One of the most striking memories I have of General Synod was a conversation with Bishop Colin Buchanan – a veteran Synod member and wonderfully maverick Bishop.He was a Bishop who was fully committed to the Synodical structure of the Church of England and a campaigner for truly democratic processes in the church.
He said to a group of us who had just been elected to General Synod that, “The first duty of members of General Synod is to try to defeat the platform!”His words shocked more than a few of us! But there was great wisdom in what he said. The ‘platform’ of the great and good are the ones with the appearance of power in General Synod. Ensconced in almost magisterial isolation, set above the rank and file of Synod members, the temptation is to believe that they must be right when they tell you something is good, or something is bad! This is particularly true when speeches from the platform are made with such Anglican politeness and distinguished reserve that anyone who might try to question them runs the risk of seeming untrusting and churlish, reactionary or revolutionary (hardly Anglican traits!)
Yet the duty of Synod members is not to meekly bow down to the received wisdom of church dignitaries, however deep their shade of purple or however many Boards and Committees they sit on. The duty of Synod members is to question and scrutinise – to examine the substance behind the smoke screen of polished presentation. The duty of Synod members is to probe beneath the surface of reasonable acceptability to see if the Emperor does indeed have clothes to cover his embarrassment.This is what Diocesan Synods have done with great courage and perception over the last few months. They have not been taken in by the great and good standing up in true Tony Blair fashion saying ‘Trust me!’ They have wanted to hear both sides, and to make their own minds up. It has been Synodical Government at its best.
The fact that so many clergy and lay people voted against their Bishops showed that when they really looked beneath the surface of the proposed Covenant, they found it wanting. And in doing so time and time again, they defeated the platform. And where Bishops had the courage of their convictions and voted against, they found themselves at one with their flock, rather than trying to drag them along in humble submission.There are those who are still trying to pretend that the Covenant is still alive, desperately trying to breathe life into its limp body, while claiming still to feel the faintest pulse. They are mistaken.
What is needed now is to recognise the will of the Synodical process, and express deep and sincere thanks to those who genuinely tried to find a way forward for the Anglican Communion in the form of a Covenant – and to let it now Rest in Peace.Having led hundreds of funerals since my ordination over 20 years ago, I know that the best funerals are those where the mourners gather to say a loving good bye – and the worst are those where the grievers meet in a kind of desperate denial.
For the good intentions of those who tried to square this circle, the Anglican Covenant deserves a good funeral which will enable us all to move on and find new ways of living together as the living Anglican Body of Christ.The Anglican Covenant – RIP.