Safe and risky

This Group of Sessions of the General Synod has been prorogued. We have all headed off, back to the vineyard. But that was only after a couple of significant items of business in the final Session.

A safe or risky place?

The first of these was a Report by the Church Commissioners given by the First Estates Commissioner, Loretta Minghella. This could be a dreadfully dry affair but she is simply a star. Her report was realistic and encouraging and filled with what she described as ‘prudent joy’. It was followed by the reappointment of two other great servants of the church including John Spence who Chairs the Finance Committee of the church. He is truly inspirational.

At the end of Synod we said farewell to a number of people but particularly Alastair Redfern, the Bishop of Derby. A quiet man, he has entered into confronting a risky world, that of the modern day slave. With dogged persistence he has been opening our eyes to where slaves exist in our modern communities. It’s not just the fruit pickers or the sex workers but also the car washers who we can find in all our towns and cities. Hidden modern slavery needs confronting just as Wilberforce confronted the slavery in his time. We will miss this courageous witness.

But the main item on the order paper was of course the Report of the Cathedrals Working Group. The disasters in Peterborough and Exeter were the catalyst for this piece of work. But the need for some kind of review of our work, accountability and governance was long overdue. Having said that and being honest, and as I said this in the debate, the community at Southwark Cathedral said no to the draft report and I half-heartedly voted in favour of the motion today. Why? Well, one of the things I believe is vitally important to the whole church is the space that is given to cathedrals to do risky things in the service of God and his people. In this we are able to protect our bishops – they are not part of our decision making structures – whilst serving them by stepping into that risky place. Liverpool Cathedral expresses this so well. They describe themselves as ‘a safe place to do risky things in Christ service.’ That is exactly it. Anything that compromises this – and I believe that there is the potential in the recommendations made in this report to do that – will lessen the ability of the cathedrals to do the risky yet prophetic thing.

So, for instance, on Saturday members of the Cathedral community marched in London Pride. We had committed ourselves in Chapter to doing this because we have said that we are ‘inclusive .. orthodox .. radical’ and that needs living out otherwise it is just words on paper. The Diocesan Bishop wasn’t involved in the decision because of that useful creative gap.

Marching with pride

The Motion before Synod was amended to give us more time to do what will be a complex piece of implementation. But the main issues have been flagged up – the Vice-Chair, residentiary canons, the Charity Commission, etc – and so whatever process lies ahead we can take regard of these concerns.

So all in all a good Synod. We did a lot of work. Sadly evangelism got squeezed out because of all the legislative business. But the stuff we did on climate change and nuclear weapons was fantastic and we go forward praying that God’s kingdom come.

As the Archbishop of York got us all spontaneously singing this morning

To God be the glory, great things he hath done. Amen.

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Making law

One of the things that is often forgotten is that outside of Parliament and the other assemblies in this United Kingdom, the General Synod of the Church of England is a legislative body.  Canon Law is the law of the land and the Measures that we pass affect the life of the church and of parishes.  Members of Synod take this very seriously and if any member of Synod had forgotten this role we were reminded of it today.

All eyes were on what was happening in another legislative chamber, of course, but I didn’t know what had been happening until I emerged from the Synod Chamber after chairing an almost three hour long debate.  What was before us was the ‘Draft Church Representation and Ministers Measure and the Draft Amending Canon No. 39’. That sounds very dry but it was all about the membership of our synods and councils, how PCCs function, who can be its members, how the Electoral Roll is formed and maintained and how we utilise the possibilities of the digital age whilst keeping to the rules of GDPR – and much, much more.

As far as the Chair is concerned you are given a very full brief which you can follow word by word.  But it does mean that you have to concentrate and not let your mind wander! But I enjoyed it thoroughly (perhaps I’m a bit odd).

Praying_Hands_-_Albrecht_Durer-56a46b0f5f9b58b7d0d6eae7

The frustration is that as chair you can’t, of course, join in the debate and there are certain points when I was straining because I wanted to say something.  This was particularly true right towards the end of the debate on the Draft Amending Canon.  Mention had been made of the importance of saying Morning and Evening Prayer in at least one church in each benefice (remember that there are many multi-church benefices nowadays) on a daily basis. There was an amendment to this particular clause which proposed that a diocesan bishop could dispense of this if they ‘made such alternative provision for daily prayer as may best serve to sustain the corporate spiritual life of the benefices in the diocese’.

The point was made, and I paraphrase, that clergy are nowadays too busy, especially around the time of Evening Prayer, to fulfil the requirement.  The Archdeacon of Southwark, the Ven Dr Jane Steen, in responding on behalf of the Steering Committee, suggested that ‘it is not prayer that is the problem, it is the timetable’ by which she meant that creating a diary that precluded regular prayer missed the point of what we are about.

Prayer and ordered prayer is a fundamental part of the life of every Christian and especially part of the life of those who are ordained, in fact it is a canonical duty and is part of the expectation laid on us in the Book of Common Prayer.  Part of the charism of the Church of England, part of the gift we offer to the whole nation, is this regularity of public worship.  Roman Catholic priests may be committed to saying the Breviary but that is seen much more as the personal office, the private devotions of the ordained person and not an offering that is public.  But we offer public prayer in the morning and in the evening and the minister rings the bell so that the people of the parish, hurrying to work, or school, or stuck in their house, know that prayer is being offered for them, on their behalf.  It may sound romantic, the stuff of Herbert’s ‘Country Parson’ but this is foundational stuff of what it means to be the church, certainly what it means to be the Church of England.

The point was made, of course, that praying is not the preserve of the priest and if they are unable to be at church then the laity can fulfil this canonical duty – and I have seen that happening, and powerful and empowering it was too.

I think the amendment was intended as being genuinely helpful but it was defeated and I was delighted.

We are people led by grace not by law but the desire to pray and the act of praying, constantly, formally in an Office, informally in whatever way we wish is part of the process of being grace filled. George Herbert in his poem ‘Praise’, familiar to us as a hymn says this

Sev’n whole dayes, not one in seven,
I will praise thee.
In my heart, though not in heaven,
I can raise thee.

The worship of God is life-giving, grace-filling law; not one day in seven but every day; not once a day but twice or thrice, as the day progresses, as life goes on.  It is the air we breathe, the life we live, the heart beat of the church, the hymn of the people of God, into which we add our voice and our heart and our thoughts.  I was glad to be reminded of it.

We have one more Session to go on Tuesday morning and a lot of business to see through, including the debate on cathedrals, the praying heart of every diocese – should be interesting!

Living God,
may my life be in conversation with you,
may my heart beat in time with you,
may my thoughts be centred on you,
may my prayer rise before you,
may your grace fill and sustain me.
Amen.

Turning up the heat to turn it down

I was away from Synod yesterday.  I wanted to be present at the ordination to the priesthood of our curate, Fr David Adamson. It was great to be there in St Mary’s Lewisham, celebrating 1100 years of ministry from that spot this year.  Since 918 priests have been celebrating the sacraments of the new covenant and so it was a special place in which eight women and men had hands laid on them and in the power of the Spirit and with Christ’s authority were sent out as the latest generation of those who would do this – bread breakers and word breakers.

Then in the afternoon I was present with a group from the Cathedral on the Pride march through central London.  I’d never even been to Pride let alone walk in it.  But the Chapter decided in 2016 that this was the right thing to do, to be honest about our stance on the rights of LGBTQI+ people and to make that clear by witnessing to it, on the streets.  I know not everyone thinks that we should be doing this, and I respect their views and am glad to name many of them as friends, but I don’t agree.  We need to tell people that God loves us all, whoever we are. So there I was with 30,000 other people marching with pride in Pride and having pride in the God who created each one of us.

So I missed the important debate on Safeguarding in the church and also the seminars on where we are in relation to the work being done on human sexuality.  But the trains this morning served me well and I got back to York in time to chair the first item of business in the afternoon (remember that the Synod goes en masse to Mass at York Minster in the morning).

Climate change

The Session in the afternoon was all around global issues.  The first two debates were about the response we make to climate change.  I was asked to chair the presentation and then the debate on how we use the influence we have through the investments that we have as a church in fossil fuel companies and it was a real privilege to be able to do so.  What was so encouraging was hearing about the tremendous lead that the Church of England is giving. Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement, was quoted as praising this work in which we have brought together a coalition of investors who carry real weight in the debates with the companies in which we are invested.

There were two amendments to the main Motion before Synod which were about how long we should give before we divest ourselves of our investments in such companies. It was an excellent debate and in many ways one in which everyone was right – it is urgent, already almost too late, but do we, frankly, have more clout if we remain an investor than if we take our money away and leave ‘them’ to get on with what they are doing without the pressure we can bring to create change?

The Oxford amendment which talked of 2020 as the deadline was rejected and the second amendment that kept us to the date of 2023 was passed.  The resulting vote on the motion was almost unanimous and we really have turned up the heat.

This was followed by a debate that came from London and Truro dioceses wanting us to develop a programme for calculating the usage of fossil fuels in all cathedrals, churches and church halls.  Whilst there is clearly support for that piece of work the debate was finally adjourned so that we can get a bit more information about what this might mean and what it will cost.  But we have only adjourned it until the next Group of Sessions in February 2019 – so you will hear more about this.

And then it was on to Nuclear Weapons. As I said before we haven’t really debated this for many many years and as many speakers commented in what was a very good debate, does this mean that over that time we have grown complacent.  In ‘My Fair Lady’ Professor Higgins sings of Eliza Doolittle

‘I’ve grown accustomed to her face’

We have grown accustomed to there being weapons of mass destruction waiting ready to be used that will destroy everything the lives and the very earth the health of which we had just been debating. This debate was a wake-up call to us all that this is just not acceptable.  The Bishop of Liverpool told us not to worry if people thought we were being unrealistic, or naive or ‘young’ i.e. lacking that wisdom of years that makes people think that such weapons are justifiable.  The Bishop of Chelmsford, summing up the debate, referred to words of St Francis of Assisi

‘Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’

And Synod took that to heart and voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Motion. So we are committed to working for the elimination of nuclear weapons! We’ve done what was necessary, now we will see what is possible and maybe what seems impossible will come about.

Creator God,
who formed the beauty of the earth
may we cherish it
and all who share it with us
and all who will come after us
that the best days of our planet
may still await us.
Amen.

The beautiful game

So, Synod begins. The good news is that there is ‘heat reduction’ equipment in the Synod Chamber. This is different to air conditioning so I’m told. All I know is that it is cooler than usual. But then we have been known to produce a lot of hot air!

It was great to chair the first debate which, after welcomes and some addresses by visiting Primates from the Communion and one from an ecumenical guest from Germany, was on the Report of the Business Committee. It’s a game. The chair of the Committee introduces the report and then people get up to moan that their particular top topic isn’t getting an airing.

But there was a game changer! Sue Boyes, the chair, announced that the timings for the seminars on Saturday afternoon were being amended to allow people to watch THE match. General rejoicing ensued. But then we got back into the real game.

The political football is of course human sexuality and where we are going on this. There is no debate on the floor of Synod in this Group of Sessions on this topic. But the seminars that bookend THE match will bring people up to speed.

Sadly, I’m not in York tomorrow as I have the double joy of being at the ordination to the priesthood of our curate in the morning and then walking with members of our Southwark Cathedral community in London Pride. I was being sent photos in the afternoon of the rainbow flag flying from our tower – a flag of pride for LGBTQI+ people and all their supporters. So I will have to wait until Sunday to discover how Saturday in Synod went.

The first day of General Synod always concludes with Questions. It’s a bit of a game to be honest. Supplementaries are asked to really hold feet to the flame. But this is Synod members’ only chance to really find out what is going on. There were 85 questions to be answered and many were around safeguarding. It is great to see people, to see the church, really holding itself to account and members asking, frankly, uncomfortable questions. It may look like a game but it isn’t.

Whether the subject is safeguarding or gay rights the lives of our sisters and brothers, their, our, safety and mental health and sense of self worth is what is being discussed. This is not a game. As Bill Shankley said of football ‘ Some people think that football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more important than that.’

Jesus didn’t treat life as a game and humanity as a can to be kicked down the road as someone in Synod accused the church of treating sexuality. Instead he said

I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.’ (John 10.10)

Abundant life – something we should have pride in for the whole of humanity.

God of life, may we rejoice and live in the abundant life which is your gift. Amen.

Getting your ducks in a row

The campus of York University is a fantastic place if you are a fan of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Tweet of the Day’, or are a ‘twitcher’ or simply love wildfowl.  The place is full of geese and moorhens and ducks.  This morning as I walked to breakfast (I have had to arrive early because of meetings I have to attend this morning, pre-Synod) the ducks were all taking a break, getting their strength together before performing for the members of the Synod – skimming the water, eating the biscuit crumbs and generally pooing where you need to walk.

Synod 1

Ducks in repose – the Chamber awaits our arrival

Yes, it’s July and we are back for the latest Group of Sessions. As I have said before, the York Synod is more relaxed than the febrile atmosphere of the Westminster ones.  Bishops dress down in shorts, Bahama shirt and pectoral cross, sandals and socks (m bête noire) can be spotted. Ladies are in tie-die and there is a lot of linen around. Sartorial elegance is not a feature of a gathering of the Church of England because we have much more important things to think about.

The accusation is often made that we spend too much time on ‘church’ issues. Well, not this time.  The agenda is varied and a great deal of it is outward looking.  Of course we do need to continue to address the issue of safeguarding in the life of the church, creating a safe church for all people and especially our children, young people and vulnerable adults.  So the first real debate on Saturday is about the latest report to emerge from the church.  Saturday afternoon is taken up by seminars on a variety of subjects.  But then on Sunday, after joining the bereft congregation at York Minster (Dean Viv is now Bishop Viv), a series of fascinating debates will take place.

Watch out for the debate on our investments in companies dealing in fossil fuels. The main arguments of the debate have already been rehearsed  on the radio between the Bishop of Manchester and the Bishop of Oxford – do we dis-invest now as we have agreed to do or do we have more effective levers by retaining those investments for the time being? That debate is followed by an associated one brought to Synod by the Diocese of London on climate change and the urgency of the church’s response.

Back in the heady days of 1982 when the Church of England dared challenge the Thatcher Government with ‘Faith in the City’ there was another report that emerged called ‘The Church and the Bomb’. At this Synod we return to the subject when we debate ‘The Ethics of Nuclear Weapons’.  It was ‘The Church and the Bomb’ that convinced me to become a member of CND.  I have to admit – and given the other debates on the environment and the need to escape the effect of fossil fuels I feel a bit conflicted – I still have deep misgivings about the rush into nuclear power given that, as far as I know, the problem of waste fuel still exists.  But this debate will be about weapons and the evil they represent (there I’ve given away my opinion!).

There is a great deal of legislation on the agenda and the budget but then we are a legislative and a governance body, before we then get to another timely debate.  Having celebrated yesterday the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service we will be debating ‘The Long Term Sustainability of the National Health Service’.  From its foundation the CofE has been deeply involved in the NHS, not just through clergy being regular visitors to bedsides of parishioners but because there are Anglican chaplains in most hospitals.  This has been a huge area of ministry that we remain committed to.

There are reports on evangelism, pensions, finance and Standing Orders and then something that sounds very internal, the Report of the Cathedrals Working Group.  This report came out of the experiences at Peterborough and Exeter Cathedrals.  It was suggested by the Bishop of Peterborough in his Visitation Report on his own cathedral that the Church needed to give a thorough look at the governance of cathedrals.  Some people didn’t need to be invited twice!  There is a great deal of envy and suspicion out there at what St Paul describes as ‘the freedom we have in Christ’ (Galatians 2.4) and so a power-grab is proposed.  Well, that’s how I see it.  My big fear is that the radical engagement with the world that makes cathedrals so ‘successful’ will be reigned in by a controlling group of bishops and laity.  Cathedrals deal on a daily basis with the big issues of the day which so many parishes and so many parts of the hierarchy simply cannot or will not.

Synod 2

Flying with Pride outside the Synod Chamber

It is ironic that the Pride flag is flying outside the chamber in which the Synod will gather.  This is one area where Southwark Cathedral has given a lead and a witness – but not without some cost. Would we be able to do that if the report came into force?  We will see.

So, an interesting Synod, potentially.  Pray for us as we pray for you – and lets hope all the ducks behave!

O God, without you we are not able to please you;
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

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In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015

LIVING GOD

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the personal views of the Dean of Southwark