Heading home

So we were Prorogued and we are now heading back to to the four corners of England (Isle of Man, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands included of course).

Yes I am in First Class! I booked early!

So, we have simplified procedures around getting a new vicar when there is a vacancy and some changes to the Church Representation rules. But in addition to those important debates we also discussed the progress on ‘Setting God’s People Free’ (SGPF) and ministry to those living with dementia, which includes those who are carers, particularly through the ministry of Anna Chaplains.

The phrase I loved from the first debate was ‘the Christ of the every day’ and of course SGPF is around recognising that Christian life is an every day business. I apologise for so often turning to George Herbert, my excuse is that he does articulate Anglicanism for me. He writes in his poem ‘Praise (III)

Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise Thee;

The Christian life is full time, every day. So, when we got to debate how we minister to those living with dementia I stood, but wasn’t called, to tell my story of Harold.

It was 30 years ago and I was a parish priest in Leeds. Harold has been the Verger at one of the churches in the parish for 50 years. He had been a daily communicant, the Mass was not a Sunday experience but a daily reality. But when I arrived he was housebound, as much by his mental as any physical disability. His dutiful wife Elsie was caring for him, and he was difficult to care for. I took the Blessed Sacrament to him once a week. He would talk and shout and ‘disrupt’ the first part of the Liturgy much to Elsie’s distress.

But then I would hold the Blessed Sacrament before him and say ‘This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ and carefully and slowly he would make the sign of the cross and open his mouth to receive the host (that was how he’d been taught). His wife told me that he was always silent for about half an hour after I’d left.

The psalmist writes

Deep calls to deep in the thunder of your waterfalls.’ (Ps 42.9)

It was being so deeply embedded with the Christ of the every day that had embedded the knowledge of the Christ of the every day in the very deepest places of his being, the places that his condition could not touch. I have seen that repeated in others to whom I have had the privilege to minister. Dementia diminishes and can seem to destroy but we should never imagine that the person no longer recognises Christ in the midst.

There was an extra item of business before the Farewells and the Prorogation. Archbishop Justin invited one of our guests from the Anglican Communion to address Synod. It was the Revd Canon Dr Joseph Bilal from South Sudan and on the day when that country was celebrating its Independence Day he stood to thank us for our support. It took me back to 2011 when I was Chaplain to the General Synod. On the day when South Sudan became an independent nation we held a special service in the Synod to celebrate that event. It was a joy to put that together and an inspiration to hear Fr Joseph speak so passionately and positively today. They have travelled a tough road from then to now. But may God bless them. It was a great ending to a good Synod.

Perhaps I can end with my favourite prayer by Dag Hammarskjold. His words open us up to every possibility that the Christ of the every day holds for us.

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

The last lap

The finishing line is in view, this is the last lap.  At the end of this morning’s Session we will be Prorogued (interesting how that is a word that more people are now aware of – I’d only ever used it in relation to Synod, but Brexit is having unforeseen effects) and we will head back into real life.


The morning is book-ended by two debates and in the middle are two bits of legislative business.  The first debate will be on ‘Setting God’s People Free’.  This is an initiative begun in 2017 about ‘encouraging and enabling lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life’ and helping the ordained and lay members of the church to see their roles as complementary.  Dioceses have been taking this on in different ways and I suppose this morning we will be hearing lots of stories about what has been happening.

The last debate is on a motion from the Diocese of Rochester about ‘Anna Chaplaincy’.  I had never heard about this until I was coming to this Synod.  It seems that Anna Chaplains work with the elderly and those living with dementia.  They have a vocation to listen and be alongside.  Their name comes from Anna who appears out of the shadows of the Temple in Luke’s account of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2.36-38)

She’s a fascinating ‘bit-part’ player in the gospel and it will be great to celebrate her – one of God’s people who are set free as she encounters the one for whom she has been looking and waiting.

In between? There are two pieces of legislation to approve, one on the Patronage of Benefices and the other on the Church Representation Rules.  So we just need that final spurt of energy to get us to the finishing line.

Loving God,
give us the energy we need today,
to do whatever lies before us.

Cathedral-shaped church

It was budget day at General Synod.  But there is no red box, no photo outside a door and no rabbits being pulled out of hats.  What we have instead is the most amazing presentation by Canon John Spence who looks after the finances for the Archbishops’ Council.  John is blind and so he is helped on to the platform – and then he is on his own. What happens is quite amazing.  Now, you have to understand that my memory is pathetic, I actually called the Bishop of Oxford the Bishop of Sheffield, forgetting he had moved a few years ago!  But John Spence has a memory like no other.  I was chairing the debate on the budget and apportionment and gave him 15 minutes in which to make his presentation.  Without a note John spoke to the PowerPoint slides that were displayed, everything was at his fingertips, but not in Braille but in his memory – the figures, the facts – all there.  In the debate that followed he responded with great ease.  So budget day may not be as it is in that other legislative body but it is no less impressive.


No need for one of these!

John also manages to make a very clear connection between the money we vote with the mission in which we engage with the growth in discipleship that we seek.  That is what makes this particular presentation of a budget not a dry, boring experience but something to thrill the heart.

This was going to be an important day for those of us connected with cathedrals.  As I said in my earlier blog we were going to debate the Draft Cathedrals Measure in the morning.  None of us who had been involved in the conversations that have been taking place since last July had any idea how this would go.  But in the end it was a really helpful debate.  What was so good was how clear people were about where they felt that things in the Measure could be improved in the revision process that now begins.  Synod spoke very clearly and that makes, potentially, the next stage so much more straight forward.

The other thing was that it was clear from those who spoke in the debate just how important cathedrals are to the life of the church as a whole but also to the wider community.  The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Caroline Spelman, MP, spoke powerfully about how cathedrals are showcases for wider society, how they ‘belong’ not just to the church but to our communities and how many times she hears people speaking of ‘our’ cathedral.

I know that to be true from our experience in Southwark.  We, as you will be aware, were at the heart of the London Bridge and Borough Market attack.  So the Inquest that has been taking place into what happened has opened up for us the memories of that terrible night.  When I tried to go to the Cathedral the morning after the attack, it was Pentecost Sunday, the police stopped me at the cordon that had been set up after I found my way back to the Deanery after I had been in the Market the night before.  In fact we would not be able to open the Cathedral to the public, for worship, for a week.

People spoke about ‘our cathedral’ being closed.  They felt it as another loss in that greater sense of loss in the days that followed the atrocities.  They needed that inclusive, open, holy space that the cathedral is even for those who do not go to services or necessarily call themselves Christians. They needed the thin place of accessibility to the divine beyond them in the place that they are.

The Synod heard about the ‘Mission-Shaped Church and Fresh Expressions’ initiatives 15 years on.  A lot that is exciting has been done and it is much easier now to think of the budget, for instance, from this mission perspective.  But I also like to think of the church as cross-shaped.  Southwark Cathedral, being a relatively simple and early Gothic building is built on the cruciform shape.  I love taking groups into the church and asking them to stand in the centre and look east from the west end.  The tilting chancel, built to mirror the head of Christ on the cross, takes people’s breath away.  Then I point out that the church is the body of Christ, the church is built in the shape of the cross and the crucified Christ and is set right at the heart of the community.  The Cathedral-shaped church is a Christ-shaped church, a cross-shaped church.  As Jesus said

‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18.20)

It’s not particular to cathedrals, of course, but there are ways in which cathedrals can and do and should be this more purposefully, more deliberately, more self-consciously because of being that ‘showcase of the Spirit’ for wider society, for the community in which the cross, in which Christ is set.

George Herbert wrote a poem called ‘The British Church’ and it concludes like this

But, dearest mother, what those miss,
The mean, thy praise and glory is
And long may be.
Blessed be God, whose love it was
To double-moat thee with his grace,
And none but thee.

Herbert’s idea of a church ‘double-moated’ with grace, doubly blessed, doubly protected, is a lovely one and perhaps as he wrote this he looked across the water meadows from Bemerton to the great cathedral of Salisbury and saw a grace filled, Christ-shaped church, touching heaven and fixed on earth.  Glorious, a blessing.  That is what we want our cathedrals to continue to be.

double-moat your church with grace,
that we may be safe and holy
for your people
the place of encounter with your Son,
crucified, glorified, and with us when we meet.

Law and grace

I came out of my room this morning to be greeted by the sight of a balloon gently moving across the sky as I walked to the dining hall to get my breakfast.  Lovely, but nothing at all to do with this blog, but just a nice beginning to the day.


A nice way to begin the day

Anyway, at Morning Prayer for the past few weeks we have been reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  In Chapter 6 of that letter Paul writes

‘You are not under law but under grace.’ (Romans 6.14)

Of course, grace abounds in the meetings of the General Synod but, unfortunately, we also have to deal with law and it is legislation that is going to take up a great deal of our time in the two Sessions that lie before us today.  We will be looking at Faculty Jurisdiction, Religious Communities, Standing Orders, some miscellaneous provisions – a kind of rag bag of stuff including revisiting that clause relating to unused burial grounds which is where we began this Synod – and cathedrals.

Last July we were considering the report of the Cathedrals Working Group.  This year we are looking for the first time at the draft legislation, the Cathedrals Measure, that has come out of that report.  The twelve months in between have seen a huge number of meetings between the various interested parties, not just deans, not just Residentiary Canons, but the many, many groups of people for whom cathedrals are significant.  The draft measure, however, contains the recommendations of the report, some of which are not workable, some of which are not welcome. I have been appointed as the chair of the Revision Committee.  So, if the Draft Measure gains Synod’s approval in this first reading it gets passed on for revision which is when we will be able to tidy it up and recommend changes to the law, that grace may abound.  So I’m hoping for a really good debate which will highlight the areas that we need to look at.  If all goes to plan the amended Measure will come back to Synod in February.

The rest of the day, when we are not talking about law, we will be talking about the budget for next year, the work of the Archbishops’ Council and looking at ‘Mission-Shaped Church’ 15 years on.  So it should be an interesting day.

God of grace,
may your church live
your law of love.

Cautious steps

There are times when you can’t race ahead, when you have to step more cautiously.  The famous split infinitive at the beginning of Star Trek, ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’ was one way of travelling.  But Synod was not in Trekkie mode this afternoon as we debated the proposals that would lead to the mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministries between the Methodist Church and the Church of England.


Tread carefully

If you are chairing a debate, as I was chairing this debate, it means that you have to spend time backstage planning how you will manage the debate.  That meant that unfortunately I wasn’t in the Chamber for the opening of this Session and for questions and the subsequent presentation on safeguarding.  But there is a screen on which we can watch what is happening and we can hear a lot of what is going on.  The questions that followed on from the presentation concluded with a standing ovation by members of the Synod.  So I can only conclude that it went well.

There was a great deal of interest in the Methodist-Anglican debate.  Lots of people had put in to speak, there were three amendments to be handled and, potentially, some procedural motions.  We had two hours allotted for the debate, which may seem like a long time but, believe me, time moves on very quickly.

I knew what the issues would be, of course.  There would be a group of people who were eager to move forward as quickly as possible with a legislative process – the bold ones.  Others would be more cautious, wanting more time to consider what we mean by episcope, the role of bishops, about the ‘anomaly’ we would live with for maybe two decades of ministers not episcopally ordained celebrating the sacraments, particularly presiding at the Eucharist.  Others were concerned that the recent decision of the Methodist Conference to support equal marriage in church revealed different doctrinal positions on marriage.  So, for different reasons there were cautious people and for good reason there were bold people.  We had to find a way through.

In the end we chose the path of caution, but still with momentum, asking the House of Bishops to come back with further thoughts and deliberations in the next quinquennium.  I am sure that this was the best decision – without that measure of caution the whole thing might have been lost!

We were reminded by a couple of speakers of the Methodist Covenant Prayer which begins like this

I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

There is no caution in this prayer.  When we say it we boldly place our selves, everything we are, into the hands and the will of God.  For Methodists covenant means everything and as we are already in a covenant with them it should mean everything for us as well.  The journey, the path we have chosen may be the cautious one but it will demand boldness as well.

Oh, and the debate … the final amended motion was passed in all three Houses.  We move forward.

God give us the courage to be bold,
and the wisdom which calls for caution,
that in all things your will be done.

