One of the great things about the Synod are the group of ecumenical observers who join us in the Chamber and very faithfully sit through the debates – however turgid they are. It is a work of great charity on their part. It was very good to see Canon John O’Toole amongst the others representing the Roman Catholic Church. John was, until fairly recently, the Dean of St George’s Cathedral, Southwark. He was a good friend to us at Southwark Cathedral and a member of our Cathedral Council and gave us real encouragement in our Living God process. Responding on behalf of the welcome to our ecumenical guests was the Most Revd Dr Antje Jackelen, the Archbishop of Uppsala in the Church of Sweden.
She spoke beautifully and well, and concluded, in talking about crossing boundaries, about the God in whom we believe, who crossed the greatest and the riskiest boundary, between the divine and the human, and in Jesus became as we are. It was a real reminder to me in all our debates and concerns about borders and boundaries and the concerns that many have about keeping people ‘out’, that this is not what God does.
The incarnation is the great border crossing and the cross becomes the bridge between earth and heaven, a reflection (or is it the other way round) of the ladder that Jacob sees in his dream. God spans our divides, breaks through our walls, challenges our isolation and confronts the fear of the other that we so often display. I love the name of the great aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières, ‘Doctors without borders’. They work they do is fantastic but their name is a challenge to us when we want to work within boundaries and protect our borders – national or church.
The whole business of greater unity between Christians, of which our ecumenical guests are a reminder to us, will demand that we break down the walls that divide us as it is described so beautifully in the letter to the Ephesians
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2.14)
This is the work of Jesus and therefore the work of the church. And it was of the work of Jesus, as found in John 17, that the Archbishop of York spoke in his Presidential Address to Synod.
The remainder of the afternoon was taken up with some procedural and legislative business including the Report by the Business Committee and an item on the Administration of Communion Regulations which would allow all those who are communicants – including children – to be ministers of the Eucharist.
However, the afternoon concluded as we were given the first taste of what will be the major business of this Group of Sessions when we had a presentation by the Ethical Investment Advisory Group and the National Investing Bodies on climate change and fossil fuels. In an excellent presentation we heard about the foundational thinking and biblical exegesis that lay behind the proposed new policy. I found it very encouraging, as it was reasonable and moderate. What I mean is that whilst I am fully behind the climate change agenda and the end of dependence on fossil fuels I have to recognise that affecting change will not be easy and the financial implications for the church have to be carefully managed.
The truth is of course that whilst ever we have investments in fossil fuel companies we have a place at the table of their decision making, the opportunity to influence thinking and levers that we can pull. If we disinvest we will lose some of those advantages. The point was made that there are many people waiting behind the church who will be happy to pick up the investments that we give up – so will it really send the jitters into this market if we disinvest. But the issues of global warming and the effect upon the poorest communities in the world are real and pressing.
A very good point was made in the presentation – and I paraphrase ‘We are not talking here about tobacco, disinvesting in tobacco manufacturers. We don’t need tobacco. We do need energy.’ So there is a subtle debate to be had around investment, influence and encouraging research and development. It was a good start to what we will return to later on this weekend.
The day ended where the first day always ends – Questions – 84 had been tabled, the opportunity we have to seek the truth and the facts and to keep issues warm that could be allowed to go cold. But for me the major message of the day has been about borders.
John Donne’s great sonnet,’Batter my heart’, begins like this
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
My own walls, my own borders and barriers, the ways I try to keep God out, also need to be broken down so that Christ may be my, our, peace.
Lord Jesus, you entered my life,
may I enter fully into yours.