Looking like Jesus

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night in a hot sweat realising what you have done? ‘Why did I do that?’ ‘Why did I say that?’ ‘What possessed me?’ It seemed that for some in the Synod chamber yesterday they had been having that very feeling!  Back in July 2017 in the Synod meeting in York there were two memorable debates that really encouraged me.  One was on banning Conversion Therapy in churches – the practice believed in by some that you can ‘convert’ someone from one sexual orientation to another – and the other was welcoming members of the transgender community into our churches.  Both of these motions were passed by Synod.

Fluent in the language of love

Truth revealed on the South Bank

But the one on trans people was about even more than simply welcoming.  There was a call to provide some liturgical way to help people mark the transition into their new identity and to enable the congregation to recognise and welcome them.  The Synod asked the House of Bishops to consider all of this.

So the House of Bishops have considered it and have issued some Pastoral Guidance which suggest that clergy can use the provisions already in existence in Common Worship around the ‘Renewal of Baptismal Promises’ to mark a persons transition and new identity.  Some people were sad that no new liturgy was created but, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting the bishops to do that.  But the guidance provided does say

It is important that the occasion should have a celebratory character

and opens with the statement

The Church of England welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation
of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ, and rejoices in
the diversity of that body into which all Christians have been baptized by one
Spirit.

So, I mentioned yesterday that there were a record number of Questions submitted and that over 30 of them were about trans people and the churches response.  What we witnessed in Synod during Questions I found disturbing.  It felt like a bullying, abusive onslaught from a group of Synod members who were infuriated with what had happened after that decision in all three Houses back in 2017 and who were determined to catch out the bishops responding to Questions. This was not Synod at its best.

In many ways those of us sitting there witnessing all of this have seen the opponents play all their cards at once and so we know what it is that we are still facing on the complex issues of gender and sexuality.  This will all feed into whatever finally emerges from the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ process. We must never be complacent about what we face on these issues.

Ironically the Archbishop in his Presidential Address in the afternoon had said two powerful things.  One was that we should ‘speak the language of love more fluently’ and the other that ‘We can’t talk about Jesus without looking like Jesus.’ I saw neither of those things as we listened to those aggressive questions, neither the fluency of love nor a Jesus-like resemblance.

Looking like Jesus means picking up those old wristbands again, you know the ones with ‘WWJD’ – ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ The answer for me is in the gospels and all around that fluent articulation of love that we find there and that amazing verse so loved by evangelicals

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3.16)

As Jesus says these words to Nicodemus we realise the full impact of salvation, for every person, whoever they are, however they identify, however they describe themselves, wherever they are on their journey.  Jesus celebrates that, that is what Jesus is like, that is what Jesus looks like and that is what the church needs to look like, speaking fluently the language of love, if we are to be the church of Jesus.

Loving God
forgive us when we disfigure the face of Jesus,
when we speak more fluently
the language of hate
than the language of love.
Amen.

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.

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.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark