Tuesday, 19 July 2016

General Synod July 2016 York

I finished my blog about the February Synod with a moan about the worship. So I will begin this one by saying the worship at York was beautiful. Thank you to the Chaplaincy team and all who led the round of Offices each morning, evening and night and the early Holy Communion services. 


Because we were staying together on the university campus, eating in the refectories, and having more time to socialise in the bars after business, the whole Synod felt more at ease and friendly. The Archbishops sat at floor-level to one side, rather than on the podium, and that took away the "us and them" feeling that I have commented on at the Church House Synods. So it was a good place to be, even though we are a group of people whose outlooks and Christian experiences vary widely.


And just to lull you into a false sense of security I'm going to be very positive! The first debate (the first half hour of which I missed because my train was cancelled!) was a discussion on the response of the Church to the Brexit "victory" in the referendum. These debates are, I believe, General Synod at its best, debating big issues with passion and intelligence, and working out the beginnings of a response to being a Church in a divided nation. And I shall leave it with the obvious comment that whichever version of Christianity we espouse, we all have a duty to help heal divisions and further the well-being of everyone in our nation - and indeed around the world.

Of course the big problem is that we are a divided Church, so we don't make a good role model for society! The elephant in every room is the presence of people who may not be like us. The place of LGBTI folk in the Church was a discussion partly put on a back burner because we were about to spend 48 hours in "Shared Conversations". More of that later. Even so, there are one or two folk who can't resist the opportunity to "take a pop" at what they see as ungodly liberalism whenever the chance arises.


This was a delight. I expected some dry factual report of what the Archbishop John Sentamu had done as he spent 6 months walking around the diocese of York. What he actually did was present each of us with a prayer chain, a bit like a mini- rosary and get us to pray with him, singing a Taize chant and getting us to engage in some prayerful time in the Synod chamber. It was a great way to settle us down to a difficult 4 days. It was a special gift and I wore it on my trouser belt and used it through the Synod and it will become a tactile prayer-book for me. I'm a user of the traditional Rosary so it was a natural thing to take to. Thank you, Archbishop John.


The Anglican Communion is a family, and at the moment it's a rather dysfunctional one. We've fallen out over lots of things in the past. We're falling out now. In the past it's been over things like divorce and remarriage, women priests, and women bishops. Today the big dissension is over the place of LGBTI folk within the Church. Early this year The Episcopal Church of the United States ("TEC") was told that there would be "consequences" to its decision to allow same sex marriages. The consequence was, that amongst other things, it would not be able to send representatives to the Anglican Communion on ecumenical bodies, and would have limited ability to take part in some Anglican Communion committees. This was all decided by the "Primates" - the Archbishops or Presiding Bishops of the various Anglican Churches - due to pressure from some African Churches in particular.

Because the Anglican Communion isn't a monolithic organisation it relates to itself in a complex way. So the Anglican Consultative Council is a meeting of representatives from all the Churches - but not Bishops or Archbishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury was there though. This, it seems, was a happier meeting than the Primates' meeting in January and TEC was fully represented there and played a full part - though it was careful not to embarrass anyone by violating the clear prohibitions of the Primates. There was no sense of TEC being ostracised, we were told. It was an upbeat report and I got the sense that there was a real desire to suggest that it was "business as usual" for the Anglican Communion. The GAFCON Churches were not mentioned in this, or any other debate so far I was aware.


So far, so good, but of course we were going to hit choppy waters and so on the Saturday we dealt with a lot of issues, not least financial ones, which I'm not going to say much about as I'm a bit out of my depth! The Church Commissioners reported that they had done well again this year and have, over 30 years, returned 9% against a 3% inflation. Which sounds good. 


Canon John Spence took us through the Archbishops Council budget, and that's all "out there" for those who "do numbers"! I'm so grateful that there are people who understand this stuff! However, I do understand the implications of an Archbishops' Council that is getting too powerful. I voted for the progress of the legislation that will simplify some of the Synod's processes. I am not at all reassured by the insistence that Synod will not be cut out of the process of making important changes (the Green Report and its consequences blows that assurance away, for a start) but the next stage is revision and we will need to look at the detail, so there was no point in being obstructive at this point.

However, a short lesson on how government (should?!) work .....


It's a mark of a mature democracy and open government that there is clear water between the three arms of governance - The Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.

The Legislature governs. It makes the laws and decides what direction the community take.

The Executive is charged with implementing those laws and ensuring that they are adhered to

The Judiciary is charged with ensuring that the Executive implements the will of the Legislature fairly; it also deals with those who contravene the law.

In the modern world the distinction between Legislature and Executive has become blurred. The speed of life means that the legislative process can seem too cumbersome and slow. There are legal instruments that enable the Cabinet to bypass Parliament to make legal changes. In local government much is done by the local authority chairs working with their cabinet so that the full chamber doesn't get to deal with many local issues.

And in the Church of England we have the Archbishops' Council getting General Synod to hand over to it significant powers of policy making, with the finance and power to execute those policies.

We can thank Archbishop Carey for leading us into this state of affairs. His frustration with a cumbersome and slow Synodical process produced the original Archbishops' Council which has, under Archbishop Welby openly moved to take more and more power to itself. The most clear example of this was the request to the previous Synod to give the ABs' Council a significant sum of money. The result was the Green Report and a revolution in the way Bishops would be chosen and trained. General Synod was told that there was no time for the Synod to debate this - it needed to be got on with. The Legislature and the Executive have become welded together in the Archbishops' Council who increasingly direct and steer everything the General Synod does. 

Synod is repeatedly assured that it will always have the last say - but in practice that doesn't seem to be the case - not to my satisfaction, anyway!

I can't emphasise enough how precarious a place we are in. It is increasingly obvious that our 'debates' are too often for information or "take note" only. The amount of legislative power over serious issues is slowly but surely being eroded. This is not the way to govern Christ's Church and it will, I'm afraid, all end in tears.


Renewal and Reform is an overarching policy with 6 "work streams" that is intended to move the Church of England forward. In one way it has been a classic piece of Anglican evolution, growing and maturing as it goes along. However there are some problems with this approach and these are centred around the confusion between pastoral response and missional intention. It is quite true that there is an Anglican tradition of changing the rules to suit the way things have changed in practice. But that is because behind our pastoral practice, there is a body of theological work in our liturgy and synodical tradition which articulates what we understand our missional intention to be. The "Renewal and Reform" process has confused these two things. It has argued that the changes needed for the restoration of flourishing to the Church of England are so pressing that we need to get moving and do the theology on the fly.

"A vision and narrative for Renewal and Reform" sic (GS2038) is certainly a narrative, and discourses in exhortational language what we are about. As far as it goes one cannot argue with it. What is not so clear is to what extent this provides a vision. I would expect a vision to be just that - a wide vista of possibilities, a description of the destination and the route we should follow. I made my maiden speech to Synod in this debate. 

Wyn Beynon Worcester 237
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, Archbishops' Council for the work done on Renewal and Reform. In any living Church Renewal and Reform is an ongoing process of being born in and growing up into Christ. I offer the following thoughts as a preamble to any thoroughgoing theology of Renewal and Reform, which the process currently lacks, to its distinct disadvantage.
Whilst in Anglicanism rules and regulations follow pastoral practice, a mission theology should precede, accompany and respond to the ongoing life of Christ's Body  - growing up into Christ.
The mission imperative of Pastoral Care simply is not present enough to satisfy me. I suggest that the 4 marks of the Church from the Nicene Creed - being truly radical and going back to our roots, which is what radical means - should be far more obvious in any Vision and Narrative.
The Oneness of the Church of course refers to our common Baptism and participation in Holy Communion - it's not a suggestion that we agree about everything. So there is not enough clarity about Sacramental theology to satisfy me. Holiness is God's gift to us and we respond with our whole selves. But I would point out that there is a clear direction for Christian prayer life to be taken beyond a youthful chit-chat with God, or even an adult "prayer-warrioring" - and it must go on to teach the paramount need for us to mature into contemplative prayer.
Mystical theology is not an optional extra, it is the highest form of theology. If you are not moving towards contemplative prayer, you are not moving.
Catholicity brings us to the disastrous delusion of leadership that has so distracted the Archbishops Council by its swallowing the nonsense of the Green report and effectively ignoring the far richer work of the Faith and Order Commission's Senior Church Leadership report. Happily, my own diocese is holding a study day on it later this year.
Apostolicity requires that the past gets a vote, but not a casting vote. Apostolicity is about letting the Holy Spirit move us to new things - so I pray that this weekend we all move some way towards understanding a new theology of being human so that same sex relationships, along with all inclusion of difference, are simply a normal and unremarkable part of Christ's Church.
Thank you.

Remarkably short, for me!
So on to next business:
This is a central plank in the future decking of the Church of England - and it was not to be debated, shaped and owned by the Synod - no, it was simply to be welcomed, another example of policy being made by Bishops and reported to a General Synod which cannot alter it: so this was another  "Take Note" debate.


We're talking about Senior Leaders - Bishops and Deans at the moment though Archdeacons might be sucked into it in time. The whole thing is done and dusted.......


1) There is no opportunity for Synod to influence this by proper means. The whole process of identifying and training the Senior Leaders is run by House of Bishops themselves. Well, you say, it always was. Indeed - so why all this? We're kept in the loop. Duty done, I suppose.

2) It reveals a theory of leadership that maybe has no place in the Church. I say theory rather than theology because this, of course, is the infamous Green Report in action. The Green Report has no theology of Episcopacy. It is simply a text on management. A parishioner of mine who is a highly successful business coach looked at the Green report and simply said "it's out of date". 

What should have been used here is a thorough reassertion of the three orders of Anglican ministry: Bishops. Priests and Deacons. That should have been mapped against the contemporary needs for management, administration and leadership.

There is a report that starts that process, and happily, just when I thought it had been sunk out of sight it's reappeared. Just as Green was published and implemented in December 2015, the Faith and Order Commission's thorough going report Senior Church Leadership was also published. It had no influence at all on Green. It was not mentioned at November 2015 or February 2016 Synods. 

At least this report "NURTURING AND DISCERNING SENIOR LEADERS":  does mention it. It says the FOC report "was a timely and valuable resource for the evolving content of programmes". Well, I hope it was. But I have a feeling that its real influence may yet to be felt. Interestingly though, a book was published and available to us at Synod called "Faithful Improvisation - Theological Reflections on Church Leadership" which includes the text of the FOC report. 

Had my contribution to the Renewal and Reform debate been longer I would have gone on to speak about the Reformed Catholicity of Anglican orders. We are not leaders or senior leaders but Deacons, Priest and Bishops who do a bit of leadership when necessary. Priesthood and Episcopacy are two words never used by the current senior leadership. Unless we recover a theology of ordination, developing the Anglican tradition of "Ministerial Priesthood", it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are moving, whether accidentally or deliberately, towards a presbyterian leadership theology. Presbyterianism has an honoured place in the history of the Reformed Church. But it hasn't been the Anglican way, and I, for one, will not put up with it.

However there was a contribution which literally stopped Synod in its tracks. The Revd Timothy Goode is himself physically disabled and is the disability officer for Southwark Diocese. He responded to the sentence which began "The issue of disability has featured very little in the Church's exploration of diversity within senior leadership".

He said: "

I hope that as someone who is disabled I am not an 'issue' within the church

His powerful and impassioned speech needs quoting in full:
Thank you Chair. There is much to welcome in this report but I wish to focus particularly on paragraph 39 of the report, which draws attention to the fact that disabled people have not yet found fair representation within the leadership of the Church of England. I must confess though that I do balk at the use of the term 'issue' when speaking of disability - 'the issue of disability'. I hope that as someone who is disabled I am not an 'issue' within the church, which could conjure up ideas of being difficult or an inconvenience - perish the thought! Language matters and I take issue with the word 'issue' in this context. But there is a danger that looking at disability representation within Senior leadership may never rise above simple tokenism unless we seek a holistic, integrated approach regarding disability from all the powers that be within the church, which culminates in a vision for the whole church where all aspects of our church, including our senior leadership roles, our churches and buildings are fully accessible. But it goes much deeper than just physical access, this process must also be rooted theologically. Soon after my ordination as priest I was told to my face by another ordained priest that I actually should not have been ordained in the first place because of what the Bible states (in Leviticus 21: 21). There is much work that needs to be done and much that has been done under the theology of disability; a resource readily available to us. We so need a lead from our present leadership, one which embraces a positive call for accessibility and inclusion so that there is a future time where the disabled priest can apply for jobs, including those of senior leadership within the C of E, on a level playing field. I believe that with a practical, theological and integrated approach, we will achieve real transformational change in the leadership of our church - for together we are one body, each one of us is made in the image and likeness of God revealed in the body of the risen Christ; a body where the scars of the crucifixion are not healed; a body where all our abilities and disabilities find their rest. 
The response to this was that the Archbishop of York asked for a point of order, paused the debate and began singing "Thuma mina" and led us in prayer. Only after that did the debate proceed and I think Archbishop John was very sensitive to the moment and led us in an exemplary priestly manner. And, to be fair, the Bishop of Truro, closing the debate, accepted that the language was unacceptable. It was all very real.


In a rather bizarre move to save money on legal fees two pieces of legislation were put into one measure. The first half is the progress of a private member's bill asking for canon law to be changed to allow what is already happening - clergy taking divine worship without wearing traditional vesture. The second half is that canon law be changed to allow the burial of suicides and the unbaptized according to the burial rites of the Church of England. This is already universally the case and has been for at least a generation, though even when I was at theological college my college Principal commented on the case of a clergyman who had committed suicide asserting that he couldn't be buried in a churchyard.

We were encouraged to ask the Business Committee to split this into two separate measures.

There was no opposition to this measure going on to the Revision Stage.

The debate threw up some interesting pastoral issues around suicide that were worth following up. I would be interested to be involved. The issue of vestments is just that - vesture..... or is it? Once again Ministerial Priesthood is quietly subverted, albeit unintentionally, and I would like to help frame the measure in such a way that makes clear that this is in no way a step towards a presbyterian theology of ministry, or could be construed in any way as a move towards lay presidency at the Holy Eucharist. (It's not, for me, about what I wear!)

A serious aside...


I was a little surprised when a very prominent member of Synod happily confessed to being a Freemason. When I was in my first incumbency in the 1980s in Wales I was interested to read a report to the General Synod which clearly expressed the view that Freemasonry and Christianity were incompatible. I'm writing this before being able to ascertain that General Synod received the report and that therefore it might be something Synod members should not be able to declare without some challenge. I am publicly on record as someone who would clearly and unequivocally state that Freemasonry and Christianity are incompatible.

And finally those


I shall simply report that

1) For me this was positive experience and especially the facilitation was very good. Others said their group facilitators were not so good. Overall it was exceptionally well done and all credit must go to Canon David Porter and his team.

2) It is still outrageous that LGBTI folk are being talked about and to in this way, but there were many who bravely put themselves into this process, and I salute them. Some were very worried that they would be verbally assaulted. I don't know that any were, but LGBTI folk have been verbally abused in other Shared Conversations, so they were right be be fearful.

3) I spoke with one or two who had such conservative views that, whilst they stayed at the Synod, would not participate. I simply could not understand their position. 

4) Because we had the 3 days compressed into 2 we only really had taster. Just in the last session did the grit start to grind. We needed that extra day!

5) Where we go from here is very unclear.


Synod is a wonderful place full of wonderful people and a few folk whose have extreme ideas. It's a privilege to serve.

But how many Churches of England are there? Beneath all the concern with human sexuality there are some other issues that will shape the Church... not least Priesthood. All these things are connected and for me they are about achieving a clear and shared theology of Church, Ministry and Sacrament, and the place of scripture, tradition, reason and experience in informing that theology. We cannot do mission together until we have cleared all that up. And inside that is the big question of who we are - what does it mean to be human in an evolving universe? What does it mean to know that God has been born as one of us? What IS the gospel? For me the answer needs a clear base in contemplative prayer and mystical theology. But that needs unpacking elsewhere!

We boldly go where no (hu)man has gone before. Such is the call of the Christian life.