Category Archives: General Synod

That “Ed Hotchner” moment

Most people have never heard of AE Hotchner which may be a pity because he lived a very colourful life as the trusted friend of interesting people.

Latterly he was the partner of the late Paul Newman in the marketing of culinary sauces which were sold in the film star’s name, and at the end of every financial year,  the two  friends would sit and work out how to distribute the very significant profits to charity; something like 350m dollars found their way to good causes in this way, so Mr Hotchner did a lot of good.

He was also a companion of Ernest Hemingway, and in his auto biography tells of a rather splendid story of their “hell raising” days together, when they were friends of the Bull Fighting fraternity.

After drinking with two of Spain’s finest matadors one night, they hatched a plot to smuggle Hotchner into the bull fighters’ entourage and send him into the grand parade of matadors before a prestigious corrida. They appreciated that making a mockery of this great Spanish institution was risky in the Spain of General Franco, but high spirits prevailed.

The following morning, Hotchner was dressed in a “suit of lights” and took his place as the 2nd reserve bullfighter and was soon hugely enjoying the joke and the adulation of the crowd as he entered the ring and took his place on the bench.

It was only at the entry of the bull that the full precariousness of his position came to mind.

If the bull killed the greatest matador in the world, it was the reserve bull fighter’s job to finish the job.

If the bull despatched the two greatest bullfighters in the world, the time would have come for Hotchner to make his bull fighting debut.

It is perhaps as well that this all took place before Leicester City defied the 5000/1 odds against winning the English Premier League.

This anecdote came to Brother Ivo’s mind as he heard US commentators opining that the effective winning of the Republican Presidential nomination meant a ” shoe-in” for Hillary Clinton to become the next US President.

Frankly, Brother Ivo is not greatly enamoured of either candidate, but he tries to be objective and “interesting” and it is worth pausing to consider Mrs Clinton’s position if she eventually shakes off the dogged campaign of Senator Sanders, who has made her expected ( and significantly engineered ) coronation a less comfortable process than the party bosses planned.

As she takes the plaudits before the adoring Convention might she too have her ” Ed Hotchner moment”?

Might she reflect that having beaten Mr Sanders with some some difficulty, she will next be facing a man whose brutal political populism has relatively effortlessly despatched, not one unknown Senator, but sixteen highly resourced opponents, several with significant records of  years of hard campaigning and executive experience?

Campaigning, andtaking part in a grand procession is one thing; delivering the final performance is a very different proposition, and all of us in greater or lesser degree have experienced that “Ed Hotchner moment”.

A curate securing her first living, the newly qualified doctor approaching his first shift in A&E , even the newly elected member of General Synod preparing to make the maiden speech – we all have such doubts and reminders of our own fallibilities.

Many Churches will be having their own collective ” Ed Hotchner ” moments as they hear another call to evangelism , and consider the exhortations to follow Christ’s great commission to make disciples of all the world. We will all feel inadequate to the task ahead.

Some may doubt their strength, others their technique. Many will feel their own faith incomplete – few of us have all the answers – but Jesus was ahead of us, telling is not to worry what we will say, he will give us the words if only we get alongside people like ourselves and start the conversation.

But there is yet another reason to set aside our fears in such circumstances.

Our Archbishops Justin and John have launched an online video not simply calling upon us to prepare to evangelise the nation, but giving us the watch word that will enable us to fulfil our part in the great commission,

it is encompassed in two small words that might have served A E Hotchner well as he confronted his doubts and fears in that bull ring all those many years ago –  Just Pray

Lessons for the Church from Hillsborough

The vindication of the Campaign for Justice for the 96 Hillsborough dead has touched the nation, and is causing many to re-think how one views such pressure groups.

Historically it should not surprise us. The campaign to free the Birmingham 6 was similarly lengthy and convoluted, and it is not only victims who receive justice belatedly;  perpetrators of abuse are also found out in time, as some of the nation’s well established celebrities are  discovering.

Yet for every guilty Jimmy Savile, there is an innocent  Nigel Evans: Stuart Hall was properly found guilty, Leon Britton went to his grave under an unjust cloud of suspicion because  police officers were too enmeshed in the virtue of their investigation to retain objectivity.

Even the disgraced footballer Ched Evans – who undoubtedly behaved very badly towards a young woman – has been granted a re-trial because the procedure which convicted him has been considered by the Court of Appeal and found  to be unsafe.

So this is the first lesson for the Church. Justice matters, even historic injustice must be righted, even if it takes time and erodes confidence in an important institution.

This brings us to the late Bishop George Bell.

From the little they knew, the Hillsborough families were not able to accept that what they were being told by the powers that be, was safe and based upon a transparent process of integrity. For such temerity, they were characterised as “whining scousers” who were unduly inclined to embrace victimhood. Such claims look pretty shoddy this side of the Inquest verdicts.

This is the second lesson which we can draw from Hillsborough for the Church. Ignoring legitimate concerns is wrong. It will also be a fundamental error to characterise those scrutinising the Church’s  investigation of the Bishop Bell case as “strident”.

Nobody in the campaign is denying the possibility that the complainant in the case is telling the truth, yet what is attracting objective people to support the campaign, is an examination of the information currently in the public domain which draws experienced lawyers and public figures to the inescapable conclusion that one cannot see a fair- and therefore a safe  – process at work.

In the past the Church has often applied an unfair opaque process leading to injustice for the accusers; it is no improvement to replace that with an unjust opaque process leading to injustice to the accused.

This is the third lesson of Hillsborough for the Church. Those campaigning for Justice do not go away quietly

The Church authorities have tried to close the debate by refusing to answer questions. We are told that they have conducted a comprehensive enquiry and have been advised by experts. They refuse even to confirm the area professional expertise of those experts. We must trust the process because the Church says it has been thorough.

Nothing will alarm anyone with expertise in Child Protection Law more than such a patronising assertion.

Over the past thirty years, there have been many public Inquiries into issues of child protection; that history is littered with discarded , confidently asserted  expert opinion.

There are fashions in child abuse practice just as there are in skirt lengths.

The existence of widespread ‘Satanic Child Abuse’, has dropped off the agenda and the nature of  “Munchausen Syndrome” and “False Memory Syndrome” have been downgraded from the status of medically diagnosable syndromes, to that of a  loose description of phenomena to be considered –  but only with with a great deal of caution.

For anyone acquainted with such matters, “Trust me I am an expert” cuts no more ice than ” Trust me I am a Bishop’. An expert opinion is only as good as the facts made available and not all are as intellectually curious outside of the brief presented.

Once, Freudian Psychiatrists would earnestly tell the Courts that many little girls fantasise over having sex with their fathers; we are currently in an age where many assert that all complainants must be assumed to be truthful. We seem to forgotten the lesson of the Cleveland Report which was to “listen to the child ( complainant) and take what they say seriously’. That is not the same as belief, and requires an ongoing objectivity throughout the process.

So, the fourth lesson is surely The Age of deference has passed.

Paradoxically, that may have washed in Bishop Bell’s day, but it certainly is not accepted today.

The Hillsborough Campaign gathered support because enough people cared to keep it in the public eye. If the Church hierarchy is hoping that those troubled by the current state of publicly available information will let it drop, it is mistaken. Questions will be asked at Synod and any attempt to evade questions on the basis of a mistaken view of what is and is not “confidential” will only irritate Synod members.

That irritation will be picked up by the Church press and such mainstream commentators as Charles Moore and Peter Hitchens. It is understood that members of the House of Lords are disquieted and may introduce a debate.

So lesson number five is The concerns of ordinary people do reach the public ear.

Plainly the Church does not want the issue of sexual abuse to again dominate the headlines; the complainant has said publicly that every time the matter hits the headlines, she is distressed.

If the Church wants to bring this matter to a satisfactory close it can do so by being more transparent and engaging properly with the questions that are legitimately raised as to the processes by which its decisions have been reached.

The Establishment approached the Hillsborough families with imperious disregard for proper standards of justice, and tried to defend the indefensible. People not only now distrust what happened then, they are now distrustful of how the police and Government will act in the future

Here we have the sixth and final lesson.

Justice4GeorgeBell is not about Justice for the past but whether the Church is currently capable of delivering  Justice now and in the future.

At present, it is impossible to answer that question in the affirmative.

 

The Church remains inadequately prepared for “Digital Evangelism”.

Brother Ivo is not – and should not be – privy to the secrets of the in-house discussions of the Church of England when it comes to the delicate financial and staffing discussions surrounding the creation of the Digital Church initiative.

He is an informed outsider.

He is also free to ask questions, raise awareness, make representations, provoke debate and draw conclusions from what is said and, equally importantly, what is not currently being said.

It is not difficult to draw agreement from the Church Institution about the need to engage with communication. It has ever been thus.

Early Churches did well not to economise on the costs of scribes to copy the early Pauline letters- they might have decided otherwise but did the right thing for us, investing in communication to the benefit of the Church of the future.

The creation of Illuminated manuscripts was costly, in training and implementation. Printing was a challenge, as was the advent of film; Brother Ivo once enjoyed a hilarious conversation with the woman who first secured access to catalogue the Vatican Film Archive, which was an unexpected treasure trove of important early material for the history of cinema. At an early stage, the 19th Century Popes recognised the importance of the new medium and engaged with it.

Social Media is older than we recall. The magisterial Archbishop Cranmer Blog recently celebrated its tenth Anniversary. It continues to be the benchmark for quality and sheer dogged determination to produce weighty and well considered material on a virtual daily basis. Those of us who have attempted to replicate such outreach know the impossibly high bar it sets. One suspects that only political prejudice has prevented the Government from honouring that blog’s founder for services to Christianity and the development of Social Media.

Amongst the other noteworthy exponents held in respectful affection by this blog are DigitalNun and Bishop Nick Baines, yet in this fast moving field we are seeing younger initiatives emerging.

The text based blog  is giving way to the “vlogger” – the digital blogger who shares short film. Brother Ivo must give a brief promotion to TGI Monday and the Virtual Pastor – both coming out of Lichfield Diocese. May Lichfield show the way!

At the February Anglican General Synod we had no scheduled report dedicated to this aspect of the programme called Renewal and Reform, to the newcomers and no illustrated presentation for those new Synod members who have no real notion of what can be done,  or how to conceptualise “Digital Church”.

That absence was nevertheless raised, with an early question to the Business Committee about the absence of a current budget and the fact that if that budget is not in place soon, it will be problematic to call the authorities to account quickly because the York Synod is already virtually closed to new business by reason of a continuation of the ” shared conversations”

The progressing of Renewal and Reform at that Synod focussed on spending £50 million on Ministerial Education; with the shared conversations and sexuality dominating the time on the next occasion, if there is no budget approved by July, the Issue of Digital Church may not pressed by the Church’s elected representatives until after next February.

That would not be a mistake it would be an outrage.

Canon John Spence is spearheading that initiative. Brother Ivo has confidence in him and his team. He did tell Synod that an 81 year old is 8 times more likely to attend Church than an 18 year old. Whilst discussing Evangelism we were told that most Christians have engagement with the Church before they are 25. After that, reaching the ” lost generation” becomes increasingly difficult and unlikely.

Yet our focus  last time was on examining the minutiae of spending £50m to train people to be Ministers who do not currently know that they have a calling; they cannot come ” on stream” for the best part of 8 years.How many young people will have been lost by then?

That budget would have financed a sophisticated professional Digital Media outreach to the young for over ONE HUNDRED years! Such a programme could be formed up and running within a year for an annual budget of £350- £500k per year.

Brother Ivo is not against training vicars, but the contrast in terms of money and focus is arresting.

Jesus taught ” Where your money is so shall your heart be”; he spoke of the Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to their own devices whilst he stakes all on the rescue of the lost. We seem to prioritise circling the wagons and doing what we know well, rather than embracing” the scary new” and heading off in search of engagement with those who, as yet have no idea of their need of Christ.

Synod was briefly reminded, this is not a ” budget for social media” – it is a “budget for the evangelisation of the un-churched young”. Yet a year after announcing it the budget is still not allocated.

We, as a wider church, do not seem to have understood that young people no longer obtain their news, opinion, culture or affirmation other than online, yet, when we were joined by young people in the pubic gallery for the debate on evangelisation, it was noticeable they were looking at their mobile devices throughout. Maybe, like Brother Ivo, they were following the parallel debate online amongst those not called by the Chair!

Yet actually doing something about this remains institutionally problematic and currently under addressed. The last Brother Ivo heard the all important budget consideration had been put back to later this month.

Canon Spence did assure us that all will be well, and that the powers that be will get this done, and Brother Ivo accepts his bona fides. No apology however should be made for flagging up the problematic delay that plainly has occurred. The Canon is a diplomat negotiating his way through the labyrinthine processes of Church House; fair enough, but do not assume that all is yet well in the development of this vital outreach.

It is important to set this strand of the Renewal and Reform agenda in its missionary context.

Currently the CofE has 58,689 Twitter followers. The KitKat chocolate bar has 310,401 twitter followers.

Strip out the CofE payroll vote and the story looks incredibly bleak.Yet ask some questions.

Both have a message; each is saying ” look at me” in a culture where every individual makes a daily choice to pay attention to a few of the myriad messages that comes his/her and to ignore the many.

When somebody invites us into their social media world it is an immense privilege. They are giving us permission to break into their world 24 hours a day and to offer our story. It is a preferential position, a great honour to be trusted to that degree. It says- “Your message / story / opinion is important to me and I allow you to tap me on the shoulder and share your thoughts in the midst of my busy day”.

Why would we not be interested in developing such relationships? Why would we not respond to that invitation by offering that person the best of our care love and intellect?

You may be sure that Kitkat employs a highly professional team to calibrate its message into simple and accessible terms. Do you sense that the Church “gets it”?

What does is it say about our attitude to mission that we are so meagrely   engaged in perfecting our skills in responding and developing that outreach. Yet if the person to whom we outreach likes what we say and how we say it, will they not share it with their  friends, cousins, yoga class, book club etc?

The crazy thing is how cheap and cost effective it is to make wider communication. It costs no more to communicate with 5 million people than 500 once the message has been devised and professionally executed.

Digital outreach is a highly professional industry; the Church would be mad to try and reinvent it when there are brilliant professionals out there ready to take away the stress of creative content, keeping up with new platforms, negotiating the licences for the necessary analytical software that underpins the cutting edge targeting of the best campaigns.

We cannot imagine how our message can be packaged for the unchurched young, but we can employ those who can.

There is another aspect to worry about. How many Bishops are “owning” this project? Are our leaders priming our Ministers to seek out evangelising content on the web and to share it with their congregations? There is a already a lot of good material out there, but we seem very poor at seeking it, recognising it and sharing it. We do not have to be good creators of suitable material but we can all be digital evangelists.,sharing the good news at the click of a button.

Brother Ivo closes with an industry story that needs to fire our hope and ambition.

A top advertising agency secured new business and sent the pitch document round its creative teams with the brief to find an angle to make a successful campaign. It was a rather dull prosaic product and many of the top creatives in the agency shook their heads and passed it on until it reached the team that always got the scraps off the table of the more established players. Nothing worked when they did the expected, then somebody had a mad idea.

In that moment “Compare the market” became “compare the meerkat”. The rest is marketing history.

Oh that we in the Church had a similar digital Damascene moment when we realised that our faith can be shared in new and attractive ways.

In the modern era we have the chance to reach many many more than our forebears; but do we have the imagination and drive to make it happen?

Might you, for example. share this amongst Church folk you know, might you raise the need to “click and share” so they too may appreciate the opportunities for evangelism that are slipping away every time we see something online and fail to pass it on?

 

In what way do we “Belong”

Three story lines seem to be dominating the news headlines at the moment and each has the same underlying question.

Much of a recent “Today Programme” was devoted to the commitment of £20m of public funds to increase the capacity of Muslim women to speak English; a major story of last week, centred upon the issue of whether the Anglican Communion could hold together in any meaningful semblance of unity ( Hold the front page – it can! ) ; and it will not be long before the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European community returns to prominence in our news channels.

The underlying theme is that of “belonging”.

That may not surprise philosophers and theologians; in our secular age, many have cut themselves free from ties of connection which formerly answered their questions of identity, and unsurprisingly human beings, who are social animals, look for “people like us” with whom to associate.

Go to a comedy club, an art exhibition which “challenges” social mores, or any anti-Establishment demonstration, and you will find a collection of folk with remarkably uniformity in their collective attitudes proclaiming their counter cultural credentials. Individualism isn’t what it used to be.

Underneath all the three issues I have identified – and doubtless many more- lies the old questions “Who belongs?” and “How do we know?”,

The second question discloses an interesting divergence of discernment technique. One can draw up a collection of rules and demand allegiance and compliance; one can simplify them into a checklist of questions – a score of 95% and above gets you in the club. This is a very black and white technique – and yet encompasses an inherent weakness.

What if one plainly and strongly scores well on 94% of the criteria but weakly fails the final 1%?

A binary approach lacks any concept of “weight”.

Take the vexed and recurring issue of what it is to be “British”.

There are any number of criteria which could be suggested. We could invite nominations to add to a “basket” of matters to be evaluated. These might include, understanding of the complexities of our still largely unwritten Constitution, but also, inter alia, a love of sport, sentimentality towards animals, and an interest in Television soap operas and reality shows. Yet one who scores lowly on all of these factors might redeem themselves by the sheer weight of enthusiasm which they display towards gardening and the Royal Family.

On the European front we might test our commitment with a similar cultural comparison. Imagine a Football World Cup Final between a British Home Nation team and a South American opponent. There may be a few die hard fans of another Home Nation who would cheer for the opponents but wouldn’t most UK citizens instinctively identified with the British option? Now imagine the match is between a South American Team and an EU partner side. Would you assume a similar generalised identification? Probably not. In fact many of us have more in common with our American or Australian cousins than most of the EU population with whom we are nominally encompassed.

The gravitational pull of some identities are plainly stronger than others.

The more Brother Ivo reflected upon this the more he appreciated that the more incisive question is not “ What are British Values” “Why are we European” or “What are the rules of the Anglican Communion” but a rather more diffuse one.

“In what way does this person belong?

Posing the question in such a way allows the individual to offer up their case in personal and broader terms. You can hear and evaluate their choices of priority, their tone of voice and even more importantly, the warmth with which they advance their claim to belonging.

As the Archbishops depart from the 2016 Primates Meeting they can be judged by the content of their communiques and explanations; we might bring out our clipboards which may be annotated with our chosen questions, so that by their responses, we rule them in or out of association. We might even have a selection of preferred trigger words or phrases by which we label them as sheep or goats. “Inclusive” … “Bible believing”, “Inerrant” , “diverse” – you know the kind of thing.

Archbishop Justin has set the bar for inclusion into the Anglican Communion pretty low. If the Primates want to continue “walking together” they may freely do so; if they don’t, they are free to wander off. That is not weakness but a recognition of the reality of the institution, but it is more than that.

It is a permitting of each of the flock to determine whether there is enough of core identification present to enable them to continue that ‘walking together”.

Whilst many would have liked the meeting to have centred upon the principle points of division, the meeting explored their Catholicity which is not only a highbrow concept of what it means to be Church, but also enabled them to identify through prayer fasting and worship the many areas in which they are and remain very much a community which belongs together.

Brother Ivo does not know whether they specifically asked themselves to look across the room and ask “In what way does that brother belong?” but much of final position implies that they might thereby have assembled not only a lengthy list but one of considerable weight.

Jesus wished all his people to be as one; His is the voice of the Good Shepherd to which the flock individually and collectively responds. Even the lost sheep continues to belong, but we are surely united in our faith that the Master will not easily abandon them.

We may identify that we belong on a variety of levels; often that implies exclusion, but the ultimate test of belonging may be more generous than we realise.

Why I signed the Letter to the Archbishops

Today a letter has been publicly addressed to our Archbishops as they meet with other leaders of the Anglican Communion to address the divisions that painfully exist around our understanding of gender and sexuality.

The text of the letter is relatively short. Perhaps it needs to be in order to attract signatures from as wide a spectrum as possible: had a more detailed or nuanced letter been offered, the negotiations over amendments would have been prolonged and taken the process beyond the available deadline for publication.

Dr Martin Luther King Jnr spoke of the ” paralysis of analysis ” and sometimes the pressing needs of the times requires us to unite behind a less than perfect proposition.

Here is the letter in full

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

Your Graces

We the undersigned ask you, our Archbishops, to take an unequivocal message to your meeting of fellow Primates this week that the time has now come for:


Acknowledgement that we, the Church, have failed in our duty of care to LGBTI members of the Body of Christ around the world. We have not loved them as we should, and have treated them as a problem to be solved rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ to be embraced and celebrated. We have made them feel second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, often abandoned and alone.

Repentance for accepting and promoting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and for the pain and rejection that this has caused. We, the Church, need to apologise for our part in perpetuating rather than challenging ill-informed beliefs about LGBTI people, such as the slanderous view that homosexuals have a predisposition to prey on the young.
We understand that the Primates come from a variety of contexts with differing ways of interpreting the Scriptures, but we urge you to be prophetic in your action and Christ-like in your love towards our LGBTI sisters and brothers who have been ignored and even vilified for too long.

Please be assured of our prayers for you at this time, and that the world will know by our words and actions that everyone who is baptised into the faith is of equal value in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yours sincerely

Brother Ivo was amongst the earliest oppponents of the redefinition of marriage; he is critical of many of the tactics adopted by some supporters of the wider LGBTI agenda. Yet when invited to join the initiative he felt it important to accept.

Being a great supporter of the institution of traditional marriage was never necessarily antagonistic to gay people; one can hold such a position whilst fully supportive of the need for our gay friends to enjoy legal rights and securities which Civil Partnership conferred – and more.

Brother Ivo shares the view of like-minded, much-loved, gay friends who say “we can never be married – we are not male and female”. Yet is perfectly possible to wish to uphold traditional marriage and to simultaneously to wish to embrace and celebrate gay relationships as they are, for what they are.

In parenthesis, Brother Ivo is not greatly enamoured of historic apologies: we have more than enough of our own deficiencies to repent, without donning second hand sackcloth and ashes.

Yet reading this text there is an important core of truth.

We as a Church are not always welcoming to those who are “different” in a variety of ways: we have prevaricated for too long on this subject probably out of cowardice: we are frequently insensitive to gay Christians as they seek to join in our worship of The Lord and offer service to the needy. We know that in some parts of the Communion, the Church remains complicit in some dreadful treatment of gay people legally and culturally and we ought to have been more active against it.

Brother Ivo knows from professional engagement that the confusion of homosexual orientation and paedophilia is mistaken,

These thoughts alone would probably have been sufficiently persuasive, but the sermon by the Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa at the Westminster Abbey service at the opening of General Synod was decisively influential . The sermon was entitled “Rebuild my House”.

Set within the context of our leaving behind historic and unnecessary division, Fr. Raniero urged –

“We should never allow a moral issue like that of sexuality divide us more than love for Jesus Christ unites us.”

Those words should be etched onto all our hearts.

In the spirit of this, bridge building is needed, and so it was that Brother Ivo reminded himself that if we are going to find a way forward, compromises will have to be made. If he presses compromises on others, it seemed incubent upon him to set an example and to accept “the good ” even if it is not “the nuanced best”, even if does not say all that he might wish in the way he would prefer.

Making that choice is not cost free. Asking Christians in other parts of the world to remain within a more gay friendly communion,  asks them to accept greater tension with Islam in areas where that is a hard ask- easier for us than them.

Yet it is the treatment of our gay brothers and sisters in Africa that also made a difference for this Christian. Even the firmest upholders of strict biblical interpretation within our own country are surely troubled by the oppressive legislation throughout much of the African continent

We must, however trust our leaders and allow them some “wiggle room” – not being too prescriptive in our expectations as to how they present and when they they raise these issues. Sometimes in negotiation, the timing is as important as the substance. What is agreed on the fourth day would often have been impossible at the outset

If the talks break down, as well they might, Archbishop Justin has already said that the door will remain open. That is good.

One might therefore ask, “Then why sign the letter” at all?

At the last General Synod, Brother Ivo attended the launch of the Church Army course on sharing the Gospel “Faith Pictures”, at which Archbishop Justin confided his own early embarrassment when asked to join in public evangelisation. Even today, he told us that his personal mantra immediately before engaging inevery interview is ” Don’t forget to mention Jesus”.

On that basis, one trusts he and Archbishop John will not take it amiss if they are invited to adopt a similar mantra as they enter these present discussions –

” Don’t forget the pain of our LBGTI brothers and sisters”.

Do we need a liturgy celebrating Companionship?

Companionship is one of the deepest of human needs.

When God contemplated the singular human being he made in Adam his first response was that “it is not good for man to be alone” and He immediately fashioned him a companion, one with whom he could break bread – for that is the derivation of the word.

Towards the end of his life,  Jesus seals his ongoing companionship, not only with his immediate companion-disciples,  but with all future followers, when he breaks bread and distributes it to future generations, so that we too are drawn into a relationship of special significance, we with Him and He with us.

Companionship takes many forms. Some describe themselves as “soulmates”, special people with whom similarities and differences can be shared with a special confidence, and with whom discord and loss is felt with particular acuteness. Other relationships may be less intimate but no less meaningful.

Companionship is important not least because both in its desire and fulfilment, it is God Given.

We might pick examples of companionship from a multitude of sources biblical, personal, even fictional.

In 1 Samuel 18;3 we are told “And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself”.

At John 21;20 we read  – ” Peter turned and saw following them the disciple that Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper”, a signifier of close companionship even by He who loved the whole world.

Close companions are not immune from discord. Consider, in a secular non-sexual context the songwriting partnership of  Lennon and McCartney; they are inseparably linked as the embodiment of an era; they became estranged, but who can doubt that the loss of John Lennon was felt especially deeply by his rival/companion Paul?

We could easily make a lengthy list, which might include inter alia Boswell and Johnson, Holmes and Watson, and then there was Grey Friars Bobby.

We almost define our humanity by the relationships and loyalties which we develop and sustain, and few of us would wish to experienced prolonged periods of loneliness, even if we had our eight favourite gramophone records to remind us of happier times.

The bond of marriage is a recognition of such companionship, though in practice that comes in a variety of forms. Few of us can know the interior lives of most marriages, but the well documented and unconventional relationship of Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville West was both challenging to most of our notions as to what a marriage should be, and yet touchingly human in its devotion.

Sexual relations may or may not feature in marriage or companionship; in the right context it is plainly a fortifying blessing. It can also be a stumbling block and a difficulty to be negotiated patiently and sensitively, sometimes with suffering, as with the marriage of Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard.

The more one thinks about this subject, the more textured and complex it becomes. Companionship is undoubtedly a blessing which is identifiable when seen, but difficult to define.

Last year, soon after his election to General Synod, and as he realised that he was going to have to address difficult issues of sexuality, Brother Ivo was recommended the book “Covenant and Calling” by Robert Song. It  has been one of those works to which one’s mind returns from time to time to reflect on events as they arise.

As a prelude to its exploration to the nature of non-procreating relationships,  Robert Song offered the interesting invitation to consider that, whilst marriage is an institutional good, it is, in Biblical Terms, a temporary state.  It may be the right context for the multiplying of humankind, yet our heavenly future lies in a relationship beyond marriage, with God, and within that relationship, all who can be will already be; there will be no reproductive imperative in heaven, and all need for companionship will be fulfilled in the restored relationship with God through the sacrifice of Christ.

This longer perspective matters. Marriage is not a sine qua non of salvation indeed Robert Song reminds us that initially, celibacy was the more recommended status for believers. Our needs for earthly companionship were recognised as strong and so the accommodation of human desire was acknowledged as the Church matured.

Not all good intimate relationships of trust and vulnerability are marriages; whether married or not, they may or may not have a sexual component.

When they are deep, meaningful, and defining of identity, should not the church not have a liturgy of blessing for them? We may debate the qualifying criteria, but in principle..?

Everyone in the Church knows we are going to have to look again at issues of human gender and sexuality, and many dread it because we cannot see a way through without pain and fracture, yet this book opens up the thinking on the subject without being dismissive either of traditional scriptural thinking or of the needs of those who suffer pain and rejection because of their minority orientation.

Is it  even possible to reconcile such diversity of views within a single institution? Many think not, but we do declare that with Christ, all things are possible, and exploring a liturgy for Companionship  may be part of the process by which we edge towards the seemingly impossible.

How we approach these issues obliquely without polarising the discussions immediately is, of course, the underlying question facing our Archbishops as they engage with the diversity of Primates from across the Communion in the coming days. It will also arise during the term of office of members of the newly elected General Synod.

Robert Song was a University tutor of Archbishop Justin. One suspects that the theological subtlety and integrity of “Covenant and Calling” will have informed the preparations for the meeting of Primates. Certainly the openness of our Archbishops in  not setting an agenda of their devising, but rather inviting the attenders to prayerfully construct their own,  is entirely congruent with the exploratory spirit of Robert Song’s writing.

In the last General Synod there was significant support for two Members motions; neither was debated whilst we awaited the outcome of the  “shared conversations”. One motion affirmed that marriage was between a man and woman, the other seeking to open it to gay people.

In a time when some are prepared to espouse the cause of “gender fluidity” it was interesting that there was not a motion to take us beyond thinking soley in binary terms.

Is this all we have to offer?

Will moving the needle of opinion from 49% /51% one way to 51%/49% the other way do anyone any good all – least of all the institutional Church?

Robert Song may help us to approach the subject from a very different angle.

Not all gay people want to get “married”. Indeed some share entirely the traditionalist view that ” we cannot be married – we are not male and female”. That cannot be the entirety of the discussion, unless we see early fracture of the Communion as a desirable outcome.

One only has to listen to the pain expressed by those who have tried to live lives of fidelity to traditional models of gender, and “failed” to reconfigure their orientation, to understand the peace we could confer upon them by celebrating “Companionship-Covenant Relationships” even without conceding the entire surrender to the redefinition of marriage.

Let us not ignore those in deep non-sexual relationships for whom such a liturgy might also be a blessing. A rite that was serious in intent, low key and inclusive might offer a useful contrast to the razzmatazz of some of the wedding parties we see using our Churches as a backdrop.

At the conclusion of the book, which is a prolonged invitation to think about these issues deeply and seriously, Robert Song writes as follows

“..we might make a start by pondering observations such as the following; people will be drawn to the good by beauty rather than forced to it by the law; romantic and erotic desire point us towards God rather than away from God: it is better to make goodness possible rather than condemn where it is absent; marriages and committed relationships exist for goods beyond themselves, not just for the mutual satisfaction of the parties, and so on.” 

Earlier, reflecting upon how we “seek emotional survival and retain a degree of persona integrity” he suggests

..part of this is looking for guidance and reassurance from sources of authority that make sense.. not those that lay oppressive burdens of moral rectitude, but those that manage to evoke in people some sense of personal meaningfulness and hope of a way forward’.

That sense of the discussion opening the way forward, to re-examine the importance of relationships – of all characters of seriousness and  meaningfulness- seems to Brother Ivo to be important.

If Synod were to consider developing a liturgy celebrating  companionship, a celebration of ” all this is, and all it may please God for it to be” it would be a “good” not only in and of itself, but also as a prelude to the discussion of what marriage is, whether we retain it in its traditional form or bow to the zeitgeist.

Brother Ivo has always been a defender of traditional marriage for a variety of reasons which he may re-state another time. Yet the contemplation of a liturgy which blesses companionship, for the Davids and the Jonathans, and many others, does not seem to him to be Biblically offensive.

Prioritising the debate of such a liturgy may even be profoundly beneficial to the restoration of marriage as “an Honourable Estate”, from which it has frankly slipped under the weight of secular redefinition.

That is not a reference to the re-definition of “marriage” for gay people, but rather by its morphing into a rather vulgar consumer fest of which this is but the latest rather gross example.

Such lavish extravagance  poses the question, which is the greater affront to the Institution of Matrimony; which treats it with more serious and God centred respect, the performance art of the celebrity bash, or the request for extended affirmation of the companionship of those who love God and seek to serve his Church within their calling?

“Covenant and Calling” does not take us to the promised land where all will be well; if we were to explore a liturgy to celebrate companionship, we will still have to touch upon issues of difference , but we would be doing so in a context in which the world can see that we are open to explore and celebrate goodness with a seriousness that often slips from the debate when it is is conducted in unsophisticated terms.

 

Synod must approach the Lord Green controversy proportionately.

General Synod will be meeting this week to discuss the future shape and direction of the Church and how it will fulfil its mission to spread the Gospel. Amongst the papers under discussion will be proposals which touch upon the selection of future senior leaders, which have been prepared by Lord Green who was the Head of the HSBC, and later a Trade Minister in the Coalition Government. He is now an Anglican priest.

The Green proposals are informed by modern business practice. Under them, future potential bishops may be spotted early and will have their leadership enhanced by ” MBA style” training: this injection of business training and performance standards is viewed with suspicion in certain quarters.

Nobody is suggesting that the future Church leadership should be solely shaped by modern business thinking, but neither is it unreasonable to examine these proposals with our own due diligence.

So far so good.

Already however, the politicised question of whether Lord Green was complicit in any legal impropriety is seeping into references to him and his report. That must be resisted by all Synod members as they fulfill their proper duties of deciding whether the Green proposals have merit or not.

Brother Ivo is disturbed at how the Green Issue is being presented by the BBC. It is speaking of whether HSBC helped its clients to “duck” or “dodge” UK taxes. Synod representatives must be astute enough not to allow such terms to intrude into its thinking. The issue of probity turns upon complicity in criminal evasion not lawful avoidance or tax planning.

We all “duck/dodge” tax when we shelter our savings in ISAs or make a lump sum payment into our pensions.

In business, tax breaks are offered by Governments to stimulate activity in approved but potentially risky activities such as the British Film Industry. The tainting of lawful activity by “Arthur Daley” terminology is more to the shame of our State broadcaster than anyone engaged in the lawful activity of the Banking Sector.

It does not help that episode after episode of BBC comedy has made the profession of Banker synonymous with “inappropriate behaviour”.

Brother Ivo does not know what Lorf Green did or did not know about the way in which a Swiss subsidiary conducted its business. He does know that that HSBC was one of the few Banking Institutions that was so well managed that it did not need and did not take public money, when many in the Banking World had gambled their way into precarious instability.

He also knows that virtually every Institution and profession in the UK has had its scandals; some politicians exploited expenses, some journalist hacked, some NHS managers neglected the elderly, some at the BBC presided over a culture of immunity for child molesters. In short, damning a proposal because of prejudice towards the entire sector of the community from which they come, is shallow and a betrayal of our responsibilities to seriously examine the question of developing our own future leaders.

We must play the ball, not the man.

Lord Green is currently declining to engage with journalistic attempts to “doorstep ” him. He may not rush to issue immediate statements as called for by politicians in an election year.

Brother Ivo is not surprised and will cast no stones. Apparently over 1000 people may be interviewed about what has happened and why. The areas of concern are currently diffuse. If criminality, corporate or personal, has occurred, it has not yet been formulated. It would be a highly imprudent former Chief Executive who engages too early in assuaging journalistic appetite or facilitating political exploitation.

When the Church has its scandals we expect our Archbishops and Bishops to ascertain the facts and understand the issues before opening their mouths. We should expect nothing different from those who have offered their skills to help us re-engineer the structures of our church.

The Green proposals need discussion because they offer a new perspective. We might adapt Gamaliel’s advice, accepting that if such recommendations have merit, they should be apparent regardless of provenance. Past association does not prevent us listening to St Paul – and his past
“inappropriate behaviour” was beyond question.

The Green Report may be good bad or “curate’s egg” Brother Ivo wants to hear the debate and make his mind up. He suggests thatSynod should leave the politics for another time and do its job of examining what is before it.

It’s time for Anglicans to become Lean Mean Mobile Agile and Hostile”!

In fulfilment of his pre-election promise to “get around and meet” those whom he nominally represents on General Synod, Brother Ivo went to spend time at a Deanery Synod at the weekend.

It was deliberately a very different encounter from the churches he has visited so far.

After All Age worship in a school based church, a Forward in Faith parish mass, and visiting a poor urban Evangelical project, his last encounter was very different.

The churches of that Deanery are very very different.

Most of their churches are rural, many 12th century. The congregations will be older and pretty comfortably off. Many lie within the affluent commuter belt of London They were hardly “stick in the mud” however.

Their Synod was open to outsiders. They attracted good numbers from the community having invited a speaker from ” Stop the Traffic” to raise awareness of human trafficking, and worship was enthusiastically offered despite the older attenders being accompanied by a vicar playing a Djembe drum!

Over breakfast, Brother Ivo heard of a newly established Saturday Messy Church which is attracting a largely new congregation of young families. It was very encouraging.

Brother Ivo  was there to talk about The General Synod which  may not have seemed an invigorating subject, and the latest plethora of policy papers could have all benefited from further editorial enthusiasm, nevertheless there are reasons to be cheerful buried within the crowded Synod agenda. It was how to get the wheat from the chaff that Brother Ivo put his mind

How to deliver that essence was a challenge to anyone who has to boil down and present a complex agenda to its bare essentials yet unexpectedly, an old idea came to the rescue.

Some readers may recall Brother Ivo having once embraced the sports mantra of the US college football team Alabama State who famously enjoyed sustained sucess. Their coach embodied their philosophy in five words.

The team was determined to be-

“Lean, mean, mobile, agile and hostile”!

Now Brother Ivo will concede that this seems an improbable strap line for mainstream Anglicanism – but bear with him a while.

What is the ” Simplification ” agenda advanced by Bishop Peter Broadbent and his colleagues about if not being ” Leaner” and fitter?

If our old legislative structures prevent our adapting to the fast moving modern world, should we not sweep them away?  If “offending eyes” should be ” plucked out” then how much more intolerant should we be of deadwood regulation. The 72 Disciples were sent on their way highly un-encumbered. Bishop Peter is surely pointing us towards Biblical leanness.

“Meanness” is not often considered a Christian virtue, and yet the wise virgins know that timely expenditure of resources are needed if purpose is to be achieved. So the paper from the Church Commissioners explaining that they will release capital to promote regeneration of the Church – but not indiscriminately, is both visionary – and yet a bit mean.  Projects will prioritise the poor, they will be be managed by more business savvy Bishops and only if there is a coherent plan with realistic resources and objectives will those funds be authorised. THere should be no flabby largesse but a carefully calculated drive for effectiveness.

Martin Luther King described power in positive terms, as the ” ability to active purpose”. The Church Commissioners fine initiative is both generous spirited and properly “mean”. You may have the power to grown but not freedom to be profligate.

“Mobile” is represented in various ways.

Bishop Stephen Croft’s paper on auditing Dioceses with benchmarks for developing Discipleship may seem rather managerial and his complementary thinking on Ministry is, as yet, concentrating on clergy,  yet plainly we are being invited to explore different solutions in different places.

If “church” is best developed by an informal church set temporarily in a school(as Brother Ivo has seen thriving) then go there. By implication, if one of Bishop Peter’s Semi-decommissioned “Festival Churches” can be returned to life with lay led services from time to time -sobeit.

“Agility” is more problematic. It’s not clear that Anglicans yet do “agility” , and if there is currently a weak point this must be it.

“Simplification” is part of it but more to the point we need speed of communication, speed of response. Brother Ivo reminded his Deanery audience that ISIL raised a conquering army in six months thanks to harnessing modern social media communication. Nevertheless agility sits with latent power amidst the other initiatives. We need to get up to speed with digital communication and probably secure outside expertise on how this can be done.

“Hostility” is less problematic than it seems.

Are we not already called to be ” hostile” towards  injustice, to exploitation of abused children,and sex workers ? Are we not “hostile to religious intolerance? Jesus was ” hostile” to the slavery of sin , and Archbishop Justin has already told us that there is sometimes too much bland niceness in our preaching. So maybe we can get away with importuning some hostility into our thinking.

Having sketched out the energy hidden within the dense paperwork of the General Synod Agenda, Brother Ivo offered the challenge to his superficially Conservative looking audience.

If we want to address People Trafficking, we need to address the context of transience within communities within which it can flourish. The comfortably off Churches may find resources re-directed towards on that front line. in transient communities it is often the Church that is the last link with mainstream society that remains after the shops, social services, pubs and police  have withdrawn.

The run down urban church that presented a Christmas Panto and fed 37 lonely people with a Chistmas Dinner might be strengthened by closing rural churches with small ( if faithful ) congregations and reallocating the resources. In short the “costs of discipleship” may be carried by Deaneries just like yours”.

And how was this received?

With enthusiasm!

They absolutely got it.

If we give our Christian Brothers and Sisters dry process, consultation, detail and partisanship they switch off. Yet give them a Gosel vision, give them a role on the team which they understand and much can be achieved.

A janitor at NASA was once asked what his job was and replied that his job was to help put a man on the moon.

People respond to vision, that’s what drives mission.

Synod must do its essential scrutinising job but after that, we need to prepare our own people and enthuse them. We cannot rouse the nation from spiritual sleep until we have embraced what one listener to Brither Ivo described as the “dangerousness” latent within these strategies.

Danger can be good. Risk taking can be good.

“Lean Mean Mobile Agile and Hostile” caught the imagination of a Rural Home Counties Deanery seemingly / superficially with much to lose, yet they saw that winning the Nation for Christ was a prize worth pursuing -a pearl of great price for those willing to risk what they have.

Anglicans – in all their unexpected unpredictable generous variety.

Don’t you just love” em?