Looking back

So, I promised a final post on this blog before I send in my letter of resignation as a member of the General Synod. In preparation for this I looked back to the first post I put on this blog as I couldn’t really member why I had begun posting something, what prompted me to do it in the first place. So, there have been 155 posts – this will be the 156th – and if you have read them all, thank you. The first was posted on 5 July 2013. I was just arriving in York, the sun was shining and I was feeling a little bit nervous. The previous November there had been a special meeting of the Synod at which the legislation to make possible the ordination of women to the episcopate had been defeated. The houses of bishops and clergy had voted in favour but it was lost in the House of Laity. Ironically my post included a photo of Rosemarie Mallett and Alan Moses arriving to look after one of the ‘inclusive’ stalls in the marketplace! Rosemarie is now Bishop Rosemarie and we are blessed by her ministry as Bishop of Croydon.

I suppose my inention in keeping a blog going was to share something of what we were doing and how things were feeling because many of us were feeling very anxious.

Feeling anxious has, I suppose, been a feature of my eighteen years on the General Synod. I decided to stand because Erica Woof, who was then working for Inclusive Church, came along to our clergy meeting to challenge us about why none of us, apart from Colin Slee, was on the Synod. The decision of my colleagues was that I should stand. Erica is now Vicar of Stockwell and it was thanks to her that I stood in the first place. I was nominated by Canon Richard Truss – Liz’s uncle – on a kind of ‘liberal catholic’ ticket and as the Rector of St John’s Waterloo, that well know bastion of liberal theology, he was happy to support me. The anxiety though, then and now, has always been around things being on a constant knife-edge. Will this, that or the other get through, or will we be able to defeat this, that or the other? The really important areas of our life – worship, ministry, ethics – are always hotly contested and that is where the costs as well as the benefit of being a ‘broad church’ becomes very apparent.

Jesus gives a word of encouragement to his disciples. They were anxious about what they had to do and about the persecution that they might face. Jesus says

‘Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time.’ (Matthew 10.19)

I suppose one of the problems with General Synod – and I don’t know how you possibly solve this – is the adversarial nature of the whole thing. We might sit in a semi circle of kinds in both Westminster and York, rather than facing off one another across the lines drawn into the carpet of the House of Commons, but the ‘two sides’ still dominates much of what is done and said, the for and against, the right and wrong that flows out of our traditions and complex history. We may be encouraged to speak well of each other, we may wish to disagree well, but we don’t seem to be able to achieve it.

Nevertheless, I have loved General Synod. There is a sense, and I suppose this is where the passion on all sides emanates from, that the things that we are debating, deciding, dividing on, really matter. We are able to give direction to things, to aid the mission and ministry into which God calls us. Being part of the Synod that finally voted for women to be admitted to all three orders of ministry, to be part of a Synod that has finally allowed some kind of blessing to offered to people in same-sex relationships has been a privilege.

I want to pay tribute to a couple of groups of people. The first are those who assiduously read all the papers, who put in Questions, Requests to Speak, amendments, who go along to the meetings of Revision Committees. In each of the quinquennia in which I have been on Synod there have been a group of people who fall into this category. They want to speak in every debate, they have always got their name somewhere or other on an Order Paper. At many times they are so annoying but actually, when I stop and think about it, Synod would not function properly with out them. Synod is a legislative body and part of that, a big part of it is scrutiny. One of my biggest regrets is not properly engaging with the proposals around the Clergy Discipline Measure. We know that it is not fit for purpose, that it shouldn’t have been passed, that it has done more damage than good. I blame myself – I should have taken better notice rather than imagine that some how it was all going to be ok. So for all those people who annoy the hell out of the Chairs of the Synod, proposers of motions, architects of Measures, and the rest of the membership of the General Synod, thank you.

My other thanks are for the huge team backstage, usually literally. The Synod Support Team and the Legal Department come in for a lot of criticism, sometimes they deserve it, most often they don’t. Having the opportunity to be at one stage Chaplain to the Synod and latterly one of the Panel of Chairs has given me access to all areas and an opportunity to get to know those who seek to manage the Synod and provide what is needed by its members. I have found such support in that back room, such encouragement, and such commitment to the church from people who get to view something of the dark underbelly of the institution. Again, thank you.

So, I will write my letter and hang up my Synod pass and bring this blog to a close. But I do so with much to be thankful for and much to have pride in. We are fortunate that we are a church where voices can be heard – the voices of the laity, of the clergy and the bishops in the same forum; a church in which that sometimes unholy trinity has to agree; a church that seeks to hear what the Spirit is saying, that will sometimes get it very wrong, but often get it very right. And if ever you find yourself thinking, ‘Shall I stand for General Synod?’, don’t dismiss the thought too quickly. You might actually love it as much as I have done.

I’ll conclude with that favourite prayer of mine by Dag Hammarskjold.

For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes. Amen.

