Short and sweet

So, it is all over. The first Group of Sessions of this new General Synod ended yesterday afternoon with a series of farewells to some who have served the church so well and amongst them Eve Poole, the Third Church Estates Commissioner, Caroline Boddington, the long-serving Archbishops’ Appointments Advisor as well as the Bishop of Lincoln and the Bishop of Newcastle, amongst others. But before we got to that there were two further items if business – Vision and Strategy and the Report by the Governance Review Group.

The weather and the views were stunning

Good governance is of course vital in any institution or organisation and there is no doubt that the governance model of the Church of England is complex and peculiar and could do with some reformation. Whether what we were presented with yesterday will achieve what we need has yet to be seen. Whilst I am a very good catholic I am not keen to put more power into the hands of the bishops and the suggestion of a ‘Board of Bishops’ with twelve elected members from the College of Bishops fills me with a little discomfort. The very language ‘Board’ sounds too corporate in the wrong way. And who would these twelve be and how would that relate to Synod? And if we are really going down the root of reform and more democracy and accountability, well, why not go all the way and actually elect our bishops as other parts of the Anglican Communion do. I’m sure the new Caroline Boddington, whoever that will be, could work on that and it doesn’t have to exclude the final role for the Crown.

Before that important presentation we had another from the Archbishop of York on Vision and Strategy. Actually it was about what is being called the ‘mixed ecology’ model of church. The rise of the ‘Save the Parish’ movement and the significant number of people elected to Synod under that banner has obviously spooked the hierarchy. So Archbishop Stephen at almost every point in the Synod – and I have huge respect for him and deep love – sought to defend the thinking of the church which has led to Myriad and other initiatives and the ‘limiting factor’ dig at the clergy. What he said about the mixed way in which church already operates – he spoke about the growth of his Wednesday Mass when he was a parish priest – was powerful and encouraging. I think though that the problem, as so often, is not with the idea but with the messaging. Some of what emerges from the church is unclear, confused, contradictory and therefore unwelcome. If it was only Archbishop Stephen talking about all of this then I am sure we would all line up behind him. But there is something else going on that makes people suspicious. ‘We want more church not less’ is wonderful until you hear of dioceses where there is clearly movement towards less church because more church cannot be afforded.

This was a short and in many ways, sweet, Group of Sessions. One of the strong themes though was, if we are going to move forward we have to get our house in order – governance, yes; money, of course; messaging, definitely. The problem is we will end up talking about sex, we always do.

Jesus, however, was always very clear and what he said in St Matthew’s Gospel

‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ (Matthew 9.37)

rings true today. Responding to this is surely the task of the next five years.

Lord, send us into the harvest, the rich ecology of your creation. Amen.

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