Changing the lightbulb

At the beginning of this meeting of General Synod someone mentioned a joke which perhaps all of us in the Church of England have heard in one forum or another.

Q. ‘How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb?’
A. ‘Change?!’

But something is in the air and it looks and feels like change. You may remember that in February, during the debate on the House of Bishops’ paper on sexuality, I said ‘I don’t like the tone’. Yet I have to admit that it seems as though there is a new tone, that something has changed.

Lightbulb

Changing the lightbulb

The debate on Conversion Therapy was the first sign of this and the overwhelming support that the final Motion achieved.  The second was the debate yesterday on welcoming transgender people into church.

The Motion before us was not just about simply welcoming trans people when they come to church but having some approved liturgy which recognised, celebrated, acknowledged their trans status and new identity. It was an interesting debate on that particular aspect.  Some claimed that in the liturgical library of the Church of England there are already texts that can be used in such circumstances. Others wanted something, commended by the House of Bishops, that would be specifically for people who had gone through the process of gender reassignment and for whom this had been legally recognised.

I have sympathy to be honest with both points of view. A practical liturgist, and I suppose to some extent that is what I am and have been, is always putting together ‘special services’.  That is especially true in Cathedrals where we get asked to host services and thereby put them together for all kind of events.  Those who follow my Living God blog may remember that earlier this year I officiated at the Blessing of First Flush Darjeeling.  It all came about because of one of the traders in the Borough Market who had seen what we did on Lammas Day with Bread Ahead (our local bakery) and wanted the same for the tea he imported from India.

You will not be surprised to learn that the Church of England does not have an authorised liturgy for the blessing of first flush Darjeeling.  But we have lots of texts that can be garnered from elsewhere and put together to create the right service.  That is what I did and that is what I have always done, for years.

From the debate it was clear that this is what many people have done when welcoming trans people in their communities, recognising their new name, celebrating them as a person loved and created by God from the very beginning.  In all of this and during the moving contributions made, I remembered verses from Psalm 139

You yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
marvellous are your works, my soul knows well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished;
already in your book were all my members written.
(Psalm 139.12-15)

We are not introducing people to God, God knows us, fundamentally, already, as child, as creation, as loved, in a place deeper than even gender, in a place more intimate even than our name. It is that which a liturgy needs to reflect and respond to.

The first words in this Group of Sessions were those of Bishop Matti Repo from Finland and they were quoted in the debate – ‘When we do liturgy we show we are doing the work of God.’ Those who were calling for a special liturgy made reference to this. The final Motion has asked the House of Bishop to ‘consider’ whether something could be made available.  Until then we need to do the ‘opus dei’ through the liturgies that we create from the resources that we do have available.

The final vote was remarkable.  As has been a feature in this Synod there was a call for a vote by Houses.  25 members stood and the voting machines appeared.  The result was

Bishops For 30 Against 2 Abstentions 2
Clergy For 127 Against 28 Abstentions 16
Laity For 127 Against 48 Abstentions 8

A lightbulb moment! The attempts made to change the Motion had failed and we stood alongside our trans sisters and brothers with conviction.

The rest of the Session involved a report on the workings of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), the debate on clergy wellbeing that I was thinking about yesterday in the light of the gospel and a debate that I chaired on schools admission. But it was the first debate that suggested that something is blowing through the church.

Harold MacMillan made a speech in Cape Town on 3 February 1960. His words then live on now

‘The wind of change is blowing through this continent.’

That wind brought to an end colonialism in the way it was being experienced, and not just in Africa. Perhaps the God who blew the wind of the Holy Spirit into the life of the church on the Feast of Pentecost is blowing through our church.  We will see where we are blown today.

Holy Spirit,
blow through your church,
blow through our lives,
blow through our world.
Amen.

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