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Diocesan Synod

July 2012

Presidential Address by The Bishop of Southwark, The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun

Bishop Christopher addresses Synod
We meet tonight with a busy and important agenda and in the same week as the conclusion of the meeting of the General Synod in York.

Much was talked about at Synod and you will hear more of this in a few moments, but the main business was the Final Approval Stages for the Women Bishops legislation.  I am sure, if you have been following the story, you will be aware that the House of Bishops, when it met in May, made two changes to the Measure.  The first has proved to be pretty uncontroversial, a clarification about how order and authority are derived and exercised.  So far, so good.

The second amendment was of a different order.  Clause 5(1)(c) sought to require the Bishops to include in the Code of Practice “guidance as to the selection of male priests and bishops the exercise of ministry by whom is consistent with the theological convictions concerning the ordination of women on the grounds of which PCCs have issued a Letter of Request”.

The Bishops genuinely thought this was an amendment that might help find a degree of unity on this subject.  In one sense we succeeded greatly – with a unity rarely seen amongst the different parts of the Church almost with one voice did people object.  Those who are passionate supporters of womens ordination despaired that the new clause meant that the church and its bishops would be divided into two streams, that discrimination would be written into the life of the Church and the law of the land and that there were all sorts of unintended consequences that might flow from this precedent.

Those who are opposed to Women Bishops clearly said that this amendment did not go nearly far enough in addressing their concerns.

The House of Bishops had, nevertheless, sent the Measure in that form to the General Synod for final approval.  That debate was scheduled for Monday. Prior to Monday it had become abundantly clear that the Measure would not survive a final approval vote in which two thirds of each House must vote in favour.  This high threshold would not be overcome because many who were in favour would now vote against and those who were originally against were also minded still to vote against.

The Bishop of Manchester moved the main motion and immediately the Bishop of Dover proposed that the debate be adjourned in order to ask the House of Bishops to reflect further.  The Bishop noted that much work still needed to be done on the clause if we were all to flourish as loyal Anglicans. After a full debate, in which Archdeacon Christine Hardman alone was called to speak from this Diocese, the Synod with a much larger majority than expected voted to adjourn and ask the House of Bishops to think further.

Had I been called to speak I would have commended the way forward.  What is clear is that between now and the September meeting of the House of Bishops and the meeting of the Synod in November, much work needs to be done in terms of listening, reflecting and working out a way forward.  The Bishops have to take a lead in this and I hope we will have your prayers in this matter but cannot do this alone; so with the Bishop of London, I will be promoting a London wide conversation.

As I have said consistently, I rejoice in the ministry of men and women in this Diocese, and I look forward to the time when both women and men will be admitted to all three historic orders of ministry.  I am glad that the adjournment will allow time for conversation, reflection and action to broaden the base of support for a Measure which the Dioceses have already endorsed. Nevertheless, I want you all to know that I am fully committed to ensuring that everyone has a place in the Diocesan family, which is why I shall continue to work for a Measure that will command confidence whilst seeking to broaden sympathies and deepen trust. 

The task of broadening sympathies and deepening trust belongs to us all.  A Church and Diocese that is strongly vocational and strongly relational is bound to be defined by both the quality of relationships and the integrity which springs from seeking to be faithful to our calling.  Whatever the strength of our different views we are compelled by the Gospel to walk forward together and unite in common purpose and mission, proclaiming our faith in Jesus Christ with gladness and joy in order that the world might believe.

Today the Church celebrates and remembers St Benedict – the Father of Monasticism in the Western Church, whose rule is a great source of wisdom about Christian community living and with its emphasis on stability and place the development of parish as a bedrock of the Church of England is closely related.  In the Rule, Benedict sets out a pattern of Christian living that has been followed in various forms since the 6th Century.  Benedict in establishing a school for the Lord’s service enjoined his Monks first to listen, both to God and to one another, to be diligent in prayer, work and study with an essential balance which fed into a healthy spirituality.  Communities living this life are to be open and hospitable, receiving the guest as if receiving Jesus himself.

Our places of worship and our communities are to be hospitable places, places in which all may flourish and find a welcome.  We are called to discern the presence of Christ in our midst.  He is there in our speaking and action, in our compassion and our care, that all might be to his praise and glory.  We are to listen to one another, in our times of agreement and times of disagreement, to try and learn from the other in order that we might become broader people made in God’s image.  We are to be diligent in our worship and our praying, to forge that personal relationship with the Lord Jesus and we are constantly to seek to expand our horizons and discover those things that God wants to teach us.

Joan Chittester a Benedictine herself writes movingly that those who seek to follow Benedict’s Rule will not be perfect for simply trying to live in this straightforward Christian way.  Rather what the rule does is to attune our hearts and lives to the will of God, his presence and his power.  The Rule creates community that is mutually supportive in our journey of discipleship.  Indeed the shape and disciplines of a simple rule of life might help us all as a pathway to deepening the discipleship and common life.  “It is a way of life that leads us to pursue life to its fullest”.  May our journeying in community and faith lead us to discover the fullness of life, the Lord being our helper.