On not being converted

September 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

I post sermons on here when enough people comment about them after I preach them. So here’s today’s, on Matthew, and whether I am converted.

The thing is, I wonder if any of us really know what it is to be thoroughly converted. What it is to be going completely one way, and then stop and go in the exact opposite direction. What it is to set aside everything for which we’ve dreamed and worked and saved and planned, and to go and do something completely different. I wonder if, really, we’re a mixture of old and new, good and bad, trying to shape it and sort it so that land just on the right side of the line. I wonder if most of us are really going at this Christian life bit by bit, two steps forward and a step back, hoping that, when we take stock we can demonstrate that we’ve made some progress.

If I’m honest I’m quite envious of someone like Matthew. Everyone knew what he had been like, and therefore what a difference Jesus had made in his life. We all know about tax collectors in the Bible. They did a necessary job: taxes help society when used well, and in themselves they are not evil. But the biblical tax collectors added their personal touch, using the force of law and the authority of the state to line their own pockets as well. Matthew, or Levi in the other gospels, did this like any other, and was loathed as a result. Tax collectors personified what today’s collect called “the selfish pursuit of gain and the possessive love of riches”. They were a byword for everything that was corrupt and bad and loathsome, and they knew it. Perhaps they even revelled in it. ‘No one likes us. We don’t care’.

The way Matthew tells it, he’s in his booth being loathsome and corrupt. Jesus walks past. Jesus has already gained a reputation for being powerful and charismatic and challenging and divinely inspired. He’d healed loads of people, cleansed people of leprosy, helped a paralysed man to walk, rid people of evil things which had taken them over. He’d even changed the weather. These were close knit communities. People talked, quicker than we tweet now. No one, least of all Matthew would have been in any doubt as to who this was and what he stood for. Two words to Matthew. ‘Follow me’. And that’s it. He does.

That’s why I’m envious. Because, the way it’s told, Matthew is one thing and then immediately he’s another. Old life: gone. I guess it would have to be: he was so obviously doing the wrong thing that any hint of doing it again and he would have been out on his ear, even self condemned. If he was going to follow Jesus it would be all or nothing. And it was all. Not only does he get to be one of the twelve, he gets to write it all down, so that he’s both an Apostle, one of those who could recount the words of Jesus and he’s an evangelist: a writer of the Good News, so that we can still hear his words today.

And, perhaps because he’s conscious of all the harm he has done his own people, the Jews he has a special concern for them in his Gospel. Remember how Zaccheus makes recompense by repaying what he’s taken many times over?  I wonder if Matthew, aware of all that he has taken from his own people, ensures that he gives them the most precious thing that he can: an account of the faith in Christ which turned his life round and gave him hope. Read through Matthew’s Gospel – I dare you – and count the number of times he quotes the Hebrew Scriptures and shows how Jesus fulfils them. From wherever you are, he says, Jesus can and will be your Messiah, your Saviour, your hope and your light.

I’m envious because this shines a very clear light on the murkiness and complexity of my discipleship. I can point to a moment when I knew I made a decision for Christ. That came after a lifetime – 15 years – of church attendance. I was never very bad, and then and now have had no public reputation for going the wrong way or doing the wrong thing. My day to day life didn’t have to change very much, and, though pleased, no one was very much surprised when I followed a call to be ordained. I didn’t have to turn round from very much, and that means I have to look very carefully to check what a difference following Christ is making today.

Reflecting on the call of Matthew, crystal clear as it is, is like holding up a mirror – one of those dressing room mirrors with lights on it. Matthew’s is what a 100% conversion looks like. What does yours? What, for example, has following Jesus done to your attitude to money? Do you still, really, put more store by it than your heavenly treasure? What about your attitude to other people? Are they all there to be served, to be loved, or are some of them to be swept out of the way, dominated and defeated? What about your reputation, the things which mark you out as successful, your ambitions? Where are they when faced with the two simple words Matthew heard: follow me?

And if you want my honest answer: none of my responses to those questions will be as clear as Matthew’s. I know I could have been something else rather than a Vicar, but I have to say that my last three roles have meant living in three very nice places. I know as a Vicar I am the target for all sorts of stuff other people avoid – last night I was walking the dog up Toll Gavel, when a hooded young person in Subway saw my clerical shirt, looked me straight in the eye, leered and stick his middle finger up. I don’t think it was a cheery greeting. And sometimes you get worse abuse in the church, not out of it. But no one can tell me that my life is harder than anyone else’s in a complex employment situation. And this is no sacrifice compared to the lot of some Christians across the world.

I want to secure my finances as much as the next person. I’m as defined by my possessions as much as anyone else. Ask me how pleased I was when I bought a guitar I’ve wanted for 30 years. I care about my position and what people think about me, and if I had to weigh that up against what I want people to think about the Jesus I serve, there might be a slimmer majority than for the Scottish referendum.

Matthew shows me that my conversion is still happening. And I bet yours is too. Yes, I follow Christ. I sometimes wear clothes which make that so clear that people can tell me what they think of it. And yes, I’m still working out what that means. My emotions, and my finances, and my intellect and my relationships are all still listening to Jesus’s words, and trying to make sense of them. Thanks be to God that when we’re with Jesus we are truly with him, right from the start. After Matthew’s call there’s a big dinner, and all sorts of dodgy types are there. Far from them dragging Jesus down, he raises them up. That’s us: with him we are made new.

And then we have to work out what that means. I will follow, if you’ll help me. And I’ll help you too. Amen.

A Sermon on Kingship – 1 Kings 12

August 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

I post sermons on here when enough people talk to me about them after church. So here’s one from last night, based on the story of Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12. Throne

In the Hebrew Scriptures the history books – Samuel, Kings and Chronicles – have a difficult time with the idea of Kingship. It is not because of the bad ones: the kings who manifestly disobey the commands of God from start to finish. It‘s also the ones you would think we should admire, and hold up as examples. Of course even they do some stupid things. People do. But the histories of Israel are more worried than that. Taken as a whole they advise us to regard the whole institution of monarchy with great caution.

This stretches right back to the people’s demand for a king in the first place. Samuel has combined the roles of prophet and judge, but the people have no faith in those who will follow him. They look around at other nations, just as our politicians do today when looking for a model of some social policy: ‘they do it better in Sweden’; ‘this is what works in Germany’. The people look at the strong nations around, for Israel has ever been under threat from its neighbours. And they see that kingship seems to work. ‘Give us one of them’, they demand of Samuel.

Samuel does, but gives them a health warning. The King will make you subservient. The King will demand everything of you, he says. ‘In that day you will cry out because of your King’ is his prophecy, in 1 Samuel 8. 18. Their reply? ‘No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we might be like other nations…’ (1 Sam 8. 19, 20). And they get their wish. Saul, who is something of a disaster, then David, who builds up the country and enlarges its borders, and Solomon, who establishes it, fortifying Jerusalem even more, holding court there so that world leaders come knocking, and founding the temple, to show the impregnable power of the relationship between God, King, nation and people.

A wise reading of history is often able to show that the seeds of destruction are to be found at the moment of what looks like complete success. A reliance on what has got you to the point of achievement, simply looking for more of the same, will lead to the whole edifice crumbling. That’s as true of the Roman Empire as of the financial markets in 2007 as it is of the England cricketers who won the Ashes in 2005 and fell away soon after. The Books of Kings, especially, describe just such a fall, and attribute it not just to bad leadership, but to the very model of kingship itself.

Solomon, the wise, the all powerful, the sought after one, is not immune from finding security in transient alliances rather than the complete dependence on God which is the hallmark of Israel. Kingship makes you do that. Power concentrated in the hands of one person, to whom others fawn, eventually corrupts. And with few checks and balances that power turns in on itself. It was already happening at the end of Solomon’s reign, and not even the strong words of the prophet Ahijah about the breaking up of the twelve tribes of Israel can stop the process.

Our first reading tonight carries on the story. Solomon has died. Rehoboam, his son and anointed successor, trusts in the wrong sort of exercise of authority. Absolute kingship, he feels, can best be demonstrated by showing people who is boss. Is that not what a King is? Wise heads invite him to exercise his authority with humility and restraint, but kingship lends itself more easily to a display of power than of humility. He would rather be ruler than servant. He would look weak otherwise. Ten of the tribes tell him what he can do with it, and so begins the split of the nation, into two Kingdoms. A couple of hundred years and it’s all gone, the nation overrun, the leaders in exile. And we can safely say that the split, the destruction, has been there all along.

My former boss used to say that ‘any system can be made not to work’. The Judges and the early prophets had their troubles too. But reliance on an overt exercise of power – ‘someone who will go out before us and fight our battles’, as the people say to Samuel when they ask for a King – this reliance has perhaps more chance of failure than any other. The people put a figurehead and a system in between them and their joint responsibility for the land and nation and people. Their abdication of power leads to it being exercised badly, however hard the King in question tries.

In that same land today different models of leadership and power currently clash, and people die. In our own land the people with power seen increasingly remote for the people they govern, or should that be ‘serve’? We do well to be suspicious of the exercise of power. We do well also to pray for those who have it, and hold up before them the model of the one who, with all authority on heaven and earth, sought out the weak, sat with the needy, shared the life of the poor, and gave up every shred of what he had, that we might live. Amen.

Another Jeremy, Same Sex Marriage and Licensed Ministry

August 5, 2014 § 4 Comments

When I was a Vicar in Nottinghamshire I had good cause to be grateful to the Chaplaincy Team at Kings Mill Hospital, in between Sutton in Ashfield and Mansfield. It is a cause of great regret to me that the trust which now manages that hospital is unable to employ Canon Jeremy Pemberton. Its rules state that Chaplains must be authorised by their denomination, and the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham will not issue a licence. The story from the BBC is here.

I know Jeremy. We share a name. We have a curacy in common, and we’ve met down the years. I hope I would feel the same way if he was unknown to me. In February I wrote a blog post which regretted the strength of the wording of the House of Bishops’ Statement on Same Sex Marriage.

The House stated, incontrovertibly, that the Christian doctrine of marriage as it currently stands does not allow for a relationship between people of the same sex to be counted as a marriage. It went on, though, to use the words ‘conduct’ and ‘discipline’ in such a way as to allow individual bishops to use the statement as a means of their formal actions with clergy who marry a person of the same sex. I regretted this, because it seemed to me to prejudge the outcome of the ‘facilitated conversations’ we will be having  in the next two years.

Jeremy Pemberton was the first C of E cleric to marry under the provisions of the new law. His Bishop had to do something – the House of Bishops’ Statement required it. As I understand it the Bishop of Lincoln, in whose Diocese Jeremy is currently a Hospital Chaplain, wrote to Jeremy, noting that his marriage was at variance with the Statement, but not withdrawing his licence. That seemed to me a humane and pastoral response, though I’ve not seen the letter itself.

Jeremy had already applied for a new Hospital Chaplaincy job  in another diocese. Allowing an ‘errant’ cleric to keep their licence is one thing. Issuing a new licence to one is quite another. Again, it seemed to me that such a Diocesan Bishop could, in theory, note the circumstances of the cleric’s life, determine that, though irregular, those circumstances were not a bar to the proposed ministry, and issue a licence with a note on the file saying that those irregularities were on record. Such a Bishop could look his brother Bishops in the eye and say that the provisions in the Statement had been duly considered.

But…Southwell and Nottingham is in interregnum, and has a Bishop who is acting until a new diocesan is appointed. That Bishop is in an impossible position. Even if he wanted to issue a licence, he would not want to tie the hands of the new Bishop, and indeed he had already acted by removing Jeremy’s Permission to Officiate (Jeremy lives in that diocese, though he works in Lincoln). Advice from the Archbishop of the Province would no doubt be the same – again, entirely understandably. Though the House of Bishops approves of ‘conscientious dissent’, this was not then the situation in which it could be exercised.

Which is the pity of it all, and the unfairness, and quite possibly the injustice. Some injustices are not the fault of an individual, or one part of an organisation. They emerge out of a series of unfortunate events. Jeremy as a gay married cleric, is currently licensed to do the job he does. He is being refused a licence to do that same job in another place. What puts it into sharp relief is that the NHS would be prosecuted if it tried to prevent any other of its employees from being appointed to a post because they had married their same sex partner.

No one wins here. The House of Bishops, and the Church of England, is only at the beginning of a response to Same Sex Marriage, but the House’s initial statement is phrased such that it will now be continually on the back foot, or ‘behind the curve’, as Jeremy put it on TV last night. Jeremy now looks to be marooned, unable to be licensed to any other job than the one he holds. Kings Mill Hospital has to look for another Chaplain – and the hospital trust is surely baffled at a church which acts in this way. The Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham has to bide its time, awaiting a Bishop who can act in his own right, rather than simply holding the fort.

It will be reasonably clear that my personal theological views allow for the possibility of marriage being expanded to include those of the same sex, though I have much more thinking to do, and I’m sure many members of my congregation are in a different place. That’s a conversation for us to have, as the wider church will also have it. But I think there are wrongs in Jeremy Pemberton’s situation, and I pray they can be righted. I hope the House of Bishops can have a full and frank conversation very soon.

Oh – and another Synod thing

July 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

20140715_161403I first joined Synod in 1995, representing Southwell (now Southwell and Nottingham). I came off in 2002 when I moved to York, but for seven years my job at York entailed organising the Synod service at the Minster. That meant I got to come to stuff on campus, join in worship (and help it on site too) but not have to sit through the tedious debates. Win win.

I came back on in 2009 to represent York, and after the vote yesterday I’ve been reflecting a bit about the massive privilege and learning experience it’s been over the last 19 years.

There is no more intimidating place to make a maiden speech, even though everyone is lovely. I’ve spoken from the platform as well, and that was even harder. I’ve helped in worship: from eucharists for the staff, said and sung morning and evening prayer, to stuff with a contemporary music group. I was even Chaplain for one whole day. The Eucharist in London is complex logistically! I’ve seen four Archbishops at close quarters. Once I got to be Canterbury’s chaplain, in York, just for a morning in the Minster, carrying his processional cross.

Synod’s work is most done behind the scenes. I’ve been on three steering and revision committees, from the Common Worship Eucharist through the Additional Lectionary to Faculty Jurisdiction. I’ve had seven years on the Liturgical Commission and a couple on the Church Buildings Council. Both of these are applied theology and ministry seminars, and are wonderful. In our debates I have learned such a lot – from speakers on the platform and from the floor.

And over the last year we’ve had the change of atmosphere which has led to our ‘good disagreement’ and the passing of legislation to open the episcopacy to men and women equally.

Above all there have been massive and lasting friendships, across theological and churchmanship lines. These have been, and are, with Synod members, the fabulous staff, and the press and observers. Eating together at York has been a joy. That started in the 1990s with 30 minutes talking to David Sheppard about how to play leg spin, and ended yesterday with Archbishop Justin laughing uproariously at the recounting of a calamity of mine.

If you’ve read this far you’ll be thinking that it’s begun to sound like on obituary, and it is, because I resigned today. No big deal. Just because of the timing of a course of study I want to do. I figured that voting ‘yes’ yesterday was a good way to end. Except that this morning iced the cake. Three of us formed a music group. Simon Butler, a friend made through Synod, and Archbishop Sentamu, and I played three of my favourite chorusses (not chosen by me). To have voted as we did yesterday, and then to have worshipped that way this morning means that July 2014 will live long in my memory.

And nineteen years serving Synod have given me so much. I’m very grateful.

It’s been a blast.

Some Synod Ponderings from Home

July 15, 2014 § 3 Comments

Home now from York. Monday, where we voted in favour of women bishops, was just exhilarating. I’ve been pondering how we turned round the deep feeling of despair of Nov 2012 to the joy (for many) and tentative confidence (for, I hope, all) of July 2014.

A few factors – which I wonder if I can apply to the meetings and church decisions I have a leadership role in

Facing reality. In November 2012, no one was pleased. All, even those unable to receive a woman bishop’s ministry, knew we had failed. Collectively we squared up to this as a fact: rationally, emotionally and spiritually. We agreed we could not go on.

Assessing our processes honestly. We realised that starting with the ‘rules’ meant that we were instantly adversarial. We articulated that, for something as fundamental as this, we needed to talk to each other in a different way.

Thinking outside the box. We stepped outside our previous processes, and used a model of reconciliation tested in conflict zones around the world. The ‘facilitated conversations’ meant that those with differing views had to thoroughly listen to each other.

Using the current box creatively. A defining moment was when Pete Broadbent, who knows how institutions work, proposed a way of using Standing Orders which was within our usual rules, but their creative use meant that there could be both speed and thoroughness. The ‘reconciliation’ model became the way to start the legislative process, and we owe much to the group of people who, on eth Steering Committee, turned intention into action.

Treating each other with lavish generosity. The debates that followed were a million miles away from a succession of speeches for and against. People committed themselves to listening and understanding. Some were very moving indeed.

This was not universal. There remain some who regard themselves as under threat and marginalised.

But: we only really started the process on year ago, in July 2013. We’ve done it in a year. It feels very different. I praise God for it. And I wonder whether this might be a model for some of the contentious things which affect our parish life.

I’m leaving the most important point until last.

Recently there has been a ‘continuous praying presence’ whenever Synod is meeting. I’m convinced that has made a, or the, difference. And as I drove back this afternoon I wondered whether having that for our PCC meetings, and Standing Committee, might change the game too. Hmmm…

General Synod – *That* Debate

July 14, 2014 § 8 Comments

Hello all. I’ve blogged Synod for some time now, and some of you have been nice about it, so here’s my take on our business today. I hope it’s the last time I have to report on a debate about Women Bishops.

We have been meeting since Friday actually. It has been very hot, and we’ve slogged through some very detailed housekeeping, tidying up how we are elected and how we are organised. We’ve looked outwards too, engaging in a variety of ways about how we serve the Common Good, and how we welcome people for Baptism in a way which will assist in their continuing discipleship.

At the moment we are debating the Armed Forces Covenant – how we support those who are in, or used to be in, the forces, with all that they face. There have been some powerful speeches about how churches have served such people well, or badly. We will commit ourselves to detailed support – whether we support the principle of war or not.

And soon we will start the debate on Women Bishops. The vote will be later this afternoon.

11.06. For what it’s worth…there is a cautious belief that the numbers will be positive and the legislation will pass. But you just never know. I can’t imagine that there are any who are still vacillating on the principle (as there still were in 1992 when it was about priesthood). But there may be some who need to be convinced that those for and against can be guaranteed that they will mutually flourish. That was the bother in November 2012: some people in favour didn’t think that provision for those against was adequate. The feeling is that those people are satisfied.

Much will depend on what those who are conscientiously opposed say in the debate. Perhaps some will say that they can abstain rather than vote against. But that will be for them to say, and not for us to ask.

11.30. The Bishop of Rochester has opened the debate, and spoken carefully and warmly. He, and the Archbishop of York who is chairing, have both said that there is little new to introduce, though Bishop James drew our attention to the promise of the House of Bishops to consider carefully how Bishops who are opposed to women bishops will be consecrated. (GS Misc 1079).

Paula Gooder, a member of the Steering Committee, says that she’s been involved in this since her daughter was in nappies, and that daughter is about to go to secondary school. She reminds us what law can and cannot do, and calls us to the reconciliation and trust which being part of the ‘new creation’ of 2 Corinthians 5 actually means. The challenge will be to live out the life of reconciliation.

The Chair of the House of Laity, Philip Giddings, has made a speech which is moving towards cautiously accepting the package, whilst leaving all the objections in place. He’s just said he will vote in favour. This is significant, as his speech in 2012 was against that legislation.

11.42. The Bishop of Ely recalls us to the 5 guiding principles which the House of Bishops has committed itself to, and has offered to the church. Though this measure might cause a ‘rent’ in the house of the church, we can still be one body as we commit ourselves to each other. ‘We can make this work, we must make this work, and we shall make this work’.

Tom Sutcliffe, a distinctive member of the House of Laity (and who sometimes appears at my 8.00 service…) reminds us that the two world cup finalists, and the hosts, are ruled by women. He was another who is pro women bishops but voted against in November 2012, and now believes that this package enables the church to move forward. He looks to the day when women in all forms of ministry will be an ‘unremarkable normality’.

The Bishop of Burnley is speaking, and looking for ‘unity in diversity’ (a phrase from John Macquarrie). He is conscientiously opposed. He fully accepts those who will vote yes, and wants to walk with them. He asks for the same generosity. He will vote ‘no’ in ‘obedience to God in conscience’ (a phrase from Archbishop Rowan) He confidently expects the measure to pass, and looks forward to making things work, building on trust. In a really powerful moment he apologises if he has ever diminished someone with whom he disagrees.

Jane Patterson says she is a conservative evangelical, taking the ‘complementarian’ view of headship. She says she will vote against, and notes that no ‘complementarian’ bishop has yet been appointed. She says that, had one been appointed, she might have been able to abstain. As a Member of the Crown Nominations Commission she knows what she’s talking about. Dioceses state what they want on this – and most say that though it would be good to have a complementarian bishop, it’s not for them. She believes though that she can contine in this church, and will do so.

Andrew Godsall, a cleric from Exeter, used to work for the BBC, and reflects that the BBC was more Christian than the church into which he was ordained. He learned a teamwork there which he didn’t find in the church, and sees in the processes in this package an opportunity to connect the Good Book with the Good Life. This will be a great witness to the nation.

12.10 Julian Henderson, the Bishop of Blackburn, was in the House of Clergy last time, and voted against, though he was in favour of the principle. He will vote enthusiastically in favour now, because of the 5 principles. He sites the passage in Joshua where 2 and a half tribes across the Jordan build an altar – to the anger of the other tribes – clarify that they did it to ensure that future generations on the other side of the Jordan will know that they are faithful Jews. The five principles are like that altar, and will enable our diversity to enable the Common Good within our church.

Emma Ineson, Principal of Trinity College Bristol, speaks of 10 women under 30, as 10 good reasons to pass this legislation. If we do so, we will tell them, and many others, that they have a complete place in this church. They might not become Bishops, but it is vital that they are not prevented from doing so.

David Banting now to speak – a conservative evangelical (and a difficult man to dislodge when he’s batting and you’re bowling). He speaks of ‘when’ final approval is given, and affirms the level of understanding in his own diocese. He asks that the conservative position be ‘understood’, and wants differences of gender to be made visible, not removed. To remove differences of gender is to make the ministry a job, not a calling, he says. (I don’t quite get that myself, but I’m listening carefully).

Prudence Dailey, a lay woman from Oxford, says that she voted against in 2012 – in principle – and now intends to abstain, as she has no desire to block a settlement which she thinks will now work, even if she is in principle opposed. (This is big news – Prudence is very visible, a Prayer Book anglican, and I like her greatly). She recalls the vitriol directed at those who voted against in 2012, and suggests that those who voted against in 2012 have enabled a better thing to happen. But all this should mean that we move forward together. Warm applause. I’d love to give her a hug, but she doesn’t know me from Adam!!

12.25 Annette Cooper, an Archdeacon in the Chelmsford Diocese (and an old chum from Southwell days) talks of this package enabling healing from the hurts of two years ago. ‘There is so much we can teach the world as we live out this commitment [to each other]’. She speaks of the ‘projections we have loaded onto those with whom we disagree’, and says that we are now listening to each other.

(Authorial interjection: two years ago we had speeches which alternated ‘for and against’, with no great evidence of listening and commitment to each other for the future. Practically every speech so far has assumed this will get through, and what we are about is living together well in the future. It feels a whole lot better).

Adrian Vincent, a lay person from Guildford, says he voted against last time. He represents a diocese many of whom are for women bishops, though is is not. He can just about support this package, but is against the principle in conscience. Nevertheless, he will now vote in favour, because it will benefit the church more to do so than to vote against, aware that in doing so he is going against his own beliefs, and the beliefs of the people who identified with him. (this is a profound thing – a person against in conscience who will now vote for. The 5 principles are what it’s now about).

Christina Rees, who has done so much for women in teh church, is nearly in tears as she speaks of her surprise at what Adrian Vincent said – that for the sake of the church he will make a sacrifical decision.

(And I am crying as I type. Something amazing is happening here).

David Houlding, who, from an opposite position from Christina, and with her, aslso done so much to get us here, speaks of his hopes for our future working and flourishing. He notes that this trust will need to extend to our ecumenical relationships, which will be affected and changed by this.

Rosie Harper has spoken of the effect this will have on the position of women around the world – by affirming women in our church we will speak eloquently to places where women are attacked and denigrated.

(The Archbishop of York began the debate by saying he would rule out of order anyone who indulged in ‘tedious repetition’ of their own or others speeches. It is a testament to this debate that he has not had to do so)

Elaine Storkey reflects that the vote in 2012 might have been a work of the Holy Spirit. The atmosphere and culture now is different – a greater sense of optimism, and the opportunity for the release of further gifts of the Spirit, especially love.

Keith Malcouronne, a lay member from Guildford, voted against in 2012, and will vote in favour now. He testifies to the effect of how our committed speaking together has led to a much better package.

It is now obvious that a good number of people intend to change their vote from 2012. The atmosphere is positive and forward looking. In 2012 I wrote that the ‘drift’ of the debate was moving towards the failure of the legislation. Sniffing the wind today leads me to suggest that it’s all very different.

We’re about to move to lunch, after a time of prayer. May the afternoon debate be as profound, and hopeful.

After Lunch…

We have resumed. The Archbishop of York says that, of the 85 people who have indicated a wish to speak, 24 have done so. He congratulates them for not repeating anything, and hopes this will continue. He asks people to stand if they still wish to speak, and a good number have done so.

Jane Charman, an ordained member of the Steering Committee, invites us to see our future like a ‘bring and share’ lunch, where people bring all sorts to the table, either great are small, and all share.

Cherry Vann, an Archdeacon in the Manchester Diocese and Prolocutor of the Convocation of York, talks about how this might work, including a commitment to having different traditions on the long list of senior posts, and the requirement to enable people in the dioceses the quality and quantity of time to think through these things as we have done. Let us show how we can do ‘good disagreement’ intentionally.

Rod Thomas is now speaking. He leads the conservative evangelical group ‘Reform’, and was on the Steering Committee. He won’t be able to vote in favour, but affirms the process thus far, and how it will play out. He will do his part in encouraging his kind of parishes to play their full part in diocesan life, and recognises that there may be difficulties to come – eg in people taking the oath of canonical obedience to a Bishop whom they cannot recognise.

Lorna Ashworth, a lay person from Chichester. She’s opposed to women bishops, and though there is hope in the tone of the debate there is still vulnerability for those who are opposed in some of the language and arguments used. She is not confident in the use of words like ‘flourishing’ and ‘trust’, and will vote against, though she trusts and hopes in God.

Philip Rice, a London layman, voted no in 2012, and said it felt like a funeral. It does not do so now. There is such hope in flourishing evangelical churches in London, which are now appointing female leaders, that he will change his vote and vote yes.

The Revd Janet Appleby, from Newcastle, played a key part in trying to make the last process work, but feels this is so much better. As an ecumenist she feels this model would be good to offer to other churches. The 5 principles will help us in our relationships with other churches, as well as internally. She also invites people to abstain if they are at all conflicted. The voting is very close, she feels.

Chik Kaw Tan has three reasons to vote against. 1: theological – he has not heard a convincing theological argument for. 2: the arguments for women bishops are based not on theology but cultural mores. 3: the same arguments for women bishops could be used for same sex marriage. We are above all a people of the book. He will stand by his faithfulness to that teaching, and will vote against.

Sam Margrave feels like he has been in a slick show, where people’s words in speeches don’t relate to the pressures they are under ‘out there’. He feels this is ‘the end of the church of we know it’. ‘Let the Spirit move and vote with your conscience’.

3.00 I can only see around 12 people standing…

Revd Jennifer Tomlinson says that we have got here because of scripture, not despite it, and recalls the key roles of women through the Bible breaking moulds and countering cultures (my words, not here!). She ends with the words that ‘in Christ there is neither male nor female’.

Canon Robert Cotton from Guildford is a member of Archbishops’ Council, and of the Steering Committee. He was struck by a facilitator who said that it was the ‘tone’ of an encounter which reveals ‘latent value’, and he felt there was a great tone. Recognising difference is an opportunity to dignify the other.

Sarah Finch, a London lay woman, will vote against, to continue to register that there are different theological understandings. She believes in complementarity. She thanks the Steering Committee and the House of Bishops – and looks forward to more than one Bishop being appointed who holds complementarian views. ‘We will do our best to cooperate, thankful that we have the opportunity to continue flourishing in the Church of England’.

Clare Herbert, a London clergywoman, speaks in support of the legislation. She was a Vicar in Soho for a while. There was much life, but she was surrounded by images of women as objects, to be desired, then abused. She worked closely with prostitutes, and understood that their self image was enabled by some philosophies and cultures. By what we do as church we send out signs which affect others. We need to loosen our ties to philosophies which enable the subservience of women.

