Early release

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.

spingbreak

Running for freedom!

 

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.

681_1dove_release

Release the Spirit, release the church

 

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.
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.

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