Going home

The final morning of this Group of Sessions ended up being more exciting than I had thought – though nowhere near as exciting as the day before! There were lost of bits of legislation to address but two that were particularly significant.

The first was all about parochial property and where ownership should be vested. There is pressure from some members of the Synod that PCCs should be given the right to ‘own’ and manage their own property rather than it being vested in the Diocesan Board of Finance as it is now. On the face of it that seems totally sensible. If a PCC had the skills to manage, dispose of and acquire its own property then why not? If a PCC did not have the skills then they could still use the good offices of the diocese.

Jesus said

‘They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.’ (Matthew 7.15)

Poor Red Riding Hood! She thought it was grandma.

Poor Red Riding Hood! She thought it was grandma.

He was speaking of false prophets and not Measures before Synod. But the basic truth applies. We only have to look across the waters at the recent experience of The Episcopal Church to see what can happen when dioceses and parishes and the national church come into dispute over the ownership of property and the attempts by smaller groups of people to take possession of what they believe to be theirs, for whatever reason.

Jesus also said ‘It must not be so among you’. There are principles in all of this about the nature of the church as ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’ and we must be conscious of this. What can seem to be about property can become about nature, about who we are.

Synod rejected what would not have been helpful but we have to be vigilant. Mutual flourishing is exactly that, mutual, and that applies to the inheritance that is ours, of faith, and of those things and resources that enable us to be the church in this land and property is part of that.

The second piece of business that caused a stir was on Church Representation as it affected the workings of PCCs. This debate was adjourned at the February Group of Sessions. So we began where we left off. Two things that it allowed for – a minimum of two PCC meetings a year and a Standing Committee that comprised the Incumbent and Churchwardens. I can see the sense in the first – though it is very minimal – but not the second. It is all too easily for cabals to develop in parishes without legislating them into existence!

A request was made for it to go back to a Revision Committee, but that wasn’t possible. So the option was vote yes or no and as this was a final stage it had to be by houses with a 2/3rds majority in each. It failed to secure that and so cannot come back in this form. But in the quest for simplification we need to look at these issues and we need to get it right as this has proved to be a waste of time and resources.

The penultimate business of each Group of Sessions are the farewells and on this occasion it was time to say goodbye and thank you to the Bishop of Burnley, John Goddard and the Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard. They are quite different – only their names are the same – but both will be missed. ++Sentamu and ++Justin gave great accounts of all that they have given to the church.

We then stood for the Prorogation of the Group of Sessions and Sentamu sent us home with God’s blessing. It has been a memorable and historic Synod of York. The church is now different; we will flourish – I am confident of that. But perhaps I need to finish with something that Fr Philip North said in his speech to Synod in the ‘big debate’. He was quoting the Labour Party slogan for the 1945 General Election. They said ‘And now win the peace’.


It is not said of this Synod in the sense of victory but in the sense that we are now called by God to be the church that we now are and to work for the kingdom and to go for growth and to preach the Gospel and celebrate the sacraments and to do all ‘that the world might believe’.

As I head home that is what I take with me – and a great deal of thanksgiving and I offer the prayer of Dag Hammarskjøld

For all that has been, thanks.
For all that shall be, yes.

The journey continues

I woke up realising that something was different and it felt, to be honest, rather strange. In many ways I have been something of a ‘Jonny-come-lately’ to the campaigning for women in the episcopate. Some people have been campaigning for years and years and some have given their lives to seeing what we saw yesterday. But even I woke thinking, ‘so what happens next, what do we do now, what does General Synod do?’

The next second in my recollecting was a moment of joy and a sense of privilege. I am delighted that we have made the decision and I feel honoured, privileged to have been able to be part of that decision making process. It is a moment of history and the ‘Synod of York’ will be talked about in the future as we speak of the ‘Synod of Whitby’. It was good that the decision was made here in Yorkshire where Hilda played such a critical, leadership role in the life of the early church.

St Hilda of Whitby

St Hilda of Whitby

But where to now? In a real sense this Group of Sessions continues and my folder to take into the Chamber for this morning is full of bits and pieces of legislation. But the ‘where to now’ question is much bigger.

