Law and grace

I came out of my room this morning to be greeted by the sight of a balloon gently moving across the sky as I walked to the dining hall to get my breakfast.  Lovely, but nothing at all to do with this blog, but just a nice beginning to the day.

Baloon

A nice way to begin the day

Anyway, at Morning Prayer for the past few weeks we have been reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  In Chapter 6 of that letter Paul writes

‘You are not under law but under grace.’ (Romans 6.14)

Of course, grace abounds in the meetings of the General Synod but, unfortunately, we also have to deal with law and it is legislation that is going to take up a great deal of our time in the two Sessions that lie before us today.  We will be looking at Faculty Jurisdiction, Religious Communities, Standing Orders, some miscellaneous provisions – a kind of rag bag of stuff including revisiting that clause relating to unused burial grounds which is where we began this Synod – and cathedrals.

Last July we were considering the report of the Cathedrals Working Group.  This year we are looking for the first time at the draft legislation, the Cathedrals Measure, that has come out of that report.  The twelve months in between have seen a huge number of meetings between the various interested parties, not just deans, not just Residentiary Canons, but the many, many groups of people for whom cathedrals are significant.  The draft measure, however, contains the recommendations of the report, some of which are not workable, some of which are not welcome. I have been appointed as the chair of the Revision Committee.  So, if the Draft Measure gains Synod’s approval in this first reading it gets passed on for revision which is when we will be able to tidy it up and recommend changes to the law, that grace may abound.  So I’m hoping for a really good debate which will highlight the areas that we need to look at.  If all goes to plan the amended Measure will come back to Synod in February.

The rest of the day, when we are not talking about law, we will be talking about the budget for next year, the work of the Archbishops’ Council and looking at ‘Mission-Shaped Church’ 15 years on.  So it should be an interesting day.

God of grace,
may your church live
your law of love.
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).

Praying_Hands_-_Albrecht_Durer-56a46b0f5f9b58b7d0d6eae7

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.

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