3.20 Gerald O’Brien, a Rochester Layman, addresses the Bishops present, concerning the House of Bishops Regulations. He asks what evidence there is to believe that the House will act. He repeats the demand for a ‘headship’ evangelical, and the lack of one as an example of the House not acting on its words. Even if one were to be appointed it might be ‘too little too late’. Even if there were to be a dozen conservative evangelical bishops the constituency would be under represented.

Jane Bisson, from the Winchester Diocese (Channel Islands, I think), returns to Jesus not appointing female apostles. Women have a series of roles in ministry, but not a leadership one. She asks to be able to continue to thrive.

Philip North recalls a 1945 Labour election poster: ‘Now win the peace’, and this will be vital. The conflict has been profoundly and personally hurtful (he knows -he should have been Bishop of Whitby). He challenges Sam Margrave about his interpretation of the debate this morning, but acknowledges that it will be difficult to translate the quality of our interaction to the local level. We need to change the dialogue – away from ‘internal hermeneutic to external apologetic’. He asks us to ‘win the peace’ – though he does not tell us which way he will vote.

Sally Muggeridge, a Canterbury Lay woman recalls the great gatherings we have ‘together’ and looks for more. She brings a message from Archbishop Tutu, hoping that we will vote in favour. ‘You are in for a great surprise and a great treat…God be praised. Yippee’!

The Archbishop notes that new people are standing, and asks for people to restrain themselves.

Revd Angus Macleay asks how the culture of the 5 principles will act out, how people’s consciences will be acknowledge, how scripture will be applied…and something else which I didn’t catch! But can we join together to preach Christ crucified? He doesn’t say which way he will vote, but I don’t think it will be yes.

Susie Leafe, a Truro laywoman, is a member of Reform – anti women bishops, speaks of her experiences of the facilitated conversations. She was told she was wrong by one of the facilitators. When she joined a conversation the document had already been written and this was about editing. Now she is told not to complain. ‘Is this a taste of flourishing?’ We need a united passion to preach Christ. Again I don’t think she’ll be voting yes.

Judith Ayers, from Torquay, teaches in a Girls School. The one thing her girls can’t be is a bishop. There should be no place for inequality in the church. It is time to vote ‘yes’.

David Ashton a layman from Wakefield, has been on Synod since 1973, and says this is the best debate he has ever heard. Congratulations, and he will vote yes.

Fr Thomas Seville, from the Religious Communities says that trust will mean us doing things we can’t just imagine. A female Archdeacon will appoint a headship evangelical. A ‘headship’ Bishop will appoint a woman vicar. Let us not slide back into a situation where ‘trust me’ means ‘agree with me’. In ecumenical terms it will mean Methodists rejoice. It will mean orthodox and roman catholics will be sad.

Revd Hugh Lee (Oxford) thanks the Steering Committee, and hopes that something like it can continue – to complement the work of the Independent Reviewer.

Richard Burridge talks about labels – ‘complementarian’ and ‘headship evangelical’ He notes that ‘multiple meaning holds the key’. And labels don’t help.

Graham Parr, a layman from Chichester, proposed the motion at Chichester Diocesan Synod, which had voted against. What changed was the tone – it was less bad temepered. Trust in our clergy leaders has been transformed. And the majority has a real responsibility to the minority. He will vote in favour, and hopes we will be surprised how this can liberate us all.

Hannah Cleugh, Chaplain of my old college in Durham, notes that in Scotland there was not a Movement for the Ordination of Women, but a campaign for a whole ministry, and this is a good model to follow. Let’s seek healing and enable wholeness, to bring the medicine of the gospel to a wounded world. Support this measure.

Mary Durlacher, a lay woman from Chelmsford, says that today is the first day to put the 5 principles to the test. She will vote against so that people know that there are those who can’t accept this and who will remain in the church. Please, Bishops, give us a sign by appointing a conservative evangelical bishop, or rethink episcopacy.

Revd Gavin Collins from Porstmouth asks whether the provision is enough for evangelicals. There is a theology of taint – in that not one of us is untainted. The college of Bishops needs to reflect breadth and variety. And evangelicals need to listen to Scripture that all may be one. He will vote in favour.

Jacon Vince worries bout those future clergy who might have been able to offer themselves to the ministry under the Act of Synod, but will not be able to now. He will vote against.

Three last speeches, I think.

The Bishop of Chichester remembers the celebration of 20 years of women priests in St Pauls, and a gathering at the Sepulchre in Jerusalem between the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew – where in front of the empty tomb all our differences fade away (my words). Within the traditionalist catholic wing we need to commit ourselves to the Jerusalem vision. We should offer our own riches to a tradition which we hope will now be enriched. (though he doesn’t say how he will vote).

Archbishop of Canterbury: to pass this legislation will be to commit ourselves to an adventure of faith and hope. ‘It will be hard work’, and we need a fresh embrace of one another in love. This legislation allows us all to move forwards together…we must mean it, in how we now live and work together. The House of Bishops mean what we say. We must not understate the significance of what we can do now. The world needs to know that we love one another as Christ has loved us.

John Spence, an appointed member of the Archbishops Council, speaks about his blindness. When it struck he was consigned to a hopelessness about work. With faith, and support, and being adaptable, he became Managing Director of Lloyds. He discovered a new world, where disabled people are part of a rich diversity, not abandoned. This took trust. Such trust can be a feature of what we do. He speaks to people who may be opposed, and says that trust can lead to wonderful things. Today is a celebration of a ‘coalition of consciences around the risen Christ’. Fabulous. And now I am crying again.

The Bishop of Rochester is now summing up.  Then we will vote.

We normally receive votes in silence and with restraint, and we are to do so again until all the business is done.

Bishops Yes:   37          No:      2       Abs 1

Clergy Yes:   162            No:     25         Abs 4

Laity Yes:    152             No   45            Abs 5

It has passed. Crying again.

And, if you’ll forgive me, I’ll stop now. The rest is consequent legislation.

I am as thrilled as can be – especially for those who what laboured so ard and so long.

Thank you for reading. You’ve all been very nice.

 

On death and dying: “I am the Way”

May 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

This morning’s sermon. I blog these if enough people come and talk to me about them afterwards (which, because we’re from Yorkshire, we don’t normally do). So here goes…It was based on John 14. 1 – 14

I had a fascinating conversation this week with someone who researches people’s experiences of the death of those closest to them, and their bereavement and grieving. Her key reflection was that what clergy could bring into that situation, beyond planning and delivering the funeral service, was a framework where people could explore their beliefs and understandings of death and dying, and especially of what people thought had happened to their loved ones, and where they were. This was most crucial between the death and the funeral.

That conversation remains with me now because of this morning’s Gospel reading, from John 14. We clergy, who do lots of funerals, tend to forget that people don’t go to that many in their life time. This reading, the first six verses anyway, is the one I most often use at funerals. It speaks of God’s care for us beyond death, of God’s promise that those in Christ will have a room reserved, and that perhaps even those who have not been followers of God in their lifetime will also be looked after. There are, after all, ‘many rooms’. Jesus, speaking, as John has it, on the night before he dies, with impending doom all around, gives his followers a framework to understand what is about to happen – one which they clearly remembered because they wrote it all down.

At the centre is a statement, a question and an answer. Jesus tells the disciples that they have all the framework they need to face his death, the ultimate challenge. ‘You know the way to the place where I am going’ he says. ‘No‘, says Thomas. ‘If we don’t know where you are going, how on earth can we know the way.’ Jesus, as ever, changes the nature of the conversation. It’s not about what the way is and where it’s going, but who the way is and how we get there. ‘I am the way…’ Faced with the ultimate question, Jesus gives an answer which will only make sense because of their faith, not their certainty. ‘You still won’t be exactly clear about where I’m going. But you can be sure that the way there is me. Trust me.’

In funerals I do all I can to make this framework plain. I try to say that the Christian faith is about us being gathered, swept up in Christ into the life of God. As he, one man, incorporated all of humanity, so that his death was our death, so the risen Christ incorporates us too, so that his life is our life. If the face of death many people look for certainties, for something as tangible as possible about the fate, the continued life of their loved one who has died. People can take great comfort in words from beyond the grave, for example, and the use of clairvoyants and mediums. There is, to broaden it out, a great interest in ghosts – you only have to see the huge crowds on the York ghost walks which used to go past our house. I try to say that our thinking about death and new life is much deeper than that.

This is about faith. Faith that, because Jesus died and rose, and is fully and completely with God, we will be too. Indeed, part of our life is already with God now. In baptism we have already died and been raised with Christ. But where, and how, and what it’s like on the other side of death…well, I don’t know. I can only trust that the means of being with God, the way we travel, and the life we will life, is Christ. That’s it. Total and complete trust. The Bible speaks of us ‘resting’, ‘sleeping’ in death. That’s a state which is fully enclosed by God, like the best kind of sleep in the best kind of bed. And the Bible says that, in Christ, we will be raised, so that we see God face to face. I don’t know when and how that will be. But I can trust that it will happen, and I can trust that it is Jesus who will be the means and the road and the companion and the guide and the friend on the way, and the everlasting arms behind.

When Philip asked Jesus to reveal the Father to them, Jesus said he already had. In every moment with them, every word, every action, God was being made plain to them. They just had to open their eyes to see. It’s that openness which Jesus asks of us as we face the biggest question of all: what will happen to us when we die? Jesus says: the answer is here already. I am such a part of the Father and you are such a part of me that, in life and death, you will be with me, and I will never let you go.

Facing his death, and acknowledging their grief, Jesus says to his disciples ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled…’ As we face our death, and the death of those we love, there will of course be grief and loss and sadness and anger and guilt. I cry at many of the funerals I take, and I miss the people you miss. That’s OK. Jesus wept at death too. But under it all there is the hope and hope and trust, that eternally we can never be separated from God’s love. May we offer that hope to all who wonder about life and death. And that’s everyone, isn’t it?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,973 other followers

%d bloggers like this: