White martyrs

Today, the final day of this Group of Sessions of the General Synod, fell on the Feast of the martyr Janani Luwum, the Archbishop of Uganda who died in 1977.  So the Eucharist at the beginning of the day celebrated his faithfulness, even to death.  However, in his homily Archbishop Justin reminded us that there are two kinds of martyrs – the red ones who shed their blood and give their life and the white ones who live a life so aligned to that of Christ that it is a total offering of themselves. As he spoke I was reminded of Mary, who is sometimes referred to a Queen of Martyrs, not because she suffered martyrdom in the way that Archbishop Luwum did but because she gave her life so fully to God that it was a life of willing sacrifice. The Archbishop’s point was to remind us that the church is full of lay people and deacons, priests and bishops who live this life so aligned to Christ – and we know them. It was a great call to holy living.

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The Holy Martyr, Janani Luwum

After the Eucharist we went into the first debate of the day, on a motion that had been brought to General Synod by the Diocese of Leeds (or is it West Yorkshire and the Dales, all very confusing), but on the important issue of benefit sanctions and the way that they are being applied.  The issue was not about the application of sanctions per se (there was clear agreement that there had to be sanctions) but what has seemed to become a very inflexible and, at times, inhumane way of applying them.  This was Synod at its best.  Members from across England brought stories of real people who had fallen foul of the rules for reasons out of their control.  But the implications of losing benefits, having no money to feed yourself, let alone your family, are frightening, dreadful and on occasions, life threatening.  As someone said ‘can you imagine your employer stopping your wages for a week if you arrived late in the office on one occasion.’ That is what happens to benefit claimants if they miss or arrive late at the Job Centre for an appointment or are not thought to be applying for enough jobs.

 

An early speaker in the debate asked a question in which he quoted the words of Cain in Genesis 4.9 in which he responds to God’s question about where Abel is

‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’

The speaker said to us ‘You bet your life you are.’ And that is why the church in the parishes is so involved with food banks and debt counselling and support in so many ways for people caught in the various traps that the policies of the Government – whether they be purposeful or just unforeseen consequences – create.  The motion was passed and a call has been made to the Government to review how these sanctions are being applied.  We await that with interest.  But as Sir Tony Baldry reminded us from the position of a former MP, we can each, as individuals, parishes, deaneries, go and see our MPs in their constituency surgeries and ask them to push for this review. It’s an easy and very practical step.

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‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’

 

The remainder of the day was concentrated on Renewal and Reform. It was a big moment personally as it was the first time I took my place on the platform as one of the Chairs of Synod.  When a few weeks ago I received the invitation to join the Panel of Chairs I was delighted – though daunted.  We all watch the chairs and have our opinions about them …. but to do it!

Thank goodness I was gently eased in by being asked to chair a presentation on R&R.  It was only timetabled for an hour and promised not to be complicated by points of order and motions for closure.  And that proved to be the case. The most challenging part however, apart from concentrating and not being distracted, is sorting out who to call when people stand up as they do to indicate they wish to be called.  The one thing I learnt today is that if you are a small middle aged balding man in a dark suit it’s hard to see you from the chair.  If, however, you are wearing something colourful, unusual or if you have hair and its bright and if you are tall then its easy to get spotted.  Aah! So, that’s why I’m seldom called.  You can’t see me.  So what shall I do? High heels, a blond wig and a green clerical shirt under a yellow suit should do the trick – no one will miss me then – but will it all clash with my red SCP badge? The agony of being a catholic!

So the afternoon was taken up with two debates – both on different aspects of the funding of ministerial education.  As I was reflecting in my first blog on Monday I would deeply regret and feel that the church was impoverished if fewer ordinands were able to access full time residential formation at a theological college as I was able to do.  But the motion passed will, I fear, make it more difficult in some dioceses and for some age groups to be formed and trained in this way.  We will have to see how it all shakes out in the end.

So we began the Synod standing to remember the Coptic Martyrs, we ended remembering a Ugandan martyr and in between we remembered people who were suffering profound deprivation in our country and places, such as on the estates, where the church needs to boost its presence and its message.  I always enjoy Synod and it is good to see friends, old and new, and sometimes have the clear feeling that in some things, we can, maybe, perhaps, make a difference.

Loving God,
as your holy martyrs shed their blood and gave their life,
so may we not hold back in our service of you
and of your people,
for Jesus sake.
Amen.

Faith and friends

This morning began in our small group conversations, talking and listening.  As I suggested in an earlier blog the subject we were talking about was not contentious but it was nevertheless very helpful.  The task we had was a simple one – to talk about how we came to faith and specifically what age we were when we made a commitment to Christ; what have been the fruitful and energising experiences we’ve had of evangelism and what have been the challenges to that. As is important in these conversations we were operating in a framework which created a safe space to speak openly about our own story.  So I can’t attribute anything to anyone in the group but what was fascinating, and especially around the subject of coming to faith, how similar many of the stories were.

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All Saints’ Wigston Magna where I came to faith

 

The common factor for many of us was the importance of family, Sunday School and day school in sowing the seeds of faith.  It was in childhood that many of us first experienced faith, whatever then happened later on.  I was taken to church from being quite young, my mother taught us to pray and prayed with us every evening and we went to Sunday School.  The latter didn’t do much for me but church did. It was the liturgy that set my heart on fire.  How old was I? About 5.  I joined the choir when I was 7 and by then my faith was as alive as I think it is now.  I say this with no sense of pride but it is just as it was.  The smoke, the ritual, the music it was all transporting, a glimpse of heaven.  It set my heart on fire then and the embers still glow and I thank God for that.

But given that this was such a formative time for so many of us, what does that say about what we do now with children and young people? In the debate that followed after the Group Work on the report of the Evangelism Task Force we were being encouraged to get excited about the possibilities of evangelism and made aware of the challenges – not least with young people and not least in the inner-urban and outer-urban estates.  It was an excellent morning and there was a lot of passion in the Chamber that I hope, and pray, converts into real action.  After all perhaps we, as it says of Queen Esther in the book that bears he name

‘have come … for just such a time as this.’ (Esther 4.14)

The afternoon began with a debate on the proposed agreement – the Columba Declaration – between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England.  Though they are Presbyterian and we are episcopal we have things in common, not least that we are both national, established churches on the one island. But the factor which caused all the heat in the Chamber and which had caused something of a ‘Twitter-storm’ when news of the agreement first broke is the presence in Scotland of the Scottish Episcopal Church.  What did it say about our relationship with SEC to be going into this relationship with CoS? The need to work for Christian unity is a dominical command, the disunity of the church is a visible scandal and a barrier to mission.  But achieving that whilst respecting the relationships that we are already in is not just necessary but vital.

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Friendships across the border are vital

 

I felt distinctly uncomfortable.  As the debate progressed I felt I knew less and less about the truth of who knew what and when they knew it and who had participated and who was happy and who was unhappy.  The two amendments sought to make a better way – one more radically and I think better than the other – but it was the latter that received support.  In the end I did what I seldom do and that was to record an abstention.  I hate doing that but I felt unable to do anything else and I left the Chamber dissatisfied.

The close bonds of friendship with the churches in Scotland need to be deepened and where rifts have occurred they need to be healed – and not new ones opened. The amended motion was passed.  I just hope that what happens now is more sensitively handled than was the case so recently.

For bonds of friendship,
for the faith we share,
Lord, we give you thanks and praise.
Amen.

Get talking

I was a very good lad at school – never really got into trouble.  The only time that I was told off was in a General Studies lesson when I was in the VIth form.  We were meant to be working quietly on something but I was on the back row, talking. So I was hauled out and made to stand in the middle of the room for the rest of the lesson – and I was 17! The same fate befell my mother who, in less enlightened days, was still receiving the cane at 15 for talking in class.  Those were the days.

So all this emphasis on talking, on conversation nowadays in the church should be music to my ears and give joy to my heart and it’s in conversation that we will begin this second day of this February Group of Sessions of the General Synod. What we’ll be talking about on this occasion will not be sex (I’d use the ‘A’ word if it wasn’t Lent) but our discipleship, faith and spirituality.  Being as those are generally not areas for contention this must be a getting to know each other exercise which I suspect will warm us up for the real conversations that will take place in the York Synod in July.

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Of course, talking and conversation are not the same thing and I am hoping for good and careful listening – perhaps that was what I was not doing on the back row in the classroom – not listening, just talking.

God,
as I speak today
may I also listen.
Amen.

A new trinity

As I suspected, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential Address contained a great deal for Synod to think about.  It came, however, after a very powerful and sobering moment at the very beginning of the Group of Sessions.  Synod is always held in the context of prayer – the ongoing praying presence which is maintained principally by members of the Community of St Anselm based at Lambeth Palace – and the prayer in which Synod shares every day. So we began with a short service and as part of that we were reminded that today is the first anniversary of the martyrdom of a group of Coptic Christians by members of ISIS.  We stood in silence to witness to their sacrifice and I found that very moving.  It brings everything else and all our internal divisions into sharp relief.  As someone once commented to me, as far as ISIS are concerned there are no denominations, we are just Christians and they treat us as such.  So whatever the divisions of the past they are gone in the face of such persecution and my Coptic brothers are my brothers and their blood my blood and their witness my challenge.

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The Coptic Martyrs

 

The business of Synod was varied to allow more time for the Archbishop to speak to us about the meeting of the Primates which happened at Canterbury just a few weeks ago.  Two things stood out for me.

The first was his mention of the head of the crozier that Pope St Gregory gave to Augustine for his mission to England.  It was lent for the occasion and brought over from Rome.  There are relics and there are relics and this is one of the most powerful.  Its presence with the Book of the Gospels from that same mission were powerful symbols of the nature of the church and the power of the shepherd and the power of the Word. I use the word ‘power’ deliberately.  These aren’t just nice things, museum exhibits, but in themselves are full of the history and faithfulness of the church.  Having them there was so deeply significant.

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A page from Augustine’s Gospels

 

The second powerful element in what the Archbishop said was about a new trio, a new trinity of words that can be applied to Anglicanism.  Hooker’s great legacy to our self understanding and ecclesiology is that we stand on ‘scripture, reason and tradition’. But ++Justin suggested another three, ‘Freedom, order and human flourishing.’ To have the creative freedom that we desire we have to have order, he said, and out both of those human flourishing flows.  They are a great trio of words to think about. He also said that in all the communiques that flowed from the meeting the word ‘sanction’ is never used, and never used of TEC (the American Episcopal Church) but instead the word used is ‘consequences’. ‘All actions have consequences’ he told Synod and we all needed to remember that.  The order that allows freedom and flourishing is one that we must have a mind to.

It was is at the beginning of this meeting of the General Synod and before we moved on to other matters.  But it was the memory of my martyr brothers, the lamb in the crozier head and the call to be a church in which we flourish that inspired me to engage with the more prosaic business of Synod.

Lord,
build us into your church in which
freedom is exercised with care
where order liberates and doesn’t bind
in which lives and communities flourish
and you, our Good Shepherd
and Living Word
are worshipped and served.
Amen.

Great expectations

So, from across England and Europe people are making their way to Westminster.  Well, at least members of the General Synod are because today sees the beginning of the February Group of Sessions.  There was a very short, initial, Group of Sessions in November which included the formal opening of this new quinquennium by Her Majesty The Queen with all the attendant pomp and circumstance that that involves. But November was mainly about Synod members finding their way around and trying to find out how this ‘thing’ functions. Synod watchers will remember that about a half of the Synod membership changed at the elections held in the autumn of last year and so there is still something of an unknown quality about the character of this new body.  Perhaps in these three days we may get a better indication of the feeling of the Synod – I have great expectations that there is a willingness to really work together.

Church House

Church House Westminster – our home for the next three days

 

One exciting change for me is that between November and now I was invited to join the Panel of Chairs.  There isn’t one chair of General Synod, instead it’s shared between a group of people, all Synod members.  The two Archbishops play their major roles as Presidents of Synod but the majority of Sessions are chaired by members of the panel. When I received the invitation I was surprised and delighted to be honest, though at the same a bit nervous that it might not be something I would be very good at.  But if I don’t give it a go I will never know – that’s basically the principle that I use in making decisions about most things – give it a go!

So far I’ve had some initial training and been to my first briefing meeting.  I have sheaves of papers – Standing Orders, notes on chairing, that kind of thing – and whenever you are in the chair you have a lawyer to the left of you and an officer of the Synod to the right so that you can be kept on the straight and narrow.  But you have the bell and ringing that bell is all important.  But so is giving the right feel to a debate or whatever the particular Session is about and also having a mind to the mood of Synod and the feeling in the chamber.  So I’ll have to rely on that thing that people talk about nowadays – emotional intelligence – to get that right.

So what does the Agenda hold?

This afternoon has one of the key moments  of Sessions and that is the Presidential Address being given by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  What we know is that he will be reflecting on the recent Primates’ Meeting.  So I anticipate a huge amount of interest in what he says and what he doesn’t say.  Then, later in the week, we have almost a whole day on the Renewal and Reform agenda.  That is when I will get my first outing at the top table as I chair a Presentation.  But the real interest will come in the debate that will follow on Resourcing Ministerial Education.

Mrs Merton

‘Let’s have a heated debate!’

 

I suspect that will become in what the famous Mrs Merton used to describe as a ‘heated debate’. Some of us suspect that the loss of full time residential theological formation is what we are looking aspect and if that is the case it will be a serious loss to the church.  Ok, there are other ways of learning and people have done part-time and non-residential courses for ages.  The first one started in the Diocese of Southwark, the famous ‘Southwark Ordination Course’, and many good and faithful priests have come through that and its successor training courses.  But I know that my formation at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield made me the priest I am and that without that intense shaping and teaching I would not have embraced priesthood in quite the way I have been enabled to do.

Priestly formation, in my view, is not principally about the acquiring of knowledge – though there has to be a strong element of that – but rather about acquiring the priestly character.  For me that is done in community, with a strong rule of life, through common prayer and a deep exposure to priestly ministry as it is exercised.  I was fortunate enough to have three years at the College, was able to listen to some amazing preaching, was involved in life changing liturgy, talked to some experienced and holy priests and learnt the disciplines of prayer and work and study and leisure that have sustained me every day of my 33 years of ministry.

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Being formed as a priest at Mirfield

 

Perhaps the CofE has decided it wants a different type of priest. If it has, then it should say so, because the proposals in my mind will have that effect. But I may be a lone voice, though I suspect not.

So there will be some getting to know each other in these Sessions – and Group Work tomorrow will enable some relationships to begin to be established – but alongside this will begin the real work of seeing where the Spirit is leading the Church and the Communion at this time. 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.

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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.
Amen.

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.

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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.

Jesus,
in our face
may people see
your face.
Amen.

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.

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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.

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‘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’.

Lord,
may your Holy Spirit rest upon us
and upon your church.
Amen.

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.
Amen.

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

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark

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