Queen opens Synod but warns of ‘painful choices’

by
24 November 2010

Margaret Duggan reports on the inauguration by the Queen of the ninth General Synod

FOR the ninth time, the Queen, ac­companied by the Duke of Edin­burgh, came to inaugurate a new General Synod, on Tuesday, and to bless it on its way for the next five years.

She observed that those years would not always be straightforward, and that there would be “painful choices” ahead; but she was sure that, with the certainty of the love of God, the Synod would find the strength and vision to work together to suc­ceed.

Before the brief but formal cere­mony in Church House, the Queen and the Duke, with the whole of the General Synod, at­tended a sung eucharist in West­minster Abbey. As always, it was a splendid occasion, as the Abbey was filled with 1800 people.

The nave was already packed with special guests before the processions started. First came the members of the General Synod to be seated in the transepts, each diocesan contingent led by a pupil from Westminster School, carrying what are by now very dog-eared placards bearing the name of the diocese. They looked very like those that were first used in 1970.

Other processions followed, in­clud­ing the officers of the Synod, representatives of other Churches, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Hon. Kenneth Clarke, and the Lord Mayor of Westminster.

Then a fanfare heralded the ar­rival of the Queen, who was dressed in vivid apricot — a bright contrast among the scarlet and white of the Bishops’ convocation robes. Accom­panied by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, she and the Duke were preceded up the aisle by the Abbey choir and minor canons, and followed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Dr Williams presided, and sang the liturgy with a mellifluous voice rare among archbishops. The sermon was preached by the theologian Dame Mary Tanner, who suggested that the Synod should take the Council of Jerusalem, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, as its model.

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Dr Williams presided, and sang the liturgy with a mellifluous voice rare among archbishops. The sermon was preached by the theologian Dame Mary Tanner, who suggested that the Synod should take the Council of Jerusalem, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, as its model.

THAT Council had been faced with the question of Gentiles in the Church, she said, “and there was no small dissension and debate”. Dis­sension arose in the context of the dynamic outreach of the gospel. It was a matter of mission. “A Church that engages courageously in mission must expect to wrestle with new questions which evoke opposing re-s­ponses. That is not a sign of weak­ness, but of the Church’s vitality.

THAT Council had been faced with the question of Gentiles in the Church, she said, “and there was no small dissension and debate”. Dis­sension arose in the context of the dynamic outreach of the gospel. It was a matter of mission. “A Church that engages courageously in mission must expect to wrestle with new questions which evoke opposing re-s­ponses. That is not a sign of weak­ness, but of the Church’s vitality.

“Synod’s task is to help the Church discover credible ways of working through our differences, bearing the pain of difference — even entering one another’s pain — believing always in the Lord’s promise that we shall be led into all truth.”

She did not refer explicitly to the issues before the Synod of women bishops and the Covenant, but she pointed out that “the Jerusalem Council brought together those fearful of betraying what they under­stood as the demands of the gospel, and those who had come to under­stand old demands in a new light because they recognised God at work ahead of them in the lives of men and women who did not conform to the Law.

“Both these groups were commit­ted to the same Lord; both sought to be faithful. They gathered in the Council, each believing the other profoundly wrong. The Council turned out to be a place of much de­bate, but, more strikingly, it was also a place of much listening.”

Rather than “make party speeches with little attempt to understand where others are coming from”, Synod members must listen to each other.

With that admonition, she en­couraged members to enjoy being in the Synod, but to be careful how they spoke about it. “Don’t rubbish it. Many other Churches envy us our ex­pression of laity and clergy meet­ing together with bishops, and even daring to disagree in public.

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“A few weeks ago in this Abbey, Archbishop Rowan, with a twinkle in his eye, said to Pope Benedict that we should reflect on how the Petrine ministry might be realised as a ministry for all of us. It just may be in this time of ecumenical gift-exchange our form of synodical life is a gift we Anglicans have to offer.”

THE huge number of people in the Abbey were given communion with well-organised despatch, and members, officials, and many others adjourned to the Assembly Hall in Church House, where the actual in­auguration was to take place.

Security was of airport standard, with a plethora of guards and scan­ners for people and their belongings. So tight was it that a press colleague was deprived of a very small pair of nail scissors from her over­night bag.

In the Assembly Hall, the bishops en masse still looked resplendent in their scarlet and white, and it was noticeable that the few women members of Synod traditional enough to wear hats chose huge ones in scarlet to match the bishops. The royal couple were welcomed by Dr Williams, who greeted the Queen as the one and only person present who was at the first General Synod of 1970 (a statement with which the present writer begs to differ).

He thanked her warmly for her steadfast support of the Church, and also expressed, on behalf of the Synod, the general delight at the news of the engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton. At that, the Synod applauded enthusias­tically. The Bishop of Willesden was not present.

THE Queen then addressed the Synod “duly called together in obedi­ence to our Royal Writs”. She referred to two important anniversaries next year: the 400th anniversary of the Authorised Version of the Bible, “one of the defining elements of our heritage”; and to the 200th anni­versary of the National Society, whose initiative in building new schools had led eventually to establishing a universal right to education.

It was then that she talked about the painful choices that the Synod had to face. “But Christian history suggests that times of growth and spiritual vigour have often coincided with periods of challenge and test­ing. What matters is holding firmly to the need to communicate the gospel with joy and conviction in our society.”

With further thanks from the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, the royal party left, and the Synod ad­journed for lunch, before getting down to an afternoon of business.

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Full text of the Queen's speech:

YOUR GRACES, the Con­voca­tions of Canterbury and York, duly called together in obedience to Our Royal Writs, are on this day joined to­gether in accordance with the Syn­odical Government Measure 1969, and the House of Laity is added to them in accordance with that Measure, so as to constitute the ninth General Synod of the Church of Eng­land.

Those who serve the Church of England in its public minis­try are required to affirm their loyalty to its inheritance of faith as their inspiration and guidance under God. They also declare their commitment to bringing the grace and truth of Christ and making him known to those in their care.

The opening of a new Synod is a moment when we can all give thanks for the witness of those who have gone before, and pray for wis­dom as you seek to balance change and continuity in the decisions that lie ahead of you.

Next year will see two important anniversaries. It will be 400 years since the publication of the Author­ised Version of the Bible commis­sioned by King James, and 200 years since the foundation of the National Society for Promoting Religious Edu­cation. Both developments had a lasting impact on the life of the Church and the nation.

The Authorised Version has re­mained one of the defining elements of our heritage. Similarly, the Church of England’s initiative to build new schools at the beginning of the 19th century created a momentum which led eventually to Parliament estab­lishing a universal right to edu-cation.

In our more diverse and secular society, the place of religion has come to be a matter of lively discussion. It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue, and that the well-being and pros­perity of the nation depend on the contribution of individuals and groups of all faiths and of none. Yet, as the recent visit of His Holiness the Pope reminded us, Churches and the other great faith traditions retain the potential to inspire great enthu­siasm, loyalty, and a concern for the common good.

The new Synod will have many issues to resolve to ensure that the Church of England re­mains equipped for the effec­tive pursuit of its mission and ministry. Some will, no doubt, involve difficult, even painful, choices. But Christian history suggests that times of growth and spiritual vigour have often coincided with periods of challenge and testing. What matters is holding firmly to the need to communicate the gospel with joy and conviction in our society.

For at the heart of our faith stands not a preoccupation with our own welfare and com­fort, but the concepts of ser­vice and of sacrifice as shown in the life and teachings of the one who made himself nothing, taking the very form of a servant.

A report to the last Synod concluded with St Paul’s encourage­ment to the Ephesian church to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with pa­tience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.

Archbishops and members of the Synod, the five years ahead will not always be straightforward. But I am confident that with the encourage­ment of these words of St Paul, and the certainty of the love of God, you will find the strength and the vision to work together to succeed. May the Lord’s blessing be on you as you embark on your important delibera­tions.

Synod reports

Full text of the Queen's speech:

YOUR GRACES, the Con­voca­tions of Canterbury and York, duly called together in obedience to Our Royal Writs, are on this day joined to­gether in accordance with the Syn­odical Government Measure 1969, and the House of Laity is added to them in accordance with that Measure, so as to constitute the ninth General Synod of the Church of Eng­land.

Those who serve the Church of England in its public minis­try are required to affirm their loyalty to its inheritance of faith as their inspiration and guidance under God. They also declare their commitment to bringing the grace and truth of Christ and making him known to those in their care.

The opening of a new Synod is a moment when we can all give thanks for the witness of those who have gone before, and pray for wis­dom as you seek to balance change and continuity in the decisions that lie ahead of you.

Next year will see two important anniversaries. It will be 400 years since the publication of the Author­ised Version of the Bible commis­sioned by King James, and 200 years since the foundation of the National Society for Promoting Religious Edu­cation. Both developments had a lasting impact on the life of the Church and the nation.

The Authorised Version has re­mained one of the defining elements of our heritage. Similarly, the Church of England’s initiative to build new schools at the beginning of the 19th century created a momentum which led eventually to Parliament estab­lishing a universal right to edu-cation.

In our more diverse and secular society, the place of religion has come to be a matter of lively discussion. It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue, and that the well-being and pros­perity of the nation depend on the contribution of individuals and groups of all faiths and of none. Yet, as the recent visit of His Holiness the Pope reminded us, Churches and the other great faith traditions retain the potential to inspire great enthu­siasm, loyalty, and a concern for the common good.

The new Synod will have many issues to resolve to ensure that the Church of England re­mains equipped for the effec­tive pursuit of its mission and ministry. Some will, no doubt, involve difficult, even painful, choices. But Christian history suggests that times of growth and spiritual vigour have often coincided with periods of challenge and testing. What matters is holding firmly to the need to communicate the gospel with joy and conviction in our society.

For at the heart of our faith stands not a preoccupation with our own welfare and com­fort, but the concepts of ser­vice and of sacrifice as shown in the life and teachings of the one who made himself nothing, taking the very form of a servant.

A report to the last Synod concluded with St Paul’s encourage­ment to the Ephesian church to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with pa­tience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.

Archbishops and members of the Synod, the five years ahead will not always be straightforward. But I am confident that with the encourage­ment of these words of St Paul, and the certainty of the love of God, you will find the strength and the vision to work together to succeed. May the Lord’s blessing be on you as you embark on your important delibera­tions.

Synod reports

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