Prorogation

It’s great how some words are used that you just don’t come across in the rest of life. The church is great at that – we use all kinds of words that are just so particular to what we do.  It’s like this word ‘Prorogation’. That is the final item on each Synod agenda.  Google tells me it means

To discontinue a session of (a parliament, for example).

Thats_all_folks_svg

Enter a caption

 

So the Archbishop of whichever Province the Synod is meeting in dismisses us, as the Headmaster would dismiss school at the end of the academic year.  Hurrah – the holiday begins! Except the truth is that we are all returning to whatever it is that we do when we are not here.

The final Session of this Group of Sessions was concerned with the Annual Report from the Archbishops’ Council and then the voting through of the budget for 2018. All that happened without too much fuss and after farewells – hilariously and lovingly delivered by Archbishop Justin – to the Bishop of Bristol, Mike Hills, and the Bishop at Lambeth, Nigel Stock, we left the Chamber.

It has been a significant Synod.  Before I make the positive comments there is one thing that concerns me.  Part of the real joy at York has always been the Fringe Events. These are meetings that take place in between the sessions. They are important because in them issues are aired, projects are promoted, voices are heard that couldn’t happen in the debates. There is always a rich selection and I have always tried to go to quite a few.  The practice was that as the Session ended you made your way to the room where the Fringe Meeting was taking place.  A buffet meal awaited you and a glass or two of wine.  You sat down with your food at round tables, got chatting to people, perhaps folk you didn’t know and then after a while the event proper began.  That has all changed.  It is perhaps finance, perhaps the administrative burden it creates, I don’t really know but now we all go to get our meal in whichever dining room we have been allocated to, down our food and then head off to the event.

It sounds ok on paper but it has taken a lot away from the Fringe of the Synod and I think that has made it much ‘fringier’ much more peripheral and I’d be interested to know whether fewer people availed themselves of the opportunity to talk and learn and pray together.  If that has been a consequence Synod and the Church is the poorer for it.

After all it was the fringe of the garment that brought healing to people as Jesus passed them, as they encountered the Apostles, its the fringe that is often the most exciting place to operate in our parishes, in our institutions, it is on the fringe that we encounter Christ.

Moan over – this was an amazing Synod.  I think that an indicator of what might be happening was the passing of the Amending Canon on Vesture this morning.  When that first came forward as an idea I was ready to resist it.  As a catholic never-knowingly underdressed I was ready to lie down before the evangelical tanks! But instead we have arrived at a place of real accommodation and understanding.  I can wear my chasuble for missional reasons, my sister can wear what she feels is important for mission where she is, my brother for where he is.  We have agreed that there are times and ‘life events’ in which what we wear is significant and there are situations and new ecclesial gatherings where something different is needed.  I think we have all been brave and imaginative and the voting reflected that.  Catholics and evangelicals, as well as everyone in that broad middle, voted together. The numbers clearly show that, that we were voting as one Synod regardless of our attitude to brocade in church!

It might have been that new understanding of ‘radical Christian inclusion’ that allowed us to do this, as it allowed us to reject the curing of homosexuals through Conversion Therapy, as we voted to really welcome trans people into our congregations. Thanks be to God, the God of surprises.

So, I leave, encouraged and again amazed at what can happen when we allow the Holy Spirit, wind and fire, to blow into our locked and protected spaces and liberate us.

Holy God,
bless your Church
that our hearts my be set on fire
in worship, witness and mission
in the name of Jesus, your Son.
Amen.

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The price of …

In his play, ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’, Oscar Wilde puts one of his wonderful epigrammatic lines into the mouth of Lord Darlington when discussing what a cynic is.

‘A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.’

Cash

The price to be paid

 

Price and value came into the debate that opened this morning’s Session of the General Synod.  Birmingham Diocese had put forward a Motion borne out of concern at the cost of applying for citizenship in this country.  The figures are eye-watering! £1282 for an adult, £973 for a child.  If you make a mistake in the completing of the application for citizenship then you lose the fee and have to pay all over again when you resubmit your application.  As was pointed out, those applying have the right to stay; these are not fees designed to control the levels of immigration, to put people off.  After all, surely it is in the interests of the nation that the people living here are fully engaged with the whole of the community and society by being full citizens.  It all makes sense. That is where the values come in, the value of having a truly integrated nation, of not having parts of society excluded from the democratic processes, not having that deep sense of belonging that we want for true community cohesion.

I’ve just tried out a version of the Citizenship Test I found online and scored 17/24.  I’m not sure that that means I can be a citizen, or could be if I wasn’t.  But some of the questions are fiendish.  Yet people want to be citizens, despite the fees and despite the questions, the hoops and hurdles we put in place.

There is a wonderful exchange about citizenship in the Acts of the Apostles.  Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem and is before the Tribune who is trying to find out the truth of the accusations being brought against him.

The tribune came and asked Paul, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ The tribune answered, ‘It cost me a large sum of money to get my citizenship.’ Paul said, ‘But I was born a citizen.’ (Acts 22.27-28)

So, as someone born a citizen of the UK my question to myself has been do I value what that means and the responsibilities that flow from it? And as far as my friends for whom it costs ‘a large sum of money’ what am I doing to support them?  The debate in Synod and the unanimous vote in favour of the Motion was a wonderful example of the way in which, at our best, we can give strong messages to the nation and live out the role that we have as the Established Church for the people of England, citizens and not yet citizens alike.

Two other debates were very significant.  These were about two Amending Canons. These are important pieces of legislation.  The Canons of the Church of England are part of the law of the land (now there’s a question for the citizenship test! Only joking!) and for that reason are taken very carefully through the Synod.  Any changes must secure a 2/3rds majority in each of the houses.

The first of the amendments was to Canon B8 (Of the vesture of ordained and authorized ministers during the time of divine service) which means what we wear to take services.  To be honest the Canon was being flouted in many situations, not least in some Fresh Expressions. Some clergy think that robes and vestments get in the way of mission. I don’t necessarily agree but I do think that we need Canons that work and are not brought into disrepute by simply being ignored.  I’ve also experienced in the last few months two instances in the Diocese of Southwark where I was asked not to bring robes and to speak in a service just in suit or clerical shirt.  In both instances that was exactly right.

When it came to the vote the amendments to this Canon received the necessary 2/3rds and more.

The second Canon for amendment was Canon B38 (Of the burial of the dead) dealt with the way in which the church in the past dealt with the burial of the unbaptised, the excommunicated and those who committed suicide.  The practice of the pre-reformation church was brought across to the Church of England and each of these groups was denied a Christian burial.  It was only later in the 19th century that this was changed but differences still applied.  These changes will mean that all those who die and who seek a Church of England funeral will be treated in the same way.  In fact pastoral practice left the Canons behind a long time ago.  So this has tidied that up as well and makes the Canon reflect contemporary practice and understanding.

A good mornings work.

Jesus, my Lord and King,
my saviour,
may my true citizenship be of your kingdom,
for you paid the price to set me free.
Amen.

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.

The yoke

So, we went to York Minster for the Eucharist. The choir sang the Vierne ‘Messe Solonnelle’ like a dream, the organ bellowed out and the ‘God of the lectionary’ played that divine trick again by giving us a Gospel reading that we needed to hear.  The Gospel set for today was Matthew 11.16-19,25-30 which finishes with that wonderful passage

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

As we get ready for the debate about clergy wellbeing this afternoon these were words that we needed to hear, to be reminded of.  But let’s be honest.  The pressures on clergy, their families, their lives are real but so are the pressures on many people, in work and out of work; I may live in a ‘goldfish bowl’ but it is a very lovely one!

When the Dean of St Paul’s and I hosted the annual conference for the all the deans of the English Cathedrals immediately after Easter we took everyone across to Canary Wharf and to the offices of J P Morgan.  As part of that fascinating visit we were taken down to see one of the trading floors.  It was incredible.  It was for a start off huge, row after row of desks, next to one another, each with five or six screens on and active, with telephones, with a person looking at all of this like the commander of the Starship Enterprise. Just as in one of those big American casinos it seemed a place in which you left time at the door.  These guys – they mostly were guys – were operating across time zones.  They may have almost literally straddled the Greenwich Meridian where those offices are located, but they were beyond, outside time – they were in the immediate moment in which money was being made and lost. It was fascinating to see and just a little frightening.  I could only begin to imagine the levels of stress these youngish people were working under.  And these are the people I see coming across London Bridge to the station late in the evening, finally heading to their home, their dormitory.  These are the people I pass in the morning as I walk to the Cathedral and they are already heading back to the office to begin that out-of-time work again.

Wellbeing has to be something that we are concerned about, for clergy, but for each other.  Lives are too precious and need to be lived well.

Jesus says this to the people – ‘I will give you rest’.  It is just what we want to hear.  But as Archbishop Justin in his sermon in the Minster this morning Jesus did not say that there was no yoke, there is a yoke to be worn across the shoulders, but it is lighter, easier, because Jesus is there alongside us, sharing the burden.  There is always the yoke.

yoke

‘My yoke is easy, my burden is light.’

 

If you go into many a sacristy you will find there prayers that the priest might say as they put on the sacred vestments.  There is a prayer for each item – the amice, the alb, the girdle, the stole and finally the chasuble.  It is the prayer that we say as we place that final priestly garment on ourselves that reminds us of the yoke

O Lord, who has said, “My yoke is easy and my burden light,” grant that I may so carry it as to merit your grace.

The priest bears the yoke with Christ and with the people and carries it for the gathered people of God to the altar.  There as the bread and wine are taken by the person wearing that yoke we remember Jesus across whose shoulders the wood was laid, a yoke he bore to Calvary, a yoke that would then carry him as he was raised for all to see.

Whilst we care for one another, whilst we

‘Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way … fulfil the law of Christ’. (Galatians 6.2)

we have to remember the burdens that each of us does bear, the stress under which so many live, the concerns that wear people down and the graciousness of God who sees us through it.  The debate this afternoon will be interesting in the light of these gospel words.

Lord Jesus,
a yoke was laid across your shoulders for me;
may I gladly bear,
may I gladly wear
the yoke with you.
Amen.

Avoiding the crash

I had the joy of seeing the production of ‘Carousel’ at the Coliseum Theatre in London earlier this year – perhaps one of the darkest musicals around but it has some lovely tunes!  Watching it though took me back to going to the fair when it arrived in town.  You remember how it was.  All of a sudden posters would appear in the shop windows on the local parade – the fair was coming.  ‘Mum, Mum, can we go … please?’ and eventually we would go.  To be honest, as a certified wimp, I’m no good at the scary rides but I did enjoy the dodgems.  It was that mixture of the sparks and the smell and the invitation to crash into someone that was the real joy of the ride. The screams, the fun, the joy of bashing into each other.

dodgem_cars

What fun!

 

Whilst London hosted it’s biggest Pride March in this 50th anniversary year of the decriminalisation of homosexual practice, the General Synod of the Church of England settled down to debate whether it was right or not to try to ‘cure’ gay people of their sexual desires through what is known as ‘Conversion Therapy’.  A Private Members Motion had been tabled by Jayne Ozanne, a lay member of the Synod who, through personal experience believed that such therapies are wrong, abusive and destructive.

There are some well meaning and sincere Christians who believe that offering healing to people with ‘same-sex attraction’ is exactly what we should be doing.  One speaker, in an attempt to justify his position, quoted Paul at us from his First Letter to the Christians in Corinth

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. (1 Corinthians 6.9-11)

This is the NIV version of the text which was the one the speaker read to us.  Give him his due, Paul did not pull his punches; it is explicit and, he said, it shows the radical Christian inclusion of which we speak. These people were included in the local church, but their lives had been changed, for as Paul says, ‘that is what some of you were.’ Their former sinful nature which excluded them from salvation, from the Kingdom of God, had been transformed through the ministry of Christ through his church.

Fortunately we heard other speakers who saw things differently and especially two young members of the Synod who spoke from their own personal experience.  One had himself been subject to these therapies, which had for him led to severe bouts of depression, the other told us that for most young people their impression was that the church is inhospitable to LGBTI+ people.  Their contributions and others, such as that of the Bishop of Liverpool, were greeted with fulsome applause.

To be honest there wasn’t enough debate as we were faced with four complex amendments each of which was subject (at the will of Synod) to a vote by Houses.  We ended up with a twice amended Motion.  The final voting, by Houses was as follows

Bishops For 36 Against 1 Abstentions 0
Clergy For 135 Against 25 Abstentions 13
Laity For 127 Against 48 Abstentions 13

So it was passed in all three houses.  The car crash was avoided and for a second time this year the Synod has spoken strongly to the nation and to the church that those who view LGBTI+ people as disordered and needing healing or exclusion are in a minority.  I had such pride in the Synod, in the tone of the debate and the care that was taken.

The rest of the day had been taken up with a good debate on ‘Presence and Engagement’ at which I was called to speak about our own engagement with the Muslim community in the light of the attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market; in legislative business; and with a presentation, workshops and a debate on the ‘National Support for Local Churches’.

So what could have been a disaster became a sign that, perhaps, we are turning a corner. But there are a few more corners to negotiate before we see gay people finding the same welcome in the church as they already find in the ever embracing arms of the God who created, without distinction, each one of us, his rainbow and beautiful people.

Stay with us, O God, this night,
so that by your strength
we may rise with the new day
to rejoice in the resurrection of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Amen.

A day of pride?

It’s a beautiful morning in York.  I’ve just opened my windows to clear blue skies and lovely sunshine.  As long as it doesn’t get too hot in the Chamber we should be ok.  My thoughts and prayers are, of course, with the group of 50 people from Southwark Cathedral taking part in London Pride.  It’s a big day for us.  After having for so long been talking about the place of LGBT+ people in the life of the church and being encouraged by our Archbishops who have called for a ‘radical Christian inclusion’ we decided that we needed to walk with people.

That walking with people is something that we see in Jesus. One of the things I love about the Gospels is the way in which so much of it takes place on the road, not in buildings, not where the rich and powerful were, but out there where the people were and walking with them and encountering them. People came out to meet him where he was – leaders of synagogues, centurions, the distressed, the sick, the curious, the joyous, everyone.

Bart

Present and engaged

 

One such occasion was the meeting with Bartimaeus and we are told in St Mark’s Gospel

‘As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.’ (Mark 10.46)

That huge crowd, marching with Jesus down the road and then finding someone who needed him. Out on the road, out on the march we can meet people we would not stumble over in any other way.

One of the things we will be thinking about today, along with sexuality on the day of London Pride, will be the programme called ‘Presence and Engagement’. That basically means, as I understand it, being there, being out there, doing the Jesus thing of being with people, of all kinds. It seems strange that we have, as a church, to make this explicit as a policy.  After all, as I was taught when being formed for priesthood, this is what the church is, out there, reflecting the real presence of Jesus, reflecting the engagement of God with the whole of creation, outside of the church, in community.  Sadly, in many places the church has retreated into its buildings, concerned about ‘internal’ issues rather than the ‘external’ world where we find God.

There is a wonderful poem by R S Thomas called ‘The Empty Church’ which speaks to me of this.

They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.
Ah, he had burned himself
before in the human flame
and escaped, leaving the reason
torn. He will not come any more

to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illuminated walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?

We can hide away in the ‘stone trap’ or be out there, present and engaged, with people of all kinds, of all faiths and none.

I hope that in all the debates today I will have pride in the church – but I wait to see.

God, ever present with us,
ever engaged with us,
where we are,
may I know your presence now
and be engaged
with all my sisters and brothers.
Amen.

A heady mix

A new series of ‘Bake Off’ is fast approaching and I have to make the decision of whether I remain ‘Mr Bake Off Shocked of Southwark’ at its move from the BBC or bite the bullet and watch it.  No doubt I’ll watch it! I have, after all, loved the way in which the contestants take such imaginative ingredients and combine them into something fantastic. It’s something I just don’t have the imagination or the confidence to do.  Will these flavours work together?  Will this be edible?

the_vicar_of_dibley_cropley

The Queen of Cordon Bleurgh

 

The most memorable fictional character for this kind of approach to food must be Letitia Cropley in ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ played by the late great Liz Smith.  She was famous for being “the queen of Cordon Bleurgh”,  famous for her idiosyncratic recipes such as parsnip brownies and lard and fish paste pancakes.

The first day at Synod is normally made up of the same ingredients:  a welcome to someone who is visiting – well, we had that when we had a Finnish bishop from the Lutheran Church of the country, Bishop Matti Repo; the report of the Business Committee – of course; a bit of tidying up legislative business – yes, the Amending Canon about Vesture of Ministers; Questions – definitely and with yours truly chairing (48 out of 85 questions in an hour was not bad going, though I say it myself who shouldn’t); and something else.

The something else was rather larger and more significant than is usual.  The Presidents had decided to include a debate on the situation in the nation after the General Election.  The title of the Motion, in the name of the Archbishop of York, was ‘After the General Election, a still small voice of calm.’ As I said earlier, the quote is from the wonderful hymn.  The Motion itself encompassed voter apathy, those elected to Parliament; courage for political leaders; calling on Christians to maintain pressure on politicians; commending the work of the church on behalf of the poor and vulnerable and committing the CofE to strong and generous international relations.  Wow! That is some list, a real heady mix of church and politics, religion and politics.

Five amendments were on the Order Paper and, as if that were not enough, the Archbishop of York even had a sixth one up his sleeve.  Some wanted the Bible mentioned, others were in favour of STV voting and 16 year olds getting the vote, others wanted a referendum for the Scottish people, another a whole raft of stuff about abortion, family life, biblical based speech and another about making it clear that Jesus is ‘King of Kings, the Prince of Peace and the Hope of every nation.’ The Archbishop wanted us to vote to voluntarily pay more tax to the Exchequer for schools, medicine and social care. None of those were accepted, all were rejected however worthy and the unamended Motion, after two hours of debate, was passed.

Commons

Parliament – a place to engage with

 

But all of this was in the context and shadow of Tim Farron resigning as Leader of the Liberal Democrats after the General Election.  In his resignation statement he is reported as having said

“The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader….To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

I found that very sad and very unsettling.  As a Christian who believes in the incarnation I have to see my faith as being lived out in the world in all its messiness and within all its compromises.  That is one of the things I love about Southwark and its Cathedral – we can talk honestly about politics because we know that we encounter God, the Gospel, Jesus Christ, our faith in that wonderful messy mix.  I have to believe that otherwise faith becomes a private, privatised world and I don’t think that is why ‘the Word was made flesh’ (John 1.14).

Archbishop William Temple, looking at the place of the Church of England in British society, famously said

The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.

That means being involved in life beyond the walls of the church and mixing in with society and that is why Christians have to be involved in politics and even party politics at every level.  It isn’t an option, it’s what our vocation is.

The debate this afternoon, even though it was too broad, too anodyne, too much ‘motherhood and apple pie’, at least acknowledged that we have a place in our society, values about how life should be lived, opinions about the role of politics and a commitment to the common good.  In the mess we are currently in it was much better than nothing.

God, you entered the mess of world,
guide us as we engage in that messiness.
Amen.

‘We’re all going …

.. on a summer holiday’ sang Cliff Richard, boarding his red London bus and heading off to the continent with his mates. The days were that when I was coming to Yorkshire (long before I trained as a priest here and then worked here in a parish) I was off on holiday.  Mum and Dad had their honeymoon in Scarborough and I remember getting hopelessly lost on the ‘zig-zag’ path heading down the cliff there when I was about seven.  According to my mother, I zigged whilst they zagged!

summerholiday-1

Well, heading to Yorkshire in July now means coming to the summer Group of Sessions of the General Synod of the Church of England. Apart from the fact that it is Synod, I don’t really mind – a nice environment, lots of people I know, a chance to worship in the Minster (will there be bells?) are all side benefits.  The downside is that you have to sit for hours in the stifling heat of the Synod chamber, which is the Central Hall on this campus, whilst the Church of England does its version of zigging and zagging!

You will remember that in February we left Synod after the Bishops had lost the take-note debate on same-sex relationships. This is the first time we have met after that momentous vote.  The Archbishops had to come up with something of a way forward and they spoke then about a ‘radical Christian inclusion’ and the need for study and a pastoral response. We will have the opportunity to debate the proposals that are being brought forward for the latter of those promises.  On the face of it the proposals look good.  But as we know, there’s always plenty of opportunity for zigging and zagging in the Church of England.

It is remarkable that since we met the Scottish Episcopal Church has grasped the nettle with both hands and has voted in favour of equal marriage.  So has the presbyterian Church of Scotland. Who would have thought that this was possible? We have also seen two very irregular consecrations, one of a bishop in Newcastle, the other of a GAFCON missionary bishop. We are in a mess and I am afraid it is of our own making.

Whilst we are in York, London will see the annual Gay Pride Parade. For the first time Southwark Cathedral will take part in that march.  50 members of the congregation will march behind our new banner affirming our solidarity with the LGBT+ community.  I’m sorry I won’t be there to march with them. Those marching are by no means all members of the LGBT+ community, but as with our wonderful Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, they are people who are determined to stand with people regardless of their sexuality, simply taking pride in people taking pride in themselves.

Ironically on the same day as pride is being displayed in London we will be in York debating a Private Members Motion highlighting the dangers of ‘Conversion Therapy’. This is the practice advocated by some churches which is aimed at ‘curing’ LGBT+ people of their ‘unwanted’ same-sex attraction. It is a dangerous practice because it can result in deep psychological damage and add to some people’s feelings of self-hate and the idea that if they are homosexual there is something ‘wrong with them’.

Members of General Synod have, of course, been inundated with ‘evidence’ from both sides of the argument about whether such therapy works, whether such prayer works, and whether the negative effects spoken of by some are grounded in any kind of reality. So once again the Church of England does double-speak and is in danger of looking vicious, nasty and uncaring.  On the one hand we are talking about radical inclusion and a pastoral response and then we will have people standing up advocating not inclusion but elimination, not pastoral care but pastoral abuse.

rainbow_flag_insert_by_torbakhopper_via_Flickr

Taking proper pride in one another

 

There was an encounter between Jesus and a rich young man. It turned out that the man wasn’t yet ready to walk with Jesus.  But there is the most beautiful line in that story that I keep going back to

‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him.’ (Mark 10.21)

Those six words tell me something beautiful about the God who created me, and created you, and created every person, whoever they are. Jesus looks at us and simply loves us, God looks at us and simply loves us. But some look at others and see a problem to be solved, an illness to be cured. God has pride in the richness of creation, we fail to have pride in each other and so people fail to have pride in who they are – and that is destructive. Defining other groups in society as ‘sick’ and in need of healing or elimination can lead, in some situations, to the very worst of crimes against our brothers and sisters. In the last 100 years in Europe we have seen where that can lead, where ‘cures’ for homosexuals was but one aspect of the horrors unleashed on a variety of ethnic and religious groups.

This Group of Sessions, however, will begin with a debate on a motion being led by the Archbishop of York in response to the recent General Election. The debate is called ‘After the General Election – a still small voice of calm.’ The latter part of that is drawn from the hymn we all love singing ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’ by John Whittier. The final verse says

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

It is a beautiful verse, from a beautiful hymn, the inspiration coming from Elijah’s encounter with God on the mountain in 1 Kings 19.11-12. God was experienced not in the wind and the fire and the earthquake but in that still, small voice, the voice that brings calm.

What this debate will produce no one knows – I hear that there many amendments to the motion have been received already. But we need to listen to the voice of calm, in the nation and in the church. Knowing that you are praying for us always helps me to put everything into a proper perspective.  This is God’s church and not ours, not the bishops’, not the clergies’ not the laity’s, not for the now but for eternity – and thank God for that.

Lord of the Church,
bless this meeting of Synod
that we may look on each other with the eyes of love,
your love,
as you look with love on us.
Amen.

Early release

Can you remember when, all of a sudden and, so it seemed, as a complete surprise, you were let home early from school? To me it felt as though you were being given a little of your life back.  We ran through the school gates, making for freedom before they had the chance to decide that they’d made a mistake and called us back! Well, we got the gift of early release from the General Synod today as the Archbishop of Canterbury prorogued the Synod at the end of morning session.  If we had had caps with us we could have thrown them in the air.

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Running for freedom!

 

I think almost everyone was tired after yesterday and the truth is that we have done a lot of work this week – all that legislation, debates on the Reformation, the preliminaries to marriage in church, and on this final day, the role of the laity, the rationalisation of administration and an address on the state of the Anglican Communion.  Of course, all of that was a bit overshadowed by what happened yesterday.

The debate on the report, ‘Setting God’s people free’ was an important one.  As we were told, 98% of the church is made up of lay people but the church can be hindered by clerical domination and authoritarianism.  If we want to be effective in mission and witness and outreach then, yes of course, the whole people of God, the 2% and the 98% have to be active and using their God-given skills.

Some people might imagine that the evangelical wing of the church is naturally more inclined to recognise and use the skills of everyone than the rather priestly catholic end of the CofE in which Father or Mother ‘knows best’! I think that isn’t quite true.  In all parts of the church we can find that tendency for the ordained to dominate the non-ordained, for the laity to be subservient to the clergy, for the collar to predominate.  In fact many churches in the catholic tradition use lay people in ministry in large numbers, in a variety of ways.  Servers, choir, musicians, readers, intercessors, Eucharistic ministers, welcomers, sacristans – the list could go on and on.  Cathedrals, with a bevy of clergy, might be seen as highly clericalised and to some extent they are.  But at Southwark Cathedral we have over 500 volunteer laypeople as part of our life, leading and serving in every aspect of what we do.  We could not do what we do without the laity and the skills they bring transform what the clergy often bring.  For instance, we have a ‘Masterplan’ group looking at the implementation of our vision and priorities.  On that group are lay people skilled in doing that kind of work, thinking strategically, setting measurable outcomes, all of that for which I was never trained.

The thing is that if we don’t implement the report that we passed with, I believe, a unanimous vote, we will continue to squander what God gives to the church, his own people and that betrays a lack of vision and a failure in stewardship.  The first speaker in the debate, Jane Patterson, a colleague and friend from the CNC, spoke as a lay woman and reminded us of 1 Corinthians 12 and Paul’s analogy of the church as a fully functioning body.

‘The body does not consist of one member but of many.’ (1 Corinthians 12.14)

It is when every part of the body is playing its proper part that the body is healthy, that the church will be effective.

The final debate on Mission and Administration, contingency business that we managed to get to because we had been so efficient, asked us to look at whether there are some administrative tasks that we could do together which would release time and people for mission. It’s worth looking at whilst recognising that dioceses, cathedrals, even parishes are legal entities in different ways.

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Release the Spirit, release the church

 

So maybe release is what this Synod has been about, freeing the people of God, freeing time for mission, the freedom we gained through the Reformation and above all, freeing members of the LGBTI people to be the fully formed, fully rounded, fully loved people that God has created them to be.

But with freedom comes responsibilities ….The last word should go to Paul.

‘For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ (Galatians 5.1)

May we use this freedom to make others free, in Christ.

Jesus, you break the chains that bind us,
you set us free,
may I break the chains of others,
that with free hands, free hearts, free minds,
we may serve the world.
Amen.

Waiting

Synod is now in waiting mode, waiting for the Session to resume and the take note debate on the bishops’ paper on homosexuality to begin.  Waiting is an odd sensation.  We wait with anticipation; we wait sometimes in fear. On occasions we wait with boredom, sometimes with heightened excitement.  When I fist read Bill Vanstone’s book ‘The Stature of Waiting’ when it was first published I realised that we worship a God who waits with us.  The God of eternity enters place and time in the incarnation and Jesus takes into the godhead that experience of waiting, as he waits as part of his passion. Vanstone gives us a language for the spirituality of waiting.

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Waiting … waiting

 

But we also wait upon God, the God who acts and that is part of what we are doing now. What will God do with his church?

I did what I wouldn’t normally do, I absented myself from the Group Work.  I was never inclined to take part, after all I’d been to three sets of Shared Conversations and all of that seems to have been ignored.  But when I read the case studies the groups were to discuss I was even more clear that this was the right decision.  Each one of the five case studies presented gay and lesbian people from the perspective of disruptive problems to be solved.  There was nothing joyous to be celebrated and the one thing I know about gay people is that the community is joyous – just look at any Gay Pride parade! But with scarcely veiled homophobia the tone was one of LGBTI people being problematic and dysfunctional.

So those of us who shared my views met at St Matthew’s Westminster and there were over 50 of us there.  It was a great meeting – positive, energised and gracious.  The Holy Spirit was in the room.

So we wait…. We did of course do other business this morning – a new suffragan see for Leicester; a new member of the Archbishops’ Council; a brilliant debate on fixed-odd betting terminals (a great moment of synodical unanimity) and we concluded the work on the amending Canons on vesture and ministry to those who commit suicide.  It was then that the Bishop of Norwich and the Bishop of Willesden presented the bishops’ paper and the rest I’ve mentioned.

So that is where we are.  It feels like going to the pictures in the old days, we’ve seen the B movie, now we await the curtains drawing back and the main feature being shown.  And all those emotions around waiting are palpable in Church House.

God, bless our waiting,
bless our speaking,
bless our listening,
bless our actions
and bless your church.
Amen.

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