Well, today the General Synod finally voted to make it possible for women to be made bishops. Which means that before too long we should be able to stop talking about “women bishops” and just talk about “bishops”.

Not everyone will be welcoming this development tonight, even if they knew it had to happen. The debate in York lasted nearly five hours and only a few speeches were off the mark (or manipulative).

The bottom line is simply that the Church of England has practised what it preaches and taken the time (lots of it…) to make a decision that keeps people together despite disagreement. It offers a model of how there is an alternative to simply cutting and running when conflict occurs.

My post-vote statement reads as follows:

I’m delighted that the General Synod has today voted in favour of the legislation that will allow women to be consecrated as bishops.

It’s been a long time coming, but that’s because the Church of England has worked hard to hold together those of contrasting views, even when those opposed were in the minority. But the wrestling has paid off and we have upheld our commitment to being a broad church.

With the guiding principles the bishops have set out, we have a process that will both fully support women bishops while providing for the flourishing of those who are still opposed, and we can now move forward in a spirit of reconciliation and trust.

I believe women bishops will have a hugely positive impact on the Church of England, and I look forward to the first consecration.

Real credit goes to the Archbishop of Canterbury who brought in a radically new way of doing Synod business and working the relationships. I am not naive – this must have involved more wrangling and diplomacy than most of us have any idea about. But, he set a new course and made possible what looked utterly impossible only twelve months ago.

The other real credit goes to the Bishop of Rochester who chaired the group that had come up with this process and solution. He exudes calm, reasonable, gracious authority, and I wonder just how vital his personality and skill have been to getting us this far so quickly and effectively.

The Archbishop of York chaired the debate with great skill and lightness of touch.

So, now the hard work begins. We have to make this work. (And we have to be patient while the legalities are worked through until the winter when action might begin to be possible.)

But, for now we can sleep in peace, knowing that today the Church did something remarkable.

 

The Church has got to face up to the reality of the world as it is lived.

So, Lord Carey has changed his mind about assisted dying by polarising ‘compassion’ and ‘doctrine’, and stating that the church had to come to terms with ‘lived realities’.

Set aside the fact that Lord Carey continues to do what his predecessor never did – keeps on queering his successors’ pitch and seems unable to let go – and we can focus on the nub of his argument. Millions of words are being poured into the media today, so I will put a sideways perspective I haven’t seen pursued in the debate so far today.

  • Who decides what constitutes ‘compassion’? Especially when we know from many terminally ill people that they might well have urged assistance in their dying at an early point in their process, whilst moving on as they came to terms with their prognosis to a different conclusion. Who decides what constitutes compassion and at what point it should be recognised?
  • When did doctrine become emptied of compassion? Doctrine is simply doctrine. But, there is a principle here: law (which is what this is about) cannot be made on the basis of subjective judgements based on emotion; law requires a dispassionate clarity about the ‘doctrine’ upon which the legislation – and ensuing praxis – can be founded. There is actually no way of deciding on such legislation without having some ‘doctrine’ – assumed or articulated – that legitimises or demands such a judgement. In my language, it is the fundamental anthropology that shapes this: what is a human being, why does a human being matter, and why does it matter that these questions are admitted and addressed before moving to emotion/compassion? History is littered with examples of law being established without a clear articulation of the anthropology that underlies it.
  • Lord Carey says his mind was changed by the Nicklinson case.But, ‘Locked-in Syndrome’ is not a terminal illness and should not, therefore, be covered by the arguments he makes. Isn’t this what we call a category error?
  • What is a ‘lived reality’ and why is it cut adrift from considerations of thinking about why we matter? When did philosophy become the opposite of humanity and divorced from the rest of life? And, if Lord Carey is consistent, will he now support other ‘lived realities’ and, for example, back gay marriage, legalisation of drugs, abortion on demand, and so on – all describable as ‘lived realities’?

While medicine progresses at a remarkable pace, our statutory framework remains trapped in an outdated past, badly out of kilter with the real needs of our society.

  • And to what else might that judgement apply? We clearly need a deeper debate and one that doesn’t assume that if you use judgement, you are, by definition, devoid of compassion.

Maybe the new “philosophical certainties” could do with being subjected to the “old” ones that have now “collapsed”?

Appointing bishops is a long process. A year ago yesterday the General Synod voted to dissolve three dioceses and create a single one for West Yorkshire & the Dales, working it in five episcopal areas. Almost six months to the day later I was interviewed for the post of diocesan bishop and asked to do it. Just over three months later the new diocese came into being and I went into episcopal purdah for six weeks. Then, eleven months to the day after the vote to do all this, I legally became the Bishop of Leeds in the Confirmation of Election at York Minster (and received the 'spiritualities'). Today I have been to London to see the Queen at Buckingham Palace for a brief private ceremony at which I received the 'temporalities' of the office. This then allows me to be enthroned in the cathedral next week.

Well, if that sounds simple enough (though long…), I actually have be put in to three cathedrals: Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon. Next week will see yet another first in English history: a bishop being enthroned in three cathedrals in a single diocese. And, in-between these three services, I will also appear at Leeds Minster and Halifax Minster in order to be present in the two episcopal areas without a cathedral per se.

Now, I realise that this sounds longwinded and a little bit convoluted. That's because it is. It is a bizarre process, but one that works in and for normal bishops in normal dioceses. In the creation of a new diocese it has not been an ideal process of change, and we must learn from it for any future such radical change.

But, whatever the challenges of the process, we are now nearly there. My office has been in Leeds since before Easter, and my wife and I will now move house from Bradford to Leeds the week after the enthronements.

The use of the word 'enthronement' sounds a bit dodgy, too, doesn't it? It sounds grand and anachronistic and just a little bit pompous on the part of the person being seated. But, using it also offers an opportunity to reiterate what is actually happening: the bishop is being put into the seat of teaching, discipline and pastoral responsibility. (In the olden days teachers and preachers used to sit while the people stood.) So, what I feel when being enthroned – put into the 'cathedra' in the place where the cathedra is located, the … er … 'cathedral' – is the weight of the office, its demands and responsibilities. Nothing grand, but a certain heaviness and fear (in the proper sense of the word).

I did an interview with a journalist yesterday who asked if, when I was told I had got the Leeds post, I pulled my shirt over my face and ran round the bedroom pumping the air in celebration. (He watches too much football.) He didn't seem convinced when I replied that all I felt was a sense of challenge and responsibility, and a desire to get on with it quickly.

The point of it all is to lead the shaping of a new diocese to enable us better to live out our discipleship of Jesus, to give ourselves for the common good of our communities and region, to grow in confidence in outreach and apologetics, to re-shape the church so as to enable us to get our priorities right. We face hard decisions and there are nettles to be grasped; the challenges are huge, but the opportunities are even greater; the risks are there, but they are not to be feared. So, watch this space.

We're nearly there now. At last.

(I also managed to fit in an interview about leadership development for young people and a meeting about ecumenical developments while in London. And some suited bloke at St James's Park tube station shouted “Monster” at me as I walked past – he obviously doesn't work for the Diplomatic Corps.)

 

I understand that a Brazilian has something to do with a close shave. (And that's as far as I am going with that one.) The World Cup semi-final last night between Brazil and Germany was anything but. Brazil was slaughtered. And it was the abject manner of the destruction that shocked: the boys from Brazil put up almost no resistance and, although wanting Germany to win, I found myself hoping they wouldn't push it into double figures. Defeat is one thing; humiliation is another.

I am a lousy prophet when it comes to the footie, but I tipped Germany to win the competition in Brazil all along. The sheer discipline and efficiency is set off by a ruthless opportunism that sees this as the team likely to dominate world football for a decade. It is not so much a joy to watch as terrifying to behold.

But, it is still only a game – albeit a very expensive and industrial one. I watched the match after hosting a dinner for a visiting bishop from Sudan. Bishop Ismail is the Bishop of El-Obeid, but frequently heads into the dangerous areas of Darfur and the Nuba Mountains in order to visit the Christians there, pray with them and assure them they are not forgotten. This unassuming man sat and told us stories of his long ministry, perhaps unwittingly exposing a raw courage and sense of focused adventure that I found arresting.

Faced with death, imprisonment, war and oppression for thirty years, this puts the misery of highly-paid Brazilian footballers into perspective. Defeat might hurt, but it won't kill them. And I guess the pay cheque will still come into the bank despite abject performances.

When the World Cup is over Brazilian football will need to start re-building for the next twenty years. And when the naysayers about the South Americans' ability to run a global tournament such as this have reluctantly admitted that it was a great event – and almost no match was missable – attention will turn back to the massive problems of the poor of this growing country. Poverty is not displaced by spectacle.

But, before we turn our attention back to the corruptions and problems of other places, we might ask – along with the Bishop of Durham – why England is to have an inquiry into institutional child abuse that is not judge-led and has no teeth.

(And I hope Germany beats the Netherlands in the final…)

 

I was asked by the BBC to come down to Chewton Glen in Dorset to do Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show this morning. A number of very generous and interesting people have donated huge amounts of money in an auction and are involved this week in driving various Ferraris and other expensive cars as their reward. A number of these cars are parked on the lawn at the hotel here and yesterday evening there was an amazing dinner to which I was generously invited and before which I said grace.

It has been great fun – and I have been able to keep the reading, the work and the emails going while traveling and staying here. But, any Pause for Thought seems inadequate and clunky in such a context. Anyway, for what it is worth, this is what I offered:

“Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.”

Now, that's what I call a prayer! Why beat about the bush asking for a bike when your ambitions might run a little deeper?

I have no idea what was going through Janis Joplin's mind when she sang that song way back in October 1970, but it still makes me smile when I hear it today. And … she recorded it in a single take.

Now, I don't know what it says about the relative value of cars – frankly, if push comes to shove, I would be happy to settle for the poor old Porsche – but it does say something about what prayer is all about. For prayer is not an exercise in ethical cleansing, but a commitment to honesty. It involves telling God the truth and not pretending that we are actually holier than we are.

Go back several thousand years and you find the poets – the Psalmists – throwing their politeness to the wind and saying it as it is. “God, I am up to my neck in it and where are you?” “God, I wish you'd take my enemies and smash them to bits.” “God, why do the wicked prosper while the people who try hard to get it right just end up getting it in the neck?”

Of course, the awkward bit about this is that once we have put the question to God, he seems to turn it back to us to take responsibility for what we do with it ourselves. Prayer is never an escape from responsibility, but, rather, involves being thrust into the heart of it. Tell God the truth and you can't then duck the implications of what you have said to him.

So, this morning I am with Janis Joplin. Tell the truth and aim high. Expect generosity – but then you have to start being generous. It all hangs together. Expect love, then give it.

So, as our drivers set off for their long drive today, let me encourage you with the words of the ancient prophet Elijah: “Hitch up your chariot and get going before the rain stops you.”

 

When the phone hacking scandal erupted a national print journalist tweeted something like: “Go on, Nick, launch the feeding frenzy!” Because I have a very high view of journalism and the media – which often means that I think we deserve better – and have been critical of some journalism, it was assumed that I would be pleased by the attack on News International.

I wasn't. But, I did think that at least some journalists would now experience what some of their victims had been forced to endure. That feeling of helplessness and injustice you get when the wider narrative has run away from you and you are all getting tarred with the same brush. One corrupt journalist … and all journalists get slagged off for being corrupt or criminal or just hopeless.

Well, try being a priest!

Yet, when the media gets handled this way, somehow it is a gross injustice. My complaint all along is that some newspapers tear people's lives apart in pursuit of some 'public interest' headlines, then move on, leaving behind them a destruction for which they take no responsibility.

Well, Andy Coulson now faces prison. Rebekah Brookes has had her life and her affair with Andy Coulson exposed to the world – to say nothing of her husband's porn habits. Andy Coulson says he fought the courts to prevent his affair being made public in order to protect his young children? And where was such protectiveness when it was other people's children who deserved what they got because the parents were dodgy and deserved to be exposed and ridiculed? 'Public interest'?

So, when the phone hacking trials began I guess I should have been happy. But, I wasn't. If I object so strongly to ordinary people having their lives and reputations shredded by newspapers, how can I then be pleased when it happens even to those who have done the hypocritical wrecking? I can't. I have no respect for Andy Coulson or Rebekah Brookes and their (until now) unaccountable and destructive hypocrisy, but I still dislike a culture that revels in exposing them and their children to the horrors they have inflicted on others.

Andy Coulson should go to prison, but he is only the one they caught. Nothing really changes, though. People are still turned into commodities whose problems and inconsistencies are exploited and exposed for the entertainment of the public. The voyeuristic culture in which we are only able to feel better by belittling others has not changed – probably because this is not a media issue, but a human factor. And Coulson was taken into the heart of government without proper checking, so his demise inevitably has a public element to it – an accountability that demands public justice and recompense.

But, like all victims of media exploitation and deeply unattractive public voyeurism and judgmentalism, we cannot rejoice at the public humiliation of a husband and father whose life is shredded and whose children will pay a heavy price.

Justice may be done. But, I still feel tainted by the culture that loves to grind another person down, feeling morally superior in the process. Justice may be done, but I still feel grubby and sad.

 

So, the 2014 World Cup has kicked off. The Church of England published my five prayers yesterday and the response has been mixed. Anyone with half a sense of humour is OK with them.

I actually wrote them four years ago for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Only two were written before the tournament began, and the shortest one was written part-way through the competition when England were sliding out. Context is everything.

But, why write new ones when the last lot still have life (despite miserable pedants). After all, prayer is about expressing our real feelings and desires to God, not about having to justify them ethically first.

Here they are:

Prayer 1 : A Prayer for the World Cup

Lord of all the nations, who played the cosmos into being, guide, guard and protect all who work or play in the World Cup. May all find in this competition a source of celebration, an experience of common humanity and a growing attitude of generous sportsmanship to others. Amen.

Prayer 2 : A Prayer for Brazil

God of the nations, who has always called his people to be a blessing for the world, bless all who take part in the World Cup. Smile on Brazil in her hosting, on the nations represented in competition and on those who travel to join in the party. Amen.

Prayer 3 : A prayer for those simply not interested

Lord, as all around are gripped with World Cup fever, bless us with understanding, strengthen us with patience and grant us the gift of sympathy if needed. Amen.

Prayer 4 : Prayers for the England Football team

Oh God…

Prayer 5

God, who played the cosmos into being, please help England rediscover their legs, their eyes and their hunger: that they might run more clearly, pass more nearly and enjoy the game more dearly. Amen.

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