You could spend an afternoon idly wasting time, making some tea, watching rubbish TV, reading a book, having a doze. Or you could spend an afternoon making history and dealing with issues of importance and moment. This afternoon in Synod has felt more like a day than a few hours.
After the debate on the Report of the Business Committee in which were raised some very important issues, such as why the Private Members Motion on Equal Marriage has been parked for so long, we moved to the enactment of the amended Canon which would enable women to be consecrated as bishop. It only took a few minutes but at 14.54 on Monday 17 November 2014 it was done. The Archbishops, the Prolocutors and the Chairs of the House of Laity signed the document and it was enacted. And after all the struggles it was as simple and profound as that. Sometimes life is surprisingly simple and beautiful and this was one of those moments.
The Archbishop of York then led us in prayer and it all felt so right and so calm.
Archbishop Justin then gave a most powerful address about the state of the Anglican Communion. He began by saying very clearly that the Anglican Communion ‘exists and is flourishing’ and he told some great stories from his visits around the Communion of where the Provinces are vibrant and growing. But he also recognised that the diversity of the Communion, not just in cultural terms but in theological as well, mean that, ‘our divisions may be too much to manage’. He spoke about his desire that the Communion works more collegially and that was why a Lambeth Conference would be called if it was the desire of the Communion, not because there was an ‘8 in the year’. And he concluded by commenting that the Communion of the future is ‘likely to be very different from the past’.
As someone who commented quite negatively about aspects of the Anglican Communion when we were debating the Covenant and rejecting that as a way forward, I thought this was an honest and truthful address. But ++Justin talked of ‘a prize worth almost anything to achieve’ by which I think he meant our unity in Christ. My question is, so who pays the price of that? Is it gay and lesbian people who are looking for justice and equality, not just in the Church of England but in Uganda and other places in the Communion where even their lives are in danger and not just their chance of preferment or freedom to love. We are always dealing with the issues of truth and justice and freedom to be the people that God created us to be, whoever, whatever we are.
Then followed Legislative Business and a good debate on the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy. That sounds quite dry – but it isn’t at all. How we live out our vocation is so important. We are told at ordination that we are to be ‘ambassadors for Christ’. What does that mean for the way we act and live as deacons, priests and bishops?
But it is also about such things as the Seal of the Confessional and how that relates to safeguarding. That provoked some excellent speeches from people as diverse as Fr Philip North (soon to be the next Bishop of Burnley) and Canon Chris Sugden, who exist at very different ends of the candle but were clear in their defence of confidentiality, as am I. Once the seal is broken it is broken. But that means we must face the very difficult issue of what happens when someone discloses abuse in the confessional. There are ways of addressing it but they need thinking through and, as ever, we must listen to survivors.
We also need to listen to the words of Jesus to the apostles when he commissioned them to this ministry of reconciliation into which every priest is drawn
‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ (John 20.23)
We may like the idea of the first half of what Jesus says and may avoid the second. But the truth is, and this is a hard truth, that the two go together. Reconciliation is tough work, in the lives of individuals and in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion.
Is diversity creative or disastrous? It has to be creative, but as with the ministry of reconciliation, there are two sides to the coin and we must be as honest and realistic about that as ++Justin was this afternoon.
So after Questions this long and momentous, historic afternoon ended.
Thanks be to God.