Well, we’ve got past one hurdle on the Women Bishops front. As I explained on Friday, the separate Houses (Bishops, clergy, laity) have the right to ask for the legislation to be referred to them for separate debate. Sighs of relief: they have all decided it’s not necessary. So the way is clear for the main debate to happen on Monday without any further sideshows. I’ll report some of the corridor and tea-room chat further down in this post. Because other things have been happening today…
The Wallis collection
Highlight of the day for many was the visit by Jim Wallis. This burly, drawling American minister is founder of the Sojourners community and extremely influential in American religious and public life. He spoke about the Common Good – the subject of the discussion groups and debate that followed.
Jim is a hero figure to many, well-known at the Greenbelt festival and through his writings and Sojourners magazine. I suppose you might call him a radical evangelical. He talked about short-termism, the way in which American society and politicians are scared of change and of other people; how black Americans are locked up in disproportionate numbers. The political system is bust; churches can be agents for change.
He had a wide range of great stories (from the Davos Economic Summit to his kids’ baseball practice) – and some great soundbites
- Loving your neighbour means loving other people’s kids like your own
- Faiths flourish when we serve people who don’t belong to our tribe
- Humanity should be served by wealth, not ruled by it (a quote from Pope Francis)
- God is personal, never private
- We have underestimated sin. We have also underestimated hope
There’s an interview recorded today with him here. As we approach next year’s election, there are serious questions about how much our own political elite are concerned about the common good, as opposed to just getting (re-)elected and then ruling by Daily Mail values. Much for Christians to do here… And he’s preaching at York Minster tomorrow.
Synod makes laws.
It’s a knock-on from being the Established Church – Synodical Measures are the law of the land. The process is long, and Parliament can check our changes. Today’s example of law-making was an amendments to the Canons of the Church of England. We were formally told that Amending Canon No 31 (making changes to a variety of rules) has passed through all its stages in Synod and Parliament, and is now law. Archbishop Justin had the lawyers read out an arcane statement from the Queen – and the actual Canon , with its big red official seal, was put on display in the tea room.
From that gloriously Gilbertian moment we passed to a morning of technical debate about other proposed legal changes. I won’t go through them all here – they included representation of Universities and theological colleges on Synod, tweaks to the numbers of reps from different dioceses, and so on. I sensed a pre-occupation with Monday in people’s minds, though full attention was paid to debates, and we had the usual gaggle of amendments, procedural confusions and a few laughs along the way.
Let us go to the house of the Lord
Worship and prayer are getting a higher profile in the Synod these days. One controversial manifestation of this has turned out to be the removal of the main morning Communion service (which happens at 7.30 a.m. – before breakfast) from the main hall to a room set aside in Derwent College.
There was criticism of the change during the debate on the agenda yesterday. Tim Allen from St Edmundsbury and Ipswich was unhappy that we were removing worship from the bear-pit of the debating hall to a special holy room. Surely it was better that we hallow this space by worshipping in it?
I gave the new ‘chapel’ a go this morning, and as I walked the length of the campus (7 minutes from my room) I fell in with Tim. and gently chided him for attending the Temple of Rimmon. Actually, when we eventually got there, the lecture theatre had been transformed by dressing it with a very large cross, an elegant long table with a clean white cloth, and an icon and candle. For me, it worked better than the fusty chairs of the amphitheatre we debate in. But I found out later in the day I am in a minority, and the experiment (1 day old…) is unpopular. It’s partly the long walk, partly old habits dying hard – and partly they may be right. We’ll see.
Hobbs motion, son of Hobson!: Cassocks, vesture, robes…
A really significant move for change came in tonight’s session when we finally got round to a Private Member’s Motion from Chris Hobbs, a London priest. He had spent 3 years waiting for this debate – getting signatures of support, asking the lawyers for advice on how to frame his motion – and waiting for Synod to have time to debate it. He almost got his big moment in February, but the debate was adjourned as we ran out of time.
At present, Canon Law (Canon B8 if you really want to know, scroll through this link) requires clergy to robe for practically all public worship. But the law is not observed in many evangelical churches (where the robes are seen as an unnecessary ‘extra’ for a minister) and it seems irrelevant in a ‘Fresh Expression’ community or a pioneer ministry in (say) a pub.
There’ve been attempts before to get the Canon revised. My old mate Pete Hobson had a go 26 years ago, but there has always been a conservative faction who fear ‘optional’ robing is the thin end of a wedge, and will lead to abolition of robes in worship. Which would obviously not quite work in cathedrals or other settings where traditional worship comes naturally. In the debate I described this as a visceral fear amongst some clergy – it strikes to the root of their being as priests. But as someone who one Sunday is in a church with cassock-alb and stole, and next week is in a different one where clerical shirt and smart trousers are the norm, I believe very strongly that we need to sort the law out so that it reflects the real church. And do so in a way that ensures parishes consult properly before changing, and the Bishop holds the ring against complaints and splits.
It was a great debate. Chris Hobbs described Australian outback worship, where the police might arrest the youth group and to wear robes would have been seen as, er, eccentric. Most speakers were for loosening the rules; but one or two were appalled at the prospect, seeming to forget that the key concept is ‘optional’. A very good ‘against’ speech from the Bishop of Salisbury almost derailed the main motion, but then a very clear exposition of the way things are handled in Gloucester by their Bishop calmed things down. For eight years or so he (a noted liturgist) has said he will not pursue those who abandon robes in certain circumstances, so long as there has been consultation with the parish and there is a clear mission-minded justification. His rules are here. After that, the debate went in a very positive direction, and the matter will go to a Steering Committee to put together a suggested amending Canon.
With that very positive result, it was off to the Fringe at 10.00 p.m. for a fun Quiz Night (a Synod tradition), with fundraising for Christian Aid’s work in South Sudan.
And what news on the women Bishops front..?
Not so much news as background chatter, really. As headlined above, we go straight to the main debate on Monday. Reading the tea-leaves, it’s getting harder to believe that the proposals will be thrown out. The fact that none of the Houses want separate debates suggests that everyone believes there is nothing to be gained by padding the process out.
The Standing Committees of all the Houses (laity, clergy of York, clergy of Canterbury, and Bishops) had to meet and advise their leaders (Chairs of Laity, Prolocutors of Clergy, and Archbishops). I spoke to people who were present at all the meetings (held over lunchtime). In the Laity, there might have been an appetite for a debate, if only to put up a show of strength by opponents, and to get an estimate of voting numbers (to see if there is a two-thirds majority). But even the Laity reps didn’t want to waste time on it.
I gather that there are plans for what will happen in Synod if the final vote on Monday does fail. There would be a media explosion, of course: rentaquote MPs and commentators galore, shocked and crestfallen women priests (and others like me!); and very sober interviews with those who voted against. But it’s seeming more likely to me that it will go through. But don’t get the champagne out yet: I could be wrong.
In the meantime I’m on duty assisting at the big Communion service in York Minister on Sunday morning – wearing my formal Convocation robes, as it happens!
* Putting on the style: 1957 skiffle hit for Lonnie Donegan, about people dressing up to impress the opposite sex.