Cautious steps

There are times when you can’t race ahead, when you have to step more cautiously.  The famous split infinitive at the beginning of Star Trek, ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’ was one way of travelling.  But Synod was not in Trekkie mode this afternoon as we debated the proposals that would lead to the mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministries between the Methodist Church and the Church of England.

vector-man-doing-tightrope-walker-in-the-mountain

Tread carefully

If you are chairing a debate, as I was chairing this debate, it means that you have to spend time backstage planning how you will manage the debate.  That meant that unfortunately I wasn’t in the Chamber for the opening of this Session and for questions and the subsequent presentation on safeguarding.  But there is a screen on which we can watch what is happening and we can hear a lot of what is going on.  The questions that followed on from the presentation concluded with a standing ovation by members of the Synod.  So I can only conclude that it went well.

There was a great deal of interest in the Methodist-Anglican debate.  Lots of people had put in to speak, there were three amendments to be handled and, potentially, some procedural motions.  We had two hours allotted for the debate, which may seem like a long time but, believe me, time moves on very quickly.

I knew what the issues would be, of course.  There would be a group of people who were eager to move forward as quickly as possible with a legislative process – the bold ones.  Others would be more cautious, wanting more time to consider what we mean by episcope, the role of bishops, about the ‘anomaly’ we would live with for maybe two decades of ministers not episcopally ordained celebrating the sacraments, particularly presiding at the Eucharist.  Others were concerned that the recent decision of the Methodist Conference to support equal marriage in church revealed different doctrinal positions on marriage.  So, for different reasons there were cautious people and for good reason there were bold people.  We had to find a way through.

In the end we chose the path of caution, but still with momentum, asking the House of Bishops to come back with further thoughts and deliberations in the next quinquennium.  I am sure that this was the best decision – without that measure of caution the whole thing might have been lost!

We were reminded by a couple of speakers of the Methodist Covenant Prayer which begins like this

I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

There is no caution in this prayer.  When we say it we boldly place our selves, everything we are, into the hands and the will of God.  For Methodists covenant means everything and as we are already in a covenant with them it should mean everything for us as well.  The journey, the path we have chosen may be the cautious one but it will demand boldness as well.

Oh, and the debate … the final amended motion was passed in all three Houses.  We move forward.

God give us the courage to be bold,
and the wisdom which calls for caution,
that in all things your will be done.
Amen.

The beauty of holiness

On Sunday we all go to church.  In fact we all go to York Minster and that is always a treat.  This morning ++Sentamu was presiding and ++Justin was preaching.  The Minster was full and it was all very lovely.  The Archbishop preached about the state of the nation and the need for reconciliation and the role that we, as the Church of England, have in helping with that.  I am sure he is right, the question we were asking each other as we walked back from the Minster to the University was ‘How?’.

cypPZykEyTuKPRM-800x450-noPad

The Eucharist at the Minster always ends in the same way.  The organ plays as the altar party leaves and the choir follows and then as they reach a certain place in the nave they take over singing a setting of Psalm 150, unaccompanied and to a chant by ‘George Surtees Talbot (1875-1918) sometime Vicar Choral of York Minister’ as it says in the order of service.  The treble voices soar at the end of each verse and as the choir moves out of the nave and into the choir aisle the sound becomes more distant and more ethereal.  Even Google seems to know little more about Talbot apart from that he published one book.  There is no picture available online, nothing but these beautiful notes which much captivate thousands of people each year as the Eucharist ends and they prepare to leave the Minster ‘To love and serve the Lord’.  Leaving with the ‘beauty of holiness’ ringing in our ears must be part of the response we need to make to the nation, witnessing to the reality of our reconciling God, being salt and light, being bridge-builders, truth-tellers, peace-makers.

So we are back at the University and after lunch back to an afternoon of business.  Sunday afternoons should be about sleeping off a big roast lunch (with Yorkshire Pudding) and a bottle of claret with your feet on the sofa and a Doris Day film on the tele.  Not for us.  We will begin with Safeguarding Questions followed by a presentation on Safeguarding.  As the IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) continues and members of the Church of England are being called to give evidence and we are hearing the voices of survivors, these will be important pieces of business.

Then we will move on to a debate that has been ongoing for years and years and years, the discussions between the Methodist Church and the Church of England.  This debate is called ‘Mission and Ministry in Covenant’ and will call on the church to move forward.  I will be chairing this debate so I will say no more, only what a delight it was to sing one of the great hymns by Charles Wesley, ‘And can it be’.  That final verse should be ringing in our ears as much as the lovely Psalm 150.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Then this Session will finish with a debate on a motion from the Diocese of Southwark on ‘Refugee Professionals’.  It will encourage us to see refugees as a gift and not an ‘issue’, not a ‘problem’, arriving as so many do with the most amazing skills and professional backgrounds, which are so often ignored, so often wasted.

So, a busy and very serious afternoon.  So if you are watching Doris Day with your feet up, enjoy, and spare a thought for us.

Holy Spirit,
guide our thoughts,
our words,
our actions,
that filled with the beauty of your holiness
we may serve the world.
Amen.

One holy catholic and apostolic

In a lot of the services that we attend, at some stage, we will be asked to stand up and ‘declare our faith’ by joining together in saying one of the Creeds.  They are designed, I suppose, to keep us on message, an attempt by the early church to hold believers to a line and stop all those heretical beliefs gaining ascendency over the true faith.  In writing his Second Letter to Timothy, St Paul recognises that this situation will come about

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. (2 Timothy 4.3-5)

That lovely phrase ‘itching ears’ is exactly right. So to avoid the scratching at doctrine in the way that was happening, we agreed the Creeds and as part of that the wonderful description of the nature of the church ‘one holy catholic and apostolic’.

Meetings of the General Synod cover a great many topics and when we are at our best some of those are outward facing, such as yesterday’s debate on Food Wastage.  It was a timely discussion as many churches are concerned with issues relating to justice, peace and the integrity of creation – and how we use food resources fits each of these imperatives. The Borough Market, next to Southwark Cathedral, has developed very effective work with the local traders and food ‘recycling’, ‘recovery’ charities who take what remains and distribute it amongst those community and charitable groups that need it.  When the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited the market just before Christmas I had the privilege of presenting representatives of one such charity, ‘Plan Zheroes’, with whom, last year, the market distributed over 9,000 kilos of food that would have otherwise have been wasted.  It is this kind of work that needs promoting and developing.

But the rest of the day in Synod was more about looking at the nature of the church that we describe in the Creed.  We began by being addressed by three Archbishops from very different parts of the Anglican Communion – Southern Africa, Pakistan and Polynesia.  Each had different stories to tell and it was moving to hear them speak.  Then we debated our partnership links, the wonderful link that for instance the Diocese of Southwark and our cathedral has with four of the five dioceses in Zimbabwe.  Last year, in February, I was there visiting each of the dioceses and seeing the amazing life, work, witness and mission in which the church is engaged.  I came back exhilarated. The Anglican Communion is an exciting place to be – not the thorn in the side that can be so often portrayed when things are not going as we would like them to.

We spent a lot of time on legislation – we are a legislative body after all and that work is vital, the nuts and bolts of church life.

John-Wesley-Preaching-Revival

John Wesley preaching

 

But two things stood out – the Presidential Address by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the debate on Mission and Ministry in Covenant with the Methodist Church.  The Archbishop spoke of the tension between tradition and creativity.  The three-legged stool of Anglicanism is scripture, reason and tradition and they serve us well.  But that important ‘leg’ of tradition can at times seem to hold back innovation.  The Archbishop quoting someone quoting someone said

‘Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.’

A helpful Tweet in response to one of mine added a quote from Gustav Mahler

‘Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire.’

I love that.  All of it played in to seeing a way forward for deepening the relationship we already have with the Methodist Church in this country.  We belong together but there are differences and these focus on church order, on how episcope is exercised (in a monarchical system as in the western catholic tradition or through Conference, synodically, as with Methodism) and therefore how the grace of orders is conferred and with what sacramental guarantees.

One thing I do know is that John Wesley set hearts on fire with his preaching, his teaching, his leadership.  In an era when the church looked more like ashes he fanned those flames and created a revival of faith amongst people the Church of England just wasn’t speaking to which challenged us then and still does.  I had the privilege of chairing this debate and there were great speeches to be heard and a moving set of presentations by a former President of the Conference and the present Secretary of the Conference.  In the end a vote, taken in all three Houses, passed an amended motion.  There is a lot of work to do but it is exciting to see how the church can be the church, in the past, in the present and in the future, truly one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

And today? It will be challenging – safeguarding and Down’s Syndrome as well as other matters.  But more of that later.

Lord of the Church,
may we be your church
one
holy
catholic
apostolic
that the world might believe.
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