Two masters

It’s not easy when you feel pulled in two ways.  We can often experience divided loyalties.  Jesus recognises that fact when he says this to his disciples

‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.’ (Matthew 6.24)

Tug-of-war

Pulled both ways

The Church of England is often pulled in a variety of directions and we saw that yesterday in the afternoon Session of the General Synod.  The issue was around what we mean by a spouse in relation to some legislation which related to cathedrals building on a disused burial ground (pretty obscure you are thinking).  The ‘offending text’ came in the Report of the Steering Committee, those dry looking documents with unmemorable references, this one was GS 2104Z/2105Z, which are designed to help us understand the legislative paper to which they relate and the first instance of this new definition came here

Clause 6, page 6, line 26, at end insert—
“(3E) The reference in subsection (3D)(a) to a person’s spouse includes a reference
to a spouse of the same sex as that person.”

The CofE has all the benefits of being the Established Church, seats in the House of the Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury being one of the few to know who Archie’s godparents are, and looking after the people of this nation at all the life stages that we go through – hatch, match and dispatch as we say.  That means burying people and that means people who are not paid up ‘members’ of the CofE.  That is the joy of being in this church.  But of course, for the first time in our history, we disagree with the nation about who a person can marry.  We say that you can only marry someone of the opposite sex to you, the nation says you can marry any person who you love.  So how do we square this circle, how do we live with this discrepancy in our understanding of marriage.  How do we serve the two masters of the God we adore and the nation we are called to serve.  And anyway, where is the God of love in all of this, with our rather restrictive views or with the inclusive view that the nation has so readily embraced?

For some of course this clause was the liberal ‘Thin Edge of the Wedge’, a Trojan Horse being wheeled into the Synod Chamber, like a bride adorned for his/her husband/wife.  There were calls for ‘Next Business’, ‘Adjournment’, ‘Article 7’ (which may still come), all procedural devices.  But in the end the amendment was approved.  But the serious point, as was made by someone in the debate, is that we have to be prepared to deal with all these anomalies that will come along and we will be there in many obscure corners of our life, because it is about our pastoral response to the people of England which has been history long.

And, of course, it gave us an indication of what we are in for this afternoon as we join in a series of seminars about the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project.  The Bishop of Coventry in telling us what would be happening today said that this would be about a new way of learning.  Really?  Maybe? But what I do not understand is how more talking can get us anywhere.  I was in three sets of Shared Conversations and they were meant to be the answer and I learnt a great deal by them and I thank God for the late and lovely Ruth Scott and the others who held us during that process.  I am still meeting on a regular basis someone I got to know during those conversations – on the issue we disagree but on everything else we agree on so much and, I think, I hope, count each other as friends.  But at some stage we have to make a decision and live with the consequences … but we are approaching Lambeth 2020 so nothing will happen before that.

Anyway, more importantly we need to debate Serious Youth Violence and that is this (Saturday) morning.  Young people are dying in our streets and on our estates, in our parishes and we are, as ever, fiddling whilst Rome burns.

God,
may we serve you and serve our neighbour
with an undivided heart.
Amen.

Back up north

York Railway Station is one of those great places to arrive, the vast scale of the place, trains arriving and departing from and to all over the country.  Today, among the thousands of tourists arriving in lovely summer sunshine to see the delights of this Viking and medieval city, are the members of the General Synod of the Church of England.  You can spot us getting off the trains – some in dog collars, others looking like clerics trying not to look like clerics but some how missing it, others carrying huge files of papers they have been trying to read on the journey up, and those who travel lightly through life, a small bag, minimal luggage, their papers downloaded onto a device, nothing to encumber them.

Central Hall York Summer 2019

The Central Hall at York University – our home for the next five days

The queue for the taxis is always long and when you spot someone you know there is that conversation, ‘Shall we share a cab?’ and off you head for the University campus where the Synod is held.  With a huge bag and bulging backpack I arrived early, caught the 66 bus that drops you at the campus and waited for my first meeting.

As a member of the Panel of Chairs we always have a briefing meeting with the officers of the Synod, the administrators and the lawyers.  A full brief has been prepared and we work our way through that, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and then Tuesday.  Then we can head back home.  The briefing helps us understand where debates might be more difficult, where slippage in the timetable might occur, where we might catch up time, what traps might be awaiting us as chairs.

This is my 14th York Synod.  I think I have said in previous years that the meetings up here have a very different feel and when I first starting attending and didn’t have any responsibilities it did feel a bit like a nice holiday ‘up north’. Depending on the weather people don shorts and t-shirts, bishops abandon purple shirts for something more jazzy, and ‘floaty’ skirts (as mum might have described them) and sandals are worn by others.  It does give it a different feel.  And, of course, we are all living on the campus in the student accommodation, mostly in James or Vanbrugh colleges, eating together in our respective dining halls, worshiping together, going to the same bars after business is concluded for the day.

So here we are, and as I write we are preparing to go into the Central Hall which will become the Synod Chamber.  So, what to look out for in this Group of Sessions.

We are in York and this is the last meeting of the General Synod at which the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, will be present.  He will be delivering the Presidential Address, so what might he say? Look for the legislative business because among those seemingly innocuous and boring clauses there can be interesting things, no Faculty needed for benches in churchyards or re-pointing of buildings, the definition of spouses in particular instances to include same-sex spouses. Goodness! We will be debating the Draft Cathedrals Measure for the first time and hopefully handing it on to the Revision process.  We will be thinking about Mission Shaped Church as we celebrate the 15th anniversary of that initiative.  We will debate the proposals for a covenant relationship with the Methodist Church and the recognition of ministries.  There will be the standard business at this time of the year about budgets and there are two debates that have originated from the Diocese of Southwark.

Hopefully these two debates, one on Serious Youth Violence and the other on Refugee Professionals, will get a lot of interest from the media.  I also hope that we will hear great stories of what the church is doing to support our young people and refugees.  But as ever there will be interest in where we are with the ongoing debates on sex, sexuality and gender.  Saturday afternoon will be spent by members of Synod attending a variety of seminars as we hear how the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ process is progressing. As I arrived here this morning I tweeted that this was my 14th Synod up here and we are still talking about sex – and, of course, whilst I am here I will not be with my sisters and brothers from Southwark Cathedral at ‘Pride in London’, witnessing to our inclusive love, supporting the LGBT community rather than just talking about it, flying the rainbow flag.

But I need to go to the chamber.  Synod will begin, we will welcome our guests including the Worldwide President of the Mothers’ Union among others, discussing the agenda and taking Questions, as well as some initial Legislative Business.  Please keep us in your prayers as I keep you in mine.

This Collect for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity seems to say it all.

O God, forasmuch as without you
we are not able to please you;
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Getting your ducks in a row

The campus of York University is a fantastic place if you are a fan of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Tweet of the Day’, or are a ‘twitcher’ or simply love wildfowl.  The place is full of geese and moorhens and ducks.  This morning as I walked to breakfast (I have had to arrive early because of meetings I have to attend this morning, pre-Synod) the ducks were all taking a break, getting their strength together before performing for the members of the Synod – skimming the water, eating the biscuit crumbs and generally pooing where you need to walk.

Synod 1

Ducks in repose – the Chamber awaits our arrival

Yes, it’s July and we are back for the latest Group of Sessions. As I have said before, the York Synod is more relaxed than the febrile atmosphere of the Westminster ones.  Bishops dress down in shorts, Bahama shirt and pectoral cross, sandals and socks (m bête noire) can be spotted. Ladies are in tie-die and there is a lot of linen around. Sartorial elegance is not a feature of a gathering of the Church of England because we have much more important things to think about.

The accusation is often made that we spend too much time on ‘church’ issues. Well, not this time.  The agenda is varied and a great deal of it is outward looking.  Of course we do need to continue to address the issue of safeguarding in the life of the church, creating a safe church for all people and especially our children, young people and vulnerable adults.  So the first real debate on Saturday is about the latest report to emerge from the church.  Saturday afternoon is taken up by seminars on a variety of subjects.  But then on Sunday, after joining the bereft congregation at York Minster (Dean Viv is now Bishop Viv), a series of fascinating debates will take place.

Watch out for the debate on our investments in companies dealing in fossil fuels. The main arguments of the debate have already been rehearsed  on the radio between the Bishop of Manchester and the Bishop of Oxford – do we dis-invest now as we have agreed to do or do we have more effective levers by retaining those investments for the time being? That debate is followed by an associated one brought to Synod by the Diocese of London on climate change and the urgency of the church’s response.

Back in the heady days of 1982 when the Church of England dared challenge the Thatcher Government with ‘Faith in the City’ there was another report that emerged called ‘The Church and the Bomb’. At this Synod we return to the subject when we debate ‘The Ethics of Nuclear Weapons’.  It was ‘The Church and the Bomb’ that convinced me to become a member of CND.  I have to admit – and given the other debates on the environment and the need to escape the effect of fossil fuels I feel a bit conflicted – I still have deep misgivings about the rush into nuclear power given that, as far as I know, the problem of waste fuel still exists.  But this debate will be about weapons and the evil they represent (there I’ve given away my opinion!).

There is a great deal of legislation on the agenda and the budget but then we are a legislative and a governance body, before we then get to another timely debate.  Having celebrated yesterday the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service we will be debating ‘The Long Term Sustainability of the National Health Service’.  From its foundation the CofE has been deeply involved in the NHS, not just through clergy being regular visitors to bedsides of parishioners but because there are Anglican chaplains in most hospitals.  This has been a huge area of ministry that we remain committed to.

There are reports on evangelism, pensions, finance and Standing Orders and then something that sounds very internal, the Report of the Cathedrals Working Group.  This report came out of the experiences at Peterborough and Exeter Cathedrals.  It was suggested by the Bishop of Peterborough in his Visitation Report on his own cathedral that the Church needed to give a thorough look at the governance of cathedrals.  Some people didn’t need to be invited twice!  There is a great deal of envy and suspicion out there at what St Paul describes as ‘the freedom we have in Christ’ (Galatians 2.4) and so a power-grab is proposed.  Well, that’s how I see it.  My big fear is that the radical engagement with the world that makes cathedrals so ‘successful’ will be reigned in by a controlling group of bishops and laity.  Cathedrals deal on a daily basis with the big issues of the day which so many parishes and so many parts of the hierarchy simply cannot or will not.

Synod 2

Flying with Pride outside the Synod Chamber

It is ironic that the Pride flag is flying outside the chamber in which the Synod will gather.  This is one area where Southwark Cathedral has given a lead and a witness – but not without some cost. Would we be able to do that if the report came into force?  We will see.

So, an interesting Synod, potentially.  Pray for us as we pray for you – and lets hope all the ducks behave!

O God, without you we are not able to please you;
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 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