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.

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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.

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.’

Vest

‘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.

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