A safe church

I couldn’t be in the Synod Chamber for the start of today’s business, as much as I wanted to be.  In fact, I was on the ‘Big Breakfast’ show on ‘Premier Radio’ with Lisa Gutwein, a member of the congregation at Southwark Cathedral and also the author of the recently published book ‘Doorkins the Cathedral Cat’.  The interview had been in the diary for a long time and we were keen to tell the story of Doorkins, so that was why I was there. It may sound very trivial compared with the importance of the debate that was going on just down the road, on Safeguarding in the church and I suppose in reality it is.  But there is a deeper message to Doorkins than just the story of a cute tabby cat.

Doorkins arrived at the Cathedral doors in 2008.  She was a stray who somehow found her way into the churchyard.  The vergers noticed her there each morning and after a while put out food for her.  Then they put the food inside, in the warm and very cautiously she made her way across the threshold and into the building.  And she decided it was safe to stay.  Since then she has become a feature of our life and a much loved part of the Southwark Cathedral family.  She is still a bit wild and can be grumpy and challenging but she can also be loving – not so different from a lot of people who come to church!  We don’t know her story and why she was on the streets – and, of course, we never will.  She was God’s little gift to us.

Her story is a parable of what a safe church should be, simply that, safe, whoever you are.  Unfortunately all the incidents of abuse that are now known about and those yet to be disclosed happened in or around churches perpetrated by people, clergy and laity, who used their power to prey on others, children, vulnerable adults, of whom they took advantage.  The safe church became the unsafe environment.  We all need a safe space, we can all be vulnerable when all of a sudden there is a power imbalance and the church should and must be safe.  Getting there will take a lot of doing and rebuilding trust will take a long time.  The debate in Synod today was just another stage on the journey – but as we were clearly told, there has to be a change of culture and that change will involve how each of us thinks and speaks and acts. We have to change.

This Group of Sessions ended with a debate on Valuing People with Down’s Syndrome.  As I had anticipated it was powerful and moving.  I felt tears welling up at various points as I heard some of the contributions.  We rejoiced when we were told about a young man, Simon, who had encouraged his congregation in the sharing of the Peace – not just a polite shake of the hand but the trusting hug.  He was bringing his warmth to warm up the church.

open-arms-1

Two members of Synod, themselves living with disability, made powerful contributions.  Rachel Wilson said to us

‘The beginning of an individual’s story does not dictate its end’

That is true for each one of us.  And Tim Goode said to us

‘I give thanks to God that I have to live an interdependent life.’

Interdependence has to be the hallmark of what it means to be church.

Some wanted to draw us into the issue of abortion and Synod resisted that, and for good reason.  This was a Motion aimed at Her Majesty’s Government and it needed to be clear and focused and the final Motion, slightly amended and supported by everyone who voted, is just that.

But the final short film we saw of young people with Down’s Syndrome thanking us, each in their own way, but reach with lovely, genuine smiles was both heart-warming and deeply powerful.  These are our sisters and brothers, who like you and me can be vulnerable and need both a safe church and a welcoming world.  We would be poorer without them.

In between these two debates we talked about Religious Communities and about Digital Evangelism, both useful and good debates.

All in all it has been a fascinating Synod that has taken us here and there, to places we haven’t been before.  But as the psalmist says in Psalm 139

Where can I go then from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
(Psalm 139.6)

There is no place where God is not and this Synod has reminded us of that fact.

Jesus,
you entered an unsafe world
and paid the price
for us, for me.
May we create a safe church
in which your wounded hands
embrace all your children.
Amen.

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One holy catholic and apostolic

In a lot of the services that we attend, at some stage, we will be asked to stand up and ‘declare our faith’ by joining together in saying one of the Creeds.  They are designed, I suppose, to keep us on message, an attempt by the early church to hold believers to a line and stop all those heretical beliefs gaining ascendency over the true faith.  In writing his Second Letter to Timothy, St Paul recognises that this situation will come about

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. (2 Timothy 4.3-5)

That lovely phrase ‘itching ears’ is exactly right. So to avoid the scratching at doctrine in the way that was happening, we agreed the Creeds and as part of that the wonderful description of the nature of the church ‘one holy catholic and apostolic’.

Meetings of the General Synod cover a great many topics and when we are at our best some of those are outward facing, such as yesterday’s debate on Food Wastage.  It was a timely discussion as many churches are concerned with issues relating to justice, peace and the integrity of creation – and how we use food resources fits each of these imperatives. The Borough Market, next to Southwark Cathedral, has developed very effective work with the local traders and food ‘recycling’, ‘recovery’ charities who take what remains and distribute it amongst those community and charitable groups that need it.  When the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited the market just before Christmas I had the privilege of presenting representatives of one such charity, ‘Plan Zheroes’, with whom, last year, the market distributed over 9,000 kilos of food that would have otherwise have been wasted.  It is this kind of work that needs promoting and developing.

But the rest of the day in Synod was more about looking at the nature of the church that we describe in the Creed.  We began by being addressed by three Archbishops from very different parts of the Anglican Communion – Southern Africa, Pakistan and Polynesia.  Each had different stories to tell and it was moving to hear them speak.  Then we debated our partnership links, the wonderful link that for instance the Diocese of Southwark and our cathedral has with four of the five dioceses in Zimbabwe.  Last year, in February, I was there visiting each of the dioceses and seeing the amazing life, work, witness and mission in which the church is engaged.  I came back exhilarated. The Anglican Communion is an exciting place to be – not the thorn in the side that can be so often portrayed when things are not going as we would like them to.

We spent a lot of time on legislation – we are a legislative body after all and that work is vital, the nuts and bolts of church life.

John-Wesley-Preaching-Revival

John Wesley preaching

 

But two things stood out – the Presidential Address by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the debate on Mission and Ministry in Covenant with the Methodist Church.  The Archbishop spoke of the tension between tradition and creativity.  The three-legged stool of Anglicanism is scripture, reason and tradition and they serve us well.  But that important ‘leg’ of tradition can at times seem to hold back innovation.  The Archbishop quoting someone quoting someone said

‘Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.’

A helpful Tweet in response to one of mine added a quote from Gustav Mahler

‘Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire.’

I love that.  All of it played in to seeing a way forward for deepening the relationship we already have with the Methodist Church in this country.  We belong together but there are differences and these focus on church order, on how episcope is exercised (in a monarchical system as in the western catholic tradition or through Conference, synodically, as with Methodism) and therefore how the grace of orders is conferred and with what sacramental guarantees.

One thing I do know is that John Wesley set hearts on fire with his preaching, his teaching, his leadership.  In an era when the church looked more like ashes he fanned those flames and created a revival of faith amongst people the Church of England just wasn’t speaking to which challenged us then and still does.  I had the privilege of chairing this debate and there were great speeches to be heard and a moving set of presentations by a former President of the Conference and the present Secretary of the Conference.  In the end a vote, taken in all three Houses, passed an amended motion.  There is a lot of work to do but it is exciting to see how the church can be the church, in the past, in the present and in the future, truly one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

And today? It will be challenging – safeguarding and Down’s Syndrome as well as other matters.  But more of that later.

Lord of the Church,
may we be your church
one
holy
catholic
apostolic
that the world might believe.
Amen.

A matter of discernment

To be honest, Day One of this Group of Sessions felt, and was, a bit odd.  We began at 1.30pm; we ended at 5.30pm! There was hardly time to settle yourself into the chamber let alone really begin to engage with things or get a sense of the mood of the Synod.  There is always a mood and its interesting to get a sense of that.  Are people angry, frustrated, determined, excited?  I’ve been to many Synods in which you can cut the atmosphere with a knife.  But there was nothing you could identify yesterday, nothing discernable – today may be different of course.

The time we did have in the Chamber was taken up by three things.  After the Archbishop of Canterbury had welcomed new members and some visitors, particularly some bishops representing the Anglican Communion, we moved into the first debate.  This is always on the Report of the Business Committee.  Even this didn’t get the pulse racing. The session ended with Questions, of which there were over 90.  A lot of those were around safeguarding and were something of a prelude to the discussions which will take place first thing on Saturday morning.  But apart from that there was a great deal that was interesting but nothing earth or church shattering.

In between these two standard items of business that would always take place on the first day of Synod was the main course on the menu.  Professor O’Donovan and his team of theologians had been asked to look at the processes of the Crown Nominations Commission and to report back to the Archbishops and the Synod.  This they did and we then debated the way forward for the work of the CNC.

As a former member of the CNC – I served for 8 very enjoyable years – it was fascinating to read and then to listen to what was said in the debate.  I had, of course, attended one of the meetings of the group to give my reflections on the process.  One of the problems about talking about it in any detail is that at the beginning of each CNC all 14 members take an oath of eternal secrecy.  One member of the Synod in the debate said that the CNC was as ‘leaky as a sieve’ which, if it were true, would challenge that principle of confidentiality.  I think, however, that is an urban myth that needs revealing as such.  In my experience the leaks came from every where else apart from the membership of the CNC.  With interviews, references, follow-up references there are a great many people ‘in the know’ who have not sworn an oath of strict confidentiality.  The last nomination made by the CNC, Bishop Sarah Mullally to London, was a shock and welcome surprise to so many.  As you can imagine I had heard a great many rumours about what was going on but nothing that reflected the truth.  If someone was going to leak this would have been the leak of the century!

It seems to me that the most important thing that came out of the report and the debate is that the work of the CNC is the work of discernment and that means a great deal of sitting and listening to God, being open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and, as I said in my speech to Synod, ‘to form the Church not in our image but in Christ’s image.’ I have strong views about the church and work out of a clear and well know church tradition, but I hope that I have always been able to leave some of my tribal branding at the door of discernment.  And whether we are nominating bishops or making decisions in PCC the call to embrace the divine spirit of true discernment is the same.

Samuel

Samuel sees as God sees

 

The story of the identifying of David as God’s successor to Saul is an important one for any of us who are engaged at any level of discernment.  Samuel has been given the unenviable task and God tells him what will happen

‘I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.’ (1 Samuel 16.3)

But when Samuel looked on Eliab, the oldest son and the obvious choice, God says to him

‘The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16.7)

Learning to see as God sees, to look as deep as God looks, is the task of the church and of each of us.

So what does today hold? Look out for the debate on food wastage – sounds like motherhood and apple pie but its important to air the issue.  There is plenty of legislation, the business that really does affect the nitty-gritty of the life of the church. But the most interesting and perhaps contentious business will be about unity with the Methodists.  I have no idea which way that will go – but as I am in the chair for that debate that might be a good thing! But whatever we are doing, may we be discerning.

God of wisdom,
may we see as you see,
know your mind
and do your will.
Amen.

A cold and frosty morning

It was beautiful, emerging from the Deanery this morning just before seven o’clock to make my way to the Cathedral.  The air was clear and crisp and the sky was that dark blue of the very early morning.  It was a bracing but exhilarating walk along the river. But instead of thinking about the weather I was actually thinking about the meeting of General Synod.

Thames 8 Feb

My commute this morning

This February Group of Sessions begins today, just down the river in Westminster.  There is one important difference from previous February Synods.  In response to a request from many in the House of Laity we begin later in the week and extend into Saturday.  That means that those who have to take time off from a ‘real job’ don’t have to take quite as much time off.  We will see how that works. As far as the team from the Diocese of Southwark is concerned there is one change.  The departure of my colleague Stephen Hance to be Dean of Derby meant that there was a vacancy and a by-election.  The computer churned away last week and out of it emerged the name of Fr Andrew Moughtin-Mumby.  Fr Andrew is vicar of St Peter’s Walworth a thriving and growing church near the Elephant and Castle in the affirming catholic tradition.  It is there that the pioneering work on ‘Diddy Disciples’ has been done and proving so effective.  It will be good to have Andrew as part of the team.

So what lies before us? I was trying to think about what the theme is for what is a very disparate agenda (but that is normally the case) and I think that what we are really considering is power and how we use it.

Among all the things that we will be discussing inside and outside of the Chamber there are four that stand out for me.  The first is the whole issue of safeguarding that challenges the church.  We have received two mega-reports on two bishops – George Bell and Peter Ball.  These are two very high-profile issues that the church has to face but there are so many cases emerging that require investigation.  I don’t admit to understanding all the reasons why abuse in its many forms takes place but there are often issues of power involved, the imbalance of power. You can require someone to do something and they feel obliged to do it.  It will not be a comfortable debate and we already know that some survivors of abuse will be outside Church House on Saturday to remind us of the human cost of what has been going on.

Another issue we will discuss is food wastage.  I have changed the way I shop and I now waste much less food.  I used to be a fan of a ‘big shop’ each week.  That used to seduce me into buying so much stuff – fruit, veg, salad, cooked meat, bread – it was endless, without any sense of planning and I would end up chucking so much stuff out because it had gone off.  But it wasn’t just the fresh stuff.  I would buy all manner of food for the larder.  I realised what I had been doing a few weeks ago when I gave some of the kitchen cupboards a clear-out.  One shelf was full of jams and preserves, mostly bought at church fairs, that were all out of date and useless.  The amount of jars and cans I had to throw away was scandalous.  So I am shopping and living differently, buying what I need when I need it. Of course I had the economic power to do the big shop and I had the power to waste what I had bought.  It is an abuse of creation and of my sisters and brothers who are powerless.

Thirdly, we will be debating closer union and mutual recognition of ministries with the Methodist Church.  My inbox has been full of emails from people telling me what to do about this.  But power is there behind a lot of it, the imbalance between a larger and a smaller church – we are not equal players in this; the power of tradition and practice as it pertains to ministry; and the power of priestly and episcopal authority and how in the life of the church this is bestowed, shared, recognised.

Finally, we will be looking at the valuing of people with Down’s Syndrome in our society and in our church.  Scientific advances give us a huge amount of power and a staggering number of choices.  If we now can effectively determine which foetus carries the syndrome should we, would we, support the termination of all such pregnancies? What sort of image of humanity do we have, an idealised one, free from any kind of ‘syndrome’ or potential for illness or for not conforming to what is thought to be ‘normal’? But how do I use my power in such a conversation who is not a parent and will not be, who hasn’t faced agonising decisions of this nature and yet have a platform from which to pontificate?

Before I set off for Westminster I am doing the assembly at our Cathedral Primary School.  My subject is the last part of the Lord’s Prayer and those final words that we say

‘for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours’.

The reason we have so many problems with power is that we exercise it as if it is ours, but in reality it is God’s. Pray that we may be able to deal well with these challenges as to how we exercise whatever power we think we have.

We beseech you, O Lord, to hear the prayers of your people; and grant that the members of the General Synod may both perceive and know the things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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