A day of rest

‘On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.’ (Genesis 2.2)

Ok, we haven’t been here for six days, so perhaps we didn’t deserve a day of rest! We certainly didn’t get one yesterday at General Synod. However, we did get the opportunity to go to church together, or to be more precise, to go to York Minster for the Choral Eucharist. I do love going to that beautiful cathedral. There is something majestic and welcoming, clean and light about it. I remember so well the horror of the fire in the south transept and the subsequent ‘Blue Peter’ competition to design new roof bosses and that always stays with me as something that makes me have huge affection for the building. It was good to be there again as a Synod – it is amazing what we have missed in these two years that we have been away.

A chance just to rest

But after worship the work continued. The afternoon was to be given over, basically, to group work. Those two words always fill me with horror, the thought of having to sit around and talk about this that or the other and be ‘facilitated’. But it did in fact promise to be an interesting afternoon and my visceral knee-jerk response proved to be unfounded.

There were two separate topics to be looked at. The first was Vision and Strategy and within that looking at how we engage with those with whom the church is generally not in touch, and that is particularly children and young people. A whole series of workshops had been set up and we had to go to two. They were short – just 30 minutes each – and I chose to go to one on the future of Online Worship and one on Everyday Witness. The first looked at some research carried out into the numbers who have attended online worship during the pandemic and who are doing so now. The findings were interesting. One point made was that those churches which have stopped their online offer with the intention of ‘forcing’ people off their sofas and back into the pews find that this is in fact ineffective. People will come back who are able to, we lose those people who are unable to. Where we can we should continue to make the offer of online worship as this will have a long term effect on the size of our congregations and is a very effective mission tool. On Everyday Witness we were encouraged to be bold and talk about our faith when the opportunity presents itself. The speaker encouraged us to read Matthew Paris’s comment column in the Times on Tuesday 6 July in which he spoke movingly on being challenged by a young Deliveroo cyclist about whether or not he – and he is a confirmed atheist – believed in Jesus. Paris ends his column like this

“Well,” he said, “Jesus loves you even if you won’t acknowledge him. I will pray for you.” And with that, he cycled off. I walked on, curiously moved.

It was that comment about being ‘curiously moved’ that was such an encouragement to have the courage of that young evangelist on his bike.

We then moved into a workshop on LLF (Living in Love and Faith). It focused on the place of scripture in our lives. Our group was well facilitated, caring, non-confrontational, and safe. Others didn’t feel as positive about their group, however, and people in the group I was a member of spoke about how some of the groups in parishes and deaneries were not safe spaces. I do find it deeply disturbing that, in the church, we have to speak in such ways, that in the very place in which people should feel safe, they don’t. It begs huge questions of us, how we behave, how we speak, how we treat other people, how, in fact, we love. It really is disgraceful and it does make you ask whether, when you are out there speaking about Jesus, you really want to invite them into an unsafe church? People may be ‘curiously moved’ but perhaps it is the institution rather than Jesus that stops them stepping over the threshold and joining us and finding that rest that Jesus offers.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11.28)

Those are safe words, pure invitation, the offer of the rest, the relief that so many of us seek. But is the church the place where that can be found, on the day of rest and on any day?

Our day ended with chaotic voting for the membership of the Crown Nominations Committee. I won’t say more as those who look after that kind of thing need to consider what to do next – so we await further news this morning. We were glad to get out of the Chamber – it hadn’t been restful at all.

God of rest, enfold us and hold us in your unconditional love. Amen.

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