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Inauguration of General Synod

Tuesday 24th November 2015

Speech of Thanks to Her Majesty The Queen from the Archbishop of York

Your Majesty, on behalf of all the members of Synod and of our guests today let me express our gratitude for your presence with us today and for the moving address that we have just heard.

The Archbishop of Canterbury began by quoting words that his predecessor but four, Michael Ramsey, spoke in 1970. He will forgive me if I quote the remarks that my predecessor but three, Donald Coggan, made on the same occasion. He said this: “ We do not suffer from the delusion that a reorganisation of Church governance such as that which we begin today will itself bring in the kingdom of God.

The Spirit of God is not tied to any method of organisation. Nevertheless, the kingdom is not hastened by procedures that are cumbrous and out-dated.’

I was first elected to this Synod thirty years ago and remain an unashamed supporter of the synodical system.

The coming together of bishops, clergy and laity in a single body to take counsel for the good of the whole Church of England is right in principle and sound in practice. “Synod” simply meaning, “Pilgrims together on the Way”.

Those who designed our arrangements showed much wisdom.

In many other churches the membership is chosen afresh each time the particular assembly, conference or convention comes together, usually only once a year or in some cases only once in three years. Here a Synod is constituted for five years. We meet normally twice a year.

There is time for us to grow together as a body of Christians, sharing worship and fellowship with each other and bearing each other’s burdens as we engage in a common task. And most importantly sharing the joy of the Gospel.

Why is it then that, to quote words of Archbishop Habgood ‘as a body the General Synod…. has not been universally loved’?

By 1990, when he uttered those words,  some of the energy which had led to major reforms in the 1970s, such as the Worship and Doctrine Measure and changes to church appointments processes, had dissipated. In addition the Synod had spent much time on the subject of women and the priesthood without reaching a conclusion.

Yet I suspect that some of the frustration, then as now, arose because people had invested exaggerated hopes in the Synod and forgotten those wise words of Archbishop Coggan. “Reorganisation of governance will never of itself bring in the Kingdom of God.” Good governance is necessary.

But it can never be sufficient. Obedience to the Lord and being transfigured by the Holy Spirit daily are crucial.

What we do together here over the next five years, passing measure and canons, voting on motions, deciding on the use of all of our resources, will be of great importance. The decisions we take will affect ministry and mission in every community.

We have the ability to help chart a course that will enable the Church of England to be more single minded about pursuing spiritual and numerical growth. Re-connecting the Church of England with England.

Yet synods and other Christian assemblies can never be the primary places where the hungry are fed, the bereaved comforted and the good news proclaimed to those looking for meaning and purpose. Those are the tasks which, in Archbishop Coggan’s words, will bring in the Kingdom of God.

Our responsibility as a Synod is to support and encourage that work in the parishes and dioceses of the Church of England, ensuring that ‘procedures that are cumbrous and outdated’ are swept away.

Next Monday, the 30th of November, marks the tenth anniversary of my enthronement in York Minster.

I began my inaugural sermon by quoting Michael Ramsey, my predecessor but 5, who in 1962 at a big university mission said ‘I should love to think of a black Archbishop of York holding a mission here telling a future generation of the scandal and the glory of the Church’.   Then I said ‘well, here I am’.

I can think of no better way of marking it than being in the same place to consecrate the Bishop of Newcastle as she takes up her ministry as the first woman to be a diocesan bishop in the northern province. She will join a group of bishops who have over the past year committed themselves afresh to the task of evangelism.

Instead of just coming together for business meetings we decided to meet together on Holy Island, Lindisfarne, in May 2014 simply to pray together and to wait on God. As a result 22 northern bishops, with their mission teams, gathered in the Diocese of Sheffield in September 2015 to lead a four day mission. It was an extraordinary time as we joined with local parishes in proclaiming the good news.

More such events are being planned. In addition, from 1 December until May I shall be spending the majority of my time leading deanery missions in my Diocese of York. As Dr Emil Brunner once wrote: “The church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.”

Your Majesty, your presence with us and your words today are a great encouragement to us as we seek to be faithful to the mission committed to our charge. To Almighty God we shall continue to pray and sing: ‘Thy choicest gifts in store, on her be pleased to pour, long may she reign!’

Long live the Queen.

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