Into extra time

I’m not really into using sporting analogies, basically because I don’t really understand sports and so I don’t really know what most sporting phrases mean. But I do know what extra time means and penalties, of course, and thanks to Eddie Waring’s rugby commentaries, what an ‘up and under’ is. Anyway, the thing is that General Synod did not complete its work today. We have to return to ‘Living in Love and Faith’ (LLF) in the morning. By my reckoning we have another 8 amendments to consider and then need to get back to the debate on the main Motion, be it by that stage amended or unamended. Amazingly, after the sixteen votes we have taken this afternoon the Motion remains intact … but there is time to go.

Today began however with a debate on the cost of living crisis, which was important, and then I took the chair to complete the unfinished Miscellaneous Provisions Measure, which had itself gone into extra time. That was done and was followed by a debate on the Parochial Fees Order – those statutory fees that apply to weddings and funerals in the Church of England.

Between the morning and afternoon I was privileged to celebrate the Eucharist in the lovely church of St Matthew Westminster for the members of ACiS (Affirming Catholics in Synod). For the past, I’m not sure how many years, I have arranged the liturgy for these services which have taken place almost invariably on the first evening of a Westminster Synod. It has been lovely to be able to do that and that was why I was pleased to be asked to both preside and preach on this occasion. It provided a wonderful moment of reflection, feeding and peace before we went into the Chamber for the debate on LLF which was programmed to last for 5 hours. It was exhausting in prospect; it was exhausting in fact.

I will say more tomorrow when, by the grace of God, it will be completed. Just a couple of things beyond what I have said already.

The first is that people are behaving better than I had feared. People are being careful about the language they are using, in the main. It is sad to have to say that about a meeting of Christians but it is the case that we can use words to hurt and not to heal, to destroy and not build up. As it said in the gospel for the Mass today ‘the things that come out are what defile.’ (Mark 7.15) It was that that I reflected on in the homily and the fact that in the First Reading from the second creation narrative in Genesis, that it was the good, creative word spoken by God that created all things good of their very nature. That, of course, I believe, includes LGBTQI+ people, who are not a mistake, not ‘disordered’ but an equal part and product of the good word spoken.

Secondly, it seems as though there is a third, two-thirds split in both the Houses of Clergy and Laity. Many of the results of votes – and they have all been counted and mostly by Houses – have revealed this. Whether that will continue to be the case and especially in any final vote I obviously do not know. But at the moment the Synod seems generally behind what the bishops are doing. The other thing is that the House of Bishops is basically solidly behind their own Motion with only a couple of people expressing their unhappiness by voting against the majority.

But it is clear that there is a large number of our brothers and sisters who are unhappy about what is proposed and about even the possibility of blessing what they regard as sinful behaviour. Added to this is the unhappiness expressed by many who feel that the proposals depart from the doctrine, which they claim is long held, that the only place for sex is within marriage and the only people allowed to be married are a man and a woman.

Wherever tomorrow takes us we will have to deal with quite fundamental differences as we move forwards. We will also have to recognise that what people have said about attitudes in other parts of the Anglican Communion and other parts of the Christian church globally will have to be addressed because they will have implications for the wellbeing and, it was suggested, even lives of others.

The lovely chapel in Church House

We had two comfort breaks during the debate and I took advantage of one of them to go into the Church House Chapel to say Evening Prayer. It was calm and still and beautiful – and it gave me the strength to go back for more. I pray that all of us will sleep well this night and in the morning be ready to move with the Sprit for the sake of the church, the sake of mission and the sake of one another.

Be present, O merciful God,
and protect us through the silent hours of this night,
so that we who are wearied
by the changes and chances of this fleeting world,
may rest upon your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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