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. 

Reality

In one of his ‘Four Quartets’ the poet T S Eliot says

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

I had the feeling today that we were being asked to cope with a great deal of reality in the General Synod.  I’m not complaining.  The priestly task is precisely that, engaging in the reality of the world and bringing it to the altar.  That is what is at the heart of the incarnation.  God enters into the depths of our reality and engages with it.  Jesus is the most real person, as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is constantly wanting to make clear

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things. (Hebrews 2.14)

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The ‘flesh and blood’ that Synod was asked to engage with today was real and painful.  We began with the response of the Church of England to the first report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). I, like so many millions of people, watched with horror the two documentaries that the BBC recently showed into the Peter Ball abuse scandal.  I watched as the stories of victims and survivors were told.  I wept, as I am sure you did, at the inadequacy, no, it was more than inadequacy, the complicit inability of the church and its leadership to engage with reality when it was presented to it.  One speaker in the debate today commented that they were surprised by the reaction of people to the documentaries, as though they didn’t know what had been going on.  It was all in the reports we were told, and that is true.  But the way in which the story, the reality was presented to us, that was new and that was so powerful.

The debate on the response of the church to the IICSA report was powerful, painful, honest.  But it left me feeling … well, I don’t know to be honest, numb, guilty, angry, sorry, all those things and more.  But what is any of that compared with those whose lives have been damaged, permanently scarred by what they have suffered at the hands of those in the church they trusted?

That debate was followed by one on the Climate Emergency and Carbon Reduction Target.  Again, it was a deeply powerful debate and there was an almost palpable sense of powerlessness in the chamber.  The issues are so huge, what can we possibly do?  I had proposed an amendment, to name cathedrals specifically in the Motion so that we work alongside the rest of the church and are challenged alongside the rest of the church in achieving the zero emissions target.  Another amendment, which was also accepted, but not one proposed by me, changed this target from 2045 to 2030.  I didn’t support that – I think we are being unrealistic.  But the decision was made and that is what we have committed ourselves too – and, in a way, good for us for being so bold. Climate change is a present reality for so many of our sisters and brothers and we must never forget that.

But the final bit of ‘very much reality’ came in the afternoon, in the debate on Paupers’ Funerals.  The very phrase sends a shiver down the spine but, as we heard there has been a 70% rise in the number of these funerals over the last three years.  You would have thought such things were Dickensian, the experience of young Oliver Twist when he is working with the undertaker Mr Sowerberry. But this is now our reality, when people go into debt to afford a funeral for their loved one, when some councils will not allow family or religion at a ‘Public Health Funeral’, when families do not get to know when the funeral is taking place and will not get the cremated remains of their loved one back, simply because they are poor and I suppose, in Dickensian terms, are ‘undeserving’ of common human dignity and respect.

It was a painful and disturbing debate.  But my mind went to the texts of the Requiem Mass where so many find their comfort in the face of death.  At the very end of the Mass, before the coffin is carried from the church, the choir sings the ‘In paradisum’

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your arrival and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem. May choirs of angels receive you and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest.

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Dives and Lazarus and their changed realities

At the gate of the rich man’s house lies the pauper Lazarus.  Luke tells the tale in Luke 16:19-31.  The rich man and the pauper, the poor man, Lazarus, both die.  But the poor man’s reward is rich in heaven.  Whoever is before us at the Requiem we sing of the pauper, and that is how it should be.  The harsh reality in the parable is this, as Abraham, our father, speaks,

“Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.” (Luke 16.25)

Is this more reality than you can bear, the abuse of the innocent, the rape of the planet, the plight of the dead, the sorrow of the living?  But it is for this reality, into this reality that Jesus came, that Jesus comes, and this reality with which the church must engage.

Incarnate Lord,
you share my flesh,
you share my pain,
may I share your joy,
in your kingdom reality.
Amen.

Quotable quotes

I’ve seen many things in General Synod but I have never seen the number of amendments to some pieces of legislation that we have seen so far in this Group of Sessions. I thought I was going to get Repetitive Strain Injury yesterday afternoon as we were voting on around 16 amendments in one debate! It was all done as efficiently as possible but Synod procedures aren’t exactly designed to be nifty! But what it does show is that some members read the documents we get sent very carefully – and thank goodness for that, however much ones heart sinks at the length of the Order Paper!

But after a lot of rather tedious legislative business (I’m obviously not referring to the Cathedrals Measure), Synod engaged with something that was of real importance.

Fr Andrew Moughtin-Mumby, a priest in Southwark Diocese, had proposed a Private Members Motion back in 2018 when it was the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush. Those less than nifty processes of Synod, to which I have just referred, meant that we finally debated it yesterday. But in fact it could not have come at a more relevant or opportune time. The news was all about the deportation of a group of people from the UK to Jamaica. The courts were involved, the injustices were clear and it was a reminder that the Windrush scandal was being repeated.

Andrew gave one of the best speeches that I have heard in Synod. From his own experience as a person of colour and as Parish Priest in a black-majority church not far from the cathedral, serving a congregation which has within it people with their own stories of discrimination to tell, he spoke powerfully and carefully and in a very measured but clear way of the need for change.

There were three amendments to his Motion – on the need to offer an apology for our own treatment of the BAME community and on the need to appoint an independent person to look again at how we handle race and ethnicity within the life of the church. The Motion was amended and then carried.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was one of the first to speak in the debate. He threw away his prepared speech and spoke from the heart. It was powerful and moving stuff.

In both his homily at the Eucharist which began the day and in this unprepared speech ++Justin gave us some quotable quotes. In the homily he said this

‘In our haste to make statements we lose sight of the human being.’

In his intervention in the Windrush debate he said

‘We did not do justice in the past, we do not do justice now.’

These are powerful statements, a little like at the Synod in 2017 after the House of Bishops’ paper on sexuality was rejected by the members of Synod, who chose not to take note of it, when ++Justin said that we needed a ‘radical Christian inclusion’. That has proved to be a quotable quote. I know the Archbishop doesn’t say things lightly. But I also know that the church and its leaders can be quick to speak, clever at finding the words and slow or unable or unwilling to act. I will add these new quotable quotes to the list I am collecting as I want to see them being ‘cashed out’ in the life of the church.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus advises the people

Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”.’ (Matthew 5.37)

Jesus was good at quotable quotes – the best – but his words always had substance for he was the Word he spoke. May we not lose sight of the human being and live the justice of which we speak, otherwise we should have stopped at yes, or no!

Jesus, may we have the courage to be who we say we are, to live as we promise to live, to be as you would have us be. Amen.

Jewels in the crown

I’m feeling quite a lot of relief at the moment. The big thing, for me, today was to introduce the debate on the Report of the Revision Committee on the Cathedrals Measure. My speech was prepared, I know what I had to do and I hadn’t heard rumblings in the corridors that things were going to be difficult. Nevertheless it felt like a real responsibility to get the debate going with the right tone.

Durham Cathedral – a jewel in the crown

So I began by saying that Lonely Planet’s number two destination for travellers in 2020 is Britain, with its castles, coastline and cathedrals. We were beaten by the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan which is the number one place to go to. What I wanted to celebrate as we embarked on the debate was that cathedrals are the jewels in the crown of the Church of England. I know I am a dean and so I am bound to say that – but I also think that the reaction of the public in general and worshippers in particular over the last decade has proved this to be true. Cathedrals buck many of the trends that the rest of the church is subject to. We are seeing increasing numbers at our services, we are on the tourist trail, cathedrals do provide so much civic ‘glue’ in many of our cities. It is easy to overplay some of this but I think that the evidence bears this out.

But the reason for the Measure is that when things go wrong in cathedrals they can do so in spectacular and very public ways – Peterborough and Exeter were the two latest examples. You may remember that back in 2018 the report of the Cathedrals Working Group came to Synod. There was plenty of disquiet about a great deal of what was being suggested. But Synod received it and asked that legislation be drawn up by July 2019. That is what happened. That Measure reflected the report, as it had to. So, again, there was a lot in the draft Measure to which people objected. But I believe that the revision process and the vast amount of consultation that has gone on since July 2019 has produced a good and workable Measure that will serve cathedrals as well as the wider church.

Synod seemed to agree with that. When the last Cathedrals Measure was debated in 1999 there was real disagreement on the floor of Synod and the Measure was much amended, to its detriment. This has not happened this time. Deo gratias.

So the Measure goes forward to its final stage at the July Group of Sessions and then we can get on with the real work of implementing it.

When I was writing my last blog, early this morning, I forgot a question which was asked yesterday evening. It was asking about the response of the Church of England to the Coronavirus, in terms of Holy Communion! The lady who was asking the question, who is of a particular evangelical persuasion, suggested that the time might be right to introduce individual cups at Holy Communion for the wine, aka Precious Blood, as some other denominations do.

It is good to have a long memory. My mind went back to 2006 and the Bird Flu outbreak. You may remember that the church had to give advice at that time about the ‘common cup’ and how to reduce the risk of infection. But we didn’t go out and buy individual cups, instead worshippers were encouraged to receive in ‘one kind’ only. The way that was dealt with – because sharing the cup is so fundamental to our understanding of the Eucharist – was by digging out and dusting off the Doctrine of Concomitance. The doctrine dates back to 1415 and the Council of Constance and states that as Christ is indivisible then one substance contains the whole substance, that the whole presence of Christ is to be found in both the bread and the wine, the body and the blood. Though the doctrine is pre-reformation in origin it still applies as expressing a deep truth about our Eucharistic doctrine.

So do not be afraid. We didn’t need those separate cups before and we won’t again. Those old, dusty doctrines have a place even in the challenges of the modern world. And I remember Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10.6)

Lord Jesus, as we share the bread and share the cup make us one as you are one. Amen.

Making a beginning

So the Synod is underway. One of the things that we all try to do is to get the feel of the Synod. This is the penultimate Group of Sessions before this particular Synod ends after the July meeting in York. There will then be fresh elections. So I suppose that some of the things that we have been working on over the past five years are coming to synodical fruition but there is also frustration that we are still going round in circles on others.

Synod meeting in the chamber in Westminster

One of the things that happened to the chariots of the Egyptians as they pursued the Israelites escaping slavery was that their wheels became clogged. It can feel pretty similar for us as we have been pursuing a goal. Take the whole issue of sexuality. We will be getting an update on the LLF process, Living in Love and Faith, during this Synod and there will be a major event at York. But in no way has the church begun to really deal with the issues that are clogging our chariot wheels.

Questions are always a feature of the first day of any Synod and a good test of the temperature of the gathering. Questions yesterday were many and a bit grumpy. There were a great many as a result of both the tone and content, as well as the manner of the publication of the Bishops’ recent Pastoral Statement. The Bishop of Newcastle was at her most honest as she admitted in response to some supplementary questions that she did not know about the authorisation for the publication of the statement. As someone who has given herself to the pastoral work following on from the Shared Conversations it felt as though the rug had been pulled from under her feet.

One of my tasks in this Group of Sessions is to see through the Channel Islands Measure. Unusually all the stages for this piece of legislation will be conducted on the floor of Synod in one go, as it were. So we made a beginning yesterday and despite some of the activity on social media the draft Measure was very warmly received. I hope the wheels on this particular Measure aren’t clogged as we return to it today.

But, for the five Proctor Deans on Synod, today is a lot about the draft Cathedrals Measure. After the Eucharist this will be the first item of business. It will be interesting to see what the mood and attitude of the Synod is with regard to our 42 wonderful and varied cathedrals. Having begun this work in July, this is the second stage and, if all goes well, we will complete the stages before Synod finishes in July.

One thing that is unusual is not having the Archbishop of York sat alongside Archbishop Justin on the platform. As the Synod draws to its close on Thursday we will be saying goodbye and thank you to Archbishop Sentamu. I wonder what the Bishop of Chelmsford was thinking as he looked at the vacant seat?

So lots to do, but we have made a beginning. Let’s see where today takes us. Perhaps the Third Collect from Matins in the Book of Common Prayer might be a good place to begin.

O LORD, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day: Defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance, to do always that is righteous in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Heading to Synod

‘Check before you travel!’ is the advice this morning. Well, unless people managed to get down to London yesterday there will be many members of the General Synod making the journey to London this morning.  Most, I suspect, will be coming by train and so the effects of Storm Ciara will be felt by them.

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Check before you travel!

One of the essential features of a Synod like this is that it brings together people from across England, from each of the 42 dioceses.  PCCs (Parochial Church Councils), Deanery Synods and Diocesan Synods all tend, and rightly so, to have a narrow view on things – how will it affect this parish, this deanery, this diocese; what do we need here, now? But General Synod has to look more widely than that and try to hear voices from across the Church of England.  That is why people will be making the journey today from Newcastle and Carlisle, as well as Truro and Canterbury.  And it’s not just the geographical extremes but the very nature of the places that we come from which makes the Synod such a unique experience – the very rural dioceses, like Hereford, the post-industrial, like Sheffield, the urban, like Birmingham and the metropolitan, like London and of course, Southwark.  Then add to that the dimension of church tradition and you get a very exciting mix!

If everyone manages to get to Westminster, and eventually they will, there is some interesting stuff for us from our disparate backgrounds to consider.  There is the Cathedrals Measure, for instance, something with which I have been heavily involved.  I have chaired the meetings of the Revision Committee which met during the autumn and our report and the revised Draft Measure come to Synod on Tuesday morning.  There is the wider issue of Climate Change and a debate on the lessons learned from the experiences of the Windrush Generation.  There will, of course, be sex (it wouldn’t be the CofE without it) in an update in the Living in Faith and Love project. There is a fascinating piece of legislation on the future of the Channel Islands, or at least which diocese they are to be part of.  There will be an update on and a response to the IICSA hearings and some items relating to poverty in the UK, most interestingly on the future of ‘Pauper Funerals’.

This is all pretty big stuff that has implications for all dioceses, wherever we are in England and whatever we are like, socially, environmentally, politically.  But first, people have to get to London!

God, bless the meeting of General Synod.
Guide us by your Holy Spirit
in our discussions and our decisions
to seek your kingdom now, here
and in all things to give glory to you.
Amen.

Heading home

So we were Prorogued and we are now heading back to to the four corners of England (Isle of Man, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands included of course).

Yes I am in First Class! I booked early!

So, we have simplified procedures around getting a new vicar when there is a vacancy and some changes to the Church Representation rules. But in addition to those important debates we also discussed the progress on ‘Setting God’s People Free’ (SGPF) and ministry to those living with dementia, which includes those who are carers, particularly through the ministry of Anna Chaplains.

The phrase I loved from the first debate was ‘the Christ of the every day’ and of course SGPF is around recognising that Christian life is an every day business. I apologise for so often turning to George Herbert, my excuse is that he does articulate Anglicanism for me. He writes in his poem ‘Praise (III)

Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise Thee;

The Christian life is full time, every day. So, when we got to debate how we minister to those living with dementia I stood, but wasn’t called, to tell my story of Harold.

It was 30 years ago and I was a parish priest in Leeds. Harold has been the Verger at one of the churches in the parish for 50 years. He had been a daily communicant, the Mass was not a Sunday experience but a daily reality. But when I arrived he was housebound, as much by his mental as any physical disability. His dutiful wife Elsie was caring for him, and he was difficult to care for. I took the Blessed Sacrament to him once a week. He would talk and shout and ‘disrupt’ the first part of the Liturgy much to Elsie’s distress.

But then I would hold the Blessed Sacrament before him and say ‘This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ and carefully and slowly he would make the sign of the cross and open his mouth to receive the host (that was how he’d been taught). His wife told me that he was always silent for about half an hour after I’d left.

The psalmist writes

Deep calls to deep in the thunder of your waterfalls.’ (Ps 42.9)

It was being so deeply embedded with the Christ of the every day that had embedded the knowledge of the Christ of the every day in the very deepest places of his being, the places that his condition could not touch. I have seen that repeated in others to whom I have had the privilege to minister. Dementia diminishes and can seem to destroy but we should never imagine that the person no longer recognises Christ in the midst.

There was an extra item of business before the Farewells and the Prorogation. Archbishop Justin invited one of our guests from the Anglican Communion to address Synod. It was the Revd Canon Dr Joseph Bilal from South Sudan and on the day when that country was celebrating its Independence Day he stood to thank us for our support. It took me back to 2011 when I was Chaplain to the General Synod. On the day when South Sudan became an independent nation we held a special service in the Synod to celebrate that event. It was a joy to put that together and an inspiration to hear Fr Joseph speak so passionately and positively today. They have travelled a tough road from then to now. But may God bless them. It was a great ending to a good Synod.

Perhaps I can end with my favourite prayer by Dag Hammarskjold. His words open us up to every possibility that the Christ of the every day holds for us.

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

The last lap

The finishing line is in view, this is the last lap.  At the end of this morning’s Session we will be Prorogued (interesting how that is a word that more people are now aware of – I’d only ever used it in relation to Synod, but Brexit is having unforeseen effects) and we will head back into real life.

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The morning is book-ended by two debates and in the middle are two bits of legislative business.  The first debate will be on ‘Setting God’s People Free’.  This is an initiative begun in 2017 about ‘encouraging and enabling lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life’ and helping the ordained and lay members of the church to see their roles as complementary.  Dioceses have been taking this on in different ways and I suppose this morning we will be hearing lots of stories about what has been happening.

The last debate is on a motion from the Diocese of Rochester about ‘Anna Chaplaincy’.  I had never heard about this until I was coming to this Synod.  It seems that Anna Chaplains work with the elderly and those living with dementia.  They have a vocation to listen and be alongside.  Their name comes from Anna who appears out of the shadows of the Temple in Luke’s account of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2.36-38)

She’s a fascinating ‘bit-part’ player in the gospel and it will be great to celebrate her – one of God’s people who are set free as she encounters the one for whom she has been looking and waiting.

In between? There are two pieces of legislation to approve, one on the Patronage of Benefices and the other on the Church Representation Rules.  So we just need that final spurt of energy to get us to the finishing line.

Loving God,
give us the energy we need today,
to do whatever lies before us.
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