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Debate as siblings, not as opponents, Archbishop of York urges Synod

07 July 2023

Sam Atkins/Church Times

The Archbishop of York addresses the Synod on Friday afternoon

The Archbishop of York addresses the Synod on Friday afternoon

THE General Synod must find a way to walk together as brothers and sisters not opponents, even when it tackles challenging topics such as safeguarding or sexuality, the Archbishop of York has said.

Opening the session at the University of York on Friday afternoon, Archbishop Cottrell began his presidential address with a long quotation from Pope Francis: a plea for solidarity and care for “the needs of the brothers and sisters who orbit around us”.

He urged Synod members to reconsider the Lord’s Prayer, and the revolutionary power of saying “‘Our Father’ . . . a defiant rebuke to all who would reduce us to isolation from each other and from God”. The prayer also pointed to the fundamental belonging that all Christians shared, he said. This had been brought home powerfully to Archbishop Cottrell when he prayed alongside Pope Francis in Rome earlier this year.

The Church was already united under God, the Archbishop said, and it was the task of Christians to exhibit this unity. And he quoted William Temple: “We fail to be scandalised, as I believe God is scandalised”, by “[our] parallel ecclesial lives”. Anglicans, like many others, had got too used to disunity, seeing it as normal rather than a disgraceful affront to Christ.

“Moreover, we must always go the extra mile of finding those ways of widening the tent of our inclusion, but without letting anyone be lost,” he said. “Disagreeing well really does matter.”

It was time for a fresh drive for ecumenism, with new energy and imagination, he said. The fractious Anglican Communion, perhaps paradoxically, had something to offer the world on how to bear together despite disagreements: a “federation of Churches in communion but not under a single rule”, allowing Christians to walk together flexibly without losing conscientiously held differences.

The way that the Synod conducted its difficult conversation in the coming days was as important as what the conclusions were, Archbishop Cottrell suggested. Synod embers were not talking to strangers or opponents, but to brothers and sisters, even as they critiqued and challenged one another.

He then apologised to the Synod for appearing to dismiss a question posed to him at the previous meeting in February. “I will carry on searching myself, seeking a path of love and grace,” he concluded. “I dare to ask this of all of us.”

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