A better story

I arrived yesterday at Church House knowing that the day would be a momentous one for me whatever happened in the debate about LLF. It was to be my final day as a member of the General Synod, and the final opportunity I would have to be in the chair. In fact, I was due to chair two debates, one in the morning on governance and one in the afternoon on safeguarding. But, as you know, the fact that the LLF debate had to be adjourned at 7.15pm the previous evening and resumed after Morning Prayer, meant that everything was being bumped. In the ‘green room’ for the chairs, the lawyers and the administrators, we were trying to work through the implications.

The thought was that LLF probably needed another three hours to deal with the remaining 8 amendments and to give some time for a debate on the main Motion, whether at that stage it be amended or unamended. In fact the remainder of the debate took three and a quarter hours, concluding at about 12.30pm. How Geoffrey Tattersall and the team managed it (he was the chair who did a magnificent job) I do not know. It was a masterclass in how to manage something that had all the ingredients to become a most toxic moment. But through lightness of touch and no little humour the debate was brought to its conclusion.

My comment had been that ‘it could have been worse’ and that remained true. It could have been worse. As the debate wore on and as all but one of the amendments fell through lack of support from one side or the other, and as I looked at the voting numbers of each of the Houses at each point, I remained nervous that the final vote might be very tight.

The result has been well reported but here it is

Bishops: For 36; Against 4; Abstentions 2

Clergy: For 111; Against 85; Abstentions 3

Laity: For 103; Against 92; Abstentions 5

That means the total figures, if there had been a simple count of the whole Synod, was

For 250; Against 181; Abstentions 10

But the truth is that in the Houses of Clergy and Laity there was not a 2/3rds majority and so if we had been talking about formally changing the Canon on marriage I don’t think there would have been the support needed. So this was the best we could have hoped for and we look forward now to a period of reception in the church, the technical phrase for ‘getting used to it’.

Can you believe it? I woke this morning. The sun was shining on the dome of St Paul’s, the sky was a powdery blue and it felt like a better day had dawned, that we were in a better church, that we had a better story to tell. That phrase ‘a better story’ was one that obviously was being rehearsed throughout the debate by the opponents of the LLF motion. they spoke of us being able to tell a better story, the better story of the Jesus they knew who requires those who are gay to live their life in imposed celibacy, who requires heterosexual people who love each other to refrain from sexual activity outside of marriage, who places a limit on love and identity and the freedom that may of us thought he won on the cross.

It was a mis-telling of the better story, in my view, not a story I would be eager to share.

For the first time in my 40 years of ordained ministry I can look to God who will bless me and will bless my relationship. In my heart I have always known that I am blessed and in fact the church has blessed me in so may ways, but it has always been hidden, lacking in honesty and integrity. Today, after yesterday, we can be open and honest and truthful and not live in fear. ‘This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice in it’, as the psalmist says. We have crossed the Rubicon and we cannot go back and I hope and trust that those who voted against this will discover the good, rich fruits for life that will flow from it.

Jesus is speaking about mission to his apostles and he says this to them

‘What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops’. (Matthew 10.27)

For too long we have been whispering about inclusive love in the dark, now we must proclaim it in the light from the housetops. God is love and we are allowed to love and to be the ones whom God has made in love. For me it feels like liberation and I say that as the dean of a cathedral in a diocese that has been enlightened and bold and brave, for years, and yet even in this place I have had to live looking over my shoulder, so what has it been like for others in other parts of the church?

This is the better story and we can now tell it – that God loves all of us and wants to bless all of us.

The rest of the business of Synod went past in a bit of a blur and a haze. Items were bumped off the agenda, my two items ended up next to each other. In the middle of them the Archbishop of Canterbury made an intervention. In the end, after a rather cheeky response on my part, I allowed him to speak! He was so kind in thanking me publically for the role I have played in Synod over the last 18 years and as a member of the Panel of Chairs for the last 11. It has all been a privilege and I have loved it, even the bad and boring moments.

I will add one more reflection to this blog and then sign off finally. But for the moment, I just want to breathe the new, fresh air of the church and thank God that I can say and believe that he loves even me, a gay man, a gay and partnered priest.

Loving God, may we tell your better story of love and joy, of hope and promise, of life, now and for ever. Amen.

Into extra time

I’m not really into using sporting analogies, basically because I don’t really understand sports and so I don’t really know what most sporting phrases mean. But I do know what extra time means and penalties, of course, and thanks to Eddie Waring’s rugby commentaries, what an ‘up and under’ is. Anyway, the thing is that General Synod did not complete its work today. We have to return to ‘Living in Love and Faith’ (LLF) in the morning. By my reckoning we have another 8 amendments to consider and then need to get back to the debate on the main Motion, be it by that stage amended or unamended. Amazingly, after the sixteen votes we have taken this afternoon the Motion remains intact … but there is time to go.

Today began however with a debate on the cost of living crisis, which was important, and then I took the chair to complete the unfinished Miscellaneous Provisions Measure, which had itself gone into extra time. That was done and was followed by a debate on the Parochial Fees Order – those statutory fees that apply to weddings and funerals in the Church of England.

Between the morning and afternoon I was privileged to celebrate the Eucharist in the lovely church of St Matthew Westminster for the members of ACiS (Affirming Catholics in Synod). For the past, I’m not sure how many years, I have arranged the liturgy for these services which have taken place almost invariably on the first evening of a Westminster Synod. It has been lovely to be able to do that and that was why I was pleased to be asked to both preside and preach on this occasion. It provided a wonderful moment of reflection, feeding and peace before we went into the Chamber for the debate on LLF which was programmed to last for 5 hours. It was exhausting in prospect; it was exhausting in fact.

I will say more tomorrow when, by the grace of God, it will be completed. Just a couple of things beyond what I have said already.

The first is that people are behaving better than I had feared. People are being careful about the language they are using, in the main. It is sad to have to say that about a meeting of Christians but it is the case that we can use words to hurt and not to heal, to destroy and not build up. As it said in the gospel for the Mass today ‘the things that come out are what defile.’ (Mark 7.15) It was that that I reflected on in the homily and the fact that in the First Reading from the second creation narrative in Genesis, that it was the good, creative word spoken by God that created all things good of their very nature. That, of course, I believe, includes LGBTQI+ people, who are not a mistake, not ‘disordered’ but an equal part and product of the good word spoken.

Secondly, it seems as though there is a third, two-thirds split in both the Houses of Clergy and Laity. Many of the results of votes – and they have all been counted and mostly by Houses – have revealed this. Whether that will continue to be the case and especially in any final vote I obviously do not know. But at the moment the Synod seems generally behind what the bishops are doing. The other thing is that the House of Bishops is basically solidly behind their own Motion with only a couple of people expressing their unhappiness by voting against the majority.

But it is clear that there is a large number of our brothers and sisters who are unhappy about what is proposed and about even the possibility of blessing what they regard as sinful behaviour. Added to this is the unhappiness expressed by many who feel that the proposals depart from the doctrine, which they claim is long held, that the only place for sex is within marriage and the only people allowed to be married are a man and a woman.

Wherever tomorrow takes us we will have to deal with quite fundamental differences as we move forwards. We will also have to recognise that what people have said about attitudes in other parts of the Anglican Communion and other parts of the Christian church globally will have to be addressed because they will have implications for the wellbeing and, it was suggested, even lives of others.

The lovely chapel in Church House

We had two comfort breaks during the debate and I took advantage of one of them to go into the Church House Chapel to say Evening Prayer. It was calm and still and beautiful – and it gave me the strength to go back for more. I pray that all of us will sleep well this night and in the morning be ready to move with the Sprit for the sake of the church, the sake of mission and the sake of one another.

Be present, O merciful God,
and protect us through the silent hours of this night,
so that we who are wearied
by the changes and chances of this fleeting world,
may rest upon your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It could have been worse

We have a great way in England of having phrases which do the job in quite subtle ways One broadband firm, selling itself with Yorkshire grit, uses the phrase ‘That’ll do!’ as describing white rose approval for something. To the question ‘How are you?’ we invariably answer, ‘Ok thanks’ even if we feel dreadful. So when someone asked me how today has gone my answer was, ‘It could have been worse!’ Clearly it could have been but it is hardly the strap-line that the Church of England really wants, hardly a positive endorsement of who we are, not a reflection of the kingdom.

R S Thomas’ much quoted poem ‘The Kingdom’ begins with those lines

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on

and it continues with an exploration of the way in which the kingdom of God things are healed, people are healed, things are turned round, people are turned round. Maybe we are in that place, maybe we’re not.

Anyway, I’ll come back to that but just to give you a feel of the day, we began with a Synod Eucharist which is never a liturgical highpoint but does gather us around the table sharing the meal which Jesus gives. The Archbishop of York preached on one of his favourite verses of scripture, from the psalms, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46.4) With his usual enthusiasm and down-to-earth way of looking at things it was truly refreshing. Gladness was something of which I needed to be reminded, and, to be honest, I was glad to be there.

As I have already said, there is a great deal of legislative business in this Synod. The morning began, once the cross and candles, fair linens/caterers tablecloths, chalices etc. had been taken away and the tech team had connected up all the screens and microphones we are have to use on the platform, with two pieces of business, one which was dispatched in Road Runner fashion and then the item that I was chairing. The first piece of legislation related to church schools, my item was more random. Every so often we have a Miscellaneous Provisions Measure before us, and this was such an occasion. Its purpose is to gather up all those little amendments to other pieces of legislation which are too small for a Measure of their own but would make a big difference if passed into law. This particular Measure contains clauses on bishops, dioceses, cathedrals, and much much more. Following this item was the Loyal Address and that had to be taken, so there was a timed adjournment at the end of my debate which we hit up against.

What was good was that people were engaging in debating what was before them and Synod wasn’t simply nodding it through, which was something I was fearful of after yesterdays Speedy Gonzales experience. But it does mean that we will have to resume the debate sometime tomorrow morning.

The Loyal Address was the opportunity for the Church of England to say loyal things to our Supreme Governor, King Charles III as he approaches his coronation. Archbishop Justin rightly reminded us of the faith of the Late Queen and of the commitment to faith that the King has, and his respect for all faiths. ++Justin also spoke about the privilege that we have as the Church of England to celebrate the coronation in this way.

With that privilege comes responsibility, we are the Church of England, for England and for everyone who lives in England, whoever they are. That responsibility includes the place of LGBTQI+ people as much as those who are straight. All the questions relating to LLF (Living in Love and Faith) had been kept back from yesterday’s mammoth Questions session and were dealt with before lunch. The tone was … chippy. Some things that were said were offensive but it was the usual suspects who voiced opinions that I sincerely believe are not held across the membership of Synod. But it did make some of us nervous about the afternoon.

After lunch the first item related to training for ministry. However, we were all waiting for the main performance, the second bite at the LLF cherry. This was billed as ‘Group Work’. We had been allocated into groups – laity, clergy and bishops mixed up together, and after an introduction were set off to do our work.

We all agreed not to put out on social media what people said in our discussions, and I respect that. All I will say is that as we looked at the ‘Pastoral Principles’, the ‘Prayers of Love and Faith’ and what might be in the new ‘Pastoral Guidance’ which we have yet to see. It could have been worse.

So we left the groups having heard the range of opinions and have gone off to get ready for the debate tomorrow afternoon, five hours on the subject. A great many amendments to the Motion have been submitted and it will be an ordeal, physical, emotional and spiritual. But it has to be done and I pray that those divine streams of grace will make us glad, that I’ll be able to say something more positive than ‘It could have been worse!’

One of the prayers that the bishops wish to commend might speak to us now and tomorrow

Gracious God,
from love we are made
and to love we shall return.
May our love for one another
kindle flames of joy and hope.
May the light and warmth of your grace
inspire us to follow the Way of Jesus Christ,
and serve you in your Kingdom,
now and for ever. Amen.

Picking up speed

It was back in 1949, in a Looney Tunes cartoon, that the Road Runner first streaked across our screens. Always outwitting Wile E Coyote, the Road Runner was a great character. His speed always got him out of trouble.

There was something of the Road Runner at General Synod on this first day of this current Group of Sessions. There are times when the processes of the Synod seem like wading through treacle and then thought is given to streamlining them and we get a very different experience. This became apparent today. New procedures were being used for the first time in relation to legislative business. Instead of working laboriously through everything, there is now a ‘deemed approval’ system whereby unless an objection has been received and if no one is indicating that they wish to speak the whole thing goes through. That is exactly what happened when I took the chair towards the beginning of the afternoon session.

Synod had before it an Amending Canon which made changes to respond to one of the IICSA recommendations. Each diocese has at present a Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor. The proposal is that this position will be designated ‘officer’ which moves the focus away from purely advice to something much more executive in responsibility. The mover of the Motion had her time to present her report. There were no speeches made after that, no one wanted to speak. So we moved to the next stage, no one spoke. So we moved to end of the process. Within ten minutes the whole thing was finished. We had had quite a substantial period of time allocated in the agenda as had other similar items that afternoon. The Road Runner was at work and like another super-fast cartoon character of the past, Speedy Gonzales, we came to the end of business and arrived at the first of the three Living in Love and Faith (LLF) items on the agenda.

This initial item was a presentation by the Bishop of London in which she set out what had happened, how we had got to where we are and what will then be happening. I have to say, Bishop Sarah’s address was excellent. It was calm, kind, considered, sprinkled with theology and full of honesty. It was followed by a video of lots of people, and especially bishops, all saying nice things about gay people, which, personally, I could have done without. It’s like the apology that we have received; I don’t need an apology, I need change; I don’t need nice words, I need to see evidence of repentance, metanoia in Greek, which involves turning round, a change of direction, and I don’t think that is actually where we are. But it was a good beginning.

The next stage, tomorrow, is Group Work. The prospect of this fills me with a degree of despair. It feels like I have been in groups talking about this stuff for ever. But … I will play my part and say my piece and participate fully, and hope, and pray that it will help stage three of the Synodical process, THE DEBATE. I don’t think the Road Runner or Speedy will be evident on Wednesday afternoon, nor should they be.

But the effect of the new procedures was that there was almost two hours for Questions and as a result of excellent chairing all the questions were dealt with, probably a first, or at least a very rare occurrence – and this tour de force was greeted by applause from Synod members.

Jesus talks about a narrow gate and the path that leads to it

‘The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.’ (Matthew 7.14)

You can’t rush along that hard path, nor negotiate that narrow gate at speed; it takes careful work. So the pace will slow down but it has been an exhilarating beginning!

Loving God, help us travel the path that lies ahead and find that gate that leads to life. Amen.

The final lap

It is with a degree of sadness that I approach this Group of Sessions of the General Synod which begins today in Church House, Westminster. The weather is lovely; the Abbey stood out clearly against a clear blue sky as I got off the tube at Westminster Station and walked across to get into Church House for the meeting of the Panel of Chairs which always precedes the beginning of the Synod for those of us who are members of the Panel. The sadness is that this is my final Group of Sessions and that, in many ways, we are still treading the same ground, or sinking in the same swamp, however you wish to describe it.

It was 2005 that I was first elected to the Synod as a diocesan clergy proctor from the Diocese of Southwark. Canon Richard Truss – yes Liz’s uncle – had nominated me and I was standing on a liberal catholic, inclusive ticket – no surprises there. It was fantastic to be elected and to be able to take my place in the Synod chamber. I was re-elected in 2010, then as a Dean in 2015 and finally in the delayed election of 2021. Despite all the politics and ridiculousness that sometimes surrounds the meetings of Synod I have actually loved it. What I really love, I suppose, is meeting up with people and actually feeling that the decisions we are making and the debates that we are having are significant. It never feels like a waste of time, compared to some other church meetings I have had to attend over the last 40 years!

I was so delighted to be part of the Synod that decided that the episcopacy should be open to all regardless of gender and it was great, as a consequence of being on Synod, to be able to serve on the Crown Nominations Commission for 8 years and to be able to contribute to the nomination of the first woman as a diocesan bishop. There has been so much more than that, of course and my second sadness is related to the ‘other’ stuff.

This Group of Sessions will inevitably be dominated by ‘Living in Love and Faith’ and the 5 hours debate that we look forward to on Wednesday afternoon. That will be a marathon for all of us, gruelling, challenging, potentially upsetting and, most probably, fundamentally divisive in its implications. The way in which the church deals with sexuality in general and LGBT+ issues in particular will dominate our proceedings. Over 60 questions have been received which need to be addressed in a second bite of the ‘Questions’ cherry on Tuesday. It will pop up all over the place and, I suspect, dominate discussions in the tea room and occupy the attention of most of the fringe meetings.

There is other stuff on the agenda – quite a lot of legislative business, amending canons, that kind of thing. There is a debate on ‘Insurance Premium Tax’, a mention of education, ministerial formation, parochial fees and, of course, Safeguarding, which will be the final debate I have the privilege to share, which is good, given that this has also been a feature of my last 18 years on this body.

It is a sadness, however, that we are still unable to really agree on a way forward with regard to sexuality. Our inability to do this has hampered our mission to the nation, discredited us in the eyes of many people, including parliament across the road. LGBT people now feel that so much of the church is not for them, and at one stage they contributed so much to the life of particular parts of the church. The families of LGBT people have given up on us because of the way in which we have so often talked of their children. Young adults can’t begin to understand what the problem is and why we waste time on this and are not as passionate about climate change, peace, justice, modern slavery, inequality – all the things that the God of justice is passionate about.

Yesterday’s readings for the Eucharist were so powerful as I was getting ready for what will me be this final lap, and the words of the prophet Isaiah are still with me as I approach the opening of this Group of Sessions.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them.
(Isaiah 58.6-7)

These are the priorities of God and there is a promise to those who also share in the divine impulse for justice

then your light shall rise in the darkness (Isaiah 58.10)

Will we allow the light of Christ, the light of the kingdom, the light of God to shine through the church, or will we block it, again? We will have to see where the Holy Spirit takes us over these four days. Until then we should pray

O God, forasmuch as without you
we are not able to please you;
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord

Wonderfully made

Something else happened yesterday amongst all the other things that i mentioned in my last blog. Canon Tim Goode, a colleague from Southwark, led a debate on the place of disabled people in the life of the church. You may imagine that we might have talked about this before and in some ways we have. But previously it has been around people living with disability being, well, an issue to be solved. So we have talked a lot about access in all its ways and forms; we’ve talked about those with hearing impairment; we’ve talked about those born with Downs Syndrome; we’ve talked about the church being dementia friendly. But there was something that made this debate different.

Me as a baby – wonderfully made.

A lot of that came from the amazing way that Tim introduced the debate. He speaks from his own life experience and he speaks passionately, not in a way that creates guilt in his listeners but in a way that really inspires. And Synod was inspired.

Tim’s go-to text when he talks about the place of disabled people comes from Psalm 139

I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139.13)

It’s a wonderful psalm, the one about God searching for us and knowing us, from beginning to end, a psalm about loving us and holding us and a psalm that encourages us to see ourselves as the ‘pleasant planting’ of God, to steal a phrase from Isaiah. This verse really encapsulates what the debate was all about, about recognising the wonder and the value in each and every person, whoever they are, whatever their ability might be, whatever wonderfulness they embody.

One element of the motion which is important was addressed to the Liturgical Commission, to look at the rubrics in the services where they concern posture. That is quite some job! It can be something however that we can consider at Southwark Cathedral. Also raised was the fact that the language we use when we are being kind and permissive can also be problematic. People often say ‘Please stand, if you are able’ which sounds lovely but is the ‘able’ the right word? Think about it. As soon as it is pointed out to you you realise how even that might be problematic.

The debate ended with a wonderful prayer – call and response – based on that verse from the psalm. It was a powerful moment in Synod.

This morning this Group of Sessions came to an end. There was a Loyal Address, celebrating Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. The Canterbury CNC standing orders were agreed. The results of the CNC elections were announced and the farewells were led by the two Archbishops as the bishops of Birmingham, Blackburn and Peterborough retired.

But most of the time was taken up in discussing the Report of the Clergy Conduct Measure Implementation Group. I was in the chair and was grateful that we had at least an hour and a half to hold the debate as a lot of people wanted to speak. The Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) is despised by the clergy, it is not fit for purpose and causes as much damage as it addresses. This report suggested ways to make changes. What was very clear from the viewpoint of the chair was that most people were not just supportive but deeply thankful for the report. There were suggestions made but not a negative voice – that is a real achievement.

What did come across very clearly however was that the church can be an unsafe space for clergy, laity, for those who report misbehaviour, for those reported against, for survivors, for those who support them, for all who are involved. We heard of bullying of clergy by laity; of abuse of laity by clergy. It took me back to part of the LLF conversation that we had on Sunday. It has to change.

Recognising the wondrous nature of each person for who they are, holding their vulnerability, celebrating their strength, recognising their gifts, living in love and faith, that has to be the way forward. But we have a long way to go. That is my feeling as I leave York. It has been a good Synod, but there is a great deal for us to do if we are to be the church God wants us to be and that Jesus died and rose for us to be.

Loving God, I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. May I recognise your image in me and your image in each of my sisters and brothers – and love as you love us. Amen.

From pounds to PCCs to porn

There is often the accusation leveled at the General Synod that we just don’t deal with the things that really matter, that we are too inward looking, too concerned with how the church runs and functions, the minutiae of church life and church disagreements rather than looking up and out. Well yesterday was anything but that. In fact it was a day that took us both into the life of the church and into some of the big issues that we all face.

‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’

There is always some internal business that needs to be done, such as accepting the budget and voting on the apportionments to different areas of our life and ministry, how we spend the pounds. One area that received particular attention yesterday was the cost of training those for ministry – lay and ordained. The church needs to invest in those who it discerns have a calling to ministry, this is an area we cannot underfund. To be honest, when I went off to Mirfield I wasn’t giving up much. I hadn’t had a career, I wasn’t married with children, I didn’t own a property or even a car and ‘had’ very little. So in fact the cost to me and the church was relatively meagre. But that is certainly not the case for most of those training – giving up often well paid jobs, taking their family around the country, exposing them to the risks and uncertainties of ministry. And the newly ordained have higher expectations than we did forty years ago, especially in terms of the housing that they will be provided following ordination. We have to live with this reality and the increase in funding will help.

We talked about who can be on Electoral Rolls and members of PCCs. You have to be an ‘habitual worshipper’ for the former, a ‘communicant’ for the latter. How does that work with different patterns of churchgoing and Fresh Expressions of church which might be non-Eucharistic? It was an interesting question and Synod, whilst tightening up the original motion seeking a review, agreed we need to do some thinking. But as one speaker said, would a cricket club we wise in inviting membership from people who didn’t like cricket but enjoyed sandwiches or short grass or white clothing; wouldn’t such a club be storing up problems for the future?

There was a Miscellaneous Provisions Measure before us which included the radical notion that lay people might be appointed Residentiary Canons of Cathedrals. This did come to the Revision Committee for the Cathedrals Measure of which I was chair. We were advised that it was too big an issue to deal with at that stage. Hence it has come back in this way. The reality is that St Paul’s does have Dr Paula Gooder on the team, but she can’t be a full Residentiary Canon because only those ordained can be according to the Canons of the Church of England. As I said in the debate, whilst Paula is wondrous there are other Paulas out there, wonderful lay minsters and teachers who could bring a wealth of skills to a Cathedral – we would be wasting God’s generosity if we ignored that. We also need to be working to raise the profile of lay ministry and this is a wonderful and imaginative way of doing it. Along with all the other miscellaneous provisions in the Measure it went through to the revision stage.

But we also talked about other things. The debate on the War in the Ukraine was resumed and concluded. A strong message of condemnation of the war and the aggressive acts performed by Russia went out from the Synod. And then there was porn.

