It is General Synod Election time! Manifestos have been written, videos shot, hustings arranged, and votes cast.
Every politician is keen to emphasise the important of the coming five years, keen to present them as a defining epoch. This is true for Members of Parliament as well as candidates for General Synod. It is probably the case that some five year periods are less defining than others in the overall sweep of things but, I suspect that the coming five year period will be, for the Church of England, truly defining. Forget visions and strategies for something far more important is at stake: our character and our culture.
The Church of England has plenty to wrestle with: LLF, clergy discipline, safeguarding, our governance processes, the role of bishops, the accountability of the Church Commissioners, the Mission and Pastoral Measure, the deployment of our historic assets, the changing shape of ministry and the way we select, train and, equip the baptised for ministry, the relationship between the national church, dioceses and, parishes, protecting the integrity of creation, to name but a few! There is plenty to keep those standing for election busy! The next five year period will be a defining epoch.
All of these issues, however, come back to those two key words: character and culture. What sort of church are we to be, and what are to be the cultural artefacts (policies, regulations, ways of behaving and engaging, language / liturgy) that give the fullest and, most accurate depiction of our character?
The Church of England, put simply, has to chose whether to regress or progress, whether to become more open, transparent, and inclusive and, I would say, more courageous, or to retreat into its self protective shell.
Vision and strategy is important, up to a point, but what really counts and, what will make the bigger difference is character and culture.
All candidates standing for election have a responsibility, a moral responsibility, as a sign of character, to explain where they stand on key issues. Of course as those elected listen and participate in debates their minds must be open to change. But not stating your starting position is not really on.
So to be clear on LLF for example, I hope that at the end of the process same sex couples will be able to have their union liturgically blessed by the church (logically this implies marriage but I believe that there also needs to be a sense of pragmatism).
I have been disheartened that so many candidates are refusing to declare their hand on this and other key issues.
What I wonder does this say about our individual and collective character and culture? What does it say about the need for change?