What’s love got to do with it?

‘What’s love got to do with it’ sang the wonderful Tina Turner. Well, nothing if you believe the Church of England.

Whether or not the bishops of the Church of England intended the Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships to be released in the way that it was last week, the effect of its publication is that the cat is out of the bag.  Whether or not this was deemed business of the House that fell to the bottom of everyone’s inboxes and filing trays over Christmas, we know what ‘the Church’ thinks about sex and the only proper place for intimate sexual relationships to take place, that is, within marriage.  Of course, I know that this document was restating the classic teaching of the church and many of the things that were said were identical to the document released back in 2005.  However, I was naively hoping that we were a church prepared to engage, with imagination and generosity, with the reality that exists around relationships in our society.

Gay_marriage_1671810c

For one reason or another I have watched the bio-pic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ a few times on various flights I have taken (this all goes back to my ridiculous relationships with films that followers of this blog will be familiar with). I really enjoyed it and it reminded me of so many of the great songs that Freddie Mercury and Queen performed.  And some of their lyrics from one of the songs have been playing in my head

This thing called love, I just can’t handle it
This thing called love, I must get round to it
I ain’t ready
Crazy little thing called love.

The word ‘love’ was completely absent from the statements that the House of Bishops have presented to the church over the years.  We just can’t handle it, this whole idea that people might actually love one another and that that love might find its expression in loving acts.  We just can’t handle it.  That is what I find so deeply disturbing.

The statement reiterates that

While clergy are fully entitled to argue, in the Living in Love and Faith process and
elsewhere, for a change in that teaching, they are not entitled to claim the liberty to set it
aside.

That, in fact, was the only place that the four-letter word ‘love’ actually appeared, in relation to the process in which we are engaged.  We await the publication of the report of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ group and all the study material that will be presented to us to engage with the issues.  But what we have to do is actually have the courage to talk about love.  Jesus does it all the time, the early church talked about it, but in all of this we seem to have forgotten that when two people commit themselves to each other, whatever the form of that commitment might take, it is probably, most probably because they love one another – and it is that which I want to be able to bless, the love that responds, echoes, re-echoes the divine impulse to love.  But at the moment I cannot and so I continue to argue that we must change and change as an institution as well as change our teaching.

So we issued a statement from Southwark Cathedral last week in response to the Statement and I am delighted that our Diocesan Bishop has endorsed it.  It simply says this

Southwark Cathedral remains committed to our values of radical, faithful inclusion.  It was therefore with sadness that we read the recently published statement from the House of Bishops following the introduction of Civil Partnerships for heterosexual couples.  Whilst we recognise the church’s teaching we also want to support and encourage people who are entering loving, faithful and stable relationships of all kinds and joyfully celebrate their love for one another.  We will continue to offer a pastoral and liturgical response to those from our community who ask for the opportunity to come to church around the time of their Civil Partnership or Marriage and, whilst keeping within the bishops’ guidelines will always make a generous response.  We wish it to be known that we believe that we are all loved by God regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, ability or sexuality and Southwark Cathedral will continue to remain as a beacon of light and hope for all who feel excluded by the church.

It’s a crazy little thing, this thing called love but as John said in his letter to the church

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4.8)

I know that the gospels use a variety of words for the variety of forms of love but I also know that it was out of love that all things came into being, that through love we have been saved and in love that we are held.  If I can reflect that love in all my relationships then surely that is a blessing that can be blessed.

Oh, and before I go, in the week when the United Kingdom was facing the greatest change in its governance and place in the world for half a century, the Church of England yet again takes its eye off the ball, ignores the nation and talks about sex! You couldn’t make it up!

God of love
may we love as you love us.
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.

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

Blessing

We have a couple of really exciting days ahead of us at Southwark Cathedral.  Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, is the day on which we gather on London Bridge with the Parish of St Magnus the Martyr, our neighbour across the river on the other side of the bridge.  For as long as the bridge and the Christian church has existed in London our two churches have had the care of the bridge and its residents (during the mediaeval period). We live out that responsibility by meeting where our parish boundaries meet and have a short service during which a cross is thrown into the river as a sign of blessing.  The river has been such a feature of the lives of both churches as has the bridge and that concern for both continues in this very public act.

The icon of the Baptism of Jesus at Southwark Cathedral

The icon of the Baptism of Jesus at Southwark Cathedral

On the following day we will be blessing the twelve bells that were removed from the Cathedral tower in July and have now returned.  Two have been recast and so will be baptised but all will be blessed by the Bishop of Southwark.  Bells have rung out from the tower since before the fifteenth century when we know that the original ring of seven was augmented for the royal wedding that took place in 1424 in the Priory of St Mary Overie.

At that time, the Bishop of Winchester, of which Southwark was his liberty, was Cardinal Beaufort.  His niece, Joan, was to marry King James I of Scots and, as at that time he was in prison in the Tower of London, he was let out in order to come across the bridge and to the Priory to be married.  And the bells rang out as their marriage was blessed.

Priests get called on to bless all kinds of things.  In the next few weeks I’m going into the Borough Market to bless the ‘First Flush Darjeeling’, very special tea that is sold at one of the stalls.  What reading we will have for that goodness only knows.  But I’m delighted to be able to do it, just as I’m delighted to bless the First Loaf at Lammas and bless anything else that is shoved in front of me.  After the Mass on Epiphany a young women asked me to bless two prayer books she had bought in the Cathedral Shop for a friend, lovely.

So we wait with anticipation to see what the House of Bishops will recommend to General Synod and the church at our meeting in February.  After the Shared Conversations – which had gone so well as far as I was concerned – they went off to deliberate what we might do and be able to offer to those in our congregations, as well as those in every part of our society, who wish to marry their same-sex partner and do so with a blessing.

It just seems odd to me that I can bless a river, bells, books, tea, bread, cats and dogs and not two people who love each other. Perhaps if I can’t bless two people, who happen to be of the same gender and who have decided that they want to spend the whole of their life together in a loving committed faithful relationship I shouldn’t bless anything.

Jesus blessing the world and all creation

Jesus blessing the world and all creation

God seems to treat us all equally, for as Jesus says of God in St Matthew’s Gospel

‘He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’ (Matthew 5.45)

and as I cast out indiscriminate blessing from the altar at the end of every Eucharist it falls in the same way.  But perhaps we are going to have to think differently about blessing in the future and, against the will and action of God, bless only those who REALLY deserve it.

God,
you bless without distinction,
love without discrimination,
may your church
bravely reflect your nature.
Amen.

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A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

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