Cautious steps

There are times when you can’t race ahead, when you have to step more cautiously.  The famous split infinitive at the beginning of Star Trek, ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’ was one way of travelling.  But Synod was not in Trekkie mode this afternoon as we debated the proposals that would lead to the mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministries between the Methodist Church and the Church of England.

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Tread carefully

If you are chairing a debate, as I was chairing this debate, it means that you have to spend time backstage planning how you will manage the debate.  That meant that unfortunately I wasn’t in the Chamber for the opening of this Session and for questions and the subsequent presentation on safeguarding.  But there is a screen on which we can watch what is happening and we can hear a lot of what is going on.  The questions that followed on from the presentation concluded with a standing ovation by members of the Synod.  So I can only conclude that it went well.

There was a great deal of interest in the Methodist-Anglican debate.  Lots of people had put in to speak, there were three amendments to be handled and, potentially, some procedural motions.  We had two hours allotted for the debate, which may seem like a long time but, believe me, time moves on very quickly.

I knew what the issues would be, of course.  There would be a group of people who were eager to move forward as quickly as possible with a legislative process – the bold ones.  Others would be more cautious, wanting more time to consider what we mean by episcope, the role of bishops, about the ‘anomaly’ we would live with for maybe two decades of ministers not episcopally ordained celebrating the sacraments, particularly presiding at the Eucharist.  Others were concerned that the recent decision of the Methodist Conference to support equal marriage in church revealed different doctrinal positions on marriage.  So, for different reasons there were cautious people and for good reason there were bold people.  We had to find a way through.

In the end we chose the path of caution, but still with momentum, asking the House of Bishops to come back with further thoughts and deliberations in the next quinquennium.  I am sure that this was the best decision – without that measure of caution the whole thing might have been lost!

We were reminded by a couple of speakers of the Methodist Covenant Prayer which begins like this

I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

There is no caution in this prayer.  When we say it we boldly place our selves, everything we are, into the hands and the will of God.  For Methodists covenant means everything and as we are already in a covenant with them it should mean everything for us as well.  The journey, the path we have chosen may be the cautious one but it will demand boldness as well.

Oh, and the debate … the final amended motion was passed in all three Houses.  We move forward.

God give us the courage to be bold,
and the wisdom which calls for caution,
that in all things your will be done.
Amen.

The beauty of holiness

On Sunday we all go to church.  In fact we all go to York Minster and that is always a treat.  This morning ++Sentamu was presiding and ++Justin was preaching.  The Minster was full and it was all very lovely.  The Archbishop preached about the state of the nation and the need for reconciliation and the role that we, as the Church of England, have in helping with that.  I am sure he is right, the question we were asking each other as we walked back from the Minster to the University was ‘How?’.

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The Eucharist at the Minster always ends in the same way.  The organ plays as the altar party leaves and the choir follows and then as they reach a certain place in the nave they take over singing a setting of Psalm 150, unaccompanied and to a chant by ‘George Surtees Talbot (1875-1918) sometime Vicar Choral of York Minister’ as it says in the order of service.  The treble voices soar at the end of each verse and as the choir moves out of the nave and into the choir aisle the sound becomes more distant and more ethereal.  Even Google seems to know little more about Talbot apart from that he published one book.  There is no picture available online, nothing but these beautiful notes which much captivate thousands of people each year as the Eucharist ends and they prepare to leave the Minster ‘To love and serve the Lord’.  Leaving with the ‘beauty of holiness’ ringing in our ears must be part of the response we need to make to the nation, witnessing to the reality of our reconciling God, being salt and light, being bridge-builders, truth-tellers, peace-makers.

So we are back at the University and after lunch back to an afternoon of business.  Sunday afternoons should be about sleeping off a big roast lunch (with Yorkshire Pudding) and a bottle of claret with your feet on the sofa and a Doris Day film on the tele.  Not for us.  We will begin with Safeguarding Questions followed by a presentation on Safeguarding.  As the IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) continues and members of the Church of England are being called to give evidence and we are hearing the voices of survivors, these will be important pieces of business.

Then we will move on to a debate that has been ongoing for years and years and years, the discussions between the Methodist Church and the Church of England.  This debate is called ‘Mission and Ministry in Covenant’ and will call on the church to move forward.  I will be chairing this debate so I will say no more, only what a delight it was to sing one of the great hymns by Charles Wesley, ‘And can it be’.  That final verse should be ringing in our ears as much as the lovely Psalm 150.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Then this Session will finish with a debate on a motion from the Diocese of Southwark on ‘Refugee Professionals’.  It will encourage us to see refugees as a gift and not an ‘issue’, not a ‘problem’, arriving as so many do with the most amazing skills and professional backgrounds, which are so often ignored, so often wasted.

So, a busy and very serious afternoon.  So if you are watching Doris Day with your feet up, enjoy, and spare a thought for us.

Holy Spirit,
guide our thoughts,
our words,
our actions,
that filled with the beauty of your holiness
we may serve the world.
Amen.

And / Or

Synod can be very frustrating – believe me.  But then within the frustrations you can see some of the benefits.  Take the debate on Serious Youth Crime.  Canon Rosemarie Mallett did a fantastic job at introducing the motion and setting up the debate that followed.  It was a good debate.  No one was going to vote against the motion, of course.  How could you?  As we heard the issue is not just about London or the other big metropolitan areas.  Youth violence affects so many communities and draws in so many of our wonderful young people.  And we have a concern for our children and young people.  We are a partner with the state in education, we still run youth projects, we help our children and young people to grow in faith through our learning programmes, we baptise, we Confirm but we do not want to bury these same children.  Yet Rosemarie told us she has had to officiate at too many funerals of young people in her own parish in Brixton, promising lives cut short.

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What was frustrating was that we had to take up a great deal of the debating time looking at three proposed amendments.  In the end not one of them was supported by the majority of Synod members and so the Motion went to the final vote unchanged.  In an electronic count of the whole Synod – 315 voting in favour, no one voting against or abstaining.  So why did we waste our time on the amendments?

The truth is that those debates within the debate gave us the opportunity to think through some associated issues and not least the whole issue of the exclusion of pupils from school.  This is seen to be one of the factors, one of the factors, behind the rise in youth violence, excluded kids, rejected even by schools, de-motivated, bored and then relating to other groups and influences.  We get these too easy and convenient associations – school exclusion = youth violence.  But the debate raised other perspectives.

A couple of teachers spoke about how their colleagues regard any exclusion as a failure.  They spoke about the need to safeguard other pupils in the class.  They spoke about the needs to protect teaching staff who can themselves be the subject of violence.  As a former School Governor I agree that any exclusion is a failure but I also know that the work that Pupil Referral Units do should not be dismissed.

I know one lad, excluded from school, attending a PRU who cannot speak too highly of the care that he has been given by the staff and especially when he was in pastoral need.  The classroom was a challenge for him, the PRU was his salvation.  Individual attention was what he needed, the group was not the place for him.  That is only one person of course but there are always more sides to the story.

The result of the debate was that we go back to our dioceses with a task to do, whether we are in Hereford or Southwark and that is to take the issue of our young people even more seriously and to do what we can do, whatever we can do, and partner with others who have the skills that we do not have.

This debate was followed by one on Clergy Well-being but I wasn’t present for that debate so I can make no comment.

I was around though for the afternoon, though I’m more than happy to confess to you that I attended only two of the three seminars I should have attended.  And I also confess that what I said this morning was wrong.  I learnt some things, it did feel different and I was grateful to the work that had gone into what we heard from members of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ group and the Pastoral Advisory Group.

What did I learn?  Well some statistics on sexual behaviour in contemporary society were interesting, not surprising but very interesting.  But it makes me realise that our sexual lives are much more complex than sometimes we dare to admit.  The Marriage Service expresses it all in such a coy way that really does not do justice to the reality of people’s lives.

The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.

or alternatively

It is given, that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love, and, through the joy of their bodily union, may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives.

Both of these are quotes from the alternative Prefaces that are authorised in the Common Worship Marriage Service.  Andrew Marvell wrote the beautiful poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’, published posthumously in 1681, which begins with these lines

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

Like Marvell, we don’t have eternity to think about love, we need to address it realistically now, as a community that celebrates love constantly, in all its complexity, without being coy about it.

The other thing that I learnt, or at least that was revealed to me, was in an oft quoted text from scripture with which we were presented.

