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.

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Making law

One of the things that is often forgotten is that outside of Parliament and the other assemblies in this United Kingdom, the General Synod of the Church of England is a legislative body.  Canon Law is the law of the land and the Measures that we pass affect the life of the church and of parishes.  Members of Synod take this very seriously and if any member of Synod had forgotten this role we were reminded of it today.

All eyes were on what was happening in another legislative chamber, of course, but I didn’t know what had been happening until I emerged from the Synod Chamber after chairing an almost three hour long debate.  What was before us was the ‘Draft Church Representation and Ministers Measure and the Draft Amending Canon No. 39’. That sounds very dry but it was all about the membership of our synods and councils, how PCCs function, who can be its members, how the Electoral Roll is formed and maintained and how we utilise the possibilities of the digital age whilst keeping to the rules of GDPR – and much, much more.

As far as the Chair is concerned you are given a very full brief which you can follow word by word.  But it does mean that you have to concentrate and not let your mind wander! But I enjoyed it thoroughly (perhaps I’m a bit odd).

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The frustration is that as chair you can’t, of course, join in the debate and there are certain points when I was straining because I wanted to say something.  This was particularly true right towards the end of the debate on the Draft Amending Canon.  Mention had been made of the importance of saying Morning and Evening Prayer in at least one church in each benefice (remember that there are many multi-church benefices nowadays) on a daily basis. There was an amendment to this particular clause which proposed that a diocesan bishop could dispense of this if they ‘made such alternative provision for daily prayer as may best serve to sustain the corporate spiritual life of the benefices in the diocese’.

The point was made, and I paraphrase, that clergy are nowadays too busy, especially around the time of Evening Prayer, to fulfil the requirement.  The Archdeacon of Southwark, the Ven Dr Jane Steen, in responding on behalf of the Steering Committee, suggested that ‘it is not prayer that is the problem, it is the timetable’ by which she meant that creating a diary that precluded regular prayer missed the point of what we are about.

Prayer and ordered prayer is a fundamental part of the life of every Christian and especially part of the life of those who are ordained, in fact it is a canonical duty and is part of the expectation laid on us in the Book of Common Prayer.  Part of the charism of the Church of England, part of the gift we offer to the whole nation, is this regularity of public worship.  Roman Catholic priests may be committed to saying the Breviary but that is seen much more as the personal office, the private devotions of the ordained person and not an offering that is public.  But we offer public prayer in the morning and in the evening and the minister rings the bell so that the people of the parish, hurrying to work, or school, or stuck in their house, know that prayer is being offered for them, on their behalf.  It may sound romantic, the stuff of Herbert’s ‘Country Parson’ but this is foundational stuff of what it means to be the church, certainly what it means to be the Church of England.

The point was made, of course, that praying is not the preserve of the priest and if they are unable to be at church then the laity can fulfil this canonical duty – and I have seen that happening, and powerful and empowering it was too.

I think the amendment was intended as being genuinely helpful but it was defeated and I was delighted.

We are people led by grace not by law but the desire to pray and the act of praying, constantly, formally in an Office, informally in whatever way we wish is part of the process of being grace filled. George Herbert in his poem ‘Praise’, familiar to us as a hymn says this

Sev’n whole dayes, not one in seven,
I will praise thee.
In my heart, though not in heaven,
I can raise thee.

The worship of God is life-giving, grace-filling law; not one day in seven but every day; not once a day but twice or thrice, as the day progresses, as life goes on.  It is the air we breathe, the life we live, the heart beat of the church, the hymn of the people of God, into which we add our voice and our heart and our thoughts.  I was glad to be reminded of it.

We have one more Session to go on Tuesday morning and a lot of business to see through, including the debate on cathedrals, the praying heart of every diocese – should be interesting!

Living God,
may my life be in conversation with you,
may my heart beat in time with you,
may my thoughts be centred on you,
may my prayer rise before you,
may your grace fill and sustain me.
Amen.

Getting your ducks in a row

The campus of York University is a fantastic place if you are a fan of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Tweet of the Day’, or are a ‘twitcher’ or simply love wildfowl.  The place is full of geese and moorhens and ducks.  This morning as I walked to breakfast (I have had to arrive early because of meetings I have to attend this morning, pre-Synod) the ducks were all taking a break, getting their strength together before performing for the members of the Synod – skimming the water, eating the biscuit crumbs and generally pooing where you need to walk.

Synod 1

Ducks in repose – the Chamber awaits our arrival

Yes, it’s July and we are back for the latest Group of Sessions. As I have said before, the York Synod is more relaxed than the febrile atmosphere of the Westminster ones.  Bishops dress down in shorts, Bahama shirt and pectoral cross, sandals and socks (m bête noire) can be spotted. Ladies are in tie-die and there is a lot of linen around. Sartorial elegance is not a feature of a gathering of the Church of England because we have much more important things to think about.

The accusation is often made that we spend too much time on ‘church’ issues. Well, not this time.  The agenda is varied and a great deal of it is outward looking.  Of course we do need to continue to address the issue of safeguarding in the life of the church, creating a safe church for all people and especially our children, young people and vulnerable adults.  So the first real debate on Saturday is about the latest report to emerge from the church.  Saturday afternoon is taken up by seminars on a variety of subjects.  But then on Sunday, after joining the bereft congregation at York Minster (Dean Viv is now Bishop Viv), a series of fascinating debates will take place.

Watch out for the debate on our investments in companies dealing in fossil fuels. The main arguments of the debate have already been rehearsed  on the radio between the Bishop of Manchester and the Bishop of Oxford – do we dis-invest now as we have agreed to do or do we have more effective levers by retaining those investments for the time being? That debate is followed by an associated one brought to Synod by the Diocese of London on climate change and the urgency of the church’s response.

Back in the heady days of 1982 when the Church of England dared challenge the Thatcher Government with ‘Faith in the City’ there was another report that emerged called ‘The Church and the Bomb’. At this Synod we return to the subject when we debate ‘The Ethics of Nuclear Weapons’.  It was ‘The Church and the Bomb’ that convinced me to become a member of CND.  I have to admit – and given the other debates on the environment and the need to escape the effect of fossil fuels I feel a bit conflicted – I still have deep misgivings about the rush into nuclear power given that, as far as I know, the problem of waste fuel still exists.  But this debate will be about weapons and the evil they represent (there I’ve given away my opinion!).

There is a great deal of legislation on the agenda and the budget but then we are a legislative and a governance body, before we then get to another timely debate.  Having celebrated yesterday the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service we will be debating ‘The Long Term Sustainability of the National Health Service’.  From its foundation the CofE has been deeply involved in the NHS, not just through clergy being regular visitors to bedsides of parishioners but because there are Anglican chaplains in most hospitals.  This has been a huge area of ministry that we remain committed to.

There are reports on evangelism, pensions, finance and Standing Orders and then something that sounds very internal, the Report of the Cathedrals Working Group.  This report came out of the experiences at Peterborough and Exeter Cathedrals.  It was suggested by the Bishop of Peterborough in his Visitation Report on his own cathedral that the Church needed to give a thorough look at the governance of cathedrals.  Some people didn’t need to be invited twice!  There is a great deal of envy and suspicion out there at what St Paul describes as ‘the freedom we have in Christ’ (Galatians 2.4) and so a power-grab is proposed.  Well, that’s how I see it.  My big fear is that the radical engagement with the world that makes cathedrals so ‘successful’ will be reigned in by a controlling group of bishops and laity.  Cathedrals deal on a daily basis with the big issues of the day which so many parishes and so many parts of the hierarchy simply cannot or will not.

Synod 2

Flying with Pride outside the Synod Chamber

It is ironic that the Pride flag is flying outside the chamber in which the Synod will gather.  This is one area where Southwark Cathedral has given a lead and a witness – but not without some cost. Would we be able to do that if the report came into force?  We will see.

So, an interesting Synod, potentially.  Pray for us as we pray for you – and lets hope all the ducks behave!

O God, without you we are not able to please you;
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A safe church

I couldn’t be in the Synod Chamber for the start of today’s business, as much as I wanted to be.  In fact, I was on the ‘Big Breakfast’ show on ‘Premier Radio’ with Lisa Gutwein, a member of the congregation at Southwark Cathedral and also the author of the recently published book ‘Doorkins the Cathedral Cat’.  The interview had been in the diary for a long time and we were keen to tell the story of Doorkins, so that was why I was there. It may sound very trivial compared with the importance of the debate that was going on just down the road, on Safeguarding in the church and I suppose in reality it is.  But there is a deeper message to Doorkins than just the story of a cute tabby cat.

Doorkins arrived at the Cathedral doors in 2008.  She was a stray who somehow found her way into the churchyard.  The vergers noticed her there each morning and after a while put out food for her.  Then they put the food inside, in the warm and very cautiously she made her way across the threshold and into the building.  And she decided it was safe to stay.  Since then she has become a feature of our life and a much loved part of the Southwark Cathedral family.  She is still a bit wild and can be grumpy and challenging but she can also be loving – not so different from a lot of people who come to church!  We don’t know her story and why she was on the streets – and, of course, we never will.  She was God’s little gift to us.

Her story is a parable of what a safe church should be, simply that, safe, whoever you are.  Unfortunately all the incidents of abuse that are now known about and those yet to be disclosed happened in or around churches perpetrated by people, clergy and laity, who used their power to prey on others, children, vulnerable adults, of whom they took advantage.  The safe church became the unsafe environment.  We all need a safe space, we can all be vulnerable when all of a sudden there is a power imbalance and the church should and must be safe.  Getting there will take a lot of doing and rebuilding trust will take a long time.  The debate in Synod today was just another stage on the journey – but as we were clearly told, there has to be a change of culture and that change will involve how each of us thinks and speaks and acts. We have to change.

This Group of Sessions ended with a debate on Valuing People with Down’s Syndrome.  As I had anticipated it was powerful and moving.  I felt tears welling up at various points as I heard some of the contributions.  We rejoiced when we were told about a young man, Simon, who had encouraged his congregation in the sharing of the Peace – not just a polite shake of the hand but the trusting hug.  He was bringing his warmth to warm up the church.

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Two members of Synod, themselves living with disability, made powerful contributions.  Rachel Wilson said to us

‘The beginning of an individual’s story does not dictate its end’

That is true for each one of us.  And Tim Goode said to us

‘I give thanks to God that I have to live an interdependent life.’

Interdependence has to be the hallmark of what it means to be church.

Some wanted to draw us into the issue of abortion and Synod resisted that, and for good reason.  This was a Motion aimed at Her Majesty’s Government and it needed to be clear and focused and the final Motion, slightly amended and supported by everyone who voted, is just that.

But the final short film we saw of young people with Down’s Syndrome thanking us, each in their own way, but reach with lovely, genuine smiles was both heart-warming and deeply powerful.  These are our sisters and brothers, who like you and me can be vulnerable and need both a safe church and a welcoming world.  We would be poorer without them.

In between these two debates we talked about Religious Communities and about Digital Evangelism, both useful and good debates.

All in all it has been a fascinating Synod that has taken us here and there, to places we haven’t been before.  But as the psalmist says in Psalm 139

Where can I go then from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
(Psalm 139.6)

There is no place where God is not and this Synod has reminded us of that fact.

Jesus,
you entered an unsafe world
and paid the price
for us, for me.
May we create a safe church
in which your wounded hands
embrace all your children.
Amen.

One holy catholic and apostolic

In a lot of the services that we attend, at some stage, we will be asked to stand up and ‘declare our faith’ by joining together in saying one of the Creeds.  They are designed, I suppose, to keep us on message, an attempt by the early church to hold believers to a line and stop all those heretical beliefs gaining ascendency over the true faith.  In writing his Second Letter to Timothy, St Paul recognises that this situation will come about

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. (2 Timothy 4.3-5)

That lovely phrase ‘itching ears’ is exactly right. So to avoid the scratching at doctrine in the way that was happening, we agreed the Creeds and as part of that the wonderful description of the nature of the church ‘one holy catholic and apostolic’.

Meetings of the General Synod cover a great many topics and when we are at our best some of those are outward facing, such as yesterday’s debate on Food Wastage.  It was a timely discussion as many churches are concerned with issues relating to justice, peace and the integrity of creation – and how we use food resources fits each of these imperatives. The Borough Market, next to Southwark Cathedral, has developed very effective work with the local traders and food ‘recycling’, ‘recovery’ charities who take what remains and distribute it amongst those community and charitable groups that need it.  When the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited the market just before Christmas I had the privilege of presenting representatives of one such charity, ‘Plan Zheroes’, with whom, last year, the market distributed over 9,000 kilos of food that would have otherwise have been wasted.  It is this kind of work that needs promoting and developing.

But the rest of the day in Synod was more about looking at the nature of the church that we describe in the Creed.  We began by being addressed by three Archbishops from very different parts of the Anglican Communion – Southern Africa, Pakistan and Polynesia.  Each had different stories to tell and it was moving to hear them speak.  Then we debated our partnership links, the wonderful link that for instance the Diocese of Southwark and our cathedral has with four of the five dioceses in Zimbabwe.  Last year, in February, I was there visiting each of the dioceses and seeing the amazing life, work, witness and mission in which the church is engaged.  I came back exhilarated. The Anglican Communion is an exciting place to be – not the thorn in the side that can be so often portrayed when things are not going as we would like them to.

We spent a lot of time on legislation – we are a legislative body after all and that work is vital, the nuts and bolts of church life.

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John Wesley preaching

 

But two things stood out – the Presidential Address by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the debate on Mission and Ministry in Covenant with the Methodist Church.  The Archbishop spoke of the tension between tradition and creativity.  The three-legged stool of Anglicanism is scripture, reason and tradition and they serve us well.  But that important ‘leg’ of tradition can at times seem to hold back innovation.  The Archbishop quoting someone quoting someone said

‘Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.’

A helpful Tweet in response to one of mine added a quote from Gustav Mahler

‘Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire.’

I love that.  All of it played in to seeing a way forward for deepening the relationship we already have with the Methodist Church in this country.  We belong together but there are differences and these focus on church order, on how episcope is exercised (in a monarchical system as in the western catholic tradition or through Conference, synodically, as with Methodism) and therefore how the grace of orders is conferred and with what sacramental guarantees.

One thing I do know is that John Wesley set hearts on fire with his preaching, his teaching, his leadership.  In an era when the church looked more like ashes he fanned those flames and created a revival of faith amongst people the Church of England just wasn’t speaking to which challenged us then and still does.  I had the privilege of chairing this debate and there were great speeches to be heard and a moving set of presentations by a former President of the Conference and the present Secretary of the Conference.  In the end a vote, taken in all three Houses, passed an amended motion.  There is a lot of work to do but it is exciting to see how the church can be the church, in the past, in the present and in the future, truly one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

And today? It will be challenging – safeguarding and Down’s Syndrome as well as other matters.  But more of that later.

Lord of the Church,
may we be your church
one
holy
catholic
apostolic
that the world might believe.
Amen.

Prorogation

It’s great how some words are used that you just don’t come across in the rest of life. The church is great at that – we use all kinds of words that are just so particular to what we do.  It’s like this word ‘Prorogation’. That is the final item on each Synod agenda.  Google tells me it means

To discontinue a session of (a parliament, for example).

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Enter a caption

 

So the Archbishop of whichever Province the Synod is meeting in dismisses us, as the Headmaster would dismiss school at the end of the academic year.  Hurrah – the holiday begins! Except the truth is that we are all returning to whatever it is that we do when we are not here.

The final Session of this Group of Sessions was concerned with the Annual Report from the Archbishops’ Council and then the voting through of the budget for 2018. All that happened without too much fuss and after farewells – hilariously and lovingly delivered by Archbishop Justin – to the Bishop of Bristol, Mike Hills, and the Bishop at Lambeth, Nigel Stock, we left the Chamber.

