A few years ago I was leading a pilgrimage around Armenia. It was for a group from Southwark Cathedral. It was a wonderful experience, seeing a country that had experienced recent genocide and a church with a tradition ancient, honourable and distinct. We saw many churches all in the same domed cruciform style. But one thing sticks in my mind and came back to me today as we began this Group of Sessions of the General Synod.
We had visited a church and were wandering through the churchyard. It was a church set amongst blocks of Soviet-style housing, so, in a very real community. One gravestone grabbed our attention. It was new and recorded the death of a group of young people from the village. They had all died in an accident. The car they were in went over the edge of a nearby cliff. The faces of all the young people were engraved into the stone – but so was a depiction of the accident, a car going over the edge of a cliff. All we could do was to look in disbelief. No Chancellor in the Church of England, I suspect, would have allowed such a stone in one of our churchyards! And the horror of the depiction was engraved on my consciousness.
It has not been an easy beginning to this Synod. I tweeted ‘Have you ever watched a car crash? If not come to @GenSyn’. Watching the Church of England heading for the edge of an avoidable precipice, watching the church we love act in a way which can easily be seen as operating as institutionally homophobic, whether or not the bishops accept that this is the case, is deeply disturbing.
What was most shocking was when Canon Butler asked about the safeguarding implications for those members of the Synod who are from the LGBTI communities and the answer was that there were no safeguarding implications. So there we have it? ‘Sticks and stones …..’ It is simply not true, of course, and I have already talked to many people who are deeply hurt, feeling extremely vulnerable and concerned that they are complicit with an abusive relationship with a church that should incarnate the love of God for the whole of creation, including LGBTI people who God has created as reflecting something of the divine nature. But then if you think that that cannot be and that LGBTI people are a manifestation of a disordered creation, people who need to be healed and counselled back to ‘normality’ … well you arrive at where we seem to be heading.
So an interesting day. Of course we’ve done other stuff; debated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we have listened to a Presidential Address given by the Archbishop of Canterbury and listened to answers to numerous questions of which the first 26 were all about sexuality. But everything is being overshadowed by Wednesday.
Of course the people of Nazareth attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff.
‘They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.’ (Luke 4.29-30)
Jesus had just read from Isaiah in their Synagogue and proclaimed his mission priorities of inclusive liberation. People weren’t interested then and the church isn’t interested now. But Jesus survived then and Jesus will survive now – but will the church, which is his body and the people that he loves?
save us and help us
we humbly beseech you.