The tea room is already full as members of the General Synod arrive for this two day Group of Sessions being held in Westminster. There should have been sunshine for such a day as this, but instead the skies are clouded over and there is a hint of rain in the air. But nothing can dampen the moment.
I’m old enough to remember that two feasts used to fall on this day, 17 November, and you had to make a choice. Hugh or Hilda? Now they have been separated out and today is the feast of St Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln and Wednesday is the feast of St Hilda, Abbess of Whitby. But for this day I want to bring them back together to stand with the Church of England on the edge of history.
Hugh was one of those great bishops. It seems from my reading of it that he understood the pastoral role of the bishop and he gave himself to it, riding round his diocese, visiting the clergy, encouraging them and building up the church. Anyone who can have a swan as a pet can’t be all bad and Hugh wasn’t bad at all.
Hilda was one of the most tremendous women in the history of our church. She presided over the Synod of the church which had to handle the difficult issue of the date of Easter – celtic or Roman pattern? She gathered a community around her of both men and women and was a true mother to the church of her day. There is always an episcopal feel to her and depicted holding her pastoral staff as an abbess should, we see a sign of the moment of history that awaits us in the Chamber at the beginning of business this afternoon.
Hugh and Hilda, formative figures for true episcopacy in this land and patrons for this afternoon.
It has taken a great deal of time to get to this place, many tears have been shed, there have been frustrations and difficulties, false dawns, pain, disappointments, mistakes, moments of near disaster, loss of credibility, compromises, and, in the end, a new clarity and sense of purpose. It has been costly for those in favour and for those who are oppossed. But we are here and I feel a huge sense of privilege to be part of this afternoon.
It is right to be joyful but it is wrong to gloat. The ‘Five Guiding Principles’ have got us to this point and to this momentous afternoon, and they are a real commitment to mutual flourishing. That is not easy for some but we have to see it is a vital and real commitment by the whole church. We must all flourish; by God’s grace we will all flourish.
The ‘Today’ programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning talked about the Synod and made the point that the Anglican Church in the other parts of the British Isles can already have bishops who are women – but they haven’t. That is the next challenge for the church following this afternoon. It is one thing to pass legislation, it is another to make sure that women are nominated to diocesan and suffragan sees. That will be a real test of the resolve of the whole church.
So we move to the Chamber. There is other business for us to deal with – but more of that later. Now we stand at this historic moment and God is with us and the prayers of St Hugh and St Hilda will support us.
God bless us as we meet in Synod.
May your Holy Spirit guide and equip us
in all we will do.