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?

Boasting in Sufferings – a Sermon for Lent 3

March 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

SONY DSCI preached this sermon this morning, and lots of people commented. So I’ll offer it up more widely. The Biblical text was Romans 5. 1 – 11

The Church of England now offers two collects for each Sunday. The collect is the prayer which ‘gathers up’, or ‘collects’ our prayers and gives them a shape and a theme. They are not just an Anglican thing: the collects which Archbishop Cranmer (whom we remembered this week, martyred nearly five centuries ago) gave us in the Book of Common Prayer are generally translations of Latin prayers which had been around for a thousand years or more.

As clergy here we sometimes have a discussion about which of the collects to use. Some of the Common Worship collects are very like their BCP originals, and that makes their language and construction complex on occasions. Sometimes the newer Alternative Collects put things more concisely. Well, I was determined this week to have the collect Common Worship originally selected for the Third Sunday of Lent. It’s not a BCP one, but was written by William Reed Huntington, Rector of Grace Church, Broadway, in the late 1800s for the American Prayer Book.

Almighty God,
whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory before he was crucified;
mercifully grant that we, walking the way of the Cross,
may find it none other than the way of life and peace…

I was determined to have this because the clergy Canons of York Minster once had an argument about it. One of my colleagues was keen to simplify it: “whose most dear Son went up to joy after he suffered pain…entered into glory after he was crucified…” and so on. There was a worry that the collect as it stands was being too clever for its own good. I stood my ground. This collect is one of the few I can recite from memory, and I think that’s down to the very complexity we wondered about simplifying. There’s something memorable about the repeated construction “went not…but…entered not…but” which straightening it out would lose.

In fact Huntington took the construction from a phrase in the Book of Common Prayer, in the service called The Visitation of the Sick. As I have pondered on it since, I would say that the complex negatives are vital. It was not just that Jesus entered into joy and glory after a time of pain and the crucifixion; it was that the joy and glory Christ now enjoys are inextricably bound up with his passion and death. The only way to glory was by bearing the cross. The only way to joy was by bearing pain. There is an implication for us that the life and peace we long for is inextricably bound up with walking the way of the cross. We do not get to dodge the suffering which Christ bore: it cannot be separated from the path to glory.

In his letter to the Romans Paul spends three chapters talking about being reconciled to God, freed, forgiven, justified and redeemed by God though faith. He describes this as the present experience of the Christian: “we have been justified…we have peace…we have access to his grace”. It may come as a surprise then that he immediately says that there will be suffering and that not only should we not run away but we should actually rejoice in it. Until the end of this world there remains a cross to carry and suffering to face. He goes even further in Romans 5: the sufferings of the faithful Christian, whatever they may be, are things we should ‘boast’ about, because they show that we are walking in the way of Christ.

It is not that there will be joy and glory after this pain – a bit like the distant view of a pub means you can cope with the last two miles of a long day’s walk. It is that the sufferings we have to bear are a necessary path we have to take. Sufferings and hardship, says Paul, help us to remember that all of our freedom is from God, and all we can do, in any situation, is to trust God alone. As Paul puts it, through and in this suffering we learn endurance and character and true hope. God is as present in our troubles as our joys, and all are part of the way of the cross. When we face hardship and persecution and suffering in this life, we do so because we faithfully follow Christ, and find him in them. We don’t do this because there will be joy later: we find Christ in each act, each moment; and if that is a hardship, then that is the way Christ walked first. We will not get home without hardships and trials, and in them we find life.

All of which probably sounds insufferably pious if you are in the middle of something awful. But I have various people in mind when I say that in living through pain and crisis is the hope of glory. I think of people rebuilding their lives after they were torn apart by one event which called the last 30 odd years into question. People who are facing an illness with no cure.  Parents who walked the way of suffering with their youngest child, incurably ill and who died before Christmas. A friend whose adult child simply vanished, and has now been missing for five years.

I think of churches torn apart by politics and persecution. Institutions facing an uncertain future and seemingly imploding. People left shattered by the loss of job and security. As Christ did not, could not, would not go up to joy without taking all the pains of humanity into himself, so we, walking in his way, will not be immune from that pain, and must hold on, with what little we might have left, to the Christ who shares that pain with us. That costly personal discipleship is therefore one of the themes of Lent.

And, if our current situation is to be beside still waters and in pleasant places, then our task is to share that pain with others, to stand with people in difficulty, to enter the darkness with them, and with them to look for its redemption, its completion. If you do this, please don’t try to explain suffering away, to give it a reason. It will be enough to hold the hand of the people you are with, and to pray that they will know Christ’s presence even at the darkest times. It will be enough to reassure people that, if it’s dark, Christ is still there, that if it hurts, Christ has suffered too. It might just be possible to say that such times can deepen our faith (and ‘The Visitation of the Sick’ service does just that, not altogether helpfully, I think), but it’s probably best to assure people that God will not let them go.

Our sufferings and difficulties are part of the humanity which Christ willingly embraced. In him, in his life, passion, death and resurrection they are ultimately given meaning and purpose, though that can seem a long way away in the middle of it all. I hope you’ll pray with me that people you and I know who are walking the way of the cross will find that it is the way of life and peace. And I hope you will hold their hand, and bear their pain, because our hope is in the Christ who walks this way, and leads us to life and peace. Amen.

Same Sex Marriage and the House of Bishops

February 16, 2014 § 12 Comments

This is a bit of thinking out loud, to help me work out why I find the statement by the House of Bishops on Same Sex Marriage difficult. Do help me out…

In my role as Precentor at York Minster it was my job to organise consecrations: the ordination of bishops. One of the descriptions of bishops which always stood out in the service was this:

With the Shepherd’s love, they are to be merciful, but with firmness; to minister discipline, but with compassion.

The House of Bishops has just issued a Pastoral Statement on Same Sex Marriage. This wasn’t on a whim: same sex marriage becomes law in England next month. Across England there will soon be couples who are legally married, in a way which the historic doctrine and practice of the Church of England does not recognise.

There has been a progression of ‘official’ Church of England pronouncements on this.

Broadly speaking:

  • The Biblical case is not so clear cut as it may seem, but the current accepted doctrine of the Church of England affirms that a physical relationship outside marriage between a man and a woman falls short of God’s ideal.
  • However, nothing we do or say about this should be used in any way to attack people with a homosexual orientation.
  • No one should be excluded from the church or denied the sacraments of baptism or communion because of this.
  • Faithfulness in relationship, and faithfulness in working out Christian discipleship are clearly a good thing.
  • Where people in a same sex relationship wish to affirm that by making a formal commitment to each other, that wish should be recognised, but not publicly and formally ‘blessed’.
  • Things are different for clergy, and those in a licensed relationship with the Bishop, as their public ministry is part of the affirmation of the doctrines of the church as the Church of England has received them.

The current guidelines nudge things a little more in the direction of recognising that there may be some kind of act of prayer as an appropriate pastoral response to a same sex marriage, though this should not be a ‘blessing’, nor, probably, a public act of worship. I guess that our ‘facilitated conversations’ around the Pilling Report will help us get more clarity on this.

But here’s my problem. Right at the end of the Appendix to the Pastoral Statement, the House of Bishops make it very clear that, whatever the tradition of ‘conscientious dissent’, and whatever desire they have not to draw lines too firmly, anyone currently in holy orders and under the authority of a bishop could find themselves under ‘discipline’ – a word they use in para 28 – if they marry under the provision of the new act. In using the word ‘conduct’ in para 27 the House points to the use of a charge of ‘conduct unbecoming a clerk in holy orders’ being a possibility here.

On Wednesday, at General Synod, we had a presentation about the Pilling Report. I came away hopeful that the process over the next two years would bring some kind of nuanced and generous settlement of these things. The answer to a question from a prominent cleric, who announced himself to be gay and not called to celibacy gave me some hope that such faithful expressions of same sex human love within a commitment to Christ might one day be given a surer footing in the Church of England than they are now. We spoke of ‘good disagreement’.

Two days later the House has given the clear impression that clergy who intend to marry under the provisions of the new act might find themselves subject to discipline. The House’s statement makes this so public that, it seems to me, an individual bishop will now have to give clear reasons why he is not going to allow formal proceedings to happen, should he be so challenged.

I think the House probably had no choice than to restate historic Christian beliefs about marriage. They overstate the case about this being the first time church and state have diverged over marriage: in the 1800s debates happened over the marriage of a man to his deceased wife’s sister, and more recently over remarriage after divorce. In both cases secular law was in advance of church rules. And it was only in the last 20 years or so that people who were divorced and remarried could be ordained. But marriage between people of the same sex is, of course, quite a departure from what we have inherited.

However I do think the House did have a choice about what they were to say about the treatment of clergy, and ordinands. Given that we are to have facilitated conversations about the wider area of same sex attraction, the House could have said something along the lines of:

The existing doctrine of the church is that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Any cleric seeking to marry under the provisions of the new act must be clear that they are going against this.

They must do so having informed their bishop, and discussed it with him.

Pending the outcome of the facilitated conversations process which has been commended by Synod, we will not, at this stage take disciplinary action against serving clergy who choose to marry under the provisions of the Act. (A ‘moratorium’)

That would have been the House as a whole stating a case ‘firmly’, but then acting with ‘compassion’, and allowing the whole Church of England to come to a mind, as much as that is possible, before stating a final position on clergy and same sex marriage. What they have done is to express the firmness of discipline, and left it to each individual bishop to work out the mercy and compassion on a case by case basis. That’s going to be a whole lot of difficult situations, which I think they could have avoided.

I tweeted that I was ‘naffed off’. It was not with the House per se, but with a situation which left them no choice but to say something, and the logical process which led them to be so declarative at the end. I want to be as compassionate as possible about the Bishops’ situation here. But I don’t think it would have been too much for them to stay their hand, just a little, while we all wrestle with this and seek to come to a position which will enable us to speak of the love of God to a society which is moving very quickly indeed.

As I said, these are my first thoughts. Thanks for being a public sphere to try them out.

Synod Tues Afternoon

February 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Afternoon all.

Having successfully revised the Women Bishops Stuff, it now needs to go to Dioceses. Normally that would take 6 months, which will delay things somewhat. So we are to debate shortening that period – with the intention that we can do the necessary in July. 

This is where some people might want to slow it down … we’ll see.

The first speech says we should delay, as dioceses haven’t seen the package. Of course, it was from an opponent of women Bishops, though voiced eirenically. There was only a smattering of applause…when we come to vote we have to approve the change by 75% – (nearly the biggest majority we ever require).

A speech in favour gets warm applause.

Still going as predicted, except that a prominent opponent has said that we should just get on with it, which is refreshing.

Just about to vote – it will, of course, pass. Just need to see if we get the required 75%.

Yes: 358 No: 39 abs 9

We’re ok. Still on track for a July final approval.

Phew.

Lots of stuff on fees and things now. You’re not that gripped – admit it.

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