And / Or

Synod can be very frustrating – believe me.  But then within the frustrations you can see some of the benefits.  Take the debate on Serious Youth Crime.  Canon Rosemarie Mallett did a fantastic job at introducing the motion and setting up the debate that followed.  It was a good debate.  No one was going to vote against the motion, of course.  How could you?  As we heard the issue is not just about London or the other big metropolitan areas.  Youth violence affects so many communities and draws in so many of our wonderful young people.  And we have a concern for our children and young people.  We are a partner with the state in education, we still run youth projects, we help our children and young people to grow in faith through our learning programmes, we baptise, we Confirm but we do not want to bury these same children.  Yet Rosemarie told us she has had to officiate at too many funerals of young people in her own parish in Brixton, promising lives cut short.


What was frustrating was that we had to take up a great deal of the debating time looking at three proposed amendments.  In the end not one of them was supported by the majority of Synod members and so the Motion went to the final vote unchanged.  In an electronic count of the whole Synod – 315 voting in favour, no one voting against or abstaining.  So why did we waste our time on the amendments?

The truth is that those debates within the debate gave us the opportunity to think through some associated issues and not least the whole issue of the exclusion of pupils from school.  This is seen to be one of the factors, one of the factors, behind the rise in youth violence, excluded kids, rejected even by schools, de-motivated, bored and then relating to other groups and influences.  We get these too easy and convenient associations – school exclusion = youth violence.  But the debate raised other perspectives.

A couple of teachers spoke about how their colleagues regard any exclusion as a failure.  They spoke about the need to safeguard other pupils in the class.  They spoke about the needs to protect teaching staff who can themselves be the subject of violence.  As a former School Governor I agree that any exclusion is a failure but I also know that the work that Pupil Referral Units do should not be dismissed.

I know one lad, excluded from school, attending a PRU who cannot speak too highly of the care that he has been given by the staff and especially when he was in pastoral need.  The classroom was a challenge for him, the PRU was his salvation.  Individual attention was what he needed, the group was not the place for him.  That is only one person of course but there are always more sides to the story.

The result of the debate was that we go back to our dioceses with a task to do, whether we are in Hereford or Southwark and that is to take the issue of our young people even more seriously and to do what we can do, whatever we can do, and partner with others who have the skills that we do not have.

This debate was followed by one on Clergy Well-being but I wasn’t present for that debate so I can make no comment.

I was around though for the afternoon, though I’m more than happy to confess to you that I attended only two of the three seminars I should have attended.  And I also confess that what I said this morning was wrong.  I learnt some things, it did feel different and I was grateful to the work that had gone into what we heard from members of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ group and the Pastoral Advisory Group.

What did I learn?  Well some statistics on sexual behaviour in contemporary society were interesting, not surprising but very interesting.  But it makes me realise that our sexual lives are much more complex than sometimes we dare to admit.  The Marriage Service expresses it all in such a coy way that really does not do justice to the reality of people’s lives.

The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.

or alternatively

It is given, that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love, and, through the joy of their bodily union, may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives.

Both of these are quotes from the alternative Prefaces that are authorised in the Common Worship Marriage Service.  Andrew Marvell wrote the beautiful poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’, published posthumously in 1681, which begins with these lines

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

Like Marvell, we don’t have eternity to think about love, we need to address it realistically now, as a community that celebrates love constantly, in all its complexity, without being coy about it.

The other thing that I learnt, or at least that was revealed to me, was in an oft quoted text from scripture with which we were presented.

‘So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1.27)

Now, you know I am no scholar and certainly no Hebrew scholar.  So others will be better able to comment on this but what was highlighted for me was that ‘and’ which is not translated as an ‘or’ – ‘male and female he created them.’ Is what is being recognised here that each of us is that rich mixture of male and female, a divine recognition that gender is not as binary as we might wish to believe, that each of us is a creation of ‘and’ rather than ‘or’? If that is the case, if Genesis is more subtle than I had recognised …. well, how exciting is that?

God, help me to live more comfortably
in the inclusive world of and,
not in the binary world of or.

Two masters

It’s not easy when you feel pulled in two ways.  We can often experience divided loyalties.  Jesus recognises that fact when he says this to his disciples

‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.’ (Matthew 6.24)


Pulled both ways

The Church of England is often pulled in a variety of directions and we saw that yesterday in the afternoon Session of the General Synod.  The issue was around what we mean by a spouse in relation to some legislation which related to cathedrals building on a disused burial ground (pretty obscure you are thinking).  The ‘offending text’ came in the Report of the Steering Committee, those dry looking documents with unmemorable references, this one was GS 2104Z/2105Z, which are designed to help us understand the legislative paper to which they relate and the first instance of this new definition came here

Clause 6, page 6, line 26, at end insert—
“(3E) The reference in subsection (3D)(a) to a person’s spouse includes a reference
to a spouse of the same sex as that person.”

The CofE has all the benefits of being the Established Church, seats in the House of the Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury being one of the few to know who Archie’s godparents are, and looking after the people of this nation at all the life stages that we go through – hatch, match and dispatch as we say.  That means burying people and that means people who are not paid up ‘members’ of the CofE.  That is the joy of being in this church.  But of course, for the first time in our history, we disagree with the nation about who a person can marry.  We say that you can only marry someone of the opposite sex to you, the nation says you can marry any person who you love.  So how do we square this circle, how do we live with this discrepancy in our understanding of marriage.  How do we serve the two masters of the God we adore and the nation we are called to serve.  And anyway, where is the God of love in all of this, with our rather restrictive views or with the inclusive view that the nation has so readily embraced?

For some of course this clause was the liberal ‘Thin Edge of the Wedge’, a Trojan Horse being wheeled into the Synod Chamber, like a bride adorned for his/her husband/wife.  There were calls for ‘Next Business’, ‘Adjournment’, ‘Article 7’ (which may still come), all procedural devices.  But in the end the amendment was approved.  But the serious point, as was made by someone in the debate, is that we have to be prepared to deal with all these anomalies that will come along and we will be there in many obscure corners of our life, because it is about our pastoral response to the people of England which has been history long.

And, of course, it gave us an indication of what we are in for this afternoon as we join in a series of seminars about the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project.  The Bishop of Coventry in telling us what would be happening today said that this would be about a new way of learning.  Really?  Maybe? But what I do not understand is how more talking can get us anywhere.  I was in three sets of Shared Conversations and they were meant to be the answer and I learnt a great deal by them and I thank God for the late and lovely Ruth Scott and the others who held us during that process.  I am still meeting on a regular basis someone I got to know during those conversations – on the issue we disagree but on everything else we agree on so much and, I think, I hope, count each other as friends.  But at some stage we have to make a decision and live with the consequences … but we are approaching Lambeth 2020 so nothing will happen before that.

Anyway, more importantly we need to debate Serious Youth Violence and that is this (Saturday) morning.  Young people are dying in our streets and on our estates, in our parishes and we are, as ever, fiddling whilst Rome burns.

may we serve you and serve our neighbour
with an undivided heart.

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

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


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark