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.

Holy Land

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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