Sunday, December 20, 2009

Carol Service 2009

Photographs by Cesar Rodriguez-Duran

Mulled wine and mince pies after the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols on Sunday 20 December.

Bishop of London's Address at Diocesan Synod 12 December 2009

We are preparing to hear again the Christmas message of "good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people" but how is this credible amidst such encircling gloom, economic gloom and eco-gloom?

Christians are hopeful because our confidence comes from beyond ourselves, from God. It is confidence, unlimited by our own imperfect understanding and powers. In great cities like ours it is light pollution which blots out the night sky with a hectic glare. It is when we experience the darkness that it is possible to see the star which is leading us to Bethlehem.

We are facing an austere future. Techno-arrogance has generated a god-forsaken way of seeing the earth as mere matter which we can exploit as we want.

We have a diminished awareness that our well being is involved in the well being of the earth. This is evident in the way we have polluted the planet and wasted its resources. One symbol of what we have done is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a life destroying soup of plastic waste which floats on either side of Hawaii, equal in extent to the continental United States of America. Our response as a Church in the face of this challenge is set out in the seven year plan, Church and Earth which I presented to the UN Secretary General in an interfaith event at the beginning of November in Windsor. I am grateful to Brian Cuthbertson, Head of Environmental Challenge in the Diocese for his substantial role in developing the plan

In this synod we shall be discussing resources. Pensions and increased National Insurance payments have put a strain on our budget but it is important to see our financial situation in the context of the astonishing achievements of the church in London over the past years and in the light of the enhanced role which the 21st century is demanding of us.

We have made remarkable progress in realising some of the aspirations of the London Challenge and not least in maintaining, to date, a commitment to a balanced budget.

There is other good news. For example I can announce this morning that our plan to increase by 2,012 the number of places in the Church Schools of the Diocese by 2012 has already been over fulfilled. More than 4,000 extra places have been created.We continue to generate new initiatives in mission. You will have an opportunity later this morning to view a video describing some of the projects from across the Diocese that have been made possible with the support of the Bishop of London's Mission Fund. I hope that the video will have a wide circulation to encourage confidence in the Spirit and stimulate emulation in your parish and Deanery.

One of the many reasons why I am proud to be a member of the Church of England in the Diocese of London is that our concern extends well beyond our own worshipping community. This generous spirit is what the world needs. There is too much of the sectarian mentality which pursues a "members-only" strategy and which is not interested in anything that is going on if "it was not invented here".

I was therefore delighted to hear about the offer from one of our Deaneries to recruit "flu friends" who would be available to deliver medicines to the housebound and isolated. The scheme was at first warmly welcomed by the Local Authority but then it was frustrated by the realisation that victims of swine flu could be described as "vulnerable adults" and that in consequence anyone volunteering as a "flu friend" would need to go through the lengthy process of CRB checks. The elaboration of defensive bureaucracy based on a culture of suspicion is fast dissolving much of what remains of our community spirit.

This is a new Synod and I hope that every member as had the opportunity to consider the London Challenge which your predecessors in Synod endorsed as our direction of travel up to 2012. I have been a bishop long enough to know that the church is allergic to top-down, imposed plans but we must have some common understanding of what the Spirit is saying to the Churches in our own time and the principal contemporary challenges which arise from the life of London. The London Challenge has been distilled from reflection in the parishes and communities of the Diocese. It is an "add-up" exercise not an "add-on" initiative. It deals with the big agenda of winning London for Christ and serving him in those who are in need, whether or not they subscribe to our faith. My urgent prayer is that we keep this big agenda in mind and deepen our determination to go forward together. Everybody knows that we are in some danger nationally of being seduced by various in-house preoccupations.

The General Synod has decided by large majorities that it wishes to press ahead with the consecration of women to the episcopate. For most this is a cause for rejoicing. This is a Diocese served by a large number of talented ordained women and I thank God for the fruitfulness of their ministry. For some, however, the Synod's decision raises profound questions about the interpretation of scripture and our relationship to the church order which we share with other parts of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. Encouragingly, the majority in Synod has also affirmed that they wish to proceed in this matter in a way that does not unchurch the minority who, after all, are only adhering to Church practice as it is now and has been for some centuries past.

But the difficulty of devising arrangements that can preserve the catholicity, integrity, and mission of the episcopate and of the Church as a whole has been frankly admitted in the press releases which have emerged from the Revision Committee, charged with proposing legislation for the consideration of Synod.

There are some, who believe passionately that this is a justice issue and that in consequence anyone who cannot accept this change has no place in the Church of England. Most still accept I believe, that it would be a tragedy if we minced and atomised our Church on this issue.
In these circumstances on November 9th the Apostolic Constitution Providing for Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans entering into Full Communion with the Catholic Church was published.

It was Pope Gregory the Great who despatched my predecessor St Mellitus to support the mission of Augustine of Canterbury. It was Mellitus a Roman monk who built the first St Paul's and recommenced the work of converting London. We are not likely to underestimate the significance of the role of the Bishop of Rome as Patriarch of the West and many of us long for the day when we can serve and pray in an undivided church.

It is important to be clear, however, what the proposals for the Ordinariate imply and to dispel any distracting misapprehensions; misapprehensions that judging from many conversations with priests and the faithful over the past weeks do appear to be widespread.

I have read the "constitution" with care and have had the advantage of a commentary written by the Bishop of Guildford, Christopher Hill who as a former Secretary of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission has unrivalled knowledge of this aspect of oecumenical affairs.

The first point is that any Anglican clergy adhering to the Ordinariate would be ordained in an absolute sense [according to Fr Ghirlanda's official commentary on the text of the Apostolic Constitution] on the basis of the Bull Apostolicae Curae of 1896 condemning Anglican ministerial orders. This possibility is of course already available.

The Apostolic Constitution speaks of "the liturgical, pastoral and spiritual traditions of the Anglican Communion". The process for identifying these traditions is unspecified.

Perhaps most excitement has been generated by a subject not mentioned in the "Constitution", the possibility of the transfer of church buildings. I speak both as Chairman of the Board of the Church Commissioners and of the Church Buildings Division, well aware therefore of the complexity of the law governing the disposal of church buildings.

The parish churches of the Church of England exist to serve parishioners in general and not just members of the congregation at any particular point in time. In London there is great pressure on church buildings from those who wish to plant new congregations. The idea that there are numbers of redundant churches which the Diocese would be glad to hand over is a fantasy quite apart from the fact that the Roman Catholic authorities in the past have quite rightly been very cautious about taking over the responsibility for any more expensive fabrics.
Church sharing does of course exist in many places already. The Bishop of London is patron of the parish of Much Hadham in Hertfordshire where there is a particularly successful example of sharing between the Church of England parish and a Roman Catholic community. When however an attempt was made after the ordination of women to the priesthood to share certain churches between remaining members of the Church of England and those who had become Roman Catholics, the reality was intermittently acrimonious and the experiment was brought to an end by Cardinal Hume.

Just as the Church of England has been enriched by the ministry of former Roman Catholic priests and lay people, so there are former Anglicans serving in the Roman communion. This movement between churches will no doubt continue. The Apostolic Constitution as it was presented by Cardinal Levada with his extensive American and Australian experience may have a wider application in America and Australia, but I doubt whether it fits very well with the situation in England.
This still leaves us with the question of how we go forward together serving the big agenda which confronts all Christians in the modern world preserving both the integrity and the bio-diversity of the Church of England. I did present a plan for doing this to the Revision Committee in person but it was deemed by a majority of the Committee to be inexpedient.

I can understand and sympathise with the reluctance to ordain anyone to what might be called episcopacy-lite To do this would end in creating more problems than it would solve in our struggle to find ways in which those with radically different views on this particular issue can continue to minister alongside one another with grace and generosity. I do however believe that it is possible to make arrangements for the Diocese of London based on our experience of the operation of the London plan but recast to take account of the provisions of the Dioceses, Mission and Pastoral Measure which will allow us to go forward together. The detailed provisions would need to be developed with due regard to and in parallel with the Draft measure to provide for Women Bishops.

I stand here committed to our synodical life and determined that together we should find a way forward for this Diocese which offers hope to the wider church; that respects the direction of travel which the General Synod has endorsed while ensuring an honoured place for those who do not in conscience wish to proceed in this way but who remain faithful members of the Church of England committed to the mission which is common to all Christians. At the end of the Divine Comedy, Dante, the great poet of the Christian West, describes his vision of divine reality - "all the scattered leaves of the universe bound by love in one volume". This is the hope held out to us in the coming of the Son of God. This is the agenda for the one Church for which Jesus Christ prayed and for which he died on the cross and rose again to bring into being. This is the agenda which I pray unites every member of this synod