A good Synod

It was a good Synod as far as I was concerned. Unfortunately, as a result both of a Chapter meeting this evening and the visit of Her Majesty The Queen to the Cathedral tomorrow, I had to leave early and so missed the final debate. But it was so refreshing to have a very different feel in the chamber. Who could have predicted this time last year that we would be in this position today? Last year I felt so dismal, now it feels as though we are in a better place and I have to give thanks to God for that, but also to all those who have worked so hard and with such inspiration to get us to this place on the issue of women in the episcopate.

The Synod Chamber

The Synod Chamber

But as they say ‘there’s many a slip between cup and lip’. As the Bishop of Rochester said, now is not the time to open up the bubbly! There is work to be done – but we are ready and eager for that and I believe when the matter is referred to the dioceses – it is Section 8 business – the dioceses will engage positively with the process.

So we leave Westminster and get back to life and ministry in the places in which God has set us. But thanks be to God for these three days. Jesus said ‘in three days I will rebuild my church.’ (John 2.19). I think we have seen the building going on.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be for ever. Amen.

A day for moving on

After lunch we went back into the chamber to continue the work on the draft measure and amending canon. The point of the debate was really to decide if we were going to do revision as a whole Synod rather than pass it to a revision committee.

The reason we could do this is the brevity of the documents. So it would be a much more efficient way of working.

Sunshine over Westminster

Sunshine over Westminster

The debate was very short and the we moved to voting. It was passed by a vote of hands so the Measure will be revised in the Synod as will the amending canon.

We make a decision

It has been an amazing morning in Synod. So much has been said that is so positive. It really feels as though we’re in a different land, breathing different air.

We’ve heard Fr Houlding, Rod Thomas and Christina Rees speaking in almost agreement; people saying this can work. It is so encouraging.

The Prolocutor of Canterbury, Christine Hardman, said she would eat humble pie in that she thought Bishop Pete Broadbent’s suggestion in July was wrong. She and I have been proved wrong – it was so creative. So I’m looking forward to the pie!

The Chair of the Synod said at the beginning that the vote would be a division of the whole Synod. The result was:

For 378
Against 8
Abstentions 25

Now we can move forward.

Lord of the journey,
lead us and guide us
as we move on
as your people.

A wet morning

It’s raining but the forecast is better – that the sun will emerge – and I hope that that is what lies before the Synod as we meet on this final day.

The purple!

The purple!

The main topic is women in the episcopate and that will be the item we talk about after the Synod Eucharist. Radio 4 was saying this morning that the signs are good as we move ahead together to see women in every order of ministry. My prayer is that that will be the case.

So please pray for the meeting of the Synod as we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This the prayer that will be used at the preparation of the table in the Eucharist.

Father, by your Holy Spirit
you keep the Church in unity and truth.
As we break bread together,
may we be one with Christ
in faith and hope and love,
now and for ever.

‘The poor will always be with you’

The afternoon session began with the Presidential Address delivered by Archbishop John Sentamu. His theme was the scandal of the levels of poverty in contemporary British society and he spoke from his experience in his own diocese and in the north of England. It was a magisterial performance – Sentamu at his best – drawing together so many themes and examples, backing it up with statistics and courageous honesty. He spoke of the ministry of Pope Francis and of His Holiness’ passion for and commitment to the poor; he spoke of the example given to us by the Liberation Theology movement and celebrated the work of Beveridge and William Temple with the foundation of the Welfare State.

This really is what we should be talking about in Synod and it was a relief for Synod to be able to speak to the nation in this way on a subject that is critical. Jesus did say that ‘the poor will always be with you’ (Matthew 26.11) but not in the sense that we should therefore not bother but that it will be a constant issue to be addressed. So much poverty has to be as a result of the decisions made by others, the decisions which make some rich and some poor and the church always has something powerful to say into unjust structures and politics. But the Archbishop also spoke of a ‘new poverty’, the fact that people in our society are in full-time employment and still in poverty and that rates of malnutrition in a city as prosperous as Leeds are increasing dramatically. It was a call for change and for ‘prophetic imagination and Christian wisdom’. Archbishop Sentamu sat down to warm and appreciative applause.

Grateful for a break - the Synod tea room

Grateful for a break – the Synod tea room

The afternoon continued with a lengthy debate on The Church School of the Future. It’s right that we gave such a length of time to this debate as our schools are a critical part of the life and ministry of our church. The Bishop of Oxford in opening the debate spoke of the fact that the clergy spend one million hours each year in schools – an amazing statistic, but every hour is well worth it in my own experience. It was good that Mark Steadman, from the Diocese of Southwark, was called first to speak. He celebrated the place of the church schools in our diocese and the way in which they had embraced Bishop Christopher’s call to mission ‘Faith Hope Love’ which is entirely true. We were encouraged to learn from each other’s good practice in schools. One speaker, the Bishop of St Albans, encouraged each parish with a school to set up a lay team to support the school – a good practical idea. I know with our own Cathedral School that many local people are involved in working as volunteers in the school and that has to be encouraged but perhaps more still would find it a great place in which to exercise a lay ministry. The report received overwhelming support and it was good that this substantial debate was once again outward looking.

The afternoon finished with a debate on the workings of General Synod, sponsored by the Diocese of London – but I had to slip away and so can’t comment on it.

Westminster Abbey at the end of the day

Westminster Abbey at the end of the day

So a good day I think, good groups in the morning laying the groundwork for the business that we are all waiting for tomorrow, the debate on women bishops.

Lord, grant us a quiet night and a perfect end
and may we rise refreshed to serve you tomorrow
with prophetic imagination
holy wisdom and passionate courage.

What’s in a name?

The debate before lunch was a fascinating one about what we call dioceses. The reason why we were talking about this was to do with the creation of the new ‘super-diocese’ of …. well is it West Yorkshire and the Dales or is it Leeds? Legally, of course, it is called the Diocese of Leeds but the Diocese of Bradford is asking the church to reconsider the naming of Sees so that they can be named after a region instead of only after cities.

The wonderful city of Leeds

The wonderful city of Leeds

On one level of course, this seems exactly the sort of thing that the church would enjoy spending a great deal of time talking about. But there are some important principles involved. One is historic. When dioceses were first being established the convention was that cathedrals and therefore bishoprics were founded in cities. In contrast, monasteries were founded in the desert and so these two models of the church, episcopal and monastic had these distinct loci.

Another principle is that of particularity. As the Bishop of Chelmsford said, ‘Jesus was known as Jesus of Nazareth not Jesus of the Palestinian area.’ The incarnation is totally framed in the particular – an entry of the divine into a particular moment in history, in a particular place, with a particular identity. This principle finds its expression in parish as well as diocese, the church ministering in the particular locality, named. Cathedrals as well are part of this, founded and established in an urban environment, even if that urban environment is small.

Cathedrals on BBC4

Cathedrals on BBC4

But is this all important? I was thinking about this as we were filming the documentary on the cathedral which will be broadcast a week today in the Cathedrals series on BBC4. ‘Living God’, our cathedral programme for our life at Southwark for this year, is about how we live well, with God, in the city, in the particular place where we are and where we are called to be the church. And I firmly believe that the city is a place of salvation, after all it is the ultimate destination of the people of God, the city of God, the new Jerusalem.

The Diocesan Motion passed and so it will return to us for further debate. It will be good though to talk through these issues together for what we call things is important, it defines us.

Lord, we are called by your name;
leave us not, O Lord our God.

In conclave

We have emerged from the first part of this morning which was over two hours usefully spent in group meetings. Our chair described it as a ‘conclave’ so who said what will remain confidential to the group, which is fair enough. But what I will say is that it was a very positive experience and there was a general feeling of encouraging optimism. It seems that there is a different atmosphere and this new approach to the legislation, lighter, shorter, was much welcomed by people. We were from all parts of the conversation and yet there was real respect around the room. One person commented that the new approach felt more ‘Christian’ and I can understand that.

A new dawn over Church House

A new dawn over Church House

Having been so devastated a year ago when the legislation failed I do feel as though we had to go through that pain in order to get to the place where we are now. I was reflecting on the fact that you only get to Easter Day via Good Friday, you cannot get to the one without passing through the other; you can’t get to life in all its fullness without carrying your cross. Maybe this is why this now feels more Christian because it is more authentically true to the journey which Jesus takes us on.

Some issues remain, such as oaths and whether those who cannot accept the ministry of women can take an oath of canonical obedience to her if she is the diocesan bishop. It’s an interesting conversation to have, to what extent the oath is to the person or to the office. My own view is it is the latter, claerly, and to ‘their successors’ as we have to say and so it is to more than the man or the woman standing before you or referred to in the document! Other issues will arise in debate but I’m delighted that we are in a place where we can discuss in an atmosphere of hopeful optimism.

But Synod continues and I must get back to the Chamber. Prayer during the Day offers this prayer for Tuesday

Eternal God,
the light of the minds that know you,
the joy of the hearts that love you,
and the strength of the wills that serve you:
grant us so to know you
that we may truly love you,
so to love you that we may truly serve you,
whose service is perfect freedom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Intentional and unintentional

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

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

The statue of St Hilda in Whitby

Eternal God,
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.

Back to Westminster

It doesn’t seem long since July and that much more positive experience of Synod that we had in York when we had the facilitated conversations. I think that in my reflections from that Group of Sessions I was less than complementary about the Bishop of Willesden’s suggestions around the next stage of the work. Well, I’m always ready to eat my hat – not biretta – and it would seem from all the reports that the work of the group, whose report is being being brought to this Group of Sessions, are very positive. The responses from the various groupings who have a vested interest in the debate, in that their opinions are known and clear, are that they can ‘live with’ what is proposed. That is very good to know.

The big difference between this ‘parliament’ and the one across the road is that we are not whipped and are all here as independents so we really have to wait to see what the feeling of the Synod is this week. None of us knows until the debates begin.

Anyway, we’re all here and ready to do the work that we have to do. I could have done with more time to prepare this morning but as always life is rather busy in the Cathedral. The day began for me at a breakfast hosted at Roast restaurant in the Borough Market. The occasion was the opening of an exhibition in the restaurant of pictures of the work of Y Care International.

Terry Waite speaking at Roast

Terry Waite speaking at Roast

Terry Waite was the principal speaker on what it turned out was the 22nd anniversary of his release from captivity. In his speech he spoke of the way in which the work of Y Care can help young people around the world find release from the past and a new life in the future. He is an excellent and moving speaker and the commitment of him and Iqbal Wahhab, the owner of Roast and a great benefactor and encourager of good community work, is impressive. It was a good way to begin the day, thinking about the way in which the church works effectively beyond the church.

I then had the opportunity to go up the scaffolding on the south side of the Cathedral to see the almost completed work to the roof there. The roof was badly leaking but the work undertaken means that we are now watertight. We now have to complete the work on the northern side of the Cathedral and that all seems to be on course.

Jamie, of the roofing company and Rob, our works manager

Jamie, of the roofing company and Rob, our works manager

It is great though getting above the normal level you see of the building. What always amazes me is the detail that goes into the places that are not seen, the carvings that exist behind the buttresses. Great and imaginative touches.

So a good morning and now to the Chamber for the debates. Please keep the Synod in your prayers and the whole church that we seek to serve. This prayer by Archbishop Laud is a good one to offer on this or any occasion.

Most gracious Father,
we pray to you for your holy catholic Church.
Fill it with all truth;
in all truth with all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purge it.
Where it is in error, direct it.
Where anything is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, strengthen and defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, heal it and reunite it in your love;
for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

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