The one annual synod of the diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf always takes place in the afterglow of Christmas and Epiphany. And it is an afterglow. Those feasts, and even more the events they commemorate and the realities they signify, are bathed in light. Christ our light came at Christmas. His brightness was a revelation and an epiphany for those who had eyes to see: the shepherds, the magi, later John his cousin at the Jordan and Mary his mother at the wedding in Cana. They saw light. The official end of the season is Candlemas, the feast of his presentation in the Jerusalem Temple, when two old people, Simeon and Anna, recognised that he was light and he was glory. Our synod happens in the afterglow of that.
But for whom was and is Christ light and glory? For whom was and is he capable of being a revelation and an epiphany? Well, I’ve talked of our light and our synod, so presumably the answer is us. Yet it depends on whom we mean by us.
Many will know a quotation from Archbishop William Temple, who said something like “The Church is the only co-operative society in the world that exists primarily for the benefit of its non-members”. Familiarity mustn’t dull the strikingness of that and its implications for a Christian definition of we and us. Going deeper, in a sermon attributed to St Basil one thousand five hundred years before the archbishop, the preacher says “The birth of Christ is the birthday of the human race”. He means, of course, not that no one was human before Jesus but that Jesus allows humans to start to find out, as they observe, intuit, and have faith in how Jesus lived and who he truly turned out to be, who they can be because of who they really are. So the glory and light, the revelation and the epiphany, are for us who are human; all of us. This revises our customary, reassuring classification of the world into us and them, members and non-members, people like us and with us and people unlike us and apart from us, and tells us that we’re in radical, God-ordained relationship with everyone. Rowan Williams, successor of Temple and present senior bishop and archbishop of the Anglican Communion, points to Richard Hooker, the great Anglican thinker of the sixteenth century, who shows how all things in the universe are social, unreal without mutual relation.
I believe this to be profoundly wise and true. We are unreal without mutual relation, and it affects not only how we engage with one another in the diocese and any and all of our congregations and gatherings but also the attitude we bring to bear on everyone else. Who are we? What can we, and what shall we, do?
These considerations, which are of identity and strategy respectively, have been the thread running through all recent diocesan synods in Cyprus and the Gulf.
Last year I set out five priorities for this diocese, as I saw them: to maintain and enhance our presence and witness; to strengthen the ministries to service that; to undergird our efforts with prayer, money, and intelligent interest; to work on serious encounter with Islam; and to realise a true forms of evangelism through our presence and life. They were offered as strategic priorities, but each will be sub-Christian without the insight that Christ is not only the glory of his own people, whom we fondly imagine to be us the Church, but also a light to lighten everybody else without exception; in fact, everybody, the whole human race. This challenges us to maximise us-language and us-thinking and minimise them-language and them-thinking as we work on each of the priorities.
How much more, then, are we challenged to maximise us-behaviour and minimise them-behaviour within this synod and within the chaplaincies, congregations, ministries, and projects from which we come.
The business and fellowship of this year’s synod have been planned with strategy, identity, and logical progression from the point reached last year and the accumulating wisdom of previous synods in mind. For instance, the unitive task of the bishop, which is essential in Anglicanism as in most major historic Christian branches of the Church, has been repeatedly recognised and affirmed. Some while ago a norm of ten per cent of local income as each chaplaincy’s contribution to enable diocesan-wide ministry and its support was established. Work on standard policies and practices, some of which will be reported in coming sessions this week, has been developed by two successive executive archdeacons and others, reporting to me and my Council, which is also the standing and finance committee of synod. Last year synod approved a private member’s motion in two parts from the Revd Michael Crawford that required me to commission a study on whether a common-fund approach to diocesan finances was desirable and also on whether a diocesan mission and development fund should be established. Discussion and debate on these and other matters, and their implications for people and finance, will feature this week, and in them I would argue that my examination of who we and they might be will be relevant.
A particular theme running through our time together is to be communication in both broad and specific terms. All Christian communication should be gospel communication, good news, news of good things, news of the one who alone is good.
If a refreshed diocesan website is to join the bishop, synod itself, and the prayer calendar as an effective representation and instrument of the diocese, it will be in the service of God in Christ who is light and glory for everybody without exception.
If the priority of strengthened ministry in Cyprus and the Gulf is to be advanced, then vocations will need to be discerned carefully, with credible selectors and procedures, and ministers will need to be developed in service, with appropriate resources, and all this for Christ who is light and glory for everybody.
When policies, for instance those on safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, and on bullying and harassment, and on clergy life and discipline, and on terms and conditions of employment, are examined and eventually, when it is synod’s wish, affirmed, it won’t be to tick boxes, appease fashion, or prevent liability, but to honour Christ who is light and glory for everybody.
And, to come to the dimension that usually focusses the attention of even the sleepiest of synodsmen and synodswomen, when accounts and assessments and budgets and finances and income and expenditure, old and new, are the matters under discussion, what will be even more at stake will be both our identity as a diocese and our appetite for depth and growth; and this, as Archbishop Temple said, not primarily to serve ourselves but others; and, as St Basil implied, to celebrate the birthday of us all.