Lambeth calling … London calling

Many of the bishops heading for the Lambeth Conference, which begins next week, are still in transit, looking forward to a few days together, and already we are experiencing the fallout. The Conference has been delayed from 2018 – firstly because it wasn’t the right time to bring the bishops together, it would not have been productive; then because of the global pandemic. In former times we would have been entertaining bishops in the dioceses across the country this weekend, establishing and re-establishing relationships and friendships. But the ‘pre-Lambeth hospitality programme’ was abandoned and, apart from a few exceptions where individual arrangements have been made, the bishops are heading straight to the campus outside of Canterbury that will be their base for the next couple of weeks. That was a real shame because the Communion, if it is about anything, must be about relationships. But that sad decision was made.

Another decision was made, however, and that was to issue a document in the last couple of days called ‘Lambeth Calls’, a kind of agenda for the Communion, for the bishops to consider. It has caught everyone, it seems, by surprise and the surprise has not been good. One specific call is already causing damage, hurt and pain and that is the call to reaffirm Lambeth 1.10. This was the declaration made at the 1998 Lambeth Conference which affirmed a traditional view of sexuality and relationships, of marriage and the views of the church about homosexuality in particular. We have been struggling to live with Lambeth 1.10 since then but out of those struggles has emerged much more understanding of different positions, different beliefs, different readings of scripture, we have been brought into a place of greater trust and mutual respect. At the same time, society, especially western society and not least of our own has moved on dramatically. As Dorothy in ‘Wizard of Oz’ would say ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’; we are not in 1998 anymore.

In the UK Civil Partnerships became possible in 2005; marriage to a person of the same gender in 2014. Both are now commonplace in our society. Clergy in the Church of England are allowed to enter a CP with their same-sex partner, at the moment they are not allowed to be married. Lay people can remain in good standing and in positions of leaderships and in authorised and licensed ministries if they enter into either of these. In general society it has all been celebrated, even on ‘Strictly’ same-sex couples dance and entertain the nation and families sit there encouraging John and Johannes and whoever it is. Wake up Lambeth Conference, wake up Church of England, wake up bishops, this is London calling and beyond London calling; this is not 1998 and this is not the world or the church you imagine it to be, nor should it be.

What really angers me is not the homophobia apparent in all of this, I am used to that, sadly. What gets me is the scandalous way the ‘church’, whoever, whatever that is, displays such a lack of openness, transparency and honesty with the rest of us who are the church. It is ok calling out the lies and the lack of integrity in Downing Street when just across the river in the offices that deal with the Lambeth Conference the same goes on.

We have just emerged from General Synod, not a word of this was mentioned, not even in the gossip in the bar and over coffee. We are still awaiting the Synod debate on the LLF process, ‘Living in Love and Faith’, the open conversations we have all been invited to have which will help us move on even further in our understanding of each other around the subjects of sexuality and committed relationships. That process is now holed below the waterline. ‘Lambeth Calls’ has sunk LLF and we need to recognise that.

What also annoys me is this is precisely why the office of Archbishop of Canterbury needed to be separated from the leadership of the Anglican Communion. Many of us were calling for a real root and branch examination of these conflicted roles as the debates about the shape of the Canterbury CNC were being had. But no; the status quo had to remain, except the Communion had to be given a stronger voice in the nomination of ++Justin’s successor. The Church of England has been stopped and will be stopped in moving forward in mission. Those who call the church to ban Pride, to ban celebrating our reality as human beings loved and created by our inclusive God are obviously supported by the Lambeth Conference even before it gathers. If I was a bishop of the Episcopal or Canadian Church I would get straight back on the plane and return home.

In the debate at General Synod which Canon Tim Goode, an Honorary Canon of Southwark Cathedral, led on the place of disabled people in the life of the church, he used the final sentence of the Introduction to the Common Worship Baptism Service, which he then used as a refrain throughout his speech:

‘In God we have a new dignity and God calls us to fullness of life.’

It is the Jesus I know and love, the Jesus who called me into the church and called me to be a priest, the Jesus who has enabled me to fulfil this ministry in the church for the last 39 years, who says to his disciples – and that includes us

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10.10)

Not Lambeth 1.10 but John 10.10 is the calling of the church and the witness of Jesus. This fullness of life is what each of us is called to and yet the church can so often seem to deny. I call on Lambeth to pull back and chose a better, life affirming way, whilst there is time.

Loving God, you create us beautiful; may we be allowed to flourish and be the people you want us to be. Amen.


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.

Can we talk? Part 2

Our Shared Conversations are over and the participants from Europe, Guildford and Southwark have made their way home. The rule was that we were asked not to Tweet or Blog during the time we were together – and to be honest that made sense. Rather than thinking about an external audience we were able to concentrate much more on the task in hand.

And what was that task? Well, in a sense it was simple. We talked about the church, our selves, the issue of homosexuality and the church’s response to it. We were reminded at the beginning that we were not there to arrive at any decision, that the conversation was all important, that we had no power or mandate to change anything. To be honest that felt quite strange. We are now used to setting and measuring outcomes and so to be told that there was no expected outcome made me want to ask ‘So why are we here?’ But we were there in order to listen and to talk.

Talk and listen

Talk and listen

So what have I come away with? Well, I’ve heard some moving stories of people’s lives and beliefs. People have been enormously generous in being prepared to be honest and open in what they have said. On Day Two we are given a massive amount of time in small groups to tell our own story. We each had about twenty minutes to speak about whatever we wanted to speak about in terms of our own life, faith, sexual journey. But that didn’t feel too long when, after spending time plotting my own story, I then told the others. Even though I had told bits of it on many occasions and to different people I hadn’t put it all together in one complete narrative like that, nor quite seen all the connections and influences.

As I listened to others it was good to hear that though my story was my own it was, in places, not that unusual. Again, that’s reassuring. And, of course, to be listened to, without interruption, without interrogation, is unusual in itself. So all of that was gift.

I leave with two thoughts. The first is that I actually feel more hopeful after the process. I don’t think anyone changed their mind, that wasn’t expected and though we’d been told that outcomes weren’t expected we have something as a diocesan group to bring back to the diocese. But I think, even more importantly, we all know more about one another than we did on arrival and that knowledge must, by the grace of God, change things.

The second thought that I take away came as a consequence of the afternoon session on Day Two when we were looking at possible solutions to the problem/challenge that we face as a church with regard to the presence of large numbers of LGBTIQ clergy and laity. Our group came up with a lot of possible solutions from the most conservative to the most liberal via keeping the muddle and the status quo. As we then set out the positive and negative impacts of some of these possible solutions I was struck by the fact that all of them, even doing nothing, were enormously painful, enormously costly. We looked at what we had produced – who would bear the pain, who would pay the price? What are we asking of each other, and not just those who are at the heart of the issue, the LGBTIQ clergy doing amazing jobs, exercising incredible ministries in our parishes, the LGBTIQ laity faithfully worshipping, living out the Gospel, disciples of Jesus Christ, but also those who hold more conservative views on the issue. No one wanted to cause pain, no one wanted the person next to them to suffer.

That doesn’t mean I have found an answer, a solution, just a realisation that any solution will demand everything of us as a church.

Jesus is in the conversation

Jesus is in the conversation

At a luncheon in the White House in 1954 Sir Winston Churchill was reported to have said ‘To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.’ And, of course, Jesus advises just the same thing where he says ‘Come to terms quickly with your accuser’ (Matthew 5.25). God is in the conversation, and God was in these conversations. Let’s keep talking.

you blessed us in these conversations.
Continue to bless your church
that we may be
gentle and caring with each other.

Holy Land

A pilgrimage for returning pilgrims

My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

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

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark