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?

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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.

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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.

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‘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!

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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.

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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.

A box of chocolates

In the 1994 film ‘Forrest Gump’ the eponymous hero at one point says ‘Mamma always said life is like a box of chocolates.’ The General Synod of the Church of England certainly is.  I last blogged from the bus heading for Westminster yesterday and reflecting on the fact that the day would be full of legislation. It certainly was, and, to be honest, the Synod worked efficiently and effectively through it.  The reason that there is so much of this kind of stuff before us at the moment is because of the ‘simplification’ exercise that the church is going through.

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‘Life is like …’

 

The rules by which the church manages its life, the regulations, the Canons, the Measures, have tended to grow ‘like Topsy’ and we’re often amending this, that or the other.  Simplification, so it seems to me, is about, well, making it all simpler, cutting out what isn’t necessary but simply makes life more difficult, makes the structures unwieldy and not fit for purpose, eats up time that could be used in mission and ministry.

Any box of chocolates will have soft and hard centres and we had that yesterday in the slew of legislation before us. There were debates on pensions, on risk assessments of clergy with regard to safeguarding.  There were debates on ecumenical working in parishes, on the saying of Morning and Evening Prayer, on what we wear in church and when senior and other clergy can retire.

It was fascinating stuff and all credit to those who sat it out in the chamber to see it all through!

One of the really fascinating debates, however, came before the legislative business and that was on the calling of Banns of Marriage.  At the moment if a marriage is to be solemnised in church then Banns have to be called in the church where it’s happening and in the parish(es) where the individuals live or have a qualifying connection. It is arcane.  The original Catholic Canon law on the subject, intended to prevent clandestine marriages, was decreed in Canon 51 of the Lateran IV Council in 1215. It goes back a long way.  The Banns are called on three successive Sundays, the couple does not have to be there to hear them, but the congregation is asked whether they ‘know any reason in law why the couple should not be married’ and to ‘declare it now’.  Clearly it made more sense when we lived in small communities and knew each other, when people knew that like in ‘Jane Eyre’ there was a mad wife in the attic!  So wouldn’t it be better/easier/less hassle if everyone went to the civil Registry Office to have these preliminaries done and just bring a certificate to the officiating priest?  Well, yes and no.

Yes, it would cut out the hassle of having to write information in boxes on a form, remember to read it out and produce a certificate.  But no, it would be one more way in which the Church of England is effectively distancing itself from the society we claim to serve.  And it also gives a great opportunity for, normally, young couples to come to church, have the thrill of hearing their name read out, hear themselves prayed for and see that other normal(ish) people go to church and seem to enjoy it.  That is called mission; that is called witness; that is what we are meant to do.

Fortunately the motion was defeated in every house of the Synod in the final vote.  So we will continue to hear those familiar words ‘these are for the third time of asking’ ringing round our churches.

And so to today…. who knows what will happen.  Please pray for us.

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Wolfgang Tillmans

 

I was at the opening of an exhibition of the work of the fine-art photographer Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate Modern.  It was what can only be described as an eclectic crowd looking at challenging work. I wondered what they would make of the Church of England. I bumped into a friend and his husband.  They are supporters of the art installations we do at Southwark.  We talked about Brexit, Trump and the Church of England and saw clear connections.  The conversation then turned to being in safe places, in bubbles, where you know you’re amongst friends, like Southwark Cathedral.  ‘What’s so wrong with a bubble?’ they said to me.  ‘But I’m a catholic and that means I exist in the universal.’ I responded.

Every chocolate in the box is in its little, designed, perfect bubble of plastic.  Perhaps that is what the church is wanting, moving from the catholic to the congregational.  We shall see.

I’ve turned to St Mark’s Gospel for my encouragement today and these words

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

It was the story of the rich young man, wanting to get into heaven but needing to simplify his life.  It was too much for him at that moment.  But Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus looks at his church and loves us, despite, despite it all.

Jesus,
look with love upon us today,
and bring us to your kingdom.
Amen.

Over the edge

A few years ago I was leading a pilgrimage around Armenia.  It was for a group from Southwark Cathedral.  It was a wonderful experience, seeing a country that had experienced recent genocide and a church with a tradition ancient, honourable and distinct. We saw many churches all in the same domed cruciform style.  But one thing sticks in my mind and came back to me today as we began this Group of Sessions of the General Synod.

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They attempt to throw Jesus over the cliff

 

We had visited a church and were wandering through the churchyard.  It was a church set amongst blocks of Soviet-style housing, so, in a very real community.  One gravestone grabbed our attention.  It was new and recorded the death of a group of young people from the village. They had all died in an accident.  The car they were in went over the edge of a nearby cliff.  The faces of all the young people were engraved into the stone – but so was a depiction of the accident, a car going over the edge of a cliff.  All we could do was to look in disbelief.  No Chancellor in the Church of England, I suspect, would have allowed such a stone in one of our churchyards! And the horror of the depiction was engraved on my consciousness.

It has not been an easy beginning to this Synod.  I tweeted ‘Have you ever watched a car crash? If not come to @GenSyn’. Watching the Church of England heading for the edge of an avoidable precipice, watching the church we love act in a way which can easily be seen as operating as institutionally homophobic, whether or not the bishops accept that this is the case, is deeply disturbing.

What was most shocking was when Canon Butler asked about the safeguarding implications for those members of the Synod who are from the LGBTI communities and the answer was that there were no safeguarding implications.  So there we have it? ‘Sticks and stones …..’ It is simply not true, of course, and I have already talked to many people who are deeply hurt, feeling extremely vulnerable and concerned that they are complicit with an abusive relationship with a church that should incarnate the love of God for the whole of creation, including LGBTI people who God has created as reflecting something of the divine nature.  But then if you think that that cannot be and that LGBTI people are a manifestation of a disordered creation, people who need to be healed and counselled back to ‘normality’ … well you arrive at where we seem to be heading.

So an interesting day.  Of course we’ve done other stuff; debated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we have listened to a Presidential Address given by the Archbishop of Canterbury and listened to answers to numerous questions of which the first 26 were all about sexuality.  But everything is being overshadowed by Wednesday.

Of course the people of Nazareth attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff.

‘They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.’ (Luke 4.29-30)

Jesus had just read from Isaiah in their Synagogue and proclaimed his mission priorities of inclusive liberation. People weren’t interested then and the church isn’t interested now. But Jesus survived then and Jesus will survive now – but will the church, which is his body and the people that he loves?

Lord Jesus,
save us and help us
we humbly beseech you.
Amen.

Lay and Gay

So, another Group of Sessions begins in Westminster at Church House today. Around the country people will be packing their bags with what they need and making sure they have all their papers with them before they make their way to London in time for the opening of the Synod.

'The Thames below Westminster' by Claude Monet

‘The Thames below Westminster’ by Claude Monet

There’s a chill wind blowing along the Thames, an icy blast from the east, it isn’t comfortable and I suspect the atmosphere at this Synod will be a little icy and not too comfortable.

Those who follow the politics of the Church of England will know that at the end of January the House of Bishops published a document which puts on paper the thinking of the bishops about the way forward on the issue of homosexuality and same-gender wedding in the church. It was an icy blast and has had a frosty reception. I’ve been out in Africa, visiting our link dioceses in Zimbabwe where it was much warmer, where hospitality was generously and genuinely offered. So I haven’t yet expressed my own views on this, though one of my colleagues in the Cathedral preached a brilliant sermon on the issue the Sunday after the release of the report.

So, inevitably that ‘take note’ debate will dominate this Synod. There are, of course, other things on the agenda – lots of legislative business and an important report on the ministry of the laity in the life of the church ‘Setting God’s people free’. As ever the church wants to both bind and free, have its cake and eat it. It wants to bind LGBTI people and free lay people, it wants to reject people and embrace people, it wants to liberate and imprison. I was very uncomfortable reading the bishops’ report on homosexuality and the talk of the ‘exemplary lifestyle’ of the ordained as opposed to the laity. The point they were trying to make was that those of us who are ordained should live according to the Canons to which we have given assent. If those Canons require those who are LGBTI to deny their very nature, subdue their God-given desires, wreck their relationships, lead some towards suicide, so be it, we have to be exemplary. The laity do not have to be. And anyway, who says that a gay lifestyle cannot be lived in an exemplary way?

This false distinction between the clergy and the laity began in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ and it is being perpetuated now. If we really want to benefit from the ministry of the laity and set them free then we have to set the whole people of God free – and those ordained are still part of the laos, the people.

One of my favourite passages of scripture is the account of the raising of Lazarus in St John’s Gospel. There is so much in it, so many details that reveal both Jesus’ divine and human natures – he weeps and raises – but it was one line from that story that came to mind as I was contemplating this week.

‘Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’’ (John 11.43-44)

'Unbind him.'

‘Unbind him.’

Those powerful words ‘Unbind him’ should ring through the church for the laity and for all in the LGBTI community. We are binding the church; we are binding mission; we are in danger of no longer being the national church but being seen by many as a narrow homophobic set of bigots and not the church that Jesus lived and died and rose for, not the church that can speak effectively into the present day and the cultural context in which we are set and to which God calls us.

My colleague, our Cathedral curate, was officiating at Morning Prayer just a few moments ago. Her intercessions included the line

‘Lord, may the Synod be fruitful and not hurtful.’

I shed a tear, I couldn’t help it. Fancy having to pray that prayer about a Christian gathering, but that is the reality. So that is my prayer as this Synod begins. Please pray for us – God knows we need it!

Lord, may the Synod
be fruitful and not hurtful.
Amen.

Back in the room

I promised I’d be back – well, here I am. The Shared Conversations ended just before lunch on Tuesday and the members of the General Synod rapidly dispersed.  There was life to get back to; I had to get a train that would get me back to Southwark Cathedral to welcome those who would come to the first ever Legal Service in the Cathedral.  Life and ministry goes on.

But all of that has given me time to reflect on what happened over those last two days during which, whilst we were in the process, we were asked not to comment. Of course, things were continuing to change around us and for once I’m not talking about the political situation in the UK post-Brexit. Over in Canada the Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada was also discussing their response to same-sex marriage.

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‘And the banner over me is love.’

 

News emerged that that Synod had narrowly voted against allowing same-sex marriage in church.  That was dismal news – and then it all changed. There was what was akin to a re-count and the decision was actually in favour.  Talking to friends in Canada since then it sounds not so dissimilar with what happened to our own electronic voting system on Friday! So, another Province decides on a positive course of action.

But back to York and my experience.  This was my third set of Shared Conversations. The first was the regional ones, the second diocesan ones and now this set.  As I entered the room where Group 15 was to meet (we were allocated to one of 23 groups) I didn’t know what to expect.  But there were some familiar faces there and some new ones to me.  Each group had a facilitator who guided us through the stages of the process – it felt safe, it felt good.

We began with telling and sharing our own story, focusing on our faith journey and anything else that was significant to us.  There was no pressure to speak about anything you weren’t comfortable talking about.  As always, when you have the privilege of listening to someone else telling their story this was very moving.  That took up the first afternoon.

Monday morning focused in on scripture as we were firstly resourced by three biblical scholars who talked about the authority of scripture and particularly in relation to human sexuality, from their own perspective.  That session was too short but rich and fascinating.  Then we shared our own significant scripture passage in small groups.  Mine was this

‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10.10)

I chose that for two reasons.  Firstly, it seems to me that that is the essence of Jesus’ ministry and what he brings to my life.  And that abundance to me is all about fruitfulness. Jesus wants me, wants you, wants us to flourish and I believe that is regardless of any of those ways in which we define, describe ourselves according to gender, ethnicity, ability, sexual identity grounds and beyond, for as St Paul says to the

‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3.28)

The gifts of abundant living are to us as created and loved not because of any definition we or others may apply to us.

My second reason was that I first became aware of this text when our curate back when I was a young teenager preached on it.  Fr Irving Richards, the first black priest I had ever seen let alone known, was formative in the story of my own vocation but also in sowing this text deep within me.  It remains something I live by and, for me, it challenges the church which can too often diminishes people.

From scripture we moved to culture, hearing three sets of presentations from the perspective of younger adults, older people and from across the Communion about the changing cultures in which we are set.  It was a rich and challenging afternoon – far too much to take in but you wouldn’t have wanted to have missed a word of it.

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Finally, on the last morning we looked at what ‘gifts’ we wanted to take back into a plenary of all the members of the Synod.  There was a sense in that discussion of where do we go from here and I suspect, if you are reading this, you are asking the same question. My answer is, I don’t know.

As a process it was good and it enabled the members of Synod to build relationships and take time out of the normal Synodical routine.  This will have a deep influence on the life of this quinquennium and I think was hugely valuable.

To be honest we were too kind to each other, we all agreed when we knew that there was a huge level of disagreement.  There wasn’t enough time spent wrestling with scripture; the trunk of the elephant barely entered the room; the issue of how we can even begin to compromise when some see responding physically to same-sex attraction as inherently sinful and therefore inappropriate to bless and others see it as natural and good and potentially holy.  That is a vast chasm to bridge – but the church is called to be a bridge builder and a wall destroyer.

As we began to meet Andy Murray was being crowned a champion of Wimbledon.  So, to grab an analogy from that convergence of events, the ball is in the bishops court.  It is they who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, must discern where we go to next.  Few, I think, what this to drag on, we all want to move beyond conversations about sexuality to how we bring good news to the people of this generation.  But the truth is that there are LGBTIQ people amongst this generation and I believe that they too need to hear good news, the real Good News that Jesus wants their life to be ‘abundant’.

God of abundant life,
guide your church,
that she may preach good news
to every person,
whoever they are,
whoever I am.
Amen.

The nature of the church

What kind of church are we?  That seems to me to be at the heart of so much of what we have talked about this morning in Synod.  The answer that you give to that question will depend very much, of course, on your ecclesiology. My own view is that we are part of the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’ as we say in the Creed.  There are then certain things that flow from that.

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Let me see if I can explain what those five words say to me

one – that in important, almost vital ways, we are united, unified in faith and in practice, that we have shared beliefs and shared words for worshipping the one God in whom we believe and that we believe that this unity is an essential part of our character and nature.

holy – that we are the body of Christ, that we are in the world but not of the world, that we are set aside to be salt and light in the midst of the world.

catholic – that we are world wide and history long, that we are more than ourselves, that any congregation is only a representation of something which exists beyond it in time and in eternity and that much of what we do has been received and will be handed on.

apostolic – that we are formed for mission and ministry, for making Christ known and for ministering as a servant people to a needy world and that the whole people of God perform this ministry from which some are set aside for specific tasks as bishops, priests and deacons.

church – that we are the household of God which gathers to break word and bread, in which Christ is in the midst when two or three gather together.

That’s not exhaustive, just some initial thoughts.  But what concerns me about so much of the legislation that is coming forward and so many of the amendments being proposed is that their effect is to undermine one or more of these elements.  So on the face of it none of them really matters but add them together and I fear that we could create a ‘congregational’ church where there was and is the church catholic.  So, for instance,  I see a distrust of the episcopacy – and maybe the actions at times of our bishops accounts for some of that – and a desire that local needs and local manifestation of the church overrides any consideration of what makes us ‘the Church of England’.

Of course, I may be wrong – but just in case I’m not, I need to keep alert to what is before us.

Holy God, for the gift of your holy church we give you thanks and praise. Amen.

Seizing the moment

A Group of Sessions (a meeting of the General Synod) would normally begin, after some formal introductions, with a debate on the Report of the Business Committee.  Often the questions following the presentation of that report will involve members standing up and asking why such and such, which was in the news, was not included in the agenda.  The Chair of the Business Committee normally then explains that there wasn’t time and that the Business Committee would give the request consideration for a later meeting.  So this gathering in York was unusual for two reasons – the Business Committee Report came long after Synod had begun and time had been made for an emergency debate.

I was absolutely delighted when we were told that the Presidents of the Synod (the two archbishops) had come to the decision that we should debate the EU Referendum.  My big fear was that we would go through the same debate again – ‘Why isn’t the Referendum on the agenda?’, ‘Because there isn’t time’.  What would make it worse is that this would then be reported alongside the fact that we are spending two days, in purdah, talking about human (which in church speak means ‘homo’) sexuality.  ‘Church of England talks about sex (again) whilst nation is in turmoil’ could have been the headline.

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The fact of the matter is that we are the Established Church and whatever else that means it means, in my book, that we have a care for every person in England and that extends far beyond their spiritual needs.  It means that we have a priest living in every community in this country, that we know what it is like on the ground, in the streets and we have people who can reflect that back to us.  We are in a privileged position and so we have a duty to respond to the political, economic and social situation that we now find ourselves in – we have to seize the moment.

The risk was, of course, that the debate could have been just a bunch of ‘pinko liberals’ standing up and whinging about the result because they weren’t on the winning side!  I’m glad to say it wasn’t like that at all.  The Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the debate and set the tone, saying very clearly that we are where we are and that, whilst we are  leaving the EU we will never leave Europe.

One great speech came from the Bishop in Europe.  That diocese, part of the Church of England, extends across the continent and covers countries not in the EU but all those that do.  The Bishop spoke powerfully of congregations in Belgium where he lives and members of those congregations, ex-pats, who have given their professional careers to working to help create all that is good in the EU, being reduced to tears as they worshipped.  He also spoke about the millions of our fellow countrymen and women who have moved overseas for their retirement to enjoy the weather and lifestyle that so many countries offer and are now in fear and confusion.

Those who spoke in the debate raised powerful issues and it was good to hear from one priest from Hartlepool who explained why the people he works and lives with voted as they did, to leave, because they felt that over the last 40 years they have lost so much and gained so little.

I was proud to be a member of such a Synod that could speak so well and so carefully on an issue that is dividing us and to speak of the work of reconciliation that we can help with.  ++Justin warned the Synod that the church will have a great deal of work to do as we help the nation with vision and values as we build the kind of outward looking, generous, hospitable, inclusive, welcoming community that we believe God calls us to be.

So after an hour and a half of that debate the timed agenda was now something of a fiction.  As you know, I’m now a member of the Panel of Chairs and so behind the scenes there was constant conversation about how we were to manage the timings for the rest of the day.  But we did it and the day ended with me chairing ‘Questions’ for the first time.  I was initially nervous and at the end exhausted – but it was great fun and that bell, to bring people to order, is a powerful weapon (maybe something I should have at Chapter meetings!).

It’s now Day Two and we are shortly due back in the Chamber.  Today is basically about legislation – certainly in the morning.  Interesting among that is the Draft Amending Canon No. 36 which makes its first appearance.  This is the one that addresses the ‘vesture of ordained and authorized ministers during the time of divine service’. We know that many people break Canon Law every Sunday when they don’t wear customary vesture.  But the church lives with that because we are a broad church and we come from a variety of tradition backgrounds. But at the moment there is a norm and the proposal is that this should go.  Instead it will be for the discretion of the minister who will make the judgment about what to wear to ‘benefit the mission of the Church in the parish.’

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‘Will these benefit our mission?’

 

Now I know that I’m never knowingly underdressed in church, but then I am in a Cathedral and I am catholic in tradition and I do believe that liturgy is missional in its awe inspiring majesty and its life changing mystery so you would expect me to say this.  But at the moment I don’t think I can support this proposal.  Apart from the idea of abandoning the norm I think we create a hostage to fortune when in the legislation it says of what people should wear that it ‘must be seemly’.  The dictionary says that this means

Conforming to accepted notions of propriety or good taste.

I don’t know what that means in contemporary society.  And what does it mean at All Age Worship, Messy Church or Evening Worship? Who says what’s seemly? And I see huge gender discrimination looming because St Paul does mention what is seemly for women to wear in 1 Timothy 2 but not the men! Will the same standards be applied to ordained or licensed women and men?

There are more reasons as well – about what it means to be Anglican, a member and minister of the Church of England as well as the tradition that we are in.  But it will be interesting to see what is raised in this debate.

As ever, I turn to George Herbert for some wisdom on all of this.  In his poem ‘Aaron’ he begins with these words

HOLINESS on the head,
Light and perfection on the breast,
Harmonious bells below raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.

As the holy, priestly people of God St Paul has a good word for us

‘Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Romans 13.14)

The clothes that we wore in the EU debate where of justice, mercy and peace, we were clothed with Christ, perhaps this is the true vesture of the whole people of God.

Lord,
grace us
that we may truly be your church in this land,
clothed in justice, mercy and peace.
Amen.

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

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark