Outward looking

It was a fascinating final day in General Synod and I’m delighted about that, especially for all those who are new to Synod (43% I heard, which is amazing). Often people get very frustrated that we seem to spend all of our time talking about internal politics – about women and sex and money – those kinds of things. Well, the good news was that on the third day the focus was beyond the church.

We began with Archbishop Sentamu and his wife Margaret telling us about their recent visit to the Pacific islands including Fiji and Samoa and the way in which communities there are being threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change. The whole presentation was fascinating and especially in the light of the Climate Change Conference that is about to take place and the fact that, as we listened in the Chamber, pilgrims were walking from the UK to arrive in Paris as a witness to our concern for the planet.

What was especially moving was a visual and spoken prayer delivered on a video by one of the Archbishops in the Pacific. The images were staggeringly beautiful and a celebration of the richness of the oceans. This was contrasted with images of the environmental effects of mankind’s greed and the effects of worshipping at the false God of profit.

When I worked for a time in the USA I loved a phrase in one of their Eucharistic prayers, Prayer C

At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.

The fragility of this island home is really being made real to us.

Beautiful and fragile - our island home

Beautiful and fragile – our island home

The first real debate of this Group of Sessions highlighted another fragility and that is with regard to refugees. The debate was on our response to the Migrant Crisis. It was timely and much welcomed by the whole of Synod. It was, in fact, a very good debate and there were some really good speeches made. My own amendment was not in fact accepted by the Synod – but that was ok. Getting to make a speech on the importance of the subject and our disappointment with regard to the response of the Government, specifically in terms of the number of refugees we will be welcoming over the next five years, was a welcome chance to make what I believe is an important point. But, of course, I am pleased that even 20,000 refugees will be given a new and safe home with us and an on-going commitment to 0.7% of GDP for overseas aid is exemplary. But we can and, I believe, should do more.

The final vote on the motion, amended with a new clause proposed by Canon Giles Goddard at the prompting of the Bishop of Croydon and giving added strength to its final form, resulted in a fantastic 333 in favour, 0 against and only 3 abstentions. This was a clear message to the nation that we are committed to the ministry of hospitality that we see in Jesus whose extended arms always draw us in.

There was for me, to be honest, something of a Trojan Horse moment when the Archbishop of Canterbury made a speech during the debate which seemed to suggest that in voting for this Motion we were in effect saying that there was no option other than military intervention in Syria. Now, I may be wrong and it was one of those moments when I was so surprised that I couldn’t quite get the words down. He may well be right and he is politically astute but I wasn’t quite sure what I was voting for when I voted in favour!

There was then some legislative business at which moment the tea room became packed before we filled the Chamber again for a presentation on Public Perceptions of Jesus. This was an unpacking of the research that was behind the report ‘Talking Jesus’. Now, it was Mark Twain who famously said ‘There are lies, damned lies and statistics.’ We certainly met with some statistics and some scenarios – it was mind-boggling. The basic idea behind the research was ‘If you are a Christian and you talk to someone not a Christian about Jesus what effect does it have?’

The basic answer seems to be very little or a negative effect in that they are put off and don’t want to hear any more. So perhaps we shouldn’t talk about Jesus at all and let God get on with setting people’s hearts on fire as on the road to Emmaus. Jesus seemed to do a much better job when he appeared as the stranger on the road and broke open the word and broke the bread which revealed his presence, a much better job than we manage to do when we talk about him. ‘Gogglebox’ vicar, the Revd Kate Bottley, Tweeted later on yesterday an image which said

‘Sometimes the best evangelism is simply telling people you’re a Christian and then not being a complete jerk.’

As it would say on exam papers – ‘Discuss’! But the stats are of course are useful and open up a conversation about how we do evangelism and they revealed the real gap that lies at the heart of the congregations – the younger middle aged – or was that just revealing something about their sample group?

The final debate was on the report of the Church Buildings Review Group. The debate had been anticipated by those who picked up the recommendation about ‘Festival Churches’ – churches which wouldn’t be closed but where the regular round of worship required of parish churches wouldn’t happen but festivals would be celebrated (well, that’s how I understand it). But there was much more besides in this very good report with some excellent theology on sacred place by the Bishop of Worcester who started from the writings of George McLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, who talked of ‘thin places’. That is really what T S Eliot picks up on in ‘Little Gidding’ one of his ‘Four Quartets’.

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

Our 16,000 churches are places in our communities made ‘valid’ by prayer. But how do they become a true asset and not a burden is the question we have to ask – and at heart it is a mission question. In Luke 9 Jesus ‘sends out’ his apostles and they then ‘return’. This is all about place – they went out on mission, they returned to the place of sending. Church has to be the missionary base as well as the place of festival, where the table is set and the bread is broken, where the people gather and heaven touches earth and earth touches heaven. It will be exciting to see how this report in its outworking will enable our theology of place to enable our life of worship and mission.

Little Gidding - a thin place

Little Gidding – a thin place

At the end of almost all the Groups of Sessions there is a farewell and on this occasion it was the Secretary General, William Fittall, who was leaving. He has served the church in this capacity for 13 years but has also served the church within the Diocese of Southwark (before his more recent move) as a Reader. His skills in administration, negotiation and diplomacy are grounded in a real faith in Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Justin began this Group of Sessions with a fantastically clever and amusing address in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and he ended this Synod with an equally polished performance in tribute to William who, in turn, gave a great response.

So we left Westminster after retrieving bags and coats (all black of course so much confusion in the cloakroom!) and I left feeling very positive about the next five years. If it continues in this spirit maybe God can work through us.

Lord God,
bless the members of the Synod,
bless the work that continues,
bless the church we serve,
bless the people of this nation,
bless the world, your creation,
that we may be one in your service.

On the third day

So we are assembling for the third (or for those of us not at the induction day, the second) day in Westmisnster for this opening Group of Sessions for this new Quinquennium.  After the glamour of yesterday it’s more of a normal day.  We begin in a few minutes with worship and then move into business.

What should you be looking out for?  There will be a significant debate on the migrant crisis.  I suspect that there will be many requests to speak and many amendments to the Motion.  I have submitted a minor, though I hope, significant one. Then there is a presentation (which means questions but no debate) on public perceptions of Jesus.


The truth is of course that, for better or worse, people make judgements about Jesus on the basis of what they see in the Church. We are always saying ‘We are the body of Christ’. The quetion we must ask ourselves is what does Jesus look like if we are the body?

Teresa of Avila famously said

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.

If that is true then how we all percieve Jesus depends on the public perception of the church.  So what will we look like today and which face of Jesus will we show – generous, hospitable, open, challenging, accepting? Let’s see.

in our face
may people see
your face.

Crown and mitre

There’s a wonderful chandelier in Southwark Cathedral suspended from a chain on which are displayed the symbols of power – a crown, a mitre and the dove. It is a constant reminder to us at Southwark Cathedral of this ‘power game’ and it has been since Mrs Appleby gave it in memory of her husband back in 1680. It was brought to life for us today as this Tenth General Synod was inaugurated.

Southwark Chand

The Great Chandelier of Southwark


It’s always a good morning this first morning of a new General Synod, all getting dressed up, then going across in dribs-and-drabs to stand in the cold cloisters of Westminster Abbey waiting to be formed into a procession, then sitting for another three quarters of an hour in the church waiting for the service to begin.  But as the fanfare sounds and we know that Her Majesty has entered the Abbey it all becomes worth it.

The preacher on this occasion was the Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalmessa OFM Cap. Stood in the pulpit facing Her Majesty and The Duke of Edinburgh wearing his simple habit he seemed an incongruous figure, so simple, so understated.  His sermon, I thought, was fantastic, anticipating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 and pondering what Luther and Cranmer would be saying to us today.  But one part of the sermon struck a chord as he talked about the unity of the church for which Christ prayed.

Fr Raniero spoke about our Christian brothers and sisters suffering for their faith in places like Syria. He said that it is not important whether they are Catholics, Anglicans or Pentecostalists.  To their oppressors, to those murdering them, they are Christians, ‘to them we are already one’ he said.  I hadn’t thought of it like that before.  The action of our persecutors has highlighted our oneness in Christ.

Her Majesty then joined us in the Assembly Hall for the formal inauguration of the Synod.  As I’ve said it is the Tenth General Synod and The Queen has inaugurated each of them in her long reign.  But what a difference.  There in the front row of the bishops sat the Bishop of Gloucester, Bishop Rachel Treweek; the Bishop of Stockport, Bishop Libby Lane had read the Gospel; and there was the Bishop of Newcastle, to be consecrated on Monday, Christine Hardman. But Her Majesty spoke of the timelessness of Christ and brought us back to the one we worship and serve.

In the afternoon we then began the real business of the Synod – a much shorter Synod then  usual.  Archbishop Justin gave a Presidential Address in which he talked about the purpose of being in synod, about how we must disagree well and how everything we said and did was now in ‘the shadow of Paris.’

We then moved on to the debate on the Report of the Business Committee and then, after an introduction to worship in the Synod by the new Chaplain, we moved on to a presentation on ‘Reform & Renewal’.

This R&R will certainly frame a great deal of what we will be thinking and talking about over these next five years – simplification, the use of our resources, ministry and training, and more besides. There is a feeling around that people are ready for it but also some unease about what lies behind it and what kind of church we will be left with.  If it is leaner and more agile, if it is more responsive to society, if it is shaped for mission but also retains all that is rich and good and catholic about the church then I will be happy.

But ‘simplification’ can be used as a bit of a Trojan Horse. Questions followed and as this was a new Synod there will only 42 as opposed to the usual 90+. Questions give you a good idea about what is rattling around. No surprise that equal marriage was there, no surprise that there was a question about disciplining clergy who are married to a same sex partner. It’s no surprise that money features, the effect of tax credits on hard-pressed clergy families, climate change and ethical investments.  But there is always the surprise and that was a question about the use of mitres and whether the House of Bishops provides guidance on the wearing of them. Perhaps it would be simpler if we didn’t have them was, I thought, the underlying message.


‘Now, which one?’


This, like all the questions, was carefully and expertly batted away. The answer is of course ‘no’ – the House of Bishops doesn’t issue guidance.  Bishops respond to where they are as to what they wear.  Bishop Pete Broadbent, in giving the answer, said that in many black congregations you were expected to wear one.  Not just black congregations!

Long before I was Dean I was Chaplain to the Bishop of Southwark.  He had been invited to visit a Primary School in the Diocese which was attached to a very conservative evangelical church.  When I rang the Vicar to talk through the visit he was insistent the Bishop wear a suit. When I spoke to the Headteacher she was insistent that he wore cope and mitre. Why?  The children, it transpired, had been preparing for the bishop’s visit and had drawn lots of lovely pictures of him and in every one he was wearing a mitre.  ‘The children want to see a bishop not a man in a suit’ she told me. So he went with his mitre. And he told the children about his crozier – a simple shepherd’s crook – and his mitre – and he told them how the Holy Spirit descended on the head of each of the apostles like a tongue of flame and how we shared in that apostolic life.

I’m grateful that in Southwark Cathedral there is the crown and the mitre and the descending dove. The Holy Spirit crowns each one of us and the fire of the Spirit warms the heart of the church so that as we sang in the Abbey our love is changed ‘from spark to a flame’.

may your Holy Spirit rest upon us
and upon your church.

Back to school

Cast your mind back – a few years, maybe longer – to the first day at a new school.  Your parents will have made sure that you had a new satchel with that lovely smell of new leather, a new tin of Helix protractors and set square (remember them), a new wooden ruler, a pencil and eraser.  And of course your new shoes would be pinching and your blazer just a little too big so that you could grow into it.  With a new haircut neatly combed and plastered down, face buffed up and polished clean by your mother, you would arrive at the new school.  All those children arriving.  You looked at the faces around you.  What would they be like?

Events 1960 Preparatory School First Day 01 Wiki

First Day at School


Well, the newly elected members of General Synod are arriving in Westminster for this first Group of Sessions.  As I write the newbies will be receiving their induction – where to hang your coat, how to use the electronic voting machine, how debates work, when you can speak, where the dining room is.  Apart from the voting machine all very familiar from school days!

And we will all be carefully studying one another for those tell-tale signs that mark out the tribes in the Church of England – the black suit, black clerical shirt brigade (me), the blue clerical shirt, a little badge here – gold cross, red cross, rainbow flag, something that a diocesan bishop is asking people to wear. Lay people are more difficult to identify instantly – but you can get a feel of who they are and where they come from in ecclesiastical terms.

This is my third term on Synod but my first as a member of a different constituency.  Previously I have been elected by my sister and brother clergy in the Diocese of Southwark.  But having become a Dean during the last quinquennium and being able to stay on because of the kindness of the clergy on our Bishop’s Council, this time I had to stand in the Deans’ election.  Yes, we have our own ‘rotten borough’! The deans elect five of their number, three from the south, two from the north, to be members of the General Synod and to bring, I suppose, our particular perspective to the decision making of the Church of England.

So the Deans of St Paul’s, St Edmundsbury, Southwark, Manchester and Sheffield have been chosen to serve in this way.  It will be a good group and I look forward to working with David and Frances, Rogers and Peter who are a really interesting and talented bunch of people.

And what will face us? Well these three days are in a sense ceremonial.  Tomorrow we all attend the Opening Eucharist for the Synod in Westminster Abbey at which we will joined by Her Majesty The Queen.  After that, and still in our Convocation Robes (if you are ordained) or posh frocks and suits if you’re not, we go to the Synod Chamber where we are addressed by Her Majesty.  It’s the equivalent of the Queen’s Speech, I suppose, in that other legislative body across the road in Westminster – except that ours only happens once in five years.

Church House.jpg

Church House, Westminster


Then, in terms of business, important debates on migrants and global warming, some legislative business about fees and lawyers, will follow but the main business will be getting to know each other.

