A HUMBLER and simpler Church of England must bless the nation, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said.
They were addressing a special one-day session of the General Synod on Thursday, which met to approve a change in its constitution to allow remote decision-making during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, speaking to the Synod for the first time since becoming Archbishop of York, began by emphasising how much he hated the coronavirus: for how many lives it had claimed, for ruining weddings, baptisms, and funerals, for robbing children of time in school, for forcing so many into isolation, pain, and depression.
But the Church must also recognise what it had learned from the last six months, he said. “We have learned that those whose jobs we thought were menial and inconsequential are vital and essential. We have learned that we belong to each other. We have learned that love transcends boundaries and can easily jump two metres.”
There was an opportunity amid the tragedy for the Church to speak up for the poor and the common good, and to ensure other important issues such as “the curse of racism”, the environment, and Britain’s relationship with Europe do not slip off the agenda.
He thanked those in public office who had made “hard decisions, and inevitably come in for sharp criticism”, and then apologised for the “inevitable mistakes” the Church’s leadership had made during the pandemic, without specifying anything in particular.
Everyone was learning how to be a humbler and simpler Church during the Covid age, and to be dependent on Christ alone, he concluded.
Archbishop Welby warned that there was a “new kind of trial” coming to England in a second wave of coronavirus. Foodbank demand, unemployment, domestic violence, mental-health problems, and poverty were all growing, and it was impossible to know in what form the C of E, or even the country, would emerge from this period. The consequences of Brexit remained uncertain, as did the future of the Union, while prevarication over the climate crisis continued.
He echoed Archbishop Cottrell’s apology for mistakes made during the difficult “uncertainty fatigue” experienced throughout the pandemic.
“In one sense, it has given us a sort of national PTSD,” he said of the past six months. Acknowledging how much worship had been forced to change, he suggested that “I think you’re on mute” had almost become a liturgical greeting, to knowing laughter across the chamber.
But amid the loss, trauma, and struggle, the “darkness does not overcome the light”. The Church must continue to bless its nation, to pray and offer worship, and even expect to see renewal, he urged. The General Synod, despite meeting to agree a legal formality, must also look forward to the new Church that God was “loving into being”.