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.
Amen.

Crossing boundaries

One of the great things about the Synod are the group of ecumenical observers who join us in the Chamber and very faithfully sit through the debates – however turgid they are. It is a work of great charity on their part. It was very good to see Canon John O’Toole amongst the others representing the Roman Catholic Church. John was, until fairly recently, the Dean of St George’s Cathedral, Southwark. He was a good friend to us at Southwark Cathedral and a member of our Cathedral Council and gave us real encouragement in our Living God process. Responding on behalf of the welcome to our ecumenical guests was the Most Revd Dr Antje Jackelen, the Archbishop of Uppsala in the Church of Sweden.

She spoke beautifully and well, and concluded, in talking about crossing boundaries, about the God in whom we believe, who crossed the greatest and the riskiest boundary, between the divine and the human, and in Jesus became as we are. It was a real reminder to me in all our debates and concerns about borders and boundaries and the concerns that many have about keeping people ‘out’, that this is not what God does.

A human tide crossing the borders

A human tide crossing the borders

The incarnation is the great border crossing and the cross becomes the bridge between earth and heaven, a reflection (or is it the other way round) of the ladder that Jacob sees in his dream. God spans our divides, breaks through our walls, challenges our isolation and confronts the fear of the other that we so often display. I love the name of the great aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières, ‘Doctors without borders’. They work they do is fantastic but their name is a challenge to us when we want to work within boundaries and protect our borders – national or church.

The whole business of greater unity between Christians, of which our ecumenical guests are a reminder to us, will demand that we break down the walls that divide us as it is described so beautifully in the letter to the Ephesians

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2.14)

This is the work of Jesus and therefore the work of the church. And it was of the work of Jesus, as found in John 17, that the Archbishop of York spoke in his Presidential Address to Synod.

The remainder of the afternoon was taken up with some procedural and legislative business including the Report by the Business Committee and an item on the Administration of Communion Regulations which would allow all those who are communicants – including children – to be ministers of the Eucharist.

However, the afternoon concluded as we were given the first taste of what will be the major business of this Group of Sessions when we had a presentation by the Ethical Investment Advisory Group and the National Investing Bodies on climate change and fossil fuels. In an excellent presentation we heard about the foundational thinking and biblical exegesis that lay behind the proposed new policy. I found it very encouraging, as it was reasonable and moderate. What I mean is that whilst I am fully behind the climate change agenda and the end of dependence on fossil fuels I have to recognise that affecting change will not be easy and the financial implications for the church have to be carefully managed.

Earth - our beautiful, fragile and damaged home

Earth – our beautiful, fragile and damaged home

The truth is of course that whilst ever we have investments in fossil fuel companies we have a place at the table of their decision making, the opportunity to influence thinking and levers that we can pull. If we disinvest we will lose some of those advantages. The point was made that there are many people waiting behind the church who will be happy to pick up the investments that we give up – so will it really send the jitters into this market if we disinvest. But the issues of global warming and the effect upon the poorest communities in the world are real and pressing.

A very good point was made in the presentation – and I paraphrase ‘We are not talking here about tobacco, disinvesting in tobacco manufacturers. We don’t need tobacco. We do need energy.’ So there is a subtle debate to be had around investment, influence and encouraging research and development. It was a good start to what we will return to later on this weekend.

The day ended where the first day always ends – Questions – 84 had been tabled, the opportunity we have to seek the truth and the facts and to keep issues warm that could be allowed to go cold. But for me the major message of the day has been about borders.

John Donne’s great sonnet,’Batter my heart’, begins like this

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

My own walls, my own borders and barriers, the ways I try to keep God out, also need to be broken down so that Christ may be my, our, peace.

Lord Jesus, you entered my life,
may I enter fully into yours.
Amen.

‘The poor will always be with you’

The afternoon session began with the Presidential Address delivered by Archbishop John Sentamu. His theme was the scandal of the levels of poverty in contemporary British society and he spoke from his experience in his own diocese and in the north of England. It was a magisterial performance – Sentamu at his best – drawing together so many themes and examples, backing it up with statistics and courageous honesty. He spoke of the ministry of Pope Francis and of His Holiness’ passion for and commitment to the poor; he spoke of the example given to us by the Liberation Theology movement and celebrated the work of Beveridge and William Temple with the foundation of the Welfare State.

This really is what we should be talking about in Synod and it was a relief for Synod to be able to speak to the nation in this way on a subject that is critical. Jesus did say that ‘the poor will always be with you’ (Matthew 26.11) but not in the sense that we should therefore not bother but that it will be a constant issue to be addressed. So much poverty has to be as a result of the decisions made by others, the decisions which make some rich and some poor and the church always has something powerful to say into unjust structures and politics. But the Archbishop also spoke of a ‘new poverty’, the fact that people in our society are in full-time employment and still in poverty and that rates of malnutrition in a city as prosperous as Leeds are increasing dramatically. It was a call for change and for ‘prophetic imagination and Christian wisdom’. Archbishop Sentamu sat down to warm and appreciative applause.

Grateful for a break - the Synod tea room

Grateful for a break – the Synod tea room

The afternoon continued with a lengthy debate on The Church School of the Future. It’s right that we gave such a length of time to this debate as our schools are a critical part of the life and ministry of our church. The Bishop of Oxford in opening the debate spoke of the fact that the clergy spend one million hours each year in schools – an amazing statistic, but every hour is well worth it in my own experience. It was good that Mark Steadman, from the Diocese of Southwark, was called first to speak. He celebrated the place of the church schools in our diocese and the way in which they had embraced Bishop Christopher’s call to mission ‘Faith Hope Love’ which is entirely true. We were encouraged to learn from each other’s good practice in schools. One speaker, the Bishop of St Albans, encouraged each parish with a school to set up a lay team to support the school – a good practical idea. I know with our own Cathedral School that many local people are involved in working as volunteers in the school and that has to be encouraged but perhaps more still would find it a great place in which to exercise a lay ministry. The report received overwhelming support and it was good that this substantial debate was once again outward looking.

The afternoon finished with a debate on the workings of General Synod, sponsored by the Diocese of London – but I had to slip away and so can’t comment on it.

Westminster Abbey at the end of the day

Westminster Abbey at the end of the day

So a good day I think, good groups in the morning laying the groundwork for the business that we are all waiting for tomorrow, the debate on women bishops.

Lord, grant us a quiet night and a perfect end
and may we rise refreshed to serve you tomorrow
with prophetic imagination
holy wisdom and passionate courage.
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