2017 February 13-16
So here we are in London again. Overcast outside and it feels overcast in Synod this time. It was clear from the beginning that the tone of these sessions would be worse, due to the intense responses to the House of Bishops Report issued earlier.
1. Early on some people raised concerns about how the House of Bishops report has made a number of LGBT people more vulnerable, and some questioned how the group work planned for Wednesday might be helpful. A lot of strong feelings – concerns that people have not been listened to.Yet there are also several Evangelicals who carry concerns of a different kind too – is the bishop’s report too soft? It would be a shame if emotion rather than thought governed outcomes.
2. On the first day Bishop Christopher of Coventry presented well on the celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. He expressed joy at the momentous agreement (between Catholics and Reformers in 1999) to affirm justification by faith as a work of God. He stressed – By grace alone we are saved, and a broad church agrees with this. Luther’s courageous insistence that salvation was not for sale was a world changing step. No longer Reformation, or Counter Reformation, but Co-Reformation is the picture of the broader church’s thinking today. He also made a point of highlighting the cost of the Reformation – This is a time to remember the Martyrs who died for the doctrines of the Reformation.
Many responding speakers pressed points about the amazing impact of these Reformation teachings, including a right emphasis on scripture over all other elements in discerning truth, and called for this generation to refocus on scripture and God’s Good News, for personal salvation and the transformation of culture and society.
3. Justin Welby’s Synod Address as Archbishop:
Some key points to note –
Luke 4:1-12: We are tempted to avoid the cross – but we can’t.
This is so deeply relevant to now. This time of great change and uncertainty offers a wider range of opportunity and/or threat than we are used to. We see neither the road or destination. It is a moment dependent on culture and values.
How will the church contribute to the nation’s future?
Commenting on the passage –
1st temptation – self-indulgence.
– We must resist through simplicity and love in action.
2nd temptation – desire for power and glory.
We are to serve and love- washing all feet.
3rd temptation – to make an impact and make God act.
There is no magic strategy – discipleship & prayer is to be our hallmark.
Justin made reference to the Coventry Cathedral tapestry – particularly the figure at the feet of Christ – secure enough in Christ to look outward. We are to be the people of the cross.
1. A warm farewell to the Church Estates Commissioner (leaving the church with reserves larger than before).
He was confident in the future of the C of E because it is (in his view) strong in the following essential ways:
2. Next came a Private Members motion – to amend the preliminaries to marriage (Steven Trott) – a desire to simplify procedures (including the ending of Banns) to make things better, easier for parishes. But will it remove mission opportunities? – do we need to find other means by which couples come along instead? (Rather than being there under obligation). This motion was close but not successful.
3. A lot of Tuesday afternoon was fine tuning our church legislation on a wide range of matters including Statute Law, Pensions and legislation procedure reform. I’m glad that others are called to deal with this. They do so very well.
Tuesday Evening at Lambeth Palace
The Archbishop has a pattern of hospitality during Synod, with a selection of Dioceses invited for food at the Palace. First time for me. I managed to have five minutes with Justin – and discovered the extent of his busyness. He rarely gets his day off, and will be having an operation on his foot/feet soon (several bones broken) which will give him a week off. Perhaps this is the only way to get a break!
it was fun to catch up with Coventry people and hear stories. The most memorable story this time was from the bishop concerning how pupils from Henry’s sometime urinate by his gate- and the delight he has in shouting, to get them to move on (often while still busy!). Lambeth Palace fun.
it was lovely to walk back by the Thames with Yvonne and Charlotte discussing the merits of gin.
The day began after passing through a very friendly LGBT protest group at Church House (I received a nice “Good Morning” from Peter Tatchell).
1. First Motion of the day: To agree a Suffragan Bishop for Leicester (Bishop of Loughborough). – a clear missionary desire to increase impact (especially with BAME ) the Motion was carried unanimously. BTW Martyn Snow (of Leicester) is a 49 year old (young) Bishop.
2. Second motion of the day- appointing Mark Sheard to Archbishop’s Council. There was a specific emphasis on mission in this appointment – unanimously voted for by Synod. 10am and two motions done already!
3. Now onto a motion about Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (Clive Scowen)
– these are the ‘crack-cocaine’ of gambling, accounting for 55% of Ladbroke profits.
125 K users have problems with addiction to these machines.
Members shared a number of harrowing stories about vulnerable people. The hope is to persuade Parliament to reduce single bet limits from £100 per spin down to preferably £2, and empower local Councils to limit numbers of machines. These Horrible machines are often targeted at the poorest communities. Synod conducted a counted vote. 310 in favour, none against, no abstentions. Impressive.
4. Taking Note of the House of Bishops Report on Human Sexuality
Shared Conversations was positive again and it was good to catch ch up with people from York conversations. At the debate 160 people wanted to speak! A very divided Synod was evident, with every speaker polarised into one of two camps. It made me wonder how much benefit was gained by the Shared Conversations. Has anyone changed their minds based on personal story-sharing? Might we return to God’s story now?
Synod did not take note. But only because the vote was done by Houses (see Ian Paul’s report below for details). This was my first genuinely upsetting experience of General Synod. I’ll need a short period to consider my full response to the situation but in the short term I refer readers to Ian Paul’s summary (http://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/on-synod-sexuality-and-not-taking-note/).
And to reassure readers – despite exaggerated reports in the press , media; nothing has actually changed. The teaching of the church on marriage is as it always has been, indeed it may now take even longer to even discuss it in a fresh way. It made me sad to think that voting might be being more influenced by tweets and emotive tales rather than scripture and a devotion to God. The pro- same sex marriage people may think of this as a victory, but they may need to think again. Who won? Who lost? Now the Report can’t be referred to again – so we have no roadmap. Who won? Who lost?
Some positive thoughts to consider about this situation:
1. Time over this matter is probably a good thing. And more time is always in the favour of the growing/stable churches. Someone recently told me that Liberal churches struggle to reproduce themselves, and every new generation of Liberals considers the previous generation conservative. A diminishing voice over time? On that note I’m still waiting to hear a persuasive liberal perspective on this matter after 2 years of active looking and asking.
2. Extra time will now give us the opportunity to make an even stronger case for traditional marriage -and alongside a robust defence of a biblical view, many of us are looking for ways to share the model and values more positively. As well as a serious deconstruction of the failed promises of the Sexual Revolution (Glynn Harrison’s book “A Better Story” is excellent on this), we can start to show society that there is something from God that works better than anything else. I have hope.
1. We began this day with a very warm and funny speech from Justin saying farewell to the Bishop of London Richard Chartres after 20+ years of impressive ministry. The speech included a helpful critique of Richard’s loud shirts. This eloquent bishop leaves London Diocese in good health.
2. Speech by The Most Revd Dr Josiah Atkins Idowu- Fearon – Secretary General of the Anglican Communion – he said that the C of E still has global influence – so we need to consider the bigger picture often, and take our responsibility seriously.
3. Report – Setting God’s people free (Canon Mark Russell spoke with great passion about the releasing of all Christian lay people into active ministry and discipling. https://www.churchofengland.org/media/3858033/gs-2056-setting-gods-people-free.pdf
One speaker talked of lay people being like David- not compelled to wear Saul’s armour (ordained life) but set free to follow their non-ordained vocation. This idea of improved lay ministry has been considered for decades, so it will be interesting to see what actual change comes from this report.
So I head home today with mixed feelings for the first time. I am very positive about the continuing solid presence of bible-believing Synod members. It is always good to see the church acting on social issues with one voice. I was pleased to see the bishops attempt to take a lead with their report. Perhaps they shouldn’t have sought the view of Synod if they wished to simply lead? Meanwhile, the matter of marriage rumbles on. I’m tired, but still here.