Simpler, Humbler, Bolder

There’s no excuse for it I know, but as you get older it’s very easy to turn into a ‘grumpy old man’ – I’m sure women are immune from this progression! So you think, ‘I’ve heard it all before’, ‘we’ve tried all this before’, ‘same old same old’ or any variation on those reactions. So I had low expectations yesterday morning as Synod began it’s second day on Zoom.

I had reflected on the first day that the whole thing was slow and clunky. Well, as I had hoped, things did get a lot better. Ok, those breakout rooms didn’t work again (thank God) but in general everything seemed smoother and with a better pace. It wasn’t just the hard work back at HQ but I think that those of us on a screen were beginning to have a lot more confidence about what it was we were doing and how we were doing it.

The Vision

My colleagues know that I’m not naturally a strategically minded person, that I have to have forward planning carefully explained to me, that I am much happier in reactive rather than proactive mode. So on the face of it the first item on the agenda ‘Vision and Strategy’ was not something that would normally send my pulse racing. But this was different; the grumpy old man did not appear, instead something a bit more like youthful enthusiasm stirred within me.

The Archbishop of York was leading on this presentation and I have to say he was fantastic. Archbishop Stephen, as we all know, manages to combine evangelical zeal with catholic spirituality. He speaks in a way that you can understand what he’s on about wherever you sit on the spectrum of the Church of England. He quotes scripture as one who knows his Bible and he speaks of the sacramental life as one who is immersed in it.

The graphic he used was brilliant and it became more and more engaging, culminating, climaxing in those three words – Simpler; Humbler; Bolder – as descriptors of the vision of the church ‘Christ centred – Jesus shaped’ that he had described. The vision needs a great deal of unpacking and working on – but this feels like something that we can really engage in. To be simpler – and we are not here talking about that simplification process that we’ve been engaged in – but something more gospel like, more Jesus shaped, more focused on what matters. To be humbler – knowing that we are part of the church, that there are other partners, that we have got things wrong, that we can do so much better, that we rely on grace. To be bolder – to have confidence in God, the Gospel, the Church, to be able to act and speak and engage in a way that makes others bolder with us, to be risk takers. These are my responses to those three words. And it was good to think about the ‘Five Marks of Mission’ in a positive way and not as simply an add on in a conversation. I left the debate, encouraged and empowered.

As happens so often that opening debate of the day set the tone for the rest of what we did. Vision and Strategy was neatly followed by the Final Drafting and Final Approval stages of the Cathedrals Measure. Having been involved in this piece of work, first as a critic and then as Chair of the Revision Committee and latterly a member of the Steering Committee I have become huge convert to what it offers the church and our cathedrals. The Measure is now fit for purpose to help cathedrals be fit for purpose in the 21st century. That ‘Simpler Humbler Bolder’ vision could though equally apply to our cathedrals. We need to be each of those things and I think that this Measure, which was finally approved with not a single vote against it – incredible – will help in that.

The Budget debate in the afternoon also had echoes of the Archbishop of York’s vision in the morning. Canon John Spence, who is always an impressive Synod performer, led us with skill through what can be very boring. The finances are challenging but Synod members were up for the challenge, ready to make the money follow the vision.

Then we gave First Consideration to an amendment to our Safeguarding legislation and practice. It is all centres on what ‘due regard’ means, something that the IICSA report had highlighted. This was my moment in the chair and attempting to manage the technology and the blue hands that were being raised. It is good, however, to see the church responding immediately to where others have identified that in the area of safeguarding we can and must do better – and the language that we use is central to the actions that we then see in our life.

Simpler, humbler, bolder, Christ-centred, Jesus-shaped – it felt as though we saw something of this in Synod yesterday. Archbishop Stephen began with a powerful image of the Emmaus story, of the God who walks with us, the God who breaks bread for us, the God who sends us back with a message to share, the Jesus on the road and at the table. You know what, I feel excited!

Jesus, may we reflect your simplicity, share your humility, live your boldness, have you at our centre and your cross at our heart; may we be shaped by you. Amen.

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