A global view

So often the church is criticised – often with very real justification – for being obsessed with internal affairs. So, as I began this blog from York by saying, Synod concluded this five years of our life with a day looking wider, more globally. The subject was climate change and what our response to what is clearly happening is going to be. The principal question was how our policy with regard to climate change would influence the investments that we make as a church.

The day fell into three distinct parts – bible study, then policy, then the application of that policy with regard to the investmnent policy of the church.

For the past few years we have been meeting for study in small groups and the membership of those groups has always been the same. This has meant that we have been able to get to know a variety of people from across the Church of England. Our task this morning was to look at two texts – from Genesis 1 in which of humankind it says

God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ (Genesis 1.28)

What do those words ‘subdue’ and ‘dominion’ actually mean to us? Do they give us carte blanche to do what we want to the earth or do they imply something that involves more of a sense of care rather than power?

The second text was from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now. (Romans 8.22)

What does that mean to us – the poetry and the reality of what Paul is saying to us?

Out of these two texts we had a very good discussion and especially about the way that we each respond personally to the challenge and whether – and we talked honestly about this – the issues were a real priority for us. For some people global, climate issues seem to be foremost – for others it is issues of poverty or injustice that seem to demand their attention. Maybe, the truth is – and this came out in the debates later in the day – there shouldn’t be a separation in these things, they are interwoven with the poorest suffering the effects of climate change the most, already.

St Francis by Giotto

St Francis by Giotto

I was thinking however about St Francis. His ‘Canticle of the Sun’ expresses the depth of the relationship that he had with every aspect of creation, an intimate, familial relationship. He could feel the groaning of creation, as he could feel the groaning of his sisters and brothers.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Developing something of that relationship, embracing something of that theology, must be important for the church and that is, of course, where Pope Francis begins in his encyclical ‘Laudato si’ – ‘Be praised’ – which his holy namesake uses throughout his Canticle. We have to develop a love affair with the earth, a love affair with creation, which of course those who have had the privilege to see the earth from space are drawn into. The astronaut Roan Garan, reflecting in his time in space and looking at the earth, said in an interview

I think it’s very difficult not to be moved when you look at our planet from space. You see how beautiful it is, how fragile it is. You really get this feeling of, we’ve been given an incredible gift.

It is that passion for the earth that we have to capture as people who believe in the Creator God.

God's handiwork - God's gift

God’s handiwork – God’s gift

The debates that followed raised many of these issues. But I was especially pleased when Duncan Dormer reminded us that ‘We must hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’ and when the Bishop of Salisbury concluded our first debate by saying, ‘Economic justice and climate justice must go together.’

The debate in the morning and the one on investments in the afternoon were almost unanimously supported by the Synod. But what Elaine Storkey said in the morning is the real challenge to us ‘We have the resources and the theology but have we the will?’

It goes back to yesterday – words are not enough, we need action. The challenge to me is, what can I do?

I leave Synod with that call to action, a call to prayer and fasting for justice – economic justice and climate justice. But as the Bishop of Chelmsford said to us (and I paraphrase), ‘Stop praying for something unless you are prepared to be part of the solution.’

Synod has been prorogued – it is no more. Five years have passed. I need to reflect on what we have done – but we have ended well.

Creator God,
for all your goodness in creation
we praise you.
May I play my part
in caring for your good gift.

Not just words

Eliza Doolittle in the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ comes to the point of exasperation ‘Words, words words!’ she exclaims and then breaks into song and sings

Don’t talk of stars, burning above
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams, filled with desire
If you’re on fire, show me!

Has Eliza something to say to us?

Has Eliza something to say to us?

General Synod on our Sunday in York always escapes the campus and heads for the centre of the city and the beauty of the Minster to join with the congregation there for the Choral Eucharist. But it is a short break because then we head back as the business resumes in the afternoon. But it was good to be in York Minster – such a wonderful place in which to worship and good to hear Archbishop Justin preach. As part of what he said he reminded us that ‘the church is called to a loving critique of the secular power’. That could be about telling those in power, nationally or locally, what they should be doing. Words. But what is much more powerful is the showing. Later in the day the Bishop of Chelmsford, as he introduced a presentation on the work of MEAC (Minority Ethic Anglican Concerns), said ‘Stop praying for peace; stop praying that the hungry are fed – unless you are prepared to be part of the solution’. As Eliza would say

If you’re on fire, show me!