The beauty of holiness

On Sunday we all go to church.  In fact we all go to York Minster and that is always a treat.  This morning ++Sentamu was presiding and ++Justin was preaching.  The Minster was full and it was all very lovely.  The Archbishop preached about the state of the nation and the need for reconciliation and the role that we, as the Church of England, have in helping with that.  I am sure he is right, the question we were asking each other as we walked back from the Minster to the University was ‘How?’.


The Eucharist at the Minster always ends in the same way.  The organ plays as the altar party leaves and the choir follows and then as they reach a certain place in the nave they take over singing a setting of Psalm 150, unaccompanied and to a chant by ‘George Surtees Talbot (1875-1918) sometime Vicar Choral of York Minister’ as it says in the order of service.  The treble voices soar at the end of each verse and as the choir moves out of the nave and into the choir aisle the sound becomes more distant and more ethereal.  Even Google seems to know little more about Talbot apart from that he published one book.  There is no picture available online, nothing but these beautiful notes which much captivate thousands of people each year as the Eucharist ends and they prepare to leave the Minster ‘To love and serve the Lord’.  Leaving with the ‘beauty of holiness’ ringing in our ears must be part of the response we need to make to the nation, witnessing to the reality of our reconciling God, being salt and light, being bridge-builders, truth-tellers, peace-makers.

So we are back at the University and after lunch back to an afternoon of business.  Sunday afternoons should be about sleeping off a big roast lunch (with Yorkshire Pudding) and a bottle of claret with your feet on the sofa and a Doris Day film on the tele.  Not for us.  We will begin with Safeguarding Questions followed by a presentation on Safeguarding.  As the IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) continues and members of the Church of England are being called to give evidence and we are hearing the voices of survivors, these will be important pieces of business.

Then we will move on to a debate that has been ongoing for years and years and years, the discussions between the Methodist Church and the Church of England.  This debate is called ‘Mission and Ministry in Covenant’ and will call on the church to move forward.  I will be chairing this debate so I will say no more, only what a delight it was to sing one of the great hymns by Charles Wesley, ‘And can it be’.  That final verse should be ringing in our ears as much as the lovely Psalm 150.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Then this Session will finish with a debate on a motion from the Diocese of Southwark on ‘Refugee Professionals’.  It will encourage us to see refugees as a gift and not an ‘issue’, not a ‘problem’, arriving as so many do with the most amazing skills and professional backgrounds, which are so often ignored, so often wasted.

So, a busy and very serious afternoon.  So if you are watching Doris Day with your feet up, enjoy, and spare a thought for us.

Holy Spirit,
guide our thoughts,
our words,
our actions,
that filled with the beauty of your holiness
we may serve the world.

And / Or

Synod can be very frustrating – believe me.  But then within the frustrations you can see some of the benefits.  Take the debate on Serious Youth Crime.  Canon Rosemarie Mallett did a fantastic job at introducing the motion and setting up the debate that followed.  It was a good debate.  No one was going to vote against the motion, of course.  How could you?  As we heard the issue is not just about London or the other big metropolitan areas.  Youth violence affects so many communities and draws in so many of our wonderful young people.  And we have a concern for our children and young people.  We are a partner with the state in education, we still run youth projects, we help our children and young people to grow in faith through our learning programmes, we baptise, we Confirm but we do not want to bury these same children.  Yet Rosemarie told us she has had to officiate at too many funerals of young people in her own parish in Brixton, promising lives cut short.


What was frustrating was that we had to take up a great deal of the debating time looking at three proposed amendments.  In the end not one of them was supported by the majority of Synod members and so the Motion went to the final vote unchanged.  In an electronic count of the whole Synod – 315 voting in favour, no one voting against or abstaining.  So why did we waste our time on the amendments?

The truth is that those debates within the debate gave us the opportunity to think through some associated issues and not least the whole issue of the exclusion of pupils from school.  This is seen to be one of the factors, one of the factors, behind the rise in youth violence, excluded kids, rejected even by schools, de-motivated, bored and then relating to other groups and influences.  We get these too easy and convenient associations – school exclusion = youth violence.  But the debate raised other perspectives.

A couple of teachers spoke about how their colleagues regard any exclusion as a failure.  They spoke about the need to safeguard other pupils in the class.  They spoke about the needs to protect teaching staff who can themselves be the subject of violence.  As a former School Governor I agree that any exclusion is a failure but I also know that the work that Pupil Referral Units do should not be dismissed.

I know one lad, excluded from school, attending a PRU who cannot speak too highly of the care that he has been given by the staff and especially when he was in pastoral need.  The classroom was a challenge for him, the PRU was his salvation.  Individual attention was what he needed, the group was not the place for him.  That is only one person of course but there are always more sides to the story.

The result of the debate was that we go back to our dioceses with a task to do, whether we are in Hereford or Southwark and that is to take the issue of our young people even more seriously and to do what we can do, whatever we can do, and partner with others who have the skills that we do not have.

This debate was followed by one on Clergy Well-being but I wasn’t present for that debate so I can make no comment.

I was around though for the afternoon, though I’m more than happy to confess to you that I attended only two of the three seminars I should have attended.  And I also confess that what I said this morning was wrong.  I learnt some things, it did feel different and I was grateful to the work that had gone into what we heard from members of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ group and the Pastoral Advisory Group.

What did I learn?  Well some statistics on sexual behaviour in contemporary society were interesting, not surprising but very interesting.  But it makes me realise that our sexual lives are much more complex than sometimes we dare to admit.  The Marriage Service expresses it all in such a coy way that really does not do justice to the reality of people’s lives.

The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.

or alternatively

It is given, that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love, and, through the joy of their bodily union, may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives.

Both of these are quotes from the alternative Prefaces that are authorised in the Common Worship Marriage Service.  Andrew Marvell wrote the beautiful poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’, published posthumously in 1681, which begins with these lines

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

Like Marvell, we don’t have eternity to think about love, we need to address it realistically now, as a community that celebrates love constantly, in all its complexity, without being coy about it.

The other thing that I learnt, or at least that was revealed to me, was in an oft quoted text from scripture with which we were presented.

‘So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1.27)

Now, you know I am no scholar and certainly no Hebrew scholar.  So others will be better able to comment on this but what was highlighted for me was that ‘and’ which is not translated as an ‘or’ – ‘male and female he created them.’ Is what is being recognised here that each of us is that rich mixture of male and female, a divine recognition that gender is not as binary as we might wish to believe, that each of us is a creation of ‘and’ rather than ‘or’? If that is the case, if Genesis is more subtle than I had recognised …. well, how exciting is that?

God, help me to live more comfortably
in the inclusive world of and,
not in the binary world of or.

Two masters

It’s not easy when you feel pulled in two ways.  We can often experience divided loyalties.  Jesus recognises that fact when he says this to his disciples

‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.’ (Matthew 6.24)


Pulled both ways

The Church of England is often pulled in a variety of directions and we saw that yesterday in the afternoon Session of the General Synod.  The issue was around what we mean by a spouse in relation to some legislation which related to cathedrals building on a disused burial ground (pretty obscure you are thinking).  The ‘offending text’ came in the Report of the Steering Committee, those dry looking documents with unmemorable references, this one was GS 2104Z/2105Z, which are designed to help us understand the legislative paper to which they relate and the first instance of this new definition came here

Clause 6, page 6, line 26, at end insert—
“(3E) The reference in subsection (3D)(a) to a person’s spouse includes a reference
to a spouse of the same sex as that person.”

The CofE has all the benefits of being the Established Church, seats in the House of the Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury being one of the few to know who Archie’s godparents are, and looking after the people of this nation at all the life stages that we go through – hatch, match and dispatch as we say.  That means burying people and that means people who are not paid up ‘members’ of the CofE.  That is the joy of being in this church.  But of course, for the first time in our history, we disagree with the nation about who a person can marry.  We say that you can only marry someone of the opposite sex to you, the nation says you can marry any person who you love.  So how do we square this circle, how do we live with this discrepancy in our understanding of marriage.  How do we serve the two masters of the God we adore and the nation we are called to serve.  And anyway, where is the God of love in all of this, with our rather restrictive views or with the inclusive view that the nation has so readily embraced?

For some of course this clause was the liberal ‘Thin Edge of the Wedge’, a Trojan Horse being wheeled into the Synod Chamber, like a bride adorned for his/her husband/wife.  There were calls for ‘Next Business’, ‘Adjournment’, ‘Article 7’ (which may still come), all procedural devices.  But in the end the amendment was approved.  But the serious point, as was made by someone in the debate, is that we have to be prepared to deal with all these anomalies that will come along and we will be there in many obscure corners of our life, because it is about our pastoral response to the people of England which has been history long.

And, of course, it gave us an indication of what we are in for this afternoon as we join in a series of seminars about the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project.  The Bishop of Coventry in telling us what would be happening today said that this would be about a new way of learning.  Really?  Maybe? But what I do not understand is how more talking can get us anywhere.  I was in three sets of Shared Conversations and they were meant to be the answer and I learnt a great deal by them and I thank God for the late and lovely Ruth Scott and the others who held us during that process.  I am still meeting on a regular basis someone I got to know during those conversations – on the issue we disagree but on everything else we agree on so much and, I think, I hope, count each other as friends.  But at some stage we have to make a decision and live with the consequences … but we are approaching Lambeth 2020 so nothing will happen before that.

Anyway, more importantly we need to debate Serious Youth Violence and that is this (Saturday) morning.  Young people are dying in our streets and on our estates, in our parishes and we are, as ever, fiddling whilst Rome burns.

may we serve you and serve our neighbour
with an undivided heart.

Back up north

York Railway Station is one of those great places to arrive, the vast scale of the place, trains arriving and departing from and to all over the country.  Today, among the thousands of tourists arriving in lovely summer sunshine to see the delights of this Viking and medieval city, are the members of the General Synod of the Church of England.  You can spot us getting off the trains – some in dog collars, others looking like clerics trying not to look like clerics but some how missing it, others carrying huge files of papers they have been trying to read on the journey up, and those who travel lightly through life, a small bag, minimal luggage, their papers downloaded onto a device, nothing to encumber them.

Central Hall York Summer 2019

The Central Hall at York University – our home for the next five days

The queue for the taxis is always long and when you spot someone you know there is that conversation, ‘Shall we share a cab?’ and off you head for the University campus where the Synod is held.  With a huge bag and bulging backpack I arrived early, caught the 66 bus that drops you at the campus and waited for my first meeting.

As a member of the Panel of Chairs we always have a briefing meeting with the officers of the Synod, the administrators and the lawyers.  A full brief has been prepared and we work our way through that, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and then Tuesday.  Then we can head back home.  The briefing helps us understand where debates might be more difficult, where slippage in the timetable might occur, where we might catch up time, what traps might be awaiting us as chairs.

This is my 14th York Synod.  I think I have said in previous years that the meetings up here have a very different feel and when I first starting attending and didn’t have any responsibilities it did feel a bit like a nice holiday ‘up north’. Depending on the weather people don shorts and t-shirts, bishops abandon purple shirts for something more jazzy, and ‘floaty’ skirts (as mum might have described them) and sandals are worn by others.  It does give it a different feel.  And, of course, we are all living on the campus in the student accommodation, mostly in James or Vanbrugh colleges, eating together in our respective dining halls, worshiping together, going to the same bars after business is concluded for the day.

So here we are, and as I write we are preparing to go into the Central Hall which will become the Synod Chamber.  So, what to look out for in this Group of Sessions.

We are in York and this is the last meeting of the General Synod at which the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, will be present.  He will be delivering the Presidential Address, so what might he say? Look for the legislative business because among those seemingly innocuous and boring clauses there can be interesting things, no Faculty needed for benches in churchyards or re-pointing of buildings, the definition of spouses in particular instances to include same-sex spouses. Goodness! We will be debating the Draft Cathedrals Measure for the first time and hopefully handing it on to the Revision process.  We will be thinking about Mission Shaped Church as we celebrate the 15th anniversary of that initiative.  We will debate the proposals for a covenant relationship with the Methodist Church and the recognition of ministries.  There will be the standard business at this time of the year about budgets and there are two debates that have originated from the Diocese of Southwark.

Hopefully these two debates, one on Serious Youth Violence and the other on Refugee Professionals, will get a lot of interest from the media.  I also hope that we will hear great stories of what the church is doing to support our young people and refugees.  But as ever there will be interest in where we are with the ongoing debates on sex, sexuality and gender.  Saturday afternoon will be spent by members of Synod attending a variety of seminars as we hear how the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ process is progressing. As I arrived here this morning I tweeted that this was my 14th Synod up here and we are still talking about sex – and, of course, whilst I am here I will not be with my sisters and brothers from Southwark Cathedral at ‘Pride in London’, witnessing to our inclusive love, supporting the LGBT community rather than just talking about it, flying the rainbow flag.

But I need to go to the chamber.  Synod will begin, we will welcome our guests including the Worldwide President of the Mothers’ Union among others, discussing the agenda and taking Questions, as well as some initial Legislative Business.  Please keep us in your prayers as I keep you in mine.

This Collect for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity seems to say it all.

O God, forasmuch as 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.

Weaving the threads

The Archbishops had decided that before the Synod was Prorogued we should have an opportunity to debate ‘The State of the Nation’.  Synod members often complain that we can never have a timely debate, that the agenda is set so far in advance that there is no space to respond to the events that are happening as we are meeting.  There were no complaints on this occasion!


We weave the threads

For those unfamiliar with the layout of Westminster, the Abbey alongside which Dean’s Yard is located in which stands Church House, is on the opposite side of the road to the Palace of Westminster where the Houses of Parliament are.  On the other side of the road in Parliament Square is the Supreme Court.  Downing Street is just a short walk away and along Birdcage Walk and through St James’ Park is Buckingham Palace.  The Synod meets at the heart of national life and so it was the perfect location to have this debate.

What was so interesting though was that this debate on the nation was a weaving together of the strands of the whole of this Group of Sessions.  Forget the legislative business that we had to plough through; the rest of the Synod was about some of the elements that would make up any debate about the state that we find ourselves in as a nation.  We talked about the environment; we talked about racism and how it affects travellers, gypsies and the Roma people.  We talked about children and young people.  We talked about life on our hard pressed and maginalised estates.  We talked about the pernicious effect of advertising and gambling.  All these threads could have been left hanging, like at the back of a badly finished piece of tapestry.  But they weren’t.

This really measured and thoughtful and intelligent debate brought all of these strands together because they are all symptomatic of the challenges that our nation faces.  One speaker talked of the demons of liberal democracy and the dark side of something which in many ways has delivered so much.  The Bishop of Bristol spoke passionately and movingly about Swindon, part of her diocese, and the effect of the proposed closure of the Honda factory on so many ordinary people.  Others spoke about the need for hospitality.  Someone talked of creating a ‘counter-narrative of hope’ which could be spoken into our communities. The Bishop of Coventry spoke movingly of the effect our decision to Brexit will have on the ordinary people of Europe with whom we have unbreakable bonds.

But it was the Bishop of Chelmsford who really captured the mood, speaking of the Beatitudes in St Matthew’s Gospel and homing in on one in particular

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ (Matthew 5.3)

He said that what Jesus was pointing to here were those who realised that they didn’t have all the answers, those who weren’t self reliant, those who knew their need of God and their neighbour and he called on us to have a new humility, as a church and as a nation, and to see beyond our opinion of our own riches.  It was a powerful point and I fear I haven’t done him justice in reporting it.  But this is a debate to read when the Report of Synod is published.

The call was of course to pray, every day, all the time for our elected representatives, for the Government and Parliament and to commit ourselves to doing this.  But the whole Synod was a real encouragement to re-engage with those communities from which we have become seperated, it was a call back to ‘our first love’ to the mission of God, in the world, for the world, in this nation for this nation.

The threads were joined, tied off and neatened.  Then like the artist we turn the work around at look at the ‘good side’, the image that has been created.  When we join these threads we see the face of Christ and we see the kingdom of God.  The Archbishop of Canterbury began the Synod reminding us that ‘We can’t talk about Jesus without looking like Jesus’.  The tapestry reveals the face and we have been sent out to speak ‘the language of love more fluently’.  The work begins, revealing Jesus and kingdom values to the nation and to the communities in which the church is set, as the pearl in the field.

This was the Brexit Prayer that I wrote for all the cathedrals to use.  Please continue to pray it with us.

God of reconciling hope,
as you guided your people in the past
guide us through the turmoil of the present time
and bring us to that place of flourishing
where our unity can be restored,
the common good served
and all shall be made well.
In the name of Jesus we pray.

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