Responsible representation

Trust, transparency and diversity were important words that came through a debate that opened the afternoon. The title of the Report was ‘Responsible representation’ and was around the election process to the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). This is the body which nominates candidates to the Crown for appointment as diocesan bishops. I had the privilege – and I mean that – of serving on that body for eight years. It was an incredible experience. I felt that it was a huge responsibility, listening closely to the representatives from the diocese, the ‘Diocesan Six’ as they are known, so that the ‘Central Members’ can assist in discerning the right person for the next stage of life in that diocese.

There have been a number of issues over the past few years which have resulted in an inquiry into the work of the CNC and now some recommendations were being brought forward to amend the way in which people are elected to serve on that body. We are a broad church and that needs to be represented. ‘From Lament to Action’ has reminded us this week that we need to see UKME representation at every level, not just in the candidates coming forwards for appointment but in those making those appointments, or nominating people for particular office in the church.

The debate exposed some of the issues which are always there under the polite surface of Synod. One of the downsides of Zoom Synods is that it is very hard to judge the mood. When we are in a chamber together, whether that is here in Westminster or in York, you can easily work out what Synod is feeling and some of that veneer of politeness can be broken. Here the constraints of the remote gathering means that we don’t get proper engagement.

One of the problems we face has been institutionalised in the Five Guiding Principles., I voted for them when we were working out how we might bring forth legislation which would be agreeable to the church in general to enable the ordination of women to the episcopate. It was the positive and only way forward. And I do support those principles and the concept of mutual flourishing. St Paul writes this truth in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. (1 Corinthians 12.26)

But the important word is ‘mutual’. The church and all in ministry need to flourish and not just some – and too often it can feel as though the demands of mutual flourishing do not fall equally across the church.

The Central Members of the CNC should be representative of the church and that does mean those who are not in favour of the ordained ministry of women as priests or bishops should be represented. But so do other aspects of diversity both of person and opinion. Whether the proposals before us will achieve this I am not sure and those who check voting in Synod closely will see how I voted. I remain to be convinced but I am open to convincing.

The sun has been beating down outside of Church House. The members of the Panel of Chairs who are here, those who act as Registrars and Administrators in the debates, the staff of the Synod have all been stuck inside. But it has been good to meet, to do the business we have done, to achieve what we have achieved and to seek the real flourishing of the church through the exercise of responsible representation in every place, at every level.

I hope that we can meet in person in July, that we can be in York for the last Group of Sessions of this extended quinquennium. But for all that has been done, even in strange circumstances, thanks be to God.

I want to sign off with a prayer which I often use, by Dag Hammarskjold

For all that has been, thanks; for all that will be, yes. Amen.

Under pressure

There were so many great Queen songs. You hear one and memories flood back of when you heard it, or sang along to it. So one came to mind ‘Under pressure’ with the lines

Pressure pressing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets

General Synod continues today and finishes’ today. It has been a short Group of Sessions and that is right given that we are operating remotely and managing it all on screens. Into the agenda we now get screen breaks. The pressure of looking at a screen is just too much. We need a break every so often. But it also means that there is a certain amount of ‘winging it’ and ‘making it up as we go along’. After all, this is only the second actual meeting of General Synod where decisions are being made in this remote way, and Standing Orders – which is the other Bible for the Synod – were not written with this in mind. So we are constantly tweaking how things happen. It makes life … interesting!

As I said Morning Prayer before leaving the Deanery for Church House Westminster this morning, I was struck by these words in the Benedictus, the Gospel Canticle that is at the heart of the morning Office, the Song of Zechariah from St Luke’s Gospel.

‘Free to worship him without fear’

It leapt out at me because of one of the debates yesterday. Most of the business to be honest, such as today’s, is around legislation or appointments – and all of that is vital to the good governance and functioning of the church. But in the midst of it all was a debate on International Religious Freedom. We know that that freedom is under threat in many places for many people and not just for Christians. Like all freedoms it comes with responsibilities, such as using that freedom to liberate and not oppress, to create justice and peace for all, to honour everyone and the whole of creation. Sadly, as we know one person’s freedom can become another person’s oppression. So whether we are talking about our Coptic sisters and brothers in Egypt, or the Uyghur peoples in China or the Rohingya peoples in Myanmar the same principle of which Zechariah sings is true, ‘Free to worship him without fear’ .

So it was good that within the pressure of Synod we remebered the pressure placed upon those who simply want to worship without fear.

God, as we rejoice in our freedom may we use it to free others to worship without fear. Amen.

A moving beginning

Before Synod got down to the business that was before it we gave time to both remember His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and to listen to the Presidential Address. It was good for Synod to be able to record our thanks for the support of Prince Philip over the years and also to assure Her Majesty The Queen of our prayers. What came across however from what was said by the few members I had the time to call to speak was appreciation for what the Duke had achieved in people’s lives, not least through the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Dr Rachel Jepson, a member of the Archbishops’ Council spoke in particular about the way in which she wouldn’t be the person she is without the opportunities for personal development that the scheme afforded. Synod gave almost unanimous support to the Motion proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury

‘That this Synod request that the Presidents convey to Her Majesty the heartfelt sympathy of the Archbishops, Bishops, Clergy and Laity of the General Synod of the Church of England on the death of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, assuring Her Majesty of the honour in which his memory will be held by them and of their prayers for Her Majesty and all the Royal Family.’

We then moved straight on to the Presidential Address. Archbishop Stephen spoke to us from his home in York. As I had rightly assumed he addressed us in response to the Panorama exposé on racism in the Church of England. As ever he spoke powerfully and the story with which he concluded, his experience as a Ward Orderly in St Christopher’s Hospice in south London in the early eighties at the time of the Brixton riots was deeply moving. His call for action, to be the change we need to be, was powerful.

This is the prayer I wrote for the Diocese of Southwark for use yesterday, Stephen Lawrence Day. I offer it to you.

The sun rises

You may or may not know this but Church of England churches are not allowed to fly the Union Flag, the Union Jack. We have to fly the cross of St George, the English flag, because we are, of course, the Church of England. I’m not suggesting that police officers would shimmy up flagpoles if the wrong flag is being flown to tear it down, but you’re just not supposed to because being the Church of England and having the cross of St George flying above is what we do and who we are.

So it is a good day, this Feast of St George, for the church to meet in Synod. The General Synod is gathering for a Group of Sessions, just two days, today and tomorrow, to do some of the business that really has to be done. We are still meeting virtually and, as you will remember, those who read this kind of thing, the Synod passed legislation that enabled us to make legal decisions in this distanced, virtual way.

I will shortly be heading along the river from Southwark Cathedral to Church House Westminster to chair some of the debates. As a member of the Panel of Chairs we were asked to indicate if we would be happy to come in to do the task, and being local I am more than happy.

The agenda has already been amended twice in preparation for this Group of Sessions. The first reason was to include an opportunity for the Synod to pay its respects to and bear tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Philip died after the Business Committee had done its work of putting the agenda together, so an extra item at the beginning was added. Then a very short Presidential Address was added. I don’t know what this is about but I suspect it may be in response to both the recent Panorama programme exposing racism in the CofE and the publication yesterday of the report ‘From Lament to Action’ the work of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce. We shall see.

The rest of the time will be taken up with debates on topics like safeguarding and pensions, clergy discipline and the nomination of Diocesan Bishops, as well as on the subject of international religious freedom.

There are always dragons out there and there are always the vulnerable to be protected. If the CofE has the audacity to live under the banner of St George it needs to take heed of what is said in the Letter to the Ephesians in one of the set readings for this morning.

Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6.12)

Even in the heavenly places evil can be found.

God of hosts, who so kindled the flame of love in the heart of your servant George that he bore witness to the risen Lord by his life and by his death: give us the same faith and power of love that we who rejoice in his triumphs may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection; through Jesus our Lord. 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