Thursday, 23 February 2017

General Synod London February 2017

This account is not a set of minutes, but a reflective moment before the dust settles on my memory.

There is, in the scheme of things, probably no scheme, just a hopeful desire that our decisions might help set people free to be who God made them. So this is no account of agendas ticked and boxed for the archive, but some gut-turned replies to the moments of weariness that follows three days in the chamber of secrets.


The Archbishop's address startled me.. my having blogged on the Renewal and Reform web site that episcopacy was personal, not magisterial,  and that we didn't follow Christ unless we took up our cross..... there was his Grace telling us just that. Coincidence, of course, but a happy one.

And in the end it was the Synod, for me, that turned the ship and pointed us almost in the right direction. But not quite, not yet. And we're dragging our anchor and the engines need to fired up ready for when we've weighed and stowed it.

Reformation is not about Protestantism.. not for Anglicans, because we're not Protestants, we're Catholic and Reformed. A distinction with a huge difference that seems to pass many by in the buy-one-get-one-free spirituality of the happy and the clappy. It was the worst debate I've ever heard in Synod. Quite lacking in academic rigour, or much common sense. Just waffle about a history that was mostly illusory, the self congratulatory nonsense of the self indulged. Ah well.... let's move on.

Over 60 questions at Question Time... the first 26 in some way or other all about THAT report which we saved, like our last Rolo, until Wednesday. But whether we would love enough to give it away was still unclear.

TUESDAY was law, and stuff which I mostly didn't uderstand and I talked, networked and popped in and out to wave a hand or press a button.. it's a all haze. But I think we finally made it legal to bury suicides using the usual service. As we've been doing anyway for generations, of course. And we don't have to wear vestments if we think vestments get in the way of mission. What twaddle! ...  but hey ho, such are the dinky toy theologies that amuse the youngsters. OK so you'll find me un-vested (but not un-invested) at informal services, but... really? And we are now able to keep working beyond 70.. and so we tidied that up a bit, though I'm not sure sure how exactly. I'll wait for the minutes!
The lunchtime "fringe" was with Nick Bundock, a Manchester vicar telling us about a teenager in his congregation who committed suicide because she was gay and thought no one would love her, that God himself could not love her. It was heartbreaking stuff. If only, Nick said, we'd made it clear that she would have been loved. And his pain is a warning to all of us.  After a harrowing story of a youngster lost in their own fears, and parents utterly distraught and a congregation snapped in bits... we heard, cold as bloodless hands, a comment from a heartless women, "Well, it shows how important teaching teenagers to be celibate is". Was I angry? No, not angry. Something else is what I feel, but I've no words to describe my revulsion at such cruelty, such disconnection with anything warm, such up one's own. Christianity replaced by a helpless, hopeless Ouroboros of text, law and despair. Such are conservatives.
To open the Church's arms as wide as God's, though we prefer to keep that love locked away with the tea and the sugar in kitchen cupboard... we have to say to everyone.. ALL are welcome in this place. Just as you are. No iffs, buts or maybes.

WEDNESDAY morning we agreed to create a new Suffragan see for the Diocese of Leicester (Bishop Loughborough, I think s/he'll be called). All very sensible and well presented with one niggle: I do not think that senior diocesan clergy should criticise their predecessors in public in Synod.. they have no right of reply. Bad form, chaps.
Then we had Synod at its best.. debating intelligently about Fixed Odds Betting Terminals - evil little contraptions placed in some of the poorest communities, providing Ladbrookes with 40% of their earnings and making it possible to loose £100 every 3 minutes or so. We demanded that the stake be reduced to £2.
Then THAT report.
I didn't take part in the group work.. I really do not wish to talk about my daughter and daughter in law any more. I went to the group and apologised.. they were a delightful group and it wasn't personal... though it struck me that only half the number seemed to have turned up. But I could hear my old mum in the back of my head telling me it would have been rude simply to have not gone!
The debate is well documented and I will simply comment that we can be very proud of Nikki, Archdeacon of Dudley. Not just because I agree with her decision to declare herself as an affirming Evangelical (though of course I'm very glad she did), but because it took courage. And courage should always be applauded. Nikki will, I guess, have received some very negative feedback from those who are disappointed with her decision.
I saw two Bishops showing anger. One lashed out in a meeting I was at and the other was upset, cross or frustrated.. or all three. It's not a good look on a Bishop.  I think the whole House of Bishops debacle is a sign of a lack of experience and maturity, and too many young men in a hurry (and it is the men, not the women who don't seem to get a word in edge ways). Sorry if that offends, but that's the truth as I see it. They've bags of information, but well, to be honest wisdom is in shorter supply. 
The main thing is their inability to act corporately consistently. They all hid behind the report. And then couldn't find a way of making a corporate apology. Some were more fulsome than others with their sorrow over the catastrophic pastoral disaster that unfolded across the land as the report was read by LGBTQI folk and their friends. I have to deal with people leaving the Diocesan Synod. It's not theory.

But, having said that it is time to forgive and forget - but not to forget the lessons.


It was a real privilege to be in the Synod that said farewell to the Richard Chartres as he retires after 25  or so years as Bishop of London. An extraordinary ministry for which we are grateful and we shall miss a man who is the last of a breed that is now, effectively, extinct in the Episcopacy. He has been a bishop for more than half of my entire ministry and had become a sort of fixture. Pray that great wisdom and insight is used in electing his successor.

The Most Revd Dr Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon is secratry general of the Anglican Communion. He brought the Communion's greetings and spoke affectionately of the Church of England as the Mother Church of the Communion. Which it isn't, really. It certainly sent out the most missionaries and so on.. thanks to the Empire. But the Anglican Communion was born when the Scottish Bishops consecrated Samuel Seabury and sent him to the fledgling United States as their first Bishop (The English Bishops, being established, would have been committing treason!) It is worth noting that there were already Welsh Bishops when Augustine pitched up on a beach in Kent. Their missionary activity amongst the Saxons was paced but deeply rooted.... and disdained by Augustine who, it is said, refused to stand when he met them. The English do have a very silly view of their importance, and it isn't helped by poor history informing those in positions of responsibility.

We finished early (lunch time) but not after giving the "Setting God's People Free" debate a good run. This is a very important and positive report about encouraging every member of the Church to find their ministry. It was sometimes a little anti-clerical (fair enough) but at its heart it's got all the right things.. I hope it will "cascade" down into the mind of the diocese.

All in all this was a good Synod. The tanker turned, but now needs to get under way.
I look forward to July with renewed enthusiasm!

MARCH - a meditation on the Anglican Calendar : 7 of 12

The modernity of this month with Edward King, Woodbine Willie, Oscar Romero and Harriett Monsell might be all there is that keeps us from a Pharisaical Lent, that 6 weeks bore of getting nowhere. But there is, indeed much more.
This Narnia month of March which is always Lent, so rarely Easter. It too has its lions and lambs. The complete diet. The young women, martyred in the first days. The seventh century Celts and Britons who shaped so much. Cranmer, neither dissembled nor cloaked and Donne, no longer an island, shaping faith and feeling. The bell of creation indeed tolls, and the earth shall be cast upon the body by some standing by: the second man, of the earth earthy but now of heaven too. For indeed Joseph and Mary are once more espoused and ready to bring forth the earthy God, his mother told or asked? His father, earthly, given on offer which, in his faithfulness, he cannot refuse.
Cold March warms us, but not to dilatory Lent, that mad March channel that butts us to discomfort. Who needs more than Holy Week? No, March warms us with the hope of Incarnation, for Mary will gestate the year through, growing riper with each co-redemptrix day.
Of such sentiments Cranmer would not have approved. (His is a world of change, unstoppable until Edward’s little death (though even then the die is cast). His recantations making him the saint that all deny. This Thomas’ doubts are the humanity of us all.)
Secretly, I think, Donne would approve, as the three personed God ravishes us against the spring chill. Our cunning little world is thinking of greening up and we are excited, as God’s people should be, by all that is to come.
Once in four or five years March steals from April, and Easter sits early, chilly and always full in the sun. We should not stay among the brambles of Lent, tearing our skin with the promise of fruit not yet seen. There is living to be done, and March, grumpy as an old cat, claws at our legs and tells us it’s time to move.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

FEBRUARY - a meditation on the Anglican Calendar : 6 of 12

We have to wait for patience and February is a month in waiting. Ashen faced, graced and grey with contrition (at least when the Pascal mystery is early) it four-weeks us round the first bend of the year and opens up the long slogging straight of Lent stretching ahead through this month, maybe, but certainly next. 
This procession of the new year bears its candles through Bernard’s streets to this moment of celebration. Curiously, we extinguish the native light and turn to look to a struggling sun, dipped in coolness, maybe frost, and present ourselves with the Christ Child for a final ooing and cooing at the joy of birth.
We turn then to be toddlers, knowing that the moment of our first chastisement is near. We shall muddy our faces in the clay of our making. We shall look up to show the helpless culpability that is the lot of every human being. And we shall be crossed and marked in the baptism of dust. This sad Wednesday, this small town market day of human disasters, this mid-week of never-ending estrangement. Thank God, it shall be that Friday soon. But hardly soon enough.
The month balances on the love feast of Valentine, whose passion is legend and whose cult is littered with single red roses, the token of a heart broken like God’s at the busy-ness of things, selves too occupied to take notice of the longing eyes and avoid the thorns of lust.
Procession gives way to precession as we gyrate about ourselves, eclipsing the sun with the moon of our own desires, its limb the sharp edge of our sin. Tumbling past the ending of winter the birds will remind us of what our souls would forget – that there is always new life, new chances and our business, if we have any business at all, is to say “Yes” to the unfolding year still sluggish with the warm clothes of winter’s sleep and the hibernation of hope.
Somewhere, as the short days extend to twenty-eight and maybe that extra one, the scent of spring will catch our noses and our hearts will leap like the early lambs, like the-once-in-four-years day. Time stretches as the days play out to a new tune, rhythmic with crisis.
This is a calling, the inevitable judgement.