All done and dusted

This special Session of General Synod is all over. The deed is done and the legislation that was before us for consideration has passed through all its stages. It is really amazing what can be achieved when people focus on the task. But this meeting proved to be much more powerful than appeared when you were simply looking at the agenda.

All done and dusted

We began with Presidential Addresses. The Archbishop of York began and then was followed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Both spoke so powerfully and with honesty. Apologies were made for what had not gone well, there was a commitment to do better. What has gone well was celebrated and the reality was addressed. We will emerge a different church serving a different nation. Nothing will be quite the same. It was that sense of realism, held in the context of belief in the God who is always faithful, that set the tone for all that followed.

There were four stages to the legislative process that would see the elegantly named ‘General Synod (Remote Meetings) (Temporary Standing Orders) Measure achieve final approval and be passed on to Parliament. There was a general debate, then the Revision Stage with all the amendments. Then in the light of that a debate on the hastily written Report from the Steering Committee (written over lunch) and then the Final Approval debate.

So what did we talk about? Well a great many people talked about those who were not in the room. That is often seen as impolite but there was real consciousness of those who had given up their right to be at this meeting of Synod. I was conscious that I was the only Dean present, my fellow Deans had stood aside to allow me to attend so that I was also available to chair. There was an underlying generosity apparent and a graciousness.

Then there was a recognition that passing this Measure did not mean that we did not acknowledge that there is such a thing as digital poverty and inequality in this country. Some members may not own the equipment that they will need, some won’t have superfast broadband (we don’t even have it where I live alongside the Thames in central London!), others are not tech savvy or tech happy. Yet there was also a recognition that meeting electronically will provide better access for those who normally have to leave family to come, or take excessive amounts of unpaid leave in order to be at the Synod.

There was debate in the Revision Stage on two particular issues. The first was around whether or not Article 7 business should be included in the purview of the Measure. Article 7 deals with matters of doctrine, the Canons, our liturgy, those kinds of things. The Measure excluded such business from being able to be considered remotely. There were a lot of people who wanted to amend this to include it. There was suspicion around on all sides that either people were wanting to pull a fast one hoping to get some changes through – such as around the Canons governing the Administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion – or that if matters of doctrine were dealt with in this way they wouldn’t get the thorough consideration they demand. In the end the amendment was not supported.

The second area of debate was around a ‘sunset clause’. It says in the title that this is ‘Temporary’ but there is no ‘sell by date’ in the Measure itself. So weren’t we in danger of creating something temporary that might become permanent (a bit like the tower space platform in Southwark Cathedral)? Again, it was well debated and then Synod decided to stay with the Measure as it was and reject the amendment, trusting Synodical processes rather than writing everything into the Measure.

The final vote was unanimous in all three Houses (just two abstentions in the House of Laity) and that was a resounding endorsement for what will be a new way of working and decision making.

But one of the final speakers made a sobering point that I hadn’t thought about. We are due to have delayed elections to General Synod next year. We are unlikely to meet in person in February and, if we are being honest and realistic, not in July either. For those of us who might not be reelected next time and those who might not stand again, this may have been the last time we sat in the Synod Chamber. It is a beautiful space and if I don’t get the chance to sit there again I will miss it. And I will particularly miss the text around the dome., I sang it as a young chorister and I read it every time I am there.

Holy is the True Light, and passing wonderful, lending radiance to them that endured in the heat of the conflict, from Christ they inherit a home of unfading splendour, wherein they rejoice with gladness evermore. Alleluia!

There is no other prayer to offer.

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.

Zoom screen

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.


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.

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