It was a good beginning to the Synod which will inevitably focus in on the issue of women bishops, and rightly so – this is something that we now have to deal with as a church, once and for all. The criticism is always levelled at the church that we are too inward looking and I think that that can be very true. The internal issues take up a huge amount of time and energy. So the main business of the Synod began with a debate on one of the Challenge for the Quinquennium, in this case ‘intentional evangelism’.
As a long time member of the Society of Catholic Priests I am deeply committed to evangelism – it is part of the foundation of our society, a commitment to catholic evangelism. It was therefore a shame that this debate, which should be at the heart of what we are about, did not seem to catch the imagination of members of the Synod as it should have done. Perhaps it was in the wrong slot as we were just getting into ‘synod mode’ again.
The idea that we are in the business of evangelisation is still a surprise to many people in the church for some reason. Perhaps its that sense of english reserve, that it isn’t quite polite to talk about God openly and certainly not to try to convince someone else of your beliefs. But the debate called us back to the great commission by Jesus to the church ‘to go out’ and make disciples. The principle is of course that this should be intentional – planned, purposeful, what we do. What I do think is that we are quite good at ‘unintentional evangelism’ and that can happen in so many unplanned ways, in the way we act at work, the way we help, the way we talk, the way we live, so that people ask ‘Why is he, why is she, like this?’ and the answer must be because of our faith in Jesus Christ. I suppose that, I hope that, I am as good at unintentional as intentional evangelism.
After the unanimous acceptance of the Miscellaneous Provisions Measure and a resolution in relation to the setting up of the new Diocese of Leeds – as I said yesterday a very welcome ‘outbreak of agreement’ – we moved into a very good set of Questions. It felt as though there was more time and it was very good that all the questions had time to be answered. I had put down a question about when the Pilling Report would be published. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave me the extremely succinct answer ‘Soon’. I couldn’t resist a supplementary ‘How soon?’ which at least elicited a more fulsome response that made it clear that Pilling is imminent. Pilling is the report on same sex relationships for which we are waiting, a report to the House of Bishops initially, but it will, we hope, affect and change the way in which we think about and respond to same-sex relationships. Many, like me, are hoping that the report will call for a liturgical response to those entering Civil Partnerships which would pave the way to a proper response to Equal Marriage. It looks like we don’t have too long to find out.
The session ended with a presentation by the Bishop of Rochester about women in the episcopate. The Bishop has been chairing the steering committee and in what he said he set out the process over the next two days. This morning (Tuesday) we meet in groups to discuss the proposals and then we debate them on Wednesday. The Bishop said that many people thought the task they had was impossible. But he said that those on the steering committee were committed to a provision not for groups but for the whole church. It is ‘a careful balance’ he said and he counselled the Synod not to be tempted to take apart what had been carefully put together or the whole thing might fall apart. ‘We don’t have a Plan B!’ he said.
The Bishop of Ely preaches in St Matthew’s Westminster
We had begun with the intentional but I think we all realise that what we do has unintentional consequences and the consequences for failure again on this subject as on same-sex relationships, would be too horrible to contemplate for the church and for the church in society.
At a Eucharist in the evening for Affirming Catholics in Synod, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, said in his homily that rather than Jesus ‘turning things upside down’ he was ‘turning the world the right way up’. This whole debate that we face and our response to Pilling, is about getting things the right way and that has to be intentional.
Today is the Feast of St Hilda, that great Abbess of Whitby, who presided at the Synod of Whitby and models for us strong female leadership for our church. We ask her prayers for today as we continue to meet.
The statue of St Hilda in Whitby
who made the abbess Hilda to shine like a jewel in our land
and through her holiness and leadership
blessed your Church with new life and unity:
help us, like her, to yearn for the gospel of Christ
and to reconcile those who are divided;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.