The Bishops of Willesden and Burnley had some jovial cracks made about them skiving off to watch football (Burnley played Spurs today), but fears that this Saturday Synod would be badly-attended were, by and large, not realised. The gallery was fairly full too, with some welcome Bath & Wells visitors who had made the long trek up from Wells and Shepton Mallet to see how Synod works.
Racism by nice people
We began the day with a pretty full house for a surprising debate about Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities, based on a report called Centuries of Marginalisation; Visions of Hope. The report GS2123 makes interesting reading, especially if, like me, you know little, other than the prejudiced chatter in the pub and the endless Press stories about land use and rubbish-dumping First of all, we heard from three people intimately involved with these communities:
- Jenny Cadona spoke about her own experiences of discrimination as a member of the travelling gyspy community. She was brought up ‘at the side of the road’ as her family could not find a place to stay. She went to school for a year only – where she did learn to read and write. She is now completing a PhD.
She explained that people in the community had learned not to respond to insults and discrimination, but she had decided at one stage not to keep on in that way, but to do something about it. Even when land had been bought to make a home, people dumped their rubbish on the site and talked about “dirty stinking gypsies.”
She said that nothing will change for her people until they are part of the community. She has brought her children and grandchildren up to challenge discrimination. She would like her grandchildren to be the last generation to experience discrimination, but for now, “we are seen as ‘the other people’ and gypsy is seen as a dirty word”. She concluded “I’m proud of my community”
- Professor Thomas Acton has worked all his life with Roma, gypsy and traveller communities. Romany language is only a thousand years old, but there is an enormous confusion of sub-groups, dialects. The one thing they have in common is the experience of discrimination. He spoke of the different strands in gypsy Christian life in Europe, and the difficulties people face, up to outright persecution
- The Revd Martin Burrell is a chaplain to gypsies, travellers and Roma; he believes there are only two such chaplains. Current pastoral needs include caring for people looking for a permanent place to live, and for Roma worried about the impact of Brexit. He said the Church of England has chaplaincies to all sorts of communities: we should also be doing the unpopular thing by standing up for those on the margins and discriminated against. He asked Bishops to find the people with a calling to serve these outcast communities as chaplains, to build bridges and be reconcilers.
Do we have many of these people…?
In the debate, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell gave an impassioned plea to recognise the racism and discrimination in our society.
He noted Trevor Phillips’ assessment that racism against Roma, Travellers and Gypsies is the last acceptable form of racism in the UK. It is not called out, and is fuelled by media stereotypes.
GS 2123 contains examples of all this within the church.
“Friends, this must change” he said. And he went on to talk about the practicalities – the number of authorised sites has decreased, people are being evicted with nowhere else to go, they are denied healthcare, and so on. The Church could help do something about it. One survey reckons that just one square mile of land in aggregate would contain enough space for the sites people need.
There were some chilling observations in speeches:
- The Bishop who asked “Do we have many of these people in our diocese?” None of the people he was meeting knew, either…
- “Racism against Roma, Gypsy and Travellers is done by nice people”
- “What’s lacking is not the means, but the will.”
- Words associated with ‘the night of the Gypsies’ at Auschwitz: “You shall not live among us as equals; you shall not live among us; you shall not live”.
- The passage in John’s gospel often rendered as “In my father’s house are many mansions” might be more accurately translated as “In my Father’s house are many caravans”
- My own Bishop, Peter Hancock spoke about a chaplain in the diocese who self-describes as “chaplain to nomads”: Gypsies, Roma, Travellers and Canal-dwellers.
This was an impassioned, eye-opening debate. One of the speakers was heard in sympathetic silence as she gave an account of what happened in her parish church when some travellers set up camp in their church car park. We were told about the clearing up afterwards – but also the divisions between those who wanted to turn the churchyard tap off (thus denying water to the families) and those who insisted it must be kept on while they were there.
I was a Young Person once…
When it came to the Youth Evangelism debate – the fourth debate on evangelism this Synod – there was plenty of advocacy for different forms of working with young people. But several speakers observed that they were once a Young Person, found faith, and maybe even became ordained. But they are still the youngest person in the room at church gatherings.
Much reference was made to the 1996 report Youth A Part. It’s headline thought was that young people are not the church of the future: they’re the church of the present, and must be taken seriously. Everybody loved Youth A Part, but it still has not had the effect it might have done. (It’s still available on Amazon and you can get an secondhand copy for just 1 penny!!)
This was, amazingly the fourth debate with an evangelism theme this week. The paper setting out the overall approach is GS 2124A (read it here), and there’s a note about what the national church is doing GS2124B (read it here).
The debate was introduced and closed by the fiery Mark Russell, Chief Executive of Church Army, whose speeches entranced our deputation from Wells and Shepton Mallet. Sadly, your reporter spent time in the tearoom with them at this point in the day, so heard only a few of the speeches.
When the fun stops…
You may have noticed lots of adverts for tombola games, football betting and all the rest of it on your TV or computer in recent years. The Bishop of St Albans used words like ‘corrosive’ and ‘pernicious’ of this change in our culture, speaking in a fairly fierce debate built on a thorough report Advertising and Gambling (GS2125 – read it here). He listed the various kinds of gambling adverts, and spoke of how young people are being drawn into the ‘toxic mix’ of online, TV and pitchside adverts.
It’s not just about a distaste for low culture: the problem of gambling addiction is very real.
He explained he was not greatly troubled by church tombolas or even the National Lottery – though other speakers were. The debate was pretty pointed:
- The industry should stop ‘nationalising’ the cost of gambling addiction (by creating people needing healthcare or other interventions) and ‘privatise’ it by funding some remedies.
- David Lamming proposed an amendment reminding us that the Church of England Bishops in the Lords had had some success with restricting the bets on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, but we now live in a world where children are being groomed to gamble. Can we do it again with gambling adverts?
- The Bishop of St Albans resisted the amendment, as his original text had been carefully prepared for maximum impact.
- Bishop Stephen Cottrell attacked the flood of gambling adverts on the internet, widely viewed by children – another example of how in the digital environment, companies wrongly claim they are not ‘providers, only ‘carriers’.
One speaker pointed out that having once clicked on a gambling-related YouTube, he found he was then getting endless streams of gambling ads in his computer timeline. And he is an adult.
To grind my own axe, I find if I am watching TV, I am besieged by adverts about tombola, bingo, and sport-related bets. We are being normalised into thinking gambling is fun, profitable and risk-free. The ‘gambleaware’ logos do appear – briefly – but they’re hardly a disincentive to the desperate or addicted.
Whatever happened to the common good?
When it came to the State of the Nation debate – the last thing in the day – the chamber was a little emptier. Those who went home early missed a treat. The motion had been brought by the two Archbishops, there was no supporting paperwork, but I think we all knew what it was about.
Archbishop Justin began by listing some of the positive things about the UK: relative stability and prosperity, and so on. But he reminded us of inequalities and Brexit uncertainties. His point was that for many decades, politicians have failed to seek the common good, and the nation needs to pay attention.
As a church, we need to work out how we minister in this context. The Bible does not do ‘trickle-down’ economics: it prefers Isaiah’s ‘rolling rivers of justice’. He quoted Edmund Burke’s description of what we nowadays call God’s ‘preferential option for the poor’ from his 1788 speech on the impeachment of Warren Hastings. (My thanks to Simon Fisher for tracking down the quotation.)
Rather than avoiding politics, Archbishop Justin talked about the inability of our current politics to deal with the problems so that the country works for all. Our political leaders have the responsibility of resolving the current crisis; we have the responsibly to pray for them.
His speech was a rallying call to look beyond the current chaos and see how the poor and marginalised can be protected and restored.
- The Bishop of London, Sarah Mulally spoke about the European dimension of the current crisis. (It affects the Church’s Diocese of Europe in many ways). The old left/right opposition seems outdated, and may be being replaced by other polarities, such as ‘networked metropolitan youth’ versus ‘the old and left behind’. Our task, she said is to speak out for and care for the poor and the marginalised. We must help our communities to come together as neighbours, and work for each other.
- The Bishop of Bristol, Viv Faull spoke powerfully about the impact of the recently-announced closure of the Honda plant in Swindon. It will take a generation to recover, but straight away the churches are naming the problem in public worship, preparing for the inevitable ‘blame game’ and other actions. We are there to speak about ‘an unshakeable kingdom in uncertain days’.
- Another speaker noted how as well as anti-Islamic rhetoric being prominent in the UK and elsewhere, in several countries there’s an increasing tendency to use the term ‘Christian’ as a banner to rally behind to protect ourselves from other ‘undesirables’.
- Simon Butler suggested that when we pray for our own leaders, we need to pray for them to be better leaders…
I joined the many members who had hoped to speak, but who were not called. Sometimes, Synod can be frustrating!
One or two people have queried the reference to bishops walking on custard in yesterday’s post. This YouTube explains it all: it’s more entertaining than the still image. Go to about 1.15 from the start.
Three more serious points in retrospect
1.This was a good set of sessions.
- The heavy focus on evangelism cheered up some who complain that Synod does not pay enough attention to Christian basics
- the State of the Nation and the other ‘social/community’ debates on homelessness, travellers and the environment meant we kept our feet in the real world.
- In between we had some fun with Standing Orders
- There was a progress report on the Living in Love and Faith project that at least gave people a chance to air their views, without there being any damaging fights.
If you want to know more about any of that, have a look at the other posts from this week.
2. A minor thing that has become an irritation is about the calling out of points of order from people’s seats. Obviously, if you need to intervene quickly – say, when a vote is being called, or you have some other procedural point to make – you need to shout out from where you are. But if the Chair accepts your intervention, it’s very unhelpful to people following at home on the video link, or in the tearoom – or who are deaf – if you then make your point from your chair, instead of going to a microphone.
I’ve started using hearing aids since the last Synod, and even with mild hearing loss, it’s a pain. If you are not in the room, it’s hopeless, and if the Chair reacts to the Point of Order by making a decision about a speaker or a vote, you haven’t a clue what’s going on. Bill Braviner raised this in a clever Point of Order himself about this yesterday, and several Chairs took note – but not all. I am assured the Business Committee will follow this up with Chairs before we meet again in York in July. All it needs is for the Chair to repeat the off-mic point, or ask the speaker to find a mic, and everyone will be happy!
3. Lastly, a word of thanks to those who take the trouble to say they value the blog. It makes the midnight oil worthwhile. As I’ve said before, I try to give a personal account of what I see and know.
I try not to grind any personal axes, or join in campaigns, and I hope the blog helps those outside Synod to understand something of what goes on and how it works.
I also hope that it may help anyone thinking of standing for Synod in the 2020 elections to see what they’re in for!
To my amazement, the blog is getting between 300 and 450 visitors per day, and though the bulk of them are in the UK, there are people in China, Malaysia, Peru and dear old Guernsey who’ve been to have a look. There are 103 sign-up followers – feel free to join them. You won’t hear from me, just get an email next time I post. Click on the ‘Follow’ button in the righthand column.
UPDATE: Other blogs are available:
- Andrew Nunn is here
- Rachel Mann is here.
- David Pocklington’s Law and Religion blog comments on the environment debate here.
- Thinking Anglicans round-up (with some, er, interesting comments) is here
I’ll be back in July with a preview and daily roundups.
* Love of the Common People:much-recorded song about living on the breadline and the strength of relationships to help you cope. The Four Preps, John Denver, the Everyls have all done it, but the ‘definitive’ version for me is Paul Young’s 1982 UK number 2 hit, with its brilliant backing singers.