Back in the room

I promised I’d be back – well, here I am. The Shared Conversations ended just before lunch on Tuesday and the members of the General Synod rapidly dispersed.  There was life to get back to; I had to get a train that would get me back to Southwark Cathedral to welcome those who would come to the first ever Legal Service in the Cathedral.  Life and ministry goes on.

But all of that has given me time to reflect on what happened over those last two days during which, whilst we were in the process, we were asked not to comment. Of course, things were continuing to change around us and for once I’m not talking about the political situation in the UK post-Brexit. Over in Canada the Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada was also discussing their response to same-sex marriage.

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‘And the banner over me is love.’

 

News emerged that that Synod had narrowly voted against allowing same-sex marriage in church.  That was dismal news – and then it all changed. There was what was akin to a re-count and the decision was actually in favour.  Talking to friends in Canada since then it sounds not so dissimilar with what happened to our own electronic voting system on Friday! So, another Province decides on a positive course of action.

But back to York and my experience.  This was my third set of Shared Conversations. The first was the regional ones, the second diocesan ones and now this set.  As I entered the room where Group 15 was to meet (we were allocated to one of 23 groups) I didn’t know what to expect.  But there were some familiar faces there and some new ones to me.  Each group had a facilitator who guided us through the stages of the process – it felt safe, it felt good.

We began with telling and sharing our own story, focusing on our faith journey and anything else that was significant to us.  There was no pressure to speak about anything you weren’t comfortable talking about.  As always, when you have the privilege of listening to someone else telling their story this was very moving.  That took up the first afternoon.

Monday morning focused in on scripture as we were firstly resourced by three biblical scholars who talked about the authority of scripture and particularly in relation to human sexuality, from their own perspective.  That session was too short but rich and fascinating.  Then we shared our own significant scripture passage in small groups.  Mine was this

‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10.10)

I chose that for two reasons.  Firstly, it seems to me that that is the essence of Jesus’ ministry and what he brings to my life.  And that abundance to me is all about fruitfulness. Jesus wants me, wants you, wants us to flourish and I believe that is regardless of any of those ways in which we define, describe ourselves according to gender, ethnicity, ability, sexual identity grounds and beyond, for as St Paul says to the

‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3.28)

The gifts of abundant living are to us as created and loved not because of any definition we or others may apply to us.

My second reason was that I first became aware of this text when our curate back when I was a young teenager preached on it.  Fr Irving Richards, the first black priest I had ever seen let alone known, was formative in the story of my own vocation but also in sowing this text deep within me.  It remains something I live by and, for me, it challenges the church which can too often diminishes people.

From scripture we moved to culture, hearing three sets of presentations from the perspective of younger adults, older people and from across the Communion about the changing cultures in which we are set.  It was a rich and challenging afternoon – far too much to take in but you wouldn’t have wanted to have missed a word of it.

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Finally, on the last morning we looked at what ‘gifts’ we wanted to take back into a plenary of all the members of the Synod.  There was a sense in that discussion of where do we go from here and I suspect, if you are reading this, you are asking the same question. My answer is, I don’t know.

As a process it was good and it enabled the members of Synod to build relationships and take time out of the normal Synodical routine.  This will have a deep influence on the life of this quinquennium and I think was hugely valuable.

To be honest we were too kind to each other, we all agreed when we knew that there was a huge level of disagreement.  There wasn’t enough time spent wrestling with scripture; the trunk of the elephant barely entered the room; the issue of how we can even begin to compromise when some see responding physically to same-sex attraction as inherently sinful and therefore inappropriate to bless and others see it as natural and good and potentially holy.  That is a vast chasm to bridge – but the church is called to be a bridge builder and a wall destroyer.

As we began to meet Andy Murray was being crowned a champion of Wimbledon.  So, to grab an analogy from that convergence of events, the ball is in the bishops court.  It is they who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, must discern where we go to next.  Few, I think, what this to drag on, we all want to move beyond conversations about sexuality to how we bring good news to the people of this generation.  But the truth is that there are LGBTIQ people amongst this generation and I believe that they too need to hear good news, the real Good News that Jesus wants their life to be ‘abundant’.

God of abundant life,
guide your church,
that she may preach good news
to every person,
whoever they are,
whoever I am.
Amen.

Prorouged but not ended

So that Group of Sessions ended.  The formal word is ‘prorogued’ which simply means bringing it to its end. But it felt odd to know that the Synod had ended but we were still meant to be here.

When I was a kid, going to the pictures was a bit of a bargain – unlike today – you got a film to watch before you saw the main feature, the film you had really gone to see, and, of course, you still had the adverts, for the local Indian or Chinese restaurant. They were called ‘B’ movies, they were of variable quality, sometimes rubbish, but it was something to watch or eat your sweets through.  Well, this Synod has taken me back to those days in the Magna Cinema in Wigston where I was brought up and where I went with my sister every Saturday for the children’s film club.

