As I suspected, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential Address contained a great deal for Synod to think about. It came, however, after a very powerful and sobering moment at the very beginning of the Group of Sessions. Synod is always held in the context of prayer – the ongoing praying presence which is maintained principally by members of the Community of St Anselm based at Lambeth Palace – and the prayer in which Synod shares every day. So we began with a short service and as part of that we were reminded that today is the first anniversary of the martyrdom of a group of Coptic Christians by members of ISIS. We stood in silence to witness to their sacrifice and I found that very moving. It brings everything else and all our internal divisions into sharp relief. As someone once commented to me, as far as ISIS are concerned there are no denominations, we are just Christians and they treat us as such. So whatever the divisions of the past they are gone in the face of such persecution and my Coptic brothers are my brothers and their blood my blood and their witness my challenge.
The business of Synod was varied to allow more time for the Archbishop to speak to us about the meeting of the Primates which happened at Canterbury just a few weeks ago. Two things stood out for me.
The first was his mention of the head of the crozier that Pope St Gregory gave to Augustine for his mission to England. It was lent for the occasion and brought over from Rome. There are relics and there are relics and this is one of the most powerful. Its presence with the Book of the Gospels from that same mission were powerful symbols of the nature of the church and the power of the shepherd and the power of the Word. I use the word ‘power’ deliberately. These aren’t just nice things, museum exhibits, but in themselves are full of the history and faithfulness of the church. Having them there was so deeply significant.
The second powerful element in what the Archbishop said was about a new trio, a new trinity of words that can be applied to Anglicanism. Hooker’s great legacy to our self understanding and ecclesiology is that we stand on ‘scripture, reason and tradition’. But ++Justin suggested another three, ‘Freedom, order and human flourishing.’ To have the creative freedom that we desire we have to have order, he said, and out both of those human flourishing flows. They are a great trio of words to think about. He also said that in all the communiques that flowed from the meeting the word ‘sanction’ is never used, and never used of TEC (the American Episcopal Church) but instead the word used is ‘consequences’. ‘All actions have consequences’ he told Synod and we all needed to remember that. The order that allows freedom and flourishing is one that we must have a mind to.
It was is at the beginning of this meeting of the General Synod and before we moved on to other matters. But it was the memory of my martyr brothers, the lamb in the crozier head and the call to be a church in which we flourish that inspired me to engage with the more prosaic business of Synod.
build us into your church in which
freedom is exercised with care
where order liberates and doesn’t bind
in which lives and communities flourish
and you, our Good Shepherd
and Living Word
are worshipped and served.