July 9, 2013 § 1 Comment
Our business today is, in one sense, inward looking. We are reviewing the composition of the Synod – who can be a member and how many come from each diocese and other constituencies. But…this relates to our mission and presence in the nation. We’re thinking about how General Synod hears the voice of younger people, minority ethnic groupings, and university teachers, and also wondering about how the voice of the Province of York can properly be heard.
We’ve just taken note of a report about this (GS 1901), and it will now go to a Revision Committee. Now we’re looking at the representation of university staff – a very complex constituency, if a small one. Those who are ordained and who teach in universities bring a special expertise to our life, but working out how they can be elected has always been a bother.
We have just agreed to encourage the Revision Committee to bring clearly researched proposals for either abolition of the Universities constituency, or reform of it. So it will come back in due course.
It you’re really keen you’ll carry on reading the next bit…we are doing the detailed legal work which will provide the mechanisms to change who can be elected to Synod. They are ‘Amending Canons’ – changing the law. What’s fun about this is that you have to vote for the setting up of the legal process, even if later you want to vote against the specific matter it has just allowed. I’m sure we’ll vote to send these instruments to the Revision Committee – and will nip out for a drink!
11.50. Back in – we did indeed send the legal instruments to a Revision Committee, with points about representation on the north, the universities, and the effect of the new Diocese of Leeds duly noted.
Now we’re on to how we define who can vote for non ordained members of Synod (the Laity), and whether we can use electronic means to vote and be nominated for election. The laity one is interesting. At the moment only members of Deanery Synods can vote for lay members, and that electorate might not be truly representative of ‘the people in the pews’. The choice would be either to allow every member of an electoral roll to have a vote, or to set up a special ‘electoral college’ where people stand specifically and simply to be the people who vote for General Synod.
Universal suffrage would be complex and expensive. An electoral college would allow more people than could commit themselves to a Deanery Synod for a 3 year term. That argument seens stronger to me than one which says that ‘not all Deaneries are the same and some are not very active or capable’ (my paraphrase of the argument). But Pam Bishop from Southwell and Nottingham is arguing for the ‘community’ aspect of the engagement which Deanery Synods have.
Philip French (Rochester) presses for universal suffrage, use of technology, and more speed. Voting online would enable more people to be involved in the whole process.
Christine Hardman (Southwark) points out that electoral roll membership does not always guarantee active church membership. She argues for a ‘college’ made up of all the lay members of the PCC, including the churchwardens. Warm applause.
Adrian Greenwood invites us to get on with the electronic stuff and to think carefully about the electorate ofthe House of Laity. Electoral roll membership is way too complex, and reinvigorated Deaneries may well be an assistance here.
And… we’re going to adjourn, to bring the business back in November.
That’s it. We’ll now say farewell to Bishop James Jones, Bishop Geoffrey Rowell and Bishop Anthony Priddis (I think).
July 8, 2013 § 1 Comment
After a quick break we are back for the debate on reshaping the Dioceses of Ripon and Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. This is controversial in that Wakefield voted against the scheme, R+L and Bradford said yes.
The Archbishop of York decided that we should have this debate despite Wakefield’s opposition. The diocese will be centred on Leeds, with a further phrase ‘West Yorkshire and the Dales’. The process was not finance driven, was not following a blue print, but was about ‘bottom up’ engagement with mission.
Bishop of Wakefield speaks first. The diocese engaged with the process, but in the end opposed it. The Diocesan Bishop will be remote, as the diocese will have tripled in size. The distances are great, and the Diocese of Wakefield is different demographically. He’s worried about the cathedrals too, and doesn’t feel that this will help grow the church. General Synod should not override the wishes of a diocese.
He also doesn’t like the process – the mechanics are difficult to change. He asks for a full debate on a theologically robust strategy for diocesan change in the future.
Bishop of Bradford takes the opposite view. Support the scheme. Actually he’s voting to lose his job, as all the Bishoprics are dissolved. But this uncertainty is right. The scheme allows for Area Bishops to be the local bishops on the ground. It helps the diocese address the needs of the region better. So, two Bishops, exactly opposed. I’m not sure how this will go.
Archbishop of York, who has 10 minutes to speak. General Synod gave the Dioceses Commission the remit to think new thoughts about dioceses. That’s what they have done. The Commission is also having an effect on York as well, with suffragan sees suspended there too. The proposals for West Yorkshire and the Dales remove some boundaries for mission. Collaboration can give economies of scale, as well.
He invites Synod to put emotion aside, and look at the facts. A church responding to the needs of the world needs flexibility, mobility and agility. The ways which served us well in the past may not serve us well now. It is good for us all to learn from a new way of reshaping our structures for mission.
On cathedrals he says the Diocesan has his cathedra, his seat, in every church in the diocese. Cathedrals are instruments of mission, not the kingdom of God. Having three cathedrals will be different, but will provide new patterns of mission too. It is not without precedent – see Ireland.
He pleads for reconciliation and harmony, whichever way the vote goes.
Ruth Hind: where is Pete Broadbent’s cunning plan? Actually, she now agrees with the scheme, though not at first. She felt that the rural area was tagged on. But this can be resolved. It’s not insurmountable. Vote yes to give greater mission in Leeds. She is also now more convinced about a rural Archdeaconry with a rural Area Bishop – recruiting, nurturing and training rural specialists.
Mary Judkins (Wakefield) speaks. This is about the central priority of the Gospel message. The vision of the Wakefield Diocese has recently said ‘and beyond’ – this is an opportunity not to keep mission to Wakefield itself, but to share it with the wider diocese. She quotes David Hope on reshaping structures to be light on our feet. Strongly for the new diocese.
Ian Fletcher (Bradford). We need the certainty of a new diocese so we can get going. Bradford Diocese was strongly in favour. Overall the dioceses votes 200 for and 98 against – more than the 2/3 we need for other things. We need to go forward, but the concerns of Wakefield and of the cathedrals need to be heard too. Strong support.
Nigel Greenwood (R and L). Also supports. Good examples already of joint working between R and L and Bradford. We only do separately what we cannot do together.
Maggie McLean (Wakefield). Says that Mary J made good points, but there are still concerns. Worried that 2 episcopal voices will be lost in the national debate. Doesn’t want one area of the diocese to be a no go area for women, which could happen. I think that was measured support.
Bishop of Burnley – his diocese of Blackburn will receive some parishes from Bradford. No boundaries actually work – the whole area works well together. Develop mission for the north. He supports the scheme.
Clive Scowen likes the idea, but opposes it. It’s wrong in principle to abolish a diocese against its will. Its wrong in practice if one of the dioceses doesn’t embrace the vision. It’s wrong because we has a church have not agreed a national strategy which will guide the Dioceses Commission.
David Ison (London – formerly Dean of Bradford). Reorganisation which made the three dioceses was itself very unpopular. There needs to be more theology of cathedrals. The cathedral brand has borne fruit. Losing support for cathedrals would be destructive of mission. Suggests a period of experiment. Allow cathedrals time to work on a creative theology and practice of mission – say 20 years. Then shape a national strategy which includes greater churches too.
That’s the speech I was going to make – nearly!!
David Brindley (Portsmouth) thinks there is too much which is untested, and urges us to vote against.
Joyce Jones (Wakefield) is in favour. The scheme would serve the area well. But because the diocese has voted against she will abstain.
John Sinclair (Newcastle), is hearing people being forced into a shotgun wedding. The reorganisation could be a diversion. Doesn’t understand how the cathedrals will work.
John Beal (R and L) says this is vital for Leeds.
Jonathan Alderton Ford (Dioceses Commision) We did have a national debate about dioceses – 2005 – 7. No need to have it again. We can easily reimagine dioceses with the information we have now. We can do this. We can have fun with this.
Paul Ayers (Bradford) If we vote this down we will be wasting all sorts of work and prayer. But the C19th and 20th organisation of the church needs to be changed for the 21st century. He holds out a hand to Wakefield. Jump in!
James Allison (Wakefield). This is an emotional issue. He has a priest father and and an ordinand son, and they are in each diocese! He would love it to happen. His problem is that his Bishops have said no. He’ll abstain.
Bishop of Ripon of Leeds. These proposals offer real mission opportunities. He doesn’t like the ‘pro cathedral’ thing, but it’s a possibility. And there is no way in which this reduces the place of the C of E in Bradford or Ripon. VOte for this.
Chairman of the Dioceses Commission now summing up. Applauds Mary Judkins saying ‘and beyond’ and ‘travelling light’. Let’s get the structures right to relate properly to these communities. He thanks everyone involved. Have the courage to vote for change.
We have voted overwhelmingly in favour.
July 8, 2013 § 2 Comments
Afternoon all. New blog for the afternoon, but it’s as if we have not had lunch and are just carrying on from 1.05.
Clive Mansell has moved his amendment about ‘preventing legal challenge’ under equalities legislation. Bishop Nigel is not sure that there is an easy answer to the problem, and puts himself in Synod’s hands. Clive Scowen agrees that you can’t prevent legal challenge, but you can provide good safeguards. We should at least ask to try. Mark Steadman is happy to trust the current working of the law under the Equalities act. Tony Baldry (MP) is not happy to go back for fresh laws, amending equalities legislation. Parliament would not wear it.
He also says that he can hold the line in Parliament for a couple more years, but no more. We vote on it electronically…For 200, against 210, 15 abstentions. Amendment lost.
Now to Keith Malcouronne, whose amendment is about using the ‘facilitated conversations’ process thoughout what comes. Bishop Nigel is happy to accept it. Chris Sugden very happy to support it too. ‘We’ve set our hands to the plough. Let’s not look back’. Dagmar Winter cautions about expecting too much – it does have limitations. ‘I agree with Pete, kind of’. (Pete Broadbent has invited the steering committee which will take this forward to engage in the process using the ‘facilitated conversations process). We agree to do this.
We now debate the motion as a whole, as amended by Dover and Malcouronne (Option 1, with a monitoring process and using ‘facilitated discussion’).
Archbishop of Canterbury speaking. Too much detail invites complicated litigation. If his speech gets blogged then read it – demolishes a legislative solution in two sentences. He supports Pete Broadbent’s proposed process. Please set a clear general direction, while leaving space for development. Discuss the 5 principles the Bishops established, agree them and make them a kind of ring fence. The resolution, the principles and Peter Broadbent’s scheme are the best way forward.
Tim Allen recognises that getting the amended Option One through, especially through the laity, will not be easy. If we couldn’t do that in November, with legislation, how can we do it now? Peter Broadbent’s process might just do it. If we don’t do it by July 2015 it will have a significant effect on elections to the new Synod. Best to do this now. We will guarantee a broadly based new Synod in 2015 if we do our work quickly and well now.
The Bishop in Europe raises the ecumenical dimension, and asks from, eg WATCH, a statement of its ecclesiology in relation to the other denominations (I reflect that it would be good to have one of those from Rome about us…)
Jane Charman hopes that we will unite around Option 1. But ‘what if we can’t?’ If we fail we will have to recognise that we have gone as far as we can. Best to be dissolved as a Synod. She is confident that people trust the House of Bishops – though some of the people around me find that amusing.
Rebecca Swire (a deacon – the one woman minister who voted against last November) doesn’t find that any of the options or amendments are quite right. But we have the vision to find an outcome, and this is possible.
Paula Gooder speaks – she was pictured in the press in tears after the November debate. ‘We must never dothat to each other again’. This way of doing things is a new way forward. What we are doing is puting boxes in place, with nothing official yet to put in them. Let’s be good to each other.
BIshop of Rochester says we will be able to set up the Broadbent process by voting for Option one as amended. Let’s vote with conviction.
And we’re about to vote…oops – no we’re not. Bishop Nigel to reply. He reminds us that Option One is not a single clause measure. It requires provision…just places that provision in a different form to the law. He has listened to all the amendments, especially the one about legal protection, which he will look at again. People also want to talk further about the five principles the Bishops established.
He was sorry to read predictions that we would fight even more. Let’s offer hope of reconciliation among ourselves and beyond ourselves. We vote…after some points of order. We’ll vote as a whole Synod – not in houses.
In favour: 319
So – passed strongly. Over to the establishment of a steering committee to shape the next bit of the process.
We’ve been given 15 mins off. I’ll do the Dioceses stuff on a separate blog. Thanks for listening!
July 8, 2013 § 4 Comments
Welcome all. This is Monday morning’s blog. Look here for Monday afternoon!!
As promised, my take on what happens through Monday. It’s Women Bishops this morning, after worship. There are some 9 amendments tabled to the Bishops’ motion. The Bishops have said, in short, that we should get going on this without delay, and that legislation based on the simplest pattern – their Otion One – should be what’s drawn up. A quick look at the amendments reveals that they all want to add further legislative weight to provision for people unable to receive the ministry of a woman Bishop.
The key will be whether the impetus towards trust and grace which was in evidence on Saturday will be carried forward. We will need an ‘opponent’ to say they can live with this, I think.
To prayers. See you later.
Here we go. Not even started before Andrea Williams (Chichester) has moved to adjourn the debate until tomorrow. She wants Bishops who are in the Lords to be in the Lords today for the marriage bill. So not a wrecking thing, but another point all together. She is told that there are Bishops in the Lords today, and the marriage bill is at the report stage, so numbers of Bishops not vital there today.
And off we properly go. Our chairman, Geoffrey Tattersall, invites us to listen to each other and not talk at each other. He reminds us that this is a beginning, and we are giving a new Steering Committee a ‘steer’ – there will be ample chance to revise legislation as the process unfolds.
Bishop of Eds and Ips gets us started. He thanks the working group which produced most of the report we’re debating. He affirms the process of ‘facilitated conversations’ which they went through, and which we did on Saturday. He recognises that, after November, we are more polarised than we were. But the argument now is about ‘means, not ends’. All are agreed that women will be bishops. It is the ‘how’ which is key. Hence their 5 principles (fully equal ministry; everybody to acknowledge the decision; only part of the wider schurch approach to this; opponents to be able to flourish; provision for opponents not to be time limited so as to enable mutual flourishing).
He indicates that two amendments have his blessing: to continue to use the ‘facilitated discussion’ process, and to have a mandatory grievance procedure in which all bishops will have to participate. He moves Option 1, with these intentions.
10.15. Bishop of Lincoln: Option 1 is not ‘fluffy’. It will enable grace, and with a Bishops’ declaration and mandatory procedures will give the C of E all the stucture and protection it needs.
Rod Thomas (from Reform) says he speaks for the majority of evangelicals who voted against. He says he and they don’t want to block the way to women bishops. He valued the facilitated discussions. He understood and was able to communicate the different sensitivities involved, and was happy to contemplate simpler legislation, and understood that there would be different instruments to offer protection for sensitivities. But none of those instruments are there in the House of Bishops paper. There is too little for people like him. He asks for one of the other options.
Karen Hutchinson, a former matrimonial lawyer, talks about pre-nuptual agreements, which are really planning for failure. She is uncomfortable with an over reliance on protective legislation. We should put our energy into building relationships strong enough for the journey ahead.
Wealands Bell (Lichfield). He worries about trust. It is as if the proposal says ‘I’m going to take away the promise I made to you yesterday so that you can trust me more tomorrow.’ We find law a help in all sorts of areas of our life. Much of the passion about opposition to women priests is about grief about the schism of the church – our relationships with Rome etc – and here law would safeguard grief, not enshrine misogyny. We need more law. Passionately said – especially as he is not of that mind himself.
Pete Broadbent has a ‘cunning plan’ (which he tried out on people last night). Have an enlarged Steering Committee – made up of pressure groups and those of no allegiance. It should have a ‘facilitated discussion’ and come up with something which the whole group can put its name to. No provision for a minority report. All or nothing. Forgo the use of a Revision Committee – that’s where it failed last time. Come straight to a Revision Stage in full Synod. That would make the moral authority of what comes to Synod much more powerful – all groupings would have had their say already. Warm and prolonged applause.
Following speeches something of a lull. Importance of trust, and positive language. And a desire to have an option 4.
Various speakers – on different ‘sides’ – keen to say ‘I agree with Pete’. So the method – get an enlarged Steering Committee and get it to agree without dissension, then enact what it says – is getting good support. We’re now going to have speeches on each of the 9 amendments.
Paul Benfield speaking to his amendment: that provision for ‘opponents’ should be made by Measure or regulations made under canon. Not quite Option 4. He runs out of time but we get the point.
Philip Giddings (Chair of the House of Laity) speaking carefully about listening to each other. He likes the facilitated discussions, and the mandatory grievance procedure.
Tom Sutcliffe speaking about his amendment to continue the deployment of alternative episcopal oversight, administered by the two Archbishops. I don’t think this will get anywhere, but he is also inclined to agree with Pete.
Rebecca Swinson – the youngest member of Archbishops’ Council – likes this motion because she won’t have to keep explaining what we’re up to in the pub. Option One can be talked about ‘out there’. Women priests have been part of her reality for all her life. She doesn’t want her children to have to hear the phrase ‘women bishops’.
Peter Collard wants to keep the bulk of the arrangements we already have – the 1993 Measure, covering priestly ministry in parishes. He does not want parishes to ask for alternative episcopal oversight (Resolution C) – and will ask the Archbishops to think further on this. Lukewarm applause, and general sense around me that they’d not quite understood what he was on about.
Clive Mansell has two amendments. He feels option 2 (having an Act of Synod with proviion for ‘opponents’ already written before we approve the matter of women Bishops), and wants the Synod to have a go at it. His further amenment asks that protection against legal challenge under the equality act should be built in to any legislation. Sounds sensible to me.
11.15 Bishop of Dover speaks to his amendment, which has already been commended by many. There should be a monitoring body, and a requirement that Bishops abide by any agreed process. There would be an independent body, not a code of practice, with agreed membership, and with robust powers (so that if a Bishop ignored provision (s)he would be subject to discipline). This would be more robust than legislation.
Simon Cawdell speaking to his amendment, which inserts a phrase about enabling those unable on theological grounds to accept their ministry to flourish within the C of E.
11.30. We start on dealing with the emandments. Bishop Nigel (who was Paul Benfield’s training incumbent) resists his amendment, which he describes as ‘Option 4 with bells on’. But it needs to be tested, so we debate it. Adrian Vincent says that if there is robust legislation, then opponents will guarantee to let the whole thing pass. Groans in Synod indicate that few are convinced.
Rose Harper is opposed to this. Anything other than Option One is discrimination, and lets down oppressed women around the world. Others want robust legal provision so that there is something clear to measure a grievance process against. Rachel Treweek says Option One opens up trust. To vote for it is not to say no to provision – it just puts provision in its proper place.
About to vote on the amendment. We are to vote by houses.
Bshops: Yes 7 No 34
Clergy Yes 48 No 137 (4 abs)
Laity Yes 75 No 115 (4 abs)
There is a fear that we’ll be asked to vote by houses on each amendment. But standing orders can’t prevent that.
Tom Sutcliffe’s amendment is also resisted by Bishop Nigel, especially as it talks about ‘alternative’ episcopal oversight rather than extended oversight. Bishop of Ely says it takes us back rather than forward. I predict it will fall…and it does, overwhelmingly.
Now to Peter Collard’s – which Bishop Nigel calls Option 3 with additions. The old 1993 Measure is causing increasing pain and won’t help the new ways in which we want to work. Not a lot of people want to speak – I predict it will fall. Stephen Trott invokes the Good Friday Agreement process – there needs to be more on the table to help people go forward inconfidence together. Overwhelmingly lost.
Now to Clive Mansell’s, asking for Option 2, which enforces an Act of Synod, and a Synodical process (with 2/3 majorities required) to change it. This will be close, I think. Interesting speech by Philip Plyming, who voted against last November, but who is in principle in favour of women Bishops. Option 2 would allow him to vote yes this time. Chris Sugden says that you patronise a minority if you say ‘is this enough for you’, and you care for them when you say ‘what do you want’? Give the Steering Committee maximum steer by supporting Option 2.
This is tricky, as there are good reasons to support Option 2…which is only marginally more ‘legislative’ than the now strengthened Option 1. Janet Appleby (who had a key and honoured part in the attempts last November) now speaking. She’ll have weight, as she was part of the facilitated discussions. She asks for a strengthened Option One, with room for trust and walking together.
About to vote. Again we’re voting by houses…I predict it will go through in one house – almost certainly the laity.
Bishops Yes 10 No 28 (1 abs)
Clergy Yes 55 No 128 (8 abs)
Laity Yes 93 No 100 (4 abs)
I was wrong (just!!)
On to Simon Simon Cawdell’s amendment, which Bishop Nigel is unsure about, because it’s not entirely clear. Simon Butler says this is the amendment which enables the process Pete Broadbent invited us to take part in. Robert Cotton says it’s not! You can vote against this and still agree with Pete.
Sarah Goddard draws our attention to the voting in the House of Laity – well over a third are voting against Option 1 – don’t just send Option 1, because ultimately it will fail. Bishop of Dover points out that his amendment would drop if we passed this. To the vote: clearly lost.
Bishop of Dover’s amendment: David Ison wants clarity about ‘grievance’ and ‘mediation’, and asks for advocates rather than individuals to make complaints, and for a compulsory mediation process. Bishop of Dover agrees. My own opinion is that this is a really vital point if we are to trust this process. One speech is worried – could tie Option 1 in legal knots. ++Sentamu, who had been unsure, is persuaded – especially if it is about monitoring, mediation and reconciliation. I’m sure we’ll pass it. And we do!
That’s it for the moment…we’ll come back after lunch.
July 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
A look at the Synod Agenda this time reveals that today, Monday, has two major and contentious items: Women Bishops and a proposed reorganisation of dioceses in Yorkshire. I’ll be blogging them live , if you like that kind of thing.
But we’ve done quite a lot already. Most of Saturday was taken up with preparation for the Women Bishops debate. We had recognised that different groupings in the Church of England, and different views on women in ministry, were unlikely to agree on a way forward based on legislation and ‘parliamentary’ debating alone. So a ‘reconciliation’ process was set up, and ‘facilitated conversations’ took place earlier this year among the different groups and organisations, and reported to the House of Bishops.
Synod did the same kind of thing on Saturday. Small groups, each with an external facilitator, were helped to speak openly about the issues andtheir impact, and to comment on the possible ways forward the House of Bishops had proposed. Each group reported back to Canon David Porter (based at Coventry Cathedral’s Centre for Reconciliation), and he fed back to the Synod.
Part of this process involved drama, with professional actors playing out a scene in the ‘Synod Big Brother House’, trying to find a solution to the problem of women bishops. At any point members of the ‘audience’ could insert themselves into the scene and try to influence the action. The whole process has unlike anything I’ve experienced at Synod before. Reports from the groups were varied, but the general feel was that it had been hugely valuable. Lots of people said that the process (from 9 – 5) was not long enough, which was a testimony in itself.
What else have we done? Synod gets going with Questions, some of which flagged up people’s problems with a report issued by the Faith and Order Commission about Marriage. Many other questions are about detailed matters, some of which then emerge in later Synod debates.
On Saturday evening the Archbishops’ Council reported on the state of play on its three themes for the period 2010 – 2015: contibuting to the common good; growing the church; transforning ministry. Synod affirmed the progress made, but added a call to the House of Bishops to report in 2 years with a strategy for evangelism as well.
On Sunday afternoon we went into serious legislative detail. We approved changed to the way the Faculty system will work (the church’s ‘planning permission’) – essentially making the process less administratively complex and speeding it up where possible. And we tweaked a number of bits of law which wil help the church and PCC’s do their work. Some of that was legal housekeeping, but that’s what Synod does, and good laws help us all.
Later in the afternoon we considered Safeguarding, in the light of a recent investigation into the Diocese of Chichester. It was a sombre session, preceded by a statement from survivors of abuse. We agreed to redouble our efforts, systems and processes to ensure that churches were safe for all, and to review those processes and laws to enable dioceses and parishes to act openly, pastorally and justly for all. We’ll hear more oabout specific changes nationally to safeguarding requirements.
In the evening we considered what the church’s response should be to the huge changes made to welfare reform in this nation. Our final motion was strengthened in the debate to include a ‘bias to the poor’ and a reference to the difficulties in a system of universal benefit. We agreed to strengthen both the work of the grass roots and those wrking with politicians and the state to ensure fair treatement of the vulnerable. Our debate was not party political, and seemed to me to be an excellent example of how to reflect and act in a complex world.
So let’s see what we can do with women bishops now…
June 30, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I typed the wrong number in our lectionary for today. Instead of the end of 1 Kings 19, about Elisha being Elijah’s disciple, we got the whole of 1 Kings 19 – Elijah on Horeb, ‘only I am left’ and so on. I was preaching, and found myself comparing Elijah’s ‘deflation’ and Jesus’s purposeful journey though Luke.
I said to our congregation that I might well have made the mistake for a purpose. A good number of people thanked me afterwards for the bits about being depressed and ‘deflated’. So I thought I’d offer it more widely. Hope it helps.
Political dramas on the television are very fond of the ‘walk and talk’ sequence, where the Prime Minster or President is on the move, barking out orders and giving instant answers to questions from aides who come and go, usually with a clipboard or a mobile phone. The central figure is completely in control, directing the action, never pauses for breath and never has to reflect on the right answer. They are, to use some overused phrases, ‘in the moment’, ‘in the zone’. So popular is this device that it is frequently spoofed in comedy shows.
A slightly irreverent part of me imagines the Jesus of Luke chapters 5 to 19 as being like this. He hardly draws breath. His words pour out like a torrent. People come and are healed, miracles happen, and he uses each event to say further profound and challenging things. There’s story after story, parable after parable. Just look at Chapter 9. He sends the 12 to preach. They return, full of it. He feeds the 5000. Peter declares Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus predicts his death. He goes up a mountain and is transfigured. He heals a boy with a demon. The disciples arg
ue about who is top dog. And at the end, in our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus prevents his disciples from nuking a village, and people who try to combine their old life with following Christ are sent away with a flea in their ear. It carries on for another 9 chapters like this. It’s like one of those compilations of highlights with all the boring bits taken out. It’s exhausting.
Perhaps the key phrase in today’s reading comes in explaining the Samaritan villagers’ rejection of Jesus. His ‘face is set’ towards Jerusalem. All of this busy-ness, all of these words, all of these events have a purpose. Luke shows a whirl of activity around Jesus, with some reflective moments too. But it all leads towards a goal. Jesus isn’t hanging around to see what will happen. He is making it happen. And, as with any Rabbi worth following, his disciples had to do the same. If you’re going to follow me, he says, be prepared to have no house or home. Forget about the past, don’t look back. Complete focus, complete dedication.
What’s interesting to me is that this doesn’t make Jesus like some megastar on a walkabout, not really engaging with the people they meet. In fact Jesus seems to be ready to stop, ready to listen, to hear the next word from God, to speak the next word of God, to receive or offer service at any moment. I can imagine him not looking over people’s shoulders, trying to see if anyone more important is coming. He would look straight at people and give them all the attention the situation demanded. He responds to unexpected events and challenges with balance and insight, precisely because he is focussed on his goal, his reason for being there. He’s focussed, and purposeful, but not blinkered or blind to the needs around him.
Today’s readings offer us a superb contrast with another great leader who is full of the works and power and mission of God. Elijah the Prophet, in 1 Kings 19, is fresh from a whole series of miraculous events. He has predicted drought, he has multiplied food, he has raised a boy from death, he has challenged a king, he has wiped out the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He is the epitome of success, completely led by God and with a clear goal of standing for the true worship of God in a land where they have become distracted and unjust. He can even outrun a chariot.
But you wouldn’t think that if you started Elijah’s story only at chapter 19 of 1 Kings. Far from being the ‘super-prophet’ of chapter 18, he is completely miserable, and wants to die. One setback – a threat from the King he challenged – and all his power and purpose and focus just melt away. I’ll confess to being deflated on occasions in much the same way. It’s as if you’ve been floored. One minute all is powering on, the next you’ve been unplugged – and you deflate like a bouncy castle. Some of you may recognise the symptoms of a reactive depression in Elijah: he turns everything inward and it’s all about himself. There is no hope, no reason to do anything, exhaustion, gloom, despair.
It takes a retreat, physical care and activity, good food and a change of perspective to get Elijah back on track. He has mistaken a unique call from God for a requirement to do everything by himself, and has taken a temporary setback for a clear proof that he’s made a mess of it and that all is going to fail. God helps him put all this in perspective. His purpose remains, but he’s in good company, not on his own. It’s not all about him: there are 7000 with him, and Elisha is given to him as a close companion. His blinkers come off, and he’s able to put his life and his ministry and mission into context, ready for whatever comes next. Again I’ll confess to the way this works: admitting your deflation to someone else and being open to the encouragement of others leads to restoration, and the recognition that it’s not that bad, that it’s not up to you, it’s up to God.
When a potential disciple says to Jesus that he must put his affairs in order first, Jesus seems harsh: ‘let the dead bury their dead’. But this is for a positive purpose: ‘as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’. Jesus calls us to live with our ultimate end in view, with the declared purpose of everything we do being for the kingdom.
Distractions to our Christian life can come in many forms: the voices from the past telling us this is not for us, that we’re not good enough; the demands of family, work and friendship; the need for security. Jesus’s focus is on what is to come, not what’s behind us. Other distractions can come from within: Elijah’s self accusation, exhaustion, over concentration on himself. We can be too focussed on the task and forget to look after ourselves and see the bigger picture.
What Jesus shows us is that we can ‘set’ ourselves towards God, and look out for what’s happening around us – we can gaze well ahead and look closely at what God is doing here and now. I’m trying to learn how not to be deflated. When you commit to something it’s hard when it doesn’t go right the first time. Jesus invites us to follow him without distraction, but also to take the long view, and in all things to proclaim the kingdom of God. If we follow him in doing this, we too will be fit for the kingdom.
June 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
If you’re not careful, and your eyes are a bit bleary as you go onto the internet to look up Carers Week, you end up on the National Careers Week site. It struck me, as this happened to me more than once, that there might just be a message here. For how many of the 6 million carers in the UK does their care feel like a career? Look at the findings of the excellent ‘Prepared to Care’ report (on the actual Carers Week site). Nearly 1 in 2 carers have given up work because of their role. 2 in five carers have reduced their working hours. 1 in 3 have missed out on promotion. 6 in 10 have reduced finances. 5 in 10 use savings to buy food. 1 in 4 have an extra loan or are in debt.
If ‘caring’ were one of the options on the National Careers Week site, would anyone choose it? I hope that you’ll think with me that it’s not a simple question. It may be that, generally speaking, if all things were equal, of course we’d like fewer working hours, more money, better food, no debt worries. Of course we’d like status, authority, priority treatment, VIP privileges. It does seem that obvious. But you above all people know that life is not that simple, that sometimes choices are made for us, and when push comes to shove we know what’s right to do.
I think of three of the caring situations I’ve encountered just recently. The spouse who instantly gave up work to care for a partner with a terminal condition. The nephew who took responsibility for a maiden aunt, retired for 39 years and in residential care for two decades. The spouse whose life has changed abruptly after their partner’s sudden illness and long term prognosis of recovery. None would have chosen this. None would have applied for the job. But all have done what they have done without a hesitation, and with a sense at least of duty, and actually of love and profound commitment.
The six thousand people who find themselves as new carers each day care because they care. It is a given, and you do it. And you know that the way you care grows with you, and changes as your situation changes. Like being a parent, you don’t start the job with every skill, every piece of expertise in place. You don’t care each day in a state of complete calm and total balance. It’s frustrating and frightening and challenging and annoying. You wouldn’t necessarily choose it. 3 in 4 carers said that they weren’t ready for all aspects of caring. 8 in 10 said the emotional impact was greater than they thought it might be. 7 in 10 had difficulty with change in relationship with the person they cared for. We’re not ready. But we do it.
Carers Week, and our year round support for carers, is all about recognising the impact of caring, and providing as much support as possible. In some cases that will also mean campaigning for better care to be provided by agencies, councils, charities and government. Too much caring is hidden. But…Carers Week is also a celebration of the immense amount of love and service and genuine goodness which carers delight in showing and do not want to stop doing. When Jesus was faced with 2 of his close friends who wanted the best and most powerful seats next to him, he recognised that this ambition was normal. And then he turned things upside down. You’ll be richest, he said, most fulfilled, and most useful when you serve, not when you’re top dog.
Carers Week is about rejoicing in care well given, well resourced, well valued. It is about challenging when wider society takes advantage of carers rather than supporting them. You as carers have something profound to teach the rest of society. Faithful, committed, loving and dutiful service of others is what builds out society. Jesus said that the greatest among you is the servant, not the Lord. Your ‘career’ teaches us much. We will not take this for granted.