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General Synod digest: ‘Not a time to man the barricades’

04 December 2020
YouTube/Church of England

Archbishop Welby delivers his presidential address

Archbishop Welby delivers his presidential address

“PLEASE do not simplify the complicated,” the Archbishop of Canterbury has urged, in response to the first wave of contention over the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) resources.

Speaking during his presidential address to the General Synod — held for the first time entirely online because of the pandemic — Archbishop Welby said that the publication of the report was an invitation from the Bishops to the whole Church of England to reflect on the issues of sexuality, marriage, and identity.

He pleaded with those listening to resist simplistic and binary conclusions and enter instead into the nuance and complexity of the topic.

Last month, the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) released a video, prepared before the launch of the LLF report, which reiterated their conviction that traditional doctrine should not change, and speculated on various changes to church structure which might safeguard their position if changes were introduced (News, 20 November).

Archbishop Welby said that this was not a time for manning the barricades of the Church’s internal conflict, but instead engaging in open, humble reflection. What the C of E does next will be watched closely by the global Church, he said. “By how we act now we will witness, or fail to witness, to the Lord of the Church.”

After a presentation by the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, a Synod member, Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford), raised the matter of a video criticising LGBTI+ people who feature in the LLF material, which had been produced by the conservative group Christian Concern. Canon Harper said that LGBTI+ participants had been assured that their “safety” would not be compromised.

Dr Cocksworth said that the video had been brought to his attention. He declined to comment, as there were legal concerns over copyright which needed to be considered. He did, however, praise the courage of all who had contributed to LLF, and asked everyone to engage with the resources in “all their depth”.

Archbishop Welby shared the presidential address with the Archbishop of York. Archbishop Cottrell had struck a sombre tone, noting that 70,000 people in the UK would not be celebrating Christmas this year, as they had died after contracting Covid-19.

Archbishop Welby concurred. “We come to the end of 2020 with bereavement, illness, suffering, and fear marking much of the year for many of the people in much of the world,” he said. “Whatever else we decide to do, we are called to weep with those who weep.”

The past 12 months would go down in history as 1914 or 1989 had, he predicted. The huge changes in wider society must have consequences in the Church, he said. “Institutions which do not adapt to changing circumstances are condemned to extinction.”

The Archbishop then outlined at least seven overlapping crises of 2020: the pandemic; its associated economic recession; the Black Lives Matter movement; the child-abuse scandal and the “dreadful shame” accompanying it; changing relations with Europe; immigration; and political division. Overshadowing all of these was an eighth: the climate crisis.

At times, the Church had become obsessed with itself in the midst of this huge upheaval, Archbishop Welby said. He referried to the dispute about the closure of church buildings during the first lockdown, and conceded that this might turn out to have been “over-prudent”.

He hailed as “heroes” clergy who had given “every ounce” of their energy and time to serving their communities. “But we cannot remain in crisis mode forever,” he said, echoing his Church Times article (Comment, 23 October).

Archbishop Cottrell began by quoting Psalm 20: “Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will call only on the name of the Lord our God.” These words about greater dependence on God must sit at the heart of the Church’s strategy, he said.

People must resist the temptation to expect things to return to normal. Instead, a truly Christian response was to heed the words of Jeremiah, who pronounced woe upon those who proclaimed peace when there was none.

The year had revealed truths about the Church, Archbishop Cottrell told the Synod. Its culture needed to change: a chief concern for those in leadership.

In response, the House of Bishops has set up a slew of working groups. These included committees tackling Covid recovery, simplification and efficiency, the diocesan structures, governance, financial equity between dioceses — and discerning what God was saying to the C of E. “It is a huge undertaking, but I believe that through it God is going to lead us to a better place.”

Warning of “chaos” if such deliberations were made without love, he said: “Now is the time this Synod and this Church of England must love each other more than ever.”

Members knew in their bones that the C of E could not continue in its present form for much longer, Archbishop Cottrell said. Difficult decisions were coming, and “we are going to have to change.”

The Church must become simpler, humbler, and bolder — better able to live and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was a great challenge ahead of the Synod in the coming year, but it would be joyful and adventurous, he promised.


Click here for more reports from the November General Synod, held via Zoom last week

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