Time’s up!

As I write the clock is ticking on this extended quinquennium and this final Group of Sessions of the General Synod. It has been quite a few days. I wrote at the beginning about gathering up the crumbs, the fragments. To be honest there have been some chunkier leftovers to be dealt with.

It has been a huge privilege to be asked to chair items before the Synod. I want to pay particular tribute to the Synod staff. As you look at the screen and the Platform Party, as we are called, you see three of us, the chair in the centre seat, a be-wigged lawyer on their left hand and an administrator on their right. The chair relies on both of these for advice and in these circumstances, for company. It is weird looking out into a chamber that should be full of members and instead is mostly populated with cameras and screens and, at the most, four of the backroom team. From those first Zoom meetings of the Synod we have come a long way. For the most part it is a slick operation and that is all down to the skill of the Synod team. Things will always go wrong but it has been an incredible achievement to do business and to pass legislation and keep the church moving forwards in these circumstances.

A number of the debates over the past few days have involved us in thinking about terms of office. Those of us who act as trustees on other bodies are used now to the moment when we fall off the perch. However much skill, knowledge and expertise you have built up, your tenure comes to an end. The question that has been brought to us a number of times is whether this should apply across the board. There is obviously the huge anomaly of people like me, which doesn’t make things easy. We might have fixed terms for most Chapter members, but the clergy will be there whilst they are in office. Membership of General Synod isn’t for a maximum of two quinquennia, for instance. I have been a member for three quinquennia – in fact, 16 years now because of the pandemic – and I am considering standing again. But service on something like the CNC, or even the Panel of Chairs does come to an end. ‘Time’s up’ is something that is called in the church, but how far should that go?

The final item I chaired on Monday afternoon was a subject that also involved the sound of a ticking clock. in 2014 when we approved the opening up of all three orders of ordained ministry to all people, regardless of gender, we did so because of the acceptance of the Five Guiding Principles. Seven years on and with a growing and welcome number of women in episcopal orders and many women and men having been ordained by a bishop who is a woman, the issues are beginning to be sharpened.

When the prophet Isaiah is called upon by God to do a task he asks the reasonable question

‘How long, O Lord?’ (Isaiah 6.11)

He didn’t want to agree to something open-ended. But God requires of him commitment to the task. There were a great many people who wanted to speak in this debate, some modern day Isaiah’s amongst them who wanted to know ‘how long’, more than we could hear from in the hour we had. As one speaker said ‘We are a church which ordains women’, and as the Bishop of Newcastle pointed out Synod has agreed that all such persons ordained are legally and truly bishops. So how long will the arrangements need to be in place. Is the clock ticking, or has it stopped?

It was a tough debate to have at the end of this extended quinquennium. Members were clearly conflicted – vote to take note, vote not to; vote to move to next business and so not deal with it at the moment, or not. As people pointed out, taking note does not imply agreement with what was being said, but it can feel as though it is tacit agreement.

In the end we did take note, but this is much more than a crumb, much more than a loose end. This is about who we are as a church. The Archbishop of York earlier in the day had returned to his theme of ‘simpler, humbler, bolder’. Those principles must apply across our life. Even something like the long debate on the Crown Nominations Commission and how it works, has in the background issues relating directly to the settlement agreed back in 2014 and how in fact it has been working out, how transparent we are, and the extent to which we trust people to behave honourably and openly.

Just as at the end of a football match the whistle is blown and that is that (Synod fortunately does not have penalties, well, not in that sense) the whole thing finishes with Prorogation and Dissolution. Time’s up. The Synod and its Convocations are no more – but there is a great deal of work for the next Synod when it arrives, we hope, face-to-face, in-person, in Westminster in November.

I’ll end with that favourite prayer of mine, by Dag Hammarskjold

For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes. Amen.


Followers of this blog may remember that at the last Synod we were using ‘the Crystal platform’ for all our voting. I think I wrote a blog then called ‘The Crystal Maze’ because sometimes it felt a bit like that as we manoeuvred our way through its complexities. Anyway, if you have been listening in on Synod this time you will have heard the Chair constantly referring to ‘Lumi’. This in fact is the voting platform that we are now using.

What it means I do not know – the word I mean. Maybe it’s from the Latin for light, in the sense that it sends a ray of light into debates and voting. However, much more fun might be what the Urban Dictionary tells me, that “lumi” is an acronym for “love u mean it.​” What a difference that would make to the workings of the General Synod and, indeed, the whole of the life of the Church of England – “Lumi”, “Love u mean it” – if that were true.

Whatever the company means by the name they chose for their voting platform product, we have used it well today. So many of the debates have involved multiple votes, such as the long debate on Amendments to Standing Orders. Those debates, though they are the joy of people who obviously love Standing Orders and live and breathe them, are in fact vital to the good working of the Synod and so to the benefit of every member.

Other items today have been around such things as the annual reports of the Church Commissioners and the Archbishops’ Council, around progress on safeguarding, on housing, on the budget. In addition we have also had an update on ‘Living in Love and Faith’ (LLF). LLF, as you will know is the latest part of the agonising and long drawn out process whereby the Church of England struggles through the issues of human sexuality. We have just gone through Pride month. I was delighted that Southwark Cathedral’s social media presence was all branded with the rainbow version of our logo. This was not intended to provoke people, to wind them up, nor to suggest that this above all other issues is what Southwark Cathedral is about. We did it to show that we stand in solidarity with our LGBT+ sisters and brothers, that we have pride in one another, that we aren’t still agonising, that we are celebrating. The message really is LUMI – Love you, mean it. Whatever comes out of LLF I hope that simple message can ring out loud and, yes, proud. We love you, whoever you are, and we mean it, and God loves you and means it.

We always have to return to John 3.16, it is a foundation stone of our life and is so clear and unequivocal.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3.16)

It’s the LUMI message writ large and written on the palms of divine hands nailed to the cross. As the body of Christ surely that has to be our message too.

God of love, we know you mean it. When I speak of love may I mean it too. Amen.


My auntie always reminds me about when I was a little boy – I can’t remember it at all, so I’m trusting her memory – that I would tell the same joke over and over again. ‘Two biscuits were crossing the road. One got run over; the other shouted’ ‘Crumbs!’ She said I laughed every time and that really amused them, even if the joke didn’t.

Well, here we are again; the last Group of Sessions for this extended quinquennium of the General Synod has begun. We thought we would be in-person in York and then York University decided otherwise. Then we thought we’d be in-person in Westminster and then Boris decided otherwise. So we are back with another virtual meeting with just the platform party in the strangely empty chamber and everyone else on Zoom. This is the sixth gathering of Synod in a year – can you believe it? I think the Synod staff can if this morning’s Panel of Chairs meeting is anything to go by. But it is what it is.

However, I am very sad that all the atmosphere of the final Group of Sessions has been lost, all the opportunities to say farewell to those who are retiring or who have decided enough is enough and they are not standing for election again. And, of course, there’s all the out of the chamber conversations, the sitting by the lakes watching the wildfowl and the time in the bars that we miss out on.

This final Group of Sessions is always about tying loose ends, trying to get the final pieces of legislation through, so that when the Synod is dissolved at the end, it is neat and clean. So the agenda that is before us is a rather bitty, stuff around ministry, the work of the CNC, thoughts on CDM, the shape of the church, where mission is, annual reports that need to be made, and of course, safeguarding.

It’s important that this final sweep, this gathering of the crumbs is done. But it does mean there isn’t a theme that you can pick up on.

Jesus was so keen that nothing be lost. I love the account in St John’s Gospel of the feeding of the multitude (John 6.1-14).

When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. (John 6.12-13)

The fragments, the crumbs were so important – ‘that nothing may be lost’. It applies to our lives, it applies to the church and it even applies to the Synod. And the gathered fragments in their twelve baskets became a symbol of the kingdom, the new Israel, the twelve tribes.

My prayer is that we can do a good job at gathering and completing and revealing, by the grace of God, something of the kingdom as we do it.

Lord, bless our work, our gathering, that nothing may be lost. Amen.

Responsible representation

Trust, transparency and diversity were important words that came through a debate that opened the afternoon. The title of the Report was ‘Responsible representation’ and was around the election process to the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). This is the body which nominates candidates to the Crown for appointment as diocesan bishops. I had the privilege – and I mean that – of serving on that body for eight years. It was an incredible experience. I felt that it was a huge responsibility, listening closely to the representatives from the diocese, the ‘Diocesan Six’ as they are known, so that the ‘Central Members’ can assist in discerning the right person for the next stage of life in that diocese.

There have been a number of issues over the past few years which have resulted in an inquiry into the work of the CNC and now some recommendations were being brought forward to amend the way in which people are elected to serve on that body. We are a broad church and that needs to be represented. ‘From Lament to Action’ has reminded us this week that we need to see UKME representation at every level, not just in the candidates coming forwards for appointment but in those making those appointments, or nominating people for particular office in the church.

The debate exposed some of the issues which are always there under the polite surface of Synod. One of the downsides of Zoom Synods is that it is very hard to judge the mood. When we are in a chamber together, whether that is here in Westminster or in York, you can easily work out what Synod is feeling and some of that veneer of politeness can be broken. Here the constraints of the remote gathering means that we don’t get proper engagement.

One of the problems we face has been institutionalised in the Five Guiding Principles., I voted for them when we were working out how we might bring forth legislation which would be agreeable to the church in general to enable the ordination of women to the episcopate. It was the positive and only way forward. And I do support those principles and the concept of mutual flourishing. St Paul writes this truth in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. (1 Corinthians 12.26)

But the important word is ‘mutual’. The church and all in ministry need to flourish and not just some – and too often it can feel as though the demands of mutual flourishing do not fall equally across the church.

The Central Members of the CNC should be representative of the church and that does mean those who are not in favour of the ordained ministry of women as priests or bishops should be represented. But so do other aspects of diversity both of person and opinion. Whether the proposals before us will achieve this I am not sure and those who check voting in Synod closely will see how I voted. I remain to be convinced but I am open to convincing.

The sun has been beating down outside of Church House. The members of the Panel of Chairs who are here, those who act as Registrars and Administrators in the debates, the staff of the Synod have all been stuck inside. But it has been good to meet, to do the business we have done, to achieve what we have achieved and to seek the real flourishing of the church through the exercise of responsible representation in every place, at every level.

I hope that we can meet in person in July, that we can be in York for the last Group of Sessions of this extended quinquennium. But for all that has been done, even in strange circumstances, thanks be to God.

I want to sign off with a prayer which I often use, by Dag Hammarskjold

For all that has been, thanks; for all that will be, yes. Amen.

Under pressure

There were so many great Queen songs. You hear one and memories flood back of when you heard it, or sang along to it. So one came to mind ‘Under pressure’ with the lines

Pressure pressing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets

General Synod continues today and finishes’ today. It has been a short Group of Sessions and that is right given that we are operating remotely and managing it all on screens. Into the agenda we now get screen breaks. The pressure of looking at a screen is just too much. We need a break every so often. But it also means that there is a certain amount of ‘winging it’ and ‘making it up as we go along’. After all, this is only the second actual meeting of General Synod where decisions are being made in this remote way, and Standing Orders – which is the other Bible for the Synod – were not written with this in mind. So we are constantly tweaking how things happen. It makes life … interesting!

As I said Morning Prayer before leaving the Deanery for Church House Westminster this morning, I was struck by these words in the Benedictus, the Gospel Canticle that is at the heart of the morning Office, the Song of Zechariah from St Luke’s Gospel.

‘Free to worship him without fear’

It leapt out at me because of one of the debates yesterday. Most of the business to be honest, such as today’s, is around legislation or appointments – and all of that is vital to the good governance and functioning of the church. But in the midst of it all was a debate on International Religious Freedom. We know that that freedom is under threat in many places for many people and not just for Christians. Like all freedoms it comes with responsibilities, such as using that freedom to liberate and not oppress, to create justice and peace for all, to honour everyone and the whole of creation. Sadly, as we know one person’s freedom can become another person’s oppression. So whether we are talking about our Coptic sisters and brothers in Egypt, or the Uyghur peoples in China or the Rohingya peoples in Myanmar the same principle of which Zechariah sings is true, ‘Free to worship him without fear’ .

So it was good that within the pressure of Synod we remebered the pressure placed upon those who simply want to worship without fear.

God, as we rejoice in our freedom may we use it to free others to worship without fear. Amen.

A moving beginning

Before Synod got down to the business that was before it we gave time to both remember His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and to listen to the Presidential Address. It was good for Synod to be able to record our thanks for the support of Prince Philip over the years and also to assure Her Majesty The Queen of our prayers. What came across however from what was said by the few members I had the time to call to speak was appreciation for what the Duke had achieved in people’s lives, not least through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Dr Rachel Jepson, a member of the Archbishops’ Council spoke in particular about the way in which she wouldn’t be the person she is without the opportunities for personal development that the scheme afforded. Synod gave almost unanimous support to the Motion proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury

‘That this Synod request that the Presidents convey to Her Majesty the heartfelt sympathy of the Archbishops, Bishops, Clergy and Laity of the General Synod of the Church of England on the death of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, assuring Her Majesty of the honour in which his memory will be held by them and of their prayers for Her Majesty and all the Royal Family.’

We then moved straight on to the Presidential Address. Archbishop Stephen spoke to us from his home in York. As I had rightly assumed he addressed us in response to the Panorama exposé on racism in the Church of England. As ever he spoke powerfully and the story with which he concluded, his experience as a Ward Orderly in St Christopher’s Hospice in south London in the early eighties at the time of the Brixton riots was deeply moving. His call for action, to be the change we need to be, was powerful.

This is the prayer I wrote for the Diocese of Southwark for use yesterday, Stephen Lawrence Day. I offer it to you.

The sun rises

You may or may not know this but Church of England churches are not allowed to fly the Union Flag, the Union Jack. We have to fly the cross of St George, the English flag, because we are, of course, the Church of England. I’m not suggesting that police officers would shimmy up flagpoles if the wrong flag is being flown to tear it down, but you’re just not supposed to because being the Church of England and having the cross of St George flying above is what we do and who we are.

So it is a good day, this Feast of St George, for the church to meet in Synod. The General Synod is gathering for a Group of Sessions, just two days, today and tomorrow, to do some of the business that really has to be done. We are still meeting virtually and, as you will remember, those who read this kind of thing, the Synod passed legislation that enabled us to make legal decisions in this distanced, virtual way.

I will shortly be heading along the river from Southwark Cathedral to Church House Westminster to chair some of the debates. As a member of the Panel of Chairs we were asked to indicate if we would be happy to come in to do the task, and being local I am more than happy.

The agenda has already been amended twice in preparation for this Group of Sessions. The first reason was to include an opportunity for the Synod to pay its respects to and bear tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Philip died after the Business Committee had done its work of putting the agenda together, so an extra item at the beginning was added. Then a very short Presidential Address was added. I don’t know what this is about but I suspect it may be in response to both the recent Panorama programme exposing racism in the CofE and the publication yesterday of the report ‘From Lament to Action’ the work of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce. We shall see.

The rest of the time will be taken up with debates on topics like safeguarding and pensions, clergy discipline and the nomination of Diocesan Bishops, as well as on the subject of international religious freedom.

There are always dragons out there and there are always the vulnerable to be protected. If the CofE has the audacity to live under the banner of St George it needs to take heed of what is said in the Letter to the Ephesians in one of the set readings for this morning.

Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6.12)

Even in the heavenly places evil can be found.

God of hosts, who so kindled the flame of love in the heart of your servant George that he bore witness to the risen Lord by his life and by his death: give us the same faith and power of love that we who rejoice in his triumphs may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection; through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

‘Wearing thin’

Whatever else this particular Group of Sessions of the General Synod will be remembered for, it should be the debate on the IICSA report which happened on the final day. Yes, the Cathedrals Measure will make a big difference, yes, the shape of our Diocesan Boards of Education is important, yes, nothing can happen without sound budgeting but how we treat one another now and how we have ill-treated people in the past, the systemic, institutional failures, have to be faced up to.

Three survivors joined the debate and spoke to Synod. We have heard from people before, of course, but this felt different. Partly I think it was because if you had selected Speaker View on Zoom rather than Gallery View then the person was in your room with you, more immediate, strangely more present than when they are on the platform in Westminster or York, or if they are pre-recorded and on the screen in either of those places. This was an encounter at another level.

The other difference was that they were speaking to us after we had read the report of an independent group of people. Those who had in some way, for some reason, not really taken seriously the voice of survivors – and they are around – had to now listen.

I felt challenged to an extent that I hadn’t felt before, particularly challenged as a member of the governing body of an institution that I love and have given my life to serving. This was tough stuff but then it needed to be because those speaking to us had gone through the toughest stuff and it was out of that that they were speaking.

The third speaker held nothing back. The apologies that we had yet again made were, in his words, ‘wearing thin’. If we were sincere in these apologies then there needed to be ‘lasting change’. Having spent many years thinking about the issues around Sacramental Confession and safeguarding these words struck a chord with me.

As we all know that word ‘repentance’, metanoia μετάνοια in Greek, is all about a change of heart, a change of direction. It has been said by one commentator that ‘The elements of repentance, regret, reflection, and transformation are always present in the concept of metanoia to some degree.’ It is that to which the church is being called; it is to that that the penitent before the priest is called.

After the penitent has confessed their sins they then say, if a more traditional form of words is being used

For these and all my other sins that I cannot now remember, I am very sorry, firmly resolve not to sin again, and humbly ask pardon of God, and of you, father/mother, advice, penance and absolution.

There has to be this commitment to change, to not sin again, to turn your life around. It isn’t sufficient just to say sorry, and the priest needs to look for the genuine signs of true and deep repentance if they are doing their job in that situation. And if that is the ministry of the church to individuals the church must show the same signs in relation to its own acts of contrition, otherwise the ‘sorry’ wears very thin.

I think that this Synod was a Rubicon for the Church – or at least it should be. Rather than packing our bags and heading to the station or the car to get home we clicked on Leave at the bottom of the screen and put the Zoom password into trash. The Crystal maze was behind us, Synod was done. But it can’t be as simple as that this time.

There is of course a challenge in the Gospel for us.

Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ (Matthew 18.21-22)

There is a boundless generosity in the love of God, God’s love does not ‘wear thin’ but instead in the thin places and the thin moments of our lives is felt even more intensely. But we need to hold on to the words that have been said to us, because for some it feels as though they have been hearing the ‘seventy-seven times’ and it IS wearing thin.

One member of Synod summed the whole thing up, however, with another piece of scripture. For me it made sense of everything – of our vision, of our budgeting, of our life as institutions, of the questions that we ask of each other, of the mazes that we can find ourselves in. It was those words of the prophet Micah, and these were the words and this was the prayer with which I left the Zoom screen and the Synod on this occasion, and with a desire to do different, to be different and to do better.

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8)

Simpler, Humbler, Bolder

There’s no excuse for it I know, but as you get older it’s very easy to turn into a ‘grumpy old man’ – I’m sure women are immune from this progression! So you think, ‘I’ve heard it all before’, ‘we’ve tried all this before’, ‘same old same old’ or any variation on those reactions. So I had low expectations yesterday morning as Synod began it’s second day on Zoom.

I had reflected on the first day that the whole thing was slow and clunky. Well, as I had hoped, things did get a lot better. Ok, those breakout rooms didn’t work again (thank God) but in general everything seemed smoother and with a better pace. It wasn’t just the hard work back at HQ but I think that those of us on a screen were beginning to have a lot more confidence about what it was we were doing and how we were doing it.

The Vision

My colleagues know that I’m not naturally a strategically minded person, that I have to have forward planning carefully explained to me, that I am much happier in reactive rather than proactive mode. So on the face of it the first item on the agenda ‘Vision and Strategy’ was not something that would normally send my pulse racing. But this was different; the grumpy old man did not appear, instead something a bit more like youthful enthusiasm stirred within me.

The Archbishop of York was leading on this presentation and I have to say he was fantastic. Archbishop Stephen, as we all know, manages to combine evangelical zeal with catholic spirituality. He speaks in a way that you can understand what he’s on about wherever you sit on the spectrum of the Church of England. He quotes scripture as one who knows his Bible and he speaks of the sacramental life as one who is immersed in it.

The graphic he used was brilliant and it became more and more engaging, culminating, climaxing in those three words – Simpler; Humbler; Bolder – as descriptors of the vision of the church ‘Christ centred – Jesus shaped’ that he had described. The vision needs a great deal of unpacking and working on – but this feels like something that we can really engage in. To be simpler – and we are not here talking about that simplification process that we’ve been engaged in – but something more gospel like, more Jesus shaped, more focused on what matters. To be humbler – knowing that we are part of the church, that there are other partners, that we have got things wrong, that we can do so much better, that we rely on grace. To be bolder – to have confidence in God, the Gospel, the Church, to be able to act and speak and engage in a way that makes others bolder with us, to be risk takers. These are my responses to those three words. And it was good to think about the ‘Five Marks of Mission’ in a positive way and not as simply an add on in a conversation. I left the debate, encouraged and empowered.

As happens so often that opening debate of the day set the tone for the rest of what we did. Vision and Strategy was neatly followed by the Final Drafting and Final Approval stages of the Cathedrals Measure. Having been involved in this piece of work, first as a critic and then as Chair of the Revision Committee and latterly a member of the Steering Committee I have become huge convert to what it offers the church and our cathedrals. The Measure is now fit for purpose to help cathedrals be fit for purpose in the 21st century. That ‘Simpler Humbler Bolder’ vision could though equally apply to our cathedrals. We need to be each of those things and I think that this Measure, which was finally approved with not a single vote against it – incredible – will help in that.

The Budget debate in the afternoon also had echoes of the Archbishop of York’s vision in the morning. Canon John Spence, who is always an impressive Synod performer, led us with skill through what can be very boring. The finances are challenging but Synod members were up for the challenge, ready to make the money follow the vision.

Then we gave First Consideration to an amendment to our Safeguarding legislation and practice. It is all centres on what ‘due regard’ means, something that the IICSA report had highlighted. This was my moment in the chair and attempting to manage the technology and the blue hands that were being raised. It is good, however, to see the church responding immediately to where others have identified that in the area of safeguarding we can and must do better – and the language that we use is central to the actions that we then see in our life.

Simpler, humbler, bolder, Christ-centred, Jesus-shaped – it felt as though we saw something of this in Synod yesterday. Archbishop Stephen began with a powerful image of the Emmaus story, of the God who walks with us, the God who breaks bread for us, the God who sends us back with a message to share, the Jesus on the road and at the table. You know what, I feel excited!

Jesus, may we reflect your simplicity, share your humility, live your boldness, have you at our centre and your cross at our heart; may we be shaped by you. Amen.

Crystal Maze

You may be a fan of the game show, ‘The Crystal Maze’. Well, fantasy can sometimes find echoes in reality. As General Synod began this Group of Sessions on Monday afternoon we had to get to grips with two ways of voting. To be honest we always have two ways. Most often we have a show of hands, especially on procedural matters, ending a debate, agreeing to debate an amendment, that kind of thing. In addition, we used to do something akin to what they still do across the road in Westminster and that is to troop through doors marked ‘Ayes’ and ‘Noes’ in order to register our votes. Then electronic voting was introduced and so we all have what looks like a Blackberry (other phones are available) into which we put a voting card. In that way we can take formal votes, as a Synod or in our Houses. But now we are online we are voting differently.

The Simple Vote is by a Zoom poll but I learnt today at the Panel of Chairs meeting that you can only have 25 such polls in a day – so we need to be careful how we use them. The more formal votes will be taken on the Crystal Platform. It is this maze that we got caught in initially. But we will learn how to do it efficiently, or at least, we have to.

But we began the Synod by putting into effect the legislation we passed at the last meeting in September when we agreed that we could function in this remote way. So after the initial welcomes to new members and Ecumenical representatives, this new way of working gained final approval.

The Presidents then addressed Synod. The Presidents are the two archbishops and what they said began with the pandemic and the huge inequalities in our society that it has exposed, then they moved on to the other challenges that we are facing talking about safeguarding, racism and the issue of immigration and the people who make the dangerous journey across the Channel. Mention was also made of the challenge to democracy by populism in politics and the huge challenge of climate change. The pictured painted was of a frightening and challenging maze.

The Archbishop of York had a really encouraging quote from Othello up his sleeve which was new to me. Othello is saying of Desdemona as she is walking away

“But I do love thee! And when I love thee not, Chaos is come again” (Othello III. iii.).

It is the supreme love of God on which we rely and that we know in Jesus that saves us, ultimately, from this chaos that always threatens humanity. It was love that they then moved on to. The Bishop of Coventry spoke about the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ (LLF) project which had recently produced its much awaited material. He was joined by Eva John in encouraging us to engage with it positively and openly and this was reinforced by Archbishop Justin who reminded us of one of the things that he said when the proposals on sexuality from the House of Bishops were rejected by Synod in 2017. He then used a phrase which he reiterated, a phrase which some of us were encouraged by then and remain encouraged by now

‘We need a new radical Christian inclusion in the church.’

Of course, it being the Church of England, not everyone is encouraged by this and as the video released last week by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) revealed, there are those who are not prepared to be involved in the debate that LLF is encouraging the church to have. But you may have read my blog about that already. If not here is a link to it.

There was a glitch in the timing and it was decided that we wouldn’t have time for breakout rooms (as one wag later described them ‘breakdown rooms’) and thank God for that. I’m not sure very many of us were ready for that. So we were spared by what became the slow progress of the Synod. This was no ones fault. We were all getting used to the technology and navigating the screens and the blue hands and the Points of Order and the maze of the voting systems. I am confident that we will get better and it will become easier and flow better. But it also shows what many of us know after these last eight months – nothing beats actually being together. Just as the sacramental life of the church depends, by its very nature, on proximity, on being there, so in a way do gatherings of this nature.

The Report of the Business Committee which normally is relatively uncontentious was met with some harsh and I thought undeserved criticism. The Agenda we were told was too much like any Synod agenda and hadn’t taken into account the special nature of this Synod. But there is stuff that we do need to do, to enact and to debate and whilst the whole thing can become a seemingly inescapable maze we have a task to do and we need to do it for the good of the church.

One important debate was about our response to the Covid Pandemic. The final Motion was much improved by Canon Tim Goode’s amendments which took into account the needs of the many people with disability and others who had suffered disproportionality from what has happened. But as so often in this period, events were overtaking the debate and as we heard whilst we were talking the Prime Minister announced that we will be able to resume public worship after this lockdown. Deo gratias.

The Session ended with Questions. Even though there were far fewer than is usual we didn’t get far with them. It was just one of those days and today, Tuesday, I am sure will be slicker and better and the maze will seem less formidable.

But I am left with the powerful words of Othello and the supreme and chaos defeating love of God that sees us through every maze that life can confront us with.

I do love thee! And when I love thee not, Chaos is come again”

Loving God, love us through the present challenges and the chaos that threatens, into your peace which passes understanding. Amen.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017


Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark