All human life

Tuesday was a very focused day, concentrating as we did on the ordination of women to the episcopate. To be honest, the day ended in not so good a place. I think we were all tired from having concentrated so hard on what we were doing. The final business of that day was on revisions to the Church Representation rules – such as how many times should a PCC meet, how large should the Standing Committee be and should you be required to publicise the date of a PCC meeting. It didn’t go down well and the time was running out and so in the end the debate had to be adjourned and then we had to pick it up again on Wednesday.

So Wednesday, the final day of the Synod, began with a Presidential Address delivered by Archbishop Justin. It focused on not being driven by fear and was a helpful reflection. One of the interesting things that ++Justin said was

‘Consistency and coherence are not the ultimate virtues. The Church of England is not tidy.’

There are those who look for tidiness and find security in that. But perhaps in the new church that the Archbishop was describing, with a different culture, we need not fear the untidiness that may need to be created. The problem is that so much of what seems to be essential to the nature of Anglicanism is about order, and indeed that is a real feature of the western catholic tradition in the church. How do good order and untidiness find their place in whatever the church looks like in the future?

Following this Address we returned to the Church Representation rules. The lawyers had been pondering overnight and their advice to the Chair was that one of the amendments that gained support on the Tuesday would not produce the desired effect. It quickly became clear that we were in a bit of a mess. There were quite a few amendments and the danger was, as I reflected on Twitter, that we were in danger of creating a camel. Sense prevailed and the debate was adjourned until July when a considered paper could come back to Synod.

The thing about Wednesady was that by contrast with Tuesday the agenda took us through so many issues and so many aspects of life. Like the News of the World used to say of itself ‘all human life is here.’

So after deferring the debate on PCCs we moved to a debate on Safeguarding. The proposals that we were considering had come out of the response to the report on what happened in Chichester Diocese. It was good to see some survivors in the gallery to hear the debate. It was a serious debate on an issue that we simply have to get right and, I think, are increasingly getting right.

A result of climate change?

A result of climate change?

From there we went to the Southwark motion on Environmental Issues. Canon Giles Goddard had done a really great job at bringing this together and introduced the debate expertly. One of the Southwark members of the House of Laity had put down a series of four amendments. They represented a completely different way of thinking about the issues that the motion was trying to address and were successively defeated. The one amendment that was accepted brought back into life the Church of England’s ‘Shrinking the Footprint’ group.

There were lots of interesting speeches and facts that came up as people spoke. The most amazing for me was when we were told by one speaker that a Google search uses as much electricity as boiling a kettle. That is frightening. I haven’t checked its accuracy – but you know, I can believe it.

There was a debate on whether the word ‘excessive’ should be introduced alongside energy use. But it was rejected. As one speaker said, ‘What does this mean? More than I use?’. It was a debate that challenged each one of us especially as the flood waters were rising in so many communities in the land. One speaker commented that if we didn’t have the Thames Barrier than a large part of the Diocese of Southwark would be flooded – including my house I thought!

The amended motion was approved by Synod with enthusiasm – but that has to translate into action.

There's a 'Keep calm' for everything

There’s a ‘Keep calm’ for everything

After lunch we debated the new Girl Guides’ Promise. The issue that prompted this was the removal of ‘God’ from the promise and the focus instead being on ‘me and my beliefs’. It was actually a good debate and though the final motion bore little in common with the one that we started with, the promoter of the debate very graciously encouraged us to support it – which we did.

I was never a Scout or a member of any other uniformed organisation as a child – it just wasn’t my kind of thing – but since ordination, and especially when I was a curate, I have had the pleasure of working with leaders of these youth organisations and they do a fantastic job. So I was glad that the final result of our debate was a celebration of all that the Girl Guide movement has achieved in the last century.

There was then meant to be a debate on robes and the wearing of them by Ministers in the church – strange after talking about another organisation that has a very recognisable uniform. But time was pressing and the debate was adjourned before it even began so that we could give it proper consideration at another Group of Sessions. That was the right decision – even though I had a lovely speech up the sleeve of my dalamatic!

So we ended with sex – you see, I told you all human life was here! In fact it was a report on what is known as the Pilling Report. This is on Human Sexuality and Sir Joseph Pilling – who came cross as a very gracious, irenic man – told us where we were and in questions after we suggested some of where we want to go with this.

Basically the report recommends two years of facilitated conversations, such as the ones that we had in the General Synod in July of last year to talk about women bishops. But this will mean that we need to create a safe and trusting space if those who are in same-sex relationships – and especially those who are ordained – are going to be able to speak honestly and openly. I tried to ask a question but didn’t get called. It was to be ‘Given that some in this chamber are homosexual and some in this chamber are heterosexual and that what we have in common is God given sexuality, will the process not just look at the issue of same-sex relationships but human sexuality as a whole, for there are issues we must address in hetero as well as homo sexuality?’

So we may get the women bishops issue behind us this year but sexuality will be the next big thing to absorb our energy and eat up our time. Oh that we could just get on with mission and the proclamation of the good news and celebrate who we are as people – male, female, black, white, young old, gay, straight – and just be able to tell people who are not part of the church that God really loves them and welcomes them into his home, for they, each of them, are already members of his family.

