Give us our Archbishop back?

So, Synod ended yesterday with the usual series of farewells and then Prorogation. It was an interesting Synod really. What do I mean by that? Well, being the second Group of Sessions of this new Synod, people were beginning to get their feet under the synodical table. You quickly begin to see who will be the big contributors to debates, those people who have something to say on everything. Sometimes such members can be really useful; sometimes they can be simply annoying. The members of the Panel of Chairs are always being asked to call people who don’t usually speak and we do try to do that. But it becomes more and more difficult as the usual suspects put into speak or stand to be called in any debate.

As I had suspected the other day people are also beginning to understand how to ‘work’ Synod. For instance, if you shout out ‘Point of order!’ from the floor that has the effect of bringing everything to a standstill. The Chair has to take points of order, to take advice from the Registrar and to respond to them. So we began to hear those little three words being used, especially in some of the more fractious debates. What is interesting, however, is how many times it wasn’t a Point of Order at all but just someone making a point. A true Point of Order has to be about procedures as governed by the Standing Orders of the Synod. So a point of opinion is not a point of order! Perhaps we need to ask those who shout out those words which Standing Order they are referring to – that should focus the mind!

The other thing I noticed was the way in which the ‘Save the Parish Network’ is becoming the rallying point for a great many disaffected people and opinions. I’m not complaining about that, just observing what is going on. There are always factions, parties, interests in the Synod, so this is nothing new at all. After all, I am part of Affirming Catholics in Synod (ACiS) which brings together people from a number of different progressive groups, not just Affirming Catholicism and the Society of Catholic Priests. We also try to be ‘organised’ and to check out with one another how we are feeling about the things we are debating. But it will be interesting to see where this new, emerging group takes the Synod in the future.

The final reflection on all of this is that there seems to be an unfortunate level of mistrust in the church, in the hierarchy and not least the bishops. There was an air of suspicion that was particularly apparent in the debate on the Governance Review process. Healthy scepticism is not a bad thing, but unhealthy cynicism at the heart of the church is not so good. But people may have just been feeling a bit grumpy.

It was interesting being in the chair for the debate on the future shape of the CNC for Canterbury Diocese. I did reflect in my last blog on some of the things we might hear in the debate. In fact, the Synod voted to take note of the report before us. So the plans go forward in this process of consultation. But I remain concerned about the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the increasing amount of time that attending to the needs of the Anglican Communion actually takes. It was good to hear that the Primates want ++Canterbury to be primus inter pares but I would be interested to know whether they were offered any realistic alternatives to the model that is presently operated. In fact, I believe that England needs both of its archbishops. We need the leadership that they give as we engage in God’s mission to the people of this country.

It feels a bit like the replaying of what happened to St Alphege. You may know the story. Alphege was Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1011 he was captured by the Danes in a raid on Canterbury and was taken hostage. The people of the land were distraught at the loss of their beloved archbishop and were ready to pay a ransom that he might be released and restored to them. ‘Give us our Archbishop back’ might have been their cry. But the saintly Alphege would hear none of it. He knew that they couldn’t afford such a ransom and so he forbade any payment. On 19 April 1012 Alphege was being held prisoner in Greenwich. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle continues the story

… the raiding-army became much stirred up against the bishop, because he did not want to offer them any money, and forbade that anything might be granted in return for him. Also they were very drunk, because there was wine brought from the south. Then they seized the bishop, led him to their “hustings” on the Saturday in the octave of Easter, and then pelted him there with bones and the heads of cattle; and one of them struck him on the head with the butt of an axe, so that with the blow he sank down and his holy blood fell on the earth, and sent forth his holy soul to God’s kingdom.

Obviously the Archbishop isn’t being held hostage by the Anglican Communion, there is no ransom to pay or being sought. But almost by stealth this situation has crept up on us and unless we are ready to lose ++Canterbury to the Communion we need to decide how to move forward for the good of the Anglican Communion, the good of the Diocese of Canterbury and the good of the Church of England. So I look forward to seeing the result of the consultation and what then will come back to General Synod when we meet again.

Next time, God willing, we will be together in York – with points of order, procedural motions, rallying points, hidden agendas, but above all with a desire that the CofE can be what we are at our best, a blessing to this nation.

God, bless us, that we may be a blessing. Amen.

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