Outward looking

It was a fascinating final day in General Synod and I’m delighted about that, especially for all those who are new to Synod (43% I heard, which is amazing). Often people get very frustrated that we seem to spend all of our time talking about internal politics – about women and sex and money – those kinds of things. Well, the good news was that on the third day the focus was beyond the church.

We began with Archbishop Sentamu and his wife Margaret telling us about their recent visit to the Pacific islands including Fiji and Samoa and the way in which communities there are being threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change. The whole presentation was fascinating and especially in the light of the Climate Change Conference that is about to take place and the fact that, as we listened in the Chamber, pilgrims were walking from the UK to arrive in Paris as a witness to our concern for the planet.

What was especially moving was a visual and spoken prayer delivered on a video by one of the Archbishops in the Pacific. The images were staggeringly beautiful and a celebration of the richness of the oceans. This was contrasted with images of the environmental effects of mankind’s greed and the effects of worshipping at the false God of profit.

When I worked for a time in the USA I loved a phrase in one of their Eucharistic prayers, Prayer C

At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.

The fragility of this island home is really being made real to us.

Beautiful and fragile - our island home

Beautiful and fragile – our island home

The first real debate of this Group of Sessions highlighted another fragility and that is with regard to refugees. The debate was on our response to the Migrant Crisis. It was timely and much welcomed by the whole of Synod. It was, in fact, a very good debate and there were some really good speeches made. My own amendment was not in fact accepted by the Synod – but that was ok. Getting to make a speech on the importance of the subject and our disappointment with regard to the response of the Government, specifically in terms of the number of refugees we will be welcoming over the next five years, was a welcome chance to make what I believe is an important point. But, of course, I am pleased that even 20,000 refugees will be given a new and safe home with us and an on-going commitment to 0.7% of GDP for overseas aid is exemplary. But we can and, I believe, should do more.

The final vote on the motion, amended with a new clause proposed by Canon Giles Goddard at the prompting of the Bishop of Croydon and giving added strength to its final form, resulted in a fantastic 333 in favour, 0 against and only 3 abstentions. This was a clear message to the nation that we are committed to the ministry of hospitality that we see in Jesus whose extended arms always draw us in.

There was for me, to be honest, something of a Trojan Horse moment when the Archbishop of Canterbury made a speech during the debate which seemed to suggest that in voting for this Motion we were in effect saying that there was no option other than military intervention in Syria. Now, I may be wrong and it was one of those moments when I was so surprised that I couldn’t quite get the words down. He may well be right and he is politically astute but I wasn’t quite sure what I was voting for when I voted in favour!

There was then some legislative business at which moment the tea room became packed before we filled the Chamber again for a presentation on Public Perceptions of Jesus. This was an unpacking of the research that was behind the report ‘Talking Jesus’. Now, it was Mark Twain who famously said ‘There are lies, damned lies and statistics.’ We certainly met with some statistics and some scenarios – it was mind-boggling. The basic idea behind the research was ‘If you are a Christian and you talk to someone not a Christian about Jesus what effect does it have?’

The basic answer seems to be very little or a negative effect in that they are put off and don’t want to hear any more. So perhaps we shouldn’t talk about Jesus at all and let God get on with setting people’s hearts on fire as on the road to Emmaus. Jesus seemed to do a much better job when he appeared as the stranger on the road and broke open the word and broke the bread which revealed his presence, a much better job than we manage to do when we talk about him. ‘Gogglebox’ vicar, the Revd Kate Bottley, Tweeted later on yesterday an image which said

‘Sometimes the best evangelism is simply telling people you’re a Christian and then not being a complete jerk.’

As it would say on exam papers – ‘Discuss’! But the stats are of course are useful and open up a conversation about how we do evangelism and they revealed the real gap that lies at the heart of the congregations – the younger middle aged – or was that just revealing something about their sample group?

The final debate was on the report of the Church Buildings Review Group. The debate had been anticipated by those who picked up the recommendation about ‘Festival Churches’ – churches which wouldn’t be closed but where the regular round of worship required of parish churches wouldn’t happen but festivals would be celebrated (well, that’s how I understand it). But there was much more besides in this very good report with some excellent theology on sacred place by the Bishop of Worcester who started from the writings of George McLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, who talked of ‘thin places’. That is really what T S Eliot picks up on in ‘Little Gidding’ one of his ‘Four Quartets’.

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

Our 16,000 churches are places in our communities made ‘valid’ by prayer. But how do they become a true asset and not a burden is the question we have to ask – and at heart it is a mission question. In Luke 9 Jesus ‘sends out’ his apostles and they then ‘return’. This is all about place – they went out on mission, they returned to the place of sending. Church has to be the missionary base as well as the place of festival, where the table is set and the bread is broken, where the people gather and heaven touches earth and earth touches heaven. It will be exciting to see how this report in its outworking will enable our theology of place to enable our life of worship and mission.

Little Gidding - a thin place

Little Gidding – a thin place

At the end of almost all the Groups of Sessions there is a farewell and on this occasion it was the Secretary General, William Fittall, who was leaving. He has served the church in this capacity for 13 years but has also served the church within the Diocese of Southwark (before his more recent move) as a Reader. His skills in administration, negotiation and diplomacy are grounded in a real faith in Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Justin began this Group of Sessions with a fantastically clever and amusing address in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and he ended this Synod with an equally polished performance in tribute to William who, in turn, gave a great response.

So we left Westminster after retrieving bags and coats (all black of course so much confusion in the cloakroom!) and I left feeling very positive about the next five years. If it continues in this spirit maybe God can work through us.

Lord God,
bless the members of the Synod,
bless the work that continues,
bless the church we serve,
bless the people of this nation,
bless the world, your creation,
that we may be one in your service.

Crown and mitre

There’s a wonderful chandelier in Southwark Cathedral suspended from a chain on which are displayed the symbols of power – a crown, a mitre and the dove. It is a constant reminder to us at Southwark Cathedral of this ‘power game’ and it has been since Mrs Appleby gave it in memory of her husband back in 1680. It was brought to life for us today as this Tenth General Synod was inaugurated.

Southwark Chand

The Great Chandelier of Southwark


It’s always a good morning this first morning of a new General Synod, all getting dressed up, then going across in dribs-and-drabs to stand in the cold cloisters of Westminster Abbey waiting to be formed into a procession, then sitting for another three quarters of an hour in the church waiting for the service to begin.  But as the fanfare sounds and we know that Her Majesty has entered the Abbey it all becomes worth it.

The preacher on this occasion was the Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalmessa OFM Cap. Stood in the pulpit facing Her Majesty and The Duke of Edinburgh wearing his simple habit he seemed an incongruous figure, so simple, so understated.  His sermon, I thought, was fantastic, anticipating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 and pondering what Luther and Cranmer would be saying to us today.  But one part of the sermon struck a chord as he talked about the unity of the church for which Christ prayed.

Fr Raniero spoke about our Christian brothers and sisters suffering for their faith in places like Syria. He said that it is not important whether they are Catholics, Anglicans or Pentecostalists.  To their oppressors, to those murdering them, they are Christians, ‘to them we are already one’ he said.  I hadn’t thought of it like that before.  The action of our persecutors has highlighted our oneness in Christ.

Her Majesty then joined us in the Assembly Hall for the formal inauguration of the Synod.  As I’ve said it is the Tenth General Synod and The Queen has inaugurated each of them in her long reign.  But what a difference.  There in the front row of the bishops sat the Bishop of Gloucester, Bishop Rachel Treweek; the Bishop of Stockport, Bishop Libby Lane had read the Gospel; and there was the Bishop of Newcastle, to be consecrated on Monday, Christine Hardman. But Her Majesty spoke of the timelessness of Christ and brought us back to the one we worship and serve.

In the afternoon we then began the real business of the Synod – a much shorter Synod then  usual.  Archbishop Justin gave a Presidential Address in which he talked about the purpose of being in synod, about how we must disagree well and how everything we said and did was now in ‘the shadow of Paris.’

We then moved on to the debate on the Report of the Business Committee and then, after an introduction to worship in the Synod by the new Chaplain, we moved on to a presentation on ‘Reform & Renewal’.

This R&R will certainly frame a great deal of what we will be thinking and talking about over these next five years – simplification, the use of our resources, ministry and training, and more besides. There is a feeling around that people are ready for it but also some unease about what lies behind it and what kind of church we will be left with.  If it is leaner and more agile, if it is more responsive to society, if it is shaped for mission but also retains all that is rich and good and catholic about the church then I will be happy.

But ‘simplification’ can be used as a bit of a Trojan Horse. Questions followed and as this was a new Synod there will only 42 as opposed to the usual 90+. Questions give you a good idea about what is rattling around. No surprise that equal marriage was there, no surprise that there was a question about disciplining clergy who are married to a same sex partner. It’s no surprise that money features, the effect of tax credits on hard-pressed clergy families, climate change and ethical investments.  But there is always the surprise and that was a question about the use of mitres and whether the House of Bishops provides guidance on the wearing of them. Perhaps it would be simpler if we didn’t have them was, I thought, the underlying message.


‘Now, which one?’


This, like all the questions, was carefully and expertly batted away. The answer is of course ‘no’ – the House of Bishops doesn’t issue guidance.  Bishops respond to where they are as to what they wear.  Bishop Pete Broadbent, in giving the answer, said that in many black congregations you were expected to wear one.  Not just black congregations!

Long before I was Dean I was Chaplain to the Bishop of Southwark.  He had been invited to visit a Primary School in the Diocese which was attached to a very conservative evangelical church.  When I rang the Vicar to talk through the visit he was insistent the Bishop wear a suit. When I spoke to the Headteacher she was insistent that he wore cope and mitre. Why?  The children, it transpired, had been preparing for the bishop’s visit and had drawn lots of lovely pictures of him and in every one he was wearing a mitre.  ‘The children want to see a bishop not a man in a suit’ she told me. So he went with his mitre. And he told the children about his crozier – a simple shepherd’s crook – and his mitre – and he told them how the Holy Spirit descended on the head of each of the apostles like a tongue of flame and how we shared in that apostolic life.

I’m grateful that in Southwark Cathedral there is the crown and the mitre and the descending dove. The Holy Spirit crowns each one of us and the fire of the Spirit warms the heart of the church so that as we sang in the Abbey our love is changed ‘from spark to a flame’.

may your Holy Spirit rest upon us
and upon your church.

Back to school

Cast your mind back – a few years, maybe longer – to the first day at a new school.  Your parents will have made sure that you had a new satchel with that lovely smell of new leather, a new tin of Helix protractors and set square (remember them), a new wooden ruler, a pencil and eraser.  And of course your new shoes would be pinching and your blazer just a little too big so that you could grow into it.  With a new haircut neatly combed and plastered down, face buffed up and polished clean by your mother, you would arrive at the new school.  All those children arriving.  You looked at the faces around you.  What would they be like?

Events 1960 Preparatory School First Day 01 Wiki

First Day at School


Well, the newly elected members of General Synod are arriving in Westminster for this first Group of Sessions.  As I write the newbies will be receiving their induction – where to hang your coat, how to use the electronic voting machine, how debates work, when you can speak, where the dining room is.  Apart from the voting machine all very familiar from school days!

And we will all be carefully studying one another for those tell-tale signs that mark out the tribes in the Church of England – the black suit, black clerical shirt brigade (me), the blue clerical shirt, a little badge here – gold cross, red cross, rainbow flag, something that a diocesan bishop is asking people to wear. Lay people are more difficult to identify instantly – but you can get a feel of who they are and where they come from in ecclesiastical terms.

This is my third term on Synod but my first as a member of a different constituency.  Previously I have been elected by my sister and brother clergy in the Diocese of Southwark.  But having become a Dean during the last quinquennium and being able to stay on because of the kindness of the clergy on our Bishop’s Council, this time I had to stand in the Deans’ election.  Yes, we have our own ‘rotten borough’! The deans elect five of their number, three from the south, two from the north, to be members of the General Synod and to bring, I suppose, our particular perspective to the decision making of the Church of England.

So the Deans of St Paul’s, St Edmundsbury, Southwark, Manchester and Sheffield have been chosen to serve in this way.  It will be a good group and I look forward to working with David and Frances, Rogers and Peter who are a really interesting and talented bunch of people.

And what will face us? Well these three days are in a sense ceremonial.  Tomorrow we all attend the Opening Eucharist for the Synod in Westminster Abbey at which we will joined by Her Majesty The Queen.  After that, and still in our Convocation Robes (if you are ordained) or posh frocks and suits if you’re not, we go to the Synod Chamber where we are addressed by Her Majesty.  It’s the equivalent of the Queen’s Speech, I suppose, in that other legislative body across the road in Westminster – except that ours only happens once in five years.

Church House.jpg

Church House, Westminster


Then, in terms of business, important debates on migrants and global warming, some legislative business about fees and lawyers, will follow but the main business will be getting to know each other.

I’m delighted to be part of General Synod again.  Ok, so the prospect of talking about human sexuality, and homosexuality in particular, for five years doesn’t thrill me but the ‘Shared Conversations’ of which I have been part were excellent and if the conversations we have in York next July are anywhere near as good then perhaps, just perhaps, there may be a way forward in which we can all flourish, straight and gay, church and church-in-nation and that will be a blessing.

So now I need to clean my shoes and pack my bag and pick up my pass and get on with the work that lies before us. Pray for us – please.

Lord of the church,
bless the members of the General Synod
that we may be a blessing
to church and nation
and seek only your glory.

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