If you follow this blog you may have also seen the reflections I was offering from the General Synod. So, when I say it was a strange week, it was. Three days were taken up with the meeting of the Synod. I don’t particularly want to repeat what I said in my reflectiosn, save to say that I was delighted with both the atmosphere in the Synod and how much was achieved on the issue of women in the episcopate. The same cannot be said on the human sexuality front – but more of that later.
Thursday and Friday then seemed to be focused around the funerals that I mentioned last week. Friday in particular found me at the East London Crematorium first thing in the morning and then travelling up to Leicester for my aunt’s funeral. This took place in the church of St Thomas the Apostle, South Wigston.
You may never have heard of Wigston at all, and there is no reason that you should. I was born there – well, to be precise in Wigston Magna, the older part with its two mediaeval churches. South Wigston is the other side of the railway line and developed very much alongside that line and in response to all that that brought to the area. The streets of terraced housing leading away from the railway bear testimony to the amount of industry that the railway brought (including the Premier Drum factory). St Thomas’ was part of that whole development and in its red brick simplicity owes a great deal to the architecture of railway communities.
My aunt and uncle and their children were and always have been committed members of that church. We went to Wigston Magna which was ‘higher’! But it was lovely to be back in this church.
Then to add to the strangeness of the week I took part in a ‘Stag Weekend’ beginning on Friday evening with Ten-pin Bowling (I can almost do well at that which is quite an achievement for someone who is a failure in all sports) and then all day Saturday on the Monopoly Board Pub Crawl which, of course takes you from the Old Kent Road to Oxford Circus via 26 places which include the railway stations but not the utilities. And no, we did not go to jail or receive £200 as we passed Go. It was really tremendous fun and reminded me of what an amazing city we live in. There are so many different kinds of community, the places change from morning to afternoon and evening and people are so friendly – signing the Monopoly Board we were carrying and taking photos to prove we had been there.
Saturday also saw my first attempt to write a column for the Times. I had been asked to submit something for the Saturday Credo column, which I was pleased to do. When we had the presentation on the Pilling Report at the end of the Synod I thought that would provide lots of material. Little did I think, though I should have anticipated it, that it would coincide with what has turned out to be the hugely disappointing statement from the House of Bishops on same-sex marriage.
In the debates on same-sex marriage I have to admit to not being wholly convinced about this. I commented some time ago that I think we have a huge amount to do in terms of a theology of marriage and relationship in contemporary society. But, Parliament has decided and, as part of the Established Church, our bishops were there in the House of Lords as the legislation was going through. It is the law of the land, it will happen and same-sex couples will be married in just a few weeks time.
The understanding I have always understood we have of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony is that the minsters of the sacrament are the couple being married – they ‘make’ the marriage. The sacramental act is achieved by them giving their consent, making vows, exchanging rings – and that applies in church or a Registry Office or the Golf Club. Therefore, that will be true for two men or two women as it is for a man and a woman – unless we are saying that that long held sacramental theology is no longer applicable in the CofE.
I think, with all due respect, that the response of the House of Bishops – which I am sure they agonised over – is mistaken and unworkable. It can be seen as discriminatory and will lead, potentially, to pastoral breakdown between bishops and their clergy. It puts an absolute bar on the possibility of vocation to those who have entered into such a marraige. The church is effectively saying to those who do get married and then hear God’s call to ministry in a few years time that that cannot be.
In terms of the presentation on Pilling which we just sat through, I thought it opened up two years of facilitated conversations. But hasn’t this statement just closed down one whole aspect of those conversations? If so, what is the point. People will not engage in a conversation if they feel that no one is really listening – and I say that as one who wants the conversations to take place and that important business of listening to one another to take place.
I love the church, I really love the church – but why do these things happen and why do they happen now?
Living God, you call us into life,
you call us into love.
Guide us as we seek to do your will,
guide your church as we seek your wisdom
and give us listening ears
and open hearts;
for Jesus’ sake.