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The Magna Cinema in Wigston Magna, Leicester

 

The business of Synod, though interesting and important, felt like the starter to a meal, the film before the main feature. We all knew that the Shared Conversations would be the thing that we would remember most about the July Synod in York in 2016. It could be, by the grace of God, a positive turning point for the Church of England, it could be the ultimate car crash, or, of course, (and perhaps most likely) as indeterminate as most things can be in Synod life until, as with women bishop’s, the rubber finally hits the road.

So, the legislative business ended, a revision committee will look at the Amending Canon on vesture and the burial of those who have committed suicide.  The talent pool will continue to be stocked with promising new people, leaders will be trained for leadership, the Archbishops’ Council will do its work, schools will continue to offer excellent education and the budget has been passed so that we can spend money creatively for mission and ministry.  Life goes on.

In the evening yesterday news came through that the URC Church had made the decision, by a large majority, to allow same-sex marriages to take place in those churches who wish to conduct them. It was a timely reminder that society and the church is moving on around us and we are looking more and more isolated. I’m proud of the Methodists, some of the Baptists, the Church of Scotland and now the URC for having the courage, confidence and vision to take this step.

How do I feel as we embark on these two days?  This will be my third set of Shared Conversations, so in one sense I know a bit of what will happen.  But the regional one and the diocesan one that I took part in were not with people who would have to create some kind of outcome.  Members of the General Synod are here to be part of the governance of the church and to make decisions about its future.  We all know that.  We also know that we will be together as a Synod until 2020. So it is different and I suspect it will feel different.  But I entered those other two conversations positively and trusting in the Protocol and the process and my trust was well placed. So, despite all the undercurrents of negativity that sweep around Synod, I enter these conversations positively and trusting in the God I always trust and who I know loves me, for that God created me, my ultimate father, my ultimate mother.

We are asked not to blog and Tweet during the process but afterwards we can share some reflections.  So, until then I’m being prorogued …. but I promise, I’ll be back!

This verse from the hymn by Jan Struther I’m making my prayer as we begin this journey.

Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy,
whose trust, ever childlike, no cares could destroy:
be there at our waking, and give us, we pray,
your bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day.
Amen.

The nature of the church

What kind of church are we?  That seems to me to be at the heart of so much of what we have talked about this morning in Synod.  The answer that you give to that question will depend very much, of course, on your ecclesiology. My own view is that we are part of the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’ as we say in the Creed.  There are then certain things that flow from that.

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Let me see if I can explain what those five words say to me

one – that in important, almost vital ways, we are united, unified in faith and in practice, that we have shared beliefs and shared words for worshipping the one God in whom we believe and that we believe that this unity is an essential part of our character and nature.

holy – that we are the body of Christ, that we are in the world but not of the world, that we are set aside to be salt and light in the midst of the world.

catholic – that we are world wide and history long, that we are more than ourselves, that any congregation is only a representation of something which exists beyond it in time and in eternity and that much of what we do has been received and will be handed on.

apostolic – that we are formed for mission and ministry, for making Christ known and for ministering as a servant people to a needy world and that the whole people of God perform this ministry from which some are set aside for specific tasks as bishops, priests and deacons.

church – that we are the household of God which gathers to break word and bread, in which Christ is in the midst when two or three gather together.

That’s not exhaustive, just some initial thoughts.  But what concerns me about so much of the legislation that is coming forward and so many of the amendments being proposed is that their effect is to undermine one or more of these elements.  So on the face of it none of them really matters but add them together and I fear that we could create a ‘congregational’ church where there was and is the church catholic.  So, for instance,  I see a distrust of the episcopacy – and maybe the actions at times of our bishops accounts for some of that – and a desire that local needs and local manifestation of the church overrides any consideration of what makes us ‘the Church of England’.

Of course, I may be wrong – but just in case I’m not, I need to keep alert to what is before us.

Holy God, for the gift of your holy church we give you thanks and praise. Amen.

Seizing the moment

A Group of Sessions (a meeting of the General Synod) would normally begin, after some formal introductions, with a debate on the Report of the Business Committee.  Often the questions following the presentation of that report will involve members standing up and asking why such and such, which was in the news, was not included in the agenda.  The Chair of the Business Committee normally then explains that there wasn’t time and that the Business Committee would give the request consideration for a later meeting.  So this gathering in York was unusual for two reasons – the Business Committee Report came long after Synod had begun and time had been made for an emergency debate.

I was absolutely delighted when we were told that the Presidents of the Synod (the two archbishops) had come to the decision that we should debate the EU Referendum.  My big fear was that we would go through the same debate again – ‘Why isn’t the Referendum on the agenda?’, ‘Because there isn’t time’.  What would make it worse is that this would then be reported alongside the fact that we are spending two days, in purdah, talking about human (which in church speak means ‘homo’) sexuality.  ‘Church of England talks about sex (again) whilst nation is in turmoil’ could have been the headline.

