Whoever said church couldn’t be fun?
I’m in Edinburgh at the moment, at the last day of the General Synod 2013 of the Scottish Episcopal Church. This is the voting body of the Church, represented by the bishops and by elected members of the clergy and the laity, and it is the place where the business of the Church is done.
One of the items of business up for discussion on Friday morning was the question of establishing a design group which will create a process by which the Church will discuss same-sex relationships in a manner and with a timescale that could not be any woolier if it had been presented on the needles of the Synod knitter.
It is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds.
I wanted to try to define exactly what we were talking about.
It’s a wonderful word, “relationship” — covers all kinds of sins and indeed all kinds of sacraments. It is also, when trying to talk about a process such as this one, an unhelpfully vague word. The Bishop of Brechin in his introduction to this item talked about the Church trying to find a way of discussing the undiscussable, and it is, I think, the fact that some people consider it undiscussable that lead to us using woolly terms like “relationship”. So, what are we talking about? Are we talking about equal marriage? Are we talking about pastoral responses to same-sex couples? Are we talking about how the Church respond to people who happen to be LGBT and live within its congregations?
I didn’t really get an answer to that.
And I also wanted to clarify exactly what we aren’t talking about, and specifically I wanted to clarify whether we could take it as read that the Anglican Moratorium on the ordination of individuals living in same-sex relationships as Bishops was no longer the policy of the Scottish Episcopal Church and that therefore that particular question would not need to be part of whatever the design group ends up designing.
A little bit of history — a little bit of history that I got knotted up in when I spoke about this on Friday morning and I do thank those who set me right about this part. The Anglican Moratoria were created by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in February 2009 (in Alexandria, not in Dar es Salaam) as part of a longer document called Deeper Communion: Gracious Restraint and were signed up to by the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church in March 2009. They effectively acted as bans on the Church authorising a formal liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions and electing as Bishop an individual who happened to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex (I note that Bishop David specified when he was responding to me that that moratorium was on a long-term same-sex relationship, and I could make a sarcastic point here about casual sex evidently being just fine). And it’s all Gene Robinson’s fault, is the implication in that moratorium. Then, later in the same year, the Anglican Communion was presented with the Anglican Covenant for its consideration. It has never been entirely clear to me nor I suspect to a lot of people what the relationship was between the Covenant and the Moratoria. But there certainly seems to have been a relationship, and, as General Synod resoundingly voted last year to opt out of the Anglican Covenant, my presumption, which I was prepared to be told was a faulty one, was that this Province had also ceased to observe the Anglican Moratoria.
The answer was a wonderful treatise from the Primus on the nature of the Anglican Communion and a view that we have no idea what the status of the moratoria really are, that the authority for them is slowly ebbing away, that they are not a major factor in the way we live… The point was made that Justin Welby made no reference to the moratoria when he said earlier this year that ordained men in civil partnerships could be consecrated as bishops (just so long as those men don’t actually have sex with their civil partners). And that is all very pleasant and uncontroversial and may well be very true, but it is again woolier than the Synod knitter’s knitting and it doesn’t really answer the question.
An attempt by Kelvin Holdsworth later in the proceedings to clarify that answer resulted in it becoming even less clear.
There comes a point when this begins to look like an obfuscation made in order to avoid saying the difficult thing.
It is interesting to me that in every conversation I’ve had on this subject in the last 24 hours, and I’ve had a lot, the person I have been talking to, whether they have been evangelical or high Anglican, whether they have subscribed to traditional theology or liberation theology, whether they have been clergy or laity, every single one of them has said that they would have welcomed a straight answer. They have said that even if they hadn’t liked the content of the answer, they would have preferred having one to not having one. Because this is something about which it is important that we know where we as a Church stand.
For the avoidance of doubt, the question I was asking was not a hypothetical one about the nature of the Anglican Communion or about the natural evolution of the Anglican Moratoria or about anything like that. The question I was asking was a practical one about Church employment policy. The question I was asking was, if a vacancy arises in the College of Bishops tomorrow, whether through retirement or through someone being hit by a bus, will the Church accept the nomination of an otherwise qualified person who happens to be in a same-sex relationship and will that nomination then proceed on the same footing as those of people who happen to not be?
It is not a hypothetical question. It is not an academic question. It is not a woolly question.
It is a very straightforward question that should have a yes or a no answer, and I don’t think that that answer has been heard yet.
Can you smell that?
It’s the sweet perfume of frankincense. It hangs heavy in the air today, a deep haze of smoke all over everything, lingering in my hair and my clothes. The best kind of scent memory.
Photography (and fairy lights!) by Gordon Smith
We take Corpus Christi seriously in Glasgow. Last year, just before he threw petals all over everything, Father Vice Provost called it a heritage, and indeed it is. It is who we are and where we come from and what we do. It’s Maundy Thursday, but without the barbarians. It’s what Maundy Thursday looks like on the other side of a resurrection, when we know, in a way that you find yourself not really knowing in Holy Week, that love will always, always be stronger than death.
But not too seriously. Not so seriously that we forget that a Corpus Christi faith is of the God of life and laughter and fabulous unremitting joy.
Bishop Kevin talked last night about celebrating the reality of God’s love, and where better to celebrate that reality than in a place where I have never ever ever doubted it?
There are times and places when the veil between heaven and earth is almost transparent. At sunrise over the Clyde and at sunset on the Thames. In the middle of the night in a room alone with a person who is no longer alive. In the middle of the night in a room with a dozen other people and a person who we are not going to allow to die, not now, not tonight. In the absolute darkness of the Serengeti, looking up at the Milky Way. Every day, in a cathedral on Great Western Road. The mist clears and the veil lifts and we catch a tiny glimpse of heaven.
And in the midst of a shower of roses, listening to the peals of the sanctuary bell, trying not to trip over things, watching the Body of Christ through the smoke, surrounded by the love of God and the love of his people, that heaven feels so close that I think I could reach through the haze of incense and touch it.
You see all kinds of people in church at Christmas.
You see the people who are there every Sunday. You see the old familiar faces who are gone away now and are home for the festivities. You see people who you haven’t seen since last Christmas. You see strange faces, visitors from the East and folk from across the road and people who wonder whether they might be welcome on this magical night when enemies are reconciled, debts forgiven, and strangers made welcome. The shepherds and the Magi, the young and the old, the angels and the saints, all gathered together under one roof and for one reason.
For the ancient story and the eternal truth that, in those days, two thousand years ago, a decree went out from the Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered, and so, frightened and far from home, in an outhouse behind the inn, a young girl from Nazareth, heavily pregnant, settled in for an uncomfortable night with her beloved, and later that night, unexpectedly and inconveniently, she was delivered of a baby of whom it was said that he would change the world.
Our God has come among us.
A very merry Christmas to all of you.
Tomorrow, the Roman Catholic Church is holding National Marriage Sunday. There is something about what it calls the true nature of marriage and destruction of the fundamental nature of marriage and all of the usual things, except that they are dedicating a special day to it and setting up a new commission and making every church-going Roman Catholic in Scotland listen to a letter from Cardinal O’Brien that I imagine would leave a nasty taste in my mouth if I had to sit through it myself.
Tomorrow, St Mary’s Cathedral is inviting any Roman Catholic — and, indeed, anyone — who prefers to not listen to this sort of thing on a Sunday morning to join us for our worship instead.
There has been some excellent coverage of this in the Scottish press today. You’ll have read that there is a ‘special’ service at St Mary’s tomorrow morning, and I suppose there is. It is very true, yes, that a particular welcome is extended tomorrow morning to anyone who wishes to attend a church service where all will be made welcome and where the intolerant and unloving rhetoric of the Roman Catholic hierarchy can be escaped from. You are welcome whether you are gay or straight or bisexual, married or single or civil partnered, Catholic or Protestant, theist or atheist. If you would like to join us for this one Sunday, seeking refuge or indulging curiosity or for whatever reason, then we would be delighted to have you.
But when you hear about this ‘special’ service and when you see what happens and what is talked about in this ‘special’ service, just remember what Gene Robinson said when he came here in 2008.
We do this every Sunday.
If you are interested, there will be love and inclusivity, good liturgy and fabulous music, and a meal of equals shared around Christ’s table for anyone who wishes to partake. It all happens at 10.30am tomorrow morning at 300 Great Western Road, corner of Napiershall Street, between Kelvinbridge and St George’s Cross subway stations, and all are welcome.
Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayers of faith and songs of grace.
Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
all are welcome in this place.
Well, he rose and he has been well and truly glorified and it was all utterly fabulous.
From the welcoming of the newly baptised and confirmed, to the overenthusiastic splashing of one another with baptismal water by a Provost and a Bishop. From the first triumphant shout of, “Christ is risen!”, to the sound of the many hundred voices joining in the Hallelujah Chorus. From the nervous giggles as I wondered if the holy ladder was going to overbalance and squish the trebles, to the jazz anthem accompanied by the popping of champagne corks. From the censing of the Paschal Candle, to the falling with great relief on the food at the post-Evensong party.
And then I located my bed and slept the sleep of the very very tired.
(Easter Recovery Day is what this day has been dubbed by a friend of mine, and I suspect that a truer title has never been given.)
I often wonder, on Easter Day, usually sometime after the Creed when I’ve just about stopped crying, why we don’t do this every week. By the time Evensong rolls around, I’ve remembered that if we did this every week we would have long since keeled over from sheer exhaustion.
But what a great and glorious feast it has been, what joy we have had, and what a privilege it is to be there and to do what I do.
HE IS RISEN INDEED!
Fizz, Schubert, and flashmob Hallelujah Chorus at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow at 10.30am. All welcome.
The darkness has come. The light of the world has gone out.
Later, we will gather at the foot of the Cross and sing for the whole city to hear our grief. But for now, we stand with his mother and the disciple whom he loved and with all Christians throughout the world, we look upon him who came to be the saviour of us all, and we think of all that we have loved and lost.
Because whatever happens next, it was with his death that they learned the truth.
This man, they said, was truly the son of God.
After they had eaten the Passover meal, he led the disciples out and took them to a place called Gethsemane, and asked them to remain with him and keep watch while he prayed.
The thing about that Passover night was that nobody knew what was coming. It’s easy to think of the eyes of Jerusalem as being turned to that garden in the foothills of the city, but they weren’t. To the rest of Jerusalem, that night held a different kind of significance. It was the night when they commemorated God’s great mercy in sparing the lives of their firstborn sons. It was the festival. Jerusalem and her people were celebrating. How many of them gave a thought to a man in agony, a man who just a few days earlier they had hailed as the Messiah? Not many.
Last night in Glasgow, people were out celebrating too. After the Passover meal, the body of Christ, human and lonely and mortal, is taken to the garden amidst the cries of his people. My God, my God, why have you foresaken me. And as we listen to those cries and hear those old familiar words of the final betrayal, we hear too the noises of traffic and people and music coming in from Great Western Road. Away from Gethsemane, it is the start of a four day weekend and life goes on as usual. Just as it did then.
Every year during the Watch, sometime between eleven and midnight, I think about leaving. It’s cold in my spot on the ground, I’ve lost all of the feeling in my legs, and I’m going to be back in ten hours. It would be so easy to get up, to join those people outside or seek the comfort of my warm bed and a hot cup of tea. But I stay. In the end, it’s not so easy to walk out. I’ve eaten the Passover. I’ve destroyed the temple. I’ve gone with him to the garden, just as he asked, and lain there with tears and sweat staining my face and my glasses pressed into the cold tile. And having done all that, it’s as if I’m compelled to see it through to the end.
To the final betrayal, when they come with swords and sticks to arrest him, and, in his worst hour, we all leave him and run away.
Holy Week is upon us.
Each year, I’m overcome by the urge to explain why it is that this week affects me in the way that it does. To friends, to family, to other people at church, and to the whole Internet. Not because I feel that I ought to justify why I’m likely to be severely unavailable and not quite my normal self until next Monday, but because I feel every bit of this week deep in my bones and I want to share that with everyone. The things that happen this week are what my faith is all about. The agony and the ecstasy, and all the bits in the middle, and I do maintain that you cannot truly know the full joy of a resurrection until you’ve known the pain that got us there.
We started on Sunday with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
It slows down a bit after that. The next significant thing to happen was that fated Passover, and that is commemorated on Thursday. Then, it all starts to happen very quickly and the liturgy speeds up as did those events. From a meal in a loft, through to Gethsemane and Judas and Pilate and, finally, that long last walk — a death march, in the truest sense of it — and that agonising cry. Then, on Friday, it all stops. We stop. And it’s awful, it’s always awful, and it’s raw and real and worth it, not just for what we might have but for what we had. Do you think, standing at the foot of the cross, Mary and John would have chosen not to love Him if choosing it meant that they could be spared the pain of his death? I don’t. It is better to have loved and lost, they say.
Tonight, we had a Stations of the Cross service. It’s a service that I like because I feel as if, by walking that path, I’m reminded of what I’m actually doing this week. We follow the cross around the church, treading in the footsteps of Jesus, reading his story and thinking about what it all meant and what it still means. The representations that we use are by Gwyneth Leech, who sets them against a background of modern conflict and reminds me that this is not a story of two millenia ago but a story of right here and right now.
We have taken the first steps onto the road that will lead to Golgotha and that has only one possible ending.
Yet, for the next few days, still I dare to pray that it may not be so.