‘The poor will always be with you’

The afternoon session began with the Presidential Address delivered by Archbishop John Sentamu. His theme was the scandal of the levels of poverty in contemporary British society and he spoke from his experience in his own diocese and in the north of England. It was a magisterial performance – Sentamu at his best – drawing together so many themes and examples, backing it up with statistics and courageous honesty. He spoke of the ministry of Pope Francis and of His Holiness’ passion for and commitment to the poor; he spoke of the example given to us by the Liberation Theology movement and celebrated the work of Beveridge and William Temple with the foundation of the Welfare State.

This really is what we should be talking about in Synod and it was a relief for Synod to be able to speak to the nation in this way on a subject that is critical. Jesus did say that ‘the poor will always be with you’ (Matthew 26.11) but not in the sense that we should therefore not bother but that it will be a constant issue to be addressed. So much poverty has to be as a result of the decisions made by others, the decisions which make some rich and some poor and the church always has something powerful to say into unjust structures and politics. But the Archbishop also spoke of a ‘new poverty’, the fact that people in our society are in full-time employment and still in poverty and that rates of malnutrition in a city as prosperous as Leeds are increasing dramatically. It was a call for change and for ‘prophetic imagination and Christian wisdom’. Archbishop Sentamu sat down to warm and appreciative applause.

Grateful for a break - the Synod tea room

Grateful for a break – the Synod tea room

The afternoon continued with a lengthy debate on The Church School of the Future. It’s right that we gave such a length of time to this debate as our schools are a critical part of the life and ministry of our church. The Bishop of Oxford in opening the debate spoke of the fact that the clergy spend one million hours each year in schools – an amazing statistic, but every hour is well worth it in my own experience. It was good that Mark Steadman, from the Diocese of Southwark, was called first to speak. He celebrated the place of the church schools in our diocese and the way in which they had embraced Bishop Christopher’s call to mission ‘Faith Hope Love’ which is entirely true. We were encouraged to learn from each other’s good practice in schools. One speaker, the Bishop of St Albans, encouraged each parish with a school to set up a lay team to support the school – a good practical idea. I know with our own Cathedral School that many local people are involved in working as volunteers in the school and that has to be encouraged but perhaps more still would find it a great place in which to exercise a lay ministry. The report received overwhelming support and it was good that this substantial debate was once again outward looking.

The afternoon finished with a debate on the workings of General Synod, sponsored by the Diocese of London – but I had to slip away and so can’t comment on it.

Westminster Abbey at the end of the day

Westminster Abbey at the end of the day

So a good day I think, good groups in the morning laying the groundwork for the business that we are all waiting for tomorrow, the debate on women bishops.

Lord, grant us a quiet night and a perfect end
and may we rise refreshed to serve you tomorrow
with prophetic imagination
holy wisdom and passionate courage.
Amen.

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