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Use language that unites not divides, Archbishop Welby asks, as the General Synod begins

06 February 2023

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Archbishop Welby addresses the Synod on Monday afternoon

Archbishop Welby addresses the Synod on Monday afternoon

THE Archbishop of Canterbury opened the February sessions of the General Synod with a call for members to “speak Christian” despite their differences.

Archbishop Welby, in his presidential address to the General Synod in Westminster on Monday afternoon, drew on the story of the Tower of Babel, saying: “We constantly face this temptation — to make something of ourselves, or to seek to impose our own unity through rules, hierarchies, and structures which become a way of controlling others.”

He said that the “unity that we ourselves conjure up has, as its first casualties, those who are different. Look at the Church’s history of anti-Semitism, racism, slavery, and collusion with evil structures of power. Look at how we treat those of different sexualities.

“But to be such people — directed by fear of the outsider, those who are different —is to be those who simply live to establish our purposes and not God’s,” he said.

Archbishop Welby began his presidential address with an acknowledgment that “the past few weeks have been challenging — to say the least — for many here and many more across the Church and outside the Church.

“And I know that you will have all thought and prayed very hard about the conversations that we will have over these coming days. So I’m grateful that we have this chance to meet as children of God, face to face — and to place our hopes, fears, and deep disagreements at the foot of the cross and the empty tomb which unite us.”

He said that he was “convinced that we are united in our desire for a Church that in nature, truth, and holiness testifies to the love that God has for us in Jesus Christ.”

In an extended reflection on the unity of the Church despite its being “scattered”, Archbishop Welby said: “The dialectic of scattering and gathering has produced a divine synthesis of a spiritual gathering among physical scatterings. The reality is we are scattered to gather those outside the life of the Church.

“For that to work, we must all speak ‘Christian’, because that is our true language, a language of signs and wonders, of words spoken, of symbols, of actions and self-sacrifice.”

He told members of his “scandalous youth”, in which he and his wife, Caroline, smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. “At one place we went to in Romania we had about 200 or more bibles to unload. I was doing that at night in a back garden and Caroline was left with the elderly lady whose house it was. They had no common language — except Christian. And thus, they sat together, with the occasional ‘alleluia’ and waving their Bibles at each other. It worked.”

Alluding to the upcoming debate on the Bishops’ proposals for the blessing of same-sex couples, Archbishop Welby said: “We have deep and passionately held differences. But let us not fall into caricaturing those among us who don’t agree with us as those who are trying to construct their lives away from God.”

He also reminded members of the importance of their language and tone: “In our discussions let us remember that our sister or brother is never our enemy, that those who listen outside this hall may well be listening for the call of hope, the call of Christ, and in every speech we are the mouthpiece. We can scatter or gather them. Our language makes the difference.”

On Sunday, The Telegraph reported that Archbishop Welby and the Archbishop of York had written to a Synod member, Sam Margrave, saying that his posts on Twitter had “caused other members of the Church to feel intimidated, bullied and distressed”.

“We are writing as Archbishops to rebuke such behaviour and to ask that you apologise publicly for your language and the offence it has caused,” the Archbishops reportedly wrote.

The chair of the Business Committee, Robert Hammond, addressed conduct on social media explicitly as he opened the debate which followed Archbishop Welby’s address. “It’s not appropriate to be offensive on social media,” Mr Hammond said, and reminded members that they were on “full public view”.

“I am sure that we will conduct ourselves with the highest degree of decorum.”

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