Prorogation

It’s great how some words are used that you just don’t come across in the rest of life. The church is great at that – we use all kinds of words that are just so particular to what we do.  It’s like this word ‘Prorogation’. That is the final item on each Synod agenda.  Google tells me it means

To discontinue a session of (a parliament, for example).

Thats_all_folks_svg

Enter a caption

 

So the Archbishop of whichever Province the Synod is meeting in dismisses us, as the Headmaster would dismiss school at the end of the academic year.  Hurrah – the holiday begins! Except the truth is that we are all returning to whatever it is that we do when we are not here.

The final Session of this Group of Sessions was concerned with the Annual Report from the Archbishops’ Council and then the voting through of the budget for 2018. All that happened without too much fuss and after farewells – hilariously and lovingly delivered by Archbishop Justin – to the Bishop of Bristol, Mike Hills, and the Bishop at Lambeth, Nigel Stock, we left the Chamber.

It has been a significant Synod.  Before I make the positive comments there is one thing that concerns me.  Part of the real joy at York has always been the Fringe Events. These are meetings that take place in between the sessions. They are important because in them issues are aired, projects are promoted, voices are heard that couldn’t happen in the debates. There is always a rich selection and I have always tried to go to quite a few.  The practice was that as the Session ended you made your way to the room where the Fringe Meeting was taking place.  A buffet meal awaited you and a glass or two of wine.  You sat down with your food at round tables, got chatting to people, perhaps folk you didn’t know and then after a while the event proper began.  That has all changed.  It is perhaps finance, perhaps the administrative burden it creates, I don’t really know but now we all go to get our meal in whichever dining room we have been allocated to, down our food and then head off to the event.

It sounds ok on paper but it has taken a lot away from the Fringe of the Synod and I think that has made it much ‘fringier’ much more peripheral and I’d be interested to know whether fewer people availed themselves of the opportunity to talk and learn and pray together.  If that has been a consequence Synod and the Church is the poorer for it.

After all it was the fringe of the garment that brought healing to people as Jesus passed them, as they encountered the Apostles, its the fringe that is often the most exciting place to operate in our parishes, in our institutions, it is on the fringe that we encounter Christ.

Moan over – this was an amazing Synod.  I think that an indicator of what might be happening was the passing of the Amending Canon on Vesture this morning.  When that first came forward as an idea I was ready to resist it.  As a catholic never-knowingly underdressed I was ready to lie down before the evangelical tanks! But instead we have arrived at a place of real accommodation and understanding.  I can wear my chasuble for missional reasons, my sister can wear what she feels is important for mission where she is, my brother for where he is.  We have agreed that there are times and ‘life events’ in which what we wear is significant and there are situations and new ecclesial gatherings where something different is needed.  I think we have all been brave and imaginative and the voting reflected that.  Catholics and evangelicals, as well as everyone in that broad middle, voted together. The numbers clearly show that, that we were voting as one Synod regardless of our attitude to brocade in church!

It might have been that new understanding of ‘radical Christian inclusion’ that allowed us to do this, as it allowed us to reject the curing of homosexuals through Conversion Therapy, as we voted to really welcome trans people into our congregations. Thanks be to God, the God of surprises.

So, I leave, encouraged and again amazed at what can happen when we allow the Holy Spirit, wind and fire, to blow into our locked and protected spaces and liberate us.

Holy God,
bless your Church
that our hearts my be set on fire
in worship, witness and mission
in the name of Jesus, your Son.
Amen.

Avoiding the crash

I had the joy of seeing the production of ‘Carousel’ at the Coliseum Theatre in London earlier this year – perhaps one of the darkest musicals around but it has some lovely tunes!  Watching it though took me back to going to the fair when it arrived in town.  You remember how it was.  All of a sudden posters would appear in the shop windows on the local parade – the fair was coming.  ‘Mum, Mum, can we go … please?’ and eventually we would go.  To be honest, as a certified wimp, I’m no good at the scary rides but I did enjoy the dodgems.  It was that mixture of the sparks and the smell and the invitation to crash into someone that was the real joy of the ride. The screams, the fun, the joy of bashing into each other.

dodgem_cars

What fun!

