Take good care of yourself *

There was a focus on care at Synod today (Saturday 6 July). Care for the victims of serious violence among young people, care (and self-care) for clergy – and in the afternoon, some careful exploration of issues to do with our current preoccupation with human sexuality.

Youth violence: Samaritans or Pharisees?

The set-piece of the day was probably the debate on Serious Youth Violence: something that disturbs the tabloid media, people in communities, and our politicians (when they are not getting immersed in Brexit). We had been given a really good paper setting up the debate – read the document here, and there’s been press publicity about some aspects of it, such as knife crime.

Mallet screen

Onscreen: Canon Rosemarie Mallett

Introducing the debate, Canon Rosemarie Mallett spoke quietly and powerfully about her 12 years’ experience as parish priest and mother in South London. She talked about the funerals she had taken, fear and poor mental health among young people and the deaths of young parishioners. She also said that her church had been the first one to install a knife bin – as much a message about the church’s commitment to peace-making as for the weapons it actually got taken off the street.

  • She pointed the finger firmly at central and local government’s withdrawal of the kind of facilities that gave young people activity, purpose and community.
  • The church can offer pastoral care and offer the possibility of repentance. 
  • We should also open our buildings as places of sanctuary – something that has had a lot of media publicity in the last week or two, with slightly trivialised Press coverage of the concept of knife sin-bins and open churches..
  • Her great sound-bite was “We must be the Samaritan, not the Pharisee”.

But her speech was not all about the violence. She reminded us of the increase in exclusion from schools – a seedbed for opportunists involved in gang culture, county lines and the like. After Rosemarie spoke, we heard in the debate:

  • That although we have the premises and the commitment to take action, we do not have the experts. 
  • Bishop Joe Alfred from the Pentecostal churches spoke of the ‘live-saving work’ that churches can and should do for people who feel they have little to live for..
  • Jason Roach began his contribution by saying that this week he had had to take his children to school by different route – the usual one being coned off by a police cordon dealing with an incident.

The issue of school exclusions led to two very different amendments being suggested.

  • The Bishop of St Albans wanted a specific requirement for C of E schools to record exclusion numbers publicly and devise a strategy for minimising them.
  • Paul Hutchinson welcomed the new OFSTED position on exclusions, but simply wanted  to ‘welcome’ and ‘call upon’ those concerned to recognise exclusion’s impact and look for alternative strategies.

The Bishop’s amendment was welcomed by Rosemarie Mallet, but speakers were against it. People actually involved in schools were concerned that simply giving out raw statistics would be misleading – some schools with apparently ‘poor’ stats might actually be doing the best work, with large numbers of susceptible students through no fault of the school itself. His amendment was overwhelmingly rejected.

Full-ish hall

Venue: the University of York Central Hall

The Archbishop of York spoke to support the Hutchinson amendment, but it was defeated. A further amendment from Gavin Oldham attempted to draw the government into the equation, with reference to engender a sense of belonging among young people. He was powerfully opposed by the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullaly, who said we should concentrate on what we, as churches, can do. “Let us be the change that we long to see”. The Oldham amendment was defeated , so the main motion remained as originally proposed.

And was duly passed nem con to loud applause

Why can’t we agree..?

Archbishop Sentamu is a commanding figure in Synod. Not just because he is one of the two Presidents (alongside Archbishop Justin), but because of his ability to intervene forcefully, tell a good story, and admonish us (usually) gently. I recall some years ago when he was fairly new in the role when he claimed a true Yorkshire heritage – his middle name ‘Mugabe’, when reversed, comes out as “E-ba-gum

Today he gave what will be his last Presidential Address before retiring next year (in February it will be Justin’s turn)


Archbishop John Sentamu

I will confess to not being in the chamber to hear it ‘live’, but from the text, it’s clear he jumped straight in to the deep end of our difficulties in dealing with human sexuality.

He quoted former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, nine years ago, asking how it was that people who read the same Bible and share the same baptism, cannot agree?

In a memorable description of our current mess, he said the church is being an echo-chamber, rather than an interpreter or guide. And he proceeded on a tour including the late Archbishop Habgood, John Henry Newman and others, to make his case. Her gave painful testimony to the torrent of abused he received after appearing on TV talking about the baptism of the child of a gay couple, and concluded that when we disagree, we need to disagree Christianly in a Jesus Christ-shaped life.

He didn’t offer the answers – and this afternoon’s ‘offline’ seminar sessions (see below) help to understand why. But you can read the whole text here.

Is your Vicar OK?

In my eleven years as a Bishop’s Chaplain, I saw a number of situations where clergy had come under huge pressure: some erred and strayed, others ‘crashed and burned’; some lost their marriages or left ministry. So I see any attempt to encourage clergy well-being as very important if clergy are to flourish and thrive in roles that are complex, multi-faceted, and subject to expectations laid on the parish priest – sometimes by parishioners, sometimes by the priest themself. So a Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing is on the cards. You can read the document here.

The item began with a a (slightly stagey) presentation that took the form of a kind of spoken role-play. People representing laypeople clergy and bishops spoke about the pressure many clergy feel, and what they could do about it. (This mirrors the material in the report which sets out things the priest, the congregation and Bishops can do  to manage the pressures.) Phrases about ‘self-care’, ‘boundaries’, ‘living in a goldfish bowl’ and so on were heard.

Butler screen

Wellbeing: Simon Butler speaks

Canon Simon Butler, who led the initial stages of this work (it began in the clergy Convocations) spoke with gratitude for the support lay people give clergy. “Don’t let us hide behind the collar: find out who we are.” He went on to ask questions of the Bishop in the presentation (Tim Thornton, Bishop at Lambeth): how can Bishops be seen to look after themselves better than they do at the moment? Bishop Tim then reminded clergy of the need to take proper rest time, retreats and “it’s not selfish to care for ourselves, because in so doing, we can better care for others.”

Three key messages ended the presentation:

  1. For laity: offer better care for your clergy – maybe a different kind of care to what has been the practice. Ask how to offer support, rather than making assumption. Not intruding on their personal space.
  2. For clergy: when ministry gets very busy and hard (four difficult funerals in a fortnight), I must ensure I look after myself. Some of us are not good at that.
  3. For Bishops: I see many well-motivated clergy, others in difficulty. We must accept mutual accountability, and talk to each other about our vulnerabilities.

In the debate, we heard about

  • clergy who get isolated, and may end up leaving ministry
  • clergy who admit the situation and seek help through counselling.
  • the value of mentoring for clergy in their post
  • A realistic stipend is omitted from the report – but is a key factor in clergy household stress.
  • We are supposed to be re-imagining ministry: why are lay ministers not included?They too need care for their well-being

In a challenging speech, the Bishop of Willesden criticised the ‘muddle’ of good things that are in the proposed covenant. No-one can be against what is included, he said, but there is a risk that the Covenant will start to affect Clergy Terms of Service. A minority of litigious clergy will start to take Bishops to law because they are not fulfilling the commitments made at their licensing or in the Covenant. He was ‘deeply concerned’  that we were drifting towards a ‘contract culture’ He supported the ‘soft stuff’, but did not like the ‘covenant’.

In the end, the motion was passed. But the proof of the covenantal pudding will be in the parochial eating.

  • The final Covenant will be ‘promulged’ as an Act of Synod, and the dioceses will be required to take note of it and adopt it.
  • However, what will matter is whether there are documents made available in easy-to-use form so that (say) an individual PCC or as Deanery Synod can talk through the three dimensions of the Covenant –  the clergyperson’s, the parish’s and the Bishop’s.

Otherwise it’s just empty words. Because the power of the Covenant is that it enables people to talk about things that are, generally not talked about.

Here I give a big plug for the work of the Mary and Martha people at Sheldon on clergy care: see what they do here.

Living in Love and Faith

The big revelation of the ‘offline’ time on Saturday afternoon was the immense scope of the work that is going on to produce what was once described as a ‘Teaching Document’ called Living in Love and Faith (LLF). As I have said before, the finished product of the LLF process will not be a little handbook. It’ll be a very large compendium of well-thought-through materials. You can see details on the LLF website here. We were strongly encouraged to sign up for three of the five options on offer during the afternoon.

Notice paper

Options: the afternoon programme

LLF is not going to be ‘the answer’ to our disagreements on human sexuality. But it will help people to really think hard about their basic assumptions, and to re-frame questions as we try to have what Archbishop Justin calls ‘good disagreement’. A huge range of bishops, theologians and others, all of different traditions have been drawn together for study days, writing sessions – and prayer and worship together. 

I went to a workshop titled – somewhat vaguely to the outsider – “Who are we?” It was about our own self-understanding of what we are like: what is innate, what is learned, and so on. The two Biblical images used in the introduction by Bishop Christopher Cocksworth were Jacob wrestling with the angel, and the disciples walking on the Emmaus road with the risen Christ.

  • So the first heading in Who are we? was ‘Created, Fallen and Redeemed”.  All good basic theology – but clearly, different kinds of Christians understand each of those terms in different ways.
  • The second heading was Difference, Identity, Nature and Origin. Here the emphasis was on the interdisciplinary nature of the work – different disciplines look at who are we? in different ways.

LLF (2)The seminar was quite heavyweight theology. Not everyone will have enjoyed that, but if we are going to avoid trite restatements of old phrases, the team want us to go back to first principles. So (for example)

  • the question Who are we? refers immediately back to the imago Dei – the image of God – if we are made in his image. People are living icons of the divine image – so how does that work with reference to sexuality?
  • Nature is important, because we don’t always discriminate between what is natural (innate, distinctive etc…) and what is right or wrong. (This clearly applies to current understandings on sexuality.) What is ‘created nature’, and what is ‘fallen nature’.
  • When it came to Patterns of Relationship we touched on what other patterns are there alongside marriage and celibacy – for example, what about singleness. There are other patterns of relationship in society today – what do they say to the church? Thus we need to look at freedom, diversity, fulfilment and change.

There was group work – pretty hard in a lecture theatre. At one stage, my little group was discussing the difference between Thomas Traherne and Matthew Fox’s understanding of the Fall.

LLF (1)

Seminar: a proper dose of theology

The seminar was extraordinarily stimulating. But I was left feeling the project is ‘Theologian’s Playtime’.  I’m not sure the average Synod member is ready on a sunny summer Saturday to go into ‘theology student’ mode. I don’t know how we get round that, because if it’ s true, how much harder will it be to have discussions at parish level that don’t go beyond proof-texting and recycling inherited ideas.

Bishop Cocksworth did remind us that we Anglicans need to remember that our tradition is to work with  Scripture, Tradition and Reason, rather than over-simple analysis, and the LLF work is wanting to encourage people to think that way.

“All are welcome..?”

There was a rather different atmosphere at the second option I’d chosen – a session with the Pastoral Advisory Group (PAG). This is the body set up to help the whole C of E work out how to live together while in deep disagreement. It took the form of a discussion of real-life scenarios with the aid of the excellent pack of cards Pastoral Principles for Living Well Together.

Bishop Christine Hardman and the PAG team invited us to look over the resources and then to use them.

It was one of those things that you go to because you think you ought to, but it was really good. A table of eight of us worked through simple questions about how the ‘six pervading evils’ that PAG have suggested affect all of us should be confronted when it comes to dealing with LGBT+ people and issues in ordinary church life.

  1. Acknowledge prejudice
  2. Speak into silence
  3. Address ignorance
  4. Cast out fear
  5. Admit hypocrisy
  6. Pay attention to power.

The point is that whatever your view on human sexuality matters, these six are bound to be present – but not necessarily recognised or spoken openly about. We were given two ‘worked examples’: a conservative evangelical church’s policy and practice with regard to homosexual people, and an ‘Inclusive Church’s’ stated policy and practice. So we were in the territory of ‘all are welcome but…’ and ‘all are welcome and…’


Workshop: Pastoral Advisory Group materials

I was pleasantly surprised to see the real mixture of people who’d turned up. As I said in my preview post, I had feared a ‘stay away’ by people at either end of the spectrum of views. Looking round the room, I could see people who (in my miserable cynicism) I had assumed would have no truck with this work.  I was wrong. No names, no packdrill, but people were there and joining in.

The card set going over the six “pervading evils” is available from the Church House Bookshop, or you can download and print them from here. They offer a brilliant way to open up a conversation at a PCC, staff meeting or Deanery Chapter/Synod. Go fetch.

I regret to confess that my brain by then was sufficiently full and overflowing that I ducked out of my third chosen option. As an old college friend once said about lectures and meetings: “you can’t go to everything.”

In other news…

Conversation over supper and in the bar suggests that the LLF seminars have met with a mixed reaction:

  • there’s concern that those who are not trained theologians will have struggled with the heavyweight input  at Who are we? 
  • I was told that at Where are we? An infographic containing some fairly bald statistics about contemporary sexual behaviours was passed round.

Conspiracy theorists were suggesting that the target for publication is not related to the new Synod (to be elected next summer), but to the 2020 Lambeth Conference.

Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark has posted his summary of the day here. Worth a read – he takes a more reflective approach than I do.

Thoughts for tomorrow: two contentious matters will be before us:

  • the Safeguarding presentation and questions. I covered this in my preview post. There is at least one safeguarding victim and survivor who has set up a small protest at the entrance to the main hall. A number of bishops and other synod members were seen chatting to him during the day today.
  • the Anglican-Methodist proposals – coloured for some by the Methodist Conference’s move this week towards accepting same sex marriage. You can see the official Methodist press release about that here.

Less contentious, but full of pastoral passion will be a debate on how we can best support Refugee Professionals – to their benefit and everyone else’s as well.

There are innumerable ways to follow the proceedings once they start at 2.30 p.m. The links to them are at the bottom of yesterday’s post.

Before all that, Sunday morning worship, which, traditionally, is grand and glorious in York Minster. Your correspondent will be dressed up in the full regalia of an Officer of the Synod: as a Canterbury pro-Prolocutor I get to process (with greater beings) in 17th century garb: cassock, academic gown and hood, plus preaching tabs. Roll up, roll up…

Synod Officers 2018

Officers of the Synod assembled before the service last year. That’s me in the grey cassock and my Dad’s old gown.



* Take good care of yourself: twee little1975 number from (supposedly) Prince Charles’ favourite girl group, the Three Degrees. Lots of ‘ooh’s and aah’s.



This entry was posted in 2019: July - York, General Synod and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Take good care of yourself *

  1. Jenny Tomlinson says:

    Very many thanks Stephen – good to hear what’s happening.

    In your ‘thoughts for tomorrow’ section I think ‘hindering’ has autocorrected ‘him during’ As if a bishop could ever hinder…!

    Best wishes, Jenny Tomlinson

    Sent from my iPad


  2. PS; We’re missing you already.

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