A new day dawns

I really was too exhausted to write anything about yesterday afternoon in General Synod when I finally got home. But a new day has dawned, I slept well and rise to give God praise. Eleanor Farjeon’s poem expresses it so well

Morning has broken,
Like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird;
Praise for the singing,
Praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing
Fresh from the Word.

sun-rising

A new day dawns

 

It was a very good debate that we held on sexuality and marriage, but I would say that as I was one of the many members of the Synod who had decided that they couldn’t take note of the bishops’ report which was what we were being asked to do.  The Bishop of Norwich as chair of the reflection group did an excellent job at presenting the paper and his ‘tone’ (tone being the in-word of the day) was irenic and seductive.  Of course we understood the journey we had been on; of course we understood how difficult the task before them had been.  But that didn’t make what was before us any more acceptable.  As I said when I was called to speak ‘If this report is the first indication of the new tone then I don’t like the tone.’

One thing that the Bishop of Norwich did remind me of, however, was that the document ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ published in 1991 quickly and quietly morphed from being a discussion paper to being policy.  All those to be ordained or consecrated are required to give an assurance that they accept that paper and will live by it.  It has become totemic and toxic.  My fear was that the paper presented to us would become the new ‘Issues’, even though we were given lots of reassurance that it was just the beginning – that’s what they said about ‘Issues’ and it has been doing its damage in the church and in the lives of gay men and women for over 25 years! My fears were further heightened when I noticed that in the Anglican News Service it said that, in preparation for the meeting of Primates of the Communion this year, Archbishop Justin had presented this report as a ‘declaration on human sexuality’ (Anglican Communion News Service 1 February 2017). It was already gaining in status.

It was not easy speaking and voting against the House of Bishops.  I count many of those in the House as my friends and I hope that they are still my friends today as much as they were before yesterday.  But a new day has dawned, morning has broken and whereas I thought that the liberal, progressive catholic voice had grown quiet and fearful we heard it with new confidence and vigour yesterday.  And we heard, and this was so wonderful, the voice of the open evangelical constituency, led by the Archdeacon of Dudley, the Ven Nikki Groarke, who began the debate and said she had been silent for too long.

The voice of Synod rang out from that chamber yesterday and, I hope, gave hope to the nation. That, after all is what we are called to do, for as the prophet Micah says to us

What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8)

We did it.

Lord, bless your church,
heal our divisions
that we may bring your Good News
to this generation.
Amen.

Waiting

Synod is now in waiting mode, waiting for the Session to resume and the take note debate on the bishops’ paper on homosexuality to begin.  Waiting is an odd sensation.  We wait with anticipation; we wait sometimes in fear. On occasions we wait with boredom, sometimes with heightened excitement.  When I fist read Bill Vanstone’s book ‘The Stature of Waiting’ when it was first published I realised that we worship a God who waits with us.  The God of eternity enters place and time in the incarnation and Jesus takes into the godhead that experience of waiting, as he waits as part of his passion. Vanstone gives us a language for the spirituality of waiting.

am-still-waiting-for-this-lady

Waiting … waiting

 

But we also wait upon God, the God who acts and that is part of what we are doing now. What will God do with his church?

I did what I wouldn’t normally do, I absented myself from the Group Work.  I was never inclined to take part, after all I’d been to three sets of Shared Conversations and all of that seems to have been ignored.  But when I read the case studies the groups were to discuss I was even more clear that this was the right decision.  Each one of the five case studies presented gay and lesbian people from the perspective of disruptive problems to be solved.  There was nothing joyous to be celebrated and the one thing I know about gay people is that the community is joyous – just look at any Gay Pride parade! But with scarcely veiled homophobia the tone was one of LGBTI people being problematic and dysfunctional.

So those of us who shared my views met at St Matthew’s Westminster and there were over 50 of us there.  It was a great meeting – positive, energised and gracious.  The Holy Spirit was in the room.

So we wait…. We did of course do other business this morning – a new suffragan see for Leicester; a new member of the Archbishops’ Council; a brilliant debate on fixed-odd betting terminals (a great moment of synodical unanimity) and we concluded the work on the amending Canons on vesture and ministry to those who commit suicide.  It was then that the Bishop of Norwich and the Bishop of Willesden presented the bishops’ paper and the rest I’ve mentioned.

So that is where we are.  It feels like going to the pictures in the old days, we’ve seen the B movie, now we await the curtains drawing back and the main feature being shown.  And all those emotions around waiting are palpable in Church House.

God, bless our waiting,
bless our speaking,
bless our listening,
bless our actions
and bless your church.
Amen.

