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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

The nature of the church

What kind of church are we?  That seems to me to be at the heart of so much of what we have talked about this morning in Synod.  The answer that you give to that question will depend very much, of course, on your ecclesiology. My own view is that we are part of the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’ as we say in the Creed.  There are then certain things that flow from that.

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Let me see if I can explain what those five words say to me

one – that in important, almost vital ways, we are united, unified in faith and in practice, that we have shared beliefs and shared words for worshipping the one God in whom we believe and that we believe that this unity is an essential part of our character and nature.

holy – that we are the body of Christ, that we are in the world but not of the world, that we are set aside to be salt and light in the midst of the world.

catholic – that we are world wide and history long, that we are more than ourselves, that any congregation is only a representation of something which exists beyond it in time and in eternity and that much of what we do has been received and will be handed on.

apostolic – that we are formed for mission and ministry, for making Christ known and for ministering as a servant people to a needy world and that the whole people of God perform this ministry from which some are set aside for specific tasks as bishops, priests and deacons.

church – that we are the household of God which gathers to break word and bread, in which Christ is in the midst when two or three gather together.

That’s not exhaustive, just some initial thoughts.  But what concerns me about so much of the legislation that is coming forward and so many of the amendments being proposed is that their effect is to undermine one or more of these elements.  So on the face of it none of them really matters but add them together and I fear that we could create a ‘congregational’ church where there was and is the church catholic.  So, for instance,  I see a distrust of the episcopacy – and maybe the actions at times of our bishops accounts for some of that – and a desire that local needs and local manifestation of the church overrides any consideration of what makes us ‘the Church of England’.

Of course, I may be wrong – but just in case I’m not, I need to keep alert to what is before us.

Holy God, for the gift of your holy church we give you thanks and praise. Amen.

Seizing the moment

A Group of Sessions (a meeting of the General Synod) would normally begin, after some formal introductions, with a debate on the Report of the Business Committee.  Often the questions following the presentation of that report will involve members standing up and asking why such and such, which was in the news, was not included in the agenda.  The Chair of the Business Committee normally then explains that there wasn’t time and that the Business Committee would give the request consideration for a later meeting.  So this gathering in York was unusual for two reasons – the Business Committee Report came long after Synod had begun and time had been made for an emergency debate.

I was absolutely delighted when we were told that the Presidents of the Synod (the two archbishops) had come to the decision that we should debate the EU Referendum.  My big fear was that we would go through the same debate again – ‘Why isn’t the Referendum on the agenda?’, ‘Because there isn’t time’.  What would make it worse is that this would then be reported alongside the fact that we are spending two days, in purdah, talking about human (which in church speak means ‘homo’) sexuality.  ‘Church of England talks about sex (again) whilst nation is in turmoil’ could have been the headline.

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The fact of the matter is that we are the Established Church and whatever else that means it means, in my book, that we have a care for every person in England and that extends far beyond their spiritual needs.  It means that we have a priest living in every community in this country, that we know what it is like on the ground, in the streets and we have people who can reflect that back to us.  We are in a privileged position and so we have a duty to respond to the political, economic and social situation that we now find ourselves in – we have to seize the moment.

The risk was, of course, that the debate could have been just a bunch of ‘pinko liberals’ standing up and whinging about the result because they weren’t on the winning side!  I’m glad to say it wasn’t like that at all.  The Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the debate and set the tone, saying very clearly that we are where we are and that, whilst we are  leaving the EU we will never leave Europe.

One great speech came from the Bishop in Europe.  That diocese, part of the Church of England, extends across the continent and covers countries not in the EU but all those that do.  The Bishop spoke powerfully of congregations in Belgium where he lives and members of those congregations, ex-pats, who have given their professional careers to working to help create all that is good in the EU, being reduced to tears as they worshipped.  He also spoke about the millions of our fellow countrymen and women who have moved overseas for their retirement to enjoy the weather and lifestyle that so many countries offer and are now in fear and confusion.

Those who spoke in the debate raised powerful issues and it was good to hear from one priest from Hartlepool who explained why the people he works and lives with voted as they did, to leave, because they felt that over the last 40 years they have lost so much and gained so little.

I was proud to be a member of such a Synod that could speak so well and so carefully on an issue that is dividing us and to speak of the work of reconciliation that we can help with.  ++Justin warned the Synod that the church will have a great deal of work to do as we help the nation with vision and values as we build the kind of outward looking, generous, hospitable, inclusive, welcoming community that we believe God calls us to be.

So after an hour and a half of that debate the timed agenda was now something of a fiction.  As you know, I’m now a member of the Panel of Chairs and so behind the scenes there was constant conversation about how we were to manage the timings for the rest of the day.  But we did it and the day ended with me chairing ‘Questions’ for the first time.  I was initially nervous and at the end exhausted – but it was great fun and that bell, to bring people to order, is a powerful weapon (maybe something I should have at Chapter meetings!).

It’s now Day Two and we are shortly due back in the Chamber.  Today is basically about legislation – certainly in the morning.  Interesting among that is the Draft Amending Canon No. 36 which makes its first appearance.  This is the one that addresses the ‘vesture of ordained and authorized ministers during the time of divine service’. We know that many people break Canon Law every Sunday when they don’t wear customary vesture.  But the church lives with that because we are a broad church and we come from a variety of tradition backgrounds. But at the moment there is a norm and the proposal is that this should go.  Instead it will be for the discretion of the minister who will make the judgment about what to wear to ‘benefit the mission of the Church in the parish.’

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‘Will these benefit our mission?’

 

Now I know that I’m never knowingly underdressed in church, but then I am in a Cathedral and I am catholic in tradition and I do believe that liturgy is missional in its awe inspiring majesty and its life changing mystery so you would expect me to say this.  But at the moment I don’t think I can support this proposal.  Apart from the idea of abandoning the norm I think we create a hostage to fortune when in the legislation it says of what people should wear that it ‘must be seemly’.  The dictionary says that this means

Conforming to accepted notions of propriety or good taste.

I don’t know what that means in contemporary society.  And what does it mean at All Age Worship, Messy Church or Evening Worship? Who says what’s seemly? And I see huge gender discrimination looming because St Paul does mention what is seemly for women to wear in 1 Timothy 2 but not the men! Will the same standards be applied to ordained or licensed women and men?

There are more reasons as well – about what it means to be Anglican, a member and minister of the Church of England as well as the tradition that we are in.  But it will be interesting to see what is raised in this debate.

As ever, I turn to George Herbert for some wisdom on all of this.  In his poem ‘Aaron’ he begins with these words

HOLINESS on the head,
Light and perfection on the breast,
Harmonious bells below raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.

As the holy, priestly people of God St Paul has a good word for us

‘Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Romans 13.14)

The clothes that we wore in the EU debate where of justice, mercy and peace, we were clothed with Christ, perhaps this is the true vesture of the whole people of God.

Lord,
grace us
that we may truly be your church in this land,
clothed in justice, mercy and peace.
Amen.

Checking in

If you thought I was being all silent about this meeting of the General Synod in York, well I don’t intend to be until we have to be and that will be when we enter the Shared Conversations on Sunday.  This is a rather odd Group of Sessions as it all ends on Saturday evening at 10.00pm and then we get on with the talking behind closed doors.  But until then there is business to be done.  So I’m here and getting ready to listen and may be contribute to the emergency debate post-referendum. I will see how the debate goes.

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The Synod Chamber in York

 

Please pray for us.  We need lots of prayer support because for no one, whatever their views, is this going to be an easy experience.  But God is good and I will need to check in with God, in prayer, a great deal I suspect.

God,
you are always there
and ready to listen.
Bless this Synod,
our talking and our listening
that all we do and say may be grounded in love
and grounded in faith.
Amen.

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

On the third day

So we are assembling for the third (or for those of us not at the induction day, the second) day in Westmisnster for this opening Group of Sessions for this new Quinquennium.  After the glamour of yesterday it’s more of a normal day.  We begin in a few minutes with worship and then move into business.

What should you be looking out for?  There will be a significant debate on the migrant crisis.  I suspect that there will be many requests to speak and many amendments to the Motion.  I have submitted a minor, though I hope, significant one. Then there is a presentation (which means questions but no debate) on public perceptions of Jesus.

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The truth is of course that, for better or worse, people make judgements about Jesus on the basis of what they see in the Church. We are always saying ‘We are the body of Christ’. The quetion we must ask ourselves is what does Jesus look like if we are the body?

Teresa of Avila famously said

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.

If that is true then how we all percieve Jesus depends on the public perception of the church.  So what will we look like today and which face of Jesus will we show – generous, hospitable, open, challenging, accepting? Let’s see.

Jesus,
in our face
may people see
your face.
Amen.

The gathering

Despite all of the difficulties being presented by the weather the Synod Chamber at Church House, Westminster looked suitably full for the beginning of this Group of Sessions. It was going to be slightly odd for me as I had to leave early in the Session because I needed to be back at Southwark Cathedral for the Annual Service for the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass (one of the livery companies who are neighbours of the Cathedral).

Waiting for customers at the affirming catholic stall

Waiting for customers at the affirming catholic stall

Before I went into the Chamber it was good to be able to see the affirming catholic and WATCH stalls next to each other in the exhibition space. The affirming catholic stall brings together the Society of Catholic Priests, the Company of Servers, Gospel Imprint and Anglican Catholic Futures. It’s good that we’re working together in this way and having a visible presence in the Synod.

Friends on the WATCH stand

Friends on the WATCH stand

So to the opening of the Synod. The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed us and Prebendary David Houlding led the worship. In the particular welcomes it was good to see Bishop Elijah from the South Sudan in the gallery. Our prayers are with his people. I remember the great celebration we had at the General Synod in York for the creation of that new nation and the role of the Anglican Church there. That was just a couple of years ago and who could have anticipated then where we would be now.

Synod always begins with the Report of the Business Committee. In the debate particular mention was made of the Palace at Wells, which will come up in Questions this evening (I’m sorry not to be there for that) and the crisis being undergone by those suffering as a result of the floods.

The Business Committee then presented the dates for forthcoming Groups of Sessions. So, if you want to populate an empty diary here are the dates that were accepted.

2016 Monday-Friday 15 -19 February Friday-Tuesday 8 – 12 July
Monday-Wednesday 21 – 23 November (contingency dates)
2017 Monday-Friday 13 – 17 February Friday-Tuesday 7 – 11 July
Monday-Wednesday 20-22 November (contingency dates).
2018 Monday-Friday 5 – 9 February Friday-Tuesday 6 – 10 July
Monday-Wednesday 19 – 21 November (contingency dates).’

The Ethical Investment Advisory Group then made a very good presentation on their work. They spoke about three areas of investment in particular – alcohol, pooling funds and in relation to climate change. Professor Burridge spoke well about the biblical principles behind their work. Having £9 billion across the institutions to invest means getting the ethical policy right is vitally important. I was pleased to hear about the work going on and it will be good to bear all this in mind when we debate the Southwark Motion on the environment on Wednesday.

So I had to leave the Synod then and was very sorry to miss the debate on Gender-based Violence. But lots of prayers please for the debates tomorrow on the ordination of women to the episcopate.

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