Holy places, holy people

Entering York Minster is always a wonderful experience. There is something about the stone and the light, the space and, in many ways, the simplicity of the place which makes it a supremely beautiful place to worship. I remember listening with horror to the reports back in 1984 of the fire which devastated the south transept. Those as old as I will remember that Blue Peter ran a competition to design some of the new roof bosses for when the transept was finally restored to its glory. Now work is going on in restoring the amazing east window.

York Minster on fire in 1984.

York Minster on fire in 1984.

Today the Minster was packed with regular worshippers, visitors and members and officers of the General Synod. As I had predicted ++Justin presided and ++Sentamu preached. ++Sentamu began his sermon by talking about his recent time in St James’ Hospital, Leeds, and the way in which on his admission forms someone had written against religion, ‘unknown’! He said they had done it to give him some anonymity! The force of the sermon however was to call us back to that missionary zeal that we find in the gospel for today (Luke 10.1-11,16-20) where the Lord sends out the 70 in pairs. It fitted well with yesterday evening’s decision to call for the re-evangelisation of England.

The congregation awaits the beginning of the Eucharist in the Minster.

The congregation awaits the beginning of the Eucharist in the Minster.

After the Eucharist I made my way to the Deanery where the Dean, Vivienne Faull, had very kindly organised a reception for some of the members of the Synod. It was good to be able to chat to the bishop from Iceland who had addressed us on the first day.

From there it was back to the University campus and the fringe meeting on monastic life. The Bishop of Dudley, Bishop David Walker, chaired the panel which comprised of Fr George Guiver CR, Sister Hilda Mary CSC, the Revd Dr Jo Bailey Wells, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Vanessa Elston of Moot. The discussion was very much around how the traditional and new forms of monasticism within the Church can support and encourage one another. Having heard a great deal of Moot, a new, growing form of monastic life based in the City of London, it was good to hear from Vanessa.

The panel for the discussion on monasticism.

The panel for the discussion on monasticism.

It seems that there is a great deal of energy around monasticism at the moment and that is a real answer to prayer. There has been a real growth in the numbers of those who wish to be formally associated with the traditional religious orders – as members of the Third Order, as oblates or companions and also in those who are called ‘alongsiders’. These are people living alongside monastic communities but not committing themselves formally to the life. It is fascinating the way that all this is moving. It’s both a challenge and an encouragement. As Fr George commented, ‘There have always been new forms of monasticism – the Franciscans, the Beguines, the Jesuits – and the older forms of monasticism have not always been initially welcoming – but in the end we have learnt from each other’. It was an extremely positive gathering.

Making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela earlier this year, I saw so many people waking the Camino, in their own way, in their own time. It seems to me that the spirit of the age is much more about accessing church, spirituality, the things of God, in different ways, at different times, alongside complex lifestyles – but that the passion for God remains as intense as ever.

Archbishop George Carey described our religious communities as the ‘best kept secret’ of the Anglican Church. Perhaps all of this energy will bring the communities out of the cloisters – though to be honest, many of us have been rejoicing in their presence and their prayers for a very long time.

Pray for vocations to all forms of monasticism.

Lord Jesus Christ
in your great love you draw all people to yourself:
and in your wisdom you call us to your service.
We pray at this time you will kindle in the hearts of men and women
the desire to follow you in the Religious life.
Give to those whom you call, grace to accept their vocation readily
and thankfully, to make the whole-hearted surrender
which you ask of them, and for love of you, to persevere to the end.
This we ask in your name.

And now to the Chamber – it will be hot and the men’s final at Wimbledon is being played but duty calls.

A new day begins

We have woken to another lovely sunny day in York. Sunday during the York Synod is always special because we all leave the campus – a good thing in itself – and make our way to the Minster for the Eucharist.

Beautiful York Minster.

Beautiful York Minster.

There is something of the 1950’s always about this morning. People actually get dressed up to go to church! Having just been to breakfast clergy are in their collars, people are in their finest, lovely summer dresses, jackets and chinos, people making an effort – you even see some hats being worn. It has the sense of an occasion. And in the procession at the Minster are the officers of the Synod and it will be god to see both Christine and Cherry, our two Prolocutors, walking in together. The Archbishop of Canterbury is to preside at the Eucharist – I’m not sure if that means that Archbishop Sentamu will preach. But it is bound to be a lovely service and ending, as always, with the choir singing Psalm 150 as they leave, the final lines fading away in the lovely acoustic.

After that I’m off to a Reception at the Deanery hosted by the new Dean of York, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull. It will be good to see Viv. She was a member of the General Synod but in moving from Leicester to York lost her place. We miss her and so it will be good to be with her in the Cathedral.

During meal times there are always fringe events and this lunch I am due to attend a panel discussion on ‘Monasticism Old & New’. Archbishop Justin mentioned in his Presidential Address that the renewal of religious life in the church is one of the priorities of his archiepiscopate. He is already giving great encouragement to religious communities to think about new ways of living out their life and vocation. So it will be good to hear what is happening in places like the Community of the Resurrection and elsewhere.

The church of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.

The church of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.

The business of the Synod resumes after lunch. We will be reminded that the General Synod is, alongside Parliament, a law making body in this realm, as we begin with legislative business. We then move on to Safeguarding and the follow-up to the Chichester Commissaries’ Report. I heard on the BBC this morning that it is expected that a full apology will be made to the victims of abuse in the Chichester Diocese. If that is the case, and there is no reason not to think it will be, though I obviously don’t know for certain, it will be both good and painful to hear. Good, in that we must apologise and repent for what has gone wrong; painful, because such evil abuse should not happen in the Church which should be a place of safety for all. So it will be an important but difficult afternoon.

Then in the evening, after we have had our Southwark supper (a chance for all those from Southwark here at Synod to eat together), we will return to the Chamber to discuss a report on Welfare Reform and the Church. That again is an important debate and we have a great deal, as a church, to say to the Government and the nation. The debate on the Quinquennium yesterday evening included lots of references to the numbers of food banks that the church has now established at the local level. That is only one indicator that things are not right and that welfare reform is leaving many people, including those in work, in real poverty. We may live in an age of austerity, but does that mean we live in an age when the needs of the poorest are no longer high on the agenda. Liberation theology reminds us that God has an option for the poor and I hope that comes through clearly in the debate.

So an interesting day ahead of us – but now to church, where this will be the Collect that we will use to focus our prayer and our worship:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

‘I am with you always’

The evening session was taken up with a debate on the report on ‘Progress on meeting challenges for the quinquennium’. The Bishop of Sheffield introduced the report and the debate, highlighting in a video presentation that the three challenges to the church are:
making disciples
transforming ministry
serving the common good

The presentation began with Ephesians 1.3

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

He pointed out that in terms of ministry we were rejoicing in an increase in younger vocations; in serving the common good so many examples of the church working with the community not least through Fresh Expressions; the real challenge was still in making disciples.

There was a good debate and the report was received by a very supportive Synod. There was then proposed a following motion by the Revd John Dunnett, calling for the bishops to consider a strategy for the re-evangelisation of England. He had been inspired by the bishops of the Roman Catholic church spending three weeks in October of last year considering evangelisation and he was wanting us to catch something of that commitment.

One of the contributors to the debate was Canon Gary Jenkins who is the Rector of the parish of St James Bermondsey in the Diocese of Southwark. He said that in the sanctuary of his church is a large painting of the ascension of Christ with the text ‘Lo, I am with you always’, part of the great commission of our Lord to the apostles and hence to the church. He reminded us of that commission to make disciples.

It wasn’t a long debate but it was an important one. The day was coming to a close but nevertheless there was real enthusiasm to re-engage with this task and with this commission from the Lord. It will be interesting to see what the House of Bishops does with it. But certainly, in Bermondsey, in the Cathedral parish as much as throughout the church we need to be bold in proclamation. After all, it is a great thing to know Jesus, the way, the truth and the life. But as St Paul reminds us in the Letter to the Romans

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? (Romans 10.14)

Leaving after the end of Day Two

Leaving after the end of Day Two

It was a good place to end the day. We have done a great deal of talking and listening. Let us hope that it will make a difference when Monday comes!

Central Hall at the end of the day.

Central Hall at the end of the day.

Lighten our darkness, Lord, we pray,
and in your great mercy
defend us from all perils and dangers of this night
for the love of your only Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Finding a way forward

Whilst the Ladies Singles Final was taking place in Wimbledon we were continuing with our facilitated conversations. As I said earlier, we agreed that no one would Tweet or blog about these. There is nothing sinister in this – believe me – it was so that we could speak openly with one another and know that the conversation was, in that sense, private.

Having been in smaller meeting rooms we ended in the Synod Chamber for a useful plenary session. As we left, people were generally positive – it had been good to talk and air a great deal of what we had all experienced and what is very close to a lot of our hearts. Now we have to see if we can bring something of the feel of today into the debate on Monday. It seems to me that is always the challenge. Talking to one another is always good, but then in the formal debates we – me included – can easily revert to our position and into an adversarial mode. I don’t know how we break out of that, given that the vast majority of us hold strong views on this subject, as on many others.

Inside the Synod Chamber.

Inside the Synod Chamber.

I’ve just been re-reading the Archbishop’s address to the Synod. It is very encouraging and I look forward to the debate this evening on ‘Progress on meeting Challenges for the Quinquennium’ particularly with those goals of which he speaks. But one passage which really gave me confidence was this

Archbishop Justin

Archbishop Justin

The gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed THE good news for our times. God is always good news; we are the ones who make ourselves irrelevant when we are not good news. And when we are good news, God’s people see growing churches.

Being good news for the world is what we are called to be – being good news for women as well as men, for gay as well as straight, for black as well as white, for poor as well as rich – being good news for the creation as a whole, being good news for those who have never heard good news, or cannot believe that there is good news to hear – that is the vocation of the church. My prayer and hope is that one of the results of this Synod is that we really, as a church, can embrace that truth.

So maybe this is my prayer as I go for supper

Lord, may I speak good news.
Lord, may I be good news.

And of course, congratulations to Marion Bartoli on her victory at Wimbledon.

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Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark