Synod can start very slowly, but I had to get my famous Synod clapometer out very quickly tonight when Archbishop Justin was called to the microphone to give his first Presidential Address. The depth, warmth, and volume of the applause was remarkable. As he said, in the first of a series of self-deprecatory remarks, he’s hardly been a Bishop for any length of time…
But he made up for it in what he said. Beginning, like all good preachers, with a cracking good joke he then brought the Synod to a fine pitch of attention while he set out his stall: we are in revolutionary times; the Church of England has not noticed how it is heard by people (for example, during Lords debates on the Marriage (Same-Sex) Bill, or by people under 40;and much more). You can read the whole address here
In short, he said, we need a revolution of our own – which should be rooted in a rediscovery of prayer and of Christian community, and include taking evangelism seriously. (The point about community interests me, as one whose formation as a Christian included a spell on the Lee Abbey Community in the 1970s, and who looks with admiration from afar onto contemporary Franciscans, and Benedictines such as those at Stanbrook.) And Justin took as his oft-repeated mantra (or maybe proof text, in this setting?) the eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.(Dt 33.26)
Again, the clapometer went off the scale when he finished: thunderous applause which lasted a long time. Part of that was just “welcome new man” noise; but part of it was appreciation of the way he set a new tone for our discussions on women bishops, on mission, and on dealing with a fast-changing society.
It’s good to talk…?
There’s plenty of nervousness about tomorrow’s ‘facilitated discussions’, which are the prelude to a formal debate on Monday, which points to the Bishops’ preferred ‘Option 1’. (Read the paper here.) Synod has been used to small group work on a Saturday morning in York, but tomorrow we are to spend all day in groups of 24 with an outside facilitator. Subject: issues around women and the episcopate. No details of how this will work has been sent out with Synod papers; and even the make-up of the groups has not been made public. (The lists are in printed form only.) My group is certainly a very mixed bag. So two pre-Synod gatherings I’ve been at today have seen people asking worried questions. They are afraid they are going to be stitched up or channelled in directions they don’t want to go.
Wiser heads than mine have urged the worried ones simply to go with the flow. There were some fairly un-publicised facilitated discussions with key groups and individuals (leading women, people from Reform and Forward in Faith, and so on) earlier in the year. Now it’s our turn.
A document has come round this evening (Friday) with a rough outline, and sets out what are called the St Michael’s House Rules – a kind of ecclesiastical Chatham House Rule with the usual references to confidentiality, trust and open-ness. Canon David Porter, Archbishop Justin’s in-house reconciliation man popped up at the very end of the day to talk us through what’s going to happen. It’s going to be a day of taking risks and of re-imagining, he said. He’d rather have us for three days, but he has to work within our framework. He wants to help us have better conversations with each other: and we’re invited to put our energy into that. And there’ll be some drama at the end of the day’s work (with a theatre company).
Is that all there is…?
If you take Andrew Brown of the Guardian seriously in his current gloom-laden assessment of where we are, you’d think Synod is totally focussed on the King’s Great Matter. It’s not true. Even now on Friday evening, people are getting up steam about the safeguarding debate on Sunday (which will probably bring out some heart-wrenching stories); about the welfare debate (standby for tales of food banks, heartless Government policies, and so on). And we have a fight on our hands over the proposed reorganisation of West Yorkshire dioceses on Monday afternoon.
Or, to put it another way, it’s General Synod as usual, really. But with some new heart (from Justin) and some very new procedures – which we will put to the test, amid much prayer, tomorrow. And then see what happens on Monday morning…
PS Don’t expect much detail about tomorrow on the blog. That’s the whole point.