The first item of business in the afternoon was about words, new, alternative words for the Rite of Baptism. The words we have in Common Worship are thought by many to be inaccessible, a barrier to understanding to many of those who come to baptism or bring their babies to be baptised. And even the words that we approved today can still be challenging if you have had no upbringing in the Christian faith. What does to ‘die with Christ and rise with him’ mean? It isn’t obvious when we just hear it. If you’re on fire, show me!

We worry so much about texts for liturgy and that is not wrong – words are very important and the right words are very important and accessible language is very important – but they are only part of the story. It is in the liturgy that we express our doctrine as Anglicans, but we also do it when we ‘perform’, ‘present’, ‘act out’, make real the words in the liturgy. The words have to live, have life breathed into them and through them.

Don’t talk of love lasting through time
Make me no undying vow
Show me now!

After a short debate on Standing Orders we returned to liturgy. The regulations about the Administration of Holy Communion have been amended by this Synod to allow children to be ministers of the Eucharist. This was the final stage of approval of this change. But this is exactly what we mean by showing and not just speaking. When we see children participating in giving the sacrament to those who come to receive it, then we will see that they are equally the church, as much as older people are, and as validly and as fully. We will not just say it we will be able to show it. It will be a powerful, living, eloquent statement of who are.

The afternoon ended – before an introduction to tomorrow’s group work – with the presentation by MEAC that I have already mentioned. The painful truth, which Bishop Stephen Cottrell pulled no punches in speaking about, is that as far as the numbers of black and minority ethic people in leadership positions in the church is concerned we are going backwards and not forwards. Words are not enough he was saying to us, don’t just pray for black and minority vocations, work for them; we need affirmative action.

The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, one of more prominent black priests

The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, one of more prominent black priests

There was a great film shown which highlighted the issues. We simply do not look like the church that we are, and the church that God calls us to be, the church God has already created and blessed and empowered. The church of the day of Pentecost was multi-ethnic, multi-cultural but the church we see before us in Synod and in the nation is a poor and pale reflection of that.

Great words were being said, as you can imagine, but words are not enough. We have to mean what we say and put them into action, we have to show a different face to the nation and to the world. It was a powerful debate and we have to behave differently. And we can do better, we know that.

The point was well made that last year we approved the ordination of women as bishops. Already we have six women, in or about to be in episcopal orders. We have shown that we can move swiftly when we want to and the face of the House of Bishops is changing. So what has stopped us moving as swiftly where black, Asian and minority ethnic people are concerned? Is there still a deep down racism at work, do we not care, are we acting out of unconscious bias and prejudice? These are series and sobering questions.

God did not just speak his word, he sent his word and showed his Word in Jesus, for as John says

And the Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1.14)

God loved and spoke and acted – and he calls us to do the same.

Don’t talk of love lasting through time
Make me no undying vow
Show me now!

And God has!

God of the Living Word,
may the words I speak
be made real in the things I do;
in the power of your Word,

From bats to sentinels

Who ever said life in Synod is boring? Where else could you be on a Saturday in July that would take you from bats to sentinels in just a few hours? I said that this Group of Sessions was about tying up loose ends and, metaphorically speaking, putting the cat out. But it’s proving to be much more than that.

