February 13-16 2017

2017 February 13-16

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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:

Innovation
Funding
Research
Training
Facing reality

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.

Wednesday

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.

Thursday
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.

Summary

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.

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Finishing another Session

Wednesday Afternoon

How to train and raise up leaders?

We’ve just explored multiple amendments to the developing proposals and plans for the training of church ministers (both lay and ordained).

Inevitably there is some detail that goes over my head, but it is clear that this area is a sensitive one, with existing Colleges a bit nervous and several folk asking for more detail and reassurances.

Why all the concern?
This is a very ambitious plan to dramatically increase the number of people being trained to lead churches – to do two things: to offset the fact that by 2030 many existing Ministers will retire, and to raise up a new and younger generation of leaders – properly trained for the missional task. This goal is significant, and many want to make sure we get it right. These leaders will have a big job to do.

When people stand to speak (which I may do in July when we next meet), everyone communicates with a real passion and great thoughtfulness. Some disagree with each other, but with a genuine amount of grace. Some amendments were rejected and others accepted. It all creates at least the impression of a focused governing body committed to support and revise important matters.

General Synod is growing on me: there are some big battles to come, but I’m glad to be part of this.

Home this evening.

 

Impact of Benefits Sanctions

Wednesday 17: morning

Impact of Sanctions on Benefit Claimants Motion (GS 2019B)
(Stirring Stuff)

Growing evidence says that about half or more attendees at Foodbanks are there because of Dept Social Services benefits sanctions. The sample stories begged belief. Numerous examples reveal huge injustices.

“We need to do more than pass Synod motions- cajole, march, protest- go further. Make sure you see the human face. Are you your brothers keeper ?- you bet your life you are.”
Graeme Buttery: Durham

At a time when the Govt wants to invest in mental health provision, this benefits problem is making many fearful, anxious and ill. No one questions the need for appropriate sanctions, but does the current punishment fit the crime? They are often “pernicious and mean”.

Time for action. We need to change the Govts mind on how it administers benefits. We need the Govt to initiate an independent review of the impact and efficacy of the sanctions and conditionality regime. Perhaps we need individuals and groups to speak their MP at a local Surgery?

And of course local churches must begin to or continue to offer practical and pastoral support – whatever Govt does (or doesn’t do). This is what followers of Jesus must do.

Motion helpfully amended and passed clearly. Synod is a force for goodness and justice.

Not an App, the Operating System

Day Two: Tuesday 16 Feb

Some may think that the C of E Synod is a bit trad and stuffy, but today we spent the whole morning focused on evangelism.

To begin with we had lots of space for elected members to share stories – how we personally came to be Christians. So many said that they came to faith in their teens or younger, often influenced by friends or family. So, we really need to focus on this area: with resources dedicated to reach people at this important time of life – something we have heard before, but increasingly important given the more severe distractions aimed at young people today. It was nevertheless apparent to me that we have very mixed levels of evangelistic confidence. Some are really keen, others don’t know where to begin.

Justin Welby said
“Evangelism and witness is ‘not an app, it’s the operating system’ of the church. ”

The Evangelism Team tasked to lead on this spoke with conviction about the essential task before us – this is not a peripheral matter but as a defining matter.

Does it define your church community?

 

 

Anticipating Conversations

Day One Feb 15 2016

So here we are again. Sun shining in London and I think I may know what I’m doing (sort of) at General Synod. It is nice to catch up with old and new faces: had a lovely chat with Andy Piggott (now Archdeacon in Bath) – yet another solid follower of Jesus . Also chatted with a young second year history student at Durham Uni. The breadth of Synod is lovely.

Managed to catch up with Ruth Walker, Charlotte Gale and Yvonne Warren (Coventry reps like me), and Yvonne has a hope to get conversations about Synod topics going back in the Deaneries…

The most interesting bit of today was hearing plans for the General Synod ‘Shared Conversations’ happening in York in July. This will be a big moment. Some of you will know that I’ve already been on one of the Regional Shared Conversations: exploring questions to do with Sexuality. This time the whole Synod (480 people) will be doing it en masse.

4 days of intensive exploration:
Session 1- Sharing the story of our faith
Session 2- Understanding scripture (3 presentations)
Session 3- Reading scripture together (groups)
Session 4- Understanding changing culture (presentations plus groups)
Session 5- Anglican communion perspectives (worldwide views)
Session 6- Walking together – is there a way forward?

So, the C of E elected body will be grappling with bible, experience and culture. We will be doing it confidentially and without Social media switched on (sorry folks). Let’s hope we can do it this time with great reverence for God’s story and God’s view. This could be a defining moment.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

First Normal day of Synod (Wed 25)

Final day. I’m still adjusting to wearing a suit and clergy shirt all day -but despite feeling a bit stuffy it was lovely to briefly catch up with Bishop Christopher first thing before prayers. He told me he was glad that I was here: words of affirmation from your boss are always helpful.

So to business: 

  1. A presentation on Climate Change from the Sentamus (Mr & Mrs).
  2. Then into a longer debate on The Migrant Crisis. It is heartening to hear the church so eloquently engaged with ‘the biggest crisis since WWII’. Lots of facts and lots of care were expressed by many; with fine tuned amendments to the main proposal: Bishop Christopher attempted repeatedly to speak but didn’t get picked, ah well – and then finally leading to our first experience of real voting! Justin W reminded us that realistically, ultimate Migrant issues will probably include military action. Sobering. It is good to know that the church is in dialogue with Government, other church networks and nations elsewhere.
  3. After some legislation, we next had a presentation on ‘perceptions of Jesus’ – 

43% of the population believe Jesus rose from the dead 

40% of the population don’t know Jesus was a real historical figure 

67% of the population know a practising Christian 

66% of practising Christians have talked about Jesus to a non-Christian in the past month .

Next we talked about Buildings. Complicated. Interesting. I was beginning to struggle with my ability to focus again – but folk here are clearly passionate about using buildings well. Maybe we really have to think about closing some too at some point.

A formal Farewell, William Fittall was stepping down as Secretary General of the Synod – clearly capable man. Justin W gave him a warm send off. And then finally we finished with ‘Prorogation’ – which means ‘to discontinue the Session’. Lots of in-house language to learn and grapple with.

So I made my way off from Synod after saying a few goodbyes to new and old faces. For once I felt at one with the weary people on the Tube: no longer a tourist, but a worker in London. Synod is a fairly full-on experience and I still need time to think through this first time in attendance. God sent me here, I still need to work out what I need to be doing here.

The Queen, Questions and EGGS (Tuesday 24)

Tuesday was a long and memorable day. Early start to get through security, but was rewarded with a bacon and egg roll after I got in. We queued in Westminster Abbey Cloisters before the Service for the Inauguration of Synod. At the place where Coventry people gathered, friendly Policeman Ken was guarding a door. I asked him about security and his iconic uniform and mentioned how the bishop also has a tall hat. Ken then surprised us by asking Bishop Christopher if he (like the police) is obliged to use his hat if a pregnant lady needs to urinate (!) Bishop C. Replied hesitantly that his hat may leak. I love how our country relates across professions.

We sat about 30 feet behind the Queen, who arrived with the Duke to an impressive fanfare. After the service she then joined us in Synod’s Assembly room and gave a very Christian speech (“We are all ambassadors of Christ”). 

The Queen is a small lady, but clearly held with affection here.

I headed off for a bit of space for lunch in Starbucks, but joined a table with a retired couple from South Africa. They were fascinated to hear about my morning. I was tempted to evangelise but ran out of time.

The afternoon presentation concerned ‘Reform and Renewal’ which is an ambitious national evangelistic (and training) plan but needs the detail working out. By the time this business closed (5pmish) I was starting to feel weary, but little did I know we had pages of arising questions to still debate. Two hours later (7pm) I was wilting and struggling to concentrate – I need to learn the technique of leaving and returning to the Assembly for short breaks.

In the evening I was booked in to go to EGGS; Evangelical Group at General Synod. I expected a smallish group for this dinner and discussion. To my surprise there were 120 people in the room, hosted by John Dunnett (CPAS leader). Though there will be a spectrum of ‘evangelical’ views here, this Synod seems to have a good supply of people who care about the bible. We were encouraged to engage with all issues with both grace and truth.

At 9.15pm I crawled home across the bridge past Big Ben- a very full, fun but tiring day.

Stepping into Church House for the first time

Monday 23 Nov

I found my way to Church House, hidden behind Westminster Abbey and a stones throw away from the Houses of Parliament. Of course, for those who don’t know, General Synod is the parliament/decision-making body for the C of E. Apparently something like 55% of those elected are new to Synod, which makes it a different creature from today.

When I queued up to collect ID cards and voting cards, a lady leaned back and fell on me whilst changing her boots- it was Lucy Moore, founder of Messy Church UK. She’s here as a Lay representative. I guess that is one creative way to meet folk. It is nice to have Charlotte and Ruth from Coventry Diocese to guide me through the procedures. Today was a dry run, getting used to how it all works, including a practice at voting (‘Should we have coffee or tea as the main morning drink?’)- we have a gadget to vote with.

Synod is made up of three Houses – Bishops, Clergy and Laity. Synod as it is now was only formed in 1970, so not all that old. The process of debating and decision-making is designed to take time: careful and ordered- so no rash decisions can be made. Seems sensible I think.

We even had a talk today about security (We’re with the Queen all morning tomorrow so everything will be tighter than usual, especially after Paris).

There are time limits on speeches, with green, amber and red lights to control you, and the form of speaking is very much like the House of Commons, but kinder and more respectful (so far). We praised God and prayed together, and even had a taste about a key plan coming up – Reform and Renewal; all about the huge drive to make new disciples. John Spence spoke (inspirationally too!) and finished by saying “We want to do something this country won’t expect.” Exciting.

Back to the hotel now, past a few shiny landmarks. Looking forward to a fun time at the Abbey tomorrow morning, and then finally to the real business of Synod.

Standing for Synod…

So.

I didn’t really expect to be doing this, but it looks like God wants me at General Synod. Back in May I was sat on top of Walla Crag looking over Derwentwater, entirely on my own at 8am, enjoying the view. “Here I am” I prayed, “Feel free to say anything you like Lord.”

Unexpectedly, I heard him say “Stand.”

I knew exactly what this was about – I had been resisting the idea of standing for General Synod for a short while, and had pretty much told Martin Saxby that I didn’t want to replace him (as his role there was coming to an end).

Though I knew it was God, I didn’t want to do it. Unfamiliar. Papers to read. Boring. Time taken up. I already have a very full life and felt that this might be a distraction from more important local matters. I went back down the Crag to see if Lindsey could talk some sense into me. She recommended I talk with my Accountability Group (TRAMM) : five friends from College days – we’ve been meeting regularly since Ordination in 2002. Tim, Richard, Mark S and Mark B all told me that it sounded like God’s voice to them. Rats. But then they told me to give the final decision to Lindsey as it affected her with me going away regularly. OK; maybe Lindsey could close this crazy idea down. But no- after a few days of thinking and praying she told me to stand! Blast. So I stood for election…

After a successful election (thanks for your votes people), I’m now  a couple of days away from my first General Synod. Hotel booked, documents downloaded (not read yet!). I imagine that this first one will be a bit bewildering, but that’s ok.

I’m going because of God. Lets see what he has for me to do.

I’ll try to keep this blog updated so others can be included in the process.