Regular readers of this blog will know just how alienated I felt back in November at the Westminster Abbey service which formed part of the inauguration of this General Synod. It felt like the whole pomp and history – the sheer weight – of the Church of England was on display, just daring any of us to challenge it. I was therefore surprised at how positive I felt about the York Minster service which was on the programme for the July Synod session. Yet it threw into even sharper relief just how divided we are; so divided that at least one member chose to attend a service in another denomination.
The Minster service was Holy Communion, and presented in terms of us joining the regular congregation for their usual act of worship. That was one reason why it felt good. Seeing the children of the regular attenders as well as those of Synod members processing to the sessions put on for their age groups was a joyful reminder that everyone is welcome; it felt like normal church, rather than formal church. I had the bonus of being close to the BSL interpreters, and the parable of the Good Samaritan came alive in their dramatic version of the story. Another plus was the building which, unlike the Abbey, allows a real sense of gathering round the table. Presiding was the Archbishop of York, who sounded genuinely happy to have us at the Minster and whose gentle humour made me feel far more relaxed. Behind the altar we could see the art installation commissioned for Living in Love and Faith, ‘Fracture and Faith’, made of many pieces of glass found on beaches, and I found it very beautiful, like an almost-invisible wave moving through the building. The Archbishop of York said it made him think of a stained-glass window which was either coming apart, or coming together. That was an interesting reflection.
Perhaps you’d expect all members of Synod to go to this service? Well, for many reasons, they don’t. Some decide to take a break, which is understandable in a packed programme in which sleep can be hard to find. Others want to join in remotely with their home congregation, something which of course hasn’t been an option until now. At lunch afterwards, I spoke to one member who’d joined a group from her diocese which had gone to a parish church where they wanted to offer support to the priest. There are those who find the Minster service (choir, robes, etc) a step too far, and I spoke to some who had headed instead for St Michael le Belfreybecause that was their sort of thing. Among those, there were also people who had friends or family in that congregation.
While I think it would be appropriate for us all to gather round one table on the Sunday of Synod, and I am sorry that we don’t, I can understand these different reasons for going somewhere else.
When I raised the ‘Where did you go to church this morning?’ question over lunch, though, I met one other response which still baffles me. One member said he’d been to a church of a different denomination (I am not naming it here because it could identify him and he may not want that). I was taken aback, and asked him why he went there; I was expecting him to say that he knew the vicar, or had family members there, or that this was his original denomination until he joined the Church of England. But no. He went there because he wanted ‘the Book opened’. I suppose that could just be code for ‘they preach a good sermon’. But why rule out the possibility of the Book being opened, being given a fresh insight into the Word, sensing the presence of the Spirit, in a denomination in which you have chosen to stand for election to the governing body? No, I didn’t ask that at the time. It was one of those silences like the one I felt at a meal where it became clear that one of my fellow Synod members thinks I am in an adulterous relationship because my husband has been through a divorce, or that very special silence in a ‘facilitated conversation’ about Living in Love and Faith in which someone realises that others in the room think they are going to Hell but are too polite to say so…
But I’m left wondering, as I go through my photos of the Living in Love and Faith installation at the Minster: is it too much to assume that everyone on General Synod is an Anglican?