I’m delighted to be part of General Synod again.  Ok, so the prospect of talking about human sexuality, and homosexuality in particular, for five years doesn’t thrill me but the ‘Shared Conversations’ of which I have been part were excellent and if the conversations we have in York next July are anywhere near as good then perhaps, just perhaps, there may be a way forward in which we can all flourish, straight and gay, church and church-in-nation and that will be a blessing.

So now I need to clean my shoes and pack my bag and pick up my pass and get on with the work that lies before us. Pray for us – please.

Lord of the church,
bless the members of the General Synod
that we may be a blessing
to church and nation
and seek only your glory.

A global view

So often the church is criticised – often with very real justification – for being obsessed with internal affairs. So, as I began this blog from York by saying, Synod concluded this five years of our life with a day looking wider, more globally. The subject was climate change and what our response to what is clearly happening is going to be. The principal question was how our policy with regard to climate change would influence the investments that we make as a church.

The day fell into three distinct parts – bible study, then policy, then the application of that policy with regard to the investmnent policy of the church.

For the past few years we have been meeting for study in small groups and the membership of those groups has always been the same. This has meant that we have been able to get to know a variety of people from across the Church of England. Our task this morning was to look at two texts – from Genesis 1 in which of humankind it says

God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ (Genesis 1.28)

What do those words ‘subdue’ and ‘dominion’ actually mean to us? Do they give us carte blanche to do what we want to the earth or do they imply something that involves more of a sense of care rather than power?

The second text was from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now. (Romans 8.22)

What does that mean to us – the poetry and the reality of what Paul is saying to us?

Out of these two texts we had a very good discussion and especially about the way that we each respond personally to the challenge and whether – and we talked honestly about this – the issues were a real priority for us. For some people global, climate issues seem to be foremost – for others it is issues of poverty or injustice that seem to demand their attention. Maybe, the truth is – and this came out in the debates later in the day – there shouldn’t be a separation in these things, they are interwoven with the poorest suffering the effects of climate change the most, already.

St Francis by Giotto

St Francis by Giotto

I was thinking however about St Francis. His ‘Canticle of the Sun’ expresses the depth of the relationship that he had with every aspect of creation, an intimate, familial relationship. He could feel the groaning of creation, as he could feel the groaning of his sisters and brothers.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Developing something of that relationship, embracing something of that theology, must be important for the church and that is, of course, where Pope Francis begins in his encyclical ‘Laudato si’ – ‘Be praised’ – which his holy namesake uses throughout his Canticle. We have to develop a love affair with the earth, a love affair with creation, which of course those who have had the privilege to see the earth from space are drawn into. The astronaut Roan Garan, reflecting in his time in space and looking at the earth, said in an interview

I think it’s very difficult not to be moved when you look at our planet from space. You see how beautiful it is, how fragile it is. You really get this feeling of, we’ve been given an incredible gift.

It is that passion for the earth that we have to capture as people who believe in the Creator God.

God's handiwork - God's gift

God’s handiwork – God’s gift

The debates that followed raised many of these issues. But I was especially pleased when Duncan Dormer reminded us that ‘We must hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’ and when the Bishop of Salisbury concluded our first debate by saying, ‘Economic justice and climate justice must go together.’

The debate in the morning and the one on investments in the afternoon were almost unanimously supported by the Synod. But what Elaine Storkey said in the morning is the real challenge to us ‘We have the resources and the theology but have we the will?’

It goes back to yesterday – words are not enough, we need action. The challenge to me is, what can I do?

I leave Synod with that call to action, a call to prayer and fasting for justice – economic justice and climate justice. But as the Bishop of Chelmsford said to us (and I paraphrase), ‘Stop praying for something unless you are prepared to be part of the solution.’

Synod has been prorogued – it is no more. Five years have passed. I need to reflect on what we have done – but we have ended well.

Creator God,
for all your goodness in creation
we praise you.
May I play my part
in caring for your good gift.

Not just words

Eliza Doolittle in the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ comes to the point of exasperation ‘Words, words words!’ she exclaims and then breaks into song and sings

Don’t talk of stars, burning above
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams, filled with desire
If you’re on fire, show me!

Has Eliza something to say to us?

Has Eliza something to say to us?

General Synod on our Sunday in York always escapes the campus and heads for the centre of the city and the beauty of the Minster to join with the congregation there for the Choral Eucharist. But it is a short break because then we head back as the business resumes in the afternoon. But it was good to be in York Minster – such a wonderful place in which to worship and good to hear Archbishop Justin preach. As part of what he said he reminded us that ‘the church is called to a loving critique of the secular power’. That could be about telling those in power, nationally or locally, what they should be doing. Words. But what is much more powerful is the showing. Later in the day the Bishop of Chelmsford, as he introduced a presentation on the work of MEAC (Minority Ethic Anglican Concerns), said ‘Stop praying for peace; stop praying that the hungry are fed – unless you are prepared to be part of the solution’. As Eliza would say

If you’re on fire, show me!

The first item of business in the afternoon was about words, new, alternative words for the Rite of Baptism. The words we have in Common Worship are thought by many to be inaccessible, a barrier to understanding to many of those who come to baptism or bring their babies to be baptised. And even the words that we approved today can still be challenging if you have had no upbringing in the Christian faith. What does to ‘die with Christ and rise with him’ mean? It isn’t obvious when we just hear it. If you’re on fire, show me!

We worry so much about texts for liturgy and that is not wrong – words are very important and the right words are very important and accessible language is very important – but they are only part of the story. It is in the liturgy that we express our doctrine as Anglicans, but we also do it when we ‘perform’, ‘present’, ‘act out’, make real the words in the liturgy. The words have to live, have life breathed into them and through them.

Don’t talk of love lasting through time
Make me no undying vow
Show me now!

After a short debate on Standing Orders we returned to liturgy. The regulations about the Administration of Holy Communion have been amended by this Synod to allow children to be ministers of the Eucharist. This was the final stage of approval of this change. But this is exactly what we mean by showing and not just speaking. When we see children participating in giving the sacrament to those who come to receive it, then we will see that they are equally the church, as much as older people are, and as validly and as fully. We will not just say it we will be able to show it. It will be a powerful, living, eloquent statement of who are.

The afternoon ended – before an introduction to tomorrow’s group work – with the presentation by MEAC that I have already mentioned. The painful truth, which Bishop Stephen Cottrell pulled no punches in speaking about, is that as far as the numbers of black and minority ethic people in leadership positions in the church is concerned we are going backwards and not forwards. Words are not enough he was saying to us, don’t just pray for black and minority vocations, work for them; we need affirmative action.

The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, one of more prominent black priests

The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, one of more prominent black priests

There was a great film shown which highlighted the issues. We simply do not look like the church that we are, and the church that God calls us to be, the church God has already created and blessed and empowered. The church of the day of Pentecost was multi-ethnic, multi-cultural but the church we see before us in Synod and in the nation is a poor and pale reflection of that.

Great words were being said, as you can imagine, but words are not enough. We have to mean what we say and put them into action, we have to show a different face to the nation and to the world. It was a powerful debate and we have to behave differently. And we can do better, we know that.

The point was well made that last year we approved the ordination of women as bishops. Already we have six women, in or about to be in episcopal orders. We have shown that we can move swiftly when we want to and the face of the House of Bishops is changing. So what has stopped us moving as swiftly where black, Asian and minority ethnic people are concerned? Is there still a deep down racism at work, do we not care, are we acting out of unconscious bias and prejudice? These are series and sobering questions.

God did not just speak his word, he sent his word and showed his Word in Jesus, for as John says

And the Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1.14)

God loved and spoke and acted – and he calls us to do the same.

Don’t talk of love lasting through time
Make me no undying vow
Show me now!

And God has!

God of the Living Word,
may the words I speak
be made real in the things I do;
in the power of your Word,

From bats to sentinels

Who ever said life in Synod is boring? Where else could you be on a Saturday in July that would take you from bats to sentinels in just a few hours? I said that this Group of Sessions was about tying up loose ends and, metaphorically speaking, putting the cat out. But it’s proving to be much more than that.

One of the joys of the day was being able to see Bishop Michael Perham again. Michael’s departure from Gloucester was overshadowed by events and his formal farewell from Synod delayed. But now we had the opportunity to thank him for all that he gave to the church, in the places where he ministered and on the bigger stage. I was always struck by his ability to see the big picture and to be able to galvanise support from his (then) brother bishops in support of the ordination of his (to be) sister bishops. I had the privilege to be involved in some late night tactical meetings during the debates on the ordination of women to the episcopate in which Michael brought together a range of us who were concerned to see this happen and who, in some way, represented a constituency. I was there because of my role in the Society of Catholic Priests and, I have to say, brought little to the meetings (I’m not a tactician). So I gained more from sitting there than I gave and what I gained, amongst other things, was a deep respect for Michael. We will miss him. The warmth of the applause as Synod rose to its collective feet to bid farewell to him was no more than he deserved.

Bishop Michael - a final farewell

Bishop Michael – a final farewell

The day began however with a draft Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure. Creating a safe church is one of the most important tasks that faces the church at the moment. It is all about the core values that we have and the core values in the ministry of Jesus and the core values in the Good News that we bring. But the behaviour of individuals and the institution as a whole has not just let down people and the nation but betrayed Christ. Safeguarding takes up a huge amount of time, emotional energy and resources at the moment – and that is as it should be. We owe it to survivors and we owe it to those who come to us in trust and bring their children to us in trust and think that we can be trusted and that the church is a safe place, is a sanctuary for them in their vulnerability, to do better and to do what is right. Too often we have not been a safe place.

Getting it right at the moment seems to be all about policies and procedures. Of course, at the moment it is and this was what the debate centred on. But we mustn’t forget that what is even more important is a change of culture, a change of mind-set, a change of behaviour. If Southwark Cathedral, for instance, is to be a truly inclusive church then it must be a safe church and that means that everyone of us who worships or works there has to believe that to be our first responsibility, our first priority and live and learn and be, so that that is true and so that the parent of a child or a vulnerable person can trust that it is true.

It was fantastic that in the voting the whole Synod gave its full support to this Measure and the Amending Canon that accompanied it. But the work continues – in fact it has only begun.

The bats appeared in a debate that followed on the new Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015. These have come out of the ‘simplification’ process. As one person commented, it can only be in the church that a 126 page document could be described as simple. But through the revisions the processes whereby a PCC applies for a Faculty to do work in church, and the work of the DAC and the Archdeacon and Registrar as well as the Chancellor of the Diocese are clarified and in many cases streamlined (in fact Archdeacons come out of it with more work and responsibilities but they seem to welcome that).

One great comment though that has been well Tweeted was by one member who said that there were three things in his view that stood in the way of mission in rural churches ‘blocked gutters, bats and the Victorian Society’. The gutters create damp and decaying church buildings; the bats create a stinking environment that keeps people away and the Victorian Society, with its devotion to poor examples of Victorian pitch-pine pews, stands in the way of the flexible use of space by church and wider community.

Bats and the church

Bats and the church

Before I’m attacked for being anti-bats or anti the Victorian Society no one was saying either of those things and neither am I. But it was a plea to work together on issues that face churches and can hamper the purpose of our great buildings. No one spoke in defence of blocked gutters!

It was good to see the work of the ‘Simplification Group’ coming through in such a helpful way.

In between these debates there was another example of simplification and that was in relation to the creation of ‘interim posts’. These will be appointments for up to three years, renewable for a further three, of a priest whose specific job is to look after a parish or group that needs particular skills and care in the interim. It works well in other parts of the Anglican Communion, not least the Episcopal Church in the USA, and gives dioceses real flexibility in the future.

After lunch and the farewell to Bishop Michael we moved into a take note debate on the report of the Faith and Order Commission on Senior Church Leadership. In what could easily have been seen as a bit of a ‘graveyard slot’ after lunch it was a really excellent debate. There is a huge amount of talk at the moment in the Church of England about leadership. I have been involved, as a Dean, in the mini-MBA that has been organised for us in Cambridge. It was excellent but I was very concerned at the lack of space in that course to reflect theologically on what we understand as leadership in the church.

The Green Report was also heavily criticised – and I think justifiably so – for too much emphasis and us of language drawn from business models of leadership especially when those models have led the world into financial crisis, Greece to the edge of the abyss and the poorest and most vulnerable picking up the bill. Has that model anything valid to say to us?

This, by contrast, is a very good report and has much to say and much to teach and from a deeply biblical and theological basis. The quality of the debate reflected that. After all, what does it mean to be a leader in the church when you are principally a follower; as one speaker said ‘Before you were a leader you were a Christian’ and it is that prior calling and vocation out of which all else flows. What does it mean to be a successful leader when Jesus looked like a failure in the world’s eyes and when those he ‘led’ fled from him? What does it mean to hitch your life and ministry to one who says in Matthew and Mark

‘the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve’ (Matthew 20.28)

who in John’s Gospel washes his disciples feet and assumes the role of the servant, who as Paul says in Philippians 2.7

’emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,’

This is a challenge to all of us in leadership positions. At the moment the church seems obsessed with bishops and the number of old Sees being revived and filled is a testimony to that. What happened to the NHS when it was seen to be failing – create more top level leaders!

Simon Stylites - a model for episcopal ministry?

Simon Stylites – a model for episcopal ministry?

So I was pleased that the Bishop of Chelmsford reminded us of something in the Ordinal for Bishops, that a bishop is called and set apart to be, amongst other things, a sentinel. He admitted it could be boring, just watching, but having that oversight, the long view, to see what is coming, to celebrate and to warn, to look to the horizon – it was a great reminder. From the top of the tower you might even see the bats coming!

Lord Jesus,
you call us to be followers,
servants of others,
and friends.
May that be our vocation.

Crossing boundaries

One of the great things about the Synod are the group of ecumenical observers who join us in the Chamber and very faithfully sit through the debates – however turgid they are. It is a work of great charity on their part. It was very good to see Canon John O’Toole amongst the others representing the Roman Catholic Church. John was, until fairly recently, the Dean of St George’s Cathedral, Southwark. He was a good friend to us at Southwark Cathedral and a member of our Cathedral Council and gave us real encouragement in our Living God process. Responding on behalf of the welcome to our ecumenical guests was the Most Revd Dr Antje Jackelen, the Archbishop of Uppsala in the Church of Sweden.

She spoke beautifully and well, and concluded, in talking about crossing boundaries, about the God in whom we believe, who crossed the greatest and the riskiest boundary, between the divine and the human, and in Jesus became as we are. It was a real reminder to me in all our debates and concerns about borders and boundaries and the concerns that many have about keeping people ‘out’, that this is not what God does.

A human tide crossing the borders

A human tide crossing the borders

The incarnation is the great border crossing and the cross becomes the bridge between earth and heaven, a reflection (or is it the other way round) of the ladder that Jacob sees in his dream. God spans our divides, breaks through our walls, challenges our isolation and confronts the fear of the other that we so often display. I love the name of the great aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières, ‘Doctors without borders’. They work they do is fantastic but their name is a challenge to us when we want to work within boundaries and protect our borders – national or church.

The whole business of greater unity between Christians, of which our ecumenical guests are a reminder to us, will demand that we break down the walls that divide us as it is described so beautifully in the letter to the Ephesians

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2.14)

This is the work of Jesus and therefore the work of the church. And it was of the work of Jesus, as found in John 17, that the Archbishop of York spoke in his Presidential Address to Synod.

The remainder of the afternoon was taken up with some procedural and legislative business including the Report by the Business Committee and an item on the Administration of Communion Regulations which would allow all those who are communicants – including children – to be ministers of the Eucharist.

However, the afternoon concluded as we were given the first taste of what will be the major business of this Group of Sessions when we had a presentation by the Ethical Investment Advisory Group and the National Investing Bodies on climate change and fossil fuels. In an excellent presentation we heard about the foundational thinking and biblical exegesis that lay behind the proposed new policy. I found it very encouraging, as it was reasonable and moderate. What I mean is that whilst I am fully behind the climate change agenda and the end of dependence on fossil fuels I have to recognise that affecting change will not be easy and the financial implications for the church have to be carefully managed.

Earth - our beautiful, fragile and damaged home

Earth – our beautiful, fragile and damaged home

The truth is of course that whilst ever we have investments in fossil fuel companies we have a place at the table of their decision making, the opportunity to influence thinking and levers that we can pull. If we disinvest we will lose some of those advantages. The point was made that there are many people waiting behind the church who will be happy to pick up the investments that we give up – so will it really send the jitters into this market if we disinvest. But the issues of global warming and the effect upon the poorest communities in the world are real and pressing.

A very good point was made in the presentation – and I paraphrase ‘We are not talking here about tobacco, disinvesting in tobacco manufacturers. We don’t need tobacco. We do need energy.’ So there is a subtle debate to be had around investment, influence and encouraging research and development. It was a good start to what we will return to later on this weekend.

The day ended where the first day always ends – Questions – 84 had been tabled, the opportunity we have to seek the truth and the facts and to keep issues warm that could be allowed to go cold. But for me the major message of the day has been about borders.

John Donne’s great sonnet,’Batter my heart’, begins like this

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

My own walls, my own borders and barriers, the ways I try to keep God out, also need to be broken down so that Christ may be my, our, peace.

Lord Jesus, you entered my life,
may I enter fully into yours.

The last lap

So, we are in York for the final time of this quinquennium.  Time flies when you’re having fun of course and there have been memorable moments during these last few years.  Who knows if this Group of Sessions will give us anything memorable.  I suppose it all depends on the mood – last day of term, ready to party, released, sad – yes, even sad I think for those who won’t be standing again.  Synod is a place where you make a great many friends, from across the church and between the traditions.  And it is a great place to catch up with your friends.  None of us knows, of course, if we will be returning.  After the last General Election we know that anything can happen when you ask people to vote – the most surprising things!

The beauty of York

The beauty of York

I’ve been billeted on part of the York Campus in which I’ve never stayed before – Alcuin.  It feels a long way from the Central Hall where all the sessions are held but I haven’t yet ventured from my room, so I don’t really know.  I always have to unpack first – I can’t settle without doing that.  I have a need to create a little nest and putting things way, in the drawers, in the wardrobe and leaving the room neat and the suitcase hidden away is my way of doing that.

I also didn’t arrive in time for the meeting of the Convocation.  This is the gathering of all the clergy and had been called so that we could give further consideration and final approval to ‘The Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy’.  I was sorry to miss the meeting as the guidelines are really important.  But I couldn’t leave Southwark until I had led the final service of the year for Cathedral School.

In fact it was a fantastic service.  The whole of Year 5 sat on the tower space with me and the service involved every one of them and most of them reflecting on their time in Cathedral School and what they had to give thanks for.  It was extremely moving, and the things that they said about the teachers and their parents and what they had learnt and the way in which they had grown in confidence was very affecting.

The youngest were sitting right at the front, watching these older children speak.  They must have seemed very old to them but just as with these five years of this Synod those leaving all said that their time in the school had flown past – so it won’t be long before the children in Reception are leaving. I was just immensely proud of the children and of the whole school community.

What do these days in York hold for us? Well just as when you are getting ready to leave somewhere there are those final tasks to do, clear the fridge, empty the bins, take the cat to the cattery, water the plants and wind the clock.  It is that that we are doing here – metaphorically speaking.  So there are a lot of loose ends to be tied up, final approvals to be given, and last words to be said.  But there is something that is of major importance and that is combatting climate change and how our investment policies can assist us in that.  In the light of the Pope’s encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ this is very timely and it will be good to bring this particular five years to a conclusion not with an inward looking debate on the church but an outward looking debate on the world.

If you’re wondering who Alcuin was, after whom the college I am in is named, well, according to Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne he was  “The most learned man anywhere to be found.” He was born in Northumberland in 734 and died in 804 when he was Abbot of Tours.  He had been part of the community at York Minster and is very well known as a writer and especially with a concern for the liturgy of the church.  He really is a great saint – so I’m happy to be on the edge of the campus in this college.



But I must get to the Chamber – after I have asked you to pray for us, please.

Almighty God, you have given your  Holy Spirit to the Church to lead us into all truth: bless with the Spirit’s grace and presence the members of the General Synod; keep them steadfast in faith and united in love, that they may manifest your glory and prepare the way of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Without limits

I apologise if I got a bit grumpy yesterday – but that it was how it felt and it needed to be said. But a new day brings a new beginning. Keble’s great hymn is always a place to begin the day.

New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.

A new day in Westminster

A new day in Westminster

It seemed that Synod was ‘restored to life and power and thought’ and what resulted were some debates that were extremely good – Synod at its best. After the opening eucharist we moved into an area of work which has rightly occupied a great deal of time during this Quinquennium, and I’m obviously not talking about the ordination of women.

Some revisions to measures and canons in relation to safeguarding were before us. These were part of the constant process of getting this area of our life right, in terms of process, in terms of clarity and making sure that the needs and views of survivors of abuse are properly taken account of.

Then we moved, after Standing Orders, to a debate about how we deal pastorally and liturgically with those who have committed suicide. It’s a subject that is very difficult and delicate and especially for those of us who have had experience of suicide in the family, or amongst our friends, or in the parish. But one of the most powerful speeches – and there were many – came from a member of the Youth Council who talked in terms of the frightening number of young people who take their own life – more than one a day at the present time. Many are young men, many have been self harming and all are loved by God. The strong sense that came across in the debate was that God’s love is without limits. Fr Thomas Seville CR made the important point that by being compassionate we were not condoning suicide, and that was very clear in the debate. But at the same time the old sense that suicide set some one so apart from God that they were to be denied the ministrations of the church was absent and the final, overwhelming vote of the Synod in favour of changing how we work was very moving.

The afternoon opened with a debate on the new, alternative baptismal texts, which are specifically for use on those occasions when the congregation present might have a more peripheral association with church and the faith and need more accessible language. This is the hinterland I was talking about the other day in relation to discipleship and so it was good that the new texts were approved. But again it is about expressing the breadth of love that God has for all his children, all of creation, rather than the narrowness and the begrudging attitudes that often seem to come from the church.

Fr Faber - prophets come in many forms

Fr Faber – prophets come in many forms

At so many services nowadays we sing an old Fr Faber hymn that seems to become more and more relevant to where we are, an almost prophetic message to us who are working to create a more inclusive, welcoming church that mirrors the nature of the kingdom.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

And the words which should always challenge us

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Synod was in a better and more inclusive place today.

With a final debate on mission and growth in rural parishes this Group of Sessions came to an end. This was our last time in Westminster for this Quinquennium. We next meet in York in July and when we are next in Westminster – well, it will be a new Synod and who knows who will have been returned to continue this important, frustrating but vital work of enabling the Church of England to be the visible sign and presence of God’s inclusive, welcoming, embracing kingdom of justice, mercy and peace.

Lord, for all we have done, thank you;
for all we failed to do, forgive us;
for all we could do, inspire us;
for all we shall do, bless us;
in Jesus’ name.


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