Saturday, 12 December 2015

General Synod November 2015

So, 2 weeks and counting after my first General Synod I'm going to blog about it. It's taken me that long to process the whole experience in my head. What's left now is probably what I really think is important, rather than the erratic and spontaneous knee-jerk shoot-from-the-hip sort of exclamations that give a flavour of the immediacy of it all but maybe don't offer much useful examination of the whole thing.

I went through every emotion going, except anger and fear! Anger could have been on the agenda but it's the one reaction I've been guarding against and just about managed to let go in some bumbling prayerful way. And once you have a handle on anger then fear tends to evaporate anyway, as does hate.

Fun, laughter, admiration, appreciation, thankfulness, privilege. Those are some of the positives. Humbling, shyness, confusion and disorientation are some of the passives. Distress, disturbance and disappointment might be some of the negatives.

Best of all at Synod are the others. If you don't love people, why are you part of the Church?

To misquote scripture, anybody can love God, but loving your neighbour, well, that's something else.  (1 John 4)

And you have to love people in all their nonsense as well as their occasional good bits! And so I enjoyed meeting people, not least those behaving in all the usual "big school" ways. And it was like that first day in secondary school. All strange smells and getting lost in corridors.

There were those who were obviously very busy indeed. Those who swanked. And those who were as confused and shy as me. All the fun of the fair really. So there was lots of laughter, not all of it nervous! There were many delightful people, and that was more important than what tradition they came from.

So, what to say?

I was disappointed (but perhaps not surprised) by the way there was a definite divide between those on the podium and those below. Despite the Bishops being below I have no idea why they have to take the front two rows and sit together like prefects in assembly.

I was disturbed by the Reform & Renewal presentations in which we were expressly told that some of it was so important that it would NOT be brought before the Synod to be debated, as they had to get on with it.

I was disturbed that John Spence spoke about "returning Christ to the centre of the life of this nation". I doubt he was ever there, and the sentiment suggest a poor grasp of history and a poor grasp of mission. But I was distressed when he also used a word referring to the medieval Church's bloody war against another religion as a good description of our mission. Let the reader understand. I was appalled and was only glad the media didn't pick it up.

I was disappointed that the outgoing General Secretary felt he could have a little side swipe at AB Rowan in a joke. It diminished the General Secretary's stature in my view.

I was disturbed by the presentation of "Talking Jesus". This piece of 'polstering' has produced a set of statistics completely undermining the whole approach of evangelical evangelism because it shows clearly that evangelicalism turn away 2.5 to 4 people more than it attracts. And turns them OFF Christianity. Many of us in Parish ministry have known this for decades, but here, now, is the statistical proof provided by Evangelical Alliance, Hope UK and the "CofE". Was there any head hanging or repentance? No. Just two fresh faced youngsters doing a spin job on the report worthy of Yes Minister.

I was delighted by our own Bishop John's report on Church buildings. It is a thorough going piece of work in the Anglican model of ration argument based on a theological discussion. I may not agree with everything in it. But it is a worthy piece of work which we can use to widen the debate. However I was astonished when the Prolocutor of the House of Clergy (Stephen Lynas) made a huge amount of fun of the fact that the report started with theology. To be fair, Stephen has commented that he was only having fun, and so I'm sorry I "miss heard" and misunderstood.

But, I'm afraid, the main point remains. The Synod was great on show, gloss, presentation and whizz. But no depth (apart from Bishop John). But we don't do theology.

But, finally, there was one debate where the Synod was also what it should have been - the debate on Migrants which was careful and serious and, although maybe naive, none the less placed us in the middle of the most serious issue in Europe. We may have looked like we were supporting bombing, but that was really a dirty fall-out from a dirty game. It was about migrants, or as we should call them, refugees.

I met a lot of interesting people in the fringe meetings - too many to record. And in many ways that was the most important part of the time.

My friend Jayne Ozanne was able to ask a question, which never got an answer - why were there 4 major presentations in a day an half when we were there to be a debating and deciding body? And what we have to ensure over the next five years is that the ABC doesn't ignore Synod, which he certainly seems to want to do. If not he has to work a lot harder at convincing people like me he takes us seriously.

If any Bishops read this please note (as if!): We are episcopally led. Fine. But the governance of that leadership is down to the rest of the Church in Synod. Ignore that at your peril.

Bishops, you must learn patience. The women Bishops have yet to make their mark.

So, right now I see a lot of young men in a hurry, with only a glossy travel brochure (25 years out of date) and a vague set of aspirations to guide them.

Monday, 9 November 2015


Anglicanism has a major problem. It's an "ism" and, like all "isms" is only of use in a particular time and culture. The more useful the "ism" the more it can adapt and change to meet the world around it.

So, for my money, Protestantism, Evangelicalism, Traditionalism, Conservatism and Marxism are all inadequate "isms" which are unable to fully adapt when culture changes. Thus they split and fragment and individuals find they have to abandon them altogether to be honest with themselves.

Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism have a certain genius which means they can evolve and adapt to meet the world in which they find themselves. Individuals can dissent but still be loyal and at home within that "ism".

Basically, if an "ism" presents itself as already having all the answers (whether political, religious or scientific) it is incapable of real change. "Isms" that are in the business of journeying towards a fuller understanding of the knowledge and wisdom they try to carry are the "isms" more able to change because development is in their "DNA".


In the end all"isms" only operate, at best, at an adult intellectual level in a world of paradox and incompleteness. "Isms" are 'rationalities' offering a handle on life. A tool, or hopefully, a box of tools, to negotiate life.

As we grow in our faith we use the tools it offers us to expand and deepen or lives and so, hopefully, reflect the great truths that make our lives meaningful. 

Eventually, if we are faithful, and have enough years, we will come to place where the tools have done their job but no longer seem to be of any use.

This happens to Christians when they reach a place in their journey when it is no longer interesting to see life in terms of right and wrong, black and white, better or worse, winners and losers. 

For if we truly follow the Way of Christ we will finally be brought to a broad plain where the horizon is indefinite, where sky and land merge, and we start to see so much further and the labels, pigeon holes, definitions, restrictions and prohibitions seem infantile and irrelevant.

We are captivated by the oneness of things and wonder why on earth we could never see it before. We are discovering what it really means to be in Christ. But we can't see until we have made that faithful journey.  It turns out that there is no shortcut to this maturity.


We can know that this is where we're heading. That eventually we have to let go of all our "isms". But as we journey we use the tools we have to live through the place where we are, knowing that we will, in time, move on.

We need to know about the next thing: Adulthood is not maturity. Maturity, really growing up into Christ, is only really beginning when, having walked the journey through all the previous stages and states, we let go of them all and fall, liberated, into the contemplative life.

Now, whilst some people journey so fast they can get there by the time they're 20, other take somewhat longer!

Once the contemplative life is tasted, smelled, all the "isms" are seen for what they are. Human constructions that help or hinder our journey. 

And we can simply let them go.

That so, it turns out, Anglicanism is just another "ism" after all. But a good one, a healthy one, an "ism" more likely to help than harm.


Saturday, 7 November 2015


 Now, in case you think I'm a one-off 'barmpot' with no support, the introduction to the Pilgrim Course says this:

Pilgrim is written to be a specifically Anglican resource which follows Anglican belief and practice at every point. 


We hope and pray that it will be useful to Anglicans beyond the Church of England in many other parts of the Anglican Communion. 

We trust that the material may be helpful to Christians of other traditions. However, we have not attempted to disguise who we are. Pilgrim is written in the hope that it will be used by God and by God's people to form disciples in an Anglican tradition of being Christian. 

What this means will be seen more fully from the materials themselves. However, we would include as Anglican values that have shaped this material:

1 The importance of reading and engaging with the whole of Scripture in both Old and New Testaments

2 The valuing and balancing of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience in all reflection on faith and understanding 

3 The teaching of the whole and historic Christian faith as summarized in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds 

4 Valuing especially the sacraments given by Jesus of the Eucharist and Baptism 

5 The joys of liturgical worship inviting the participation of the whole people of God in the praise of his glory

6 A call to engage in God's mission to the whole of creation (as described in the 

7 A recognition that the whole people of God are called to discipleship and ministry each according to their gifts and vocation and to sharing in the governance and leadership of God's people 

8 A recognition of the threefold order of deacon, priest and bishop in the ordering of the life of God's Church 

9 A recognition that the outcome of discipleship and mission is community, social and cultural change around the world 

10 A recognition of the importance of local culture in a global context for interpreting Scripture, discipleship and mission

So you can see that I write from an inheritance that is, in fact, a rich theological tradition - in which those who take part don't necessarily have to agree with each other to stay in the conversation.....

But in the end, Anglicanism is a tradition, an imagination, a way of doing things together. It is a way of living in and out of the faith and attempting to ensure that there is no confusion between evangelism (witnessing to the love of God in Christ) and proselytism (making others like me).
It is wide, deep and capable of holding different meanings and concerns all that the same time.

But, having said all this: does it have limits?

We'll yes it does, but you might be surprised how those limits show themselves!
But that's for my next Blog!