‘So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1.27)

Now, you know I am no scholar and certainly no Hebrew scholar.  So others will be better able to comment on this but what was highlighted for me was that ‘and’ which is not translated as an ‘or’ – ‘male and female he created them.’ Is what is being recognised here that each of us is that rich mixture of male and female, a divine recognition that gender is not as binary as we might wish to believe, that each of us is a creation of ‘and’ rather than ‘or’? If that is the case, if Genesis is more subtle than I had recognised …. well, how exciting is that?

God, help me to live more comfortably
in the inclusive world of and,
not in the binary world of or.
Amen.

Two masters

It’s not easy when you feel pulled in two ways.  We can often experience divided loyalties.  Jesus recognises that fact when he says this to his disciples

‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.’ (Matthew 6.24)

Tug-of-war

Pulled both ways

The Church of England is often pulled in a variety of directions and we saw that yesterday in the afternoon Session of the General Synod.  The issue was around what we mean by a spouse in relation to some legislation which related to cathedrals building on a disused burial ground (pretty obscure you are thinking).  The ‘offending text’ came in the Report of the Steering Committee, those dry looking documents with unmemorable references, this one was GS 2104Z/2105Z, which are designed to help us understand the legislative paper to which they relate and the first instance of this new definition came here

Clause 6, page 6, line 26, at end insert—
“(3E) The reference in subsection (3D)(a) to a person’s spouse includes a reference
to a spouse of the same sex as that person.”

The CofE has all the benefits of being the Established Church, seats in the House of the Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury being one of the few to know who Archie’s godparents are, and looking after the people of this nation at all the life stages that we go through – hatch, match and dispatch as we say.  That means burying people and that means people who are not paid up ‘members’ of the CofE.  That is the joy of being in this church.  But of course, for the first time in our history, we disagree with the nation about who a person can marry.  We say that you can only marry someone of the opposite sex to you, the nation says you can marry any person who you love.  So how do we square this circle, how do we live with this discrepancy in our understanding of marriage.  How do we serve the two masters of the God we adore and the nation we are called to serve.  And anyway, where is the God of love in all of this, with our rather restrictive views or with the inclusive view that the nation has so readily embraced?

For some of course this clause was the liberal ‘Thin Edge of the Wedge’, a Trojan Horse being wheeled into the Synod Chamber, like a bride adorned for his/her husband/wife.  There were calls for ‘Next Business’, ‘Adjournment’, ‘Article 7’ (which may still come), all procedural devices.  But in the end the amendment was approved.  But the serious point, as was made by someone in the debate, is that we have to be prepared to deal with all these anomalies that will come along and we will be there in many obscure corners of our life, because it is about our pastoral response to the people of England which has been history long.

And, of course, it gave us an indication of what we are in for this afternoon as we join in a series of seminars about the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project.  The Bishop of Coventry in telling us what would be happening today said that this would be about a new way of learning.  Really?  Maybe? But what I do not understand is how more talking can get us anywhere.  I was in three sets of Shared Conversations and they were meant to be the answer and I learnt a great deal by them and I thank God for the late and lovely Ruth Scott and the others who held us during that process.  I am still meeting on a regular basis someone I got to know during those conversations – on the issue we disagree but on everything else we agree on so much and, I think, I hope, count each other as friends.  But at some stage we have to make a decision and live with the consequences … but we are approaching Lambeth 2020 so nothing will happen before that.

Anyway, more importantly we need to debate Serious Youth Violence and that is this (Saturday) morning.  Young people are dying in our streets and on our estates, in our parishes and we are, as ever, fiddling whilst Rome burns.

God,
may we serve you and serve our neighbour
with an undivided heart.
Amen.

Back up north

York Railway Station is one of those great places to arrive, the vast scale of the place, trains arriving and departing from and to all over the country.  Today, among the thousands of tourists arriving in lovely summer sunshine to see the delights of this Viking and medieval city, are the members of the General Synod of the Church of England.  You can spot us getting off the trains – some in dog collars, others looking like clerics trying not to look like clerics but some how missing it, others carrying huge files of papers they have been trying to read on the journey up, and those who travel lightly through life, a small bag, minimal luggage, their papers downloaded onto a device, nothing to encumber them.

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The Central Hall at York University – our home for the next five days

The queue for the taxis is always long and when you spot someone you know there is that conversation, ‘Shall we share a cab?’ and off you head for the University campus where the Synod is held.  With a huge bag and bulging backpack I arrived early, caught the 66 bus that drops you at the campus and waited for my first meeting.

As a member of the Panel of Chairs we always have a briefing meeting with the officers of the Synod, the administrators and the lawyers.  A full brief has been prepared and we work our way through that, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and then Tuesday.  Then we can head back home.  The briefing helps us understand where debates might be more difficult, where slippage in the timetable might occur, where we might catch up time, what traps might be awaiting us as chairs.

This is my 14th York Synod.  I think I have said in previous years that the meetings up here have a very different feel and when I first starting attending and didn’t have any responsibilities it did feel a bit like a nice holiday ‘up north’. Depending on the weather people don shorts and t-shirts, bishops abandon purple shirts for something more jazzy, and ‘floaty’ skirts (as mum might have described them) and sandals are worn by others.  It does give it a different feel.  And, of course, we are all living on the campus in the student accommodation, mostly in James or Vanbrugh colleges, eating together in our respective dining halls, worshiping together, going to the same bars after business is concluded for the day.

So here we are, and as I write we are preparing to go into the Central Hall which will become the Synod Chamber.  So, what to look out for in this Group of Sessions.

We are in York and this is the last meeting of the General Synod at which the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, will be present.  He will be delivering the Presidential Address, so what might he say? Look for the legislative business because among those seemingly innocuous and boring clauses there can be interesting things, no Faculty needed for benches in churchyards or re-pointing of buildings, the definition of spouses in particular instances to include same-sex spouses. Goodness! We will be debating the Draft Cathedrals Measure for the first time and hopefully handing it on to the Revision process.  We will be thinking about Mission Shaped Church as we celebrate the 15th anniversary of that initiative.  We will debate the proposals for a covenant relationship with the Methodist Church and the recognition of ministries.  There will be the standard business at this time of the year about budgets and there are two debates that have originated from the Diocese of Southwark.

Hopefully these two debates, one on Serious Youth Violence and the other on Refugee Professionals, will get a lot of interest from the media.  I also hope that we will hear great stories of what the church is doing to support our young people and refugees.  But as ever there will be interest in where we are with the ongoing debates on sex, sexuality and gender.  Saturday afternoon will be spent by members of Synod attending a variety of seminars as we hear how the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ process is progressing. As I arrived here this morning I tweeted that this was my 14th Synod up here and we are still talking about sex – and, of course, whilst I am here I will not be with my sisters and brothers from Southwark Cathedral at ‘Pride in London’, witnessing to our inclusive love, supporting the LGBT community rather than just talking about it, flying the rainbow flag.

But I need to go to the chamber.  Synod will begin, we will welcome our guests including the Worldwide President of the Mothers’ Union among others, discussing the agenda and taking Questions, as well as some initial Legislative Business.  Please keep us in your prayers as I keep you in mine.

This Collect for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity seems to say it all.

O God, forasmuch as 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.

Weaving the threads

The Archbishops had decided that before the Synod was Prorogued we should have an opportunity to debate ‘The State of the Nation’.  Synod members often complain that we can never have a timely debate, that the agenda is set so far in advance that there is no space to respond to the events that are happening as we are meeting.  There were no complaints on this occasion!

Threads

We weave the threads

For those unfamiliar with the layout of Westminster, the Abbey alongside which Dean’s Yard is located in which stands Church House, is on the opposite side of the road to the Palace of Westminster where the Houses of Parliament are.  On the other side of the road in Parliament Square is the Supreme Court.  Downing Street is just a short walk away and along Birdcage Walk and through St James’ Park is Buckingham Palace.  The Synod meets at the heart of national life and so it was the perfect location to have this debate.

What was so interesting though was that this debate on the nation was a weaving together of the strands of the whole of this Group of Sessions.  Forget the legislative business that we had to plough through; the rest of the Synod was about some of the elements that would make up any debate about the state that we find ourselves in as a nation.  We talked about the environment; we talked about racism and how it affects travellers, gypsies and the Roma people.  We talked about children and young people.  We talked about life on our hard pressed and maginalised estates.  We talked about the pernicious effect of advertising and gambling.  All these threads could have been left hanging, like at the back of a badly finished piece of tapestry.  But they weren’t.

This really measured and thoughtful and intelligent debate brought all of these strands together because they are all symptomatic of the challenges that our nation faces.  One speaker talked of the demons of liberal democracy and the dark side of something which in many ways has delivered so much.  The Bishop of Bristol spoke passionately and movingly about Swindon, part of her diocese, and the effect of the proposed closure of the Honda factory on so many ordinary people.  Others spoke about the need for hospitality.  Someone talked of creating a ‘counter-narrative of hope’ which could be spoken into our communities. The Bishop of Coventry spoke movingly of the effect our decision to Brexit will have on the ordinary people of Europe with whom we have unbreakable bonds.

But it was the Bishop of Chelmsford who really captured the mood, speaking of the Beatitudes in St Matthew’s Gospel and homing in on one in particular

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ (Matthew 5.3)

He said that what Jesus was pointing to here were those who realised that they didn’t have all the answers, those who weren’t self reliant, those who knew their need of God and their neighbour and he called on us to have a new humility, as a church and as a nation, and to see beyond our opinion of our own riches.  It was a powerful point and I fear I haven’t done him justice in reporting it.  But this is a debate to read when the Report of Synod is published.

The call was of course to pray, every day, all the time for our elected representatives, for the Government and Parliament and to commit ourselves to doing this.  But the whole Synod was a real encouragement to re-engage with those communities from which we have become seperated, it was a call back to ‘our first love’ to the mission of God, in the world, for the world, in this nation for this nation.

The threads were joined, tied off and neatened.  Then like the artist we turn the work around at look at the ‘good side’, the image that has been created.  When we join these threads we see the face of Christ and we see the kingdom of God.  The Archbishop of Canterbury began the Synod reminding us that ‘We can’t talk about Jesus without looking like Jesus’.  The tapestry reveals the face and we have been sent out to speak ‘the language of love more fluently’.  The work begins, revealing Jesus and kingdom values to the nation and to the communities in which the church is set, as the pearl in the field.

This was the Brexit Prayer that I wrote for all the cathedrals to use.  Please continue to pray it with us.

God of reconciling hope,
as you guided your people in the past
guide us through the turmoil of the present time
and bring us to that place of flourishing
where our unity can be restored,
the common good served
and all shall be made well.
In the name of Jesus we pray.
Amen.

On the estates

One of the wonders of the English language is that the same word can mean such different things.  Sunday evening used to hold the treat for me of watching ‘Downton Abbey’, what Lady Mary was getting up to, the wonderful Dowager Duchess of Grantham and all the rest of them.  But every so often they would leave the comfort of the dining or the drawing rooms and visit the estate.  Kind words, jars of jam, a caring look would be shared with the tenant farmers living in their beautiful tied cottages.  Idyllic.  But when Synod debated Estate Evangelism yesterday we were not thinking of Lady Mary out on the estate but the other use of that word – those big areas of social housing that dominate may of our industrial and post-industrial cities and towns.  When they were built they were often given names that suggested a more bucolic image than their reality – Blackbird Leys on the edge of Oxford comes to mind – but life on our estates can be desperately difficult yet have a deep beauty as well.

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There are lives behind the windows

The Bishop of Burnley, with his usual enthusiasm, introduced a debate that was aimed at encouraging the church to reengage with these estates.  Many still have church buildings but with few priests or other ministers and often small and struggling groups of people trying to keep things going.  The thing is – and we have to be honest here – we have let down the people who live on our estates.  When I was ordained people wanted to go to a parish in the north, people looked forward to being in an estate church.  It was where the really gritty work could be done. ‘Faith in the City’, published back in 1985 much to the annoyance of then then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, encouraged the church to put resources into the inner cities.  The Church Urban Fund was created, things happened.  And then the fire went out and it was no longer sexy or attractive.  Priests do not in general apply for jobs on the tough estates, they want to live and work in nicer places where more people may go to church and its easier to produce those good metrics that show growth that the Church of England demand of us.  So we have added to the marginalisation of those communities that are on our estates, the marginalisation which has been reinforced and made worse through years of austerity, the diminishment of Local Government and the disgraceful way in which the benefits system has been changed. It all adds up to a very sad story of abuse.

Yet in the debate we heard really good stories of places where work is going on and communities are being supported and encouraged.  We heard about places where congregations are growing through the committed ministry of lay and ordained people together – but often struggling to find the resources that they need.

We were reminded that it was with the poor and the marginalised that Jesus began his ministry.  His ministry was with those who had nothing. The ‘Nazareth Manifesto’ which Luke gives us in his gospel says it all

[Jesus] unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 
‘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 4.17-19)

Working on estates in east Leeds taught me what treasures there in those places, treasures of faith and commitment, treasures of skills and imagination but also a need of encouragement where often confidence is lacking or has been beaten out of people by the system.  What we committed ourselves to yesterday when we voted for the motion before us was to put our resources, of every kind and at every level, back into this area of our mission to and for and with these communities.  But that will be a challenge to all of us and not least to priests to hear the call to minister in such places and have the courage to respond.  Their courage will not go unrewarded.

Lord Jesus,
you embraced the poor
and made them rich.
May we do as you did.
Amen.

How long, O Lord, how long?

Yesterday was basically a day taken up by legislation. The Archdeacon of Southwark saw through a major piece of work amending various rules and practices. But what gained the attention of Synod was the clause which reduced the time lay people could be a member of their Deanery Synod from forever to two terms of three years. Anyone who has been to a Deanery Synod meeting (and here I’m generalising wildly) might think that once was enough. But there are some people who are deeply committed to this level of Synodical government. And they let their views be heard.

In the Diocese of Southwark an extensive piece of work is being done in breathing new life into deaneries. So it was ironic that this attempt to ensure that new life and new voices and perhaps new and younger people could get into Synod and past the present ‘bed-blockers’, was being resisted. But, unlike with Brexit, a way forward was found and the legislation gained final approval.

With typical Synod serendipity that business was followed by a debate on an Amending Canon which, for the first time in the history of the Church of England, is recognising the place of religious communities and religious life in the life of the church. As my formation for priesthood took place in the shadow of the house of the Community of the Resurrection I had a real interest in this but as I was in the chair I couldn’t express that. The difference with the Deanery Synod debate was that in this part of the church you are looking for stabilitas the commitment to community and place which is not limited by any other consideration. Whether it be for a defined period of time in a form of new monasticism or life-long in a more established order there is always this commitment. In itself that is a great witness to the church and to the world where short-termism can be the name of the game.

So this may all seem contradictory and maybe on the face of it it is.

In Psalm 13 the psalmist calls out four times the refrain ‘How long’. Sometimes we just don’t know and have to wait on the Lord’s time, and sometimes legislation will answer us!

Lord of time and eternity, teach us to value every moment and to use it well in your service. Amen.

Looking like Jesus

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night in a hot sweat realising what you have done? ‘Why did I do that?’ ‘Why did I say that?’ ‘What possessed me?’ It seemed that for some in the Synod chamber yesterday they had been having that very feeling!  Back in July 2017 in the Synod meeting in York there were two memorable debates that really encouraged me.  One was on banning Conversion Therapy in churches – the practice believed in by some that you can ‘convert’ someone from one sexual orientation to another – and the other was welcoming members of the transgender community into our churches.  Both of these motions were passed by Synod.

Fluent in the language of love

Truth revealed on the South Bank

But the one on trans people was about even more than simply welcoming.  There was a call to provide some liturgical way to help people mark the transition into their new identity and to enable the congregation to recognise and welcome them.  The Synod asked the House of Bishops to consider all of this.

So the House of Bishops have considered it and have issued some Pastoral Guidance which suggest that clergy can use the provisions already in existence in Common Worship around the ‘Renewal of Baptismal Promises’ to mark a persons transition and new identity.  Some people were sad that no new liturgy was created but, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting the bishops to do that.  But the guidance provided does say

It is important that the occasion should have a celebratory character

and opens with the statement

The Church of England welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation
of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ, and rejoices in
the diversity of that body into which all Christians have been baptized by one
Spirit.

So, I mentioned yesterday that there were a record number of Questions submitted and that over 30 of them were about trans people and the churches response.  What we witnessed in Synod during Questions I found disturbing.  It felt like a bullying, abusive onslaught from a group of Synod members who were infuriated with what had happened after that decision in all three Houses back in 2017 and who were determined to catch out the bishops responding to Questions. This was not Synod at its best.

In many ways those of us sitting there witnessing all of this have seen the opponents play all their cards at once and so we know what it is that we are still facing on the complex issues of gender and sexuality.  This will all feed into whatever finally emerges from the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ process. We must never be complacent about what we face on these issues.

Ironically the Archbishop in his Presidential Address in the afternoon had said two powerful things.  One was that we should ‘speak the language of love more fluently’ and the other that ‘We can’t talk about Jesus without looking like Jesus.’ I saw neither of those things as we listened to those aggressive questions, neither the fluency of love nor a Jesus-like resemblance.

Looking like Jesus means picking up those old wristbands again, you know the ones with ‘WWJD’ – ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ The answer for me is in the gospels and all around that fluent articulation of love that we find there and that amazing verse so loved by evangelicals

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3.16)

As Jesus says these words to Nicodemus we realise the full impact of salvation, for every person, whoever they are, however they identify, however they describe themselves, wherever they are on their journey.  Jesus celebrates that, that is what Jesus is like, that is what Jesus looks like and that is what the church needs to look like, speaking fluently the language of love, if we are to be the church of Jesus.

Loving God
forgive us when we disfigure the face of Jesus,
when we speak more fluently
the language of hate
than the language of love.
Amen.

Back in Westminster

The eyes of the nation are on Westminster, sadly not because General Synod begins the February Group of Sessions in Church House just the other side of the road from Parliament, but because of what is going on amongst our elected representatives. Unlike across the road, there is no way in which you can slip easily from one house to another in Synod – it takes a long time to move from the House of Laity to the House of Bishops and wearing a purple shirt just wouldn’t achieve it. And in many ways we all sit as independents, there are no formal ‘parties’ but there is a collection of groupings, some more formal than others. They can of course be very influential – we’ve seen that at times and I suspect will continue to do so.

Church and State

But don’t expect that Synod will be a ‘Brexit-free’ zone. The Presidents of the Synod, who are the two Archbishops, added an extra item to be debated into the agenda after the draft of it was published. This Synod will close on Saturday with a debate on ‘The State of the Nation’. That will be our opportunity to say clearly (I hope) to the people of England (The Church of England deals with England) and to the Government and Parliament as well as the Prime Minister (a committed and regular member of the CofE) just what we are feeling at this moment, out there, in the parishes, at the grass roots, where people are in danger of losing their jobs, and where communities are fractured and unsettled. The CofE is in every part of this country and its clergy, mostly, live where we minister. We know what it is like. There’s are 12600 parishes in the Church of England and 533 parliamentary constituencies in. England! So we have a good feel for things. Inevitably we will be told to keep our nose out of politics and to stick to God, but as we know God is not contained by the church and the disciples were forced out by the Holy Spirit from the closed room into the rich diversity and challenge of the world.

So it promises to be an interesting Synod. There is a strong theme – often the theme is accidental but this time it is deliberate – evangelism. So we will be debating that area of our life as it affects various groups, especially young people, and various situations and especially our estates. It is in both of those areas of national life that the ‘State of the Nation’ really hits home. It is the young who will be denied the benefits of European integration and all that that will mean; it is on the estates that the inevitable deprivation from a downturn of the economy will be felt with consequent cuts to public services. How do we speak Good News into both of these situations? That is a real and important question at this time.

There are the largest number of Questions tabled since 2003 – 120 of them! At least 33 questions are around the response of the church to the needs of members of the transgender community. That has become a huge issue that we need to deal well with and this number of questions shows just how important the needs of our transitioning sisters and brothers are.

There will be an update on the work of the group looking at the more wider issues of sexuality. It is called ‘Living in Love and Faith’ and it will be good to hear where we are. Bolting horses come to mind really!

It will be interesting to see whether issues around Lambeth 2020 are raised. I saw on Twitter the beginnings of anger being expressed at the exclusion of the spouses of bishops who are married to a same-sex partner. This affects only a few bishops but the question has to be, why? All other spouses are invited and unlike in previous Lambeth Conferences will not have separate meetings. I think I could guess what the official answer to why these particular people are not welcome would be, but is that good enough?

There is the resumption of a debate on the environment and there’s a lot of legislation – but there has to be, we are a legislative body after all. But it is to the debates on evangelism that I am looking for inspiration and energy. Let’s hope we find it!

Lord of the church, bless our Synod and inspire us to witness to your love in the world. 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