Cast your mind back – a few years, maybe longer – to the first day at a new school. Your parents will have made sure that you had a new satchel with that lovely smell of new leather, a new tin of Helix protractors and set square (remember them), a new wooden ruler, a pencil and eraser. And of course your new shoes would be pinching and your blazer just a little too big so that you could grow into it. With a new haircut neatly combed and plastered down, face buffed up and polished clean by your mother, you would arrive at the new school. All those children arriving. You looked at the faces around you. What would they be like?
Well, the newly elected members of General Synod are arriving in Westminster for this first Group of Sessions. As I write the newbies will be receiving their induction – where to hang your coat, how to use the electronic voting machine, how debates work, when you can speak, where the dining room is. Apart from the voting machine all very familiar from school days!
And we will all be carefully studying one another for those tell-tale signs that mark out the tribes in the Church of England – the black suit, black clerical shirt brigade (me), the blue clerical shirt, a little badge here – gold cross, red cross, rainbow flag, something that a diocesan bishop is asking people to wear. Lay people are more difficult to identify instantly – but you can get a feel of who they are and where they come from in ecclesiastical terms.
This is my third term on Synod but my first as a member of a different constituency. Previously I have been elected by my sister and brother clergy in the Diocese of Southwark. But having become a Dean during the last quinquennium and being able to stay on because of the kindness of the clergy on our Bishop’s Council, this time I had to stand in the Deans’ election. Yes, we have our own ‘rotten borough’! The deans elect five of their number, three from the south, two from the north, to be members of the General Synod and to bring, I suppose, our particular perspective to the decision making of the Church of England.
So the Deans of St Paul’s, St Edmundsbury, Southwark, Manchester and Sheffield have been chosen to serve in this way. It will be a good group and I look forward to working with David and Frances, Rogers and Peter who are a really interesting and talented bunch of people.
And what will face us? Well these three days are in a sense ceremonial. Tomorrow we all attend the Opening Eucharist for the Synod in Westminster Abbey at which we will joined by Her Majesty The Queen. After that, and still in our Convocation Robes (if you are ordained) or posh frocks and suits if you’re not, we go to the Synod Chamber where we are addressed by Her Majesty. It’s the equivalent of the Queen’s Speech, I suppose, in that other legislative body across the road in Westminster – except that ours only happens once in five years.
Then, in terms of business, important debates on migrants and global warming, some legislative business about fees and lawyers, will follow but the main business will be getting to know each other.
I’m delighted to be part of General Synod again. Ok, so the prospect of talking about human sexuality, and homosexuality in particular, for five years doesn’t thrill me but the ‘Shared Conversations’ of which I have been part were excellent and if the conversations we have in York next July are anywhere near as good then perhaps, just perhaps, there may be a way forward in which we can all flourish, straight and gay, church and church-in-nation and that will be a blessing.
So now I need to clean my shoes and pack my bag and pick up my pass and get on with the work that lies before us. Pray for us – please.
Lord of the church,
bless the members of the General Synod
that we may be a blessing
to church and nation
and seek only your glory.