This short Group of Sessions ended with two important debates. The first was on the Anglican-Methodist Covenant. For anyone in the Church of England or the Methodist Church this subject has been rattling on for far too long. The whole idea has been kicked into the long grass too many times as far as I’m concerned. Ok, there are some real issues to deal with – and they aren’t all from our side. Why would Methodists want to join up with the CofE, I sometimes ask myself? It’s not as though we have everything sorted! I am impressed by the Methodists social mission agenda, their commitment to gay and lesbian people and to women’s ministry. We have a lot of catching up to do before the Methodist Conference should accept us in a covenant with them.
The real business of ecumenism though happens nowadays not in Synod chambers or in Conference but on the ground, in the parishes, in community. We have a wonderful example of the Methodist Church at work in our local community at Bermondsey Central Methodist Mission. They do tremendous work in social outreach and we are achieving great things with them for the homeless of the area through the ROBES project, our local cold weather shelter. That is where the most effective work takes place – but structures have to catch up with it.
As far as ecclesiological differences are concerned I have learnt a huge amount from Porvoo. We’re twinned with Bergen Cathedral and work closely with the Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe. The situation of the Lutheran and Methodist churches is different. But when we entered into the Porvoo Agreement and the mutual recognition of ministries there were things that had still to be worked through and this remains the case. But that has not stood in the way of the relationship that we do have and that bears fruit in plenty. It is ‘by their fruit that you will know them’ says Jesus to us in St Matthew’s Gospel and the fruit is good. And I believe the fruit of a deeper relationship with Methodism in this country would be good.
Some of the people we welcome as guests in the ROBES project may have been made homeless through the implementation of the bedroom tax – I don’t know. But there are so many reasons why people end up homeless that this iniquitous attack on the welfare system cannot help.
It was on this tax that the Synod ended. The Diocese of Leeds had brought a motion expressing our deep concern about the effect of the tax. I had the opportunity to add to the debate. Some good and moving stories were told of people caught in this ill-thought through initiative.
The fact of the matter is that there are not sufficient single-occupancy dwellings for people who might want to move to move into; that those who have not been in debt previously are driven into arrears; that Councils are having to use their resources to compensate people caught in the trap; and that those who have made their home in a community, in a place, are being forced to move.
One Synod member said that she is widowed, living in her own home, with spare bedrooms. She receives a 25% reduction in her Council Tax. A person in the same situation as her but in public housing would be charged extra. How is that just, how is that fair? It is not, and we are the people of the God of justice.
There was a division of the whole Synod at the end of the debate and the Motion was passed with none opposed and only three abstentions. That gives a clear and strong message to the nation.
And ‘as I lay me down to sleep’ I will remember those who are homeless this night, and those who are concerned because they cannot pay the rent, and those who know that they have more bedrooms than they ‘need’.
May the Lord grant us all
a quiet night and a perfect end.