Friday, 24 September 2010

General Synod: Karma Chameleons?

I have now spent two evenings hearing election adddresses from candidates for houses of Clergy and Laity. Lesley Fellows’ top ten tips for General Synod Election Addresses strike deep chords within me
1. I'm dyslexic, do me a favour, keep it to one side of A4, use a font like Arial and font size 12. Simple. Oh, and I like pictures.

2. Be open and honest. If you are against Women Bishops, say it, don't make me glean it out of clever phrases.

3. Tell me what five or six issues you feel will come up at the next synod, and which way you are inclined to vote. (Without lots of words as to why, and what a jolly good chap you are).

4. If you want, tell me one legislation that you would like to see come up and why.

5. If you can, give me evidence that you are good at politics and lobbying.

6. Tell me if you are associated with any groups that aid you in your politics and lobbying.

7. Don't give me 25 points of things that are important to you. Just tell me your top three (and make it real rather than bull shitty). I will roll my eyes if you say you are passionate about mission - what does that mean?

8. I don't care whether your hobbies are paragliding or stamp collecting - really - I don't care.

9. I don't care whether you have been a priest 100 years or you are a curate.

10. I don't care whether you are single, divorced, married with 17 children.
In both local meetings there has been a lot of talking dirty about mission and Extreme Being Nice. “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” asks the Prophet Amos. Well, apparently they can, in England anyway. That’s nice.

Like Lesley, I looked for trenchant Conservative conviction, and have to say I picked up a curious mood music from semi-professional church politicians, appealing to rather than contesting inclusivity as a value. Better late than never, I suppose. A visitor from another planet would never have known, on the basis of what was said, that any candidate did not bleed for radical inclusivity.

Mindful of Lesley’s top ten tips, one speech stood out head and shoulders for me. It suggested what synod is about apart from Extreme Being Nice — a place to become aligned to our gospel values, and to articulate them to outsiders. In sheer hard headed terms I found this very much the Gettysburg Address of both evenings, from my learned friend, chaplain, and local Vicar Rosie Harper. Having covered Lesley’s points (3) (4) and (6) in her written paper, this is what she said:

Good evening. I’m Rosie Harper, the incumbent here and also Bishop Alan’s chaplain. I had a real wake-up call a couple of weeks ago.

A group of us were working with a very senior consultant around the nature of our institutional processes. It fell to me to give him a lift to the station at the end of the session -so of course I asked him what he made of what he had learnt about us.

This is what he said: ‘It seems to me that you are working as if you didn’t actually believe in what you are doing.’

Scary or what?

We all know that fabulous stuff is going on at the local parish level, and here in Bucks we are trying to be an Archdeaconry which models a very high degree of actually doing what we believe.


General Synod undoubtedly sets the tone in the country -mostly because of its fairly high media profile. What the country hears are not our gospel values; they hear that we don’t do equality, we are locked into archaic financial systems, and there is still a considerable lack of transparency.

But, you might want to say -we are all equal in the church -well yes -so long as you are white, middle class, straight, male and preferable with at least one degree. Whilst this remains the case our integrity is so severely compromised that –to be frank -anyone with any sense struggles to take us seriously.

The good news is that we can change all that. We can preach a gospel that is good news for Everyone. We can get grown up about the way we do money and we can begin to put our passion and energy in to what the Lord requires: to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.’ Micah 6.8

I would like to be one of the sensible people at General synod — forward looking, a bit radical and full of faith that God will continue to build his church. To do that I need your vote. Please!


Lesley said...

Thanks Bishop Alan. Very well said, and good for Rosie, her paperwork was actually the one like liked most. Hope she gets in. I also hope Alan Crawley does, who I seconded, also a radically inclusive agenda. I am a bit worried about the number of inclusive candidates standing in the house of laity though. :s

Anonymous said...

Surely we should be looking to elect not people who would trenchantly support our party position, but rather people who have a character of integrity, holiness and kindness? People who will listen to debates and perhaps even change their minds. Or is this simply to naive.

At least I get to vote!


Rachel said...

Please God that Rosie Harper and others like her get elected! I speak as a parishioner from a church like many others across the land who are doing great work for Christ - despite those who hide in diocesan offices, financial planning meetings, Bishop's Councils and all other central staff who squander our hard earned parish share on unnecessary trappings of status and posturing.

Alastair Cutting said...

Rosie's address is added to the list of addresses on the General Synod Blog:

Revsimmy said...

The "Anonymous" Simon above is not me, but I agree with his sentiments. We need to be modelling something different from the way our scoiety does its decision making, something different from the party political, adversarial approach found elsewhere.

We DO, however, also need to get away from the "white, middle-class, middle-aged, degree-educated, heterosexual male" dominance on GS (even though I match the stereotype perfectly).

June Butler said...

Ah, I like Lesley's tips for the candidates.

Hear, hear, Rosie! Once again, if I could, I would vote for Rosie. She quotes my favorite (one of them, anyway) verse from the Hebrew Testament, good old Micah on justice, mercy, and humility.

You can't imagine how mysterious the voting system in the Church of England appears to us former colonials in the US. But, I'd assume that our voting mechanisms in the Episcopal Church appear quite as mysterious to those of you in the CofE.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Many thanks to all for kind, positive and thoughtful responses. I agree, Simon , about the human and spiritual qualityies of the people we elect being more important than their theoretical positions on issues.

All I'd want to add (apart from regrets that you, and for that matter me, aren't all electors for Oxford clergy) is that the great perk of my job is working with some fantastic people whom I admire and respect to the bottom of my boots. I can't imagine what this job would be like, now, without Rosie and other colleagues from whom there is so much to learn and gain inspiration.

Erika Baker said...

"I agree, Simon , about the human and spiritual qualityies of the people we elect being more important than their theoretical positions on issues"

That rather depends on what these issues are. Some theoretical positions, such as your view of transsubstantiation and the virgin birth are indeed far less important than your human and spiritual qualities.

On the other hand, your theoretical views on how to treat other people in the name of Christ may say quite a lot about your true human and spiritual qualities.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Good set of tips! Thanks for sharing them. Our process in TEC for G.C. is not nearly so well organized (or organised) as the G.S. It is, it seems to me, much more parochial.

And yes, Hear hear to sensible people. And good, and loving, and thoughtful, and charitable!

Revsimmy said...

"your theoretical views on how to treat other people in the name of Christ may say quite a lot about your true human and spiritual qualities."

Especially those with whom I might be inclined to disagree.

Matt W said...

Can I raise am awkward question about this post, Alan?

Is it appropriate (or allowed?) for a Bishop to endorse, or even be publicly supportive of, particular candidates for Election to the Houses of Clergy or Laity in the middle of a synodical election?

Perhaps especially if it is someone who works for him closely?


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for comment all. I've picked up an Erika's fascinating point 8 in today's post.

Matt, you've raised an interesting question. I'm not sure it's particularly awkward. The rules are pretty much unknown and obscure. If I had a vote in this election, which I don't, I would vote by STV for various candidates in order. Whilst not sure it helps to be associated with me, or not, what are the particular issues as you see them?

Erika Baker said...

"Especially those with whom I might be inclined to disagree."

I haven't yet read Alan's next post, so I don't know where this conversation is going.

My first instinct was to agree with your comment and to say that this is a temptation for all of us.
But on second thoughts, I don't think I agree with your comment.
In my previous comment I spoke about how we should treat people and how this reflects on our human and spiritual qualities.
By that I do not mean that we should abandon our theological stances.

But it is one thing to say, for example, that homosexuality is against God’s will. So is tax fraud.
It is quite another thing to treat gay people as outcasts, to call them evil, to condone their exclusion from our churches.

What we think about an issue may say very little about our human and spiritual qualities.
How we treat other people says a lot about them.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Maybe looping over two posts into the holiness and politics thing isn't gong to work, in which case, sorry. In some ways what ties all this together for me is that we are all the people we are, asking others to trust us, which can only happen if they know us a bit, with reactions to others that arise from who we are and our experience. The place we've got to reminds me of the old rule about trusting action" as the level on which true intent is revealed, not mere words.

Erika Baker said...

I think looping over two posts works.
The more we know about people, their thoughts, their motivations, their actions but also their actual interactions with others, the easier it becomes to assess them as politicians.
This takes me back to my school days when we learned how to write a character analysis of a person in a novel or a play. It was a very comprehensive process that included accounting for their interactions with other people.
Instinctively, we all know this, which is why we get so worked up when someone whose thinking we have admired turns out to be quite an unpleasant person in other respects.
And why it fascinates us so that people who ran concentration camps can have been the kindest, gentlest and most compassionate parents or friends.

In public life this means that politicians are paraded with their families and seen changing nappies, but it is very difficult and would be far too time consuming, to get real ideas of what the individuals are really like.

We do have to trust, yes. But in order to do that and to decide whom to trust we have no choice but to look at the combination of people’s words and actions.

Robert Mugabe’s theoretical ideas on anything are completely beside the point when compared to his track record of how he treats others.

In religious life this means that, although the basic theological views of both are the same, we respect the Bishop who deals effectively with emerging news of priestly child abuse while we despise the one who puts the reputation of his church before the victims.

Separating theoretical positions on issues and human and spiritual qualities is not really possible.
One very often influences the other.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thank you so much, Erika. I think that brings me somewhere good! I agree, passionately.

So my job next week is to work, with humility and realism, on lining up the various strands in myself and my own behaviour. The things I believe in and promote have to be the things that arise from my deepest convictions about God, People, Justice, Bible, prayer, not short term political fixes thrown together out of circumstance. And the hard work isn't espousing the ideals, but getting aligned around them, day by day.

The corporate processes of our life (including synods) are accountability structures through which we can find help in this journey.

This also delivers us, exactly, to Richard Rohr's very searching question about what kind of power we seek and how?

Lesley said...

Hi Bishop Alan, I have been asked this question about politics on my blog too. I have posted an explanation here , and I'll put this comment on your other post too.

I'm just wondering whether Jesus didn't employ some political and lobbying techniques to get the message out there

Revsimmy said...

Having read your post carefully, I am not sure we substantially disagree on this point. Whatever our theological standpoint, how we treat one another within the church community does indeed say a lot. "They will know we are Christians by our love," and actions speak louder than words.

I guess my concerns are with the way, once we start forming lobby groups (no matter what position we take on whatever issue), there is a temptation to succumb to a kind of groupthink, and we may then stop listening to what others are saying, or respecting that there may be some validity to other points of view.

That said, not only decisions but action also has to be taken and we need people who can follow through on these.

Matt said...

Three points, Alan. And I'd first note that I've seen several people suggest in conversation that this post is an "endorsement".

1 - Is the status of a Bishop's blog occupying an official position?

Your blog is an important communication channel within the Oxford Diocese, and is sufficiently "official" that it features in the 2010 Oxford Diocese Annual Report, which states that Bishop Alan's blog attracted 61,839 unique visitors in (calendar year?) 2009, which compares to slightly more than double this figure - 126,983 visitors - for the main Oxford Diocese website.

2 - Can an 'endorsement' (i.e. a favourable mention) here sway the Election?

Oxford is a very large Diocese such, so some clergy - especially those not familiar with all the candidates or new - may be swayed.

3 - "Ceasar's Wife"? Does a Bishop have to be above suspicion?

So, I'd suggest that as a semi-official publication with about half the visitors of the Diocesan Website in a disparate Diocese, you pick up by default some of the "equal coverage/impartiality" obligations of the Diocesan site (whatever they are).

I'd also note that you still have another 10 days to the Election deadline.


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thank you for the comment, Matt. It allows me to say unequivocally what has always been the case, that this blog is entirely my own, and has absolutely no official status whatsoever with the Oxford Diocese. It is not hosted on the diocesan server. Nothing I say is preapproved or run past anyone. The points of view I express are entirely my own.

Now to GS elections. I have absolutely no role whatever in running them. Is it a matter of complete indifference to me who gets in? Of course not. I'm a candidate myself! In the days DCRJ was more active I picked up a request from CMEAC to do all I could to increase BEM representation on synod and have actively encouraged and enabled people as a result. Would you say that was in any sense at all unethical?

Finally, as to the piece itself. It was not Rosie's address, but reported speech from a meeting I attended, and I gave it in response to the points raised by Lesley Fellows.

There are no rules or protocols about this that I know of, but if you read something on this blog I take responsibility for what is entirely my own opinion. It has no significance in or even funding from the diocese. It's just another blogger blog.

If you want Caesar's wife's views, you will have to read her blog, not mine.

Matt said...

Thanks for the reply Alan.

As you know, I think that robust blog independence is excellent - and clerical independence of mind is a great CofE tradition.

It is much better than the political/government habit of sacking employees who dare to express their own unwelcome opinions.

Matt said...

>Would you say that was in any sense at all unethical?

Just to be doubly clear - no!

Alastair Cutting said...

Well, now both the Oxford and Southern Suffragans results are in (, very sorry to see that you did not get in this time - but delighted that the bishop's chaplain did! Go Rosie.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Alistair, I'm really delighted with Rosie's result - I know she has an immense amount to contribute. I'm not too upset about not getting on, as the selection we've got consists of vaued colleagues whom I'm sure will do good work. Thanks for your help getting news out there (which I don't thiknk would work for the rather esoteric eletorate of Suthern suffragans anyway). I hope someone manages to get the communications culture around GS dragged kicking and screaming into the late twentieth, if not the early twenty first century, as that will help it work better — but ti won't be me!

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