Yesterday when we made the decision that women and men are called by God to ministry – all ministry – and there should be no bar to that, we also committed ourselves to the flourishing of the whole church. In his sermon in the Minster on Sunday, the Revd Jim Wallis said that scepticism is ok, it is cynicism that is not. From some of the speeches that we heard yesterday afternoon it would seem that there is some scepticism about that we are not fully committed to that concept of mutual flourishing which is enshrined in the ‘Five Guiding Principles’. No one has said that will be easy, someone said that we had to be ‘intentional’ about it and I think that is right. It will take a change of culture to achieve.

What I do believe is that we now have an opportunity, now that this topic that has traumatised the church, soaked up our energy, absorbed our prayers for so long, is behind us that we can get on with the real task of the church – making Christ known and working for the full realisation that the kingdom is amongst us. And if we do that, for the common good, we will flourish in each of our manifestations of church.

More work to be done

More work to be done

There is always something more that needs to be addressed and as Questions revealed, way back on Friday as this Synod began to meet, it will be around same-sex relationships, equal marriage and the church’s understanding of sexuality in all its manifestations where the next work will have to be done. So the journey continues – it always does – but we enjoy for a moment where we are and what we have done and look around with Jesus who says to us

‘I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.’ (John 4.35)

Lord, send us out into those flourishing fields
that we may bring in the harvest of your kingdom.

A new day begins

The voting has ended and we have decided overwhelmingly that women, as well as men, should be bishops, priests and deacons. I came out of the chamber just after 5pm – we had started but with a break for lunch at 11.15am – and I breathed new air. One younger woman incumbent in the Diocese of Southwark has just texted me and said

Well done. So, so excited!!! The best day ever. 🙂

That says it all for me. It is the best day ever, the Lord’s day, a new day and the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes.

It is hard to describe the debate. So many people said that the quality of debate and the level of courtesy and listening was the best they had experienced. The Bishop of Rochester at each stage was superb. The Archbishop of York chaired it with firmness, fairness and grace. Calling Dr Paula Gooder to speak first set us off in the right direction – scripture, theology and reason rolled into one with eloquence. The final speech by John Spence was so wonderful that I was stunned. He is a gift from God to the church. He has taken Synod by storm. I just wish everyone in our church could have heard him and could have been inspired by him as Synod was.

Other contributors were also good – but there are too many to mention. You know the result; a resounding YES!

WATCH members have done a great job

WATCH members have done a great job

On the Measure the voting was

Bishops For 37, Against, 2, Abstentions 1
Clergy For 162, Against 25, Abstentions 4
Laity For 152, Against 45, Abstentions 5

On the Amending Canon

Bishops For 37, Against, 2, Abstentions 1
Clergy For 164, Against 24, Abstentions 3
Laity For 153, Against 40, Abstentions 8

So it was overwhelmingly carried and that was what we needed to move into this new world, this new way of being the church in which we can all flourish. Because it has to be all and we have to flourish.

I came back to say Evening Prayer and to give thanks before I celebrate in another way. God always gives us gifts in the lectionary and these are verses from one of the psalms set for this evening – these are God’s words to us tonight.

8 I will listen to what the Lord God will say, •
for he shall speak peace to his people and to the faithful,
that they turn not again to folly.
9 Truly, his salvation is near to those who fear him, •
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth are met together, •
righteousness and peace have kissed each other;
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth •
and righteousness look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed give all that is good, •
and our land will yield its increase.

(Psalm 85.8-12)

Our land will increase, will flourish, as will our church. To God be the glory and thank you for your prayers.

Morning has broken

Morning broke and Synod met. We began with a debate on the Church and the Armed Forces Covenant. Although people were slightly distracted by the thought of what was coming later in the morning it was a good presentation and a good debate. There is a real feeling around that whatever you might think of some of the wars in which we have recently been involved, the men and women in the Armed Forces have been out there because we as a nation have sent them.

I have on occasions felt ‘Not in my name’ to be my honest position on some of the conflicts in which we have been involved but I cannot distance myself from the society of which I am part and so I cannot distance myself from those who are prepared to go and do what I am not prepared to do, take arms and fight. In just two weeks we will begin the commemoration of the First World War and we will be reading each day in the Cathedral the names of those who died in that war and whose names are recorded on the memorials in the churches and communities of our diocese. It would be hypocritical and wrong for me to say that I will pray for those dead and not have a care for the living, for veterans, for their families, for those who have been injured and will bear forever the scars, physical and mental, with which they have come back home.

So I look forward to hearing more about this Covenant and I was fascinated to discover that in the reign of Elizabeth I in 1593 a law was passed that allowed each parish to be pay a weekly tax of not more than 6d in the pound to support soldiers returning home ‘that they may reap the rewards of their good deservings and others may be encouraged to perform the like endeavours.’ They were dealing with the same issues then as we are now.

Then the debate on women in the episcopate began. I will say no more at this moment except, keep offering those prayers!

Almighty God,
you have given your Holy Spirit to the Church
to lead us into all truth:
bless with the Spirit’s grace and presence
the members of the General Synod;
keep them steadfast in faith and united in love,
that they may manifest your glory
and prepare the way of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

A road well travelled

Monday is here and the day when we will take the final vote on the ordination of women to the episcopate. The day will begin with a debate on the Armed Forces Covenant and Community Covenants. Then, no later than 11.15, the main business of this Synod begins.

I just hope for two things. Firstly, we need to do God’s will for the church. Secondly, we need to listen to the message that has come from the dioceses to the Synod. That message is clearly that people believe, as I do, that God wills this for the church, that women and men, equally, all made in the divine image and likeness, should minister in each of the three orders of ministry.

It may feel as though we have been here before but as John Keble wrote – and we commemorate him today –

‘New every morning is the love’

'Show me the path'

‘Show me the path’

There is always a new day with God and the road may seem well travelled but we have never walked as, God willing, we will walk today. Pray that we will find a way to walk together.

God of the journey,
point us to the path you would have us walk
and be our companion on our journey today.

I give my life to him

You must forgive me. I have not been in the Chamber as much today as on other days. I have good excuses. The first obviously is that we were all in the Minster this morning, celebrating the Eucharist and listening to the Revd Jim Wallis who was encouraging us to change the conversation in the nation. Though the eucharist was rather longer than usual and Jim did begin his sermon by admitting that Americans can talk for a long time, it was food to be enlivened by a sermon. I came away from the scriptures – the gospel was the parable of the sower (now do we create soil rich for producing harvest for the common good) – excited and renewed. And the Missa Brevis from the pen of Jonathan Dove was fantastic!

I said earlier that the day was focused more on church. I focused today on two debates – the new texts for baptism and the debate on credit unions.

The texts for baptism are really important. Let us not kid ourselves. This is what we say as people – children and adults become part of the body of Christ, are washed clean from their sins, are born again. So how we describe sin. the world and the devil, how we describe following Christ, being a disciple, giving my life to him is fundamental. But texts are only texts. Christ is the divine Word spoken into creation but our words are but feeble echoes of the divine voice. We cannot get the words right because they cannot begin to get close to the truth which will ever remain indescribable, unutterable. This is why our Hebrew sisters and brothers do not say or write the name of God, because it is not possible. Neither is it possible to do justice to the profound truth we encounter in baptism.

Baptism then ...

Baptism then …

Having said that we have to strive to do our best. But the presentation of the texts in the performance of the liturgy will bring the words off the page and make them live. That is why the guidelines for use that the Liturgical Commission are now producing are so important. We do not always know the best way to present the liturgy so that it is at its most missional, its most pastoral, its most eloquent in the deepest sense.

... and now!

… and now!

These additional texts have been passed to Revision stage but we hope that they emerge even better as they are very good.

The other debate was after a presentation by the Churches’ Mutual Credit Union. I have to confess that when I w as a vicar in east Leeds back in 1991 we talked about forming a credit union and nothing came of it. Nether I nor the congregation had the skills. So I welcomed this debate. It had just been announced that the CofE had disinvested from Wonga. This can be our positive response to that action and a real contribution to the common good. It begs many questions, not least the relationship to the more local credit unions in our areas. But given that at the moment only 1.5% of the adult population in 2013 were members of credit unions there are a great many people out there who could be. I look forward to more information.

2 great teams; 1 great winner.

2 great teams; 1 great winner.

There was a debate in the evening on finance and the Church Commissioners but the final of the World Cup was on. I am no sports fan and was appalling at any competitive sport but I had to watch. I’m sorry for Argentina but they do have Eva Perron to remember and Evita is a great show so life is not altogether bad – ever!

Lord, for all your blessings today,
thank you.
Be with us as we seek to do you will,

On the first day of the week

Each July, when the General Synod meets in York, we head off on Sunday morning to the Minster for the Choral Eucharist. It is good to get off campus and to see the world beyond the Chamber and the place where we eat and the place where we sleep. But even more so, it is wonderful to have the opportunity to go into the Minster and worship there. It is a beautiful sacred space. If I’m honest it is one of my favourite English cathedrals (apart from the one I spend all my time in).

Unbelievably, it is 30 years since that terrible fire broke out in the Minster on 9 July 1984. The news of the fire and the damage it caused sent shock waves round Yorkshire and beyond. I remember it vividly – a few days before I had been ordained priest in the neighbouring cathedral at Ripon – and I can remember the feeling of shock and distress when I heard the news.

A shocking fire at the Minster

A shocking fire at the Minster

So as I step over the threshold today I will give thanks for York Minster and its beauty and the sense of holiness there. I’ll also give thanks that, on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, as buildings can rise to new glory so will we. The building for me is a witness to resurrection hope.

But if the Minster is a sign to us of that so must the church be. The agenda for today in the General Synod has a church focus. We will begin with new baptismal texts. Baptism is, after all, the sacrament of entry into the body of Christ, the church. The remainder of the day looks at the inner workings of the church, through the Archbishops’ Council, the Church Commissioners, through the way we use our money and spend it on mission and ministry. And, as we focus for a time on finances we will look at the way in which the church can suport credit unions and so give hope to those caught up in destructive cycles of debt.

'On the first day of the week ...'

‘On the first day of the week …’

But all of this, on this Sunday, when we proclaim Christ risen, must be in that greater context of the resurrection. If it can happen to buildings it will happen to us.

Risen Lord,
as on the first day of the week
you met Mary in the garden
so meet us in the places
where we will be.
Speak our name,
thrill our hearts
and send us
to proclaim you risen.

Uncommon and good

The one thing that you can say about General Synod is that no two days are alike and you can go on the most amazing journey. I wrote that this morning was centred on legislation. This afternoon was focused on the Common Good.

It was great to have the Revd Jim Wallis with us. I hadn’t heard him speak for years and, personally, I love inspirational and passionate speakers. Jim does get into the corridors of power in the USA and he can add his wisdom to helping to counter the current tendencies we find, not just in the States but in the West as a whole. That I would define as self interest and a loss of a sense of community and the responsibility that we have one for another. I’m not pointing the finger at society, sadly I think it applies to the church as well. Obviously not everywhere but there has been a general tendency to look inward and to self. The fact that we, the Church of England, accepted this as one of the challenges for this quinquennium, addressing the common good, means that there is a commitment at the heart of the church to do what we know we should do.

'As much as you did it ...'

‘As much as you did it …’

Jim told us that his converting text was Matthew 25. I remember when I first heard that passage, first really heard it, as a teenager and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. And then Sydney Carter’s hymn ‘When I needed a neighbour’ came alive for me. The final verse of that hymn stays with me.

Wherever you travel
I’ll be there, I’ll be there.
Wherever you travel
I’ll be there.
And the creed and the colour
And the name won’t matter
I’ll be there.

Have I been? Have I been there for my brother, my sister? It is a real challenge. And Jim made a real challenge to me when he spoke about mass incarceration in the States. He said that all the others that Jesus mentions in Matthew 25 are innocent victims – the sick, the homeless, the naked, the hungry. But the prisoners are not guiltless and yet the gospel demand to us to treat them just the same as all our other brothers and sisters is there and powerful. I had never noticed this and will always notice it now. There is no deserving and underserving poor, no deserving and undeserving person to Jesus, nor to you, nor to me.

Jim’s address was followed by group work and by a debate. But the best bit for me was his presentation.

From the Common Good we moved in the evening session to the vesture of ministers. Look, can I be honest? I think that vestments are important; not as important as the Trinity, not as important as the incarnation, not as important as the resurrection, but they are part of church order and church tradition and they add to that great drama of the liturgy that gives us a glimpse of heaven and they help me understand who I am and what I am doing. But I have been, regularly, in situations where robes are not worn and I can survive and the roof hasn’t fallen in. But the wonderful thing about the CofE is that it is catholic and reformed. In its catholic nature it bears and makes real the tradition of the church and vestments and priesthood are part of this. In its reformed nature we are encouraged to think rationally and from the basis of scripture. All of this gives us huge latitude but also a great deal that fixes us in place and time and purpose and helps to express who we are, what we are doing and the authority we have for doing it.

The Motion before us was passed and to be honest the debate was interesting. I just wait to see what will emerge. I think it is disastrous in the Diocese of Sydney where, as I understand it, vestments, especially eucharistic ones, are banned. That is not Anglican and nor would it be if I insisted that my evangelical sister or brother wore them. In between these positions lies the Anglican spirit and the Anglican way and that is what the Canon must enshrine in a workable and real form.

George Herbert

George Herbert

At the end of an uncommon but good day in Synod I return to a great poem by George Herbert which describes some of this from a truly Anglican position and with reference to the scriptures. The poem is called Aaron.

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.*

Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest :
Poor priest ! thus am I drest.

Only another head
I have another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest :
In Him I am well drest.

Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me e’en dead ;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in Him new drest.

So holy in my Head,
Perfect and light in my dear Breast,
My doctrine tuned by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come, people ; Aaron’s drest.

By grace not law

It can seem a long time, a morning spent on legislation. But in fact it didn’t seem as long as in fact it had been when we finally emerged from the Chamber ready for lunch. Not that I would have wanted the Session any longer!

It was interesting that the Archbishop of York began the day with his Presidential Address and choosing to speak about that fundamental choice that each of us has to make. He took us back to Moses and Deuteronomy 30.19.

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

It is a passage that I love – the stark choices. Why would anyone not choose life and blessing rather than death and curses? But it is a free choice. I set this alongside what Jesus says in St John’s Gospel

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

With Jesus it is gift, abundant gift, and looking into the face of Jesus, the graceful face of Jesus, who could refuse what he brings to us, abundant life. The choice that Moses gives seems to be in the context of so much law and regulation but Jesus’ gift seems to be in the context of love and freedom and relationship – because it is.

So I was grateful that the Archbishop, in speaking of the Ten Commandments, said that they should be read as promise and not command. If you choose life you will live like this because life, true life, abundant life means that you will live like this, is manifested in a life that has the ‘high bar of the kingdom’ to use his phrase. We are called to live differently because that is true living, true and abundant life that exists in that kingdom context of love, freedom and relationship that we find in Jesus.

Nice friendly Moses

Nice friendly Moses

The rest of the morning though was not so much about grace but law. It is wrong though easy to be harsh and critical about the amount of time we spend on legislation. For a complex body, with its variety of responsibilities and the requirement placed on us of justice and care, we have to do things orderly and well. So law is required – but only as long as it does not squeeze out life, otherwise we end up with Moses’ only other options – death and curses!

As it says in the liturgy of our church

Lord, have mercy upon us,
and write all these thy laws in our hearts,
we beseech thee.

An uncommon day

A new day begins with more gentle sunshine. We will shortly be assembling in the Chamber for the next Session and today we look forward to the Presidential Address from the Archbishop of York, various bits of legislative business (this can seem innocuous and boring but be very important), in the evening a postponed debate on the vesture of ministers but in the afternoon the item I am particularly looking forward to.

The Revd Jim Wallis

The Revd Jim Wallis

It will be great to welcome the Revd Jim Wallis to the Synod. I haven’t heard him speak for years and so I’m eager to hear him on ‘The Uncommon Good’. Jim founded the Sojourners Community forty years ago. Based in the USA it stands for ‘faith in action in social justice’. Serving the ‘common good’ is one of the challenges that we accepted as the church in this quinquennium of the life of the Synod and so it is essential that we work out what this means. So the afternoon will be taken up in listening to Jim, then in group work and finally in a debate which will call upon political parties to

‘recognise the role, actual and potential, of churches in sustaining the common good of our communities when drawing up their manifestos for the 2015 General Election.’

This is the church being outward facing and seeking to do what we should be doing, building kingdom values into every community and structure.

Lord Jesus,
who came to serve
not to be served,
teach us to serve the common good
and so make known your kingdom
in uncommon ways.

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