Drama in the Chamber

You never know what is going to happen next. It is a sobering thought!

Having posted my first blog I began to head to the Central Hall where the Synod meets. The Synod was to begin at 4.15. I went via the Marketplace to see what was happening at the stall I mentioned. Fr Mark Heather was there setting out all the leaflets including the Gospel Imprint publications. I forgot to mention that yesterday. If you haven’t come across Gospel Imprint then please look it up on the web.

Mark Heather setting out his stall

Mark Heather setting out his stall

It is the work of Affirming Catholicism and the Society of Catholic Priests and the team who look after it produce the most wonderful leaflets which can be downloaded free of charge, for use in the parish. They are on elements of the faith, spirituality and the Christian life. In my experience, they are very useful to have at the back of church for people to pick up, accessible and high quality.

Close by our stand was the WATCH stand. I stopped there and it was great to see Sally Barnes there with some others getting everything set up. What was lovely was that there was a picture of me with the Bishop of False Bay, Bishop Margaret Vertue, during her recent visit to Southwark Cathedral, resplendent in her mitre. So I looked at that and then dashed off to the Hall.

With Sally Barnes at the WATCH stall.

With Sally Barnes at the WATCH stall.

The thing about the Central Hall is that it is very hot and this was a very hot day. I found a place to sit in the well of the Hall, the place where all the bishops gather, behind the group of deaf Anglicans for whom signing is provided.

The bell rang and the President, Archbishop Sentamu, came in with the officers of the Synod. It is all very liturgical! The Session began with worship led by the Ven Cherry Vann. Then the Archbishop welcomed new members of the Synod including my friend and neighbour, David Ison, the Dean of St Paul’s and then a moment of history happened.

There are two Prolocutors in Synod, one for each of the provinces and they are elected by the clergy of the province. I had the privilege about two years ago of presenting the Ven Christine Hardman as Prolocutor for the southern province. She was the first woman to hold this office. But on this occasion it was the Ven Cherry Van who was presented for the northern province. She joined Christine – a real moment in history. As we talk about women in the episcopate it is so good to see women taking these highest roles and also modelling for us what women will give to us alongside their male colleagues, in leadership positions.

Then the Archbishop welcomed the Ecumenical observers. The Bishop of Skalholt in Iceland responded. The Icelandic church is part of the Porvoo Agreement and as someone from a diocese and a cathedral that has benefitted greatly from Porvoo it was good to hear him speaking so positively about the relationship. He did quip that it had only taken his church 1000 years to have women bishops! His presence was a reminder to me that a year ago we installed in Southwark Cathedral a stained glass window to mark the Diamond Jubilee made by an Icelandic artist. It’s presence in the retrochoir is a constant reminder of the deep relationship that we have with the Porvoo community.

The Chair of the Business Committee was then invited to give his report. Julian Henderson, soon to be Bishop of Blackburn, began to set out what we would be doing at this Group of Sessions and the rationale behind it.

At that point the drama set in – I fainted! What I remember was finding myself laid on the seats then carried out of the Chamber and an ambulance arriving to take me to York District Hospital. I have to say that the NHS were fantastic, every member of staff I encountered was superb. By 8pm I was discharged – it had been a ‘classic faint’. But I was grateful for the support I received and the prayers that were offered for me in the Chamber. Not all things are completely bad, and what this episode has taught me is the community that is General Synod. The number of messages, hugs and kisses I have received has been lovely. I said yesterday that as we left Synod in November we wondered whether we could trust and love each other – I have seen both in evidence already!

The thing that really frustrated me was missing Archbishop Justin’s Presidential Address. But the reports and the text are impressive. People are very positive about it. I think that he has rightly picked up on the fact that these are revolutionary times and the church has to listen to what society is saying. It was a good way to move forward in this Synod.

I also missed Questions – but I think I will survive without that.

Members of Synod enjoying breakfast.

Members of Synod enjoying breakfast.

So I got up for breakfast and what this day would hold. Saturday has been given over, as far as the morning and afternoon are concerned, to group work, conversation, about the process with regard to women in the episcopate, the lessons learnt and the options that we now face. The rules of the exercise are that what is said in the room, stays in the room. So I respect that. All I will say is that half way through the process it has been good and valuable.

So we will see where the remainder of the day takes us – more group work this afternoon and then this evening a report on the progress made on meeting the Challenges for the Quinquennium – which will be a taking stock session.

The ever present geese!

The ever present geese!

And the mood of Synod? It seems friendly, copoerative and wanting to do business. I’m delighted about that, but I am especially grateful that I have experienced a deeply loving side of the General Synod, which isn’t always apparent and for which I am very grateful.

Lord Jesus, you call us friends.
Bless the members of the General Synod
and as we share in a common task
may we celebrate a common faith
grounded in love,
filled with grace,
centred on you.

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