Not just words

Eliza Doolittle in the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ comes to the point of exasperation ‘Words, words words!’ she exclaims and then breaks into song and sings

Don’t talk of stars, burning above
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams, filled with desire
If you’re on fire, show me!

Has Eliza something to say to us?

Has Eliza something to say to us?

General Synod on our Sunday in York always escapes the campus and heads for the centre of the city and the beauty of the Minster to join with the congregation there for the Choral Eucharist. But it is a short break because then we head back as the business resumes in the afternoon. But it was good to be in York Minster – such a wonderful place in which to worship and good to hear Archbishop Justin preach. As part of what he said he reminded us that ‘the church is called to a loving critique of the secular power’. That could be about telling those in power, nationally or locally, what they should be doing. Words. But what is much more powerful is the showing. Later in the day the Bishop of Chelmsford, as he introduced a presentation on the work of MEAC (Minority Ethic Anglican Concerns), said ‘Stop praying for peace; stop praying that the hungry are fed – unless you are prepared to be part of the solution’. As Eliza would say

If you’re on fire, show me!

The first item of business in the afternoon was about words, new, alternative words for the Rite of Baptism. The words we have in Common Worship are thought by many to be inaccessible, a barrier to understanding to many of those who come to baptism or bring their babies to be baptised. And even the words that we approved today can still be challenging if you have had no upbringing in the Christian faith. What does to ‘die with Christ and rise with him’ mean? It isn’t obvious when we just hear it. If you’re on fire, show me!

We worry so much about texts for liturgy and that is not wrong – words are very important and the right words are very important and accessible language is very important – but they are only part of the story. It is in the liturgy that we express our doctrine as Anglicans, but we also do it when we ‘perform’, ‘present’, ‘act out’, make real the words in the liturgy. The words have to live, have life breathed into them and through them.

Don’t talk of love lasting through time
Make me no undying vow
Show me now!

After a short debate on Standing Orders we returned to liturgy. The regulations about the Administration of Holy Communion have been amended by this Synod to allow children to be ministers of the Eucharist. This was the final stage of approval of this change. But this is exactly what we mean by showing and not just speaking. When we see children participating in giving the sacrament to those who come to receive it, then we will see that they are equally the church, as much as older people are, and as validly and as fully. We will not just say it we will be able to show it. It will be a powerful, living, eloquent statement of who are.

The afternoon ended – before an introduction to tomorrow’s group work – with the presentation by MEAC that I have already mentioned. The painful truth, which Bishop Stephen Cottrell pulled no punches in speaking about, is that as far as the numbers of black and minority ethic people in leadership positions in the church is concerned we are going backwards and not forwards. Words are not enough he was saying to us, don’t just pray for black and minority vocations, work for them; we need affirmative action.

The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, one of more prominent black priests

The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, one of more prominent black priests

There was a great film shown which highlighted the issues. We simply do not look like the church that we are, and the church that God calls us to be, the church God has already created and blessed and empowered. The church of the day of Pentecost was multi-ethnic, multi-cultural but the church we see before us in Synod and in the nation is a poor and pale reflection of that.

Great words were being said, as you can imagine, but words are not enough. We have to mean what we say and put them into action, we have to show a different face to the nation and to the world. It was a powerful debate and we have to behave differently. And we can do better, we know that.

The point was well made that last year we approved the ordination of women as bishops. Already we have six women, in or about to be in episcopal orders. We have shown that we can move swiftly when we want to and the face of the House of Bishops is changing. So what has stopped us moving as swiftly where black, Asian and minority ethnic people are concerned? Is there still a deep down racism at work, do we not care, are we acting out of unconscious bias and prejudice? These are series and sobering questions.

God did not just speak his word, he sent his word and showed his Word in Jesus, for as John says

And the Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1.14)

God loved and spoke and acted – and he calls us to do the same.

Don’t talk of love lasting through time
Make me no undying vow
Show me now!

And God has!

God of the Living Word,
may the words I speak
be made real in the things I do;
in the power of your Word,
Jesus.
Amen.

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