The Garden of England

Not far from Southwark Cathedral there is a wonderful and somewhat iconic building. It’s called the Hop Exchange. Go in and it has a huge central hall, a bit like a banking hall, surrounded by galleries going up to a glass atrium. Off the galleries are doors leading into offices behind. In concept it is a bit like the Piece Hall in Halifax and other great exchanges in the country. In Halifax local people brought their pieces of cloth to sell, in Southwark it was the hop growers of Kent who would sell their hops to the brewers. It was a huge business. In George Orwell’s 1935 novel ‘A Clergyman’s Daughter’, Dorothy Hare, the weak-willed daughter of a disagreeable widowed clergyman, is persuaded by Nobby who she has met on the New Kent Road, so right near the Elephant & Castle, to go hop-picking with him and his mates. It doesn’t end well as you may know.

But that is what people from the Bermondsey area used to do, go into the ‘Garden of England’ and have a summer break from the grime of the docks, hop-picking. The reminders of the hop trade, apart from the grand Exchange, can be seen along the Borough High Street.

Kent has seen more than the flowering of hops. A monk arrived with his companions in 596 in Kent. He had been sent by Pope St Gregory the Great to evanglise the heathen on Britain, or at least bring us in line with Rome! His mission was a great success and the little church he established is now Canterbury Cathedral and his successor is Archbishop Justin. His mission never finished and as Britain extended its Empire and influence around the world Augustine’s mission went where ever the Union Flag was unfurled.

St Augustine arrives in Kent

I mention all of this because we spent a great deal of yesterday discussing the implications of all of this for the Anglican Communion now and who should be in the Archbishop in the future and what role they should have. The Archbishop of Canterbury is at one and the same time a diocesan bishop, Primate of All England and also head of the Anglican Communion. They are a Privy Councillor, Member of the House of Lords, second in order of precedent to the Monarch, a ‘trusty and wise counsellor’ to the Royal Family and should be a public theologian for the nation. It is an impossible job and everyone recognises this. Of course, there is the Archbishop of York and there is the Bishop of Dover. But it remains that the person who seats in the chair of Augustine carries a massive burden.

The plan is that a special CNC be formed when there is next a vacancy which would include up to 5 members from around the Anglican Communion who would share in the nomination of the Archbishop. On the face of it that all sounds fine and dandy. When I was on the CNC which nominated ++Justin there was one representative of the Communion and that was the Archbishop of Wales, who was wonderful but couldn’t really represent what we are constantly being told is the typical Anglican, a black woman from sub-Saharan Africa, under 30 and living on less tan $4 a day.

At the same time there is a much bigger issue and that is around who should be head of the Anglican Communion, should it be the Archbishop of Canterbury because of all that history, or is it time to allow the Communion to flourish without being bound so closely to Kent and the Church of England to flourish without being bound so closely to the leadership of the Communion? I say that because having been on the Synod so many years I have heard it said in debates on a number of issues but particularly around the ordination of women and the place of LGBT+ people and the possibility of equal marriage in church, that we are unable to move on these things because we have to look to our role in the Communion. Unlike the USA or Canada or New Zealand we are unable to respond to Augustine’s mission here in a way that responds to God’s call to mission in England today. In the Garden of Kent we need to flourish and bear fruit and I do think that being more creative around history, responsibility for and commitment to the Communion and its leadership is really important to consider.

So in a rather complicated debate we looked at these issues and will return to the matter on Tuesday. Valiant efforts were made by Mae Christie and others from Southwark and beyond to encourage Synod to take time and be imaginative but I fear that the status quo will continue and a new form of CNC for Canterbury will be created.

We did other things as well. There was an excellent presentation on Safeguarding and particularly around immediate reflections from the Independent Safeguarding Board. One of the members of the Board told us that if we didn’t remember what she said she hoped we would remember how she made us feel. She spoke of how victims/survivors of abuse feel and what they want from us. It made for uncomfortable listening. The other member of the Board who spoke reflected on what he had discovered looking at what was happening in the dioceses. It was inconsistent, under-funded and in some places lacking in resources to be effective. It all made for sobering reflection.

In the garden, not of England but of Eden, all was good, then things fell apart as sin raised its ugly head. We left the garden, that place of fruitfulness and flourishing, until the fruit of another tree sought to bring us back, to tell the Good News and to confront sin with love. As it says in the Letter to the Ephesians

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1.7-8)

The garden, wherever it is, is God’s good place of flourishing, Kent and Eden.

Loving God, may your church flourish and grow and bear good fruit for all humanity. Amen.

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