It seems strange, arriving for a meeting of General Synod. I’ve been a member since 2005 and so in one sense it shouldn’t be strange at all. But the thing is that we haven’t met since November. That was a rather special Group of Sessions (the proper name given to a meeting of the General Synod) in that the main matter of business was the legislation to make it possible for women to be ordained bishop.
That Synod ended in gloom for the majority of its members. We didn’t achieve the required 2/3rds majority in favour in each of the three houses of bishops, clergy and laity. In fact it did achieve that majority amongst the bishops and the clergy but it was in the House of Laity that it failed. As we left at the end of that Synod we really wondered what the future held for our church. Archbishop Rowan had spoken to us the morning after the vote about the need for trust, but how could we trust one another when this had happened, how could we really love one another when this had happened?
Of course, we were raw with emotion then and time has passed and an enormous amount of work had been done to get us ready for this July Group of Sessions in York. But the usual Group of Sessions held in February was cancelled to allow for conversation and consultation to take place. So this is the first time we will all see each other after last November. I simply don’t know what the mood will be.
However, York is a lovely place to come to, especially like today, in the sunshine. The Westminster village is a hothouse of politics; York has a very different feel. In Westminster the majority of the clergy seem to wear dog collars for some reason; in York only a few do – even many of the bishops ‘dress down’. The sun often (not always) shines and we bake in the Synod Chamber and relax on the steps overlooking the lake surrounded by geese!
The other great factor in favour of York is that we are all resident on the Campus. That means that we are not dashing off to our hotel or home as we do when in Westminster but we eat together and have time to have a drink together and really get to know each other. That will be even more important this time than it has been before and on Saturday almost the whole day is going to be given over to facilitated conversations about the issue that still faces the church – women bishops.
So I left London a little nervous, but positive, I always try to be positive, and caught the train from Kings Cross to York. That gave me a good opportunity to re-read the massive quantity of paperwork we get sent in preparation for the Synod. I should have weighed the file I brought with me! I know that you can now download the papers but I like to be able to have them in my hands – call me old fashioned! And to be honest I can’t absorb all the stuff we are sent. But there are three really important topics this time that I’ve had to try to get my head around – amongst other things that are also very important to the life of the Church of England – women bishops of course, the reorganisation of the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds and Wakefield and safeguarding in our churches following the Chichester Visitation by the commissaries of the Archbishop. It’s a tough and complex Synod that awaits us.
One nice thing is that for the first time (I believe) the Society of Catholic Priests, Affirming Catholicism and the Company of Servers have a stall in the Marketplace at the Synod. I’m so pleased that this has been organised as it will make more visible the fact that the catholic tradition is alive and well in the Church of England and in favour of all God’s people – regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality – being recognised for any ministry, ordained or lay.
But now I have to unpack in my room in James College and get ready for the opening of the Synod and Archbishop Justin’s first Presidential Address. Should be fascinating. People are arriving and we are all getting ready for the days that lie ahead of us.
Please pray for us. This Collect from the Book of Common Prayer is one to learn by heart but it is especially appropriate for us to pray together today.
O God, for as much as without Thee we are not able to please Thee; mercifully grant, that Thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.