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.

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.

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.

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.

Prorogation

It’s great how some words are used that you just don’t come across in the rest of life. The church is great at that – we use all kinds of words that are just so particular to what we do.  It’s like this word ‘Prorogation’. That is the final item on each Synod agenda.  Google tells me it means

To discontinue a session of (a parliament, for example).

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Enter a caption

 

So the Archbishop of whichever Province the Synod is meeting in dismisses us, as the Headmaster would dismiss school at the end of the academic year.  Hurrah – the holiday begins! Except the truth is that we are all returning to whatever it is that we do when we are not here.

The final Session of this Group of Sessions was concerned with the Annual Report from the Archbishops’ Council and then the voting through of the budget for 2018. All that happened without too much fuss and after farewells – hilariously and lovingly delivered by Archbishop Justin – to the Bishop of Bristol, Mike Hills, and the Bishop at Lambeth, Nigel Stock, we left the Chamber.

It has been a significant Synod.  Before I make the positive comments there is one thing that concerns me.  Part of the real joy at York has always been the Fringe Events. These are meetings that take place in between the sessions. They are important because in them issues are aired, projects are promoted, voices are heard that couldn’t happen in the debates. There is always a rich selection and I have always tried to go to quite a few.  The practice was that as the Session ended you made your way to the room where the Fringe Meeting was taking place.  A buffet meal awaited you and a glass or two of wine.  You sat down with your food at round tables, got chatting to people, perhaps folk you didn’t know and then after a while the event proper began.  That has all changed.  It is perhaps finance, perhaps the administrative burden it creates, I don’t really know but now we all go to get our meal in whichever dining room we have been allocated to, down our food and then head off to the event.

It sounds ok on paper but it has taken a lot away from the Fringe of the Synod and I think that has made it much ‘fringier’ much more peripheral and I’d be interested to know whether fewer people availed themselves of the opportunity to talk and learn and pray together.  If that has been a consequence Synod and the Church is the poorer for it.

After all it was the fringe of the garment that brought healing to people as Jesus passed them, as they encountered the Apostles, its the fringe that is often the most exciting place to operate in our parishes, in our institutions, it is on the fringe that we encounter Christ.

Moan over – this was an amazing Synod.  I think that an indicator of what might be happening was the passing of the Amending Canon on Vesture this morning.  When that first came forward as an idea I was ready to resist it.  As a catholic never-knowingly underdressed I was ready to lie down before the evangelical tanks! But instead we have arrived at a place of real accommodation and understanding.  I can wear my chasuble for missional reasons, my sister can wear what she feels is important for mission where she is, my brother for where he is.  We have agreed that there are times and ‘life events’ in which what we wear is significant and there are situations and new ecclesial gatherings where something different is needed.  I think we have all been brave and imaginative and the voting reflected that.  Catholics and evangelicals, as well as everyone in that broad middle, voted together. The numbers clearly show that, that we were voting as one Synod regardless of our attitude to brocade in church!

It might have been that new understanding of ‘radical Christian inclusion’ that allowed us to do this, as it allowed us to reject the curing of homosexuals through Conversion Therapy, as we voted to really welcome trans people into our congregations. Thanks be to God, the God of surprises.

So, I leave, encouraged and again amazed at what can happen when we allow the Holy Spirit, wind and fire, to blow into our locked and protected spaces and liberate us.

Holy God,
bless your Church
that our hearts my be set on fire
in worship, witness and mission
in the name of Jesus, your Son.
Amen.

The price of …

In his play, ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, Oscar Wilde puts one of his wonderful epigrammatic lines into the mouth of Lord Darlington when discussing what a cynic is.

‘A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.’

Cash

The price to be paid

 

Price and value came into the debate that opened this morning’s Session of the General Synod.  Birmingham Diocese had put forward a Motion borne out of concern at the cost of applying for citizenship in this country.  The figures are eye-watering! £1282 for an adult, £973 for a child.  If you make a mistake in the completing of the application for citizenship then you lose the fee and have to pay all over again when you resubmit your application.  As was pointed out, those applying have the right to stay; these are not fees designed to control the levels of immigration, to put people off.  After all, surely it is in the interests of the nation that the people living here are fully engaged with the whole of the community and society by being full citizens.  It all makes sense. That is where the values come in, the value of having a truly integrated nation, of not having parts of society excluded from the democratic processes, not having that deep sense of belonging that we want for true community cohesion.

I’ve just tried out a version of the Citizenship Test I found online and scored 17/24.  I’m not sure that that means I can be a citizen, or could be if I wasn’t.  But some of the questions are fiendish.  Yet people want to be citizens, despite the fees and despite the questions, the hoops and hurdles we put in place.

There is a wonderful exchange about citizenship in the Acts of the Apostles.  Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem and is before the Tribune who is trying to find out the truth of the accusations being brought against him.

The tribune came and asked Paul, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ The tribune answered, ‘It cost me a large sum of money to get my citizenship.’ Paul said, ‘But I was born a citizen.’ (Acts 22.27-28)

So, as someone born a citizen of the UK my question to myself has been do I value what that means and the responsibilities that flow from it? And as far as my friends for whom it costs ‘a large sum of money’ what am I doing to support them?  The debate in Synod and the unanimous vote in favour of the Motion was a wonderful example of the way in which, at our best, we can give strong messages to the nation and live out the role that we have as the Established Church for the people of England, citizens and not yet citizens alike.

Two other debates were very significant.  These were about two Amending Canons. These are important pieces of legislation.  The Canons of the Church of England are part of the law of the land (now there’s a question for the citizenship test! Only joking!) and for that reason are taken very carefully through the Synod.  Any changes must secure a 2/3rds majority in each of the houses.

The first of the amendments was to Canon B8 (Of the vesture of ordained and authorized ministers during the time of divine service) which means what we wear to take services.  To be honest the Canon was being flouted in many situations, not least in some Fresh Expressions. Some clergy think that robes and vestments get in the way of mission. I don’t necessarily agree but I do think that we need Canons that work and are not brought into disrepute by simply being ignored.  I’ve also experienced in the last few months two instances in the Diocese of Southwark where I was asked not to bring robes and to speak in a service just in suit or clerical shirt.  In both instances that was exactly right.

When it came to the vote the amendments to this Canon received the necessary 2/3rds and more.

The second Canon for amendment was Canon B38 (Of the burial of the dead) dealt with the way in which the church in the past dealt with the burial of the unbaptised, the excommunicated and those who committed suicide.  The practice of the pre-reformation church was brought across to the Church of England and each of these groups was denied a Christian burial.  It was only later in the 19th century that this was changed but differences still applied.  These changes will mean that all those who die and who seek a Church of England funeral will be treated in the same way.  In fact pastoral practice left the Canons behind a long time ago.  So this has tidied that up as well and makes the Canon reflect contemporary practice and understanding.

A good mornings work.

Jesus, my Lord and King,
my saviour,
may my true citizenship be of your kingdom,
for you paid the price to set me free.
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

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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