 

Whilst London hosted it’s biggest Pride March in this 50th anniversary year of the decriminalisation of homosexual practice, the General Synod of the Church of England settled down to debate whether it was right or not to try to ‘cure’ gay people of their sexual desires through what is known as ‘Conversion Therapy’.  A Private Members Motion had been tabled by Jayne Ozanne, a lay member of the Synod who, through personal experience believed that such therapies are wrong, abusive and destructive.

There are some well meaning and sincere Christians who believe that offering healing to people with ‘same-sex attraction’ is exactly what we should be doing.  One speaker, in an attempt to justify his position, quoted Paul at us from his First Letter to the Christians in Corinth

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. (1 Corinthians 6.9-11)

This is the NIV version of the text which was the one the speaker read to us.  Give him his due, Paul did not pull his punches; it is explicit and, he said, it shows the radical Christian inclusion of which we speak. These people were included in the local church, but their lives had been changed, for as Paul says, ‘that is what some of you were.’ Their former sinful nature which excluded them from salvation, from the Kingdom of God, had been transformed through the ministry of Christ through his church.

Fortunately we heard other speakers who saw things differently and especially two young members of the Synod who spoke from their own personal experience.  One had himself been subject to these therapies, which had for him led to severe bouts of depression, the other told us that for most young people their impression was that the church is inhospitable to LGBTI+ people.  Their contributions and others, such as that of the Bishop of Liverpool, were greeted with fulsome applause.

To be honest there wasn’t enough debate as we were faced with four complex amendments each of which was subject (at the will of Synod) to a vote by Houses.  We ended up with a twice amended Motion.  The final voting, by Houses was as follows

Bishops For 36 Against 1 Abstentions 0
Clergy For 135 Against 25 Abstentions 13
Laity For 127 Against 48 Abstentions 13

So it was passed in all three houses.  The car crash was avoided and for a second time this year the Synod has spoken strongly to the nation and to the church that those who view LGBTI+ people as disordered and needing healing or exclusion are in a minority.  I had such pride in the Synod, in the tone of the debate and the care that was taken.

The rest of the day had been taken up with a good debate on ‘Presence and Engagement’ at which I was called to speak about our own engagement with the Muslim community in the light of the attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market; in legislative business; and with a presentation, workshops and a debate on the ‘National Support for Local Churches’.

So what could have been a disaster became a sign that, perhaps, we are turning a corner. But there are a few more corners to negotiate before we see gay people finding the same welcome in the church as they already find in the ever embracing arms of the God who created, without distinction, each one of us, his rainbow and beautiful people.

Stay with us, O God, this night,
so that by your strength
we may rise with the new day
to rejoice in the resurrection of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Amen.

A day of pride?

It’s a beautiful morning in York.  I’ve just opened my windows to clear blue skies and lovely sunshine.  As long as it doesn’t get too hot in the Chamber we should be ok.  My thoughts and prayers are, of course, with the group of 50 people from Southwark Cathedral taking part in London Pride.  It’s a big day for us.  After having for so long been talking about the place of LGBT+ people in the life of the church and being encouraged by our Archbishops who have called for a ‘radical Christian inclusion’ we decided that we needed to walk with people.

That walking with people is something that we see in Jesus. One of the things I love about the Gospels is the way in which so much of it takes place on the road, not in buildings, not where the rich and powerful were, but out there where the people were and walking with them and encountering them. People came out to meet him where he was – leaders of synagogues, centurions, the distressed, the sick, the curious, the joyous, everyone.

Bart

Present and engaged

 

One such occasion was the meeting with Bartimaeus and we are told in St Mark’s Gospel

‘As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.’ (Mark 10.46)

That huge crowd, marching with Jesus down the road and then finding someone who needed him. Out on the road, out on the march we can meet people we would not stumble over in any other way.

One of the things we will be thinking about today, along with sexuality on the day of London Pride, will be the programme called ‘Presence and Engagement’. That basically means, as I understand it, being there, being out there, doing the Jesus thing of being with people, of all kinds. It seems strange that we have, as a church, to make this explicit as a policy.  After all, as I was taught when being formed for priesthood, this is what the church is, out there, reflecting the real presence of Jesus, reflecting the engagement of God with the whole of creation, outside of the church, in community.  Sadly, in many places the church has retreated into its buildings, concerned about ‘internal’ issues rather than the ‘external’ world where we find God.

There is a wonderful poem by R S Thomas called ‘The Empty Church’ which speaks to me of this.

They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.
Ah, he had burned himself
before in the human flame
and escaped, leaving the reason
torn. He will not come any more

to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illuminated walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?

We can hide away in the ‘stone trap’ or be out there, present and engaged, with people of all kinds, of all faiths and none.

I hope that in all the debates today I will have pride in the church – but I wait to see.

God, ever present with us,
ever engaged with us,
where we are,
may I know your presence now
and be engaged
with all my sisters and brothers.
Amen.

‘We’re all going …

.. on a summer holiday’ sang Cliff Richard, boarding his red London bus and heading off to the continent with his mates. The days were that when I was coming to Yorkshire (long before I trained as a priest here and then worked here in a parish) I was off on holiday.  Mum and Dad had their honeymoon in Scarborough and I remember getting hopelessly lost on the ‘zig-zag’ path heading down the cliff there when I was about seven.  According to my mother, I zigged whilst they zagged!

summerholiday-1

Well, heading to Yorkshire in July now means coming to the summer Group of Sessions of the General Synod of the Church of England. Apart from the fact that it is Synod, I don’t really mind – a nice environment, lots of people I know, a chance to worship in the Minster (will there be bells?) are all side benefits.  The downside is that you have to sit for hours in the stifling heat of the Synod chamber, which is the Central Hall on this campus, whilst the Church of England does its version of zigging and zagging!

You will remember that in February we left Synod after the Bishops had lost the take-note debate on same-sex relationships. This is the first time we have met after that momentous vote.  The Archbishops had to come up with something of a way forward and they spoke then about a ‘radical Christian inclusion’ and the need for study and a pastoral response. We will have the opportunity to debate the proposals that are being brought forward for the latter of those promises.  On the face of it the proposals look good.  But as we know, there’s always plenty of opportunity for zigging and zagging in the Church of England.

It is remarkable that since we met the Scottish Episcopal Church has grasped the nettle with both hands and has voted in favour of equal marriage.  So has the presbyterian Church of Scotland. Who would have thought that this was possible? We have also seen two very irregular consecrations, one of a bishop in Newcastle, the other of a GAFCON missionary bishop. We are in a mess and I am afraid it is of our own making.

Whilst we are in York, London will see the annual Gay Pride Parade. For the first time Southwark Cathedral will take part in that march.  50 members of the congregation will march behind our new banner affirming our solidarity with the LGBT+ community.  I’m sorry I won’t be there to march with them. Those marching are by no means all members of the LGBT+ community, but as with our wonderful Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, they are people who are determined to stand with people regardless of their sexuality, simply taking pride in people taking pride in themselves.

Ironically on the same day as pride is being displayed in London we will be in York debating a Private Members Motion highlighting the dangers of ‘Conversion Therapy’. This is the practice advocated by some churches which is aimed at ‘curing’ LGBT+ people of their ‘unwanted’ same-sex attraction. It is a dangerous practice because it can result in deep psychological damage and add to some people’s feelings of self-hate and the idea that if they are homosexual there is something ‘wrong with them’.

Members of General Synod have, of course, been inundated with ‘evidence’ from both sides of the argument about whether such therapy works, whether such prayer works, and whether the negative effects spoken of by some are grounded in any kind of reality. So once again the Church of England does double-speak and is in danger of looking vicious, nasty and uncaring.  On the one hand we are talking about radical inclusion and a pastoral response and then we will have people standing up advocating not inclusion but elimination, not pastoral care but pastoral abuse.

rainbow_flag_insert_by_torbakhopper_via_Flickr

Taking proper pride in one another

 

There was an encounter between Jesus and a rich young man. It turned out that the man wasn’t yet ready to walk with Jesus.  But there is the most beautiful line in that story that I keep going back to

‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him.’ (Mark 10.21)

Those six words tell me something beautiful about the God who created me, and created you, and created every person, whoever they are. Jesus looks at us and simply loves us, God looks at us and simply loves us. But some look at others and see a problem to be solved, an illness to be cured. God has pride in the richness of creation, we fail to have pride in each other and so people fail to have pride in who they are – and that is destructive. Defining other groups in society as ‘sick’ and in need of healing or elimination can lead, in some situations, to the very worst of crimes against our brothers and sisters. In the last 100 years in Europe we have seen where that can lead, where ‘cures’ for homosexuals was but one aspect of the horrors unleashed on a variety of ethnic and religious groups.

This Group of Sessions, however, will begin with a debate on a motion being led by the Archbishop of York in response to the recent General Election. The debate is called ‘After the General Election – a still small voice of calm.’ The latter part of that is drawn from the hymn we all love singing ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’ by John Whittier. The final verse says

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

It is a beautiful verse, from a beautiful hymn, the inspiration coming from Elijah’s encounter with God on the mountain in 1 Kings 19.11-12. God was experienced not in the wind and the fire and the earthquake but in that still, small voice, the voice that brings calm.

What this debate will produce no one knows – I hear that there many amendments to the motion have been received already. But we need to listen to the voice of calm, in the nation and in the church. Knowing that you are praying for us always helps me to put everything into a proper perspective.  This is God’s church and not ours, not the bishops’, not the clergies’ not the laity’s, not for the now but for eternity – and thank God for that.

Lord of the Church,
bless this meeting of Synod
that we may look on each other with the eyes of love,
your love,
as you look with love on us.
Amen.

Waiting

Synod is now in waiting mode, waiting for the Session to resume and the take note debate on the bishops’ paper on homosexuality to begin.  Waiting is an odd sensation.  We wait with anticipation; we wait sometimes in fear. On occasions we wait with boredom, sometimes with heightened excitement.  When I fist read Bill Vanstone’s book ‘The Stature of Waiting’ when it was first published I realised that we worship a God who waits with us.  The God of eternity enters place and time in the incarnation and Jesus takes into the godhead that experience of waiting, as he waits as part of his passion. Vanstone gives us a language for the spirituality of waiting.

am-still-waiting-for-this-lady

Waiting … waiting

 

But we also wait upon God, the God who acts and that is part of what we are doing now. What will God do with his church?

I did what I wouldn’t normally do, I absented myself from the Group Work.  I was never inclined to take part, after all I’d been to three sets of Shared Conversations and all of that seems to have been ignored.  But when I read the case studies the groups were to discuss I was even more clear that this was the right decision.  Each one of the five case studies presented gay and lesbian people from the perspective of disruptive problems to be solved.  There was nothing joyous to be celebrated and the one thing I know about gay people is that the community is joyous – just look at any Gay Pride parade! But with scarcely veiled homophobia the tone was one of LGBTI people being problematic and dysfunctional.

So those of us who shared my views met at St Matthew’s Westminster and there were over 50 of us there.  It was a great meeting – positive, energised and gracious.  The Holy Spirit was in the room.

So we wait…. We did of course do other business this morning – a new suffragan see for Leicester; a new member of the Archbishops’ Council; a brilliant debate on fixed-odd betting terminals (a great moment of synodical unanimity) and we concluded the work on the amending Canons on vesture and ministry to those who commit suicide.  It was then that the Bishop of Norwich and the Bishop of Willesden presented the bishops’ paper and the rest I’ve mentioned.

So that is where we are.  It feels like going to the pictures in the old days, we’ve seen the B movie, now we await the curtains drawing back and the main feature being shown.  And all those emotions around waiting are palpable in Church House.

God, bless our waiting,
bless our speaking,
bless our listening,
bless our actions
and bless your church.
Amen.

Lay and Gay

So, another Group of Sessions begins in Westminster at Church House today. Around the country people will be packing their bags with what they need and making sure they have all their papers with them before they make their way to London in time for the opening of the Synod.

'The Thames below Westminster' by Claude Monet

‘The Thames below Westminster’ by Claude Monet

There’s a chill wind blowing along the Thames, an icy blast from the east, it isn’t comfortable and I suspect the atmosphere at this Synod will be a little icy and not too comfortable.

Those who follow the politics of the Church of England will know that at the end of January the House of Bishops published a document which puts on paper the thinking of the bishops about the way forward on the issue of homosexuality and same-gender wedding in the church. It was an icy blast and has had a frosty reception. I’ve been out in Africa, visiting our link dioceses in Zimbabwe where it was much warmer, where hospitality was generously and genuinely offered. So I haven’t yet expressed my own views on this, though one of my colleagues in the Cathedral preached a brilliant sermon on the issue the Sunday after the release of the report.

So, inevitably that ‘take note’ debate will dominate this Synod. There are, of course, other things on the agenda – lots of legislative business and an important report on the ministry of the laity in the life of the church ‘Setting God’s people free’. As ever the church wants to both bind and free, have its cake and eat it. It wants to bind LGBTI people and free lay people, it wants to reject people and embrace people, it wants to liberate and imprison. I was very uncomfortable reading the bishops’ report on homosexuality and the talk of the ‘exemplary lifestyle’ of the ordained as opposed to the laity. The point they were trying to make was that those of us who are ordained should live according to the Canons to which we have given assent. If those Canons require those who are LGBTI to deny their very nature, subdue their God-given desires, wreck their relationships, lead some towards suicide, so be it, we have to be exemplary. The laity do not have to be. And anyway, who says that a gay lifestyle cannot be lived in an exemplary way?

This false distinction between the clergy and the laity began in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ and it is being perpetuated now. If we really want to benefit from the ministry of the laity and set them free then we have to set the whole people of God free – and those ordained are still part of the laos, the people.

One of my favourite passages of scripture is the account of the raising of Lazarus in St John’s Gospel. There is so much in it, so many details that reveal both Jesus’ divine and human natures – he weeps and raises – but it was one line from that story that came to mind as I was contemplating this week.

‘Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’’ (John 11.43-44)

'Unbind him.'

‘Unbind him.’

Those powerful words ‘Unbind him’ should ring through the church for the laity and for all in the LGBTI community. We are binding the church; we are binding mission; we are in danger of no longer being the national church but being seen by many as a narrow homophobic set of bigots and not the church that Jesus lived and died and rose for, not the church that can speak effectively into the present day and the cultural context in which we are set and to which God calls us.

My colleague, our Cathedral curate, was officiating at Morning Prayer just a few moments ago. Her intercessions included the line

‘Lord, may the Synod be fruitful and not hurtful.’

I shed a tear, I couldn’t help it. Fancy having to pray that prayer about a Christian gathering, but that is the reality. So that is my prayer as this Synod begins. Please pray for us – God knows we need it!

Lord, may the Synod
be fruitful and not hurtful.
Amen.

Back in the room

I promised I’d be back – well, here I am. The Shared Conversations ended just before lunch on Tuesday and the members of the General Synod rapidly dispersed.  There was life to get back to; I had to get a train that would get me back to Southwark Cathedral to welcome those who would come to the first ever Legal Service in the Cathedral.  Life and ministry goes on.

But all of that has given me time to reflect on what happened over those last two days during which, whilst we were in the process, we were asked not to comment. Of course, things were continuing to change around us and for once I’m not talking about the political situation in the UK post-Brexit. Over in Canada the Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada was also discussing their response to same-sex marriage.

rainbow-flag

‘And the banner over me is love.’

 

News emerged that that Synod had narrowly voted against allowing same-sex marriage in church.  That was dismal news – and then it all changed. There was what was akin to a re-count and the decision was actually in favour.  Talking to friends in Canada since then it sounds not so dissimilar with what happened to our own electronic voting system on Friday! So, another Province decides on a positive course of action.

But back to York and my experience.  This was my third set of Shared Conversations. The first was the regional ones, the second diocesan ones and now this set.  As I entered the room where Group 15 was to meet (we were allocated to one of 23 groups) I didn’t know what to expect.  But there were some familiar faces there and some new ones to me.  Each group had a facilitator who guided us through the stages of the process – it felt safe, it felt good.

We began with telling and sharing our own story, focusing on our faith journey and anything else that was significant to us.  There was no pressure to speak about anything you weren’t comfortable talking about.  As always, when you have the privilege of listening to someone else telling their story this was very moving.  That took up the first afternoon.

Monday morning focused in on scripture as we were firstly resourced by three biblical scholars who talked about the authority of scripture and particularly in relation to human sexuality, from their own perspective.  That session was too short but rich and fascinating.  Then we shared our own significant scripture passage in small groups.  Mine was this

‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10.10)

I chose that for two reasons.  Firstly, it seems to me that that is the essence of Jesus’ ministry and what he brings to my life.  And that abundance to me is all about fruitfulness. Jesus wants me, wants you, wants us to flourish and I believe that is regardless of any of those ways in which we define, describe ourselves according to gender, ethnicity, ability, sexual identity grounds and beyond, for as St Paul says to the

‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3.28)

The gifts of abundant living are to us as created and loved not because of any definition we or others may apply to us.

My second reason was that I first became aware of this text when our curate back when I was a young teenager preached on it.  Fr Irving Richards, the first black priest I had ever seen let alone known, was formative in the story of my own vocation but also in sowing this text deep within me.  It remains something I live by and, for me, it challenges the church which can too often diminishes people.

From scripture we moved to culture, hearing three sets of presentations from the perspective of younger adults, older people and from across the Communion about the changing cultures in which we are set.  It was a rich and challenging afternoon – far too much to take in but you wouldn’t have wanted to have missed a word of it.

SC

Finally, on the last morning we looked at what ‘gifts’ we wanted to take back into a plenary of all the members of the Synod.  There was a sense in that discussion of where do we go from here and I suspect, if you are reading this, you are asking the same question. My answer is, I don’t know.

As a process it was good and it enabled the members of Synod to build relationships and take time out of the normal Synodical routine.  This will have a deep influence on the life of this quinquennium and I think was hugely valuable.

To be honest we were too kind to each other, we all agreed when we knew that there was a huge level of disagreement.  There wasn’t enough time spent wrestling with scripture; the trunk of the elephant barely entered the room; the issue of how we can even begin to compromise when some see responding physically to same-sex attraction as inherently sinful and therefore inappropriate to bless and others see it as natural and good and potentially holy.  That is a vast chasm to bridge – but the church is called to be a bridge builder and a wall destroyer.

As we began to meet Andy Murray was being crowned a champion of Wimbledon.  So, to grab an analogy from that convergence of events, the ball is in the bishops court.  It is they who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, must discern where we go to next.  Few, I think, what this to drag on, we all want to move beyond conversations about sexuality to how we bring good news to the people of this generation.  But the truth is that there are LGBTIQ people amongst this generation and I believe that they too need to hear good news, the real Good News that Jesus wants their life to be ‘abundant’.

God of abundant life,
guide your church,
that she may preach good news
to every person,
whoever they are,
whoever I am.
Amen.

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

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark