Safe and risky

This Group of Sessions of the General Synod has been prorogued. We have all headed off, back to the vineyard. But that was only after a couple of significant items of business in the final Session.

A safe or risky place?

The first of these was a Report by the Church Commissioners given by the First Estates Commissioner, Loretta Minghella. This could be a dreadfully dry affair but she is simply a star. Her report was realistic and encouraging and filled with what she described as ‘prudent joy’. It was followed by the reappointment of two other great servants of the church including John Spence who Chairs the Finance Committee of the church. He is truly inspirational.

At the end of Synod we said farewell to a number of people but particularly Alastair Redfern, the Bishop of Derby. A quiet man, he has entered into confronting a risky world, that of the modern day slave. With dogged persistence he has been opening our eyes to where slaves exist in our modern communities. It’s not just the fruit pickers or the sex workers but also the car washers who we can find in all our towns and cities. Hidden modern slavery needs confronting just as Wilberforce confronted the slavery in his time. We will miss this courageous witness.

But the main item on the order paper was of course the Report of the Cathedrals Working Group. The disasters in Peterborough and Exeter were the catalyst for this piece of work. But the need for some kind of review of our work, accountability and governance was long overdue. Having said that and being honest, and as I said this in the debate, the community at Southwark Cathedral said no to the draft report and I half-heartedly voted in favour of the motion today. Why? Well, one of the things I believe is vitally important to the whole church is the space that is given to cathedrals to do risky things in the service of God and his people. In this we are able to protect our bishops – they are not part of our decision making structures – whilst serving them by stepping into that risky place. Liverpool Cathedral expresses this so well. They describe themselves as ‘a safe place to do risky things in Christ service.’ That is exactly it. Anything that compromises this – and I believe that there is the potential in the recommendations made in this report to do that – will lessen the ability of the cathedrals to do the risky yet prophetic thing.

So, for instance, on Saturday members of the Cathedral community marched in London Pride. We had committed ourselves in Chapter to doing this because we have said that we are ‘inclusive .. orthodox .. radical’ and that needs living out otherwise it is just words on paper. The Diocesan Bishop wasn’t involved in the decision because of that useful creative gap.

Marching with pride

The Motion before Synod was amended to give us more time to do what will be a complex piece of implementation. But the main issues have been flagged up – the Vice-Chair, residentiary canons, the Charity Commission, etc – and so whatever process lies ahead we can take regard of these concerns.

So all in all a good Synod. We did a lot of work. Sadly evangelism got squeezed out because of all the legislative business. But the stuff we did on climate change and nuclear weapons was fantastic and we go forward praying that God’s kingdom come.

As the Archbishop of York got us all spontaneously singing this morning

To God be the glory, great things he hath done. Amen.

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The beautiful game

So, Synod begins. The good news is that there is ‘heat reduction’ equipment in the Synod Chamber. This is different to air conditioning so I’m told. All I know is that it is cooler than usual. But then we have been known to produce a lot of hot air!

It was great to chair the first debate which, after welcomes and some addresses by visiting Primates from the Communion and one from an ecumenical guest from Germany, was on the Report of the Business Committee. It’s a game. The chair of the Committee introduces the report and then people get up to moan that their particular top topic isn’t getting an airing.

But there was a game changer! Sue Boyes, the chair, announced that the timings for the seminars on Saturday afternoon were being amended to allow people to watch THE match. General rejoicing ensued. But then we got back into the real game.

The political football is of course human sexuality and where we are going on this. There is no debate on the floor of Synod in this Group of Sessions on this topic. But the seminars that bookend THE match will bring people up to speed.

Sadly, I’m not in York tomorrow as I have the double joy of being at the ordination to the priesthood of our curate in the morning and then walking with members of our Southwark Cathedral community in London Pride. I was being sent photos in the afternoon of the rainbow flag flying from our tower – a flag of pride for LGBTQI+ people and all their supporters. So I will have to wait until Sunday to discover how Saturday in Synod went.

The first day of General Synod always concludes with Questions. It’s a bit of a game to be honest. Supplementaries are asked to really hold feet to the flame. But this is Synod members’ only chance to really find out what is going on. There were 85 questions to be answered and many were around safeguarding. It is great to see people, to see the church, really holding itself to account and members asking, frankly, uncomfortable questions. It may look like a game but it isn’t.

Whether the subject is safeguarding or gay rights the lives of our sisters and brothers, their, our, safety and mental health and sense of self worth is what is being discussed. This is not a game. As Bill Shankley said of football ‘ Some people think that football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more important than that.’

Jesus didn’t treat life as a game and humanity as a can to be kicked down the road as someone in Synod accused the church of treating sexuality. Instead he said

I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.’ (John 10.10)

Abundant life – something we should have pride in for the whole of humanity.

God of life, may we rejoice and live in the abundant life which is your gift. Amen.

A matter of discernment

To be honest, Day One of this Group of Sessions felt, and was, a bit odd.  We began at 1.30pm; we ended at 5.30pm! There was hardly time to settle yourself into the chamber let alone really begin to engage with things or get a sense of the mood of the Synod.  There is always a mood and its interesting to get a sense of that.  Are people angry, frustrated, determined, excited?  I’ve been to many Synods in which you can cut the atmosphere with a knife.  But there was nothing you could identify yesterday, nothing discernable – today may be different of course.

The time we did have in the Chamber was taken up by three things.  After the Archbishop of Canterbury had welcomed new members and some visitors, particularly some bishops representing the Anglican Communion, we moved into the first debate.  This is always on the Report of the Business Committee.  Even this didn’t get the pulse racing. The session ended with Questions, of which there were over 90.  A lot of those were around safeguarding and were something of a prelude to the discussions which will take place first thing on Saturday morning.  But apart from that there was a great deal that was interesting but nothing earth or church shattering.

In between these two standard items of business that would always take place on the first day of Synod was the main course on the menu.  Professor O’Donovan and his team of theologians had been asked to look at the processes of the Crown Nominations Commission and to report back to the Archbishops and the Synod.  This they did and we then debated the way forward for the work of the CNC.

As a former member of the CNC – I served for 8 very enjoyable years – it was fascinating to read and then to listen to what was said in the debate.  I had, of course, attended one of the meetings of the group to give my reflections on the process.  One of the problems about talking about it in any detail is that at the beginning of each CNC all 14 members take an oath of eternal secrecy.  One member of the Synod in the debate said that the CNC was as ‘leaky as a sieve’ which, if it were true, would challenge that principle of confidentiality.  I think, however, that is an urban myth that needs revealing as such.  In my experience the leaks came from every where else apart from the membership of the CNC.  With interviews, references, follow-up references there are a great many people ‘in the know’ who have not sworn an oath of strict confidentiality.  The last nomination made by the CNC, Bishop Sarah Mullally to London, was a shock and welcome surprise to so many.  As you can imagine I had heard a great many rumours about what was going on but nothing that reflected the truth.  If someone was going to leak this would have been the leak of the century!

It seems to me that the most important thing that came out of the report and the debate is that the work of the CNC is the work of discernment and that means a great deal of sitting and listening to God, being open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and, as I said in my speech to Synod, ‘to form the Church not in our image but in Christ’s image.’ I have strong views about the church and work out of a clear and well know church tradition, but I hope that I have always been able to leave some of my tribal branding at the door of discernment.  And whether we are nominating bishops or making decisions in PCC the call to embrace the divine spirit of true discernment is the same.

Samuel

Samuel sees as God sees

 

The story of the identifying of David as God’s successor to Saul is an important one for any of us who are engaged at any level of discernment.  Samuel has been given the unenviable task and God tells him what will happen

‘I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.’ (1 Samuel 16.3)

But when Samuel looked on Eliab, the oldest son and the obvious choice, God says to him

‘The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16.7)

Learning to see as God sees, to look as deep as God looks, is the task of the church and of each of us.

So what does today hold? Look out for the debate on food wastage – sounds like motherhood and apple pie but its important to air the issue.  There is plenty of legislation, the business that really does affect the nitty-gritty of the life of the church. But the most interesting and perhaps contentious business will be about unity with the Methodists.  I have no idea which way that will go – but as I am in the chair for that debate that might be a good thing! But whatever we are doing, may we be discerning.

God of wisdom,
may we see as you see,
know your mind
and do your will.
Amen.

The price of …

In his play, ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, Oscar Wilde puts one of his wonderful epigrammatic lines into the mouth of Lord Darlington when discussing what a cynic is.

‘A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.’

Cash

The price to be paid

 

Price and value came into the debate that opened this morning’s Session of the General Synod.  Birmingham Diocese had put forward a Motion borne out of concern at the cost of applying for citizenship in this country.  The figures are eye-watering! £1282 for an adult, £973 for a child.  If you make a mistake in the completing of the application for citizenship then you lose the fee and have to pay all over again when you resubmit your application.  As was pointed out, those applying have the right to stay; these are not fees designed to control the levels of immigration, to put people off.  After all, surely it is in the interests of the nation that the people living here are fully engaged with the whole of the community and society by being full citizens.  It all makes sense. That is where the values come in, the value of having a truly integrated nation, of not having parts of society excluded from the democratic processes, not having that deep sense of belonging that we want for true community cohesion.

I’ve just tried out a version of the Citizenship Test I found online and scored 17/24.  I’m not sure that that means I can be a citizen, or could be if I wasn’t.  But some of the questions are fiendish.  Yet people want to be citizens, despite the fees and despite the questions, the hoops and hurdles we put in place.

There is a wonderful exchange about citizenship in the Acts of the Apostles.  Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem and is before the Tribune who is trying to find out the truth of the accusations being brought against him.

The tribune came and asked Paul, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ The tribune answered, ‘It cost me a large sum of money to get my citizenship.’ Paul said, ‘But I was born a citizen.’ (Acts 22.27-28)

So, as someone born a citizen of the UK my question to myself has been do I value what that means and the responsibilities that flow from it? And as far as my friends for whom it costs ‘a large sum of money’ what am I doing to support them?  The debate in Synod and the unanimous vote in favour of the Motion was a wonderful example of the way in which, at our best, we can give strong messages to the nation and live out the role that we have as the Established Church for the people of England, citizens and not yet citizens alike.

Two other debates were very significant.  These were about two Amending Canons. These are important pieces of legislation.  The Canons of the Church of England are part of the law of the land (now there’s a question for the citizenship test! Only joking!) and for that reason are taken very carefully through the Synod.  Any changes must secure a 2/3rds majority in each of the houses.

The first of the amendments was to Canon B8 (Of the vesture of ordained and authorized ministers during the time of divine service) which means what we wear to take services.  To be honest the Canon was being flouted in many situations, not least in some Fresh Expressions. Some clergy think that robes and vestments get in the way of mission. I don’t necessarily agree but I do think that we need Canons that work and are not brought into disrepute by simply being ignored.  I’ve also experienced in the last few months two instances in the Diocese of Southwark where I was asked not to bring robes and to speak in a service just in suit or clerical shirt.  In both instances that was exactly right.

When it came to the vote the amendments to this Canon received the necessary 2/3rds and more.

The second Canon for amendment was Canon B38 (Of the burial of the dead) dealt with the way in which the church in the past dealt with the burial of the unbaptised, the excommunicated and those who committed suicide.  The practice of the pre-reformation church was brought across to the Church of England and each of these groups was denied a Christian burial.  It was only later in the 19th century that this was changed but differences still applied.  These changes will mean that all those who die and who seek a Church of England funeral will be treated in the same way.  In fact pastoral practice left the Canons behind a long time ago.  So this has tidied that up as well and makes the Canon reflect contemporary practice and understanding.

A good mornings work.

Jesus, my Lord and King,
my saviour,
may my true citizenship be of your kingdom,
for you paid the price to set me free.
Amen.

Changing the lightbulb

At the beginning of this meeting of General Synod someone mentioned a joke which perhaps all of us in the Church of England have heard in one forum or another.

Q. ‘How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb?’
A. ‘Change?!’

But something is in the air and it looks and feels like change. You may remember that in February, during the debate on the House of Bishops’ paper on sexuality, I said ‘I don’t like the tone’. Yet I have to admit that it seems as though there is a new tone, that something has changed.

Lightbulb

Changing the lightbulb

The debate on Conversion Therapy was the first sign of this and the overwhelming support that the final Motion achieved.  The second was the debate yesterday on welcoming transgender people into church.

The Motion before us was not just about simply welcoming trans people when they come to church but having some approved liturgy which recognised, celebrated, acknowledged their trans status and new identity. It was an interesting debate on that particular aspect.  Some claimed that in the liturgical library of the Church of England there are already texts that can be used in such circumstances. Others wanted something, commended by the House of Bishops, that would be specifically for people who had gone through the process of gender reassignment and for whom this had been legally recognised.

I have sympathy to be honest with both points of view. A practical liturgist, and I suppose to some extent that is what I am and have been, is always putting together ‘special services’.  That is especially true in Cathedrals where we get asked to host services and thereby put them together for all kind of events.  Those who follow my Living God blog may remember that earlier this year I officiated at the Blessing of First Flush Darjeeling.  It all came about because of one of the traders in the Borough Market who had seen what we did on Lammas Day with Bread Ahead (our local bakery) and wanted the same for the tea he imported from India.

You will not be surprised to learn that the Church of England does not have an authorised liturgy for the blessing of first flush Darjeeling.  But we have lots of texts that can be garnered from elsewhere and put together to create the right service.  That is what I did and that is what I have always done, for years.

From the debate it was clear that this is what many people have done when welcoming trans people in their communities, recognising their new name, celebrating them as a person loved and created by God from the very beginning.  In all of this and during the moving contributions made, I remembered verses from Psalm 139

You yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
marvellous are your works, my soul knows well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished;
already in your book were all my members written.
(Psalm 139.12-15)

We are not introducing people to God, God knows us, fundamentally, already, as child, as creation, as loved, in a place deeper than even gender, in a place more intimate even than our name. It is that which a liturgy needs to reflect and respond to.

The first words in this Group of Sessions were those of Bishop Matti Repo from Finland and they were quoted in the debate – ‘When we do liturgy we show we are doing the work of God.’ Those who were calling for a special liturgy made reference to this. The final Motion has asked the House of Bishop to ‘consider’ whether something could be made available.  Until then we need to do the ‘opus dei’ through the liturgies that we create from the resources that we do have available.

The final vote was remarkable.  As has been a feature in this Synod there was a call for a vote by Houses.  25 members stood and the voting machines appeared.  The result was

Bishops For 30 Against 2 Abstentions 2
Clergy For 127 Against 28 Abstentions 16
Laity For 127 Against 48 Abstentions 8

A lightbulb moment! The attempts made to change the Motion had failed and we stood alongside our trans sisters and brothers with conviction.

The rest of the Session involved a report on the workings of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), the debate on clergy wellbeing that I was thinking about yesterday in the light of the gospel and a debate that I chaired on schools admission. But it was the first debate that suggested that something is blowing through the church.

Harold MacMillan made a speech in Cape Town on 3 February 1960. His words then live on now

‘The wind of change is blowing through this continent.’

That wind brought to an end colonialism in the way it was being experienced, and not just in Africa. Perhaps the God who blew the wind of the Holy Spirit into the life of the church on the Feast of Pentecost is blowing through our church.  We will see where we are blown today.

Holy Spirit,
blow through your church,
blow through our lives,
blow through our world.
Amen.

A day of pride?

It’s a beautiful morning in York.  I’ve just opened my windows to clear blue skies and lovely sunshine.  As long as it doesn’t get too hot in the Chamber we should be ok.  My thoughts and prayers are, of course, with the group of 50 people from Southwark Cathedral taking part in London Pride.  It’s a big day for us.  After having for so long been talking about the place of LGBT+ people in the life of the church and being encouraged by our Archbishops who have called for a ‘radical Christian inclusion’ we decided that we needed to walk with people.

That walking with people is something that we see in Jesus. One of the things I love about the Gospels is the way in which so much of it takes place on the road, not in buildings, not where the rich and powerful were, but out there where the people were and walking with them and encountering them. People came out to meet him where he was – leaders of synagogues, centurions, the distressed, the sick, the curious, the joyous, everyone.

Bart

Present and engaged

 

One such occasion was the meeting with Bartimaeus and we are told in St Mark’s Gospel

‘As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.’ (Mark 10.46)

That huge crowd, marching with Jesus down the road and then finding someone who needed him. Out on the road, out on the march we can meet people we would not stumble over in any other way.

One of the things we will be thinking about today, along with sexuality on the day of London Pride, will be the programme called ‘Presence and Engagement’. That basically means, as I understand it, being there, being out there, doing the Jesus thing of being with people, of all kinds. It seems strange that we have, as a church, to make this explicit as a policy.  After all, as I was taught when being formed for priesthood, this is what the church is, out there, reflecting the real presence of Jesus, reflecting the engagement of God with the whole of creation, outside of the church, in community.  Sadly, in many places the church has retreated into its buildings, concerned about ‘internal’ issues rather than the ‘external’ world where we find God.

There is a wonderful poem by R S Thomas called ‘The Empty Church’ which speaks to me of this.

They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.
Ah, he had burned himself
before in the human flame
and escaped, leaving the reason
torn. He will not come any more

to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illuminated walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?

We can hide away in the ‘stone trap’ or be out there, present and engaged, with people of all kinds, of all faiths and none.

I hope that in all the debates today I will have pride in the church – but I wait to see.

God, ever present with us,
ever engaged with us,
where we are,
may I know your presence now
and be engaged
with all my sisters and brothers.
Amen.

Early release

Can you remember when, all of a sudden and, so it seemed, as a complete surprise, you were let home early from school? To me it felt as though you were being given a little of your life back.  We ran through the school gates, making for freedom before they had the chance to decide that they’d made a mistake and called us back! Well, we got the gift of early release from the General Synod today as the Archbishop of Canterbury prorogued the Synod at the end of morning session.  If we had had caps with us we could have thrown them in the air.

spingbreak

Running for freedom!

 

I think almost everyone was tired after yesterday and the truth is that we have done a lot of work this week – all that legislation, debates on the Reformation, the preliminaries to marriage in church, and on this final day, the role of the laity, the rationalisation of administration and an address on the state of the Anglican Communion.  Of course, all of that was a bit overshadowed by what happened yesterday.

The debate on the report, ‘Setting God’s people free’ was an important one.  As we were told, 98% of the church is made up of lay people but the church can be hindered by clerical domination and authoritarianism.  If we want to be effective in mission and witness and outreach then, yes of course, the whole people of God, the 2% and the 98% have to be active and using their God-given skills.

Some people might imagine that the evangelical wing of the church is naturally more inclined to recognise and use the skills of everyone than the rather priestly catholic end of the CofE in which Father or Mother ‘knows best’! I think that isn’t quite true.  In all parts of the church we can find that tendency for the ordained to dominate the non-ordained, for the laity to be subservient to the clergy, for the collar to predominate.  In fact many churches in the catholic tradition use lay people in ministry in large numbers, in a variety of ways.  Servers, choir, musicians, readers, intercessors, Eucharistic ministers, welcomers, sacristans – the list could go on and on.  Cathedrals, with a bevy of clergy, might be seen as highly clericalised and to some extent they are.  But at Southwark Cathedral we have over 500 volunteer laypeople as part of our life, leading and serving in every aspect of what we do.  We could not do what we do without the laity and the skills they bring transform what the clergy often bring.  For instance, we have a ‘Masterplan’ group looking at the implementation of our vision and priorities.  On that group are lay people skilled in doing that kind of work, thinking strategically, setting measurable outcomes, all of that for which I was never trained.

The thing is that if we don’t implement the report that we passed with, I believe, a unanimous vote, we will continue to squander what God gives to the church, his own people and that betrays a lack of vision and a failure in stewardship.  The first speaker in the debate, Jane Patterson, a colleague and friend from the CNC, spoke as a lay woman and reminded us of 1 Corinthians 12 and Paul’s analogy of the church as a fully functioning body.

‘The body does not consist of one member but of many.’ (1 Corinthians 12.14)

It is when every part of the body is playing its proper part that the body is healthy, that the church will be effective.

The final debate on Mission and Administration, contingency business that we managed to get to because we had been so efficient, asked us to look at whether there are some administrative tasks that we could do together which would release time and people for mission. It’s worth looking at whilst recognising that dioceses, cathedrals, even parishes are legal entities in different ways.

681_1dove_release

Release the Spirit, release the church

 

So maybe release is what this Synod has been about, freeing the people of God, freeing time for mission, the freedom we gained through the Reformation and above all, freeing members of the LGBTI people to be the fully formed, fully rounded, fully loved people that God has created them to be.

But with freedom comes responsibilities ….The last word should go to Paul.

‘For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ (Galatians 5.1)

May we use this freedom to make others free, in Christ.

Jesus, you break the chains that bind us,
you set us free,
may I break the chains of others,
that with free hands, free hearts, free minds,
we may serve the world.
Amen.

A breather

Day two begins and I’m on the bus heading for Church House. Today is mainly taken up with legislative business so it should feel different to yesterday and allow us to catch our breath. 


Legislation is an important role of the Synod, of course. There are only two law making bodies in England – Parliament and the General Synod. So whilst it might not be as exciting as discussing other things it’s vital to the good functioning of the church. And thank God there are people on the Synod who appear to enjoy it and understand it!

But keep praying for Synod, whatever we’re doing and pray that the Holy Spirit of Pentecost will breath divine life into us.  

Holy Spirit, breathe through us and in us. Amen. 

Back in the room

I promised I’d be back – well, here I am. The Shared Conversations ended just before lunch on Tuesday and the members of the General Synod rapidly dispersed.  There was life to get back to; I had to get a train that would get me back to Southwark Cathedral to welcome those who would come to the first ever Legal Service in the Cathedral.  Life and ministry goes on.

But all of that has given me time to reflect on what happened over those last two days during which, whilst we were in the process, we were asked not to comment. Of course, things were continuing to change around us and for once I’m not talking about the political situation in the UK post-Brexit. Over in Canada the Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada was also discussing their response to same-sex marriage.

rainbow-flag

‘And the banner over me is love.’

 

News emerged that that Synod had narrowly voted against allowing same-sex marriage in church.  That was dismal news – and then it all changed. There was what was akin to a re-count and the decision was actually in favour.  Talking to friends in Canada since then it sounds not so dissimilar with what happened to our own electronic voting system on Friday! So, another Province decides on a positive course of action.

But back to York and my experience.  This was my third set of Shared Conversations. The first was the regional ones, the second diocesan ones and now this set.  As I entered the room where Group 15 was to meet (we were allocated to one of 23 groups) I didn’t know what to expect.  But there were some familiar faces there and some new ones to me.  Each group had a facilitator who guided us through the stages of the process – it felt safe, it felt good.

We began with telling and sharing our own story, focusing on our faith journey and anything else that was significant to us.  There was no pressure to speak about anything you weren’t comfortable talking about.  As always, when you have the privilege of listening to someone else telling their story this was very moving.  That took up the first afternoon.

Monday morning focused in on scripture as we were firstly resourced by three biblical scholars who talked about the authority of scripture and particularly in relation to human sexuality, from their own perspective.  That session was too short but rich and fascinating.  Then we shared our own significant scripture passage in small groups.  Mine was this

‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10.10)

I chose that for two reasons.  Firstly, it seems to me that that is the essence of Jesus’ ministry and what he brings to my life.  And that abundance to me is all about fruitfulness. Jesus wants me, wants you, wants us to flourish and I believe that is regardless of any of those ways in which we define, describe ourselves according to gender, ethnicity, ability, sexual identity grounds and beyond, for as St Paul says to the

‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3.28)

The gifts of abundant living are to us as created and loved not because of any definition we or others may apply to us.

My second reason was that I first became aware of this text when our curate back when I was a young teenager preached on it.  Fr Irving Richards, the first black priest I had ever seen let alone known, was formative in the story of my own vocation but also in sowing this text deep within me.  It remains something I live by and, for me, it challenges the church which can too often diminishes people.

From scripture we moved to culture, hearing three sets of presentations from the perspective of younger adults, older people and from across the Communion about the changing cultures in which we are set.  It was a rich and challenging afternoon – far too much to take in but you wouldn’t have wanted to have missed a word of it.

SC

Finally, on the last morning we looked at what ‘gifts’ we wanted to take back into a plenary of all the members of the Synod.  There was a sense in that discussion of where do we go from here and I suspect, if you are reading this, you are asking the same question. My answer is, I don’t know.

As a process it was good and it enabled the members of Synod to build relationships and take time out of the normal Synodical routine.  This will have a deep influence on the life of this quinquennium and I think was hugely valuable.

To be honest we were too kind to each other, we all agreed when we knew that there was a huge level of disagreement.  There wasn’t enough time spent wrestling with scripture; the trunk of the elephant barely entered the room; the issue of how we can even begin to compromise when some see responding physically to same-sex attraction as inherently sinful and therefore inappropriate to bless and others see it as natural and good and potentially holy.  That is a vast chasm to bridge – but the church is called to be a bridge builder and a wall destroyer.

As we began to meet Andy Murray was being crowned a champion of Wimbledon.  So, to grab an analogy from that convergence of events, the ball is in the bishops court.  It is they who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, must discern where we go to next.  Few, I think, what this to drag on, we all want to move beyond conversations about sexuality to how we bring good news to the people of this generation.  But the truth is that there are LGBTIQ people amongst this generation and I believe that they too need to hear good news, the real Good News that Jesus wants their life to be ‘abundant’.

God of abundant life,
guide your church,
that she may preach good news
to every person,
whoever they are,
whoever I am.
Amen.

Prorouged but not ended

So that Group of Sessions ended.  The formal word is ‘prorogued’ which simply means bringing it to its end. But it felt odd to know that the Synod had ended but we were still meant to be here.

When I was a kid, going to the pictures was a bit of a bargain – unlike today – you got a film to watch before you saw the main feature, the film you had really gone to see, and, of course, you still had the adverts, for the local Indian or Chinese restaurant. They were called ‘B’ movies, they were of variable quality, sometimes rubbish, but it was something to watch or eat your sweets through.  Well, this Synod has taken me back to those days in the Magna Cinema in Wigston where I was brought up and where I went with my sister every Saturday for the children’s film club.

Magna

The Magna Cinema in Wigston Magna, Leicester

 

The business of Synod, though interesting and important, felt like the starter to a meal, the film before the main feature. We all knew that the Shared Conversations would be the thing that we would remember most about the July Synod in York in 2016. It could be, by the grace of God, a positive turning point for the Church of England, it could be the ultimate car crash, or, of course, (and perhaps most likely) as indeterminate as most things can be in Synod life until, as with women bishop’s, the rubber finally hits the road.

So, the legislative business ended, a revision committee will look at the Amending Canon on vesture and the burial of those who have committed suicide.  The talent pool will continue to be stocked with promising new people, leaders will be trained for leadership, the Archbishops’ Council will do its work, schools will continue to offer excellent education and the budget has been passed so that we can spend money creatively for mission and ministry.  Life goes on.

In the evening yesterday news came through that the URC Church had made the decision, by a large majority, to allow same-sex marriages to take place in those churches who wish to conduct them. It was a timely reminder that society and the church is moving on around us and we are looking more and more isolated. I’m proud of the Methodists, some of the Baptists, the Church of Scotland and now the URC for having the courage, confidence and vision to take this step.

How do I feel as we embark on these two days?  This will be my third set of Shared Conversations, so in one sense I know a bit of what will happen.  But the regional one and the diocesan one that I took part in were not with people who would have to create some kind of outcome.  Members of the General Synod are here to be part of the governance of the church and to make decisions about its future.  We all know that.  We also know that we will be together as a Synod until 2020. So it is different and I suspect it will feel different.  But I entered those other two conversations positively and trusting in the Protocol and the process and my trust was well placed. So, despite all the undercurrents of negativity that sweep around Synod, I enter these conversations positively and trusting in the God I always trust and who I know loves me, for that God created me, my ultimate father, my ultimate mother.

We are asked not to blog and Tweet during the process but afterwards we can share some reflections.  So, until then I’m being prorogued …. but I promise, I’ll be back!

This verse from the hymn by Jan Struther I’m making my prayer as we begin this journey.

Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy,
whose trust, ever childlike, no cares could destroy:
be there at our waking, and give us, we pray,
your bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day.
Amen.

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

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

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark