On Tuesday the Synod got to talk about evangelism! Not only that, but we talked to each other in some depth in small groups before we did the Synod thing of debating and passing motions. The subject was the report of the Task Group set up by the Archbishops (read it here) and we generally liked it.
The ‘E’ word gets spoken aloud
The group work in the morning was conducted under a degree of purdah. We (22 of us) agreed that what was said in the room would stay in the room. There was some very personal sharing about our own path the active faith by bishops, clergy and laity: much of it was inspirational. But overall, the experience reinforced my own feeling that we have an uncomfortable relationship with the ‘E’ word. Notionally, we are in favour of it in the same way we are in favour of motherhood and apple pie.
But in reality, Anglicans aren’t terribly comfortable with evangelism. Either because from a theological perspective, they sit more happily in a ministry that is about pastoral care, occasional offices and a broader approach to mission, or because they (we?) simply don’t feel equipped and confident to be evangelists. Most of us were brought up in Christian families or in a culture where the gospel story was generally known about. This is no longer the case, which is why evangelism needs to be on everyone’s agenda. We need disciples, not just church members…
There were some interesting sidelines in the actual debate. First of all, there were lots of people wanting to speak, with lots of first hand stories from parishes and schools. We are definitely interested, even if we aren’t terribly confident. Secondly, all kinds of quality thoughts and soundbites emerged:
- Introducing the topic, Archbishops Justin said evangelism is not an app for the church – a bolt-on for your interest. It is the operating system of the church – the thing that makes us tick.
- a lively speech from the Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, forcibly reminded us of the need for evangelism among the urban poor and on the estates.
- We were asked whether our ordination candidates are experienced in/trained for mission and evangelism themselves – and if not, why not?
- Church Army’s Mark Russell spoke passionately about evangelism and young people, and another speaker reminded us that the strongest way to bring young people on in the faith is to have a church with all ages involved in regular parish life.
Inevitably, the motion was passed overwhelmingly. What follows for the Archbishops’ Task Group and for parishes, remains to be seen.
Synod: full-fat or lite?
If the morning was about renewal, the debate on an Enabling Measure was definitely about Reform. The Bishop of Willesden gave a clear introduction to the idea: that we simplify church legislation by setting up a streamlined system whereby some kinds of church legislation can be sort of ‘fast-tracked’ and avoid the long, expensive and tortuous revisions and consultations we currently have. At the moment, it can take three years to get something relatively simple through.
There will be safeguards and exceptions, so that controversial and major changes are given ‘full-fat’ consideration, but going over to ‘Synod-lite’ will save time money and free up staff resources. So we got into detailed debate about primary and secondary legislation, about Measures, draft Orders, revision processes and long-winded procedures. But was a quality debate, with people who know their stuff – some aching for change, others celebrating the status quo. You can read the document here. An amendment came in from Clive Scowen, looking for a ‘safety clause’ allowing any ‘lite’ item to be called in for traditional ‘full-fat’ processes if a specified number of synod members requested it. It was defeated, on the grounds that such processes could be looked at at a later stage.
The preceding item from Worcester diocese about changing parish fees (to cover church heating and cost of a verger) was debated, but not put to a vote. So there was time to squeeze in a contingency item – a motion about organ and blood donation. Stewardship took on a new dimension as medics and ordinary people told tales of how it is a Christian duty to consider sharing your intimately human resources as well as your usual ‘time and talents’.
The Scottish Play
Macbeth is a bloody tragedy, and for a while, it looked as if the agreement being drafted between the UK’s two national churches was heading that way too. The document (read it here) sets out new formal links between the Church of England (C of E– episcopal in nature) and the Church of Scotland (CoS – Presbyterian). Leaks before Christmas upset our fellow-Anglican neighbour, the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC). There was much huffing and puffing North of the border, and some rowing back in the South.
The Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Revd Dr Angus Scotland, was warmly welcomed as he gave an address which highlighted the things we have on common, while noting the things on which we differ. His historical survey revealed that John Knox was once considered as a Bishop of Rochester!
After these ecumenical courtesies, a debate on the ‘Columba Declaration’ followed. At one level, this is a modest restatement of the obvious: there’s very little in it that isn’t to be found in similar declarations like Porvoo, Reuilly and Meissen that express our relationship with other Reformed churches. But with the febrile atmosphere in the Anglican Communion generally, and the moves in SEC to be more flexible on same-sex relationships than we are, people got rather excited about it. Two amendments were put in to express this disquiet.
- One was a ‘please go back and do more work on this before we accept it’. It came from Mark Russell of Church Army, who was passionate (again) and got loud applause. But it failed’
- The other, from the Bishop of Truro, simply added an explicit requirement that SEC be added to future joint work. He was very critical of the way publication of the Report had wrong-footed the SEC and hurt them. Again, big applause. In supporting him, Archbishop Justin apologised to SEC and said that the announcement has been ‘cack-handed’. The amendment was accepted.
So, much angst about how ecumenism has been handled. The Church of Scotland ecumenical representative, David Arnott, pointed out that we share with CoS one very significant thing: we are both parish-rooted churches. But the overall tone was coloured by the controversy and need to apologise.
There’s plenty of tea-room gossip today about tomorrow’s RME debate. People involved in theological education are in huddles, planning speeches and working out constructive ways to challenge the platform party’s proposals. It should be quite something.
But other off-stage noises are about thinking further ahead, to July’s discussions on human sexuality, about which we were briefed yesterday.
I went to a fringe meeting which had been called to see if there is room for a Synod group for evangelicals who want to discuss the whole area of same-sex relationships. In my view, free debate has not happened in Synod evangelical circles because the more conservative members want to stick with traditional teaching and so they simply indicate ‘there is nothing to discuss’. (Regular readers will recall my dismay last July when I ventured into an ‘Accepting Evangelicals’ meeting, only to find hardly any evangelicals had turned up. (Read the post here – scroll down to Life on the fringe ).
The Chatham House Rule applies here, so I won’t record names or attribute ideas to anyone in particular. There is without doubt interest from people who want a ‘safe space’ to explore the big issues here: biblical understandings, hermeneutics, what does ‘marriage’ mean in our culture now, and so on. The organisers had a draft for terms of reference but those attending felt it was too campaigning in nature. A number of people declared themselves to be ‘deemed evangelicals’ but who find there is nowhere to talk this stuff through. They want a place for really discussing key Biblical passages with people who take different views, rather than sterile text-throwing and banishing people who are ‘wrong’ on this. Such conversation doesn’t happen in EGGS (Evangelical Group on General Synod) meeting, which tend to concentrate (helpfully) on prayer, mutual support, and dealing with the agenda, motions, and such-like.
So something new may arise, and perhaps in time to help evangelicals enter more fully into the July conversations. But the organisers will need to find a formula that encourages traditionalist evangelicals to turn up and chip in, rather than stay away and snipe from the outside.
Sing like never before
The worship routine at Synod is anything but routine these days. Last night we had very straightforward Common Prayer Evening Prayer: tonight a contemporary worship feast, but built around the familiar landmarks within Common Worship provision. The thing that caught everyone out was that the worship band (2 guitars, 1 cello and percussion) came from Holy Trinity Brompton, under the leadership of their Worship Director Ben Cantelon.
It clearly took some members by surprise! But under the calm leadership of Jane Morris (a London priest in the New Wine network) it worked really well. They started so promptly after the end of business that I was stuck up in the gallery, but from there you could see that many members who come from parishes where this worship style is the norm were caught up in it.
We’ve done worship this way in York, but this was a first for London. And not the last, I suspect.
Once again, I find myself amazed at the readership of the bathwellschap blog. I don’t mind if you disagree with my thoughts, but I’m grateful that you take the trouble to scroll through them. Today (Tuesday’s) crop of 102 readers included 1 each on the USA, Australia, Russia – and Guernsey. (The latter is either my sister – who lives there – or the Dean of Guernsey, Tim Barker, a Synod member who I gently teased in a tweet earlier today).
Anyway, such a readership is an extraordinary further dimension to simply representing my diocese, and I continue to hope it encourages people to understand Synod better, and to say a prayer for us too.
* It’s mighty good news to me – a line from Ain’t that news, Tom Paxton, 1965:
I got news/ Of the very best kind/ About troubles/ that are falling behind/ about people/ that used to be blind/ till they opened up their eyes to see…