Jewels in the crown

I’m feeling quite a lot of relief at the moment. The big thing, for me, today was to introduce the debate on the Report of the Revision Committee on the Cathedrals Measure. My speech was prepared, I know what I had to do and I hadn’t heard rumblings in the corridors that things were going to be difficult. Nevertheless it felt like a real responsibility to get the debate going with the right tone.

Durham Cathedral – a jewel in the crown

So I began by saying that Lonely Planet’s number two destination for travellers in 2020 is Britain, with its castles, coastline and cathedrals. We were beaten by the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan which is the number one place to go to. What I wanted to celebrate as we embarked on the debate was that cathedrals are the jewels in the crown of the Church of England. I know I am a dean and so I am bound to say that – but I also think that the reaction of the public in general and worshippers in particular over the last decade has proved this to be true. Cathedrals buck many of the trends that the rest of the church is subject to. We are seeing increasing numbers at our services, we are on the tourist trail, cathedrals do provide so much civic ‘glue’ in many of our cities. It is easy to overplay some of this but I think that the evidence bears this out.

But the reason for the Measure is that when things go wrong in cathedrals they can do so in spectacular and very public ways – Peterborough and Exeter were the two latest examples. You may remember that back in 2018 the report of the Cathedrals Working Group came to Synod. There was plenty of disquiet about a great deal of what was being suggested. But Synod received it and asked that legislation be drawn up by July 2019. That is what happened. That Measure reflected the report, as it had to. So, again, there was a lot in the draft Measure to which people objected. But I believe that the revision process and the vast amount of consultation that has gone on since July 2019 has produced a good and workable Measure that will serve cathedrals as well as the wider church.

Synod seemed to agree with that. When the last Cathedrals Measure was debated in 1999 there was real disagreement on the floor of Synod and the Measure was much amended, to its detriment. This has not happened this time. Deo gratias.

So the Measure goes forward to its final stage at the July Group of Sessions and then we can get on with the real work of implementing it.

When I was writing my last blog, early this morning, I forgot a question which was asked yesterday evening. It was asking about the response of the Church of England to the Coronavirus, in terms of Holy Communion! The lady who was asking the question, who is of a particular evangelical persuasion, suggested that the time might be right to introduce individual cups at Holy Communion for the wine, aka Precious Blood, as some other denominations do.

It is good to have a long memory. My mind went back to 2006 and the Bird Flu outbreak. You may remember that the church had to give advice at that time about the ‘common cup’ and how to reduce the risk of infection. But we didn’t go out and buy individual cups, instead worshippers were encouraged to receive in ‘one kind’ only. The way that was dealt with – because sharing the cup is so fundamental to our understanding of the Eucharist – was by digging out and dusting off the Doctrine of Concomitance. The doctrine dates back to 1415 and the Council of Constance and states that as Christ is indivisible then one substance contains the whole substance, that the whole presence of Christ is to be found in both the bread and the wine, the body and the blood. Though the doctrine is pre-reformation in origin it still applies as expressing a deep truth about our Eucharistic doctrine.

So do not be afraid. We didn’t need those separate cups before and we won’t again. Those old, dusty doctrines have a place even in the challenges of the modern world. And I remember Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10.6)

Lord Jesus, as we share the bread and share the cup make us one as you are one. Amen.

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