The bishops in the General Synod have to go on a duty rota in order to make sure that the House of Bishops is always quorate. There are usually far more bishops in the chamber than the rota requires, but you do feel obliged to be there when rota'd, however 'interesting' the debate might be.

On Sunday I sat through lots of important legislation. Then we came in the late afternoon to the debate on safeguarding. Like many others here, I went into it committed to making the church a safer place – something I have tried to prioritise in the Diocese of Bradford. I thought what we were proposing was good, and certainly an improvement on the past and in the light of research and review.

But, when the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham stood up to speak, instead of reading his proposing speech, he read first a statement by abuse survivors who were sitting in the gallery. It shone a whole new light on what we were about to do. And it was very uncomfortable to hear.

They felt that the church was acting again without letting survivors speak – which reinforced the fact that survivors are the last to be drawn in instead of the first. It was painful because it put the good things the Synod was about to do into a different perspective.

Reading the statement would not have had the same impact. Seeing the survivors sitting in the gallery while someone else spoke on their behalf turned words into drama. I was caught off-guard, as were many others. Just when we think we know what we are doing we get to see from a different angle – and we feel judged by our own blindness.

Tomorrow we get back to women bishops. I wonder if the same experience might be had – one of being surprised by looking differently at what we thought we had flogged to death.

A similar challenge will emerge in the afternoon when the Synod will vote on the proposal to dissolve three West Yorkshire dioceses and create a new one. It needs to go through – demonstrating that the church can 'do' vision, creativity, risk and change. However, if it does go through, I will face a personal challenge to all my own rhetoric: my post will go early in 2014 (probably) and we will have to work out what happens thereafter.

As I often say, it's never boring.

 

Well, would you believe it? A whole day at the General Synod in York without bishops being on the agenda. (Don't worry, Monday's coming.)

The mission of the Church of England makes it essential for us to open the door to women bishops – although there now seems to be a greater determination in the Synod itself to get it right rather than to get it quick. Yet, today we debate matters that affect the lives of huge numbers of people in the communities our churches are called to serve and reach in the name of Christ: (a) safeguarding (following up the Chichester commissaries' reports), and (b) welfare reform and the church.

Naturally, our appetites will be whetted by worship in York Minster in the morning and some wonderful legislative material in the early afternoon: The Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2013 and other stuff I am not even going to begin to describe. All important, but, in some way, opening the door to the heavy debates later.

The Church of England is determined to be transparent regarding safeguarding matters. There is determination in these papers to face the historic problem and make sure abuse or grooming cannot happen again. No complacency or illusions, but real determination. It has to be a good thing, surely, that more survivors of abuse are feeling able to come forward – even if this causes institutions like the church massive embarrassment, humiliation, reputational damage and loss of moral authority.

Indeed, when I spoke to a group of young leaders in Ilkley last week, one young woman put it to me that the church had forfeited any moral authority because of such scandals – a charge I took very seriously. I hope this will be the start of a conversation about 'moral authority' and what legitimises ethical comment and judgement.

Welfare reform is causing misery and devastation in many of our communities. I have written on this many times before now. Suspend your ideologies and political allegiances for one minute and it becomes possible to see the effects of the cuts (as, if you like, observable phenomena) aside from justifications or condemnations.

The numbers of people using food banks is growing by the day. These are not 'skivers' or 'scroungers' or people whose “chaotic lives (not shortage of cash) cause parents to send their children to school without breakfast” – as Education Secretary Michael Gove put it so generously last week. Meanwhile the misrepresentation by the powerful of poor people continues unabated.

The Synod will debate these matters not in order to boost its self-referential credibility or its self-justifying sense of righteousness. It will debate these matters on behalf of those whose voice is not heard and whose plight is too often ignored or misrepresented. And it will do so because of a biblical mandate to “open your mouth for the dumb” (Proverbs 31:8-9) and because Jesus said/did things that were good news for poor people and bad news for the cushioned rich.

The church can do no other than articulate what it sees and experiences every day. Synod brings together the stories and the analysis and places a magnifying glass over both. Not for the sake of the church – just for the sake of those whose life is tough.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.