Wednesday, 11 February 2009

More from Synod.

The General Synod is now in day three. Monday saw the address from Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Tuesday the Archbishop of Canterbury's address, and then the Bishop of Blackburn joined in the debate about whether clergy, ordinands and laypeople with a teaching role in the Church should be allowed to join the BNP or related groups. This motion has some roots in the recent publication of the BNP membership list online, and the concern expressed over the (apparent) membership of Anglican clergy. In fact, the 'clergy' who were members, with the exception of one retired priest, were from the DIY Internet Churches. One memorable man offered holistic massage as well as spiritual advice. Judging by the representations of most of the professions in the list, one can safely assume that Anglican priests are statistically the least racist people in the country, with unemployed people being the most likely members of the BNP, which figures, I suppose, with the refrain that 'they're taking all our jobs'. Anyway, the Bishop of Blackburn gave a sterling speech, followed by Canon Alma Servant who said "We tried to ban difficult and dangerous religious groups who were preying on students and also were in a sense blackening - if I can use that word probably not - were ... [campaigning] under a Christian banner." Whether she means racists or Forward in Faith by this, it is hard to say. Her parish, the Ascension, in Hulme, was a strong bastion of the faith, but John Methuen's tenure as Parish Priest saw the congregation dwindle to a trickle of its former self before selecting Alma as the next Incumbent. Alma works closely with Father Simon Killwick, head of the Catholic wing of Synod, in the context of the problems in the local area; their two churches share boundaries, and she voted for him to be the Area Dean some time ago. Father Simon Killwick is PP of a busy parish church in the centre of Moss Side, which is dominated by black-led denominations. He knows a thing or two about the evils of racism. Anyway, the voting was clear: only thirteen objected to the ban on membership and, subject to ratification by Parliament, the motion was carried.

Yesterday, storm clouds gathered over the barn chapel in Stydd where, on a bright summer's day two years ago, when the Church seemed a happier place, I led a day pilgrimage and we celebrated High Mass over the probable grave of Saint Margaret Clitherow. Walking over the fields in intense heat, with our banners raised, hearing the musicians rehearsing in the cool, stone chapel was a lifetime away from this situation which sees the Women Bishops Measure being debated in a couple of hours. I am going to Preston today, for a meeting with my future Training Incumbent. Whatever happens, as Father Houlding reminds us on the Saint Barnabas blog (see the side bar), there is still everything to pray for. I will be spending my train journey in prayer for a greater sense of justice to overtake Synod - we cannot remain under a Code of Practice which does not contain legal safeguards to our ministry and our episcopal ministry. There is a clear choice for Synod; they have to take it or see us leave. That a room full of people can vote to sever the ancient faith of this Church and cast us out is disturbing, but over the next five years this is what it can do. As Father Houlding says, though, in five years, the Synod which will vote on the final measure will be a different one. Can we pray that God will guide their hearts to maintaining the Church as it is or will they, trigger happy, vote us out? Anonymous electronic voting could be the curse of our modern world.