Jewels in the crown

I’m feeling quite a lot of relief at the moment. The big thing, for me, today was to introduce the debate on the Report of the Revision Committee on the Cathedrals Measure. My speech was prepared, I know what I had to do and I hadn’t heard rumblings in the corridors that things were going to be difficult. Nevertheless it felt like a real responsibility to get the debate going with the right tone.

Durham Cathedral – a jewel in the crown

So I began by saying that Lonely Planet’s number two destination for travellers in 2020 is Britain, with its castles, coastline and cathedrals. We were beaten by the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan which is the number one place to go to. What I wanted to celebrate as we embarked on the debate was that cathedrals are the jewels in the crown of the Church of England. I know I am a dean and so I am bound to say that – but I also think that the reaction of the public in general and worshippers in particular over the last decade has proved this to be true. Cathedrals buck many of the trends that the rest of the church is subject to. We are seeing increasing numbers at our services, we are on the tourist trail, cathedrals do provide so much civic ‘glue’ in many of our cities. It is easy to overplay some of this but I think that the evidence bears this out.

But the reason for the Measure is that when things go wrong in cathedrals they can do so in spectacular and very public ways – Peterborough and Exeter were the two latest examples. You may remember that back in 2018 the report of the Cathedrals Working Group came to Synod. There was plenty of disquiet about a great deal of what was being suggested. But Synod received it and asked that legislation be drawn up by July 2019. That is what happened. That Measure reflected the report, as it had to. So, again, there was a lot in the draft Measure to which people objected. But I believe that the revision process and the vast amount of consultation that has gone on since July 2019 has produced a good and workable Measure that will serve cathedrals as well as the wider church.

Synod seemed to agree with that. When the last Cathedrals Measure was debated in 1999 there was real disagreement on the floor of Synod and the Measure was much amended, to its detriment. This has not happened this time. Deo gratias.

So the Measure goes forward to its final stage at the July Group of Sessions and then we can get on with the real work of implementing it.

When I was writing my last blog, early this morning, I forgot a question which was asked yesterday evening. It was asking about the response of the Church of England to the Coronavirus, in terms of Holy Communion! The lady who was asking the question, who is of a particular evangelical persuasion, suggested that the time might be right to introduce individual cups at Holy Communion for the wine, aka Precious Blood, as some other denominations do.

It is good to have a long memory. My mind went back to 2006 and the Bird Flu outbreak. You may remember that the church had to give advice at that time about the ‘common cup’ and how to reduce the risk of infection. But we didn’t go out and buy individual cups, instead worshippers were encouraged to receive in ‘one kind’ only. The way that was dealt with – because sharing the cup is so fundamental to our understanding of the Eucharist – was by digging out and dusting off the Doctrine of Concomitance. The doctrine dates back to 1415 and the Council of Constance and states that as Christ is indivisible then one substance contains the whole substance, that the whole presence of Christ is to be found in both the bread and the wine, the body and the blood. Though the doctrine is pre-reformation in origin it still applies as expressing a deep truth about our Eucharistic doctrine.

So do not be afraid. We didn’t need those separate cups before and we won’t again. Those old, dusty doctrines have a place even in the challenges of the modern world. And I remember Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10.6)

Lord Jesus, as we share the bread and share the cup make us one as you are one. Amen.

Making a beginning

So the Synod is underway. One of the things that we all try to do is to get the feel of the Synod. This is the penultimate Group of Sessions before this particular Synod ends after the July meeting in York. There will then be fresh elections. So I suppose that some of the things that we have been working on over the past five years are coming to synodical fruition but there is also frustration that we are still going round in circles on others.

Synod meeting in the chamber in Westminster

One of the things that happened to the chariots of the Egyptians as they pursued the Israelites escaping slavery was that their wheels became clogged. It can feel pretty similar for us as we have been pursuing a goal. Take the whole issue of sexuality. We will be getting an update on the LLF process, Living in Love and Faith, during this Synod and there will be a major event at York. But in no way has the church begun to really deal with the issues that are clogging our chariot wheels.

Questions are always a feature of the first day of any Synod and a good test of the temperature of the gathering. Questions yesterday were many and a bit grumpy. There were a great many as a result of both the tone and content, as well as the manner of the publication of the Bishops’ recent Pastoral Statement. The Bishop of Newcastle was at her most honest as she admitted in response to some supplementary questions that she did not know about the authorisation for the publication of the statement. As someone who has given herself to the pastoral work following on from the Shared Conversations it felt as though the rug had been pulled from under her feet.

One of my tasks in this Group of Sessions is to see through the Channel Islands Measure. Unusually all the stages for this piece of legislation will be conducted on the floor of Synod in one go, as it were. So we made a beginning yesterday and despite some of the activity on social media the draft Measure was very warmly received. I hope the wheels on this particular Measure aren’t clogged as we return to it today.

But, for the five Proctor Deans on Synod, today is a lot about the draft Cathedrals Measure. After the Eucharist this will be the first item of business. It will be interesting to see what the mood and attitude of the Synod is with regard to our 42 wonderful and varied cathedrals. Having begun this work in July, this is the second stage and, if all goes well, we will complete the stages before Synod finishes in July.

One thing that is unusual is not having the Archbishop of York sat alongside Archbishop Justin on the platform. As the Synod draws to its close on Thursday we will be saying goodbye and thank you to Archbishop Sentamu. I wonder what the Bishop of Chelmsford was thinking as he looked at the vacant seat?

So lots to do, but we have made a beginning. Let’s see where today takes us. Perhaps the Third Collect from Matins in the Book of Common Prayer might be a good place to begin.

O LORD, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day: Defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance, to do always that is righteous in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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.

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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.

God,
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.
Amen.

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.

Baloon

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.
Amen.

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.

Back to school

Cast your mind back – a few years, maybe longer – to the first day at a new school.  Your parents will have made sure that you had a new satchel with that lovely smell of new leather, a new tin of Helix protractors and set square (remember them), a new wooden ruler, a pencil and eraser.  And of course your new shoes would be pinching and your blazer just a little too big so that you could grow into it.  With a new haircut neatly combed and plastered down, face buffed up and polished clean by your mother, you would arrive at the new school.  All those children arriving.  You looked at the faces around you.  What would they be like?

Events 1960 Preparatory School First Day 01 Wiki

First Day at School

 

Well, the newly elected members of General Synod are arriving in Westminster for this first Group of Sessions.  As I write the newbies will be receiving their induction – where to hang your coat, how to use the electronic voting machine, how debates work, when you can speak, where the dining room is.  Apart from the voting machine all very familiar from school days!

And we will all be carefully studying one another for those tell-tale signs that mark out the tribes in the Church of England – the black suit, black clerical shirt brigade (me), the blue clerical shirt, a little badge here – gold cross, red cross, rainbow flag, something that a diocesan bishop is asking people to wear. Lay people are more difficult to identify instantly – but you can get a feel of who they are and where they come from in ecclesiastical terms.

This is my third term on Synod but my first as a member of a different constituency.  Previously I have been elected by my sister and brother clergy in the Diocese of Southwark.  But having become a Dean during the last quinquennium and being able to stay on because of the kindness of the clergy on our Bishop’s Council, this time I had to stand in the Deans’ election.  Yes, we have our own ‘rotten borough’! The deans elect five of their number, three from the south, two from the north, to be members of the General Synod and to bring, I suppose, our particular perspective to the decision making of the Church of England.

So the Deans of St Paul’s, St Edmundsbury, Southwark, Manchester and Sheffield have been chosen to serve in this way.  It will be a good group and I look forward to working with David and Frances, Rogers and Peter who are a really interesting and talented bunch of people.

And what will face us? Well these three days are in a sense ceremonial.  Tomorrow we all attend the Opening Eucharist for the Synod in Westminster Abbey at which we will joined by Her Majesty The Queen.  After that, and still in our Convocation Robes (if you are ordained) or posh frocks and suits if you’re not, we go to the Synod Chamber where we are addressed by Her Majesty.  It’s the equivalent of the Queen’s Speech, I suppose, in that other legislative body across the road in Westminster – except that ours only happens once in five years.

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Church House, Westminster

 

Then, in terms of business, important debates on migrants and global warming, some legislative business about fees and lawyers, will follow but the main business will be getting to know each other.

I’m delighted to be part of General Synod again.  Ok, so the prospect of talking about human sexuality, and homosexuality in particular, for five years doesn’t thrill me but the ‘Shared Conversations’ of which I have been part were excellent and if the conversations we have in York next July are anywhere near as good then perhaps, just perhaps, there may be a way forward in which we can all flourish, straight and gay, church and church-in-nation and that will be a blessing.

So now I need to clean my shoes and pack my bag and pick up my pass and get on with the work that lies before us. Pray for us – please.

Lord of the church,
bless the members of the General Synod
that we may be a blessing
to church and nation
and seek only your glory.
Amen.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

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