Fr Alan Griffin – Unconscious Homophobia?

by Canon James Mustard, Canon Precentor at Exeter Cathedral

The tragic circumstances of the death last year of Fr Alan Griffin have been the subject of national media attention.  The Coroner’s report – a “Prevention of Future Deaths report”- released in July, described a litany of errors in the handling of safeguarding accusations. These accusations were found to have “no complaint, no witness and no accuser”, “no concern raised” and “no person said they had been the subject of or had witnessed any concerning behaviour, save that Father Griffin had been seen to have dinner with men in an Italian restaurant, for which he might have paid the bill.”

These vague insinuations, made in February 2019 by an outgoing staff member of the Diocese of London, formed the basis of a chaotic and shambolic safeguarding investigation, the details of which were never described to Fr Griffin, save that it was underway. It must have left him feeling afraid, uncertain and alone. On 8 November 2020, Alan Griffin took his own life.

A notable feature of this tragedy was the lack of any accusation or victim. Yet when Fr Alan became the actual victim of this process, the Diocese of London and Church of England were slow to respond. The Coroner’s report records a “lack of full engagement by the Church of England in the inquest process until June 2021”, seven months after the inquest commenced.  The recent description of Fr Alan’s death as “unfortunate” may have been deemed prudent by advisors, but – in letters to the Church Times at least – it seemed to minimise the experience of the victim. This is itself a serious Safeguarding concern.

The Diocese of London and Lambeth Palace have responded to the Coroner and set out their initial steps to prevent future deaths, as required.  The Church of England has expressed “deep regret”, and the Diocese of London, where Fr Alan served from 2001 to his retirement in 2011, has announced this month that it will conduct a “Learning Lessons Review”.  But the Diocese of London will not apportion blame.

I knew Fr Alan Griffin personally, before he was in the Diocese of London. From 1978 he ministered and taught in the Diocese of Exeter. He was a lecturer in Classics at the University of Exeter, where I was a student in the 1990s. He was Assistant Chaplain to the University and Warden of halls of residence, later Assistant Curate of an Exeter parish. Alongside University Chaplains he ministered faithfully to the student community, from a chapel that was in the 1980s and 90s a vocations powerhouse. Alan was openly gay, a brave move at that time in Devon. As a young man, afraid to express my own identity, I was impressed that Fr Alan was never “in the closet”. His example gave me confidence to express myself similarly. I last saw him in his Rectory at St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe in 2003, when I called in for a cup of tea, which he offered with typical kindness. So, I have a particular sadness at such terrible institutional failure. I have no doubt that many in the leadership of the Diocese of London and beyond are traumatised by Fr Alan’s death, too.

How could this have happened? Why was a retired, gay, priest not deserving of due process? Why might rumour around a retired, gay, priest lead to such a chaotic, and ultimately tragic, response? Will these be some of the “lessons learned”?

I am left with the uncomfortable possibility that the Church’s actions in this case might be an expression of something deeper than institutional failure. Is it unconscious, institutional, homophobia? Homophobia in the insinuation that a priest in an Italian restaurant must be up to “no good”? Homophobia in the willingness to take that insinuation and extrapolate from it, without question, a fantastical and grotesque narrative? Homophobia in an investigation of abuse which was poorly conducted as if the retired, gay, accused didn’t matter or deserve better? Homophobia in an institution failing to engage with the Coroner until seven months had passed? Homophobia in the failure, in the opinion of the Coroner, not to have “recognised errors and undertaken meaningful attempts at improvement by the time of the inquest”? If this is so, it is how appallingly ironic that these events coincided with the launch of the Church of England’s “Living in Love and Faith” project to discern how sexuality fits “within the bigger picture of the Good News of Jesus Christ”.

This tragic sequence of events took place between February 2019 and July 2021: this is not a historic or “non-recent” case. It resonates with an older miscarriage of justice: of someone betrayed by gossip, given a sham trial and silenced with nails on a cross, all to protect religious reputation. That injustice served to demonstrate God’s triumph over sin and death. It has challenged and inspired the Church for two thousand years. It called Fr Alan Griffin to ordained ministry. One can only imagine what a Coroner’s report would have made of that injustice two thousand years ago. How might it be similar to this Coroner’s Report?

May Fr Alan rest in peace and rise in glory.

The views expressed in this piece are the personal views of the author and do not represent the views of Exeter Cathedral

Posted in Human Sexuality, James Mustard, Safeguarding | Leave a comment

Now is Not The Time to Cut Clergy Posts!

by the Ven Mark Ireland, Archdeacon of Blackburn and co-author with Mike Booker of ‘Making New Disciples’

Twice in the last ten days we have appointed excellent candidates from outside the diocese to fill vacant parishes, one a curate at the end of their curacy and one transferring from unpaid non-stipendiary ministry to a paid position. On both occasions their respective archdeacons told me that they would have loved to keep the candidate in their diocese but sadly there was an indefinite freeze on appointing anyone not already on the incumbents’ payroll ‘for financial reasons’. Whilst I am delighted that parishes in our diocese should benefit, I can’t help lamenting that other dioceses are following a policy which I fear will prove short-sighted.

Far from saving money, cutting the numbers of stipendiary clergy usually leads to a reduction in income, as less mission and ministry takes place and fewer people become disciples of Jesus Christ. When clergy are asked to take on more parishes in ever larger benefices, they somehow manage to keep all the services, buildings and occasional offices going, at least after a fashion, but they inevitably have less time and energy for mission and evangelism and planting new congregations. They also spend more time at their desk – and so have less time to spend in being a visible presence in the life of the community and talking to those who are searching for faith.

Another short-term cost saving measure that creates lasting structural damage is delaying the appointments to our vibrant parishes. The lack of ordained leadership for extended periods of time erodes parish life, chokes off growth and demotivates generous givers.

I know that the theory is that lay ministry will expand to fill the gap left by stipendiary clergy.

In a recent book (Making New Disciples, 2015) Mike Booker and I quoted a remarkable statistic that 40% of fresh expressions of church are led by lay people with no formal training or authorisation. However potential lay ministers need clergy with time to recognise their gifts, encourage their vocation and invest in their training and development. As an incumbent a major part of my time was spent discipling individuals and growing new leaders, but when I focused on that I never worked myself out of a job. Instead, the church grew and I was as busy as ever!

What’s more, freezing recruitment of parish clergy doesn’t make sense in spiritual terms.

We have been praying and working for a 50% increase in vocations. Just when God seems to be answering our prayers and the number of vocations is increasing, we should be prayerfully trusting God to provide the finance to enable us to deploy these priests. What other organisation would go to the trouble and expense of recruiting and training new staff, only to tell them at the end of their trainee post that there was no job for them?

Freezing recruitment also stifles the work of the Holy Spirit by hampering the growth of fresh expressions of church. Church plants sometimes grow to the size where they can no longer be sustained by volunteers. This is exactly the time when bold investment is needed to help the congregation transition to a paid priest. Such posts have potential to become self-supporting in time. However, if dioceses do not release funds at this point to pay a stipendiary priest the growth that the Spirit has given is I believe stifled and decline follows.

And it doesn’t make sense on financial grounds.

One diocese has cut a significant chunk of  stipendiary posts to save money, only to find the deficit is just the same. Many dioceses post-Covid have seen a significant drop in income but also a significant rise in the value of investments, leading to an increase in total assets. Whilst diocesan boards of finance rightly focus on what is held in free reserves, they should not ignore total assets. Whilst a significant part of a diocese’s total assets is in housing for current clergy (which can rarely be touched), there is often other housing stock being held onto ‘just in case’.

Investments have performed remarkably well during the last three years, meaning that some dioceses may find themselves with increasing total assets at the same time as they are cutting clergy posts. The Charity Commission encourages charities not to accumulate large reserves but to use their assets for the object of the charity. During Covid we have endured an 18-month rainy day, so logically we should be reducing our total reserves significantly at this time to tide us over and help us maintain frontline clergy posts which will enable us to rebuild church life – otherwise there is little point in having such reserves. The diocese I serve in is committed to committed to building financial sustainability alongside strengthening our ministry both ordained and lay. To do so we recognise the need to realise investments now to underpin our vision.

God loves to answer prayer. We have prayed that God would send more priests, and God has – the number of vocations is increasing. We have prayed for God to raise up new local congregations across the country, and God has. Rather than cutting clergy posts, let us turn to God afresh in believing prayer, trusting that the One who is able to send us priests and raise up new congregations can and will give us the finance we need.

As Jesus said, ‘Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

 

 

Posted in General Synod, Mark Ireland, Parish Cuts | 4 Comments

The Changing Face of General Synod

by Prof Helen King, Professor Emerita in Classical Studies at The Open University, elected member of General Synod and member of Living in Love and Faith project

I have just been elected to General Synod for Oxford diocese. This isn’t the first time I have stood for General Synod: it’s actually the third. I stood successfully in another diocese in 1985, in my late 20s, making me one of the youngest people on Synod, and then again five years later; at that point there were only eleven of us under-35 (out of a Synod total of around 500 people). I stood down because I moved diocese.

I didn’t miss it: I had found it a bruising experience. In particular, the debates leading up to ordaining women were painful, even for someone with a strong vocation to be a laywoman.

Yet I felt very strongly that I must stand this time around. So, how is it feeling now?

In some ways, it’s familiar, even though different. Synodical government wasn’t new to me even in 1985. I’d accepted my vicar’s invitation to stand for PCC when I was 19. I was a rep on the local Council of Churches, and I rapidly moved on to Deanery Synod and then Diocesan Synod, as well as becoming Deanery Synod secretary. It was pretty obvious where I was heading. I remember the election process before the internet: including finding a local printer and paying for the printing costs (I was on a grant, just finishing my PhD, and money was very tight). The first time around, we had hustings; real, in-person, pretty well-attended hustings. I remember one candidate a few years older than me who spoke before me at the first of these, who stressed how many people had urged him to stand. Then as now, I saw this as typically churchy false modesty. Why is it wrong to know what you are capable of doing, and to put yourself forward? When I spoke, I talked about how I felt my skill-set and my experience made me a good candidate, and about how I had been along to listen to Synod meetings in Church House and, from my position in the public gallery, had realised for myself that this was something I could do well.

When I joined General Synod, I was advised that it’s a good idea to belong to some ‘grouping’ just to get a sense of what is really going on. I joined the Catholic Group because that was where I thought I would feel most comfortable. I was then a member of the Church Union and enthused by the charismatic movement then taking place. In my early teens, I had been part of a large evangelical Church of England congregation with a very good youth club, which was also influenced by the charismatic revival, and I had then switched to a much-nearer middle-of-the-road parish church because my parents preferred it (my father, a former choirboy, was entirely turned off by the music at the evangelical church) and I didn’t need to rely on lifts home after evening events.

The Catholic Group on General Synod had its moments, particularly in the bar at the York sessions, but, even though some supported women as deacons, as one of the few members fully committed to the ordination of women (I was also a member of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and made no secret of this) I was never going to feel fully comfortable there. On one occasion I suspect I was left off a mailing list because they felt they couldn’t entirely trust me.

I have no idea which groupings will exist when I turn up in November, but I have felt very well supported by the Inclusive Synod group during the election process so that is one which I will attend.

At the end of the previous Synod, I was surprised to read people commenting about how much they thought they’d miss the camaraderie: I made friends on Synod, but not to that level. Partly this could be down to location. My diocese didn’t pay for overnight stays, so the two London meetings each year involved daily commutes home. This meant I missed out entirely on the evening meetings, and on any socialising over dinner. Some people from my diocese stayed with friends; I didn’t know anyone with whom I could stay. For next month, I’ve booked my room at the Premier Inn!

With the results still being announced, I already feel I know more people on this new Synod than I did first time around. That’s not surprising: it’s at least partly just because I am older. My friendship circle, both lay and ordained, is completely different to that of a lay woman in her late 20s who had never worked for the Church. An old schoolfriend just sent me a message to say she has been elected; yesterday a colleague I’ve worked with in academic contexts sent me the same message. Social media puts me in contact with more Church members, some of whom I’ve never met, but who have also been elected to Synod.

I’ll be interested to find out how it now feels to be a woman on Synod. Even “Can women be laity?” was once a genuine question, one I explored here. In the 1985-1990 Synod, while there were women in the House of Laity, a surprising number turned out to be the wives or children of clergy. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that – my own stepdaughter is a priest – but the experience of being part of a clergy household is a very different to my own. On one occasion, after I’d used a single word in ancient Greek in a speech, someone noted that I had done so and asked me if my husband was a priest; a startling assumption! I pointed out that my degrees are in ancient history.

Now, we have women in all three houses. Then, we fought to get a crèche. Now, members can claim for the cost of caring for a dependent. Has all this change altered the feel of the Synod, I wonder?

Only a month to wait and find out…

 

 

Posted in General Synod, Helen King | Leave a comment

General Synod: The Importance of Compromise & Conscience

by the Revd Dr Charlie Bell, Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge  and curate at St John the Divine, Kennington

 

The next few years in General Synod are going to be challenging ones.

There are a number of substantial issues to address, all of relatively equal importance and all of which are going to affect the life of our church and the life of its members in significant ways.

 

I have written previously about the obfuscation and political manoeuvrings of the elections, but the reality is that – however unedifying and unimpressive some of the contests were – we are where we are, and we will have a lot of people on synod, with a lot of differing ideas, and with those ideas a lot of possible heat to be generated.

I am relieved not to be one of them, but nonetheless, having watched the last few months of politicking, several things have stood out.

The first thing new members of synod are going to need to do is to recognise that most – if not all – of their fellow members, and indeed wider members of the Church of England, (including those who make noise in the wider the church), are doing so not out of some kind of hatred for the church or in an attempt to self-aggrandise, but rather because they genuinely believe what they are saying and doing to be in the best interests of the church. We might vehemently – at times, angrily and in great frustration – disagree in the Church of England, but we must not lose sight of the fact that each of us comes to the table because we fervently, earnestly, and honestly believe what we are saying. If we don’t, then we are easily found out – but this is, thank God, rare.

The first watchword of the new synod must, then, be “conscience”.

That is, a recognition that others are not out to destroy the church, but rather acting in a way that is answerable to God, and that comes from a place of serious intent. We may indeed believe others are wrong – fundamentally so, and on issues that are close to the heart of God and His people – but we must learn to stop the slurry of accusation that we are so good at producing. Here, I once again draw attention to the Pastoral Principles – sensible, helpful and necessary in the current high temperatures in the Church of England – which are at the core of this virtue. If we cannot recognise each other as Christians – Christians who long after God and for the good of His church – then we have failed in our fundamental duty of belonging to the Body of Christ.

From this recognition must come a commitment to listening to, and responding to, the actual words that others speak and the position that they wish to outline and believe in. There must be no more pejorative talk of ‘lobbies’ or “attempts to wreck the doctrine of the church”.  This might sound impressive in a political speech, but it is simply not true. Likewise, it is also not good enough to have one voice in private and one in public. What we say, and do, matters – and until we recognise one another’s integrities – rather than showing determination to besmirch and misrepresent each other – then we are on a road to nowhere.

Those who want same-sex marriage are not trying to destroy the church – they are trying to enrich it. Those who want to forbid it are holding to their own view and interpretation of scripture in good conscience, however painful that might feel to faithful LGBTQI Christians. We don’t have to agree, and we don’t have to tiptoe around each other – but we owe it to each other to respond honestly, openly and without caricature or twisting the truth when we meet each other’s arguments.

The second key theme is going to be “compromise”.

Nobody likes it – if we are honest, we all prefer to ‘win’ outright. Yet that is not what the next five years is going to look like for any ‘side’. There are good reasons to want to ‘win’ – for those who oppose same-sex marriage, it is because of the threat of ‘blessing sin’ and of the threat to the current doctrine of the church. To those who affirm LBGTQI people, it is because every LGBTQI person that grows up repressing their sexuality in the name of Jesus Christ can lead to severe mental health consequences and is a tragedy – a needless one.  It it also because of the fact that many see the current teaching of the Church of England as fundamentally narrowing the boundless love and grace of God.

We are quite simply not going to agree on this, but we need to either decide to walk away, or to compromise. For me, compromise and conscience are two sides of the same coin.

In a recent article, Ian Paul – arguing for the non-affirming position – asserted that everyone agrees a compromise is impossible. I beg to differ – not least on the factual accuracy of the statement. Many, many people – of different theologies – are desperate to seek a compromise. The challenge is what that compromise might look like.

For those, like me, who believe it is high time for the church to bless faithful gay couples, compromise is absolutely part of the way forward. I have no desire whatsoever to tell those who disagree with me that they are not Christians, however wrong I think they are, and I have no desire whatsoever to exclude them from the Church – not that I would have any authority to do so in any case. Instead, I want to find ways to genuinely walk together in which both our integrities are recognised, and in which both integrities are honoured.

For me, this would mean turning back to the importance of conscience. It is abundantly clear that we do not all agree, and we will not come to one mind on this. It is also clear that those who are affirming and those who are not both love the church, are Christians, and ultimately love the Lord Jesus. If we are to take the Lord’s command to love one another He loved us seriously, then we must surely see a way forward based on the mutual recognition of our differences and yet willingness to enable one another and call on the Holy Spirit to reveal all things.

This is the makings of a compromise – one that enforces neither belief or practice in this area, but that allows us to look each other in the face and say, ‘you are beloved of God, we disagree, but we will fulfil His command to love one another’. I long to belong to a church where we are open in our disagreements, and not so fearful that we won’t admit this disagreement to those who walk through our doors. It is through such openness that our fears of compromise might be ameliorated too – those who fear doctrinal catastrophe can be clear that affirming LBGTQI relationships is not the only position in the Church of England; likewise, those who fear for the safety of young people growing up in non-affirming communities can point those vulnerable youngsters to places where other points of view are expressed.

For the ultra-purists, this will never work – but their strength is immensely over-estimated. It is quite simply not true that a compromise is not possible, desirable, or sought. Our decision is either to sacrifice our unity as beloved children of God on the altar of prideful purity, or to embrace unity in openness, diversity of belief and practice, and in a recognition that we might, just, be wrong.

Compromise in conscience is possible – it is up to us to stop being the stumbling block in its way.

Posted in Charlie Bell, General Synod, Good Disagreement, Human Sexuality, Safeguarding | 5 Comments

General Synod: Why I Can’t Support “Save the Parish” Campaign

by Anne Foreman, former member of General Synod, former member of the Business Committee and Trustee of the Ozanne Foundation

So, by the time this goes to press, Deanery Synod members will have just a few hours left  to cast their votes and the new General Synod will soon be elected. As someone who has served for two very different dioceses since 1995 (!) I chose not to stand again, but instead to nominate, second and support two exceptional inclusive candidates – I pray they got on, God knows Synod needs people like them.

It proved an unappetising campaign, sadly characterised by obfuscation and misinformation rather than transparency and straightforwardness, and confrontationally tribal, far more so than when I was first elected.

And where has obfuscation and misinformation manifested itself?  In my view in the oh so ‘Motherhood and Apple Pie” Save the Parish Campaign (STP)!

Who is going to say ‘No’ to saving their parish? Rooted in a nostalgic and unrealistic perception of the current position of the Church, STP has anticipated the outcome of the consultative paper GS 2222 (a review of the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011) to suggest to people in the pews that the closure of their church and the ability and desire to get rid of their vicar, is inevitable.

Where is the evidence to show that Diocesan Officers are hell bent on abandoning the Parish System? Most are serving members of a parish themselves and support the Parish system, which at its heart is the practical expression of the identity of the  Church of England.  But they are facing and dealing with a financial situation which is unsustainable.

Of more concern, and more serious, is why aren’t the Archbishops believed when they absolutely refute the notion that the Parish is under threat? In part because there is an enormous divide between their words and what it looks and feels like on the ground.  A whole host of issues have contributed to a lack of trust that needs to be restored.  It will need lots of prayer, humility and attentive listening, but it is I believe achievable!

Underlying the STP campaign is a lack of support for projects supported by Strategic Development Funding (SDF) which some dioceses, like mine in Exeter, have benefitted from.  SDF has many critics and I have concerns about some aspects of it, but there are more constructive ways of addressing this.  There is nothing to be feared from SDF funded projects!  Indeed, there is mutual learning to be gained from experiencing different approaches to sacramental worship and biblical teaching.

But GS 2222 is a Green Paper and as such, after the consultation closes, proposals will be developed and brought to the February 2022 synod …if there is sufficient consensus about a way forward (para 136). Note the ‘if’.  The place to challenge the potential changes is on the floor of the General Synod, after reading the outcome of the consultation.  Despite the popular view of the Synod as a massively bureaucratic, unwieldy, juggernaut it is an essentially democratic place! (yes, honestly!)  A review of the Mission and Pastoral Measure is intended to improve and streamline governance; improved governance does not undermine democracy.

Whist Parishes might not need saving, they do have to respond to the need to address the practicality of how to continue to serve, disciple and love their communities given the current reality of declining congregations, reduced income and fewer priests.  This can change! The proposed mixed ecology outlined in the envisaged simpler, bolder, humbler church is not an alternative to ‘traditional’ parish life, but a recognition of the changing social context in order for us all to play our part in proclaiming the Gospel afresh to each generation.

Of course the world is a very different place since General Synod evolved in 1969 from what was the Church Assembly.  We have moved from where Christianity was “the culture” to where Christianity is now “a choice”, and but one choice amongst many at that.   What hasn’t changed is that as disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to witness not only amongst other Christians, or those on the margins of church life, but to a society where the name of Jesus is largely unknown and unspoken.

As a church we need to face the fact that people outside the church do not feel themselves to have “a Church of England shaped hole” waiting to be filled.  As the established church we do still have influence, (though some would say it is diminishing fast), and we must use it to stand alongside the marginalised and demonstrate Gospel values.

As to my own service on Synod, well, although there were difficulties, heartbreak even at times, at the risk of displaying Pollyanna syndrome I had the best time! I met loads of amazing people, worked hard, read loads, laughed lots, learned to speak in debates and was invited to contribute to worship.

If you are reading this as a newly elected member, there is always someone to help and encourage if synodical government is unfamiliar.  If you are curious, interested and up for a challenge you’ll love it.

My prayers go with the new General Synod as it begins to fulfil its purpose – to understand God’s will for the church and to engage representatives of all God’s people in the task.

 

Posted in Anne Foreman, General Synod | 1 Comment

General Synod: the Abomination of Desolation

by Jayne Ozanne, Director of the Ozanne Foundation and Editor of ViaMedia.News

I grew up in a church culture that taught me that we are in a constant spiritual battle, that the devil is in the process of massing his forces against us Christians, and that we will soon, very soon, be in the “End Times” as described in the Book of Revelation and Daniel (if we aren’t already).

Whilst it’s true that different churches gave different emphasises to different parts of this narrative, one thing was always clear – it was drummed into me that there are the “good” people and then there are the “others”, those who were working against God’s purposes, that is – “the bad people”.

As time went on, and as I encountered more heartache and strive in my life, I learnt to embrace the narrative that the difficulties I was facing were due to the devil trying to “knock me off my path”.  I was told that all I needed to do was to stand firm, hold fast, and not let myself be blown off course.  You see, Jesus had won, He had “done it all for me at the Cross” – I just needed to faithfully believe this, and trust that it would “all come right in the end” for “all things work together for good”.

So my faith strengthened, despite these obstacles, and I learnt to see beyond the immediate difficulties I was facing and believe that there was always a “bigger picture”, in which a great cosmic battle was being fought between good and evil.

The problem is that this thinking brought me to a point – where millions of other Christians are today – of believing that the evil I faced in the world was down to “the bad people”, “the others”, those that are not living according to what I perceive to be “God’s way”.  I was taught there were numerous bible verses to back this up, including much of the Old Testament and books like Jude.

So, the narrative morphed into believing that we are a Christian remnant, battling to stand for God’s truth in an evil world where those who “lived according to the world” are always to blame.  I attended large prayer rallies claiming the verse “when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against them” (Isaiah 59:19 – which isn’t in everyone’s translations, proof (I was assured) of how important this verse is!).

In other words, “we” are chosen and special, and by default “they” are not.  “They” are evil doers, those who go against God’s purposes.  To begin with, I saw this group as being quite small – those who are “obviously evil”, like murderers, rapists and Nazis.  It then grew overtime (fuelled by the many sermons I devoutly imbibed) to include those from other religions (the “pagans”), oh and yes, those who lived “immoral and ungodly” lives – like gay people.

It was a subtle transition – I wasn’t really aware that I was on such a pathway.  I was surrounded by friends and fellow Christians who all believed the same thing.  The large Christian conferences I went to all preached the same message.  They would constantly call out “dead religion”, those who were in love with the shackles of their faith (for instance, wearing robes and using incense), rather than those who “had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ”.  It then began to make all perfect sense – the “abomination of desolation”, which Jesus had talked about (Mark 13:14) and which Daniel had written about was obviously those who belonged to this “false religion”.  Those who think they are Christian, but in fact aren’t “true Christians” – not like those of us who are real Christians (and who manifest the charismatic gifts, especially speaking in tongues).

So now the “others” weren’t just those “of the world”, they were those “in the Church” who think they are Christian but actually really aren’t.  I began to see that they were “the real problem”, which Jesus had warned us all about.

Of course, we shouldn’t tell “them”.  For “they” wouldn’t understand – the devil had blinded them.  We just needed to “stand firm” and “hold the line”, knowing that God would hold them accountable on the day of Judgement for preaching such a false Gospel.

The trouble is, this approach squeezed every last ounce of compassion for “them” out of me.  Yes, of course I was worried about “the lost” – but they were those who were sick or needy, not those who were “the problem”.  No, they were people I needed to stand up to and pray against, for they were thwarting the very purposes of God.

And so my heart hardened towards them.  Which was OK, because I knew I was right and that all that they said or did to try and dissuade me of this fact was really the devil in disguise.

Which is ultimately why “crossing the Rubicon” and coming out for me was so very very difficult.

You see, I became “one of them”.  I went “to the dark side”.  And so many of my past Church friends have never ever forgiven me for that.  I am an agent of the devil now.

But the thing is, the wonderful truth I myself witnessed, is that Christ “crossed over” with me.  When I got to the other side, I found Christians who loved Jesus just as much as I did, they just manifested this in rather different ways.  I needed to learn that what I had been taught to believe were trappings of “false religion” are just people expressing their love for God in ways that resonate with them.  There are of course many paths up a mountain.

I learnt not to judge “them”, and slowly moved from seeing a world with “us” and “them” to one just with “we”.  I learnt compassion for those who I had “othered” and embraced a Gospel that had no “outsiders”, no limits, no one beyond God’s unconditional love.

That said, I began to see that my new fellow Christians do in fact have people they “other” too.  People they perceive as working against God’s purposes and causing misery and pain to some of our most marginalised in society.  These “others” are those who appear so wedded to the “law of God” that it has stopped them understanding the unconditional “love of God”.  These then are “the real problem”, indeed many see them “as the abomination of desolation” that Jesus had talked about.

The ironic thing is that both sides – who both believe the other to be the devil – are being told they need to embrace and accept each other in our wonderfully broad Church of England.

Neither side can.

And that’s what is really going on these elections for General Synod right now.  There is a “battle” for the soul of the Church between two “sides”, where each think the other is doing the devil’s work.

Thankfully only God knows what will happen.

One thing is absolutely clear, though, and that is that Love Always Wins!

Posted in General Synod, Good Disagreement, Human Sexuality, Jayne Ozanne, Living in Love & Faith | 3 Comments

General Synod: The Challenge of Voting in Women Bishops

by April Alexander, who served on General Synod (2000-2016) and was a Church Commissioner (2008-2018), an elected member of the Crown Nominations Commission (2013-2017) and Vice Chair of Church of England Pensions Board (2002-2008)

Like Jenny Humphreys I, too, had refrained from standing for election to General Synod this year.  It is absolutely right that there should be a welcome for new and younger members (this is not difficult in my case) and I had been a member for longer than is good for Synod or for the Church.

The reason I stayed so long was that I hung on for the Measure for Women Bishops to be passed (November 2014) and to go through the Houses of Parliament (early 2015). By that time, I was serving on the Crown Nominations Commission with the express purpose of participating in the nomination of the first women as Diocesan Bishops. To serve out my term of five years I had to be a continuing member of General Synod.

Many people may not realise that the legislation allowing women as bishops has, within it, a massive caveat. Individuals and parishes are allowed to refuse to recognise the Episcopal Orders of women as they are allowed to refuse the recognise the Orders of ordained women. They may effectively opt out of the Diocesan structure and obedience and may seek the Ecclesiastical oversight of Bishops who hold similarly discriminatory views.

The Church has been found to discriminate against UKME candidates for ordination and for Consecration as well as against the disabled (given their low  numbers amongst the ranks of priests and bishops), but in no case other than women is there provision in legislation to allow for this discrimination. The Church also discriminates against candidates in Civil Partnerships and does not allow its priests to enter into a same sex marriage, but none of these provisions are written into legislation. Synod is likely to be offered the opportunity to change this situation in the coming five years.

In 2015, Parliament was so incensed about a whole bench of exclusively male bishops in their midst that they,  rather than Synod, legislated for the speedy introduction of women to the House of Lords by allowing them to leap frog over longer serving male bishops as vacancies occurred.  The embarrassment for the Church now is that there have not been enough new women appointed to fill those vacancies and, meanwhile, men continue to be appointed by default. This leap frogging provision only lasts for ten years (until 2025) and the outlook for women in the House of Lords and for those women and men who are anxious that they should be there, looks bleak.

Since 2015, fifteen Diocesan Bishops have been appointed but only six were female, despite the fact that there was and remains a surplus of talent among the pioneering group as one might expect.  There are fewer female than male candidates partly because there are fewer females in senior positions from which to draw them from, but there are still far more than enough outstanding women than the figures would suggest.

As mentioned above Diocesan Bishops are nominated by the Crown Nominations Commission and I was a member of it from 2013 – 2018.  It is a silent and very secretive body. A major factor mitigating against female appointments is the make-up of that body which includes those who, quite legally, hold this discriminatory view about women. Commonly they will number between four and six of the fourteen members.  The successful nominee needs to get a vote of support from two thirds of those fourteen members (ie 10 out of 14); it follows that women candidates are at a disadvantage from the very start and usually need to get 100% of the votes of those who are equally disposed to male and female candidates and sometimes even this is not enough. There are women who put themselves through this gruelling process when it is clear to the Commission and sometimes to themselves, that they have no chance at all of achieving the necessary ten votes.

As a result of all this, it is vital that all electors for General Synod know the answers to three questions which should be put to each candidate

  1. “Are you unequivocally supportive of women as bishops and priests?”
  2. “Are you unequivocally supportive of people in civil partnerships as bishops or priests?”
  3. “If you are successful in this election, would you unfailingly vote in favour of these two groups whenever there is an opportunity to do so during your time on Synod?”

Please note that those who are not in favour of those propositions are advised by their groups and associations NOT to make this clear and they are told how to duck the questions.

If you look up this link and open the docs referred to at the bottom of it, you will see how Conservative Evangelical candidates are advised to duck the question when asked about these things and how to obfuscate.

They offer evasive model answers for hustings.

Their website “explains how orthodox Anglican Evangelicals can work together to elect a General Synod that safeguards the doctrine and teaching of the Church of England.”

That “doctrine and teaching” is vehemently opposed to both women and gay people as priests and bishops.

It is because of this that every elector needs to know what is meant by their obfuscatory and anodyne declarations. To this end, there is nothing to stop an elector contacting the candidates in her/his Diocese to ask the three questions above.

Candidates, who are in possession of the email addresses of all electors, could email them all to tell them who are the candidates who reply positively to such questions.

Finally, Inclusive Church has a list of those, Diocese by Diocese, who assent to their Statement which includes the following

 “We will continue to challenge the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality.”

Here is the list of those candidates in each Diocese who assent to the above:

Please note:

  1.  People on that list may well help you with asking the questions and with the canvassing exercise set out above

2.  You are certainly encouraged to vote for these candidates and you may find that there are enough of them in your Diocese to make up your voting list. Remember that the STV system of voting does not require that you use up all your votes and you are well advised not to vote for anyone about whom you are uncertain on these matters.

Thank you and good luck!

Posted in April Alexander, Establishment, General Synod, Guest Contributors, Sexism | 5 Comments

General Synod: Honest to God!

by the Revd Dr Charlie Bell, Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge  and curate at St John the Divine, Kennington

‘Integrity’ is not, perhaps, the first word we might associate with elections. Those who run for high office will often find all kinds of excuses for not telling the whole truth – there are always higher goals to pursue, or a bigger vision to embrace and they just need to keep the voters sweet to gain the power to make things happen. Of course, this might not be totally honest, but that’s just the way these things go, and in any case, voters will forgive them when they see their grand plans in action. You see, it’s all for the greater good – or that’s what we’re told to believe, at least.

For all that we say that we do things differently, that we practice ‘good disagreement’, and that we live to a “higher standard”, it’s clear that elections in the Church of England are no different. In recent weeks, we have seen election guidance that seems to call on candidates to tell nothing like the full truth – and indeed to avoid topics that might be thought to be too ‘controversial’.

The problem is that these controversial topics are absolutely key to General Synod’s business for the next few years, and it is quite frankly appalling that candidates are being told to avoid discussions of abuse within the Church. There is something very dark indeed about calling discussion of abuse controversial, given all we know about the culture of secrecy that has led to such horrific outcomes for so many children and other vulnerable people over so many years. There is nothing controversial whatsoever about naming and stamping out abuse in the Church, and anyone standing for General Synod should be willing to discuss this topic head on or risk perpetuating the very culture we are trying to eradicate.

Yet this kind of advice gets to the heart of the conversation about what kind of Church we want to be.

There are a number of difficult decisions to be taken in the next few years, and if we are to make these decisions – and elect members of Synod to make them on our behalf – then we need to be doing this with our eyes open and with a serious commitment to speaking the full truth honestly and with candour. It is no longer acceptable to dance around these key topics in Church discourse. Trying to pull the wool over the eyes of voters is not the way to create a healthy structure of church governance.

For too long, the Church of England has been willing to favour convenience and a vague sense of ‘unity’ over honesty, integrity and the full truth. It is certainly true that homosexuality is not the only issue facing the Church of England in the next session of General Synod, yet it is also true that LBGTQI people are not an ‘issue’ either. Refusing to even mention them – to treat them as collateral in the ambition for power – is disgraceful.

The next session of General Synod is not likely to be a walk in the park, and nor should it be, given the complex discussions that are going to need to take place. Yet we should – as electors – be treated with enough respect by those who seek to represent us that we are at least told their explicit position on key elements of Church policy.

It is not enough to ‘sound as if you are a practicing member of the Church of England’ if you want to sit on General Synod – you should be willing to stand up and be counted, be challenged, and surely be open to the possibility of compromise and discussion once elected. Candidates that obfuscate before they even get elected are hardly those that can be trusted to act with integrity once they take their seats. Refusal to mention the key topics facing the next Synod is a choice – and it is a choice to obscure the truth of your position, however winsome your arguments.

If those who hold non-affirming positions on women’s ministry and blessings for same sex couples truly believe that their positions are right and true, then they should have the courage of their convictions to put themselves forward with their colours nailed firmly to the mast. Getting elected by the back door is the sign of a terrified sinking ship and not a healthy, vibrant, courageous Church.

Integrity must be the marker of the next session of General Synod, if we are not to totally lose our way. The Pastoral Principles of the Church of England, which exhort people to speak into silence and call our hypocrisy, are there for a reason, and if we cannot act in accordance with them whilst standing to represent fellow Christians in the governance body of our church, which forms part of Christ’s body, then we have fallen before we even fire the starting gun.

We are in desperate need of a Church that embodies integrity and ultimately honest and open compromise – that allows faithful Christians to live in accordance with their consciences and that deals in honesty rather than fear. We owe it to each other to clearly state what we believe and to be willing to be tried and tested on it – to take on each other’s arguments rather than our easily constructed straw men, and to always see the face of Christ in one another.

We may never agree, and for some the strain will be too much. Nobody doubts the difficulties we face. Those standing to make these decisions on our behalf most certainly need our prayers – but they owe us their honesty in return. The Gospel requires nothing less.

 

Posted in Charlie Bell, General Synod, Good Disagreement, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Safeguarding | 6 Comments

General Synod: Coming Out for it All!

by the Revd Nicky Skipworth, Priest in Charge of the Parish of Harworth and Bircotes, Styrrup and Hesley (Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham)

I’d like to open this piece by telling you that I am (as far as I’m concerned, anyway) just an ordinary parish priest, living in Nottinghamshire with my family (husband and two children at school, one away at university). This year, I celebrate 20 years since I was deaconed, vows which have never bowed down in deference to those of my priesthood.

It’s a busy life, what with ministry, home and family, plus supporting an older family member and a newly adopted cat, but it tends to work out in a messy kind of way; many clergy will relate to it. So it might surprise you that I am currently seeking election to General Synod. In fact, I’m one of over 220 candidates supported by , the only such clergy candidate in my Diocese. You can read my election address here.

Why would I, as someone with an already full life, want to press even more grains of sand into my apparently full jar of pebbles? Well, to put it in two really simple terms, firstly, I want to work for change at what is arguably the heart of the Church of England. However cynical I may be after twenty years in this saddle, I still trust that change is on the way. I believe that either God is changing, or we are changing to think more like God, or else God is finding away around us. Given the recent decisions of Methodist Conference and my ‘alma mater’ the Church in Wales, it looks very much to me as if reality within the Church of England is the latter option.

Secondly, and I am not speaking for anyone else when I say this, I have grown sick and tired of what I look upon as my own apparent heterosexual-cis-gender privilege. Because I’m not what others think me to be; I’m not heterosexual, I’m bisexual and have known this since the age of 7. It all came to a head, bizarrely, in 2017 when thirty-eight years later I was stood alone in the bathroom one day, having just had a new hair cut and, looking into the mirror, found myself thinking “this is finally me looking back at me”. Oddly enough, the last time I had a thought like that was when stood in front of the mirror in my sparkly new collar the morning of my diaconal ordination. These were both moments of absolute clarity, which called for action on my part. I never, ever doubted God’s presence nor love in my life. I did, however, doubt other people’s ability to accept me, especially at school.

Since that second ‘reflection’ four years ago, I have been taking small steps to come out. My husband has known for years, our children know, too; thankfully my non-churchy Mum and brother were gracious; my friends have been marvelous. After taking care of  my deepest personal relationships, I told my congregation. They are lovely people with whom I feel safe (this isn’t always a given). We have gone on to join Inclusive Church, but please don’t think that’s just for my sake. One parishioner nearly fell off their stool, then asked the classic question, “How does that work?!” I responded to questions and comments as best I could, and am still doing so, because I’m still getting to know ‘me’.

It is therefore a combination of reasons that brings me to seek election, and being supported by Inclusive Church makes it crystal clear where I stand. After all, those opposed to inclusion aren’t going to vote for me, so I might as well go all out and be open about it all. There are, as my friend Andrew Lightbown re-iterates in his own blog) so many candidates not declaring their true position. I urge anyone voting in the House of Clergy election (and the House of Laity, for that matter) to scrutinize every election address; ask probing questions of your candidates.

I do have other flags to wave, though, flags which may not be as all-consuming as those which concern my identity before God, but mean a great deal to me all the same. The one that sticks out, and is possibly of equal use to General Synod, is my membership of the Faith Worker’s Branch of Unite the Union. I’m also an Accredited Workplace Rep., and Accredited Support Companion, not to mention member of the Branch Committee  and Branch magazine editor.

I bring with me, too, all of my experience as a parent in ministry; including the constant guilt. Being a female parent in ministry seems to worry parishioners, too, but more upsetting is how this concern doesn’t seem to be extended to all parents. Of course, I have been exposed so many times to less subtle forms of sexism, like the complete stranger who, during my time at All Saints’ Parish Church in High Wycombe, now an Inclusive Church member, barged into the vestry  to give me a piece of their mind. As if it would make any difference!

Going back to the matter of true inclusion, I have been reflecting deeply on what is at the core of people’s desire to exclude and denigrate. Because, surely, if marriage is so wonderful, so divine, why wouldn’t the Church want to extend the availability of that gift? Surely we need more public love and commitment, and the admission that if you are going to harangue people for this so called and all-too-undefined ‘sin’, especially before marriage, then we must allow people access to the remedy. We don’t probe the sexual habits of different sex couples when they come to book their marriage ceremony; quite frankly, it is pretty obvious when we meet the children of their current (and more often than not previous) relationships.  It’s just they make the way they love one another perfectly clear.

I’m probably not well known enough to be elected but, for me, this is about more than ‘getting elected’. It’s about giving a voice to the many, many clergy who fear that the ability to truly be the Established Church, actually more especially, to be the parish church – is fading before our eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in General Synod, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Nicky Skipworth | Leave a comment

General Synod: Permitting Discrimination is Very Dangerous!

by Canon Jenny Humphreys, former member of General Synod (2010 – 2021), member of WATCH and member of the Bath & Wells Vacancy in See Commission

I write halfway through the election process for a new General Synod. I remain a Synod rep until the results are confirmed, which makes me a member of the Bath & Wells Vacancy in See committee for one more meeting! Several of us are not standing for Synod again, and those that are standing are not guaranteed to be re-elected. So, an unknown number of new people will have to be brought up to speed very quickly, in time to vote for whoever is to join the Crown Nominations Commission to discern our next Bishop! Just one of the quirks of the governance structures of the Church of England!

What are the significant moments from my 11 years? (Not counting the weird experience of Zoom Synod meetings over the past 18 months, and the disappointment of not being in York for the final one to say farewell to fellow members) I looked up my election address from 2010 – when candidates’ statements were distributed as printed copies by post! Looking back, it seemed easier to compare the information and aspirations listed by candidates when you could spread their declarations out on a table in front of you than it is to juggle with them online – or maybe that’s just my age showing!

Personally, there have been a lot of changes. I was widowed shortly after the Synod elections when my husband Rod died in December 2010. The grandchildren who were infants then are teenagers now.  I retired from my role as Diocesan World Mission Adviser in 2016, and my parish is now in a Benefice with another local church and assessing what the post-pandemic future will be for worship and discipleship.

What did I offer to General Synod in 2010? I brought an understanding of the wider Anglican Communion through facilitating our Diocesan Link with the Anglican Church in Zambia, and from attending World Mission conferences here and around the world. Co-ordinating the pre-Lambeth Hospitality for global visitors to Bath & Wells in 2008 was a very special privilege, and I hope next year’s experiences will build up similar relationships of trust, co-operation, and companionship in the Gospel for others.

I said in 2010 that I believed it was crucial to take all that was best of the Church of England’s breadth of theological understandings, traditions, and attitudes into the future, but that we must not be afraid to change as and when the Spirit led us. 11 years later I believe that in some very significant areas the Spirit is way ahead of us, and we have some catching up to do!

During my first term I joined GSWATCH (General Synod Women and the Church) after attending a Fringe meeting and was later invited to become a national Trustee. Obviously one of the highlights of my time on Synod was the passing of legislation in July 2014 to enable women to become bishops – this followed the damage done to the church’s reputation when the legislation in November 2012 narrowly failed to pass in the House of Laity.  Compromises had to be made to enable the legislation to pass in 2014, and the effects of these do not allow yet for full equality for women’s ministry in the Church of England. This may sound controversial to some, but continuing to permit discrimination is not only a bar to mission, particularly for young people, but gives the impression that the Church of England is another religion that does not recognise the full humanity of half of God’s people – consider the Taliban in Afghanistan denying education and human rights to girls and women due to their extreme version of Islam, and the legislators in Texas influenced by US Evangelical Christianity denying women’s control over their own bodies – the current lack of transparency from some parishes here on their attitude to women in leadership is the thin end of a very dangerous wedge.

In my second term on Synod, I became more involved with justice and equality of opportunity for LGBTQA+ Christians. A significant moment came in February 2017 with the ‘Not Taking Note’ campaign in response to the House of Bishops’ Report on ‘Marriage & Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations’. That debate was the most moving and powerful I have heard on Synod, with significant contributions from a wide range of speakers.  The Archbishop of Canterbury said that “the church needs a radical new inclusion based in love, our Christian understanding, neither careless of our theology nor ignorant of the world around us”. A request was made for the votes to be counted by Houses, thus needing approval in all three to pass. The House of Clergy voted against; the Report fell.  The outcome is the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project – will this lead to the necessary changes? Let us hope so, especially if a more inclusive General Synod membership is elected.

I have not only been concerned with issues of gender and sexuality: I have represented Synod on the Ethical Investment Advisory Group; and supported motions for more action on Climate Change; more equality of ministry for Readers; support for global church links and relationships; and more attention to be paid to the legacy of the Windrush generation and the church’s welcome, or lack of it, to those of different ethnicities.

Looking to the future, there are many issues that will crop up on the General Synod Agenda – legal, financial, liturgical, missional, educational, and ethical – to list just some areas of church life. But until we take seriously the equality of every person’s identity with regard to gender and sexuality – the equality that is recognised and legislated for in all other areas of life in England – we will struggle to get our mission to tell the wider community about the love of God to be taken seriously by those we want to reach.

 

Posted in General Synod, Good Disagreement, Living in Love & Faith | 1 Comment