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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

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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.

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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!

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Yesterday was the Second Sunday in Lent. And ten minutes before our live in person Sunday service was meant to begin, the Joker appeared downstairs looking a bit peaky and announced that he’d been up all night coughing. Cue a small amount of scrambling…

We seem to have a thing for timing in this Vicarage. It was late on a Saturday that we all came down with a cough just at the beginning of the first lockdown. There was no testing then, so we isolated ourselves for a fortnight. And it was a bit of a panic (understatement) to get everything ready for the Sunday, as all our plans were extra complicated by being confined to the house. And here we are, heading towards the end (hopefully) of the third lockdown, and the Vicar had to send everyone home who’d already arrived at church and then come back to the Vicarage and record the service to upload it. Thankfully, we were able to get a test very quickly and the results came in the middle of the night – and they were negative, so we’re free again.

These unexpected interruptions are such a great reminder that we are not in charge. In fact ‘we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves’, as this week’s collect puts it. We’re thankful that we’ve been kept outwardly in our bodies from Covid19. And are praying to be kept inwardly in our souls too this coming week.

COLLECT FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

ALMIGHTY God,

who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves:

Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls;

that we may be defended from all adversities

which may happen to the body,

and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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I took the Vicarage Hound out for his weekly race with his greyhound pal today. On the way home, I spotted this crow (I think, my bird identification skills are rather limited) peering down at us from the clock tower. He watched us for quite a while, presumably checking that the hound wasn’t going to run up the clock tower or find some other creative way to attack. What was he actually waiting for up there though? Did he have an appointment with someone? Was he expecting a bus or is he a fan of our trams?

It’s a good watchtower, up there. You can see up to the High Street, and down to the flats at the bottom of the parish. And you also have a view over to where the car racing happens, on the dual carriageway, past the stubby street that leads to the Metro. And at the moment, from that pillar, you could get a good view of the scaffolding round the church and the stonemasons at work, if you time it right.

What are you watching and waiting for? It feels like we’re all waiting at the moment – for kids to go back to school, for vaccination, for the end of lockdown, for this pandemic to subside, for life to go back to normal. But I need to turn my mind to better waiting, waiting with hope.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6

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This afternoon the Vicar called me over to the church to exercise my world class form filling skillz. Well, not so much world class so much as a bit better than his (he’s dyslexic). I was there to help a lovely young couple from church fill out some driving licence application forms. They need some help with forms because they have not been living in the UK all that long and aren’t confident in negotiating government bureaucracy hoops, especially in interpreting the vast ream of information that you have to wade through. And who can blame them?!

After we’d worked our way through the forms, all masked up and socially distanced, the Vicar showed them around the building. He talked about some of the plans we have to improve access and to make our building more visible to passers by. Our friends are an engineer and an architect/interior designer, so they started getting excited by the possibilities we have to make changes to help people by improving our building. It was lovely to see them thinking with their professional expertise. Neither of them have been able to use those skills since they’ve been in this country but are hoping that they will be able to soon.

And then we had the joy of speaking about the world and about Jesus. We talked about the countries that the Vicar and I used to live in, and others we have worked in. We have a world map on the wall of the church, so we were able to point and make sure we all knew which places we were discussing. And then we spoke about the country our friends come from, and some of its history – especially the parts that are in the Bible. Fascinating.

I think I probably already mentioned how much I love living here, among people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Revelation 7:9). Today was a great taste of that once again.

Photo by Aaditya Arora on Pexels.com

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This evening we met at church for an Ash Wednesday service. In previous years, we have had ashing. And on one notorious occasion the Vicar managed to burn my forehead with incorrectly mixed ashes.

This year, with the need for social distancing, the Vicar, like several others, has decided to return to the older liturgy of the Church of England, and lead a service known as A Commination (The Confession of Cursed Sinners). We used a modern, shortened version, provided by Church Society. The original 1662 one is in the Book of Common Prayer.

The service is not all that popular in the Church of England. People find it quite harsh, because it reminds us of all the things that God does not like – that are under his curse. It is a painful exercise, to remind ourselves of our sinfulness and the ways in which we break God’s laws and reject his rule in our lives. But the phrase that struck me the evening, as we went through the service was towards the end of the confession:

and so make haste to help us in this world,
that we may ever live with you in the world to come,
where there will no longer be any curse

That reminder that there will ‘not longer be any curse’ is so helpful to carry out of a service of penitence and mourning for sin. The promise that we will be free of the heaviness we feel when we think of the Lord’s standards and the way we fail to keep them. To remember that

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us

As I was looking for pretty pictures to illustate this post, I came across a poem by Wordsworth. It seems that The Commination wasn’t popular even in his day. But he too realised that this service where we contemplate the darkness of our sin is needed, that we should deal with our guilt and seek pardon from the Lord. So my prayer this Lent is that I would have that fruit of peace and love and joy as I thank Jesus that there will no longer be any curse.

Ecclesiastical Sonnets – Part Iii. – Xxix – The Commination Service
Shun not this Rite, neglected, yea abhorred,
By some of unreflecting mind, as calling
Man to curse man, (thought monstrous and appalling.)
Go thou and hear the threatenings of the Lord;
Listening within his Temple see his sword
Unsheathed in wrath to strike the offender’s head,
Thy own, if sorrow for thy sin be dead,
Guilt unrepented, pardon unimplored.
Two aspects bears Truth needful for salvation;
Who knows not ‘that?’ yet would this delicate age
Look only on the Gospel’s brighter page:
Let light and dark duly our thoughts employ;
So shall the fearful words of Commination
Yield timely fruit of peace and love and joy.

William Wordsworth

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I thought I’d tell you something new I learnt about recently. I was introduced to Canva, which is a free site for creating publicity of all sorts – flyers, Facebook posts, animations – all sorts. I’ve used it for a couple of flyers before, and have uploaded them to our church Facebook page. But this evening I went for it and created a bunch of posts for our notices tomorrow morning. Nothing like a proper deadline to generate creativity. Here’s a sample:

So pleasing, eh? It’s so much easier when someone else has chosen the fonts! And made a layout too. I’m not on commission, honest, but it’s definitely worth checking out. Maybe a project for next week, now all the clergy have got live streaming sussed *laughing hysterically emoji*?

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So today was the day of the Vicarage getting up to speed with tech. The Vicar and I are  already fairly comfortable with technology – we both blog and tweet and have Facebook accounts. We’ve uploaded videos online before and we can populate a website. Perhaps the advantage of our backgrounds in engineering – we’re not scared by machinery.

Because now church is going mostly online – there will be no Sunday services or midweek meetings for the foreseeable future. And so we’ve had a big day of pretty fast learning. We had to get a church YouTube account, we’ve been drafting blog pages and we’ve been getting our heads round Zoom and finding out about Facebook Live.

The plan is also to record and broadcast a daily prayer service at the times we’d usually host our Open Church. So people will be able to connect when they might normally come in for tea and toast. And we’re going to broadcast a morning service live on Sundays. And we’re hoping to run youth Bible studies and prayer meetings and maybe even some toddler and kids work over the internet too.

We’ve also found a telephone service which is accessed through dialling in, so people who don’t have the internet will be able to listen to a short message or a sermon over the phone. And we’re going to deliver leaflets with details around the parish and service sheets to those we think would like to join in with the services. And of course we’re making lists and aiming to phone people up and contact them individually throughout the week too.

Phew.

And I’ve been having to remind myself that this Sunday is just the start of an extended time of doing things differently. So we can adjust and improve as time goes on, but hopefully start in some sort of helpful way.

The old joke made to vicars is that they only work one day a week. And now of course the joke will be that they don’t have anything to do at all. But actually what is happening is that the week long work is changing and there are steep learning curves being climbed by gospel ministers here in the UK and all over the world as they develop ways of pastoring through this pandemic. Pray for us – for videographic mercies, for photocopying grace and for our bandwidths on Sunday morning.

 

exponential learning

Graph of time vs clergy competence in tech since last week

 

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So yesterday the Church of England announced the suspension of all public worship. So things are going to look very different here for a bit. And then today we learnt that schools are closing, so homeschool is looming. And the Queen is up at university, making lockdown lists.

Our Open Church has been running this week, allowing people to see one another and connect briefly, as well as pray and seek help if they need it. And we’re thinking through how to keep everyone connected online. We’re not a very techie community – many people don’t have broadband at home, and some don’t even have a mobile phone, not even a text and dial one. So we are going to try and get creative, maybe delivering paper service sheets and looking into a dial a sermon/podcast service, as well as looking at other stuff that many churches are doing – Facebook Live and YouTube services and general online things.

But although we’re going to be doing things differently, we serve a God who never changes. Tonight, in a fit of Anglicanism, the Vicar and I prayed Evening Prayer from the 1662 BCP together. The set Psalm for this evening was Psalm 93 – The Lord Reigns – a truth to hold onto when everything else is different.

[Yellow text on background of grey slate roofing tiles] Psalm 93 The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty! Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O Lord, for evermore.

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