EVERY SUMMER the silly season comes round again, just like the first cuckoo in the Spring and the falling leaves in Autumn. We got off to an early start this year with John Spong's twelve theses. If you read them in New Directions in June, I daresay that by the time you got to number 12 you were wondering whether the poor man had anything left to believe in.
However that was only the curtain raiser. General Synod has its collection of loveable eccentrics and they really can't resist sounding off when the ladies and gentlemen of the press are there to encourage them.
Take Tony Higton, for instance. He was reported in the press as telling Synod that the Church of England had much to learn from New Age practices. If Ruth Gledhill of The Times is to be believed, he has mounted a display at his church of the crystals described in the Book of Revelation. Worshippers are able to gaze at jasper, bloodstone, turquoise, amethyst and other crystals to meditate on heaven. One assumes that the Archdeacon of Southend is well appraised of the situation, but one can only speculate as to whether a faculty was sought to place this display in a church building - and if so, whether one was granted.
Then there was the matronly Margaret Baxter, the assistant Director of Training in Blackburn diocese, no less, making a plea for the Church to be positive and creative in its provisions for co-habitees seeking matrimony. She felt, for instance, that it was not always appropriate to include a prayer that the couple would be blessed with children "when grandma and grandpa are there in the front pew, busy trying to restrain the little perishers."
"The world has changed a lot," she observed. "This generation generally move in together first and then they might get married afterwards. It is true of my own children. It is true of most of those who come for marriage to our local parish church." She wondered what attitude the Church should take to this change. "We could say that sin is sin is sin," she offered, but she didn't seem very keen on doing that.
It would be interesting to know what is taught from the pulpit on this whole subject area in Mrs Baxter's obviously trendy parish. There would certainly appear to be some fairly extensive parts of the Scriptures that don't get much of an airing.
The Dean of Wells has attracted considerable press interest in his plans to spend £143,000 on robes and altar hangings for the millennium. Apparently some of the Diocese's parishoners saw red when they were invited to contribute towards the cost. The parish of Dulverton was reported as being in the vanguard of the criticism and one, at least, of the PCC seemed to think that if the money was available it might be better spent on other things.
However the Dean was having none of it. He called the criticisms "incredibly mean-minded" and went on, "I am profoundly grateful that people who built the cathedral in the 12th century did not have that attitude. My view is, if you're going to do it, do it well." I suspect that some of the Anglican Bishops from poor Dioceses in the third world might not see things in quite the same light.
Whatever next? Will the silly season never end? No sooner is the Synod over than the Archbishop of Canterbury surmounts the pinnacle of 20th-century social success with a six-page colour spread in Hello! magazine.
Described unflatteringly as Bow-born and Dagenham-bred, His Grace is pictured relaxing in his lumberjack shirt with his wife, Eileen, in Lambeth Palace. Surrounded by photographs of their four children and seven grandchildren, Dr Carey confesses that his ideal epitaph would be a line adapted from the late Frank Sinatra: "I did it God's way."
One picture, shot just days after the Careys' 38th wedding anniversary, shows them holding hands in defiance of the myth that relationships featured in the magazine break up afterwards under the so-called "curse of Hello!"
Among the gems vouchsafed to Hello's readership are that the Archbishop says that he always listens to his wife's views on people but she never interferes in his work. They will probably be disappointed to discover that he does not believe in reincarnation, though reassured to be told that he keeps an open mind on the existence of angels.
Is there yet more to come? Well yes, we have the Diocesan Bishop who wants Muslim state schools established in Britain. That could be a really good idea, especially if there were to be some reciprocal arrangements in Saudi Arabia.
And last, but not least, there are the elections for the Archbishops' Council. The House of Laity met just prior to the July Synod and after an anguished debate voted not to refuse the offer of the Chairman to step down to allow fresh elections for her post. So we have an election, but curiously she is the only candidate. Why members were so concerned to have an election when there were no other contenders mystifies me.
However there are plenty of hopefuls for the other three elected lay places on the Archbishops' Council. Almost every post has been bringing me another election address from candidates with time on their hands and a desire to obtain my highest preference vote. They have clearly honed their art well on their diocesan electorates in previous General Synod elections and have all mastered the complexities of producing a side of A4 eulogising motherhood and apple pie, but skilfully avoiding almost all of the contentious issues facing the church. Its just as well we know one another well enough to read between the lines, isn't it?
Gerry O'Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.
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