Next week General Synod convenes for its first meeting of 2019. For me it will be my first time at General Synod. I am one of the newbies.
I go with a mixture of enthusiasm, hope, and anxiety. Enthusiasm, hope, and anxiety pretty much describe how I feel about the state of the Church of England.
I am enthusiastic and hopeful because of the continuing emphasis on evangelism. As a moderately Catholic Anglican I firmly believe that the Church of England has a duty, no a mandate, to evangelize the people of England. If the Church can’t present the gospel and the story of Jesus Christ as good news – the best of news – then we really are wasting not only our own but everyone’s time.
For me evangelism must be holistic. I don’t think it can be straightforwardly reduced to conversion (although conversion is, for sure, central to the task of evangelism) so I hope and pray for, ‘a bigger church, that makes a bigger difference’ (Bishop Paul Bayes) and passionately believe that, in Archbishop Temple’s words, the world needs ‘more and better Christians.’
Society needs, badly needs, a robust and healthy church; one which models a better way of living, relating, caring and believing.
Society needs to witness a church which demonstrably stretches out to those on the margins, daring to care from them and, learn from them. Society, and her political leaders, need (even if they don’t recognise the need) to witness a church that understands the plight of the refugee, a church which constantly asks of itself (and others) the fundamental religious questions, such as ‘who is my neighbour?’
Society needs to witness a church that cares deeply about the devastating effects of addiction and economic exploitation. Society needs to witness a body that manifestly esteems young and old alike whilst caring for the created order.
The good news, for this newbie, is that the various synod papers make it abundantly clear that the church is deeply committed to such holistic modes of evangelism.
The Church of England also needs to model, for a bitterly and deeply divided society, that good disagreement is truly possible. Good disagreement, or disagreeing well, is a difficult ask of the church because as a motif it applies solely to the deeply contested areas of church life. And, we all know what these are: sexuality and gender.
I was interested and delighted to read the update paper (GS Misc 1200) on the ‘Living in Love and Faith Project,’ because the possibility of living, and hopefully living well, with disagreement appears to be woven into the very fabric of the text. It is hoped that ‘church and community,’ will:
‘Have learned different ways of reading scripture together well,’ where this implies ‘resisting over simplification and inviting readers to think for themselves.’ GS Misc 1200 points towards a destination where ‘faithful and fair presentations of the breadth of inherited and emergent views’ will be respected and where these will inform ‘the Church’s theological tradition and pastoral and liturgical practice,’ in the recognition that the Church of England is by its very nature an ‘ecclesiology in the context of difference.’
If the Church of England can agree to, and absorb into, its pastoral and liturgical structures such difference the result will be the modelling of something truly remarkable for a broken and bitterly divided nation.
In order to live well together, and to remain united whist acknowledging our deeply held differences, requires all of us to commit to living in ‘love and charity with our neighbour,’ whilst making sure that we ‘do not presume to come to the table trusting in our own righteousness but in his manifold and great mercies.’
My anxiety? Well, it’s simply this: that we fail to incorporate good disagreement fully, pastorally, and liturgically, into the life of the church. If we fail to do so we will fail the test set by love and charity having fallen back on our own, perhaps misplaced, sense of righteousness. We will become just another broken and divided institution in a broken and divided world.
Hey ho, hey ho, it’s off to synod we go.