Responsible representation

Trust, transparency and diversity were important words that came through a debate that opened the afternoon. The title of the Report was ‘Responsible representation’ and was around the election process to the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). This is the body which nominates candidates to the Crown for appointment as diocesan bishops. I had the privilege – and I mean that – of serving on that body for eight years. It was an incredible experience. I felt that it was a huge responsibility, listening closely to the representatives from the diocese, the ‘Diocesan Six’ as they are known, so that the ‘Central Members’ can assist in discerning the right person for the next stage of life in that diocese.

There have been a number of issues over the past few years which have resulted in an inquiry into the work of the CNC and now some recommendations were being brought forward to amend the way in which people are elected to serve on that body. We are a broad church and that needs to be represented. ‘From Lament to Action’ has reminded us this week that we need to see UKME representation at every level, not just in the candidates coming forwards for appointment but in those making those appointments, or nominating people for particular office in the church.

The debate exposed some of the issues which are always there under the polite surface of Synod. One of the downsides of Zoom Synods is that it is very hard to judge the mood. When we are in a chamber together, whether that is here in Westminster or in York, you can easily work out what Synod is feeling and some of that veneer of politeness can be broken. Here the constraints of the remote gathering means that we don’t get proper engagement.

One of the problems we face has been institutionalised in the Five Guiding Principles., I voted for them when we were working out how we might bring forth legislation which would be agreeable to the church in general to enable the ordination of women to the episcopate. It was the positive and only way forward. And I do support those principles and the concept of mutual flourishing. St Paul writes this truth in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. (1 Corinthians 12.26)

But the important word is ‘mutual’. The church and all in ministry need to flourish and not just some – and too often it can feel as though the demands of mutual flourishing do not fall equally across the church.

The Central Members of the CNC should be representative of the church and that does mean those who are not in favour of the ordained ministry of women as priests or bishops should be represented. But so do other aspects of diversity both of person and opinion. Whether the proposals before us will achieve this I am not sure and those who check voting in Synod closely will see how I voted. I remain to be convinced but I am open to convincing.

The sun has been beating down outside of Church House. The members of the Panel of Chairs who are here, those who act as Registrars and Administrators in the debates, the staff of the Synod have all been stuck inside. But it has been good to meet, to do the business we have done, to achieve what we have achieved and to seek the real flourishing of the church through the exercise of responsible representation in every place, at every level.

I hope that we can meet in person in July, that we can be in York for the last Group of Sessions of this extended quinquennium. But for all that has been done, even in strange circumstances, thanks be to God.

I want to sign off with a prayer which I often use, by Dag Hammarskjold

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

A matter of discernment

To be honest, Day One of this Group of Sessions felt, and was, a bit odd.  We began at 1.30pm; we ended at 5.30pm! There was hardly time to settle yourself into the chamber let alone really begin to engage with things or get a sense of the mood of the Synod.  There is always a mood and its interesting to get a sense of that.  Are people angry, frustrated, determined, excited?  I’ve been to many Synods in which you can cut the atmosphere with a knife.  But there was nothing you could identify yesterday, nothing discernable – today may be different of course.

The time we did have in the Chamber was taken up by three things.  After the Archbishop of Canterbury had welcomed new members and some visitors, particularly some bishops representing the Anglican Communion, we moved into the first debate.  This is always on the Report of the Business Committee.  Even this didn’t get the pulse racing. The session ended with Questions, of which there were over 90.  A lot of those were around safeguarding and were something of a prelude to the discussions which will take place first thing on Saturday morning.  But apart from that there was a great deal that was interesting but nothing earth or church shattering.

In between these two standard items of business that would always take place on the first day of Synod was the main course on the menu.  Professor O’Donovan and his team of theologians had been asked to look at the processes of the Crown Nominations Commission and to report back to the Archbishops and the Synod.  This they did and we then debated the way forward for the work of the CNC.

As a former member of the CNC – I served for 8 very enjoyable years – it was fascinating to read and then to listen to what was said in the debate.  I had, of course, attended one of the meetings of the group to give my reflections on the process.  One of the problems about talking about it in any detail is that at the beginning of each CNC all 14 members take an oath of eternal secrecy.  One member of the Synod in the debate said that the CNC was as ‘leaky as a sieve’ which, if it were true, would challenge that principle of confidentiality.  I think, however, that is an urban myth that needs revealing as such.  In my experience the leaks came from every where else apart from the membership of the CNC.  With interviews, references, follow-up references there are a great many people ‘in the know’ who have not sworn an oath of strict confidentiality.  The last nomination made by the CNC, Bishop Sarah Mullally to London, was a shock and welcome surprise to so many.  As you can imagine I had heard a great many rumours about what was going on but nothing that reflected the truth.  If someone was going to leak this would have been the leak of the century!

It seems to me that the most important thing that came out of the report and the debate is that the work of the CNC is the work of discernment and that means a great deal of sitting and listening to God, being open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and, as I said in my speech to Synod, ‘to form the Church not in our image but in Christ’s image.’ I have strong views about the church and work out of a clear and well know church tradition, but I hope that I have always been able to leave some of my tribal branding at the door of discernment.  And whether we are nominating bishops or making decisions in PCC the call to embrace the divine spirit of true discernment is the same.

Samuel

Samuel sees as God sees

 

The story of the identifying of David as God’s successor to Saul is an important one for any of us who are engaged at any level of discernment.  Samuel has been given the unenviable task and God tells him what will happen

‘I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.’ (1 Samuel 16.3)

But when Samuel looked on Eliab, the oldest son and the obvious choice, God says to him

‘The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16.7)

Learning to see as God sees, to look as deep as God looks, is the task of the church and of each of us.

So what does today hold? Look out for the debate on food wastage – sounds like motherhood and apple pie but its important to air the issue.  There is plenty of legislation, the business that really does affect the nitty-gritty of the life of the church. But the most interesting and perhaps contentious business will be about unity with the Methodists.  I have no idea which way that will go – but as I am in the chair for that debate that might be a good thing! But whatever we are doing, may we be discerning.

God of wisdom,
may we see as you see,
know your mind
and do your will.
Amen.

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sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

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