Reading Alastair Campbell’s diaries on the train back from another depressing General Synod made me wake up to the similarity between old Labour and the leadership of the Church of England: both are more concerned to please their own activists than to reach out to the country as a whole.
The reason why people like Messrs Campbell, Blair, and Mandelson will always be my political heroes is that they took a basket-case of a party, with zero chance of government, and turned it into an outfit that wrestled with the real problems that ordinary people thought important.
The New Labour project began by challenging the self-righteousness of its own party activists that kept them wedded to outdated statements of belief, such as clause four. We, too, are held back by self-righteous party activists, who are more concerned to transform church polity than to transform our mission.
The reality is that millions of people couldn’t care less what we say or think. They don’t care about covenants or gay vicars: they want the Church to speak about life and death, about love and grace, about justice and hope. And because we are not speaking about it, they will go elsewhere. Tragically, General Synod is as mission-shaped as a chocolate teapot.
My friend Stephen Bates, the religious-affairs correspondent of The Guardian is leaving his religious watch to be assigned new tasks on the paper. It was his last Synod, and he left with an overwhelming sense of relief. Steve Doughty of the Daily Mail used to go to Synod. He doesn’t see the point any more. Increasingly, the news desks of national newspapers don’t care what we say or do.
What would be funny — if it was not so sad — is that many Synod types act as though it is the centre of the universe, as if changing things at Synod actually changed anything real at all. But the truth is that people are increasingly no longer interested. In these circumstances, the only news stories that are going to make the headlines are those generated by the Bishop of Carlisle’s fascination with the weather, and such like.
I can no longer stand to stay on campus during Synod. The “Church” on the York campus feels like a sealed box, impervious to the outside world. It lacks the oxygen of reality. This is why it will not be long before we are no longer the national Church. We circulate reports that nobody reads, and pass resolutions that nobody cares about. Jesus came to bring us life in all its fullness. He certainly did not come to bring us this.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney. His most recent book is Christianity with Attitude (Canterbury Press, £9.99 (CT Bookshop £9); 978-1-85311-782-4).