Noli me tangere

We are back in Synod. Well, in fact Synod hasn’t yet formally begun but we are in Church House for our induction day. You may have read that something in the order of 65% of the members are new to the Synod. This is amazing. There is a show I like to watch called ‘Tipping Point’. It is an updated version of the waterfall game that we always used to ask to play on in an amusement arcade whenever we were allowed to go into one. With those old two pence pieces, the size of a small car wheel you would try to get the pile of coins over the edge and win what seemed to a small boy like a fortune. Well there is something of the tipping point experience here. 65% person means that the old guard are in a real minority and so there is every chance that this Synod can feel new, different.

Some of the old faces, the old voices, the old opinions have gone. That does mean a loss of wisdom and memory from the Synod. But in church circles and on church committees there is quite a lot of memory and sometimes that anchors us too much to the past – ‘We tried that in 1947 and it didn’t work, Father’. So maybe we can hear a bit of new thinking.

Walking into Church House this morning in time for the Panel of Chairs meeting, there was a real buzz about the place. Synod has not been able to meet in person since February 2020 and so that is a long time not being together. The meetings on Zoom and the meetings with just a few people present were ok but nothing like it is when we are all able to be together and networking or gossiping.

Can you remember what it was like on the first day of a new school year? You could smell the new satchels, you could see the new blazers, spot the kids who didn’t know the geography of the school. It’s the same here, fewer satchels, but there is a smell in the air that I would call excitement.

The choice is yours

One of the first tasks when you arrive is to get your Synod pass. These last us for the whole of the life of this particular Synod, so even if you are an old lag you have to queue to get your new pass, with your new number to be memorised – I am 56 this time – and your new lanyard. But it is the latter that is causing some amusement.

If you read the Church Times you will be aware of Dave Walker’s perceptive cartoons. Last week’s was all about the lanyards that we were being given. In previous Synods they were all the same. But on this occasion, in order to make provision for people in these Covid times, you could choose. They are just like traffic lights – red for stop, don’t touch me; amber for approach with care; green for, come on, give me a hug. I went for green. On one level it’s amusing but I suppose it is sensible. The pandemic has helped us understand the importance of giving each other the space and the distance, the respect that we feel that we need, at this time, in different places. So it isn’t like sharing the Peace in some places where some people resolutely refuse to be touched by anyone with a friendly grin and an outstretched hand – but a way of keeping one another secure.

But it did bring to mind the encounter in the garden between the Risen Lord and Mary Magdalene and those famous words ‘Noli me tangere’ ‘Touch me not’. What makes that hard to read is that we know God as the God of warm embrace, the God who doesn’t keep a distance, the God who places their own self in the gentle arms of a young mother, the God who in Jesus allows the anointing oil to flow and will kneel and wash the feet of others. It is the God of close encounter that we worship and adore, not the God of distance, of exclusion. For God the colour must always be green, even though for us, at this time, in this place we need to recognise the need for red and amber.

I wonder what Hodge would think of our mock debate?

But in the first afternoon we have a bit of fun, a mock debate on cats and dogs, and I have the joy of chairing it. Will I need to declare an interest, being the guardian of such a high profile Cathedral cat like Hodge, who never keeps his distance. We shall see. But in the meantime please pray for the Synod in all our rainbow diversity.

God, draw close to us in this Synod as we draw close to you; breathe your Spirit into us, that we may bring others into the warmth of your divine embrace. Amen.

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