Turning up the heat to turn it down

I was away from Synod yesterday.  I wanted to be present at the ordination to the priesthood of our curate, Fr David Adamson. It was great to be there in St Mary’s Lewisham, celebrating 1100 years of ministry from that spot this year.  Since 918 priests have been celebrating the sacraments of the new covenant and so it was a special place in which eight women and men had hands laid on them and in the power of the Spirit and with Christ’s authority were sent out as the latest generation of those who would do this – bread breakers and word breakers.

Then in the afternoon I was present with a group from the Cathedral on the Pride march through central London.  I’d never even been to Pride let alone walk in it.  But the Chapter decided in 2016 that this was the right thing to do, to be honest about our stance on the rights of LGBTQI+ people and to make that clear by witnessing to it, on the streets.  I know not everyone thinks that we should be doing this, and I respect their views and am glad to name many of them as friends, but I don’t agree.  We need to tell people that God loves us all, whoever we are. So there I was with 30,000 other people marching with pride in Pride and having pride in the God who created each one of us.

So I missed the important debate on Safeguarding in the church and also the seminars on where we are in relation to the work being done on human sexuality.  But the trains this morning served me well and I got back to York in time to chair the first item of business in the afternoon (remember that the Synod goes en masse to Mass at York Minster in the morning).

Climate change

The Session in the afternoon was all around global issues.  The first two debates were about the response we make to climate change.  I was asked to chair the presentation and then the debate on how we use the influence we have through the investments that we have as a church in fossil fuel companies and it was a real privilege to be able to do so.  What was so encouraging was hearing about the tremendous lead that the Church of England is giving. Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement, was quoted as praising this work in which we have brought together a coalition of investors who carry real weight in the debates with the companies in which we are invested.

There were two amendments to the main Motion before Synod which were about how long we should give before we divest ourselves of our investments in such companies. It was an excellent debate and in many ways one in which everyone was right – it is urgent, already almost too late, but do we, frankly, have more clout if we remain an investor than if we take our money away and leave ‘them’ to get on with what they are doing without the pressure we can bring to create change?

The Oxford amendment which talked of 2020 as the deadline was rejected and the second amendment that kept us to the date of 2023 was passed.  The resulting vote on the motion was almost unanimous and we really have turned up the heat.

This was followed by a debate that came from London and Truro dioceses wanting us to develop a programme for calculating the usage of fossil fuels in all cathedrals, churches and church halls.  Whilst there is clearly support for that piece of work the debate was finally adjourned so that we can get a bit more information about what this might mean and what it will cost.  But we have only adjourned it until the next Group of Sessions in February 2019 – so you will hear more about this.

And then it was on to Nuclear Weapons. As I said before we haven’t really debated this for many many years and as many speakers commented in what was a very good debate, does this mean that over that time we have grown complacent.  In ‘My Fair Lady’ Professor Higgins sings of Eliza Doolittle

‘I’ve grown accustomed to her face’

We have grown accustomed to there being weapons of mass destruction waiting ready to be used that will destroy everything the lives and the very earth the health of which we had just been debating. This debate was a wake-up call to us all that this is just not acceptable.  The Bishop of Liverpool told us not to worry if people thought we were being unrealistic, or naive or ‘young’ i.e. lacking that wisdom of years that makes people think that such weapons are justifiable.  The Bishop of Chelmsford, summing up the debate, referred to words of St Francis of Assisi

‘Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’

And Synod took that to heart and voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Motion. So we are committed to working for the elimination of nuclear weapons! We’ve done what was necessary, now we will see what is possible and maybe what seems impossible will come about.

Creator God,
who formed the beauty of the earth
may we cherish it
and all who share it with us
and all who will come after us
that the best days of our planet
may still await us.

A global view

So often the church is criticised – often with very real justification – for being obsessed with internal affairs. So, as I began this blog from York by saying, Synod concluded this five years of our life with a day looking wider, more globally. The subject was climate change and what our response to what is clearly happening is going to be. The principal question was how our policy with regard to climate change would influence the investments that we make as a church.

The day fell into three distinct parts – bible study, then policy, then the application of that policy with regard to the investmnent policy of the church.

For the past few years we have been meeting for study in small groups and the membership of those groups has always been the same. This has meant that we have been able to get to know a variety of people from across the Church of England. Our task this morning was to look at two texts – from Genesis 1 in which of humankind it says

God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ (Genesis 1.28)

What do those words ‘subdue’ and ‘dominion’ actually mean to us? Do they give us carte blanche to do what we want to the earth or do they imply something that involves more of a sense of care rather than power?

The second text was from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now. (Romans 8.22)

What does that mean to us – the poetry and the reality of what Paul is saying to us?

Out of these two texts we had a very good discussion and especially about the way that we each respond personally to the challenge and whether – and we talked honestly about this – the issues were a real priority for us. For some people global, climate issues seem to be foremost – for others it is issues of poverty or injustice that seem to demand their attention. Maybe, the truth is – and this came out in the debates later in the day – there shouldn’t be a separation in these things, they are interwoven with the poorest suffering the effects of climate change the most, already.

St Francis by Giotto

St Francis by Giotto

I was thinking however about St Francis. His ‘Canticle of the Sun’ expresses the depth of the relationship that he had with every aspect of creation, an intimate, familial relationship. He could feel the groaning of creation, as he could feel the groaning of his sisters and brothers.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Developing something of that relationship, embracing something of that theology, must be important for the church and that is, of course, where Pope Francis begins in his encyclical ‘Laudato si’ – ‘Be praised’ – which his holy namesake uses throughout his Canticle. We have to develop a love affair with the earth, a love affair with creation, which of course those who have had the privilege to see the earth from space are drawn into. The astronaut Roan Garan, reflecting in his time in space and looking at the earth, said in an interview

I think it’s very difficult not to be moved when you look at our planet from space. You see how beautiful it is, how fragile it is. You really get this feeling of, we’ve been given an incredible gift.

It is that passion for the earth that we have to capture as people who believe in the Creator God.

God's handiwork - God's gift

God’s handiwork – God’s gift

The debates that followed raised many of these issues. But I was especially pleased when Duncan Dormer reminded us that ‘We must hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’ and when the Bishop of Salisbury concluded our first debate by saying, ‘Economic justice and climate justice must go together.’

The debate in the morning and the one on investments in the afternoon were almost unanimously supported by the Synod. But what Elaine Storkey said in the morning is the real challenge to us ‘We have the resources and the theology but have we the will?’

It goes back to yesterday – words are not enough, we need action. The challenge to me is, what can I do?

I leave Synod with that call to action, a call to prayer and fasting for justice – economic justice and climate justice. But as the Bishop of Chelmsford said to us (and I paraphrase), ‘Stop praying for something unless you are prepared to be part of the solution.’

Synod has been prorogued – it is no more. Five years have passed. I need to reflect on what we have done – but we have ended well.

Creator God,
for all your goodness in creation
we praise you.
May I play my part
in caring for your good gift.

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