One of the joys of the day was being able to see Bishop Michael Perham again. Michael’s departure from Gloucester was overshadowed by events and his formal farewell from Synod delayed. But now we had the opportunity to thank him for all that he gave to the church, in the places where he ministered and on the bigger stage. I was always struck by his ability to see the big picture and to be able to galvanise support from his (then) brother bishops in support of the ordination of his (to be) sister bishops. I had the privilege to be involved in some late night tactical meetings during the debates on the ordination of women to the episcopate in which Michael brought together a range of us who were concerned to see this happen and who, in some way, represented a constituency. I was there because of my role in the Society of Catholic Priests and, I have to say, brought little to the meetings (I’m not a tactician). So I gained more from sitting there than I gave and what I gained, amongst other things, was a deep respect for Michael. We will miss him. The warmth of the applause as Synod rose to its collective feet to bid farewell to him was no more than he deserved.

Bishop Michael - a final farewell

Bishop Michael – a final farewell

The day began however with a draft Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure. Creating a safe church is one of the most important tasks that faces the church at the moment. It is all about the core values that we have and the core values in the ministry of Jesus and the core values in the Good News that we bring. But the behaviour of individuals and the institution as a whole has not just let down people and the nation but betrayed Christ. Safeguarding takes up a huge amount of time, emotional energy and resources at the moment – and that is as it should be. We owe it to survivors and we owe it to those who come to us in trust and bring their children to us in trust and think that we can be trusted and that the church is a safe place, is a sanctuary for them in their vulnerability, to do better and to do what is right. Too often we have not been a safe place.

Getting it right at the moment seems to be all about policies and procedures. Of course, at the moment it is and this was what the debate centred on. But we mustn’t forget that what is even more important is a change of culture, a change of mind-set, a change of behaviour. If Southwark Cathedral, for instance, is to be a truly inclusive church then it must be a safe church and that means that everyone of us who worships or works there has to believe that to be our first responsibility, our first priority and live and learn and be, so that that is true and so that the parent of a child or a vulnerable person can trust that it is true.

It was fantastic that in the voting the whole Synod gave its full support to this Measure and the Amending Canon that accompanied it. But the work continues – in fact it has only begun.

The bats appeared in a debate that followed on the new Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015. These have come out of the ‘simplification’ process. As one person commented, it can only be in the church that a 126 page document could be described as simple. But through the revisions the processes whereby a PCC applies for a Faculty to do work in church, and the work of the DAC and the Archdeacon and Registrar as well as the Chancellor of the Diocese are clarified and in many cases streamlined (in fact Archdeacons come out of it with more work and responsibilities but they seem to welcome that).

One great comment though that has been well Tweeted was by one member who said that there were three things in his view that stood in the way of mission in rural churches ‘blocked gutters, bats and the Victorian Society’. The gutters create damp and decaying church buildings; the bats create a stinking environment that keeps people away and the Victorian Society, with its devotion to poor examples of Victorian pitch-pine pews, stands in the way of the flexible use of space by church and wider community.

Bats and the church

Bats and the church

Before I’m attacked for being anti-bats or anti the Victorian Society no one was saying either of those things and neither am I. But it was a plea to work together on issues that face churches and can hamper the purpose of our great buildings. No one spoke in defence of blocked gutters!

It was good to see the work of the ‘Simplification Group’ coming through in such a helpful way.

In between these debates there was another example of simplification and that was in relation to the creation of ‘interim posts’. These will be appointments for up to three years, renewable for a further three, of a priest whose specific job is to look after a parish or group that needs particular skills and care in the interim. It works well in other parts of the Anglican Communion, not least the Episcopal Church in the USA, and gives dioceses real flexibility in the future.

After lunch and the farewell to Bishop Michael we moved into a take note debate on the report of the Faith and Order Commission on Senior Church Leadership. In what could easily have been seen as a bit of a ‘graveyard slot’ after lunch it was a really excellent debate. There is a huge amount of talk at the moment in the Church of England about leadership. I have been involved, as a Dean, in the mini-MBA that has been organised for us in Cambridge. It was excellent but I was very concerned at the lack of space in that course to reflect theologically on what we understand as leadership in the church.

The Green Report was also heavily criticised – and I think justifiably so – for too much emphasis and us of language drawn from business models of leadership especially when those models have led the world into financial crisis, Greece to the edge of the abyss and the poorest and most vulnerable picking up the bill. Has that model anything valid to say to us?

This, by contrast, is a very good report and has much to say and much to teach and from a deeply biblical and theological basis. The quality of the debate reflected that. After all, what does it mean to be a leader in the church when you are principally a follower; as one speaker said ‘Before you were a leader you were a Christian’ and it is that prior calling and vocation out of which all else flows. What does it mean to be a successful leader when Jesus looked like a failure in the world’s eyes and when those he ‘led’ fled from him? What does it mean to hitch your life and ministry to one who says in Matthew and Mark

‘the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve’ (Matthew 20.28)

who in John’s Gospel washes his disciples feet and assumes the role of the servant, who as Paul says in Philippians 2.7

’emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,’

This is a challenge to all of us in leadership positions. At the moment the church seems obsessed with bishops and the number of old Sees being revived and filled is a testimony to that. What happened to the NHS when it was seen to be failing – create more top level leaders!

Simon Stylites - a model for episcopal ministry?

Simon Stylites – a model for episcopal ministry?

So I was pleased that the Bishop of Chelmsford reminded us of something in the Ordinal for Bishops, that a bishop is called and set apart to be, amongst other things, a sentinel. He admitted it could be boring, just watching, but having that oversight, the long view, to see what is coming, to celebrate and to warn, to look to the horizon – it was a great reminder. From the top of the tower you might even see the bats coming!

Lord Jesus,
you call us to be followers,
servants of others,
and friends.
May that be our vocation.

Crossing boundaries

One of the great things about the Synod are the group of ecumenical observers who join us in the Chamber and very faithfully sit through the debates – however turgid they are. It is a work of great charity on their part. It was very good to see Canon John O’Toole amongst the others representing the Roman Catholic Church. John was, until fairly recently, the Dean of St George’s Cathedral, Southwark. He was a good friend to us at Southwark Cathedral and a member of our Cathedral Council and gave us real encouragement in our Living God process. Responding on behalf of the welcome to our ecumenical guests was the Most Revd Dr Antje Jackelen, the Archbishop of Uppsala in the Church of Sweden.

She spoke beautifully and well, and concluded, in talking about crossing boundaries, about the God in whom we believe, who crossed the greatest and the riskiest boundary, between the divine and the human, and in Jesus became as we are. It was a real reminder to me in all our debates and concerns about borders and boundaries and the concerns that many have about keeping people ‘out’, that this is not what God does.

A human tide crossing the borders

A human tide crossing the borders

The incarnation is the great border crossing and the cross becomes the bridge between earth and heaven, a reflection (or is it the other way round) of the ladder that Jacob sees in his dream. God spans our divides, breaks through our walls, challenges our isolation and confronts the fear of the other that we so often display. I love the name of the great aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières, ‘Doctors without borders’. They work they do is fantastic but their name is a challenge to us when we want to work within boundaries and protect our borders – national or church.

The whole business of greater unity between Christians, of which our ecumenical guests are a reminder to us, will demand that we break down the walls that divide us as it is described so beautifully in the letter to the Ephesians

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2.14)

This is the work of Jesus and therefore the work of the church. And it was of the work of Jesus, as found in John 17, that the Archbishop of York spoke in his Presidential Address to Synod.

The remainder of the afternoon was taken up with some procedural and legislative business including the Report by the Business Committee and an item on the Administration of Communion Regulations which would allow all those who are communicants – including children – to be ministers of the Eucharist.

However, the afternoon concluded as we were given the first taste of what will be the major business of this Group of Sessions when we had a presentation by the Ethical Investment Advisory Group and the National Investing Bodies on climate change and fossil fuels. In an excellent presentation we heard about the foundational thinking and biblical exegesis that lay behind the proposed new policy. I found it very encouraging, as it was reasonable and moderate. What I mean is that whilst I am fully behind the climate change agenda and the end of dependence on fossil fuels I have to recognise that affecting change will not be easy and the financial implications for the church have to be carefully managed.