A box of chocolates

In the 1994 film ‘Forrest Gump’ the eponymous hero at one point says ‘Mamma always said life is like a box of chocolates.’ The General Synod of the Church of England certainly is.  I last blogged from the bus heading for Westminster yesterday and reflecting on the fact that the day would be full of legislation. It certainly was, and, to be honest, the Synod worked efficiently and effectively through it.  The reason that there is so much of this kind of stuff before us at the moment is because of the ‘simplification’ exercise that the church is going through.

valentine_chocolates9_4674

‘Life is like …’

 

The rules by which the church manages its life, the regulations, the Canons, the Measures, have tended to grow ‘like Topsy’ and we’re often amending this, that or the other.  Simplification, so it seems to me, is about, well, making it all simpler, cutting out what isn’t necessary but simply makes life more difficult, makes the structures unwieldy and not fit for purpose, eats up time that could be used in mission and ministry.

Any box of chocolates will have soft and hard centres and we had that yesterday in the slew of legislation before us. There were debates on pensions, on risk assessments of clergy with regard to safeguarding.  There were debates on ecumenical working in parishes, on the saying of Morning and Evening Prayer, on what we wear in church and when senior and other clergy can retire.

It was fascinating stuff and all credit to those who sat it out in the chamber to see it all through!

One of the really fascinating debates, however, came before the legislative business and that was on the calling of Banns of Marriage.  At the moment if a marriage is to be solemnised in church then Banns have to be called in the church where it’s happening and in the parish(es) where the individuals live or have a qualifying connection. It is arcane.  The original Catholic Canon law on the subject, intended to prevent clandestine marriages, was decreed in Canon 51 of the Lateran IV Council in 1215. It goes back a long way.  The Banns are called on three successive Sundays, the couple does not have to be there to hear them, but the congregation is asked whether they ‘know any reason in law why the couple should not be married’ and to ‘declare it now’.  Clearly it made more sense when we lived in small communities and knew each other, when people knew that like in ‘Jane Eyre’ there was a mad wife in the attic!  So wouldn’t it be better/easier/less hassle if everyone went to the civil Registry Office to have these preliminaries done and just bring a certificate to the officiating priest?  Well, yes and no.

Yes, it would cut out the hassle of having to write information in boxes on a form, remember to read it out and produce a certificate.  But no, it would be one more way in which the Church of England is effectively distancing itself from the society we claim to serve.  And it also gives a great opportunity for, normally, young couples to come to church, have the thrill of hearing their name read out, hear themselves prayed for and see that other normal(ish) people go to church and seem to enjoy it.  That is called mission; that is called witness; that is what we are meant to do.

Fortunately the motion was defeated in every house of the Synod in the final vote.  So we will continue to hear those familiar words ‘these are for the third time of asking’ ringing round our churches.

And so to today…. who knows what will happen.  Please pray for us.

wolfgang

Wolfgang Tillmans

 

I was at the opening of an exhibition of the work of the fine-art photographer Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate Modern.  It was what can only be described as an eclectic crowd looking at challenging work. I wondered what they would make of the Church of England. I bumped into a friend and his husband.  They are supporters of the art installations we do at Southwark.  We talked about Brexit, Trump and the Church of England and saw clear connections.  The conversation then turned to being in safe places, in bubbles, where you know you’re amongst friends, like Southwark Cathedral.  ‘What’s so wrong with a bubble?’ they said to me.  ‘But I’m a catholic and that means I exist in the universal.’ I responded.

Every chocolate in the box is in its little, designed, perfect bubble of plastic.  Perhaps that is what the church is wanting, moving from the catholic to the congregational.  We shall see.

I’ve turned to St Mark’s Gospel for my encouragement today and these words

‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him.’ (Mark 10.21)

It was the story of the rich young man, wanting to get into heaven but needing to simplify his life.  It was too much for him at that moment.  But Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus looks at his church and loves us, despite, despite it all.

Jesus,
look with love upon us today,
and bring us to your kingdom.
Amen.

Over the edge

A few years ago I was leading a pilgrimage around Armenia.  It was for a group from Southwark Cathedral.  It was a wonderful experience, seeing a country that had experienced recent genocide and a church with a tradition ancient, honourable and distinct. We saw many churches all in the same domed cruciform style.  But one thing sticks in my mind and came back to me today as we began this Group of Sessions of the General Synod.

cliff3

They attempt to throw Jesus over the cliff

 

We had visited a church and were wandering through the churchyard.  It was a church set amongst blocks of Soviet-style housing, so, in a very real community.  One gravestone grabbed our attention.  It was new and recorded the death of a group of young people from the village. They had all died in an accident.  The car they were in went over the edge of a nearby cliff.  The faces of all the young people were engraved into the stone – but so was a depiction of the accident, a car going over the edge of a cliff.  All we could do was to look in disbelief.  No Chancellor in the Church of England, I suspect, would have allowed such a stone in one of our churchyards! And the horror of the depiction was engraved on my consciousness.

It has not been an easy beginning to this Synod.  I tweeted ‘Have you ever watched a car crash? If not come to @GenSyn’. Watching the Church of England heading for the edge of an avoidable precipice, watching the church we love act in a way which can easily be seen as operating as institutionally homophobic, whether or not the bishops accept that this is the case, is deeply disturbing.

What was most shocking was when Canon Butler asked about the safeguarding implications for those members of the Synod who are from the LGBTI communities and the answer was that there were no safeguarding implications.  So there we have it? ‘Sticks and stones …..’ It is simply not true, of course, and I have already talked to many people who are deeply hurt, feeling extremely vulnerable and concerned that they are complicit with an abusive relationship with a church that should incarnate the love of God for the whole of creation, including LGBTI people who God has created as reflecting something of the divine nature.  But then if you think that that cannot be and that LGBTI people are a manifestation of a disordered creation, people who need to be healed and counselled back to ‘normality’ … well you arrive at where we seem to be heading.

So an interesting day.  Of course we’ve done other stuff; debated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we have listened to a Presidential Address given by the Archbishop of Canterbury and listened to answers to numerous questions of which the first 26 were all about sexuality.  But everything is being overshadowed by Wednesday.

Of course the people of Nazareth attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff.

‘They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.’ (Luke 4.29-30)

Jesus had just read from Isaiah in their Synagogue and proclaimed his mission priorities of inclusive liberation. People weren’t interested then and the church isn’t interested now. But Jesus survived then and Jesus will survive now – but will the church, which is his body and the people that he loves?

Lord Jesus,
save us and help us
we humbly beseech you.
Amen.

Lay and Gay

So, another Group of Sessions begins in Westminster at Church House today. Around the country people will be packing their bags with what they need and making sure they have all their papers with them before they make their way to London in time for the opening of the Synod.

'The Thames below Westminster' by Claude Monet

‘The Thames below Westminster’ by Claude Monet

There’s a chill wind blowing along the Thames, an icy blast from the east, it isn’t comfortable and I suspect the atmosphere at this Synod will be a little icy and not too comfortable.

Those who follow the politics of the Church of England will know that at the end of January the House of Bishops published a document which puts on paper the thinking of the bishops about the way forward on the issue of homosexuality and same-gender wedding in the church. It was an icy blast and has had a frosty reception. I’ve been out in Africa, visiting our link dioceses in Zimbabwe where it was much warmer, where hospitality was generously and genuinely offered. So I haven’t yet expressed my own views on this, though one of my colleagues in the Cathedral preached a brilliant sermon on the issue the Sunday after the release of the report.

So, inevitably that ‘take note’ debate will dominate this Synod. There are, of course, other things on the agenda – lots of legislative business and an important report on the ministry of the laity in the life of the church ‘Setting God’s people free’. As ever the church wants to both bind and free, have its cake and eat it. It wants to bind LGBTI people and free lay people, it wants to reject people and embrace people, it wants to liberate and imprison. I was very uncomfortable reading the bishops’ report on homosexuality and the talk of the ‘exemplary lifestyle’ of the ordained as opposed to the laity. The point they were trying to make was that those of us who are ordained should live according to the Canons to which we have given assent. If those Canons require those who are LGBTI to deny their very nature, subdue their God-given desires, wreck their relationships, lead some towards suicide, so be it, we have to be exemplary. The laity do not have to be. And anyway, who says that a gay lifestyle cannot be lived in an exemplary way?

This false distinction between the clergy and the laity began in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ and it is being perpetuated now. If we really want to benefit from the ministry of the laity and set them free then we have to set the whole people of God free – and those ordained are still part of the laos, the people.

One of my favourite passages of scripture is the account of the raising of Lazarus in St John’s Gospel. There is so much in it, so many details that reveal both Jesus’ divine and human natures – he weeps and raises – but it was one line from that story that came to mind as I was contemplating this week.

‘Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’’ (John 11.43-44)

'Unbind him.'

‘Unbind him.’

Those powerful words ‘Unbind him’ should ring through the church for the laity and for all in the LGBTI community. We are binding the church; we are binding mission; we are in danger of no longer being the national church but being seen by many as a narrow homophobic set of bigots and not the church that Jesus lived and died and rose for, not the church that can speak effectively into the present day and the cultural context in which we are set and to which God calls us.

My colleague, our Cathedral curate, was officiating at Morning Prayer just a few moments ago. Her intercessions included the line

‘Lord, may the Synod be fruitful and not hurtful.’

I shed a tear, I couldn’t help it. Fancy having to pray that prayer about a Christian gathering, but that is the reality. So that is my prayer as this Synod begins. Please pray for us – God knows we need it!

Lord, may the Synod
be fruitful and not hurtful.
Amen.

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

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

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark