Time’s up!

As I write the clock is ticking on this extended quinquennium and this final Group of Sessions of the General Synod. It has been quite a few days. I wrote at the beginning about gathering up the crumbs, the fragments. To be honest there have been some chunkier leftovers to be dealt with.

It has been a huge privilege to be asked to chair items before the Synod. I want to pay particular tribute to the Synod staff. As you look at the screen and the Platform Party, as we are called, you see three of us, the chair in the centre seat, a be-wigged lawyer on their left hand and an administrator on their right. The chair relies on both of these for advice and in these circumstances, for company. It is weird looking out into a chamber that should be full of members and instead is mostly populated with cameras and screens and, at the most, four of the backroom team. From those first Zoom meetings of the Synod we have come a long way. For the most part it is a slick operation and that is all down to the skill of the Synod team. Things will always go wrong but it has been an incredible achievement to do business and to pass legislation and keep the church moving forwards in these circumstances.

A number of the debates over the past few days have involved us in thinking about terms of office. Those of us who act as trustees on other bodies are used now to the moment when we fall off the perch. However much skill, knowledge and expertise you have built up, your tenure comes to an end. The question that has been brought to us a number of times is whether this should apply across the board. There is obviously the huge anomaly of people like me, which doesn’t make things easy. We might have fixed terms for most Chapter members, but the clergy will be there whilst they are in office. Membership of General Synod isn’t for a maximum of two quinquennia, for instance. I have been a member for three quinquennia – in fact, 16 years now because of the pandemic – and I am considering standing again. But service on something like the CNC, or even the Panel of Chairs does come to an end. ‘Time’s up’ is something that is called in the church, but how far should that go?

The final item I chaired on Monday afternoon was a subject that also involved the sound of a ticking clock. in 2014 when we approved the opening up of all three orders of ordained ministry to all people, regardless of gender, we did so because of the acceptance of the Five Guiding Principles. Seven years on and with a growing and welcome number of women in episcopal orders and many women and men having been ordained by a bishop who is a woman, the issues are beginning to be sharpened.

When the prophet Isaiah is called upon by God to do a task he asks the reasonable question

‘How long, O Lord?’ (Isaiah 6.11)

He didn’t want to agree to something open-ended. But God requires of him commitment to the task. There were a great many people who wanted to speak in this debate, some modern day Isaiah’s amongst them who wanted to know ‘how long’, more than we could hear from in the hour we had. As one speaker said ‘We are a church which ordains women’, and as the Bishop of Newcastle pointed out Synod has agreed that all such persons ordained are legally and truly bishops. So how long will the arrangements need to be in place. Is the clock ticking, or has it stopped?

It was a tough debate to have at the end of this extended quinquennium. Members were clearly conflicted – vote to take note, vote not to; vote to move to next business and so not deal with it at the moment, or not. As people pointed out, taking note does not imply agreement with what was being said, but it can feel as though it is tacit agreement.

In the end we did take note, but this is much more than a crumb, much more than a loose end. This is about who we are as a church. The Archbishop of York earlier in the day had returned to his theme of ‘simpler, humbler, bolder’. Those principles must apply across our life. Even something like the long debate on the Crown Nominations Commission and how it works, has in the background issues relating directly to the settlement agreed back in 2014 and how in fact it has been working out, how transparent we are, and the extent to which we trust people to behave honourably and openly.

Just as at the end of a football match the whistle is blown and that is that (Synod fortunately does not have penalties, well, not in that sense) the whole thing finishes with Prorogation and Dissolution. Time’s up. The Synod and its Convocations are no more – but there is a great deal of work for the next Synod when it arrives, we hope, face-to-face, in-person, in Westminster in November.

I’ll end with that favourite prayer of mine, by Dag Hammarskjold

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

Lumi

Followers of this blog may remember that at the last Synod we were using ‘the Crystal platform’ for all our voting. I think I wrote a blog then called ‘The Crystal Maze’ because sometimes it felt a bit like that as we manoeuvred our way through its complexities. Anyway, if you have been listening in on Synod this time you will have heard the Chair constantly referring to ‘Lumi’. This in fact is the voting platform that we are now using.

What it means I do not know – the word I mean. Maybe it’s from the Latin for light, in the sense that it sends a ray of light into debates and voting. However, much more fun might be what the Urban Dictionary tells me, that “lumi” is an acronym for “love u mean it.​” What a difference that would make to the workings of the General Synod and, indeed, the whole of the life of the Church of England – “Lumi”, “Love u mean it” – if that were true.

Whatever the company means by the name they chose for their voting platform product, we have used it well today. So many of the debates have involved multiple votes, such as the long debate on Amendments to Standing Orders. Those debates, though they are the joy of people who obviously love Standing Orders and live and breathe them, are in fact vital to the good working of the Synod and so to the benefit of every member.

Other items today have been around such things as the annual reports of the Church Commissioners and the Archbishops’ Council, around progress on safeguarding, on housing, on the budget. In addition we have also had an update on ‘Living in Love and Faith’ (LLF). LLF, as you will know is the latest part of the agonising and long drawn out process whereby the Church of England struggles through the issues of human sexuality. We have just gone through Pride month. I was delighted that Southwark Cathedral’s social media presence was all branded with the rainbow version of our logo. This was not intended to provoke people, to wind them up, nor to suggest that this above all other issues is what Southwark Cathedral is about. We did it to show that we stand in solidarity with our LGBT+ sisters and brothers, that we have pride in one another, that we aren’t still agonising, that we are celebrating. The message really is LUMI – Love you, mean it. Whatever comes out of LLF I hope that simple message can ring out loud and, yes, proud. We love you, whoever you are, and we mean it, and God loves you and means it.

We always have to return to John 3.16, it is a foundation stone of our life and is so clear and unequivocal.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3.16)

It’s the LUMI message writ large and written on the palms of divine hands nailed to the cross. As the body of Christ surely that has to be our message too.

God of love, we know you mean it. When I speak of love may I mean it too. Amen.

Crumbs

My auntie always reminds me about when I was a little boy – I can’t remember it at all, so I’m trusting her memory – that I would tell the same joke over and over again. ‘Two biscuits were crossing the road. One got run over; the other shouted’ ‘Crumbs!’ She said I laughed every time and that really amused them, even if the joke didn’t.

Well, here we are again; the last Group of Sessions for this extended quinquennium of the General Synod has begun. We thought we would be in-person in York and then York University decided otherwise. Then we thought we’d be in-person in Westminster and then Boris decided otherwise. So we are back with another virtual meeting with just the platform party in the strangely empty chamber and everyone else on Zoom. This is the sixth gathering of Synod in a year – can you believe it? I think the Synod staff can if this morning’s Panel of Chairs meeting is anything to go by. But it is what it is.

However, I am very sad that all the atmosphere of the final Group of Sessions has been lost, all the opportunities to say farewell to those who are retiring or who have decided enough is enough and they are not standing for election again. And, of course, there’s all the out of the chamber conversations, the sitting by the lakes watching the wildfowl and the time in the bars that we miss out on.

This final Group of Sessions is always about tying loose ends, trying to get the final pieces of legislation through, so that when the Synod is dissolved at the end, it is neat and clean. So the agenda that is before us is a rather bitty, stuff around ministry, the work of the CNC, thoughts on CDM, the shape of the church, where mission is, annual reports that need to be made, and of course, safeguarding.

It’s important that this final sweep, this gathering of the crumbs is done. But it does mean there isn’t a theme that you can pick up on.

Jesus was so keen that nothing be lost. I love the account in St John’s Gospel of the feeding of the multitude (John 6.1-14).

When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. (John 6.12-13)

The fragments, the crumbs were so important – ‘that nothing may be lost’. It applies to our lives, it applies to the church and it even applies to the Synod. And the gathered fragments in their twelve baskets became a symbol of the kingdom, the new Israel, the twelve tribes.

My prayer is that we can do a good job at gathering and completing and revealing, by the grace of God, something of the kingdom as we do it.

Lord, bless our work, our gathering, that nothing may be lost. Amen.

Holy Land

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My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

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

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark