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Of course, the main reason that synod meets is to talk about things, and the way it does that is by debating proposals in the chamber. The chamber can get rather warm. All the clothing advice was to major on layers and I certainly avoided dressing as I normally would for life in a Victorian vicarage: vests and scarves defintely not required.

And debate brings its own kind of heat. You can get a pretty good feel for what synod members are particularly concerned about by reading the questions that are submitted to the House of Bishops and others a few weeks before synod meets. This synod generated 132 questions, which spread over 74 pages with their answers. You’ll see there are many questions on Holy Communion, Safeguarding and the Clergy Discipline Measure, LGBTQ+ issues and issues to do with finance and mission.

There is a special session in synod to debate the questions that have been answered. The format is that the Chair of that session runs through each question number and you have the opportunity to ask another question, by jumping up and shouting ‘SUPPLEMENTARY’ when your question number is asked. You then go to a lectern and ask your question and the bishop (or other synod official) has to answer on the hoof.

I asked two written questions – numbers 27 and 28, both about the Clergy Discipline Measure. You can hear me jumping up to indicate that I had a supplementary question (and asking it, then taking a breather, then laughing as I ask another, because I’d forgotten I had a second one) on the CofE YouTube channel (this link will take you to the start of my section, and the Bishop of Worcester answering). I don’t think that my questions generated much light, but hopefully some issues were highlighted to the team responsible for revising the undeniably appalling existing system of clergy discipline.

Occasionally some interesting or useful information does emerge in answer to a question. And sometimes questions are asked that people feel very strongly about. The atmosphere in the chamber during the questions about Holy Communion was quite heated. You can hear my poor diocesan bishop trying to answer people on this subject, which is so important to believers, without accidentally making new canon law (actually making a law involves a bit more than this, but bishops like to speak with one voice, so if you’re answering you need to keep within what’s been agreed).

Other debates bring up interesting viewpoints, but the impression I have is that most change is made in the detail, and in the committees who produce the policies and documents. I suspect this is true of any legislative body, but it was still worthwhile sitting in the debates to hear from the breadth of the church, and to work out who is going to be likely to get their name in the Church Times in the next few years.

As the term of this synod continues there are plenty of things to be discussed that will no doubt be heated, not least the Living in Love and Faith project, but also the sticky issues of finances and deployment. We need to pray for light, not only heat, that we’d follow the advice of James:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19-20

There are 483 people on General Synod – and although I didn’t meet them all in Church House this week, at some times it felt like it. I met other reps from my diocese, old friends from the church where I was married, a mutual friend of a pal from Singapore, people I know from various Christian organisations I’m involved with and LOTS of people I know from Twitter, Facebook and other places on the internet. I failed to find the brother of another friend from Singapore, who I’m told is also on synod, but I shall seek him out next time. I chatted to people I sat next to, to people in the halls and corridors, to a lady who was having lunch at the same café, and to so many people in the tearoom. I’d almost lost my voice when I got home.

When I wasn’t talking I was absorbing information. We had an induction with an overview of synod work, lots of legal stuff, a trial vote using the electronic machines and a mock debate. Once synod kicked off properly, after the behatted service in Westminster Abbey, we heard speeches from HM The Queen (delivered by the Earl of Wessex) and both archbishops.

my prayer is that the Lord’s blessing may be upon you as you embark on your deliberations; and that you will find inspiration in the joyous words of the hymn you sang this morning:

O Comforter, draw near,

within my heart appear,

and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

Elizabeth R

It seems to me that the ‘hellos’ part of synod is a key part of its work – learning to love one another across differences, but also finding our connections and the ways that we can help one another to follow and serve our God, who sends his Comforter to kindle our hearts.

So do say your ‘hello’ below if you’re a fellow synod member reading this, and even if you aren’t.

I started writing a single blogpost on my first ever experience of being a member of General Synod. But it got too long. So here’s the first of a few reflections on my initiation into: the murky dealings of Anglican politics/the premier decision making body of this country’s most important institution/the mess that occasionally works and is all we’ve got (delete to obtain your preferred description).

What is more exciting in life than the excuse to buy a new hat? Several things, of course, but it’s been ages since I went to a wedding and even longer since I was a cool and trendy young engineer (not really) who liked to wear outrageous hats as I cycled across Cambridge to work.

So I got myself elected to the General Synod of the Church of England. And although I didn’t actually realise it when I sent my nomination forms in, I was therefore invited to start my five year term (or Quinquennium because the CofE loves a fancy Latiny word) by attending a service of Holy Communion at Westminster Abbey.

Vicar's wife in hat with green bow, Abbey statues behind

As I was deluged with information in the days before the meeting began, I learnt that ‘some ladies wear hats to the service’, perhaps because HM The Queen usually attends along with all the bishops and the elected members of clergy and laity from round the country. So a new hat it was, even though it was the Earl of Wessex who joined us in the Abbey, without a hat.

There is a lot of formality at synod, not just in the service at Westminster Abbey with people in fine robes and royalty in attendance. There are formal ways to speak and lots of ways of doing things that I found pretty unfamiliar, even though I’ve watched a few sessions online. It works a bit like parliament (although we were repeatedly told that it’s not the CofE’s parliament) or maybe a local council meeting, with added wigs and theology.

The formality is necessary, I guess, to ensure that everything runs in an orderly way, and in connection with history. But it still felt pretty strange to me as a newcomer, an ignoramus when it comes to standing orders and someone whose life is almost all very informal. I’m sure that Jackie Weaver would immediately understand how it all works, but for the rest of us, the first few meetings are going to be a steep learning curve. Pray for us!

A Wide Place on Birmingham New Mainline canal this morning

It’s been a joy to visit the Birmingham Mainline canal to run again this week. I’ve had some time off because I was too enthusiastic when I restarted last time and aggravated my plantar fasciistis. I am now *much* better informed about stretching and starting back after injury or any sort of break, and how rubbish runners should also pay attention to these things. Reminds me of the time I went for a run for the first time ever, many years ago. I didn’t stretch afterwards because I thought that was only for good runners. Couldn’t walk for days. And didn’t run again for about twenty five years.

I’m still listening on my headphones as I run. I’ve been connecting with my Church of England credentials of late and reading and/or listening to around five psalms daily, following the pattern set out in the Book of Common Prayer (here’s a pdf if you’d like to try it). I have subscribed to the excellent Dwell Scripture Listening app, which has some great readers, and includes the BCP Psalm reading plan (although they don’t mention that it is Cranmer’s one in the app). So I listen to Rosie, with her northern accent, reading the Psalms (nearly) every morning. You can set the app to repeat the reading, which has enabled me to meditate on the Psalms as I get to hear the daily selection at least three times on my short and slow runs.

This morning the whole reading was from Psalm 119 (the entire psalm takes 2½ days of the plan), and the phrase that caught my ear as I meditated was:

and I shall walk in a wide place,

for I have sought your precepts.

Psalm 119:46

I loved that reminder of the space that the Lord provides for his people when they seek him – and his laws. That feeling of freedom that comes when I know that I am following God’s way and not mine. As I run I feel freedom – the space and quiet of the canals in a noisy and busy part of creation. That verse from Psalm 119 spoke to me this morning of God’s generosity and kindness, when we can so easily think of him as placing restrictions and unnecessary boundaries on us. I walked and ran in a wide place this morning – with my slow and creaking body, and in my heart and soul.

I just tweeted about this recipe, but I thought it would be good to have a less ephemeral version of it too. This is my absolutely favourite thing to do with blackberries.

I can’t remember where I first found the recipe, and they don’t resemble the cobbler that is a big scone that goes on top of a casserole or pudding. The end result is actually a sort of chewy sweet yorkshire pudding.

The sweetness of the cobbler bit balances the sharpness of the blackberries so well. They are very easy to mix up and make, and tonight we ate them straight from the oven with extra thick double cream.

Ingredients

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 250ml milk
  • 115g butter, melted
  • A 250ml cup of blackberries

Butter a 12 hole muffin tin (I find my standard metal one works best) and put the oven on at 180C. Melt the butter (I use the microwave on defrost, so it doesn’t splatter). Then mix the sugar, flour and milk to make a batter, and then the melted butter. Distribute the batter in the muffin tin – the holes will be almost full to the top. Then put the blackberries on the top of each cobbler – my blackberries were enough for 4 per cobbler.

Bake for 30 minutes, and then remove from the tin promptly. If you leave them in, they stick!

I managed to run today! It was so good to be back on the canal. The grumpy heron flew out of the tunnel as we passed by, avoiding the Vicarage Hound, who is usually rather too keen to say hello. Sometimes the heron squawks like a pteradactyl as we run into the darkness, but he was silent this morning.

Pretty short and VERY slow

A key factor for me in being able to learn to enjoy running was having good stuff to listen to, and headphones that don’t fall out of my ears. I now have a headband with built in headphones. It keeps my lockdown hair back AND provides the sounds to keep me going. When I tried running over the years I found my head without any input far too buzzy and distracting. Over the last few months I’ve listened to the Bible (most recently using the excellent Dwell app), and to an audiobook of a book I love, Liturgy of the Ordinary, but mostly I run to a Spotify playlist that I update every time I head out with my trainers on. I can’t run to music because it (literally) puts me off my stride, so I instead I listen to the Archbishop of Sydney reading Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer and then a selection of podcasts.

I’ve missed my podcasts whilst I’ve not been running over the last few months. It’s been great to get back to them.

And here are three of my current favourite listens:

  • Speak Life has had a brilliant series of interviews recently, with Glen Scrivener talking to some experts on abuse within the church.
  • 5 Minutes in Church History is short, as the name suggests, but there are absolutely loads of these and Steve Nichols covers Christian history from the early church to very recent events.
  • Simply Put is another brief podcast. Barry Cooper explains complex theological ideas clearly and succintly.

What podcasts do you like to listen to?

Pacing

I’m still not back to running after my break over the past few months, but one thing I started to learn with regular running, was how to pace myself. My pace is woefully slow, but I had a rhythm that I could sustain. I can’t run to music as it literally puts me off my stride, so I always run to podcasts and Bible.

(Not me, she’s running too fast) Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

The daily pace of Vicarage life has changed this week – the boys went back to school on Monday, the Joker to mock A-levels (including an unexpected French exam today). The Engineer has, to his great joy, had his braces removed after about two years of metal mouthed discomfort. I have attended a couple of full days of Zoom meetings, with evening Zooms 3 nights out of 5, if you include tonight. The Vicar has been ministering, recording videos for school and parish, talking to people, attending Zoom school governor training and generally keeping himself busy.

So I’m going to make sure I pace myself. I said no to one Zoom option this week, and am hoping for a restful Day Off tomorrow. But as lockdown lifts, and things change and adjust, I’ll have to work on my pace. The best way to do that is to make sure I’m keeping things slow and steady, and listening to the right things, not putting myself off my stride.

How do you pace yourself?

Signs of Hope

Just in entrance to the Vicarage driveway, a couple of miniature daffodils have poked up and announced themselves.

I went to a school that had a great history of educating women, founded by a pioneer in that field. Every year, at the end of the Spring term, the school celebrates Founder’s Day.

The Founder’s favourite flower was the daffodil and every year since the 1880s (the school was founded in 1850), there has been a slightly ridiculous, but nevertheless much loved, daffodil parade on Founder’s Day. At the parade all the girls in the school present a daffodil at the front of the hall, where they are gathered up and later given away to care homes. In my day, there were careful rehearsals beforehand, at which staff attempted to keep order and direct some semblance of military precision into the ceremony.

Our school motto was ‘We Work in Hope’. So I always look at daffodils, those school flowers, as signs of hope, as they herald the Spring and remind me of the hope mentioned in that motto. So hope is being announced as we walk into the Vicarage drive this week.

And then we arrive at the front door, and find our lovely lion doorknocker, sitting over a heart and a ceramic bauble that also proclaims hope. It was a replacement for our Christmas wreath, a continuing sign to delivery people and any other brave lockdown visitor.

Hope has been hard to come by this last year. But our driveway and our front door proclaim it. We work in hope, we rejoice in hope.

Round this time last year I was reflecting on there being Too Much News. And today, with a budget, more virus and vaccine figures and a chocka email inbox, I was wondering what I should do about Everything.

And I was reminded of the lovely book I gave the Vicar for Christmas – Every Moment Holy.

It has a Liturgy for Those Flooded By Too Much Information.

I commend it to you.

But you, O Jesus, are not disquieted

by such news…

Give us discernment

to know when to pray,

when to speak out,

when to act,

and when to simply

shut off our screens

and our devices,

and to sit quietly

in your presence,

casting the burdens of this world

upon the strong shoulders

of the one who

alone

is able to bear them up.

Amen

What do you pray when you are overwhelmed?

An Old Hat Life

It’s been a struggle to write this blog, this Lent, this #lentowrimo. Last Lent the pandemic had only just started, lockdown was looming, and then began. There were things to speculate about – what was going to happen, how the world was going to cope. There were new things to negotiate – social distancing, online church, finding a source of flour, developing a sourdough starter, advanced baking, homeschool protocols.

This Lent, it’s all old and wearying. We’ve had more than enough of homeschool. We’re fed up of not hugging people. I’ve not made sourdough for months, despite having enormous bags of flour stashed away. It’s been winter for months and months, and I still have toothache.

I had things to talk about last year. But I’m struggling this time around. Life is mostly all old hat.

An Old Hat (Photo by Yulia Rozanova on Pexels.com)

The more interesting things I’m doing are non-bloggable, as often seems to happen in life. I don’t write about everything, you’ll be shocked and amazed to hear (not). One of the dangers of our online lives is the way we curate them. We only tell part of the story – to protect ourselves or to shield others, to present ourselves as we want to be seen. But as we’ve lived so much more of our lives online of late, I’ve seen more of that part telling going on. I’ve done it myself. I’m more than the sum of my blogging and my Twitter feed. I am truthful online. But I don’t tell everyone everything. It’s only a glimpse of Vicarage life. So there are other stories here, but I’m sorry to say that they are staying here.

So tonight’s post is just me saying nothing much, because there’s nothing much that I can say from my small quiet life online and in the Vicarage. Thank you for listening in to me saying almost nothing though. Maybe I’ll find something a bit new hat tomorrow.

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