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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Reformation of Synod?

@TheChurchMouse asked me to do a guest post for the inauguration of the new General Synod, and it was published a couple of hours before the inauguration service in Westminster Abbey.

Dame Mary Tanner: photo by David Michael Morris

However, as Dame Mary Tanner started preaching, I started to wonder if she had been looking over my shoulder (and - should she have even noticed my post - she may have wondered if I had got hold of an illicit copy of her sermon script in advance - full copy legitimately available here now). Have a look...

She started by highlighting what an inspired solution Synodical government has been:
Synodical government was a visionary initiative. It established definitively the voice of the laity in the governance of our Church, providing a place where laity and clergy, together with the bishops, meet to discern, to express consensus and to legislate.

She then went on to recognise that synod itself is now in need of reformation:
we know that our synodical system is – and probably always will be, like the institution of the Church itself – in need of reform and renewal. English parliamentary processes can have a negative effect, tending to polarisation, parties divided against one another, a culture of winners and losers. Thank goodness the call to the Synod – ‘decide’ – now replaces the former absurd practice of a bewigged lawyer crying ‘divide’ – just when the Synod was testing for consensus, testing for the mind of Christ.

- It was almost word-for-word what I had also written. I was encouraged to think that she, and others, share some of the thoughts I have been thinking too. And you cannot get more up-front than the sermon at the inauguration of Synod.

Mary Tanner starts by looking at the Jerusalem Council as her prime Biblical model for inspiration. It led her on - amongst many other things, to suggest:
Synod structures and procedures may need reforming. But perhaps what is most needed is for each of us to look at ourselves. We need to get hold at a deeper level of how costly listening can be. It is by listening with creative imaginations, not afraid of silence, that we form a space in which the Holy Spirit can lead us beyond polarisation to the place where we know that we need one another...

Towards the end of her sermon, Dame Mary said:
The most important thing you do is not the production of Measures, Acts of Synod, or Codes of Practice, important as these are, but the gathering together around the Lord’s Table to receive food for the synodical journeying.
Strive always to listen to one another with charity and generosity, and listen deep in the silence to the one who walks with you on the way, so that you too may say, like those at the Council of Jerusalem, ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’.

So, there is Mary Tanner’s challenge to this 9th General Synod. In his introductory welcome to the Queen, and just before she also spoke to Synod, ++Rowan Williams observed that this was the first Synod that there were no longer any remaining members of the earlier Church Assembly present. Except for her majesty, that is - who has seen Synods, and Archbishops of Canterbury come, and go. The Queen’s speech also included words helping Synod look forward:
The opening of a new Synod is a moment when we can all give thanks for the witness of those who have gone before, and pray for wisdom as you seek to balance change and continuity in the decisions that lie ahead of you.  ...
The new Synod will have many issues to resolve to ensure that the Church of England remains equipped for the effective pursuit of its mission and ministry. Some will, no doubt, involve difficult, even painful, choices. But Christian history suggests that times of growth and spiritual vigour have often coincided with periods of challenge and testing.  What matters is holding firmly to the need to communicate the gospel with joy and conviction in our society.

I have already outlined some of the areas and ways I think we could see Synod start to move - I am hoping to see some of these begin to take shape, so that we may all the better fulfil the role that the Queen has reminded us is the calling of Synod.

Alastair Cutting 96 Chichester

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