Another Day in General Synod

Traditionally, the host of General Synod takes all the members out to dinner, and last night was the night the Diocese of Polynesia did this for us. We piled into buses and journeyed about 20 minutes to the coast and then boarded a large boat, of the same type that takes people to Stewart Island, only bigger. There were two decks, well three if you count the bathrooms, and tables with comfy chairs. There was a meal of the usual Fijian proportions and a band. There was a smiling and gracious crew. There was excellent company and all this was enjoyed as we tootled slowly around the bay above which the expected Pacific sunset appeared on cue before fading into a warm still night. Dancing and me are not the best of mates but I will if I am forced to and last night I was, in the nicest possible way of course. Actually it was quite fun, but please don't tell anyone I said that. We were back in our buses soon after nine and were bounced back along the Nadi roads in time for a respectable bedtime.

Today it was back to business. The Greeks made a useful distinction, when talking about time, between Kairos and Chronos. Chronos is measured time, the sort in which all days are of equal length, and each hour is filled with 60 identical minutes. Kairos is felt time, that time in which some moments are larger and longer than others and in which some days zip by and others are of interminable length. And today was just such a day. Interminably long, I mean. We spent long bits of today going through Bills. The Anglican church uses democratic processes very similar to those used in parliamentary democracies because when the first parliament was being invented in medieval England, it borrowed its processes from the only example available to it, the English church. So we do the whole bit with standing committees and statutes and resolutions and bills which have to go through three readings. At its best the system gives a robust way of forming good laws. At its worst it is pedantic, repetitive, slow and unbearably prolix. Today was not a good day.

We had bright moments. A lovely lady from Suva talked about the Mission to Seafarers, and we streamlined the governance of that organisation. The indefatigable Ali Ballantyne presented a report on the Anglican schools office and the often astonishing work being done amongst the 19,000 young people attending our schools in new Zealand and the Pacific. We had some very important stuff to consider from the Anglican Insurance Board the potentially revolutionary impact of which seems to be only slowly dawning on some parts of our church. The presentation, from Don Baskerville was well structured and polished, but was rushed because we had spent hours that in my felt Kairos were days talking about collects.

Now, I don't want to disparage collects. They are the little set prayers which gather the congregations intentions together at various points in the service, such as before the scriptures are read, and some of them are quite beautiful. There is a whole set of them in our prayer book, and some, who take an interest in this kind of thing had noticed some theological shortcomings in the collection ( sorry ). Fair enough. So to change them, bills were needed. Again, fair enough. So we started. The trouble is, I think, that the people who tend to notice theological shortcomings in collects tend to be those who notice grammatical and procedural shortcomings in bills. I tend to notice neither, so for me long minutes turned into long hours as points were made whose significance I failed entirely to either grasp or care about. And we have not (groan) finished yet. I am sure that in some way that will be revealed at the end of time when the hearts of all people are laid bare, today's work will be seen to have contributed mightily to the furtherance of the Kingdom of God, but at the moment I can't see it.

We also dealt with another bill, setting regulations for the Social Justice Commission and set about making changes to bits of it on the fly, with people suggesting corrections and quoting various of our regulations with which the bill, in some specific circumstances to be imagined in the future might possibly come into conflict. Lots of i dotting and t crossing went on and lots of commas and bits of sentences were shifted thither and yon. It was great fun for some of us.

There is, in fact, a specific problem that all this revising was intended to solve. But the problem is not caused by shortcomings in our regulations, so I'm darned if I can understand how fiddling with the regulations is going to fix it.

Lunch was good. The weather continues fine. There are some really nice people here to chat to. I go home the day after tomorrow. There is the memory of last night's cruise. Things aren't all bad.


Peter Carrell said…
Social Service Commission? Possibly "Social Justice Commission"?
VenDr said…
Yes, exactly. I'll correct that
VenDr said…
Thank you. Thank goodness we have people around who notice these small but important matters of detail ;-)
liturgy said…
Dear Bishop Kelvin,

you know I have huge respect for you, and only this week again told my readers to read this blog. You have the ability to bring different perspectives together, listen to both sides, and be irenic.

Your paragraph on the collects falls well short of your usual norm. This story is at least three years long, and there’s plenty written to get up to speed with what it is really about. Not to mention your own diocesan synod passing a motion about it.

Yes, one might describe the collect as “the little set prayers…” if one were to similarly dismiss the value of the Eucharistic Prayer as “the set prayer that…”, what ordains you a bishop as “the set prayer that…”, and the words at baptism as “the little 18-word sentence said when the water is used”.

The collect is possibly one of the greatest treasures of Anglicanism. Like the Eucharistic Prayer and the words at baptism we share them with the majority of Christians. They express our being drawn into the Divine Life through Christ in the Spirit’s power. They express and encourage our salvation and theosis (so yes the very thing you call “the furtherance of the Kingdom of God”).

Some have, over these last years, appeared to be hell-bent on removing this dynamic and reducing the options available to us in our Prayer Book. First there was the plot to print a revised Prayer Book without following our agreed process. After much work I managed to get those in authority in our church to see they could not do this. This story appears to be as much about power and how to use it, as it is about theology. In our system we have agreed that clergy and laity have as much say as bishops.

The GSTHW motion that you deprecate is nothing less than a request that, whatever the revision, those of us who want to hold to the dynamic I have described (and that is set out in the motion) be given that as a possibility within our agreed text.

It is not saying that you who want to use the other prayers can’t; not even hinting at judging theologically. It is wanting to have the option readily available to us who hold to the value of this dynamic.

I would hope a bishop might hear this appeal positively.

It has been publicly admitted now that our church’s liturgical processes have, for 20 years, been inadequate. Our bishops are charged with this. IMO, the days are past when a bishop can appropriately put on a blog that he fails entirely to either grasp or care about such things. Unless it is to announce he is working on changing his grasping and caring.


Anonymous said…
I think you protest too much. Collects tell people what to say - they put words in our mouths. It is something that can be tolerated in the dull presence of a lack of spirit and wit.
VenDr said…
Thanks for you comments Bosco. I think if you read my offensive paragraph with the care and attention to detail which I in my turn respect you for you will see that what I neither grasped or cared about were some of the points of discussion raised in the debate. I suspect that had you been present you might not have grasped or cared about them either.

My reference to the collects was not dismissive. Many of my readers would have not the foggiest idea what a collect is, so how do you describe them in half a sentence? Little set prayers seems accurate enough to me.

Writing late at night after a very tedious day, I said that the debate on collects was not going to further the Kingdom of God. Now, after a good nights sleep and a decent breakfast, and on considered reflection I still think that. The Church in the West is in freefall and I don't think liturgical tinkering is going to make the slightest difference to that. But here in Fiji, I did glimpse some things that I think might. The state of youth work in the Diocese of Polynesia, for instance. Or The fine work being done in most of our schools. Or the continuing grace between Tikanga. Or the radical engagement of the wider community with the Gospel taking place in Urban Vision.

As the general synod opened we were treated to one of the finiest acts of worship I have ever experienced in the Anglican Church. I am ashamed to say, that as we gathered there were some ironic comments from some from New Zealand about the shortcomings of the occasion in such matters as vesting. What happened once we had entered the marquee underscored the absolute irrelevance of such trivial concerns. And I am sorry to say I cannot for the life of me remember what the collect was, or if in fact we had one.
Ross McComish said…
There's a pretty good reply to Anonymous's comment in Anthony Bloom's 'Beginning to Pray' (p37 et seq.), which book I sincerely recommend to all.
liturgy said…
Thanks for your response, Kelvin. Much appreciated. I was wary about putting my response publicly (still am) as you know what people say about everything before the “but” – so I again want to stress how I appreciate your blogging and thoughtfulness.

I’m not as pessimistic about spirituality in the West, possibly because my primary ministry is in one of the schools you mention; I am fascinated that my twitter profile on liturgy and spirituality is the most followed in NZ (75,000) well above politicians, sports figures, celebrities – spirituality and liturgy isn’t in as much trouble as some might think; nor do I think that the freefall of the church in the West directly correlates to God’s Kingdom being in trouble.

I think that terming these concerns as “liturgical tinkering” again deprecates them. I think our church has lost its way in a desperate flaying about terrified in self-concerned survival mode by the freefall you see. Desperately trying one new thing after the next wonderful programme.

I was against all the time and energy put into these years of illegal revisions etc. I was against all the time and energy put into Ashes to Fire. Not a single person can explain to me what all that time and energy has resulted in. Can you? We could use Ashes to Fire before the years of debate about it and before even a Bill about it hit GSTHW years ago. We can use Ashes to Fire after this. Nothing has changed. No one answers the questions why we did this? No one dares to say the emperor must be getting very cold.

Quality liturgy IMO, and your comment reinforces this, lies central to our life as church. Why are we so surprised when we find it? Where is the training, study, and formation that focuses on our shared spiritual discipline?

The dynamic of the collect is to be in Christ in the power of the Spirit drawn into the life of God, to be sent out by God, in the power of the Spirit to be Christ with Christ in God’s world. Nothing less has been at stake in the collect debate these last three years.

For those of your many readers whom you thought needed an introduction to the collect a link might have helped eg. or even in movie form


Ross McComish said…
For what it's worth, I see (now that I've had a chance to check it) that the passage I had in mind is not in the chapter I thought it was, but in the next one beginning on p54. I was thinking in particular of the paragraphs that start "Now, if we imagine that we can sustain spontaneous prayer throughout our life, we are in a childish delusion." (p.57) and "So there is a need for some sort of prayer which is not spontaneous but which is truly rooted in conviction." (p.58) It occurs to me now to add that Anthony Bloom, as one would expect of an Orthodox Metropolitan, was writing about personal prayer and not the liturgy.
Anonymous said…
Twits are real people and Collects are real prayers. Lost in Cyberspace?
Ross McComish said…
And what are anonymous people? Where are they?
VenDr said…
Thanks for the reference to Anthony Bloom, Ross. I made that book the focus of a retreat I made several years ago, but haven't read it since. Your comment has prompted me to pick it up again.
Ross McComish said…
Having only recently discovered it, +Kelvin, I'm finding it very difficult to put down!