A day of legislation at the General Synod of the Church of England is a prospect unlikely to get the pulse racing. So, at least yesterday began with apparent delaying tactics: we had to listen to the Archbishop of Canterbury for half an hour before spending the rest of the morning in small groups for discussion and worship.
In fact, the Archbishop’s address infected the rhetoric of the rest of the day’s business. He wants us to “love the church”. How weird is that? (So weird that joining in the group work – for prayer, Bible study and discussion – was beneath the dignity of some Synod members who decided not to turn up.)
The Archbishop began in Congo where, during the horrors in which four million people died, children were forced into unspeakable violence and innumerable women suffered rape and abuse, the only people who cared was the church. That was what he was told by those who had been violated, corrupted or damaged… and then found that they had not been abandoned by the Christian community. Space was found for healing.
In the Congo and other places churches which had no resources were characterised by “the strength not to abandon” – a church “in love”. So, if the Church of England was not here, what would be lost?
Basically, Rowan’s appeal was simply that the church needs to grow “in the power to show God’s fidelity”, inviting others to “walk with us as we walk with Jesus”. Taking seriously Timothy Keller’s “Christianity is not advice, but news”, he summed up this news as “God does not abandon us” – news that “changes everything”. This set the ground for some penetrating questions:
- What does it mean to us that God has not abandoned us?
- Where do we see the church locally act like this?
- What does it mean to keep faith with society by not abandoning the deprived and marginalised?
Rowan then went on to defend church schools, ministerial presence in all our communities, and to urge the church to keep it’s preoccupations in proportion. God’s faithfulness to us is to be lived out in our faithfulness to others. He urged us to “love the church” – to my mind a necessary admonishment to those who happily kick the church endlessly from within.
This address built on an opening address on Friday by the wonderful Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and All Albania. Holy men, passionate about God and his church, reminding us of what our business is about. And a challenge to those who pick away at the church from within in order to privilege their particular obsessions.
We need an abandonment to faithfulness.