There has only been one evening session in this Group of Sessions. We always used to gather in the evenings – thankfully we don’t nowadays. But from 9pm until 10pm we talked about the dangers of online pornography, especially the effects it can have on our young people who can be exposed to it from an early age. The motion from the Diocese of Guildford – who must be commended for bringing to Synod what is a really tough subject – focused on age verification, which the government seems to be drawing back from in the Online Security Bill. Some said that in fact such a policy is really unworkable given that most websites and most porn come from overseas and the web has no borders or boundaries. But the intention was good and received almost unanimous support from a Synod that dealt with the issue in a mature and serious and non-hysterical way.

When I was in the VIth form I had a Saturday and holiday job at WH Smith in Leicester – the Gallowtree Gate branch for those who know Leicester. For a few years, until I was promoted to pens, I looked after newspapers and magazines. That meant that I had the responsibility of looking after and guarding the ‘top shelf’. That was where the soft porn was always located. The ‘Beano’ was at the bottom, ‘Homes & Gardens’ above that, ‘Amateur Photographer’ on the next shelf up, etc, and there at the top ‘Playboy’ and the other titles that you would at that stage expect to see on the top shelf of any newsagent. They were too high up for children to access – apart from some of the taller boys from the local grammar school. They knew that on tiptoe they could get to those magazines and slip one inside their blazer. But I was too good for them and made a couple of citizens arrests of very embarrassed boys. But in a sense it was a form of regulation that basically worked. Now there is no ‘top shelf’ and no ‘Saturday boy’ on the look out. Hopefully the strong message from Synod will be heard by Government as our bishops go back to the House of Lords strengthened by such a decisive vote.

There was more during the day, it was full, the whole of life was there. The psalmist writes

The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it. (Psalm 24.1)

It is that profound truth that means that nothing is beyond our concern, or God’s.

God, whose love encompasses all, strengthen us to do good, and strengthen us to resist and defeat evil. Amen.

A day of rest

‘On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.’ (Genesis 2.2)

Ok, we haven’t been here for six days, so perhaps we didn’t deserve a day of rest! We certainly didn’t get one yesterday at General Synod. However, we did get the opportunity to go to church together, or to be more precise, to go to York Minster for the Choral Eucharist. I do love going to that beautiful cathedral. There is something majestic and welcoming, clean and light about it. I remember so well the horror of the fire in the south transept and the subsequent ‘Blue Peter’ competition to design new roof bosses and that always stays with me as something that makes me have huge affection for the building. It was good to be there again as a Synod – it is amazing what we have missed in these two years that we have been away.

A chance just to rest

But after worship the work continued. The afternoon was to be given over, basically, to group work. Those two words always fill me with horror, the thought of having to sit around and talk about this that or the other and be ‘facilitated’. But it did in fact promise to be an interesting afternoon and my visceral knee-jerk response proved to be unfounded.

There were two separate topics to be looked at. The first was Vision and Strategy and within that looking at how we engage with those with whom the church is generally not in touch, and that is particularly children and young people. A whole series of workshops had been set up and we had to go to two. They were short – just 30 minutes each – and I chose to go to one on the future of Online Worship and one on Everyday Witness. The first looked at some research carried out into the numbers who have attended online worship during the pandemic and who are doing so now. The findings were interesting. One point made was that those churches which have stopped their online offer with the intention of ‘forcing’ people off their sofas and back into the pews find that this is in fact ineffective. People will come back who are able to, we lose those people who are unable to. Where we can we should continue to make the offer of online worship as this will have a long term effect on the size of our congregations and is a very effective mission tool. On Everyday Witness we were encouraged to be bold and talk about our faith when the opportunity presents itself. The speaker encouraged us to read Matthew Paris’s comment column in the Times on Tuesday 6 July in which he spoke movingly on being challenged by a young Deliveroo cyclist about whether or not he – and he is a confirmed atheist – believed in Jesus. Paris ends his column like this

“Well,” he said, “Jesus loves you even if you won’t acknowledge him. I will pray for you.” And with that, he cycled off. I walked on, curiously moved.

It was that comment about being ‘curiously moved’ that was such an encouragement to have the courage of that young evangelist on his bike.

We then moved into a workshop on LLF (Living in Love and Faith). It focused on the place of scripture in our lives. Our group was well facilitated, caring, non-confrontational, and safe. Others didn’t feel as positive about their group, however, and people in the group I was a member of spoke about how some of the groups in parishes and deaneries were not safe spaces. I do find it deeply disturbing that, in the church, we have to speak in such ways, that in the very place in which people should feel safe, they don’t. It begs huge questions of us, how we behave, how we speak, how we treat other people, how, in fact, we love. It really is disgraceful and it does make you ask whether, when you are out there speaking about Jesus, you really want to invite them into an unsafe church? People may be ‘curiously moved’ but perhaps it is the institution rather than Jesus that stops them stepping over the threshold and joining us and finding that rest that Jesus offers.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11.28)

Those are safe words, pure invitation, the offer of the rest, the relief that so many of us seek. But is the church the place where that can be found, on the day of rest and on any day?

Our day ended with chaotic voting for the membership of the Crown Nominations Committee. I won’t say more as those who look after that kind of thing need to consider what to do next – so we await further news this morning. We were glad to get out of the Chamber – it hadn’t been restful at all.

God of rest, enfold us and hold us in your unconditional love. Amen.

The Garden of England

Not far from Southwark Cathedral there is a wonderful and somewhat iconic building. It’s called the Hop Exchange. Go in and it has a huge central hall, a bit like a banking hall, surrounded by galleries going up to a glass atrium. Off the galleries are doors leading into offices behind. In concept it is a bit like the Piece Hall in Halifax and other great exchanges in the country. In Halifax local people brought their pieces of cloth to sell, in Southwark it was the hop growers of Kent who would sell their hops to the brewers. It was a huge business. In George Orwell’s 1935 novel ‘A Clergyman’s Daughter’, Dorothy Hare, the weak-willed daughter of a disagreeable widowed clergyman, is persuaded by Nobby who she has met on the New Kent Road, so right near the Elephant & Castle, to go hop-picking with him and his mates. It doesn’t end well as you may know.

But that is what people from the Bermondsey area used to do, go into the ‘Garden of England’ and have a summer break from the grime of the docks, hop-picking. The reminders of the hop trade, apart from the grand Exchange, can be seen along the Borough High Street.

Kent has seen more than the flowering of hops. A monk arrived with his companions in 596 in Kent. He had been sent by Pope St Gregory the Great to evanglise the heathen on Britain, or at least bring us in line with Rome! His mission was a great success and the little church he established is now Canterbury Cathedral and his successor is Archbishop Justin. His mission never finished and as Britain extended its Empire and influence around the world Augustine’s mission went where ever the Union Flag was unfurled.

St Augustine arrives in Kent

I mention all of this because we spent a great deal of yesterday discussing the implications of all of this for the Anglican Communion now and who should be in the Archbishop in the future and what role they should have. The Archbishop of Canterbury is at one and the same time a diocesan bishop, Primate of All England and also head of the Anglican Communion. They are a Privy Councillor, Member of the House of Lords, second in order of precedent to the Monarch, a ‘trusty and wise counsellor’ to the Royal Family and should be a public theologian for the nation. It is an impossible job and everyone recognises this. Of course, there is the Archbishop of York and there is the Bishop of Dover. But it remains that the person who seats in the chair of Augustine carries a massive burden.

The plan is that a special CNC be formed when there is next a vacancy which would include up to 5 members from around the Anglican Communion who would share in the nomination of the Archbishop. On the face of it that all sounds fine and dandy. When I was on the CNC which nominated ++Justin there was one representative of the Communion and that was the Archbishop of Wales, who was wonderful but couldn’t really represent what we are constantly being told is the typical Anglican, a black woman from sub-Saharan Africa, under 30 and living on less tan $4 a day.

At the same time there is a much bigger issue and that is around who should be head of the Anglican Communion, should it be the Archbishop of Canterbury because of all that history, or is it time to allow the Communion to flourish without being bound so closely to Kent and the Church of England to flourish without being bound so closely to the leadership of the Communion? I say that because having been on the Synod so many years I have heard it said in debates on a number of issues but particularly around the ordination of women and the place of LGBT+ people and the possibility of equal marriage in church, that we are unable to move on these things because we have to look to our role in the Communion. Unlike the USA or Canada or New Zealand we are unable to respond to Augustine’s mission here in a way that responds to God’s call to mission in England today. In the Garden of Kent we need to flourish and bear fruit and I do think that being more creative around history, responsibility for and commitment to the Communion and its leadership is really important to consider.

So in a rather complicated debate we looked at these issues and will return to the matter on Tuesday. Valiant efforts were made by Mae Christie and others from Southwark and beyond to encourage Synod to take time and be imaginative but I fear that the status quo will continue and a new form of CNC for Canterbury will be created.

We did other things as well. There was an excellent presentation on Safeguarding and particularly around immediate reflections from the Independent Safeguarding Board. One of the members of the Board told us that if we didn’t remember what she said she hoped we would remember how she made us feel. She spoke of how victims/survivors of abuse feel and what they want from us. It made for uncomfortable listening. The other member of the Board who spoke reflected on what he had discovered looking at what was happening in the dioceses. It was inconsistent, under-funded and in some places lacking in resources to be effective. It all made for sobering reflection.

In the garden, not of England but of Eden, all was good, then things fell apart as sin raised its ugly head. We left the garden, that place of fruitfulness and flourishing, until the fruit of another tree sought to bring us back, to tell the Good News and to confront sin with love. As it says in the Letter to the Ephesians

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1.7-8)

The garden, wherever it is, is God’s good place of flourishing, Kent and Eden.

Loving God, may your church flourish and grow and bear good fruit for all humanity. Amen.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017


Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark