Can you remember when, all of a sudden and, so it seemed, as a complete surprise, you were let home early from school? To me it felt as though you were being given a little of your life back. We ran through the school gates, making for freedom before they had the chance to decide that they’d made a mistake and called us back! Well, we got the gift of early release from the General Synod today as the Archbishop of Canterbury prorogued the Synod at the end of morning session. If we had had caps with us we could have thrown them in the air.
I think almost everyone was tired after yesterday and the truth is that we have done a lot of work this week – all that legislation, debates on the Reformation, the preliminaries to marriage in church, and on this final day, the role of the laity, the rationalisation of administration and an address on the state of the Anglican Communion. Of course, all of that was a bit overshadowed by what happened yesterday.
The debate on the report, ‘Setting God’s people free’ was an important one. As we were told, 98% of the church is made up of lay people but the church can be hindered by clerical domination and authoritarianism. If we want to be effective in mission and witness and outreach then, yes of course, the whole people of God, the 2% and the 98% have to be active and using their God-given skills.
Some people might imagine that the evangelical wing of the church is naturally more inclined to recognise and use the skills of everyone than the rather priestly catholic end of the CofE in which Father or Mother ‘knows best’! I think that isn’t quite true. In all parts of the church we can find that tendency for the ordained to dominate the non-ordained, for the laity to be subservient to the clergy, for the collar to predominate. In fact many churches in the catholic tradition use lay people in ministry in large numbers, in a variety of ways. Servers, choir, musicians, readers, intercessors, Eucharistic ministers, welcomers, sacristans – the list could go on and on. Cathedrals, with a bevy of clergy, might be seen as highly clericalised and to some extent they are. But at Southwark Cathedral we have over 500 volunteer laypeople as part of our life, leading and serving in every aspect of what we do. We could not do what we do without the laity and the skills they bring transform what the clergy often bring. For instance, we have a ‘Masterplan’ group looking at the implementation of our vision and priorities. On that group are lay people skilled in doing that kind of work, thinking strategically, setting measurable outcomes, all of that for which I was never trained.
The thing is that if we don’t implement the report that we passed with, I believe, a unanimous vote, we will continue to squander what God gives to the church, his own people and that betrays a lack of vision and a failure in stewardship. The first speaker in the debate, Jane Patterson, a colleague and friend from the CNC, spoke as a lay woman and reminded us of 1 Corinthians 12 and Paul’s analogy of the church as a fully functioning body.
‘The body does not consist of one member but of many.’ (1 Corinthians 12.14)
It is when every part of the body is playing its proper part that the body is healthy, that the church will be effective.
The final debate on Mission and Administration, contingency business that we managed to get to because we had been so efficient, asked us to look at whether there are some administrative tasks that we could do together which would release time and people for mission. It’s worth looking at whilst recognising that dioceses, cathedrals, even parishes are legal entities in different ways.
So maybe release is what this Synod has been about, freeing the people of God, freeing time for mission, the freedom we gained through the Reformation and above all, freeing members of the LGBTI people to be the fully formed, fully rounded, fully loved people that God has created them to be.
But with freedom comes responsibilities ….The last word should go to Paul.
‘For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ (Galatians 5.1)
May we use this freedom to make others free, in Christ.
Jesus, you break the chains that bind us,
you set us free,
may I break the chains of others,
that with free hands, free hearts, free minds,
we may serve the world.