If I were to say that General Synod – the Church of England’s decision-making body – is few people’s idea of a relaxing mini-break, then I doubt it would raise many eyebrows.
Synod involves long days, intricate debates, sublimely esoteric legislative terminology, not enough sleep and too much caffeine.
Because the Church’s ministry spans every area of life – and because we are human – it also involves navigating our often deeply-held differences.
All of that is just as it should be.
Firstly, because what we are discussing really matters. From climate change to homelessness, and from mental health to questions around human sexuality, the scope and urgency of our conversations never fails to impress upon you.
Secondly, because reaching a shared position that we each can say “Amen” to is slow and painstaking work – but always worth it.
But there was something quite special about the most recent Synod in London last month.
In the words of the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, what emerged over those few days was “a prophetic, Christ-like vision for what we are called to bring to our national life” – and with humility, and in partnership with others, we are finding ourselves invited more and more deeply into that calling.
The reason for this was that, for the first time in a long time, evangelism was at the heart of our discussions – right where it should be. (The Greek word “evangelism” literally means “good news”. As Christians, we are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ through what we say – and what we do.)
The scope of what was enthusiastically agreed to was hugely exciting and encouraging. Plans to encourage the Church of England’s one million regular worshippers to be more confident in spreading the Christian message in their everyday lives were set in motion.
Overwhelming support was given to a drive for a church to be set up on every significant social housing estate in the country. We know from the estates churches we currently have that loving, serving estates churches – which have are not “parachuted in” but are rooted in the community – can be transformational sources of hope, belonging and purpose.
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The Church of England is committed to being “a Christian presence in every community”. Following Jesus out into those estates – where churches, clubs, amenities and public services have withdrawn in recent decades – is part of how live that out.
Synod also voted unanimously to renew the Church’s evangelism with young people, through a range of measures that promise to have a real impact at grassroots level. For one, we’ll be recruiting more youth workers, whose creativity and passion transform the lives and faith journeys of so many young people.
On the final afternoon, Synod set aside time to discuss “the state of the nation” and where our priorities should lie in these turbulent and challenging times.
We pledged to pray for our political leaders, put the voices of the poor and marginalised at the heart of our nation’s concerns, and work for the common good. At a time when so much debate in our society is marked by hostility, it was humbling and inspiring to be part of a conversation so filled with the hope of Jesus Christ.
So, why does all this matter – for the Church of England, and for the country?
It matters, first and foremost, because the good news of Jesus Christ is good news for every single person. It matters because Jesus reached out to people, especially the poor and those on the margins, with the good news of a Kingdom where every person receives the gift of life abundant. We are to be his witnesses – so we are called to reach out in love, hope and service in that same way.
It also matters because it shows that the Church of England, far from being in decline, is vibrantly alive and living out the Gospel in communities up and down the country. Going back to Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s point about humility – this is not about saying we are going to singlehandedly sort out every issue our country is facing. But as we pray for our nation, serve among and alongside the poorest, and share the good news of Jesus Christ with fresh confidence and joy, I believe the Church of England is embracing the exciting and challenging invitation of God to us at this time in our national life.