Without limits

I apologise if I got a bit grumpy yesterday – but that it was how it felt and it needed to be said. But a new day brings a new beginning. Keble’s great hymn is always a place to begin the day.

New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.

A new day in Westminster

A new day in Westminster

It seemed that Synod was ‘restored to life and power and thought’ and what resulted were some debates that were extremely good – Synod at its best. After the opening eucharist we moved into an area of work which has rightly occupied a great deal of time during this Quinquennium, and I’m obviously not talking about the ordination of women.

Some revisions to measures and canons in relation to safeguarding were before us. These were part of the constant process of getting this area of our life right, in terms of process, in terms of clarity and making sure that the needs and views of survivors of abuse are properly taken account of.

Then we moved, after Standing Orders, to a debate about how we deal pastorally and liturgically with those who have committed suicide. It’s a subject that is very difficult and delicate and especially for those of us who have had experience of suicide in the family, or amongst our friends, or in the parish. But one of the most powerful speeches – and there were many – came from a member of the Youth Council who talked in terms of the frightening number of young people who take their own life – more than one a day at the present time. Many are young men, many have been self harming and all are loved by God. The strong sense that came across in the debate was that God’s love is without limits. Fr Thomas Seville CR made the important point that by being compassionate we were not condoning suicide, and that was very clear in the debate. But at the same time the old sense that suicide set some one so apart from God that they were to be denied the ministrations of the church was absent and the final, overwhelming vote of the Synod in favour of changing how we work was very moving.

The afternoon opened with a debate on the new, alternative baptismal texts, which are specifically for use on those occasions when the congregation present might have a more peripheral association with church and the faith and need more accessible language. This is the hinterland I was talking about the other day in relation to discipleship and so it was good that the new texts were approved. But again it is about expressing the breadth of love that God has for all his children, all of creation, rather than the narrowness and the begrudging attitudes that often seem to come from the church.

Fr Faber - prophets come in many forms

Fr Faber – prophets come in many forms

At so many services nowadays we sing an old Fr Faber hymn that seems to become more and more relevant to where we are, an almost prophetic message to us who are working to create a more inclusive, welcoming church that mirrors the nature of the kingdom.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

And the words which should always challenge us

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Synod was in a better and more inclusive place today.

With a final debate on mission and growth in rural parishes this Group of Sessions came to an end. This was our last time in Westminster for this Quinquennium. We next meet in York in July and when we are next in Westminster – well, it will be a new Synod and who knows who will have been returned to continue this important, frustrating but vital work of enabling the Church of England to be the visible sign and presence of God’s inclusive, welcoming, embracing kingdom of justice, mercy and peace.

Lord, for all we have done, thank you;
for all we failed to do, forgive us;
for all we could do, inspire us;
for all we shall do, bless us;
in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

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Grumpy

I ended yesterday reflecting on the apparent energy levels – or rather lack of energy – that there appeared to be present in the Synod.  I suppose today the only word for my experience of Synod is ‘grumpy’.  I was only able to be around in the morning and so wasn’t there to experience what happened when people got back into the Chamber in the afternoon.  But I was there for the two parts of the morning – small group work looking at discipleship and then a much larger ‘hearing’ on one of the Task Group reports.

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The discussion about discipleship was in preparation for the debate that was to take place in the afternoon.  People told their own stories of deepening their own relationship with Christ, what it was that created the step change in their Christian commitment.  As one person described it it was about moving from being a ‘receiver’ to being a ‘disciple’. I can’t say that anything startling emerged from the discussion and there could have been a lot more passion around, given that it should be a subject that we are passionate about. But it was a good beginning and helped me to understand a little more about what other people mean when they talk about discipleship.  We often speak about the same things but use different language!

The Task Group presentation I had chosen to attend was on the ‘Green’ report about selection and training of senior leaders in the church.  A lot of the provision is for the development of bishops and deans and so I was particularly interested in that.  In fact I have signed up to be part of the mini-MBA which is being run for Deans in the last week of Lent.  Having read Public Administration for my first degree I’m really interested in what the language and the direction of the course will be like.  But, like many people, I suppose my concern is with a secular management model which seems to be at the background of the proposals, although the Bishop of Ely was at pains to point out that this is not in fact the case.

But the proposals were being rolled out even as we sat there talking about it (hence signing up for the course already) and so this was much more information sharing than giving Synod members any real chance of changing things – and this is what makes us grumpy.

As far as I understand it, and as I say, sadly I wasn’t there, that became more apparent in the afternoon.  If we were ‘CofE plc’ and Synod members were the shareholders who gather to hear reports about the decisions and actions of the Board of Directors then we might expect to be treated like this.  But we aren’t.  The truth is that we are a church episcopally led and synodically governed.  We may have some things to learn from business but we are not a business and Synod is made up of two elected house and one house unelected in the democratic sense.  If that is ignored then of course people will get grumpy.

We finish tomorrow – so we will see what the mood and the energy is.

Save us, O Lord, while waking,
and guard us while sleeping,
that awake we may watch with Christ
and asleep may rest in peace.

Energy levels

In the presentation of the task group reports in preparation for the work we will be engaged in tomorrow morning, Bishop Pete Broadbent, who was presenting ‘Simplification’, said to Synod that there appeared to have been a drop in energy levels. I think he was right, it wasn’t just me with a heavy cold who felt a bit stultified by the afternoon; it felt as though we all did.

Energy levels were low

Energy levels were low

I went back into the Chamber in time to vote against the final stage of the change in names of dioceses legislation. Thank God it was defeated! Why are some people so dismissive of the inheritance of the church that we enjoy and have received with joy? The church exists in the local and bishops exist and relate to that local and what is more, urban, reality. That has always been the case and I think for good reason. If it really is a block to mission – well, I cannot believe it. What is more of a block is not having confidence in Christ who is the head of the church, Christ who was incarnate in the particular, in the urban setting, who died in the particular, urban setting and who prepares a place for us in the named place, the heavenly Jerusalem. Of course a region has souls in it, but it does not have that particular, located feeling. Anyway, it is off the books. Hurrah!

So that excited me and normally I am excited by Questions (a bit of rough and tumble) but, perhaps because this was a new way of doing (managing) it, it felt less exciting, less responsive. The answers are printed in advance in the booklet that used only to contain the questions. The answer is assumed to have been read and supplimentaries are then taken. I found all of that quite a lot to get a handle on – remembering what the discussion was about from what you have read. But we need to give it time.

But that may have rather subdued Synod, hence Bishop Pete’s comments and add to that the raft of papers for tomorrow. But that is tomorrow!

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.

Here we are again

The tea room at Synod is buzzing but for once it isn’t about the ordination of women to the episcopate that we’re all talking about. That is all done – well the legislation certainly is and as if to prove it Bishop Libby appeared in the gallery for the beginning of Synod. We now have to settle and establish the ‘new normal’ into the life of the church but that is not the business now of the Synod – although we are good at creating conducive or jarring background music!

I’m not sure what people are talking about as I sit here typing, perhaps I should ask them! It may be the ‘Green Report’ on developing senior leadership. It has been less than fortunate that Lord Green and HSBC have been in the headlines before we get to discuss (be it only in a task group) the report. His ears were probably burning during the report of the Business Committee when various people raised questions around process in relation to the report. Opinion seems to be divided about the report so it will be an interesting discussion to be part of.

They could be talking about discipleship because that is on the agenda. Like a great many words in the church it becomes loaded (I think they say ‘freighted’ nowadays) with particular meaning. Not being from an evangelical background I don’t use the term ‘disciple’ with quite the same sense of ‘that is what people who go to church should be’ as others do. Perhaps as well, being in a Cathedral I’m very conscious that the hinterland in church is very great. And it seems to me that it was that great hinterland of the curious and the sceptical and the hungry and the desperate that Jesus and his disciples – a specific group – ministered to. We are called to discipleship of course in the sense of following but not all will be disciples and we are the church of the great hinterland – we call it the parish. But more of that later.

The great hinterland - or all disciples?

The great hinterland – or all disciples?

They could be talking about how Synod opened with an address from Archbishop Bashar Warda, Archbishop of the Chaldean Diocese of Erbil in Iraq. He spoke with such dignity about the plight of his brother and sister Christians in that land, so many of whom have fled. He asked for our prayers and support in any way that we can give it. One of the things we are still doing in Southwark Cathedral is selling the Nasrani candles to support Canon Andrew White’s work out in Baghdad. A small thing in many ways, but a powerful way to pray.

Archbishop Warda, a man of dignity

Archbishop Warda, a man of dignity

They could be talking about Archbishop Justin’s Presidential Address. He spoke about evangelism and witness as not being strategies but as being essential to the nature of the church. He mentioned a great phrase, from a book about to be published, which I must remember, ‘the plural of disciple is church’. Then he concluded by saying ‘If we wait until we’re fit to witness we’ll wait for ever.’ As ever, it was a great address.

I’m sure there will be a lot of chatter during these three days. It’s a short Synod and the penultimate of this Quinquennium. Some big changes are on the horizon and we have not to lose sight of them because they will begin to define what the Church of England looks like in the future and I, for one, want to be able to recognise what emerges as the catholic church – sacramental, evangelical, vocational, inclusive, generous – which I love.

God, bless Synod:
God, bless it’s members
and guide us by your Holy Spirit
and in the name of your son,
Jesus Christ.
Amen.

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