General Synod: Worth Our Attention and Our Presence
The Church of England's 2015-21 General Synod has been dissolved. Elections for the next quinquennium take place this Autumn. This is the first of a series of blog posts, written by some of those engaged with the work of Anglican Futures.
It was only last week that we heard the sad news of the Methodist Church abandoning historic orthodoxy in favour of a desperate grasp at progressive relevance, and in many evangelical circles a sense of despair was tangibly present. It is a sad day when our sister church takes such decisive step away from God’s revealed truth about humanity and how we properly relate to one another and Him, and toward (as Paul Bayes said) “the agenda of the world”. And through this, once again, the whole question of Living In Love & Faith and the soon to happen General Synod elections arose for me and many others. Surely it is only going to go one way? Is it realistic to expect a brake to be put on the liberal trajectory? And therefore, Is it worth standing for General Synod?
Many would say it is not, but personally I think it is worth standing for a number of reasons, and I will highlight my main two here.
I start with LLF, but to be clear, the next General Synod will be much more than LLF, but to LLF first.
It may be inevitable that an accommodation will be made with the liberal position that will not be acceptable across the orthodox board. However, the greater the orthodox presence the greater the chance that the accommodation will be limited and provide us, the orthodox, a space to plough our local Gospel furrows without interference from higher up the ecclesiastical pyramid. Preaching Christ and leading the lost to know Him as Lord and Saviour is the most important thing we can do. Fighting for space to do that is a worthwhile fight.
While some evangelical clergy will leave (as some already have) there is a significant group who will not (as well as those who honestly cannot see how to). These will stay within the structures until they are either kicked out or retire.
Therefore, there is a place within Synod to fight for orthodox rights and protection. True, history tells us that orthodox rights and position are always eroded and eventually full exclusion happens, but in that “in-between-time” there is absolutely a place to fight.
But it is not only about LLF. Large parts of the Church of England are in dire financial straits, and as somebody who’s whole ministry history has been on estates with high levels of deprivation in churches who cannot pay their way, I have seen other denominations answer this problem by exiting the poorest areas for parts of the country where income, money and wealth are less of an issue and churches are far more easily self-sustaining.
We need the church not to abandon the poor, which means funding the unsustainable church on the undesirable estate. I am not yet convinced that evangelical groupings outside the CoE will put stipends to places that will never be financially viable. In my diocese my liberal Catholic bishop has always made clear, echoing Bishop Philip North’s heart, that the church must have ministry on estates, whether financially sustainable or not. If you are like me and have a direct calling to the poor and estates, the simple question needs to be asked: “Who will put a stipend “there”? My liberal Catholic bishop will. Will AMIE? Co-Mission? Free Church of England? Others? Time will tell, but I am staying until something concretely materialises.
So, leaving LLF to one side, I will stay and stand for General Synod to fight for stipends for the poorest areas to allow Gospel men and women to serve there. A church who allows itself to become entrenched only in wealthier areas will never gain the vision or drive to go back to estates. Once we leave, we won’t return. We must not leave.
As for LLF, I’m not stupid and maybe it is just “deckchairs on the Titanic”, but surely somebody should stay aboard to be with those who can’t get in the lifeboats? And for those leaving on the lifeboats, I would ask you pray for those of us who remain.