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The fact of the matter is that we are the Established Church and whatever else that means it means, in my book, that we have a care for every person in England and that extends far beyond their spiritual needs.  It means that we have a priest living in every community in this country, that we know what it is like on the ground, in the streets and we have people who can reflect that back to us.  We are in a privileged position and so we have a duty to respond to the political, economic and social situation that we now find ourselves in – we have to seize the moment.

The risk was, of course, that the debate could have been just a bunch of ‘pinko liberals’ standing up and whinging about the result because they weren’t on the winning side!  I’m glad to say it wasn’t like that at all.  The Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the debate and set the tone, saying very clearly that we are where we are and that, whilst we are  leaving the EU we will never leave Europe.

One great speech came from the Bishop in Europe.  That diocese, part of the Church of England, extends across the continent and covers countries not in the EU but all those that do.  The Bishop spoke powerfully of congregations in Belgium where he lives and members of those congregations, ex-pats, who have given their professional careers to working to help create all that is good in the EU, being reduced to tears as they worshipped.  He also spoke about the millions of our fellow countrymen and women who have moved overseas for their retirement to enjoy the weather and lifestyle that so many countries offer and are now in fear and confusion.

Those who spoke in the debate raised powerful issues and it was good to hear from one priest from Hartlepool who explained why the people he works and lives with voted as they did, to leave, because they felt that over the last 40 years they have lost so much and gained so little.

I was proud to be a member of such a Synod that could speak so well and so carefully on an issue that is dividing us and to speak of the work of reconciliation that we can help with.  ++Justin warned the Synod that the church will have a great deal of work to do as we help the nation with vision and values as we build the kind of outward looking, generous, hospitable, inclusive, welcoming community that we believe God calls us to be.

So after an hour and a half of that debate the timed agenda was now something of a fiction.  As you know, I’m now a member of the Panel of Chairs and so behind the scenes there was constant conversation about how we were to manage the timings for the rest of the day.  But we did it and the day ended with me chairing ‘Questions’ for the first time.  I was initially nervous and at the end exhausted – but it was great fun and that bell, to bring people to order, is a powerful weapon (maybe something I should have at Chapter meetings!).

It’s now Day Two and we are shortly due back in the Chamber.  Today is basically about legislation – certainly in the morning.  Interesting among that is the Draft Amending Canon No. 36 which makes its first appearance.  This is the one that addresses the ‘vesture of ordained and authorized ministers during the time of divine service’. We know that many people break Canon Law every Sunday when they don’t wear customary vesture.  But the church lives with that because we are a broad church and we come from a variety of tradition backgrounds. But at the moment there is a norm and the proposal is that this should go.  Instead it will be for the discretion of the minister who will make the judgment about what to wear to ‘benefit the mission of the Church in the parish.’

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‘Will these benefit our mission?’

 

Now I know that I’m never knowingly underdressed in church, but then I am in a Cathedral and I am catholic in tradition and I do believe that liturgy is missional in its awe inspiring majesty and its life changing mystery so you would expect me to say this.  But at the moment I don’t think I can support this proposal.  Apart from the idea of abandoning the norm I think we create a hostage to fortune when in the legislation it says of what people should wear that it ‘must be seemly’.  The dictionary says that this means

Conforming to accepted notions of propriety or good taste.

I don’t know what that means in contemporary society.  And what does it mean at All Age Worship, Messy Church or Evening Worship? Who says what’s seemly? And I see huge gender discrimination looming because St Paul does mention what is seemly for women to wear in 1 Timothy 2 but not the men! Will the same standards be applied to ordained or licensed women and men?

There are more reasons as well – about what it means to be Anglican, a member and minister of the Church of England as well as the tradition that we are in.  But it will be interesting to see what is raised in this debate.

As ever, I turn to George Herbert for some wisdom on all of this.  In his poem ‘Aaron’ he begins with these words

HOLINESS on the head,
Light and perfection on the breast,
Harmonious bells below raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.

As the holy, priestly people of God St Paul has a good word for us

‘Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Romans 13.14)

The clothes that we wore in the EU debate where of justice, mercy and peace, we were clothed with Christ, perhaps this is the true vesture of the whole people of God.

Lord,
grace us
that we may truly be your church in this land,
clothed in justice, mercy and peace.
Amen.

Checking in

If you thought I was being all silent about this meeting of the General Synod in York, well I don’t intend to be until we have to be and that will be when we enter the Shared Conversations on Sunday.  This is a rather odd Group of Sessions as it all ends on Saturday evening at 10.00pm and then we get on with the talking behind closed doors.  But until then there is business to be done.  So I’m here and getting ready to listen and may be contribute to the emergency debate post-referendum. I will see how the debate goes.

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The Synod Chamber in York

 

Please pray for us.  We need lots of prayer support because for no one, whatever their views, is this going to be an easy experience.  But God is good and I will need to check in with God, in prayer, a great deal I suspect.

God,
you are always there
and ready to listen.
Bless this Synod,
our talking and our listening
that all we do and say may be grounded in love
and grounded in faith.
Amen.

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.

Common_Life3

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.

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

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