Earth - our beautiful, fragile and damaged home

Earth – our beautiful, fragile and damaged home

The truth is of course that whilst ever we have investments in fossil fuel companies we have a place at the table of their decision making, the opportunity to influence thinking and levers that we can pull. If we disinvest we will lose some of those advantages. The point was made that there are many people waiting behind the church who will be happy to pick up the investments that we give up – so will it really send the jitters into this market if we disinvest. But the issues of global warming and the effect upon the poorest communities in the world are real and pressing.

A very good point was made in the presentation – and I paraphrase ‘We are not talking here about tobacco, disinvesting in tobacco manufacturers. We don’t need tobacco. We do need energy.’ So there is a subtle debate to be had around investment, influence and encouraging research and development. It was a good start to what we will return to later on this weekend.

The day ended where the first day always ends – Questions – 84 had been tabled, the opportunity we have to seek the truth and the facts and to keep issues warm that could be allowed to go cold. But for me the major message of the day has been about borders.

John Donne’s great sonnet,’Batter my heart’, begins like this

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

My own walls, my own borders and barriers, the ways I try to keep God out, also need to be broken down so that Christ may be my, our, peace.

Lord Jesus, you entered my life,
may I enter fully into yours.

The last lap

So, we are in York for the final time of this quinquennium.  Time flies when you’re having fun of course and there have been memorable moments during these last few years.  Who knows if this Group of Sessions will give us anything memorable.  I suppose it all depends on the mood – last day of term, ready to party, released, sad – yes, even sad I think for those who won’t be standing again.  Synod is a place where you make a great many friends, from across the church and between the traditions.  And it is a great place to catch up with your friends.  None of us knows, of course, if we will be returning.  After the last General Election we know that anything can happen when you ask people to vote – the most surprising things!

The beauty of York

The beauty of York

I’ve been billeted on part of the York Campus in which I’ve never stayed before – Alcuin.  It feels a long way from the Central Hall where all the sessions are held but I haven’t yet ventured from my room, so I don’t really know.  I always have to unpack first – I can’t settle without doing that.  I have a need to create a little nest and putting things way, in the drawers, in the wardrobe and leaving the room neat and the suitcase hidden away is my way of doing that.

I also didn’t arrive in time for the meeting of the Convocation.  This is the gathering of all the clergy and had been called so that we could give further consideration and final approval to ‘The Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy’.  I was sorry to miss the meeting as the guidelines are really important.  But I couldn’t leave Southwark until I had led the final service of the year for Cathedral School.

In fact it was a fantastic service.  The whole of Year 5 sat on the tower space with me and the service involved every one of them and most of them reflecting on their time in Cathedral School and what they had to give thanks for.  It was extremely moving, and the things that they said about the teachers and their parents and what they had learnt and the way in which they had grown in confidence was very affecting.

The youngest were sitting right at the front, watching these older children speak.  They must have seemed very old to them but just as with these five years of this Synod those leaving all said that their time in the school had flown past – so it won’t be long before the children in Reception are leaving. I was just immensely proud of the children and of the whole school community.

What do these days in York hold for us? Well just as when you are getting ready to leave somewhere there are those final tasks to do, clear the fridge, empty the bins, take the cat to the cattery, water the plants and wind the clock.  It is that that we are doing here – metaphorically speaking.  So there are a lot of loose ends to be tied up, final approvals to be given, and last words to be said.  But there is something that is of major importance and that is combatting climate change and how our investment policies can assist us in that.  In the light of the Pope’s encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ this is very timely and it will be good to bring this particular five years to a conclusion not with an inward looking debate on the church but an outward looking debate on the world.

If you’re wondering who Alcuin was, after whom the college I am in is named, well, according to Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne he was  “The most learned man anywhere to be found.” He was born in Northumberland in 734 and died in 804 when he was Abbot of Tours.  He had been part of the community at York Minster and is very well known as a writer and especially with a concern for the liturgy of the church.  He really is a great saint – so I’m happy to be on the edge of the campus in this college.



But I must get to the Chamber – after I have asked you to pray for us, please.

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. Amen.

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