It has been a significant Synod.  Before I make the positive comments there is one thing that concerns me.  Part of the real joy at York has always been the Fringe Events. These are meetings that take place in between the sessions. They are important because in them issues are aired, projects are promoted, voices are heard that couldn’t happen in the debates. There is always a rich selection and I have always tried to go to quite a few.  The practice was that as the Session ended you made your way to the room where the Fringe Meeting was taking place.  A buffet meal awaited you and a glass or two of wine.  You sat down with your food at round tables, got chatting to people, perhaps folk you didn’t know and then after a while the event proper began.  That has all changed.  It is perhaps finance, perhaps the administrative burden it creates, I don’t really know but now we all go to get our meal in whichever dining room we have been allocated to, down our food and then head off to the event.

It sounds ok on paper but it has taken a lot away from the Fringe of the Synod and I think that has made it much ‘fringier’ much more peripheral and I’d be interested to know whether fewer people availed themselves of the opportunity to talk and learn and pray together.  If that has been a consequence Synod and the Church is the poorer for it.

After all it was the fringe of the garment that brought healing to people as Jesus passed them, as they encountered the Apostles, its the fringe that is often the most exciting place to operate in our parishes, in our institutions, it is on the fringe that we encounter Christ.

Moan over – this was an amazing Synod.  I think that an indicator of what might be happening was the passing of the Amending Canon on Vesture this morning.  When that first came forward as an idea I was ready to resist it.  As a catholic never-knowingly underdressed I was ready to lie down before the evangelical tanks! But instead we have arrived at a place of real accommodation and understanding.  I can wear my chasuble for missional reasons, my sister can wear what she feels is important for mission where she is, my brother for where he is.  We have agreed that there are times and ‘life events’ in which what we wear is significant and there are situations and new ecclesial gatherings where something different is needed.  I think we have all been brave and imaginative and the voting reflected that.  Catholics and evangelicals, as well as everyone in that broad middle, voted together. The numbers clearly show that, that we were voting as one Synod regardless of our attitude to brocade in church!

It might have been that new understanding of ‘radical Christian inclusion’ that allowed us to do this, as it allowed us to reject the curing of homosexuals through Conversion Therapy, as we voted to really welcome trans people into our congregations. Thanks be to God, the God of surprises.

So, I leave, encouraged and again amazed at what can happen when we allow the Holy Spirit, wind and fire, to blow into our locked and protected spaces and liberate us.

Holy God,
bless your Church
that our hearts my be set on fire
in worship, witness and mission
in the name of Jesus, your Son.
Amen.

The price of …

In his play, ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, Oscar Wilde puts one of his wonderful epigrammatic lines into the mouth of Lord Darlington when discussing what a cynic is.

‘A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.’

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The price to be paid

 

Price and value came into the debate that opened this morning’s Session of the General Synod.  Birmingham Diocese had put forward a Motion borne out of concern at the cost of applying for citizenship in this country.  The figures are eye-watering! £1282 for an adult, £973 for a child.  If you make a mistake in the completing of the application for citizenship then you lose the fee and have to pay all over again when you resubmit your application.  As was pointed out, those applying have the right to stay; these are not fees designed to control the levels of immigration, to put people off.  After all, surely it is in the interests of the nation that the people living here are fully engaged with the whole of the community and society by being full citizens.  It all makes sense. That is where the values come in, the value of having a truly integrated nation, of not having parts of society excluded from the democratic processes, not having that deep sense of belonging that we want for true community cohesion.

I’ve just tried out a version of the Citizenship Test I found online and scored 17/24.  I’m not sure that that means I can be a citizen, or could be if I wasn’t.  But some of the questions are fiendish.  Yet people want to be citizens, despite the fees and despite the questions, the hoops and hurdles we put in place.

There is a wonderful exchange about citizenship in the Acts of the Apostles.  Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem and is before the Tribune who is trying to find out the truth of the accusations being brought against him.

The tribune came and asked Paul, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ The tribune answered, ‘It cost me a large sum of money to get my citizenship.’ Paul said, ‘But I was born a citizen.’ (Acts 22.27-28)

So, as someone born a citizen of the UK my question to myself has been do I value what that means and the responsibilities that flow from it? And as far as my friends for whom it costs ‘a large sum of money’ what am I doing to support them?  The debate in Synod and the unanimous vote in favour of the Motion was a wonderful example of the way in which, at our best, we can give strong messages to the nation and live out the role that we have as the Established Church for the people of England, citizens and not yet citizens alike.

Two other debates were very significant.  These were about two Amending Canons. These are important pieces of legislation.  The Canons of the Church of England are part of the law of the land (now there’s a question for the citizenship test! Only joking!) and for that reason are taken very carefully through the Synod.  Any changes must secure a 2/3rds majority in each of the houses.

The first of the amendments was to Canon B8 (Of the vesture of ordained and authorized ministers during the time of divine service) which means what we wear to take services.  To be honest the Canon was being flouted in many situations, not least in some Fresh Expressions. Some clergy think that robes and vestments get in the way of mission. I don’t necessarily agree but I do think that we need Canons that work and are not brought into disrepute by simply being ignored.  I’ve also experienced in the last few months two instances in the Diocese of Southwark where I was asked not to bring robes and to speak in a service just in suit or clerical shirt.  In both instances that was exactly right.

When it came to the vote the amendments to this Canon received the necessary 2/3rds and more.

The second Canon for amendment was Canon B38 (Of the burial of the dead) dealt with the way in which the church in the past dealt with the burial of the unbaptised, the excommunicated and those who committed suicide.  The practice of the pre-reformation church was brought across to the Church of England and each of these groups was denied a Christian burial.  It was only later in the 19th century that this was changed but differences still applied.  These changes will mean that all those who die and who seek a Church of England funeral will be treated in the same way.  In fact pastoral practice left the Canons behind a long time ago.  So this has tidied that up as well and makes the Canon reflect contemporary practice and understanding.

A good mornings work.

Jesus, my Lord and King,
my saviour,
may my true citizenship be of your kingdom,
for you paid the price to set me free.
Amen.

Changing the lightbulb

At the beginning of this meeting of General Synod someone mentioned a joke which perhaps all of us in the Church of England have heard in one forum or another.

Q. ‘How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb?’
A. ‘Change?!’

But something is in the air and it looks and feels like change. You may remember that in February, during the debate on the House of Bishops’ paper on sexuality, I said ‘I don’t like the tone’. Yet I have to admit that it seems as though there is a new tone, that something has changed.

Lightbulb

Changing the lightbulb

The debate on Conversion Therapy was the first sign of this and the overwhelming support that the final Motion achieved.  The second was the debate yesterday on welcoming transgender people into church.

The Motion before us was not just about simply welcoming trans people when they come to church but having some approved liturgy which recognised, celebrated, acknowledged their trans status and new identity. It was an interesting debate on that particular aspect.  Some claimed that in the liturgical library of the Church of England there are already texts that can be used in such circumstances. Others wanted something, commended by the House of Bishops, that would be specifically for people who had gone through the process of gender reassignment and for whom this had been legally recognised.

I have sympathy to be honest with both points of view. A practical liturgist, and I suppose to some extent that is what I am and have been, is always putting together ‘special services’.  That is especially true in Cathedrals where we get asked to host services and thereby put them together for all kind of events.  Those who follow my Living God blog may remember that earlier this year I officiated at the Blessing of First Flush Darjeeling.  It all came about because of one of the traders in the Borough Market who had seen what we did on Lammas Day with Bread Ahead (our local bakery) and wanted the same for the tea he imported from India.

You will not be surprised to learn that the Church of England does not have an authorised liturgy for the blessing of first flush Darjeeling.  But we have lots of texts that can be garnered from elsewhere and put together to create the right service.  That is what I did and that is what I have always done, for years.

From the debate it was clear that this is what many people have done when welcoming trans people in their communities, recognising their new name, celebrating them as a person loved and created by God from the very beginning.  In all of this and during the moving contributions made, I remembered verses from Psalm 139

You yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
marvellous are your works, my soul knows well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished;
already in your book were all my members written.
(Psalm 139.12-15)

We are not introducing people to God, God knows us, fundamentally, already, as child, as creation, as loved, in a place deeper than even gender, in a place more intimate even than our name. It is that which a liturgy needs to reflect and respond to.

The first words in this Group of Sessions were those of Bishop Matti Repo from Finland and they were quoted in the debate – ‘When we do liturgy we show we are doing the work of God.’ Those who were calling for a special liturgy made reference to this. The final Motion has asked the House of Bishop to ‘consider’ whether something could be made available.  Until then we need to do the ‘opus dei’ through the liturgies that we create from the resources that we do have available.

The final vote was remarkable.  As has been a feature in this Synod there was a call for a vote by Houses.  25 members stood and the voting machines appeared.  The result was

Bishops For 30 Against 2 Abstentions 2
Clergy For 127 Against 28 Abstentions 16
Laity For 127 Against 48 Abstentions 8

A lightbulb moment! The attempts made to change the Motion had failed and we stood alongside our trans sisters and brothers with conviction.

The rest of the Session involved a report on the workings of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), the debate on clergy wellbeing that I was thinking about yesterday in the light of the gospel and a debate that I chaired on schools admission. But it was the first debate that suggested that something is blowing through the church.

Harold MacMillan made a speech in Cape Town on 3 February 1960. His words then live on now

‘The wind of change is blowing through this continent.’

That wind brought to an end colonialism in the way it was being experienced, and not just in Africa. Perhaps the God who blew the wind of the Holy Spirit into the life of the church on the Feast of Pentecost is blowing through our church.  We will see where we are blown today.

Holy Spirit,
blow through your church,
blow through our lives,
blow through our world.
Amen.

The yoke

So, we went to York Minster for the Eucharist. The choir sang the Vierne ‘Messe Solonnelle’ like a dream, the organ bellowed out and the ‘God of the lectionary’ played that divine trick again by giving us a Gospel reading that we needed to hear.  The Gospel set for today was Matthew 11.16-19,25-30 which finishes with that wonderful passage

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

As we get ready for the debate about clergy wellbeing this afternoon these were words that we needed to hear, to be reminded of.  But let’s be honest.  The pressures on clergy, their families, their lives are real but so are the pressures on many people, in work and out of work; I may live in a ‘goldfish bowl’ but it is a very lovely one!

When the Dean of St Paul’s and I hosted the annual conference for the all the deans of the English Cathedrals immediately after Easter we took everyone across to Canary Wharf and to the offices of J P Morgan.  As part of that fascinating visit we were taken down to see one of the trading floors.  It was incredible.  It was for a start off huge, row after row of desks, next to one another, each with five or six screens on and active, with telephones, with a person looking at all of this like the commander of the Starship Enterprise. Just as in one of those big American casinos it seemed a place in which you left time at the door.  These guys – they mostly were guys – were operating across time zones.  They may have almost literally straddled the Greenwich Meridian where those offices are located, but they were beyond, outside time – they were in the immediate moment in which money was being made and lost. It was fascinating to see and just a little frightening.  I could only begin to imagine the levels of stress these youngish people were working under.  And these are the people I see coming across London Bridge to the station late in the evening, finally heading to their home, their dormitory.  These are the people I pass in the morning as I walk to the Cathedral and they are already heading back to the office to begin that out-of-time work again.

Wellbeing has to be something that we are concerned about, for clergy, but for each other.  Lives are too precious and need to be lived well.

Jesus says this to the people – ‘I will give you rest’.  It is just what we want to hear.  But as Archbishop Justin in his sermon in the Minster this morning Jesus did not say that there was no yoke, there is a yoke to be worn across the shoulders, but it is lighter, easier, because Jesus is there alongside us, sharing the burden.  There is always the yoke.

yoke

‘My yoke is easy, my burden is light.’

 

If you go into many a sacristy you will find there prayers that the priest might say as they put on the sacred vestments.  There is a prayer for each item – the amice, the alb, the girdle, the stole and finally the chasuble.  It is the prayer that we say as we place that final priestly garment on ourselves that reminds us of the yoke

O Lord, who has said, “My yoke is easy and my burden light,” grant that I may so carry it as to merit your grace.

The priest bears the yoke with Christ and with the people and carries it for the gathered people of God to the altar.  There as the bread and wine are taken by the person wearing that yoke we remember Jesus across whose shoulders the wood was laid, a yoke he bore to Calvary, a yoke that would then carry him as he was raised for all to see.

Whilst we care for one another, whilst we

‘Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way … fulfil the law of Christ’. (Galatians 6.2)

we have to remember the burdens that each of us does bear, the stress under which so many live, the concerns that wear people down and the graciousness of God who sees us through it.  The debate this afternoon will be interesting in the light of these gospel words.

Lord Jesus,
a yoke was laid across your shoulders for me;
may I gladly bear,
may I gladly wear
the yoke with you.
Amen.

Avoiding the crash

I had the joy of seeing the production of ‘Carousel’ at the Coliseum Theatre in London earlier this year – perhaps one of the darkest musicals around but it has some lovely tunes!  Watching it though took me back to going to the fair when it arrived in town.  You remember how it was.  All of a sudden posters would appear in the shop windows on the local parade – the fair was coming.  ‘Mum, Mum, can we go … please?’ and eventually we would go.  To be honest, as a certified wimp, I’m no good at the scary rides but I did enjoy the dodgems.  It was that mixture of the sparks and the smell and the invitation to crash into someone that was the real joy of the ride. The screams, the fun, the joy of bashing into each other.

dodgem_cars

What fun!

 

Whilst London hosted it’s biggest Pride March in this 50th anniversary year of the decriminalisation of homosexual practice, the General Synod of the Church of England settled down to debate whether it was right or not to try to ‘cure’ gay people of their sexual desires through what is known as ‘Conversion Therapy’.  A Private Members Motion had been tabled by Jayne Ozanne, a lay member of the Synod who, through personal experience believed that such therapies are wrong, abusive and destructive.

There are some well meaning and sincere Christians who believe that offering healing to people with ‘same-sex attraction’ is exactly what we should be doing.  One speaker, in an attempt to justify his position, quoted Paul at us from his First Letter to the Christians in Corinth

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. (1 Corinthians 6.9-11)

This is the NIV version of the text which was the one the speaker read to us.  Give him his due, Paul did not pull his punches; it is explicit and, he said, it shows the radical Christian inclusion of which we speak. These people were included in the local church, but their lives had been changed, for as Paul says, ‘that is what some of you were.’ Their former sinful nature which excluded them from salvation, from the Kingdom of God, had been transformed through the ministry of Christ through his church.

Fortunately we heard other speakers who saw things differently and especially two young members of the Synod who spoke from their own personal experience.  One had himself been subject to these therapies, which had for him led to severe bouts of depression, the other told us that for most young people their impression was that the church is inhospitable to LGBTI+ people.  Their contributions and others, such as that of the Bishop of Liverpool, were greeted with fulsome applause.

To be honest there wasn’t enough debate as we were faced with four complex amendments each of which was subject (at the will of Synod) to a vote by Houses.  We ended up with a twice amended Motion.  The final voting, by Houses was as follows

Bishops For 36 Against 1 Abstentions 0
Clergy For 135 Against 25 Abstentions 13
Laity For 127 Against 48 Abstentions 13

So it was passed in all three houses.  The car crash was avoided and for a second time this year the Synod has spoken strongly to the nation and to the church that those who view LGBTI+ people as disordered and needing healing or exclusion are in a minority.  I had such pride in the Synod, in the tone of the debate and the care that was taken.

The rest of the day had been taken up with a good debate on ‘Presence and Engagement’ at which I was called to speak about our own engagement with the Muslim community in the light of the attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market; in legislative business; and with a presentation, workshops and a debate on the ‘National Support for Local Churches’.

So what could have been a disaster became a sign that, perhaps, we are turning a corner. But there are a few more corners to negotiate before we see gay people finding the same welcome in the church as they already find in the ever embracing arms of the God who created, without distinction, each one of us, his rainbow and beautiful people.

Stay with us, O God, this night,
so that by your strength
we may rise with the new day
to rejoice in the resurrection of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Amen.

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

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark