Cathedral-shaped church

It was budget day at General Synod.  But there is no red box, no photo outside a door and no rabbits being pulled out of hats.  What we have instead is the most amazing presentation by Canon John Spence who looks after the finances for the Archbishops’ Council.  John is blind and so he is helped on to the platform – and then he is on his own. What happens is quite amazing.  Now, you have to understand that my memory is pathetic, I actually called the Bishop of Oxford the Bishop of Sheffield, forgetting he had moved a few years ago!  But John Spence has a memory like no other.  I was chairing the debate on the budget and apportionment and gave him 15 minutes in which to make his presentation.  Without a note John spoke to the PowerPoint slides that were displayed, everything was at his fingertips, but not in Braille but in his memory – the figures, the facts – all there.  In the debate that followed he responded with great ease.  So budget day may not be as it is in that other legislative body but it is no less impressive.

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No need for one of these!

John also manages to make a very clear connection between the money we vote with the mission in which we engage with the growth in discipleship that we seek.  That is what makes this particular presentation of a budget not a dry, boring experience but something to thrill the heart.

This was going to be an important day for those of us connected with cathedrals.  As I said in my earlier blog we were going to debate the Draft Cathedrals Measure in the morning.  None of us who had been involved in the conversations that have been taking place since last July had any idea how this would go.  But in the end it was a really helpful debate.  What was so good was how clear people were about where they felt that things in the Measure could be improved in the revision process that now begins.  Synod spoke very clearly and that makes, potentially, the next stage so much more straight forward.

The other thing was that it was clear from those who spoke in the debate just how important cathedrals are to the life of the church as a whole but also to the wider community.  The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Caroline Spelman, MP, spoke powerfully about how cathedrals are showcases for wider society, how they ‘belong’ not just to the church but to our communities and how many times she hears people speaking of ‘our’ cathedral.

I know that to be true from our experience in Southwark.  We, as you will be aware, were at the heart of the London Bridge and Borough Market attack.  So the Inquest that has been taking place into what happened has opened up for us the memories of that terrible night.  When I tried to go to the Cathedral the morning after the attack, it was Pentecost Sunday, the police stopped me at the cordon that had been set up after I found my way back to the Deanery after I had been in the Market the night before.  In fact we would not be able to open the Cathedral to the public, for worship, for a week.

People spoke about ‘our cathedral’ being closed.  They felt it as another loss in that greater sense of loss in the days that followed the atrocities.  They needed that inclusive, open, holy space that the cathedral is even for those who do not go to services or necessarily call themselves Christians. They needed the thin place of accessibility to the divine beyond them in the place that they are.

The Synod heard about the ‘Mission-Shaped Church and Fresh Expressions’ initiatives 15 years on.  A lot that is exciting has been done and it is much easier now to think of the budget, for instance, from this mission perspective.  But I also like to think of the church as cross-shaped.  Southwark Cathedral, being a relatively simple and early Gothic building is built on the cruciform shape.  I love taking groups into the church and asking them to stand in the centre and look east from the west end.  The tilting chancel, built to mirror the head of Christ on the cross, takes people’s breath away.  Then I point out that the church is the body of Christ, the church is built in the shape of the cross and the crucified Christ and is set right at the heart of the community.  The Cathedral-shaped church is a Christ-shaped church, a cross-shaped church.  As Jesus said

‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18.20)

It’s not particular to cathedrals, of course, but there are ways in which cathedrals can and do and should be this more purposefully, more deliberately, more self-consciously because of being that ‘showcase of the Spirit’ for wider society, for the community in which the cross, in which Christ is set.

George Herbert wrote a poem called ‘The British Church’ and it concludes like this

But, dearest mother, what those miss,
The mean, thy praise and glory is
And long may be.
Blessed be God, whose love it was
To double-moat thee with his grace,
And none but thee.

Herbert’s idea of a church ‘double-moated’ with grace, doubly blessed, doubly protected, is a lovely one and perhaps as he wrote this he looked across the water meadows from Bemerton to the great cathedral of Salisbury and saw a grace filled, Christ-shaped church, touching heaven and fixed on earth.  Glorious, a blessing.  That is what we want our cathedrals to continue to be.

God,
double-moat your church with grace,
that we may be safe and holy
for your people
the place of encounter with your Son,
crucified, glorified, and with us when we meet.
Amen.

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.

Uncommon and good

The one thing that you can say about General Synod is that no two days are alike and you can go on the most amazing journey. I wrote that this morning was centred on legislation. This afternoon was focused on the Common Good.

It was great to have the Revd Jim Wallis with us. I hadn’t heard him speak for years and, personally, I love inspirational and passionate speakers. Jim does get into the corridors of power in the USA and he can add his wisdom to helping to counter the current tendencies we find, not just in the States but in the West as a whole. That I would define as self interest and a loss of a sense of community and the responsibility that we have one for another. I’m not pointing the finger at society, sadly I think it applies to the church as well. Obviously not everywhere but there has been a general tendency to look inward and to self. The fact that we, the Church of England, accepted this as one of the challenges for this quinquennium, addressing the common good, means that there is a commitment at the heart of the church to do what we know we should do.

'As much as you did it ...'

‘As much as you did it …’

Jim told us that his converting text was Matthew 25. I remember when I first heard that passage, first really heard it, as a teenager and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. And then Sydney Carter’s hymn ‘When I needed a neighbour’ came alive for me. The final verse of that hymn stays with me.

Wherever you travel
I’ll be there, I’ll be there.
Wherever you travel
I’ll be there.
And the creed and the colour
And the name won’t matter
I’ll be there.

Have I been? Have I been there for my brother, my sister? It is a real challenge. And Jim made a real challenge to me when he spoke about mass incarceration in the States. He said that all the others that Jesus mentions in Matthew 25 are innocent victims – the sick, the homeless, the naked, the hungry. But the prisoners are not guiltless and yet the gospel demand to us to treat them just the same as all our other brothers and sisters is there and powerful. I had never noticed this and will always notice it now. There is no deserving and underserving poor, no deserving and undeserving person to Jesus, nor to you, nor to me.

Jim’s address was followed by group work and by a debate. But the best bit for me was his presentation.

From the Common Good we moved in the evening session to the vesture of ministers. Look, can I be honest? I think that vestments are important; not as important as the Trinity, not as important as the incarnation, not as important as the resurrection, but they are part of church order and church tradition and they add to that great drama of the liturgy that gives us a glimpse of heaven and they help me understand who I am and what I am doing. But I have been, regularly, in situations where robes are not worn and I can survive and the roof hasn’t fallen in. But the wonderful thing about the CofE is that it is catholic and reformed. In its catholic nature it bears and makes real the tradition of the church and vestments and priesthood are part of this. In its reformed nature we are encouraged to think rationally and from the basis of scripture. All of this gives us huge latitude but also a great deal that fixes us in place and time and purpose and helps to express who we are, what we are doing and the authority we have for doing it.

The Motion before us was passed and to be honest the debate was interesting. I just wait to see what will emerge. I think it is disastrous in the Diocese of Sydney where, as I understand it, vestments, especially eucharistic ones, are banned. That is not Anglican and nor would it be if I insisted that my evangelical sister or brother wore them. In between these positions lies the Anglican spirit and the Anglican way and that is what the Canon must enshrine in a workable and real form.

George Herbert

George Herbert

At the end of an uncommon but good day in Synod I return to a great poem by George Herbert which describes some of this from a truly Anglican position and with reference to the scriptures. The poem is called Aaron.

HOLINESS on the head,
Light and perfection on the breast,
Harmonious bells below raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.*

Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest :
Poor priest ! thus am I drest.

Only another head
I have another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest :
In Him I am well drest.

Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me e’en dead ;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in Him new drest.

So holy in my Head,
Perfect and light in my dear Breast,
My doctrine tuned by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come, people ; Aaron’s drest.

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sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

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LIVING GOD

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Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark