Time’s up!

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

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

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

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

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

‘How long, O Lord?’ (Isaiah 6.11)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lumi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crumbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Wearing thin’

Whatever else this particular Group of Sessions of the General Synod will be remembered for, it should be the debate on the IICSA report which happened on the final day. Yes, the Cathedrals Measure will make a big difference, yes, the shape of our Diocesan Boards of Education is important, yes, nothing can happen without sound budgeting but how we treat one another now and how we have ill-treated people in the past, the systemic, institutional failures, have to be faced up to.

Three survivors joined the debate and spoke to Synod. We have heard from people before, of course, but this felt different. Partly I think it was because if you had selected Speaker View on Zoom rather than Gallery View then the person was in your room with you, more immediate, strangely more present than when they are on the platform in Westminster or York, or if they are pre-recorded and on the screen in either of those places. This was an encounter at another level.

The other difference was that they were speaking to us after we had read the report of an independent group of people. Those who had in some way, for some reason, not really taken seriously the voice of survivors – and they are around – had to now listen.

I felt challenged to an extent that I hadn’t felt before, particularly challenged as a member of the governing body of an institution that I love and have given my life to serving. This was tough stuff but then it needed to be because those speaking to us had gone through the toughest stuff and it was out of that that they were speaking.

The third speaker held nothing back. The apologies that we had yet again made were, in his words, ‘wearing thin’. If we were sincere in these apologies then there needed to be ‘lasting change’. Having spent many years thinking about the issues around Sacramental Confession and safeguarding these words struck a chord with me.

As we all know that word ‘repentance’, metanoia μετάνοια in Greek, is all about a change of heart, a change of direction. It has been said by one commentator that ‘The elements of repentance, regret, reflection, and transformation are always present in the concept of metanoia to some degree.’ It is that to which the church is being called; it is to that that the penitent before the priest is called.

After the penitent has confessed their sins they then say, if a more traditional form of words is being used

For these and all my other sins that I cannot now remember, I am very sorry, firmly resolve not to sin again, and humbly ask pardon of God, and of you, father/mother, advice, penance and absolution.

There has to be this commitment to change, to not sin again, to turn your life around. It isn’t sufficient just to say sorry, and the priest needs to look for the genuine signs of true and deep repentance if they are doing their job in that situation. And if that is the ministry of the church to individuals the church must show the same signs in relation to its own acts of contrition, otherwise the ‘sorry’ wears very thin.

I think that this Synod was a Rubicon for the Church – or at least it should be. Rather than packing our bags and heading to the station or the car to get home we clicked on Leave at the bottom of the screen and put the Zoom password into trash. The Crystal maze was behind us, Synod was done. But it can’t be as simple as that this time.

There is of course a challenge in the Gospel for us.

Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ (Matthew 18.21-22)

There is a boundless generosity in the love of God, God’s love does not ‘wear thin’ but instead in the thin places and the thin moments of our lives is felt even more intensely. But we need to hold on to the words that have been said to us, because for some it feels as though they have been hearing the ‘seventy-seven times’ and it IS wearing thin.

One member of Synod summed the whole thing up, however, with another piece of scripture. For me it made sense of everything – of our vision, of our budgeting, of our life as institutions, of the questions that we ask of each other, of the mazes that we can find ourselves in. It was those words of the prophet Micah, and these were the words and this was the prayer with which I left the Zoom screen and the Synod on this occasion, and with a desire to do different, to be different and to do better.

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8)

Simpler, Humbler, Bolder

There’s no excuse for it I know, but as you get older it’s very easy to turn into a ‘grumpy old man’ – I’m sure women are immune from this progression! So you think, ‘I’ve heard it all before’, ‘we’ve tried all this before’, ‘same old same old’ or any variation on those reactions. So I had low expectations yesterday morning as Synod began it’s second day on Zoom.

I had reflected on the first day that the whole thing was slow and clunky. Well, as I had hoped, things did get a lot better. Ok, those breakout rooms didn’t work again (thank God) but in general everything seemed smoother and with a better pace. It wasn’t just the hard work back at HQ but I think that those of us on a screen were beginning to have a lot more confidence about what it was we were doing and how we were doing it.

The Vision

My colleagues know that I’m not naturally a strategically minded person, that I have to have forward planning carefully explained to me, that I am much happier in reactive rather than proactive mode. So on the face of it the first item on the agenda ‘Vision and Strategy’ was not something that would normally send my pulse racing. But this was different; the grumpy old man did not appear, instead something a bit more like youthful enthusiasm stirred within me.

The Archbishop of York was leading on this presentation and I have to say he was fantastic. Archbishop Stephen, as we all know, manages to combine evangelical zeal with catholic spirituality. He speaks in a way that you can understand what he’s on about wherever you sit on the spectrum of the Church of England. He quotes scripture as one who knows his Bible and he speaks of the sacramental life as one who is immersed in it.

The graphic he used was brilliant and it became more and more engaging, culminating, climaxing in those three words – Simpler; Humbler; Bolder – as descriptors of the vision of the church ‘Christ centred – Jesus shaped’ that he had described. The vision needs a great deal of unpacking and working on – but this feels like something that we can really engage in. To be simpler – and we are not here talking about that simplification process that we’ve been engaged in – but something more gospel like, more Jesus shaped, more focused on what matters. To be humbler – knowing that we are part of the church, that there are other partners, that we have got things wrong, that we can do so much better, that we rely on grace. To be bolder – to have confidence in God, the Gospel, the Church, to be able to act and speak and engage in a way that makes others bolder with us, to be risk takers. These are my responses to those three words. And it was good to think about the ‘Five Marks of Mission’ in a positive way and not as simply an add on in a conversation. I left the debate, encouraged and empowered.

As happens so often that opening debate of the day set the tone for the rest of what we did. Vision and Strategy was neatly followed by the Final Drafting and Final Approval stages of the Cathedrals Measure. Having been involved in this piece of work, first as a critic and then as Chair of the Revision Committee and latterly a member of the Steering Committee I have become huge convert to what it offers the church and our cathedrals. The Measure is now fit for purpose to help cathedrals be fit for purpose in the 21st century. That ‘Simpler Humbler Bolder’ vision could though equally apply to our cathedrals. We need to be each of those things and I think that this Measure, which was finally approved with not a single vote against it – incredible – will help in that.

The Budget debate in the afternoon also had echoes of the Archbishop of York’s vision in the morning. Canon John Spence, who is always an impressive Synod performer, led us with skill through what can be very boring. The finances are challenging but Synod members were up for the challenge, ready to make the money follow the vision.

Then we gave First Consideration to an amendment to our Safeguarding legislation and practice. It is all centres on what ‘due regard’ means, something that the IICSA report had highlighted. This was my moment in the chair and attempting to manage the technology and the blue hands that were being raised. It is good, however, to see the church responding immediately to where others have identified that in the area of safeguarding we can and must do better – and the language that we use is central to the actions that we then see in our life.

Simpler, humbler, bolder, Christ-centred, Jesus-shaped – it felt as though we saw something of this in Synod yesterday. Archbishop Stephen began with a powerful image of the Emmaus story, of the God who walks with us, the God who breaks bread for us, the God who sends us back with a message to share, the Jesus on the road and at the table. You know what, I feel excited!

Jesus, may we reflect your simplicity, share your humility, live your boldness, have you at our centre and your cross at our heart; may we be shaped by you. Amen.

Here we go again!

There should have been a new Quinquennium of the General Synod beginning this week. We should have been gathering in the Abbey cloisters, being marshaled into our diocesan groups like competitors parading at the beginning of the Olympic Games. There would have been a splendid Eucharist in the Abbey and then Her Majesty would have joined us in the Synod Chamber to address us at the beginning of our work (it’s a bit like the Opening of Parliament with less ermine). We would have been sat there in our Sunday best, the clergy in convocation dress, the laity, in the main, dressed up, with a smattering of hats (how we miss Christina Baxter’s array of millinery).

Not quite like our opening procession!

Instead the elections to Synod were delayed, we have all been kept on for another year as this pandemic disrupts every aspect of life, and we are meeting online rather than in person.

So today begins a Group of Sessions the agenda of which is made up of items of business that have to be dealt with – the budget, IICSA, cathedrals, LLF – to name but a few.

So I will do my best to keep you up todate with what goes on. Join us online if you can, if not pray for us plaese.

Almighty God, you have given your Holy Spirit to the Church to lead us into all truth: bless with the Spirit’s grace and presence the members of the General Synod; keep them steadfast in faith and united in love, that they may manifest your glory and prepare the way of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Unprecedented

You sometimes find people who use your name at every verse end and you end up thinking – well, I do – ‘please stop it, you’ll wear it out’!  But maybe they’ve been on a training course and this was a top tip for how to deal with people effectively.

In Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ monologue ‘Her big chance’, Lesley, an actor, has read a book on interviews hoping to get another acting part.  She meet’s a potential director.

‘Said his name was Simon, which I instantly committed to memory. (That’s one of the points in the book: purpose and use of name.)

Anyway, it’s not a name but a word that is in danger of being worn out, ‘unprecedented’.  It has been the word of the pandemic and was the word being bandied about at yesterday’s ‘unprecedented’ meeting of the members of the General Synod.  It was unprecedented because we had never met like this before, never had to, never met in such an informal way, never had so many questions, and so on and so on.

But these times are unprecedented and it was was really important that this meeting of the Synod was held.  The fact that by the end of a long day staring at a screen there were still almost 300 people participating says it all.  Apart from worship which, quite rightly. book-ended the day, we had three things – a Presidential Address which was shared between the new Archbishop of York and the Archbishop of Canterbury; a presentation on the churches response to Covid-19 and Questions, which is what I was responsible for looking after.  In many ways the whole day was about Covid – our response to it and where we go from here.  There’s clearly a great deal of thinking going on and I am delighted that Archbishop Stephen will be leading some of that thinking.

Synod can act as a valve on a pressure cooker.  It gives people the opportunity to let off steam.  I think that was what was going on yesterday.  There has been a great deal of frustration and anger about, not least among the clergy, about the way in which our churches became inaccessible places just when we needed them the most – we being the nation they were built for, to the glory of God.  There was anger about all the guidance which looked like instruction rather than advice, there was anger about an apparent flouting of Canon Law and what could appear easily as a deliberate sidelining of legal opinion and advice.  

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There are plenty of unprecedented Rubicons which may have been crossed during these last three months – a huge shift in our understanding of worship and how to conduct it, and how online can be more accessible for some than physical place is.  But I fear that a Rubicon has been crossed in relation to how we, how I, sit in relation to Canon Law.  We spend hours in General Synod looking at Canons and Amending Canons, as though they were something that came down on stone tablets from the mountain.  But has this episode in our life been like that described in the Book of Exodus

Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. (Exodus 32.19)

It was a dramatic moment – and fortunately God had a second copy – but law is fragile; it can be shattered.  Appealing to the unprecedented nature of the times in relation to ignoring Canon Law, which is how it can appear some of the leadership is justifying their actions, surely gives space for others to do the same in other unprecedented, unanticipated, unprepared for situations that they face in their parishes, communities, in their ministries.  And those of us who are ordained and those who share in leadership and governance in our communities know that there is a lot that is unprecedented, that falls into these categories where we need to be responsive rather than strategic.

So it was good to let the steam out and have that opportunity to hold various levels of leadership to account – and that, after all, is one of the functions of General Synod.  I have seen enough ‘blue hands’ on a screen for a long long time.  Apologies to those whose blue hands I missed – it is even more difficult at times than spotting raised hands in a chamber – and I missed Mr Freeman’s call for a vote on closing this item of business.  But we will get back to that I am sure.

One thing that was announced at the beginning of the meeting was that there will be a physical meeting of the General Synod in Westminster on 24 September to debate and approve a Measure which would allow us to meet virtually in November (if that is still required by the pandemic) to do some vital pieces of work which at the moment the ‘law’ relating to Synod would not permit.  We cannot pass anything virtually.  In November we need to do some of the things we would have been doing this weekend in York – the budget, setting Fees, that kind of thing.  So we have more ‘unprecedented’ events for the Synod on the horizon!

But the God who knows us by name and calls us by name and never wears it out, is the God of every time, unprecedented or not, the God who sees us through with the law of love, a law which not even the cross could break.

God of time, God of love,
see us through this present time,
to whatever the future may hold.
Amen.

Zooming into Synod

We should have been in York.  We should have been wandering round the campus of York University.  We should have been sat on the steps outside the main hall, drinking tea, looking at geese and hoping that this year we would be the person featured in the annual Church Times photo that always appears to set the scene.  We should have been queuing for lunch, queuing for dinner, queuing for the bar.  But we are not, for very obvious reasons.

There is no Group of Sessions this July.  Instead we are invited to Zoom into a meeting of the Synod – not a formal meeting, just a meeting.  It is just one day, the first time this has ever been done, ground-breaking and showing that even the governance of the Church of England can flex, even a little bit.

As a member of the Panel of Chairs I will be in Church House, in one of the meeting rooms, ready to look after two sets of Questions.  Yesterday we had a rehearsal, tomorrow we do it for real.

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A screen from our Zoom Iftar

We have all become exhaustingly familiar with the Zoom screen in front of us.  When lock down began I hadn’t heard of Zoom, now I am too familiar with it.  But we have used it for more than meetings.  It was the way in which we read the Passion together on Good Friday, it was the way we said prayers as a group for our keeping of the VE Day celebrations, it was the way in which we held our Iftar during Ramadan.  We have been using it every Sunday at Southwark Cathedral for a ‘chat to the preacher’.  It has been a blessing even if at other times it has felt like a bit of a curse.

Of course, one of the things that is really great is that I will have so much more power as the Chair on this occasion than is normally the case.  We have at our disposal – apart from the force and charm of our personalities – a series of coloured lights and a bell.  When we have said how long speeches can last, and we have the authority under Standing Order whatever to vary this, then the bewigged lawyer on our left hand watches their stopwatch and moves through the lights, green, amber (one minute remaining) and red.  That is meant to be the sign to the speaker to STOP.  But it doesn’t always have that effect.  So we have this bell, one of those old brass ones you press down on, like summoning a waiter in an old fashioned establishment, and we ring that to assert our authority and get the over excited speaker to stop.

But Zoom of course allows us to simply mute them.  Such power!!

So what are we doing tomorrow?  There will be worship at the beginning and end of the day; a Presidential Address from the Archbishop of Canterbury; two hours of questions; and a presentation and questions on Covid-19.  Questions are therefore going to be the meat of this gathering.  131 questions have been submitted by members and 79 of these are directed to the House of Bishops.  I will do my best to get us through them.

But what we ask of you to do is pray, not just for the Synod but also for all our churches as we emerge from this lock down.  One of the symbols of the resurrection is the butterfly and on one of the lovely Comper reredoses in Southwark Cathedral you can see a flutter of them (the collective noun for butterflies).The caterpillar is locked down in the chrysalis and then the butterfly emerges.

butterfly-flutter

I am reminded of what Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth.

It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15.43-44)

This is my prayer for the church, that we emerge glorious, as the resurrection church and people should be.

Holy God,
as we open our doors
and welcome in those who will come
may we recognise you among them.
As we make our churches safe to enter
and care for those who come
may we recognise you as our strong defence.
As we say our prayers
and light our candles
may we recognise you in the midst.
As we resume our life
and live our life
may we recognise you as our life
today, tomorrow and always.
Amen.

Addendum

In my last blog on this site I was talking about the ‘last chapter’ and had mentioned, as a way of getting into my theme, that the book group of which I am a member was reading ‘Little Women’.  I also admitted that I wouldn’t be able to finish the book in time for the meeting today.  In the list of sins that it is possible for a person to commit not finishing a book group book is pretty high up there with other cardinal sins!

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How sweet!

So I was amazed when I discovered this morning that I HAD read the book and that what is called Part II in my Penguin edition is what we know in the UK as ‘Good Wives’! So all that business about Jo making a complete mess of the kitchen whilst attempting to make jelly (jam) is actually in the second book.  Phew!  Relief!  Actually we had a great meeting and decided that all in all it had been a good read.  So I think I will complete ‘Good Wives’ and then leave the March girls to their own devices!

Thanks be to God!

 

The last chapter

The Book Group that I’m a member of meets this Saturday.  We’re reading ‘Little Women’ as a result of the release of the film that so many people are talking about.  Unlike most people in the group I have never read it.  When I was of the age when I could have read it I thought it was a ‘girls’ book’ and despite my rather, let’s say, gentle tastes, that would have been a step too far (it would have been the late sixties!).  But I fear I won’t get to the end of the book. I have just embarked on Part II, the wedding has just happened but I fear that even if I don’t go to bed between now and the meeting I won’t get to the last chapter!

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Will I get to the end of the book?

It has been only three days, spread over four, that General Synod has met for this February Group of Sessions, but goodness, it has felt a lot longer than that.  I can hardly remember Monday in the aftermath of Storm Ciara.  But today we reached the last chapter, as it were, certainly the last Order Paper – and what an Order Paper!  I have mentioned already the plethora of amendments that have come from members of Synod to some of the debates.  There has been hardly a single debate where something hasn’t been amended.  But this morning’s Order Paper, which sets out the order of business, the Motions and the amendments, rather than being the four sides of A5 which it would normally be, ran to 16 pages!

But we began the day well with the third and final stage of the Channel Islands Measure.  It was good to get this necessary change approved.  Not only was it a legislative process but it felt like a process of reconciliation.  What could have been fractious, accusatory and difficult was instead marked by a graciousness of spirit.  I don’t mean it lightly when I say that it was a privilege to act as chair for each of the stages and to help Synod do its work.

But then Synod embarked on three pieces of internal business – the House of Laity Election Rules 2020, the Clergy Election Rules 2020 and Convocations (Elections to Upper House) Rules 2020.  Three debates with acres of amendments.  There must be a better way than this for Synod to do this kind of business.  Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, was a very wise man and when he saw what Moses was up to said to him

‘What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you.’ (Exodus 18.14)

The context was Moses sitting alone in judgement as the people brought their disputes to him.  But the principle of delegation that Jethro recommends, the first instance in scripture (apart from God delegating stewardship of creation to Adam), is a powerful reminder in all governance, judicial and legislative settings that there has to be a better way.

The problem was that Synod was to end with two more important debates, one from the Diocese of Leeds on poverty and the church’s mission to the poorest sectors of our society and then a Private Member’s Motion on Legal Aid Reform.  Both were good debates – but we needed more time, the time eaten up by debates whose ‘chariot wheels’ had been clogged by amendments.  This Synod though has had a theme of justice, when we have not been looking internally.  We have looked at justice for LGBT people, justice for people of colour, justice for the victims and survivors of abuse, justice for the environment, justice for those in funeral poverty, justice for the marginalised in our communities, justice for those denied justice.  One member of Synod in one of the debates said that we were wrong to be spending time on such issues because one thing only mattered and that was that people believe the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ otherwise they will burn in hell.  When he said that I realised that we believe in a different God and follow a different Jesus.  The God I worship gave to his prophet Micah these words and this command

‘to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly’ (Micah 6.8)

The Jesus I know, the Jesus I follow is the one who stood before the scroll of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in the synagogue in which he had worshiped for so many years with his family and read out to them

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
(Luke 4.18-19)

Good news is about the God of justice,  good news is about Jesus, good news is about the one who ’emptied himself’ (Philippians 2.7) embracing and inhabiting the poverty of human nature to bring us the riches of his grace.  This means that the church he loved into being, loves into life each and every day, seeks the justice which is characteristic of the kingdom – justice for the marginalised, excluded, ignored, persecuted, forgotten whoever, wherever they are.

This chapter closed with farewells, including, in his absence, a moving farewell to the Archbishop of York, Archbishop Sentamu.  In so many ways he has stood for this justice – not always as well as he might for all groups – but certainly, powerfully, for some.  I was grateful to him for his visible witness on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe.  Not wearing a dog collar, cutting it up in public, and vowing not to wear one again until President Mugabe was out of office was a gimmick but in the end a powerful witness.  Sadly, things are now worse for our sisters and brothers in that wonderful country than they were before, but I thank God for ++Sentamu’s witness and for the countless wonderful and loving brotherly hugs he has given to me over the years.  The chapter is closed but there is yet more to be written as this particular Synod gathers in July for its final time in York. God bless us ’til we meet again.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning is now and shall be for ever.  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