Wheat and tares therein are sown

July 23, 2017 § Leave a comment

Today’s Gospel reading was the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13. 24 – 30, 36 – 43). A couple of pronouncements about the Church of England, here, and here, were in my mind when I got a sermon together. Enough people talked to me about it afterwards for me to pop it here as a blog. Just as I quoted the disparaging remark about bishops I spotted a retired diocesan in the congregation, but we’re still friends.bhthe-wheat-and-the-tares

It has been a week full of intrigue, backbiting, briefing and counter briefing, contradictory positions being taken, opposing camps making their points and playing the short and long game. So, perhaps, it’s a relief to be in church, where we can get a respite from politics in the US and Europe, and, just for a while, not have to be overwhelmed by the clamouring voices all over the TV, radio and digital media.

Except that I was also talking about the church. We’re right in the middle of briefing, counter-briefing, opposing camps and contradictory views. Take this from the Catholic Herald this week, following General Synod’s votes on matters of sexuality and identity:

“The Church [of England] selects bishops largely on their ability to avoid controversy … they are very carefully chosen so as not to have strong opinions on matters of faith. Consequently the ranks of the episcopacy are packed full of weak men.

When governments try again … to push through some [radical legislation], they will find willing accomplices governing over the husk of the Church of England, useful chaplains to the culture of death.”

That was written not by a Roman Catholic (thankfully), but by an Anglican, Andrew Sabisky, who turns out to be the Deanery Secretary for our neighbouring Deanery of South Camden. He’s clearly unimpressed with the direction he sees the Church of England taking, and wants to do something about it. That same feeling presumably drives the 21 signatories to an open letter to ‘British Anglicans’, inviting us to plan with them a ‘faithful ecclesial future’. They say:

“Many will share our dismay at the recent decisions of the General Synod of the Church of England and the pursuing principles, values and practices contrary to Holy Scripture and church Tradition. Given the persistent failure of the majority of the House of Bishops to fulfil the God-given duties which they have sworn to discharge these tragic developments were, sadly, not wholly unexpected.”

I will not be the only preacher finding food for reflection on this in our Gospel reading today. What do we do when life is full of conflicting opinions and practices? The parable of the wheat and the weeds counsels patience and trust. Bearded wheat (good), and bearded darnel (poisonous)  look similar. When they are young, it is hard to tell the difference. As they grow if you pull one out its root system will disturb the other. It’s best to let things develop, rather than take too hasty action. Jesus tells a wise story here. If you wait until the wheat has done its job, you can separate them out, use the weeds for fuel, and harvest the grain successfully.

Jesus invites us to be patient, take the long view, and, crucially, to let God be the judge. The two articles I quoted are keen to take a stand and make instant judgements on what’s happening. Jesus is speaking in a world where the Pharisees and teachers of the law could make easy pronouncements about people based on words and actions. If there is a blueprint for pure action and faithful lifestyle it is possible then to see whether people measure up; whether someone is conforming or not. And once you’ve done that you can take action. You could expel them from the community.

Jesus challenges this relentlessly. Only God can tell what is righteous and pure, because God looks at the heart. We could be making judgments on the wrong criteria. Our job then is to let people grow, and to care for them. All will be revealed one day. It works for the church too. It’s all too easy in church settings to start making judgments about who is in and who is out, and the people I quoted earlier are doing just that. Based on this parable I have to say that, unless people disqualify themselves, we should welcome all. It is not our job to judge.

But, neither is it our job to be woolly about what we believe. We neither judge nor compromise. To welcome all, and to worship together, is not to lose our distinctiveness or saltiness. We should be distinctive and welcoming, and let God be the judge. Many conservative Christians use the word ‘liberal’ to denote someone who believes in anything, everything, and therefore nothing. It is surely possible to proclaim Good News in Jesus Christ and to reserve judgement on things which others would want us to make a line in the sand. A commentator on this passage says:

“The Kingdom of God is not the exclusive coterie of self-elected saints: God, in his time…will separate the pure community … it is God’s business alone to decide who belongs to the Kingdom” (David Hill)

This is not an allegory about specific aspects of church discipline (Matthew does that later, in Chapter 18), but it can speak powerfully into debates about what is central to our doctrine, teaching, and practice. Don’t be rapid in rushing to judgment. Or, as Paul says to the Corinthians: “Do not pronounce judgment before the time” (1 Cor 4. 5)

It is not that there will be no final reckoning, no final judgment, according to Jesus. All of these parables are based on God sorting things out at the end of all things. One day we will answer for what we have done. We have to ensure that we act in faith, with love, righting wrongs, confessing sins, looking for the Kingdom of God.

And the good news is that the allegory breaks down here. You can change from weed to wheat. The thing about people is that they can be changed by the love of God. The thing about the church is that, in all its variety and complexity and differences of opinion, it is living a life which includes repentance, renewal, turning round, and fresh starts. Weedy people, in Christ, can become wheaty people.

I will continue to read the blogs and articles written by people who make radical judgments about the state of God’s church, and this Church of England. I would prefer though to write about God’s radical call to welcome, inclusion, community, and working out our salvation together with fear and trembling. I will instinctively oppose those who make a judgment only God can make. And until the great harvest we will be a church where we look to find the Kingdom, in the most unlikely places.

On Synod and the Kingdom

July 6, 2017 § 3 Comments

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’

I was a member of the General Synod of the Church of England for thirteen years, in two stints. Tomorrow its meeting in York, and a little bit of me misses it. So I found myself preaching about it last Sunday, prompted by Luke 17: 20 – 21. What follows is the edited version of me trying to answer this question: for General Synod, and for the Church of England, where will the Kingdom be found?

Where Synod is at its best is when people with experience and commitment speak into areas they know, relating their understanding of the Gospel mission imperative to the contemporary world. And that, of course, is where Synod is at its worst too. Examples of the best have included the challenge to trade fairly; to set aside historic and crippling debt; to enable flexible new ways of mission for the church; to simplify bureaucracy so that church can get on with the job; to provide new ways out of debt for people over reliant on extortionate lenders; and many more.

The worst has been exemplified when the call to be distinctive and to hold on to the Gospel becomes tied up with a particular moral, ethical and spiritual position, such as in the debates around human identity and human sexuality. I found the intense debates we had about equal ministry so wearing that I simply couldn’t imagine what the Synod would make of human sexuality and equal marriage.

The problem comes when people believe they know how the rules of the Kingdom of God apply in particular cases, and beat people about the head with them. Rather than allow testing, thoughtful examination, and generosity of application, some people declare what the truth is to be and condemn any other approach. When debates in Synod take place with people wielding those kinds of weapons, trouble ensues, and not even the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ‘good disagreement’ will do. For those who believe they know the views of the Kingdom of God on a matter, any disagreement is anathema, not good.

So, very recently: clergy in the Diocese of Chelmsford have written expressing ‘no confidence’ in their Diocesan Bishop; a member of my Bible study group at university was consecrated as a missionary Bishop for Scotland (and the wider Anglican world), in order to hold the true faith against the onslaught of revisionist doctrines, mainly around sexuality; and today people are considering boycotting Synod because of the presence of the Scottish Bishop who proposed the Equal Marriage motion passed there last month.

My reading of Luke 17. 20 and 21 is that we need to be careful when pronouncing on the rules and presence of the Kingdom. Answering the Pharisees Jesus says it’s not the kind of thing that can be seen or pointed to. Neither is it something that will come very soon. Don’t get twitchy about it, says Jesus, putting two and two together and making a hundred. Don’t even start trying to interpret the events of today in apocalyptic terms.

Rather…the Kingdom of God is ‘among you’. The Kingdom is present in Jesus, pushing boundaries, dwelling on the edge (he has just been with ten lepers, one of whom was a Samaritan), simply living and being. It is not, yet, to be found in an institution or a programme or a manifesto. Don’t think you can grasp hold of it, as if it was a thing. The Kingdom is me, says Jesus.

I think that means that the Kingdom is found when we recognise Jesus in each other, when we are taken by surprise, when we commit ourselves to finding the other and understanding them. If the Kingdom is tied to a set of propositions alone, then we may preserve some sort of pietistic purity but become overly distanced from the communities and society in which we live and move.

The knack with the Kingdom is to recognise where we have to stand firm, where we have to challenge, and where our emphasis on one aspect of belief – say to hold to an aspect of doctrine – plays against another – say to love our neighbour. ‘The Kingdom of God is among you’. The crucial thing is to find such wisdom, from the Spirit, that we can both stand firm, and be bent and shaped by the Spirit’s work across society, not just in the church.

I’m praying that General Synod this weekend will discover such wisdom, and that, for us and for them, seeking the Kingdom first will put everything in place.

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.

 

Same Sex Marriage and the House of Bishops

February 16, 2014 § 13 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 Feb 2014

February 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Morning all.

Synod started yesterday. We had a moving debate yesterday about Gender Based Violence, and committed ourselves to work in every way possible against it, and a presentation about Ethical Investment. We have lots of investments, and lead the way in ensuring these are used ethically – it’s a fast changing world, and the presentation was an inspiring mix of finance and theology.

Questions included lots about where the Bishop of Bath and Wells will live. Normally it’s good for the church to divest itself of grand palaces, but the Church Commissioners’ decision to move the Bishop’s accommadation elsewhere has been very controversial. Sometimes inhabiting a prominent and grand place can be an act of mission.

Anyway, we’re now spending a day on the legislation to enable women to be bishops. It’s really complicated, and probably not very interesting…but there is the odd banana skin, and we’ll need to be careful. Here we go.

We’re debating the Declaration from the House of Bishops – how the provision for those for and against Women Bishops will work in practice. So far even those who can’t recognise a woman as a bishop are saying that this package can work.

Conservative Evangelicals have problems with women in authority, and the Bishops wrote a paragraph separating legal and sacramental authority – but didn’t include it in the Declaration. One or two speeches have asked for it to be included – or at least made available.

Otherwise no banana skins.

We’re about to vote on the Declaration, and have approved it overwhelmingly.

That was the ‘code of practice’ if you like. Now we do the legislation, clause by clause. We are revising it rather than finally approving…so it’s detail.

First clause enables women to be bishops. Lindsey Newcombe, lay chair of Forward in Faith, speaks movingly to affirm the process and to commit herself to the future of the church – and to say that, of course, she has to vote against this clause. Not to derail anything, but in all conscience.

We approve it overwhelmingly.

Now to Clause 2 – which removes the office of bishop from the Equalities Act. Simon Taylor was going to ask to amend this ‘blunt instrument’ and sharpen it, but being advised it would delay things he has withdrawn it.

We approve Clause 2 overwhelmingly.

And we’ve approved all the others, after a quick further skirmish about the Equalities Act.

Now we are looking at the Amending Canon, which makes the required changes to our Canons. We’ve also approved them overwhelmingly.
For 304, against 33, abstained 45.

Now we debate rescinding the Act of Synod (which provided the legal framework for provision for the opponents of women priests). Our new package should make it redundant.

We are reminded that the Act of Synod sounds like the law, but isn’t! Rescinding it will not make the Bishoprics of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough redundant – though it does remove the office of Provincial Episcopal Visitor.

Interestingly we have to pass an Act of Synod in order to rescind ‘The’ Act of Synod.

This is an important moment – some would say The Act of Synod kept people in the C of E. Others found it discriminatory and hurtful. Most seem to feel that the new arrangements do it better.

We have approved to rescind it…and it will be referred to the Dioceses.

Lunch!!

General Synod Wednesday – what you’ve been waiting for.

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Good morning all. We have, of course, discussed all sorts of things so far – intentional evangelism, church buildings, church schools, poverty. how we do our business better, and so on. But this is the debate people will be looking at.

I’m cheered by a few things – the irrelevant one being that Hull got the ‘City of Culture 2017’ nod this morning. If Hull can be a City of Culture, then all sorts can happen. Specifically, it looks like the stuff being offered to us today can ‘fly’ – a ‘single clause’ measure – women and men can be bishops – and a good set of provisions ‘for the whole church’, as the Bishop of Rochester told us on Monday. Our work in groups yesterday bore this out. It looks like many those who cannot conscientiously vote for this legislation will be able to abstain with honour.

You can follow the debate online – check out the C of E website, and on Twitter, so look at @CofEGenSyn.

We’re off. Most people want to speak in favour (woo hoo!), and we’ve been urged not to be repetitious. And there are no amendments proposed…even better news.

The Bishop of Rochester outlines the matter – much of what we will talk about will be about process, and he invites us to think of the ‘ombudsman’ as a model, but not to use that language. We will talk of an ‘independent reviewer’ who will be used to settle disputes between parishes and dioceses and their Bishops. He mentions one of the substantive issues: the oath of canonical obedience made by clergy and others to the diocesan bishop, and he says that the questions have been heard.

Richard Mantle speaks first – a maiden speech. He’s a Lay Guardian of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, and is a ‘catholic anglican. He intends to support the proposals (I wasn’t expecting that!) – whilst being wary of any document which promises ‘peace in our time. He speaks of the essential nature of trust, and a commitment for traditionalists to thrive. Women who are bishops must hold their office with the same jurisdication as men, and so must those male bishops who don’t ordain women. There must be commitments that such men will hold office in the House of Bishops. I’m really cheered by that – a traditionalist saying ‘we can do this’ (my words).

Simon Killwick, Chair of the Catholic Group, says how much better these proposals are – more preferable than a Code of Practice and individual diocesan arrangements. He likes the Independent Reviewer. ‘Significant improvements’, based on the clearly laid out principles which guide the process. ‘For us trust will be greatly helped if arrangements can be published for the future consecration of traditionalist bishops’. Again – a positive feel.

Rod Thomas, a conservative evangelical and leader of Reform now. He again speaks of some encouragements, but as a member of the Steering Committee he still has some problems. He’s worried about jurisdiction – it still bothers him that a delegated bishop for his constituency might be delegated by a woman (the ‘male headship’ problem), and some clarification about spiritual and temporal authority would be welcome. He will vote in favour today, even if he won’t vote in favour at final approval. He confidently expects it to go through. Warm applause.

These three speeches are a massively big deal. Three people who would be figurehead opponents who have all spoken positively. The world outside should be cheering like stink.

Christina Rees (WATCH) also positive, and pays tribute to the process. David Houlding (a traditionalist) is massively enthusiastic. We are all provided for. The ecumenical avenues are left open with the wider part of catholic christendom – part of our polity will be recognisable to the great catholic and orthodox communions, and the sacraments are preserved. ‘The battle is over. Let’s get on with the mission’. Massive applause.

Anne Martin is positive, but is worried that our consensus might be fragile. Let’s strengthen it. Bishop of Southwark: ‘if Christina Rees and David Houlding are happy, then I am happy’. In a lovely slip of the tongue he talks about ‘concentrated bishops’ rather than consecrated ones. His diocese is ‘happily fractious’ and emphasises the essence of trust. ‘Bishops will have to demonstrate that they are totally committed to this way of doing business’. In using the five principles the House of Bishops has already made its position clear.

Amanda Fairclough from Liverpool  would have preferred an even simpler Measure. but urges us not to tinker. This is fine – let’s do it. Now David Banting – a conservative evangelical, who will vote no, as he will vote no at final approval. He is confident that this measure will allow his integrity to flourish, and our new ways of working will mean this position is honoured. He had dreamed a dream of a new way of bishops being bishops. He thanks God for a new atmosphere, but stands where he stands, and feels, charitably that this is ‘inappropriate’. He worries that there will never be a ‘conservative evangelical’ bishop. He will seek to work within the church whatever the outcome will be, and hopes that a proposal to have suffragan sees shared by a number of dioceses will go forward.

Another speaker says that we should all be bound by what we do, and not chip away at it later. Paul Benfield, who abstained in the Steering Committee vote, says that he might have voted no, but did not. This package can work, and he urges us to continue with it. He will now vote for.

Anne Foreman committed herself to worship with different traditions, and found welcome and challenge in all. It convinced her that we can move forward together. Charles Read is nervous about ‘ring fencing’ a place in the College of Bishops just for someone of a conservative evangelical position (and he comes from an evangelical background). We don’t appoint bishops on the basis of one position alone. And such a bishop could change his mind!

Susie Leafe (conservative evangelical, and works for Reform) cannot support this, and cannot accept a woman as chief pastor. Even acceptable provision of another bishop would be directed by a woman. This will alienate many churches which are growing and are sending many young men into the ministry.  Jurisdiction remains a problem – it’s all about who is the ‘ordinary’ – the lead authority – for parishes who cannot accept a woman’s leadership. This question has not been on the table, and should be.  She was on the Steering Committee, and didn’t vote against, and cannot support it. She didn’t say whether she would vote against now. (JF comment: most people would vote against if this provision of different ‘ordinaries’ was offered!!)

Rachel Treweek, Archdeacon of Hackney, is strongly in favour, and is reluctant to turn up the volume on one particular aspect. But…further converstaions about the role of PCCs and Bishops and their facilitatd conversations on this issue. Keep the principles of transparency and reciprocity at the forefront of these conversations on the ground. Make sure that the whole worshipping community knows, not just the PCC – some kind of public notification would be good. And PCCs would be helped by some simple and non partisan informative material, perhaps on the C of E website. Vote Yes!!

Christine Hardman, Prolocutor of Canterbury, didn’t think the process would work. It has. It was not comfortable, but there was ‘sincere, courageous and dangerous engagement’, and this will need to continue through the church. ‘Isn’t God good?’

JF: It almost feels like we should vote now, unless there are some substantive points on the process.

Jamie Harrison (also on the Steering Committee) talks about the Independent Reviewer, reflecting his medical experience.   He guards agains the process being a fully legal one – it can be too time consuming and too expensive.  Trust the ‘joined up’ process. ‘Trust me, I know it’s going to work, I’m a Doctor’.

Elaine Storkey talks about law and grace, and her experience of the World Council of Churches discussions last month on gender and leadership. The underlying theology is of men and women together in Christ. She values the grace which has been heard so far this morning. We can ‘walk together’.

Tim Hind invites the House of Bishops to be proactive with the Independent Reviewer, rather than waiting for a conflict to arise.  Hannah Cleugh, Chaplain of Castle (Univ College Durham – huzzah), welcomes the package, which works together. It ‘holds together in tension’, in the best anglican tradition.

The Archbishop of York says that that he and ++Justin agree that there should be a conservative evangelical representation in the House of Bishops. This is difficult to quantify – as con evos disagree on headship (my words not his!). He will get him and Justin also to declare their hand on the nature of consecrations, and will work further on the nature of the Independent Reviewer. He commends a person of the stature of a very senior judge.

Deborah McIsaac guards against the Independent Reviewer being an advisor – they are a safeguard and a backstop.

Gavin Collins stresses that we can’t pick and choose our bishops. All parishes will need to work together their Dicoesan bishop, and model mutual relationship.

The debate is now helpfully on how the process will work, how it relates to the Equalities Act and how the Independent Reviewer will act. This healthy, and shows that the substantive point is won. I think.

Rosie Harper looks at this from the outside in, and the sheer wierdness of a group arguing about discrimination in the C21st. ‘We need to stop being wierd’. Stop describing ourselves by what we don’t do.

Moving speech by Mary Nagel (Forward in Faith), whose daughter declared a vocation to the ordained ministry. They are walking together, and we can too. Wow.

We are going to vote soon – a good news story for the 1.00 News.

The Bishop of Rochester warns against complacency, and says his champagne is on the journey from rack to fridge. We will go forward when we ‘outdo one another in showing honour’.

The vote was

Yes:  378

No: 8

Abs: 25

Jolly dee. That is really quite remarkable.

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