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?’.

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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.

Outward looking

It was a fascinating final day in General Synod and I’m delighted about that, especially for all those who are new to Synod (43% I heard, which is amazing). Often people get very frustrated that we seem to spend all of our time talking about internal politics – about women and sex and money – those kinds of things. Well, the good news was that on the third day the focus was beyond the church.

We began with Archbishop Sentamu and his wife Margaret telling us about their recent visit to the Pacific islands including Fiji and Samoa and the way in which communities there are being threatened by rising sea levels caused by climate change. The whole presentation was fascinating and especially in the light of the Climate Change Conference that is about to take place and the fact that, as we listened in the Chamber, pilgrims were walking from the UK to arrive in Paris as a witness to our concern for the planet.

What was especially moving was a visual and spoken prayer delivered on a video by one of the Archbishops in the Pacific. The images were staggeringly beautiful and a celebration of the richness of the oceans. This was contrasted with images of the environmental effects of mankind’s greed and the effects of worshipping at the false God of profit.

When I worked for a time in the USA I loved a phrase in one of their Eucharistic prayers, Prayer C

At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.

The fragility of this island home is really being made real to us.

Beautiful and fragile - our island home

Beautiful and fragile – our island home

The first real debate of this Group of Sessions highlighted another fragility and that is with regard to refugees. The debate was on our response to the Migrant Crisis. It was timely and much welcomed by the whole of Synod. It was, in fact, a very good debate and there were some really good speeches made. My own amendment was not in fact accepted by the Synod – but that was ok. Getting to make a speech on the importance of the subject and our disappointment with regard to the response of the Government, specifically in terms of the number of refugees we will be welcoming over the next five years, was a welcome chance to make what I believe is an important point. But, of course, I am pleased that even 20,000 refugees will be given a new and safe home with us and an on-going commitment to 0.7% of GDP for overseas aid is exemplary. But we can and, I believe, should do more.

The final vote on the motion, amended with a new clause proposed by Canon Giles Goddard at the prompting of the Bishop of Croydon and giving added strength to its final form, resulted in a fantastic 333 in favour, 0 against and only 3 abstentions. This was a clear message to the nation that we are committed to the ministry of hospitality that we see in Jesus whose extended arms always draw us in.

There was for me, to be honest, something of a Trojan Horse moment when the Archbishop of Canterbury made a speech during the debate which seemed to suggest that in voting for this Motion we were in effect saying that there was no option other than military intervention in Syria. Now, I may be wrong and it was one of those moments when I was so surprised that I couldn’t quite get the words down. He may well be right and he is politically astute but I wasn’t quite sure what I was voting for when I voted in favour!

There was then some legislative business at which moment the tea room became packed before we filled the Chamber again for a presentation on Public Perceptions of Jesus. This was an unpacking of the research that was behind the report ‘Talking Jesus’. Now, it was Mark Twain who famously said ‘There are lies, damned lies and statistics.’ We certainly met with some statistics and some scenarios – it was mind-boggling. The basic idea behind the research was ‘If you are a Christian and you talk to someone not a Christian about Jesus what effect does it have?’

The basic answer seems to be very little or a negative effect in that they are put off and don’t want to hear any more. So perhaps we shouldn’t talk about Jesus at all and let God get on with setting people’s hearts on fire as on the road to Emmaus. Jesus seemed to do a much better job when he appeared as the stranger on the road and broke open the word and broke the bread which revealed his presence, a much better job than we manage to do when we talk about him. ‘Gogglebox’ vicar, the Revd Kate Bottley, Tweeted later on yesterday an image which said

‘Sometimes the best evangelism is simply telling people you’re a Christian and then not being a complete jerk.’

As it would say on exam papers – ‘Discuss’! But the stats are of course are useful and open up a conversation about how we do evangelism and they revealed the real gap that lies at the heart of the congregations – the younger middle aged – or was that just revealing something about their sample group?

The final debate was on the report of the Church Buildings Review Group. The debate had been anticipated by those who picked up the recommendation about ‘Festival Churches’ – churches which wouldn’t be closed but where the regular round of worship required of parish churches wouldn’t happen but festivals would be celebrated (well, that’s how I understand it). But there was much more besides in this very good report with some excellent theology on sacred place by the Bishop of Worcester who started from the writings of George McLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, who talked of ‘thin places’. That is really what T S Eliot picks up on in ‘Little Gidding’ one of his ‘Four Quartets’.

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

Our 16,000 churches are places in our communities made ‘valid’ by prayer. But how do they become a true asset and not a burden is the question we have to ask – and at heart it is a mission question. In Luke 9 Jesus ‘sends out’ his apostles and they then ‘return’. This is all about place – they went out on mission, they returned to the place of sending. Church has to be the missionary base as well as the place of festival, where the table is set and the bread is broken, where the people gather and heaven touches earth and earth touches heaven. It will be exciting to see how this report in its outworking will enable our theology of place to enable our life of worship and mission.

Little Gidding - a thin place

Little Gidding – a thin place

At the end of almost all the Groups of Sessions there is a farewell and on this occasion it was the Secretary General, William Fittall, who was leaving. He has served the church in this capacity for 13 years but has also served the church within the Diocese of Southwark (before his more recent move) as a Reader. His skills in administration, negotiation and diplomacy are grounded in a real faith in Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Justin began this Group of Sessions with a fantastically clever and amusing address in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and he ended this Synod with an equally polished performance in tribute to William who, in turn, gave a great response.

So we left Westminster after retrieving bags and coats (all black of course so much confusion in the cloakroom!) and I left feeling very positive about the next five years. If it continues in this spirit maybe God can work through us.

Lord God,
bless the members of the Synod,
bless the work that continues,
bless the church we serve,
bless the people of this nation,
bless the world, your creation,
that we may be one in your service.
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