The one thing that you can say about General Synod is that no two days are alike and you can go on the most amazing journey. I wrote that this morning was centred on legislation. This afternoon was focused on the Common Good.
It was great to have the Revd Jim Wallis with us. I hadn’t heard him speak for years and, personally, I love inspirational and passionate speakers. Jim does get into the corridors of power in the USA and he can add his wisdom to helping to counter the current tendencies we find, not just in the States but in the West as a whole. That I would define as self interest and a loss of a sense of community and the responsibility that we have one for another. I’m not pointing the finger at society, sadly I think it applies to the church as well. Obviously not everywhere but there has been a general tendency to look inward and to self. The fact that we, the Church of England, accepted this as one of the challenges for this quinquennium, addressing the common good, means that there is a commitment at the heart of the church to do what we know we should do.
Jim told us that his converting text was Matthew 25. I remember when I first heard that passage, first really heard it, as a teenager and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. And then Sydney Carter’s hymn ‘When I needed a neighbour’ came alive for me. The final verse of that hymn stays with me.
Wherever you travel
I’ll be there, I’ll be there.
Wherever you travel
I’ll be there.
And the creed and the colour
And the name won’t matter
I’ll be there.
Have I been? Have I been there for my brother, my sister? It is a real challenge. And Jim made a real challenge to me when he spoke about mass incarceration in the States. He said that all the others that Jesus mentions in Matthew 25 are innocent victims – the sick, the homeless, the naked, the hungry. But the prisoners are not guiltless and yet the gospel demand to us to treat them just the same as all our other brothers and sisters is there and powerful. I had never noticed this and will always notice it now. There is no deserving and underserving poor, no deserving and undeserving person to Jesus, nor to you, nor to me.
Jim’s address was followed by group work and by a debate. But the best bit for me was his presentation.
From the Common Good we moved in the evening session to the vesture of ministers. Look, can I be honest? I think that vestments are important; not as important as the Trinity, not as important as the incarnation, not as important as the resurrection, but they are part of church order and church tradition and they add to that great drama of the liturgy that gives us a glimpse of heaven and they help me understand who I am and what I am doing. But I have been, regularly, in situations where robes are not worn and I can survive and the roof hasn’t fallen in. But the wonderful thing about the CofE is that it is catholic and reformed. In its catholic nature it bears and makes real the tradition of the church and vestments and priesthood are part of this. In its reformed nature we are encouraged to think rationally and from the basis of scripture. All of this gives us huge latitude but also a great deal that fixes us in place and time and purpose and helps to express who we are, what we are doing and the authority we have for doing it.
The Motion before us was passed and to be honest the debate was interesting. I just wait to see what will emerge. I think it is disastrous in the Diocese of Sydney where, as I understand it, vestments, especially eucharistic ones, are banned. That is not Anglican and nor would it be if I insisted that my evangelical sister or brother wore them. In between these positions lies the Anglican spirit and the Anglican way and that is what the Canon must enshrine in a workable and real form.
At the end of an uncommon but good day in Synod I return to a great poem by George Herbert which describes some of this from a truly Anglican position and with reference to the scriptures. The poem is called Aaron.
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.*
Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest :
Poor priest ! thus am I drest.
Only another head
I have another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest :
In Him I am well drest.
Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me e’en dead ;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in Him new drest.
So holy in my Head,
Perfect and light in my dear Breast,
My doctrine tuned by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come, people ; Aaron’s drest.