The final lap

It is with a degree of sadness that I approach this Group of Sessions of the General Synod which begins today in Church House, Westminster. The weather is lovely; the Abbey stood out clearly against a clear blue sky as I got off the tube at Westminster Station and walked across to get into Church House for the meeting of the Panel of Chairs which always precedes the beginning of the Synod for those of us who are members of the Panel. The sadness is that this is my final Group of Sessions and that, in many ways, we are still treading the same ground, or sinking in the same swamp, however you wish to describe it.

It was 2005 that I was first elected to the Synod as a diocesan clergy proctor from the Diocese of Southwark. Canon Richard Truss – yes Liz’s uncle – had nominated me and I was standing on a liberal catholic, inclusive ticket – no surprises there. It was fantastic to be elected and to be able to take my place in the Synod chamber. I was re-elected in 2010, then as a Dean in 2015 and finally in the delayed election of 2021. Despite all the politics and ridiculousness that sometimes surrounds the meetings of Synod I have actually loved it. What I really love, I suppose, is meeting up with people and actually feeling that the decisions we are making and the debates that we are having are significant. It never feels like a waste of time, compared to some other church meetings I have had to attend over the last 40 years!

I was so delighted to be part of the Synod that decided that the episcopacy should be open to all regardless of gender and it was great, as a consequence of being on Synod, to be able to serve on the Crown Nominations Commission for 8 years and to be able to contribute to the nomination of the first woman as a diocesan bishop. There has been so much more than that, of course and my second sadness is related to the ‘other’ stuff.

This Group of Sessions will inevitably be dominated by ‘Living in Love and Faith’ and the 5 hours debate that we look forward to on Wednesday afternoon. That will be a marathon for all of us, gruelling, challenging, potentially upsetting and, most probably, fundamentally divisive in its implications. The way in which the church deals with sexuality in general and LGBT+ issues in particular will dominate our proceedings. Over 60 questions have been received which need to be addressed in a second bite of the ‘Questions’ cherry on Tuesday. It will pop up all over the place and, I suspect, dominate discussions in the tea room and occupy the attention of most of the fringe meetings.

There is other stuff on the agenda – quite a lot of legislative business, amending canons, that kind of thing. There is a debate on ‘Insurance Premium Tax’, a mention of education, ministerial formation, parochial fees and, of course, Safeguarding, which will be the final debate I have the privilege to share, which is good, given that this has also been a feature of my last 18 years on this body.

It is a sadness, however, that we are still unable to really agree on a way forward with regard to sexuality. Our inability to do this has hampered our mission to the nation, discredited us in the eyes of many people, including parliament across the road. LGBT people now feel that so much of the church is not for them, and at one stage they contributed so much to the life of particular parts of the church. The families of LGBT people have given up on us because of the way in which we have so often talked of their children. Young adults can’t begin to understand what the problem is and why we waste time on this and are not as passionate about climate change, peace, justice, modern slavery, inequality – all the things that the God of justice is passionate about.

Yesterday’s readings for the Eucharist were so powerful as I was getting ready for what will me be this final lap, and the words of the prophet Isaiah are still with me as I approach the opening of this Group of Sessions.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them.
(Isaiah 58.6-7)

These are the priorities of God and there is a promise to those who also share in the divine impulse for justice

then your light shall rise in the darkness (Isaiah 58.10)

Will we allow the light of Christ, the light of the kingdom, the light of God to shine through the church, or will we block it, again? We will have to see where the Holy Spirit takes us over these four days. Until then we should pray

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

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