By Zachary Guiliano
Canon Mark Russell, director of the Church Army, called General Synod’s last day of work “the morning after the night before.” On Feb. 15, after a lengthy debate of the House of Bishops’ report on marriage, the Synod ultimately refused to take note of the report, because of a slim margin in the House of Clergy.
The morning of Feb. 16, however, marked a decisive turn to the theme of mission and ministry. The two major items of the day were an address by Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, and the debate and passing of a motion related to “Setting God’s People Free,” a report on lay ministry by the Archbishops Council.
The Synod’s session opened with a formal but droll farewell to the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, hailed for leaving his diocese far better off than when he received it in November 1995. The Archbishop of Canterbury delivered a tribute speech, complete with a video, chronicling Chartres’s over the top casual dress while attending events at Holy Trinity Brompton: “The life & shirts of the Bishop of London since 1995.”
Archbishop Welby recalled a time when the two of them were there together: “His shirt was as loud as the music, and the music was so loud my shirt was flapping on my back.”
At the conclusion of the farewell, Bishop Chartres received a lengthy, thunderous standing ovation, despite his multiple attempts to silence it.
Immediately afterward, Archbishop Idowu-Fearon gave his first formal address to Synod since taking up his office in November 2015. He drew the Synod’s attention to the Church of England’s unique history and role within the Anglican Communion:
I bring you greetings from the wider Anglican Communion; and they are real greetings in the Spirit — warm and heartfelt. You — the Church of England — can never be just one of the 38 provincial churches of the Anglican Communion. As the very word anglicana implies, there is a living tradition of faith in the gospel as this church has received it, from the missionary work of St. Augustine of Canterbury 1,420 years ago to the particular experience of renewal in the English Reformation and beyond. The churches of the Anglican Communion find their common roots in the Church of England, and the tradition of this church, to the witness and mission of the apostolic church. There are still many Anglicans around the world who look to you as the “Mother Church” — and they do this without sarcasm, cynicism, or misplaced anachronism.
Throughout his talk, Idowu-Fearon emphasized the “vigorous and robust” character of the Anglican Communion, as it pursues the “apostolic mandate given by the Lord Jesus, to make disciples of all the nations.” Again and again, he referenced “missionary calling,” the “sacrificial offering” of generations of English Anglicans zealous for global mission, and the C of E’s contributions to the Anglican Communion.
“This is a wonderful, if complex, story that I hope will never be forgotten,” he said. “I hope you realize this, because it is a fact that the Church of England today is giving necessary, effective, and beautiful gifts to the wider Communion.”
The secretary general did not shy away from noting the difficulties Anglican Communion provinces face: “economic displacement and political uncertainty; family dissolution; refugees and migration; grinding poverty; and persecution,” but also “the dispiriting and destructive dynamic of Anglican conflict over human sexuality” and a worrisome fading of the “fertile energy of outward mission.”
He lifted up the 1920 Lambeth Conference as a potential model for how to respond to these challenges: the assembled bishops recognized that communion is founded in “the undeflected will of God,” who desires to “win over the whole human family.”
Current “disagreements and struggles … are not easily resolved in some institutional or structural fashion,” he added. “That doesn’t mean the issues are not important; it means we are not up to the task of resolving them faithfully right now. So what do we do? … [G]ive ourselves to our brothers and sisters in the Communion and beyond, in the name of Jesus Christ.”
The Church of England will find its way, its vocation, in “self-expenditure for the sake of the world.”
Immediately after Idowu-Fearon’s address, the Synod considered “Setting God’s People Free.”
Canon Russell introduced the report with typical enthusiasm. He noted that it “calls for two shifts in culture and practice”: first, forming and equipping “lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life” in order to “evangelize the nation”; second, ensuring that laity and clergy recognize “they are equal in worth and status, complementary in gifting and vocation, mutually accountable in discipleship, and equal partners in mission.”
The report argues that wholescale “culture change” is necessary to accomplish these goals, and its implementation plan outlines a series of goals to achieve in the coming years.
Nearly all Synod members who took part in the debate spoke enthusiastically about the report’s general thrust, even if they were occasionally critical of particular language or emphases within it.
Alison Coulter (Winchester), a member of the lay leadership task group on the Archbishops’ Council, spoke of how reflections leading up to the report had transformed her understanding of the church’s work, which was previously “too small.” She described with approval the report’s harmony with the call given earlier by Archbishop Idowu-Fearon; both focused on “moving outwards in the name of Jesus.” She also described how she believes the Church of England needs to expand its use of the language of vocation, so that it no longer applies simply to the calling of potential ordinands: “I am called. We are all called. Some of you are called to be ordained priests. … I am called to work in business.”
Nick Land (York), a practicing medical doctor, spoke of a need to develop the theology of work. He emphasized that human beings are created in the image of “a working God” as he cited the words of Jesus in John 5:17: “My Father is always working, and so am I.”
At the same time, he reminded the church to remember the key insights offered by the doctrine of justification by faith, in this anniversary year of the Reformation: “We are not saved through work, but ‘we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus, to do the good work which God has prepared in advance for us to do’” (Eph. 2:10).
Several speakers, especially from the northern dioceses, mentioned the need for English Anglicans to speak more regularly and comfortably about faith, especially about Jesus. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in every conversation we had, we spoke the name of Jesus?” said Elizabeth Paver (Sheffield), vice chair of Synod’s House of Laity and former vice chair of the Anglican Consultative Council. She encouraged members of Synod to remember how some of their Anglican brethren face “persecution, death, destruction of their churches” and yet they “speak the name of Jesus.”
The Archbishop of York made a similar point. “We have a lot of rain in Yorkshire,” and people talk constantly about “weather.”
“If only they talked about Jesus the way they talk about weather. Yorkshire might be converted!”
Carole Wolstenholme, lay chair of the Diocese of Newcastle, enthusiastically welcomed the report and spoke of her desire that the diocese become one of the first to test the report’s recommendations. She spoke of a Northern English saying, “Shy bens get nowt,” which she interpreted as “One needs to be assertive to get what one wants.”
She implored the Synod and Archbishops’ Council to hear “this voice from the land of the Northern Saints. … We, like Aidan and Cuthbert before us, are on the road to make disciples.”
After approving the report, the Synod briefly took up and approved a private member’s motion related to centralizing certain administrative functions in the church. Afterward, the Archbishop of Canterbury formally released the meeting, which ended early since it did not take up “following motions” related to the “take note” debate.
Archbishop Welby blessed the Synod with the traditional Anglican formula and charged members: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
They responded forcefully: “In the name of Christ. Amen.”