And / Or

Synod can be very frustrating – believe me.  But then within the frustrations you can see some of the benefits.  Take the debate on Serious Youth Crime.  Canon Rosemarie Mallett did a fantastic job at introducing the motion and setting up the debate that followed.  It was a good debate.  No one was going to vote against the motion, of course.  How could you?  As we heard the issue is not just about London or the other big metropolitan areas.  Youth violence affects so many communities and draws in so many of our wonderful young people.  And we have a concern for our children and young people.  We are a partner with the state in education, we still run youth projects, we help our children and young people to grow in faith through our learning programmes, we baptise, we Confirm but we do not want to bury these same children.  Yet Rosemarie told us she has had to officiate at too many funerals of young people in her own parish in Brixton, promising lives cut short.


What was frustrating was that we had to take up a great deal of the debating time looking at three proposed amendments.  In the end not one of them was supported by the majority of Synod members and so the Motion went to the final vote unchanged.  In an electronic count of the whole Synod – 315 voting in favour, no one voting against or abstaining.  So why did we waste our time on the amendments?

The truth is that those debates within the debate gave us the opportunity to think through some associated issues and not least the whole issue of the exclusion of pupils from school.  This is seen to be one of the factors, one of the factors, behind the rise in youth violence, excluded kids, rejected even by schools, de-motivated, bored and then relating to other groups and influences.  We get these too easy and convenient associations – school exclusion = youth violence.  But the debate raised other perspectives.

A couple of teachers spoke about how their colleagues regard any exclusion as a failure.  They spoke about the need to safeguard other pupils in the class.  They spoke about the needs to protect teaching staff who can themselves be the subject of violence.  As a former School Governor I agree that any exclusion is a failure but I also know that the work that Pupil Referral Units do should not be dismissed.

I know one lad, excluded from school, attending a PRU who cannot speak too highly of the care that he has been given by the staff and especially when he was in pastoral need.  The classroom was a challenge for him, the PRU was his salvation.  Individual attention was what he needed, the group was not the place for him.  That is only one person of course but there are always more sides to the story.

The result of the debate was that we go back to our dioceses with a task to do, whether we are in Hereford or Southwark and that is to take the issue of our young people even more seriously and to do what we can do, whatever we can do, and partner with others who have the skills that we do not have.

This debate was followed by one on Clergy Well-being but I wasn’t present for that debate so I can make no comment.

I was around though for the afternoon, though I’m more than happy to confess to you that I attended only two of the three seminars I should have attended.  And I also confess that what I said this morning was wrong.  I learnt some things, it did feel different and I was grateful to the work that had gone into what we heard from members of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ group and the Pastoral Advisory Group.

What did I learn?  Well some statistics on sexual behaviour in contemporary society were interesting, not surprising but very interesting.  But it makes me realise that our sexual lives are much more complex than sometimes we dare to admit.  The Marriage Service expresses it all in such a coy way that really does not do justice to the reality of people’s lives.

The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.

or alternatively

It is given, that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love, and, through the joy of their bodily union, may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives.

Both of these are quotes from the alternative Prefaces that are authorised in the Common Worship Marriage Service.  Andrew Marvell wrote the beautiful poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’, published posthumously in 1681, which begins with these lines

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

Like Marvell, we don’t have eternity to think about love, we need to address it realistically now, as a community that celebrates love constantly, in all its complexity, without being coy about it.

The other thing that I learnt, or at least that was revealed to me, was in an oft quoted text from scripture with which we were presented.

‘So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1.27)

Now, you know I am no scholar and certainly no Hebrew scholar.  So others will be better able to comment on this but what was highlighted for me was that ‘and’ which is not translated as an ‘or’ – ‘male and female he created them.’ Is what is being recognised here that each of us is that rich mixture of male and female, a divine recognition that gender is not as binary as we might wish to believe, that each of us is a creation of ‘and’ rather than ‘or’? If that is the case, if Genesis is more subtle than I had recognised …. well, how exciting is that?

God, help me to live more comfortably
in the inclusive world of and,
not in the binary world of or.

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