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.