministry in the places in which God has set us. But thanks be to God for these three days. Jesus said ‘in three days I will rebuild my church.’ (John 2.19). I think we have seen the building going on.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be for ever. Amen.

A day for moving on

After lunch we went back into the chamber to continue the work on the draft measure and amending canon. The point of the debate was really to decide if we were going to do revision as a whole Synod rather than pass it to a revision committee.

The reason we could do this is the brevity of the documents. So it would be a much more efficient way of working.

Sunshine over Westminster

Sunshine over Westminster

The debate was very short and the we moved to voting. It was passed by a vote of hands so the Measure will be revised in the Synod as will the amending canon.

We make a decision

It has been an amazing morning in Synod. So much has been said that is so positive. It really feels as though we’re in a different land, breathing different air.

We’ve heard Fr Houlding, Rod Thomas and Christina Rees speaking in almost agreement; people saying this can work. It is so encouraging.

The Prolocutor of Canterbury, Christine Hardman, said she would eat humble pie in that she thought Bishop Pete Broadbent’s suggestion in July was wrong. She and I have been proved wrong – it was so creative. So I’m looking forward to the pie!

The Chair of the Synod said at the beginning that the vote would be a division of the whole Synod. The result was:

For 378
Against 8
Abstentions 25

Now we can move forward.

Lord of the journey,
lead us and guide us
as we move on
as your people.

A wet morning

It’s raining but the forecast is better – that the sun will emerge – and I hope that that is what lies before the Synod as we meet on this final day.

The purple!

The purple!

The main topic is women in the episcopate and that will be the item we talk about after the Synod Eucharist. Radio 4 was saying this morning that the signs are good as we move ahead together to see women in every order of ministry. My prayer is that that will be the case.

So please pray for the meeting of the Synod as we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This the prayer that will be used at the preparation of the table in the Eucharist.

Father, by your Holy Spirit
you keep the Church in unity and truth.
As we break bread together,
may we be one with Christ
in faith and hope and love,
now and for ever.

‘The poor will always be with you’

The afternoon session began with the Presidential Address delivered by Archbishop John Sentamu. His theme was the scandal of the levels of poverty in contemporary British society and he spoke from his experience in his own diocese and in the north of England. It was a magisterial performance – Sentamu at his best – drawing together so many themes and examples, backing it up with statistics and courageous honesty. He spoke of the ministry of Pope Francis and of His Holiness’ passion for and commitment to the poor; he spoke of the example given to us by the Liberation Theology movement and celebrated the work of Beveridge and William Temple with the foundation of the Welfare State.

This really is what we should be talking about in Synod and it was a relief for Synod to be able to speak to the nation in this way on a subject that is critical. Jesus did say that ‘the poor will always be with you’ (Matthew 26.11) but not in the sense that we should therefore not bother but that it will be a constant issue to be addressed. So much poverty has to be as a result of the decisions made by others, the decisions which make some rich and some poor and the church always has something powerful to say into unjust structures and politics. But the Archbishop also spoke of a ‘new poverty’, the fact that people in our society are in full-time employment and still in poverty and that rates of malnutrition in a city as prosperous as Leeds are increasing dramatically. It was a call for change and for ‘prophetic imagination and Christian wisdom’. Archbishop Sentamu sat down to warm and appreciative applause.

Grateful for a break - the Synod tea room

Grateful for a break – the Synod tea room

The afternoon continued with a lengthy debate on The Church School of the Future. It’s right that we gave such a length of time to this debate as our schools are a critical part of the life and ministry of our church. The Bishop of Oxford in opening the debate spoke of the fact that the clergy spend one million hours each year in schools – an amazing statistic, but every hour is well worth it in my own experience. It was good that Mark Steadman, from the Diocese of Southwark, was called first to speak. He celebrated the place of the church schools in our diocese and the way in which they had embraced Bishop Christopher’s call to mission ‘Faith Hope Love’ which is entirely true. We were encouraged to learn from each other’s good practice in schools. One speaker, the Bishop of St Albans, encouraged each parish with a school to set up a lay team to support the school – a good practical idea. I know with our own Cathedral School that many local people are involved in working as volunteers in the school and that has to be encouraged but perhaps more still would find it a great place in which to exercise a lay ministry. The report received overwhelming support and it was good that this substantial debate was once again outward looking.

The afternoon finished with a debate on the workings of General Synod, sponsored by the Diocese of London – but I had to slip away and so can’t comment on it.

Westminster Abbey at the end of the day

Westminster Abbey at the end of the day

So a good day I think, good groups in the morning laying the groundwork for the business that we are all waiting for tomorrow, the debate on women bishops.

Lord, grant us a quiet night and a perfect end
and may we rise refreshed to serve you tomorrow
with prophetic imagination
holy wisdom and passionate courage.


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