It’s been a compact two-day Synod. Yesterday the atmosphere was strangely heavy – the weight of concluding the women bishops process (from now on, can we Do The Right Thing and just call them ‘Bishops’? Probably not just yet) was on everyone’s shoulders. This morning it was heavy again but for a very different reason.
There is no God but God, and…
The significance of having our first-ever Moslem speaker was evident to everyone. A degree of nervousness, of wanting to be polite and welcoming was coupled with that subterranean fear of Saying the Wrong Thing and exhibiting latent Islamophobia, perhaps. There are few Synod members, I suspect, have first-hand knowledge of and contact with Muslims. Most of us cannot tell our Sunni from our Shia. Those who can have a lot to teach those of us from the more monocultural dioceses and parishes.
Anyway, Shaykh Fad Mahdi began with an invocation of God that, I suspect, unsettled some and relieved others: “There is no God but God and…” (sharp mental intake of breath by many – what’s coming next?) “… Abraham Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are his messengers.” (gentle exhalation and relief from most people.) Then he went on to speak movingly of the current awful state of life in much of the Middle East. He won many over by using his sense of humour, working in a few jokes, even including one about ISIS fighters interrogating Christians in Iraq. (Sorry, no, I can’t re-tell it – you had to be there.)
This came after an astonishingly focussed Communion service – focussed on the persecuted and suffering church. As an amateur liturgist and hymnologist, I was seriously impressed by the way the worship team found readings and hymns that spoke volumes. A hymn based on Psalm 137 (By the waters of Babylon…) was new to everyone but was a true song of lament. The musicians (all volunteer members) led sensitively and it was a true ‘Tis Good, Lord, to be here moment, capped by a searing sermon from Archbishop Justin on the realities of the persecuted Church in today’s world. Read it when it appears online at the Archbishops website – it’s worth it.
He or she
Meanwhile, on the Bishops front, the advent of women onto short-lists is hyped up in the papers this morning. (I commented on this in a previous post). But the administrative wheels have started to grind already – two very interesting papers that you may want to look at are now out (but not available online at the time of writing).
- GS Misc 1087 sets out the rules under which the Independent Reviewer will operate. This is the person (formerly known as an ombudsman) who will adjudicate any complains from parishes who feel their diocesan bishop has short-changed them in the matter of finding an ‘acceptable’ bishop if they are unable to accept his or her ministry. The Independent Reviewer is to be Sir Philip Mawer, a very high-grade civil servant and former Secretary General at Church House, and this is his job description.
- Incidentally, for students of church paperwork, GS Misc 1087 is probably historic. It’s the first document I can recall that takes for granted that a bishop can be of either gender. So in several places it reads “he or she“. Yippee!
- GS 1926D is slightly more arcane, setting out the various changes to the Canons that have now been made. The key quote is “Canon C 2.1 reads “A man or woman may be consecrated to the office of Bishop”. Says it all really. The rest is a listing of the detailed changed in wording that this momentous sentence brings about. At the time of writing, it’s not available on line – but it’s probably only for synod nerdy types anyway.
In other news
The afternoon business was something of an anti-climax after yesterday and this morning. We heard from and commended those involved in Anglican-Methodist discussions, both at local level and in high-level committees.
We got very passionate about the Bedroom Tax (aka Spare Room Subsidy). People from parishes are often more in touch with the real community than politicians, and heard powerful stories about people without proper housing as a result of this government action. The papers for this are well worth a read here and here. There was not much said in defence of the policy. But is anyone in Westminster listening?
The House of Clergy Standing Committee (of which I am a member) is usually a good barometer of the Synod mood. When we met at lunchtime we were – again – quite subdued. Little was said about yesterday’s historic vote (other than to discuss the non-photogenic way in which the signing of the Canon was done. We clarified how the revision of the Clergy Guidelines will go forward. We talked about the benefits and disadvantages of having all the worship on-screen instead of in a booklet. And then we went away.
So that’s my summary of the November 2014 General Synod, the session in which the ministry of women was fully recognised, not with a bang, but with a whimper.
*Simon and Garfunkel Homeward Bound 1966 Reputedly written by Paul Simon on Widnes station.