THE newly elected General Synod has been inaugurated by Prince Edward at Church House, Westminster, after he joined the members for a choral eucharist in Westminster Abbey on Tuesday morning.
Prince Edward was standing in for the Queen, who decided last week, on doctor’s advice, not to attend the service and opening session of the Synod for the first time since she inaugurated the first General Synod in 1970 (News, 19 November).
Music included Stanford in B flat, Mozart’s Ave Verum, and the hymns “Come down, O love divine”, “Alleluia, sing to Jesus”, and “Lord, for the years”.
The Coptic Archbishop Angaelos of London preached on the Gospel, from St Luke, urging the congregation to echo the example of Jesus when he called down Zacchaeus from his sycamore tree.
“We are sometimes so focused on where we are going, on our own agenda, on an item of business, we don’t notice those around us,” he said.
“This is different to the cancel culture we live in, reinforced by the online social- media echo chambers we form for ourselves. We ‘other’ people; but those ‘others’ are like us. Let’s not miss opportunities to see who Zacchaeus is along our journey.”
Afterwards, the Synod gathered in the chamber of Church House, where the Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the Prince. He noted that the start of the new quinquenium had been a year late, owing to the pandemic, but, as the Queen had said during her national television address broadcast last year (News, 9 April 2020), he had always known: “We will meet again.”
Despite the trials and separations of national lockdowns, the Church of England had managed to build new forms of community, Archbishop Welby said. There had also been a new sense of duty towards one another. Climate change was the leading example of this interdependence; another, which, the Archbishop said, he had discussed during his recent meeting with Pope Francis, was synodality.
“I cherish this part of the Church — not always easily, but deeply and genuinely.”
Pope Francis, he said, had also spoken of the importance of “walking together” to be a Synod, which was what the Church of England did best — “walking together with those we disagree with, to cherish the weak and help the strong to serve rather than dominate”.
Archbishop Welby continued: “The path ahead of us is not always smooth and many of us have felt the bumps very strongly indeed.” The Church and its Synod were called to build friendships around the world, not least at the Lambeth Conference and in the related conversations between members of the Anglican Communion which had already begun online.
“We know there are difficult decisions to be made and hard conversations to be had,” he said. These include his discussions with the Anglican Church in Ghana regarding its support for an anti-LGBT Bill (News, 12 November).
“Today I encourage us all to follow Her Majesty’s example — she has at every point treated many of the millions of people she has met with unfailing courtesy, respect, and kindness. I am humbled beyond words, as every person in this country is, by Her Majesty’s example of such selfless service.”
The Archbishop concluded by asking Prince Edward to relay to the Queen that the Synod drew great comfort from her prayers for them, and that its members were praying for her and her family.
Prince Edward, responding, said that the Queen had sent her “sincere and deep apologies” that she could not be with the Synod. He went on to deliver her address to members, in which she said that, of all the tasks before the new Synod, “One stands out supreme: ‘to bring the people of this country to the knowledge and the love of God.’”
She continued: “Of course, in our richly diverse modern society, the well-being of the nation depends on the contribution of people of all faiths, and of none. But for people of faith, the last few years have been particularly hard, with unprecedented restrictions in accessing the comfort and reassurance of public worship. For many, it has been a time of anxiety, of grief, and of weariness.
“Yet the gospel has brought hope, as it has done throughout the ages; and the Church has adapted and continued its ministry, often in new ways — such as digital forms of worship.”
This Synod, like many before it, had “inherited weighty responsibilities”, and disagreement was inevitable, she said. “In some areas, there will, of course, be differing views, and my hope is that you will be strengthened with the certainty of the love of God, as you work together and draw on the Church’s tradition of unity in fellowship for the tasks ahead.”
The Queen ended by assuring members of her prayers for their deliberations.
On behalf of the newly inaugurated Synod, the Archbishop of York thanked Prince Edward for conveying the Queen’s “warm words of encouragement”. The Church had big aspirations for mission and service, but it must first become simpler, bolder and humbler, Archbishop Cottrell said, quoting the Church’s Vision and Strategy document.
“As a Church, we mustn’t complain about the weather, saying things are against us in our culture. Rather, we need to find the right clothes, the right ways of reaching and serving people in the many ways they live,” he said.
Work to ensure that the Church was carbon-net-zero by 2030 was accelerating, and the Living in Love and Faith project was continuing, he said. Meanwhile, the Synod would also be attending to governance and safeguarding, ensuring “just and compassionate care for survivors” in its response to the IICSA recommendations. Clergy conduct would also be examined, as would issues of importance in national life, “always placing before us the example of Jesus, the good shepherd”.