I’m in York

Just in case you were waiting for a Living God blog today, I’m at the meeting of the General Synod in York. So, please, follow me on my General Synod blog and you will catch up with what we are up to.


The echo of a vision

It was a hard week, last week.  If you haven’t read my various blogs from the General Synod then you can find a link through on the sidebar.  But no doubt you will have heard about the debate on Wednesday in response to the report from the House of Bishops on sexuality and same-sex marriage.  Since then a number of things have happened.  The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a statement – you can read that here – and various bishops have issued Pastoral Letters, including one by the Bishop of Southwark which you can read here.

General Synod - London

A silent vigil at the start of Wednesday


Other groups will be preparing their statements, making their assessments of what was said, reflecting on the vote, lauding or criticising the House of Clergy, suggesting its the best outcome or the worst.

One thing that encouraged me, however, was hearing Archbishop Justin’s speech, the last one in the Take Note debate on the report, much of which found its way into the Archbishops’ Pastoral Letter.

The letter says

‘We need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church …. The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.’

There was something of an echo of a vision in this.  I know that makes no sense, but bear with me, please.  You may remember that at Southwark Cathedral we’ve been working on new vision and priorities for the next season of our life.  The vision statement that we finally arrived at is this

Southwark Cathedral an inclusive Christian community growing in orthodox faith and radical love.

That is the vision and in what the Archbishop said there were clear echoes of what the community at the Cathedral has pledged itself to be and pledged itself to working together to be more perfectly.  So I was delighted.  It means though that we really have to move forward and to get on with the work and the witness to which we believe God is directing us.

However, that will not be easy because there will be many in the Diocese for whom we have care and concern, for whom we are the Mother Church, who will not agree with us, who will have serious disagreements with us.  At the end of the day this all boils down to how you regard Scripture and what authority it has in the life of the church.  The Archdeacon of Southwark, Dr Jane Steen, in her first speech in Synod, compared the way in which the Church of England coped with the remarriage of those previously married who have a former partner still alive, even though Jesus is very explicit in his teaching on the subject.  Nevertheless, in 1992 the House of Bishops issued guidelines to help the clergy make a decision about whether such a marriage could take place in church and those same clergy were given latitude in their decision on the grounds of their own conscience based on the reading of Scripture.  Why can’t the same apply in deciding whether or not to bless a same-gender relationship?

Well, talking to some who do take a different position they suggest that Scripture envisages and allows for the fact that relationships fail but that the issue of committed relationships is part of the created order, because there it is in Genesis 2

‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ (Genesis 2.24)

This critical verse is then repeated in Matthew 19.5, Mark 10.7 and Ephesians 5.31.  That really does make this an authoritative text for many.  It’s interesting that the debate has moved on to focus on the issue of marriage rather than the issue of homosexuality.  Perhaps people are beginning to accept that LGBTI people really do exist but cannot accept that they can live in blessed relationships because such a relationship is contrary to scripture, contrary to creation, and thereby is sinful and what is sinful cannot be called holy by blessing it.

Empfang des Eheringes

With this ring …


So that is where we seem to be and its going to take some radical love within the church to move that one forward.  But the end point of the discussions seems to have been identified and that is the really good thing that has come out of the Synod debate – that ‘we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church.’ That is the task and that is the goal.

I was at Premier Radio’s studios on Friday recording some ‘thoughts for the day’ but also being interviewed for another programme.  That involved, in ‘Desert Island Discs’ style, choosing three favourite pieces of music.  I won’t give it all away but one of them was a hymn written by Fr Faber.  Frederick William Faber was ordained a priest of the Church of England before converting to Roman Catholicism.  He was a Victorian and a friend of John Henry Newman.  But he’s best known for his hymns.  The one that I chose is ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.’

It was written in 1862 but it seems so modern and relevant and its sentiments seem to echo the vision that we have in Southwark and that we now have in the Church of England as a consequence of last week. One verse says

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

It’s a fantastic expression of the vision, an echo from another age into ours.  We now need the grace and the guts to get on with the task.

direct your church
as we seek to embrace the vision
and sing songs that echo with your love.

The sound of silence

If you’re expecting a Living God blog today I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’m at General Synod and so my Synod blog has been active. But more importantly today we begin two days behind closed doors talking about sex. We’re not meant to blog or Tweet about it. So I have to be silent. 

But as Elijah discovered it was ‘in the sound of sheer silence’ that he encountered God on the mountain. So my prayer is that that may be true for us who engage in these shared conversations. 

Lord, in our talking and our listening may we also enter into that deep silence in which your voice can be heard. Amen. 

Bishops and saints

There is something wonderful about the end of October and the beginning of November as we move into a period of remembrance with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls setting us off on a month that will take us via the deeply secular Bonfire Night to the deeply meaningful Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day.

For all the saints ...

For all the saints …

As I said last week, the Living God groups are now finished and we are getting ready for next Saturday and the time we will spend together thinking about what we have been talking about under the heading ‘We believe in One God’. The Living God Steering Group met again today and were putting in place everything for Advent. It promises to be a really good few weeks together.

At the moment though, my mind is on getting ready for the meeting of the General Synod and the next stage in the process of seeing women ordained as bishops. The result of the work of the Steering Group has been published and the signs are very good. I had been rather dubious about the decision to change the composition of this group and the way it would work. I’m always ready to be proved wrong and especially about something as important as this.

Bishops of the Anglican Communion

Bishops of the Anglican Communion

The papers have now been delivered to those of us who are on the General Synod and the result of the deliberations of the group is exciting and courageous. And the great thing is that the group did not consist just of those in favour – what we have before us is the result of facilitated conversations. Though all parties involved didn’t necessarily sign up for the final document it does seem to have gained the support of most people. Its simplicity makes it so much more possible for the church to get behind. I’m just hoping and praying that the Synod will be positive when we meet later this month.

This weekend sees the beginning of the Robes Project for this year. It really does make you realise that the year is moving on. Robes is a fantastic project, a cold weather shelter run by a number of local churches and congregations. Like all good things, the format is simple and people can easily understand what we are doing – an evening meal, a bed for the night and breakfast – and then during the day the opportunity to work with someone who can help with accomodation, work, whatever the guest needs. My own involvement has been pretty simple to be honest. For the first few years I did the laundry for the night the Cathedral was looking after the project. Then, when the way that was organised changed I was grateful that the Sleepout was introduced. So for the past two years I have taken part in the Sleepout in the Cathedral churchyard and raised money for the project through sponsorship.

The Cathedral team waiting to open the project on the first evening

The Cathedral team waiting to open the project on the first evening

I sent in my registration document this week, so I am signed up and will shortly be seeking the support of sponsors. I can’t say sleeping out is my favourite thing, I’m not really a ‘camper’ by nature. I had one holiday in a tent and didn’t much take to it. But sleeping out in the churchyard one night of the year to make a difference to the lives of my brothers and sisters seems to me to be the least I can do.

The saints who I began thinking about didn’t all do spectacular things – and I’m not saying I’m a saint at all, far from it. But each of us called to be saints are called to do small things as well as big and for most of us it will be in the small things that will make a difference. Perhaps simplicity is the key word, whether on deciding on the legislation to enable women to be bishops, or in addressing one of the ills of our society, like homelessness.

I’m reminded of the book by Arundhati Roy, ‘The God of Small Things’

Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstitutred. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.

The little things that we do, the ordinary things we do are the bones out of which the story of God is told in the lives of people. There is a deep simplicity to God, something of which Aquinas and others wrote. And I think that is why St John can say

God is love.
(1 John 4.8)

and in three words express elegantly and precisely the very nature of the God we love and serve in one another, saints and bishops, people, together.

A small but beautiful thing for God

A small but beautiful thing for God

Loving, living God,
take my simple offering
and make of it
an act of great love.

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017


Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark