So, another Group of Sessions begins in Westminster at Church House today. Around the country people will be packing their bags with what they need and making sure they have all their papers with them before they make their way to London in time for the opening of the Synod.
There’s a chill wind blowing along the Thames, an icy blast from the east, it isn’t comfortable and I suspect the atmosphere at this Synod will be a little icy and not too comfortable.
Those who follow the politics of the Church of England will know that at the end of January the House of Bishops published a document which puts on paper the thinking of the bishops about the way forward on the issue of homosexuality and same-gender wedding in the church. It was an icy blast and has had a frosty reception. I’ve been out in Africa, visiting our link dioceses in Zimbabwe where it was much warmer, where hospitality was generously and genuinely offered. So I haven’t yet expressed my own views on this, though one of my colleagues in the Cathedral preached a brilliant sermon on the issue the Sunday after the release of the report.
So, inevitably that ‘take note’ debate will dominate this Synod. There are, of course, other things on the agenda – lots of legislative business and an important report on the ministry of the laity in the life of the church ‘Setting God’s people free’. As ever the church wants to both bind and free, have its cake and eat it. It wants to bind LGBTI people and free lay people, it wants to reject people and embrace people, it wants to liberate and imprison. I was very uncomfortable reading the bishops’ report on homosexuality and the talk of the ‘exemplary lifestyle’ of the ordained as opposed to the laity. The point they were trying to make was that those of us who are ordained should live according to the Canons to which we have given assent. If those Canons require those who are LGBTI to deny their very nature, subdue their God-given desires, wreck their relationships, lead some towards suicide, so be it, we have to be exemplary. The laity do not have to be. And anyway, who says that a gay lifestyle cannot be lived in an exemplary way?
This false distinction between the clergy and the laity began in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ and it is being perpetuated now. If we really want to benefit from the ministry of the laity and set them free then we have to set the whole people of God free – and those ordained are still part of the laos, the people.
One of my favourite passages of scripture is the account of the raising of Lazarus in St John’s Gospel. There is so much in it, so many details that reveal both Jesus’ divine and human natures – he weeps and raises – but it was one line from that story that came to mind as I was contemplating this week.
‘Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’’ (John 11.43-44)
Those powerful words ‘Unbind him’ should ring through the church for the laity and for all in the LGBTI community. We are binding the church; we are binding mission; we are in danger of no longer being the national church but being seen by many as a narrow homophobic set of bigots and not the church that Jesus lived and died and rose for, not the church that can speak effectively into the present day and the cultural context in which we are set and to which God calls us.
My colleague, our Cathedral curate, was officiating at Morning Prayer just a few moments ago. Her intercessions included the line
‘Lord, may the Synod be fruitful and not hurtful.’
I shed a tear, I couldn’t help it. Fancy having to pray that prayer about a Christian gathering, but that is the reality. So that is my prayer as this Synod begins. Please pray for us – God knows we need it!
Lord, may the Synod
be fruitful and not hurtful.