A long weekend in York

It sounds like a real treat doesn’t it; a long weekend in the beautiful city of York, just the kind of thing you see on railway posters. There is something wonderful about arriving, seeing the walls, catching sight of the Minster, even the railway station has grandeur about it. The sun was shining, it felt warm and welcoming as I got off the LNER train. It was good to be back in Yorkshire and back in this ancient city. But the reason I am here is not for pleasure – though there will be some – but for the summer Group of Sessions of the General Synod.

‘Wish you were here’

We were last here in July 2019; it seems unbelievable but it is the case. Since then there have been Synod elections and so for 60% of the members this will be a new experience – I’m watching them trying to find their way around a complex location. The summer Synod is quite different and feels quite different to the meetings that we hold at Church House in Westminster. Here we are all on campus and living in student accommodation. In London we are in different hotels or even staying at home. Here we eat together, breakfast, lunch and dinner in the big dining halls on this residential campus. York has so many opportunities for fringe meetings and wonderful spaces where you can get together and get to know each other that bit better. And, of course, whilst here we go to church together on Sunday, en masse to York Minister for what is always a wonderful Choral Eucharist.

For those who love wildfowl then this is a haven. The York campus has large expanses of water running through lovely green and tree-filled areas. You have to look whereto you’re walking as the geese here leave their little gifts everywhere! There’s something lovely though about stepping out of the debates and sitting on the steps by the lake, enjoying a coffee, having a good chat with someone and watching the ducks and realising what a lovely and special place we are in.

Good to be back

I may have made it sound too idyllic. We aren’t here to sit out and look at wildfowl, nor to enjoy each others company, we are here to work, to debate and decide. The agenda for this Group of Sessions is complex to say the least. There are some of the usual summer items to be debated around budgets and apportionments; safeguarding is there as it should be; there are the welcomes and farewells we have cone to expect. But there are also some big topics including the standing orders for the Canterbury Crown Nominations Committee. There will be elections to the new CNC, by a new ‘prayerful’ method, but the Canterbury CNC is a very particular issue and is all about the extent to which the Archbishop of Canterbury is head of the Anglican Communion and to what extent a diocesan bishop and how that should be reflected in the membership of the CNC, not least how many members should be on it from the Communion. I made my views known last time this was debated. There will be hours spent on it in this Group of Sessions – and rightly so, because there is something fundamentally important about our role as the CofE in a post-colonial church and world.

One change that will be noticeable at this gathering will be the inclusion of UKME/GM representatives, people selected to help give proper and visible recognition to the fact that we are a diverse church. This is not always reflected in those who are elected from the dioceses and so, as has been the case with younger people, a group of our sisters and brothers from this background have been invited to attend.

Other things we will be talking about – online pornography; assisted suicide; the war in Ukraine; climate change and a lot, lot more – oh, and of course ‘Living in Love and Faith’. I hope to be able to keep up with all of this and help you to keep up with it as well. Now I have to get off to prepare for the debate on the Report of the Business Committee which is the first thing I am chairing.

O God, forasmuch as without you we are not able to please you; mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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