This Friday, hundreds of people from across the country will gather in York for the four-day summer meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England. From this diocese, this will include me, three elected clergy members and four elected lay members. ‘Synod’ simply means meeting together, and it is an opportunity not only for business but also to listen and learn from one another across the 42 dioceses of the Church of England (including the Diocese in Europe). We will be considering a number of legislative and financial items which affect the Church, as well as entering into debate on matters of wider significance such as the war in Ukraine. We will also hear important updates on issues such as safeguarding.
The day after General Synod, the members of our Diocesan Synod will meet at All Saints Academy in Cheltenham.
Some of you reading this will be members of deanery synods and local PCCs, yet I suspect that for a number of people the whole nature and remit of synodical government is a mystery – and that’s even true for those of us who are part of it. Thanks to the hard work of our Communications Team, there is now an excellent leaflet to explain it all.
Of course, there are a range of views regarding synodical governance, and I would probably be one of the first to say we need to have some courageous reform as we look at who we are as part of God’s Church and seek to proclaim the gospel afresh in each generation. However, it is also important that we inhabit our existing governance structures well. Order and process are not separate from holiness, and we only have to read the book of Acts to recognise this in the establishment and growth of the early Church.
It is therefore important that we keep focused on the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ of agendas and legislation. The ‘why’ is there in the words of Jesus Christ as told by John in the verse which encompasses our LIFE Together: ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10).
Last Saturday I heard Helen Berhane share her story at Holy Trinity Stroud. Helen is an Eritrean gospel singer who was imprisoned and horrifically tortured for her faith. It was humbling and challenging to hear her speak about her daily choice to love and give thanks to God in all circumstances, and refusing to stay silent about her faith in Jesus Christ. On Sunday at a service of baptism and confirmation at St Lawrence’s, Barnwood, the candidates included a number of Iranian brothers and sisters who are asylum seekers. Their stories of coming to faith and encountering Jesus Christ amid struggle and indeed persecution, were again very humbling. It was also inspiring to see how the local worshipping community has lived hospitality and been changed through mutual relationship.
On both occasions – at the event in Stroud and at the service in Barnwood – people commented to me how it put things into perspective, not least their discussions at PCC meetings. I agree. That doesn’t mean that items on PCC agendas and synodical gatherings in deaneries, dioceses and nationally, should be side-lined, or issues of legislation diminished, but it does mean we need to keep at the fore, the ‘why’.
I hope and pray that as we continue to inhabit existing synodical governance locally and nationally, we will keep focused on the ‘why’, so that we are disciplined about the ‘what’ and identifying those things that so easily distract us, so that we persevere with joining in with the coming in of the Kingdom of God.
As I think about the days ahead and reflect on the stories I heard from Helen, Mostafa, Yousef, Imazh and more, I am reminded of those words from the writer of the letter to the Hebrews: ‘Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith …’ (Hebrews 12:1-2). May it be so in all our synods.
Thank you for our partnership in the gospel.