Bishop Stephen Platten

Bishop Stephen Platten

Synod ended with a farewell by ++Sentamu to the retiring Bishop of Wakefield. Is he retiring or has he been made redundant? I don’t know the technical answer to that but I know that it will be good to have Bishop Stephen Platten in the City of London as Rector of St Michael’s, Cornhill.

So we went our separate ways. Good work had been done, in a good atmosphere. To God be the glory for that. We meet next in York but there is a great deal of work to do before then. This is a prayer by Archbishop William Laud for the church – a good prayer to pray at any time.

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.
Amen.

Take a breath

If you’re desperate to read my reflections from the final day in Synod, I have to disappoint you and ask you to wait until tomorrow. This is one of those evenings full of other things. But we did a great deal of work today and there’s lots to say. So relax and enjoy the evening and say this prayer before you sleep.

Lighten our darkness,
Lord, we pray,
and in your great mercy
defend us from all perils and dangers of this night,
for the love of your only Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Generosity

I have to admit to being worried about what Synod would be like today. After the Eucharist, at which Archbishop Justin presided and preached, the morning and, as it turned out, the first part of the afternoon was given over to the ordination of women to the episcopate. There was a great deal of business to get through and just looking at the Twitter feed will show you how the morning went.

What I was really struck by was the gracious generosity which was evident in the Chamber. I had reflected that this was not a ‘done deal’ and it still isn’t of course. There is still the referral to the dioceses to go through – but let’s face it, the support was overwhelming last time. Why would that have changed? And then it does have to come back to Synod for the final stages with the result of that consultation reported to us.

A window onto the world from Church House

A window onto the world from Church House

I’m glad – thankful – that the support for a shorter process was overwhelming. There is no way that this Measure should be sent down to deaneries and parishes for debate. Not that I mind that happening but in this instance, when people were so incensed by the refusal of the Synod to take real note of the opinions of the diocese last time, I don’t think we would have found a welcome beyond the Diocesan Synods with this referral. But there will be joy, I think, that we are getting on with it.

I was proud of April Alexander in her speech when she said ‘We have done so much damage; now is the time to repair it.’ There has been such damage done to our reputation in the diocese. At last it looks as though we mean business and that we are organised and have a plan. At least we can now get on with moving this forward.

Sir Herbert Baker, architect of Church House

Sir Herbert Baker, architect of Church House

The place in which our discussions happen is the beautiful Synod Chamber. Church House, Westminster, was designed by Sir Herbert Baker who was also the architect of the Union Buildings in Pretoria as well as many other buildings. It has a quiet dignity. Close to the Chamber is the Chapel and one great innovation has been to have a constant praying presence there. Members of the new Community invited by Archbishop Justin to establish a house within Lambeth Palace, are helping to look after this.

I went and sat there for a while this afternoon. There’s a screen set up in the corner so you can see – but not hear – what’s going on in the Chamber – so you don’t feel too separate from the continuing business which this afternoon has been legislative in nature. The Chapel is beautiful though – a calm, holy space in what can be a frenetic environment. It brings you back to the heart of what we are about – Jesus Christ and proclaiming the Good News incarnated in Him.

The Chapel - a gentle and holy space

The Chapel – a gentle and holy space

So a good day and wonderful to breathe more generous air!

Generous God,
thank you for today.
Help us as we move forward
that we may continue
to be gracious and generous
with each other
as you are gracious and generous
with us.
Amen.

The night before

It hardly seems any time since we were meeting in November – well, it isn’t long actually. But there is plenty to engage with in the agenda for this Group of Sessions. Principally, of course, it is the business engaged with the ordination of women to the episcopate that will take a great deal of the time. There’s an old English saying, ‘There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’ implying that even when the outcome of an event seems certain, things can still go wrong. The atmosphere at the Synod in November was very positive. I’m just praying that we still feel inclined to work together to see this legislation move towards being brought into effect. But none of us should take our eye off the ball, or the cup (you shouldn’t mix metaphors!).

There is a motion on the agenda about the environment and that is important as we are perhaps looking now in the west country at what the effects of climate change might be. There will be debates on gender-based violence, on the use of vestments, safeguarding, the Girl Guide Promise and much, much more.

The Synod Chamber

The Synod Chamber

So there is quite a bit of internal stuff but also important debates about issues beyond the walls and structures of the church – which has to be a good thing.

So please pray for this Group of Sessions of the General Synod. These are prayers prepared by the Archbishops for the last meeting of the Synod. They haven’t passed their ‘sell-by date’.

Sending God,
you call your people to be salt and light in a dark and needy world:
set our eyes on the poor, the helpless and the lost,
open our lips with the good news that you have proclaimed to us,
fill our hearts with love for those you put in our path,
and lead our feet in the ways of your Kingdom;
in the name of Jesus, our Saviour and our strength.
Amen

++Justin Cantuar

Almighty and everliving God
grant to all your faithful people
in the Church of England
a new understanding of your Kingdom,
a new knowledge of your suffering-love and power,
a fresh vision of your glory:
and so awaken us to the reality of your presence
that we may be caught up in your purposes,
be generous in our judgements,
and serve you with a burning spirit and a quiet mind.
Keep us, good Lord, in the Joy, simplicity
and compassion of your Holy Gospel;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

++Sentamu Eboracensis

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