Wonderfully made

Something else happened yesterday amongst all the other things that i mentioned in my last blog. Canon Tim Goode, a colleague from Southwark, led a debate on the place of disabled people in the life of the church. You may imagine that we might have talked about this before and in some ways we have. But previously it has been around people living with disability being, well, an issue to be solved. So we have talked a lot about access in all its ways and forms; we’ve talked about those with hearing impairment; we’ve talked about those born with Downs Syndrome; we’ve talked about the church being dementia friendly. But there was something that made this debate different.

Me as a baby – wonderfully made.

A lot of that came from the amazing way that Tim introduced the debate. He speaks from his own life experience and he speaks passionately, not in a way that creates guilt in his listeners but in a way that really inspires. And Synod was inspired.

Tim’s go-to text when he talks about the place of disabled people comes from Psalm 139

I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139.13)

It’s a wonderful psalm, the one about God searching for us and knowing us, from beginning to end, a psalm about loving us and holding us and a psalm that encourages us to see ourselves as the ‘pleasant planting’ of God, to steal a phrase from Isaiah. This verse really encapsulates what the debate was all about, about recognising the wonder and the value in each and every person, whoever they are, whatever their ability might be, whatever wonderfulness they embody.

One element of the motion which is important was addressed to the Liturgical Commission, to look at the rubrics in the services where they concern posture. That is quite some job! It can be something however that we can consider at Southwark Cathedral. Also raised was the fact that the language we use when we are being kind and permissive can also be problematic. People often say ‘Please stand, if you are able’ which sounds lovely but is the ‘able’ the right word? Think about it. As soon as it is pointed out to you you realise how even that might be problematic.

The debate ended with a wonderful prayer – call and response – based on that verse from the psalm. It was a powerful moment in Synod.

This morning this Group of Sessions came to an end. There was a Loyal Address, celebrating Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. The Canterbury CNC standing orders were agreed. The results of the CNC elections were announced and the farewells were led by the two Archbishops as the bishops of Birmingham, Blackburn and Peterborough retired.

But most of the time was taken up in discussing the Report of the Clergy Conduct Measure Implementation Group. I was in the chair and was grateful that we had at least an hour and a half to hold the debate as a lot of people wanted to speak. The Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) is despised by the clergy, it is not fit for purpose and causes as much damage as it addresses. This report suggested ways to make changes. What was very clear from the viewpoint of the chair was that most people were not just supportive but deeply thankful for the report. There were suggestions made but not a negative voice – that is a real achievement.

What did come across very clearly however was that the church can be an unsafe space for clergy, laity, for those who report misbehaviour, for those reported against, for survivors, for those who support them, for all who are involved. We heard of bullying of clergy by laity; of abuse of laity by clergy. It took me back to part of the LLF conversation that we had on Sunday. It has to change.

Recognising the wondrous nature of each person for who they are, holding their vulnerability, celebrating their strength, recognising their gifts, living in love and faith, that has to be the way forward. But we have a long way to go. That is my feeling as I leave York. It has been a good Synod, but there is a great deal for us to do if we are to be the church God wants us to be and that Jesus died and rose for us to be.

Loving God, I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. May I recognise your image in me and your image in each of my sisters and brothers – and love as you love us. Amen.

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