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Prudence and Ambition

Cyprus Synod 2022 – Archbishop Michael’s Presidential Address

Here we are again in synod-by-zoom, and zoom is curiously both more and less intimate than real presence. It’s more intimate because on zoom faces, and our looking at one another, are close, concentrated, and continuous (provided we don’t turn off our video). It’s less intimate, much less intimate, because human beings need full, real presence to have a chance of reading one another really and fully. These aren’t novel observations but they matter, not least when there’s mourning to be done, or concerns to be shared, or a celebration to be had, or a transition marked.

The Very Reverend and Venerable Dr Bill Schwartz OBE – will retire at the end of April. I venture to say that there’s been no one quite like him in the history of this Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, and I’m talking both quantity and quality. He’s been in the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East in the service of Christianity for fifty years, give or take. For the diocese he’s functioned as layman, as deacon, and as priest, in roles ranging from Diocesan Secretary to curate in Kyrenia to leading our presence in Saudi Arabia to spearheading the building of the Anglican Centre as parish priest in Qatar to becoming a canon to taking on the burdens that come with being Archdeacon in the Gulf to finally combining that task with the Deanery of St Christopher’s Cathedral in Bahrain. His wife Edith has been alongside him for all but the very last part of that half-century, when she committed herself to helping with the care of her grandchildren in California, and to Edie as well as Bill we mark our love.

So, if this were an in-person synod, imagine the fulness of our mixture of celebration and sadness at this, the most representative gathering of the totality and spread of the diocese. As it is, I know that in his parish of Bahrain his ministry will be marked in a heartfelt way when Julia and I are there in mid-March, and on this island a meeting soon after that will allow some of the people who have worked with him over the years to tell him face to face what they think of him (I haven’t written my script, yet).

But I said I had in mind not just quantity of years but quality: and what I mean is quality of perspective and vision; and this is where this Address moves from the personal to the corporate, the communal. Bill looks forward. Back in the early 80s he was a pioneer in using computers, not just because he’s one of nature’s practical techies but for the good of the whole Church. Most of all, a mantra of his that I endorse and now repeat is that, when the Church, the diocese, a parish, considers a proposal or scheme either for a building project, or for congregational or vocational development, or for appointments of staff including clergy, we must be asking ourselves, ‘How will this serve the Anglican Church and the cause of Christianity in this place and these places ten, twenty, fifty years in the future?’

The undoubted fact that in many ways life feels pretty fragile at the moment shouldn’t blind us to the fact that the life of human beings has felt, and been, fragile for much of past history; indeed, stability, comfort, and predictability have been the exception rather than the rule for our forebears, in all centuries. That’s certainly true of this diocese and of the configuration of Anglican Christian presence that preceded it.

I think these times call for a dialogue between prudence and ambition, and at all levels. By ambition I mean something like trust in action: trust, faith (for Christians they’re the same word) that God is working the divine purpose out as year succeeds to year, even as 2019 to our consternation succeeded to the events of 2020 and 2021, even as they’ve now succeeded to this year of 2022; trust and Christian faith that God wants, and will with our cooperation if we use our God-given intelligence and resourcefulness, ensure our presence, worship, witness, ministry, mission, service and corporate life in this region and diocese for 2032, 2042, and 2072 every bit as much as now, even if in evolving shape.

I said corporate life. It’s wonderful that those who find our churches, and stay, come from so many varieties and traditions of the one Christian faith. It’s a given of Anglicanism that our doors are open to anyone, and our altars to anyone baptized, and that our clergy and people are encouraged to engage with any enquirer of any background about the unique revelation of God in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and his Body the Church. Even though we usually keep any number of lists (subject to GDPR or whatever the initials are) we’re essentially not a membership Church but a place and a society of free attendance by anyone who wants to come in and be either alongside us or of us.

Now, there are other expressions of Christianity, other Churches, congregations, and fellowships, that sincerely take a different line. But we don’t, by definition. Anglicanism is to be firmly orthodox at its core, but our orthodoxy, expressed in the sacraments, the universal Creeds of the Church, the liturgy, and respectful, imaginative engagement with the Tradition of which we are simply the current manifestation, is to be inviting and generous.

The Anglican Communion is just that: a Communion, of Provinces that are either contiguous with a nation or even part of a nation, for instance Kenya, York and Canterbury, Hong Kong, or with a whole region, for instance Southern Africa, Central Africa, Alexandria, ourselves in Jerusalem and the Middle East. Within each Province, which is headed by a Primate (me in our Province at the moment), are several dioceses each headed by a diocesan bishop (me in Cyprus and the Gulf for the last fourteen years). The bishop’s core calling is to be the focus of unity, even when there are disagreements. The bishop is the president of diocesan synod. Synod consists of three Houses, seen especially when formal voting is needed: the House of Laity, elected to represent their particular parish in the wider counsels of the diocese (though not to be mandated delegates of that parish), the House of Clergy, gathered as the expression of all the ordained ministers who hold the bishop’s licence, a and the House of Bishops, to be the expression at synod of all those within the geography of the diocese who actively share the Holy Order of the episcopate (in this diocese, with no assistant bishops, that’s a House of one).

Synod is to model the way the wider diocese must be, and the parishes within it: solidarity around and overseen by the bishop, whose particular calling is to know, guard and promote the faith once delivered to the Apostles, and people and priests who share their cure of souls with the bishop who can’t be there all the time but is the chief pastor of each parish as well as of the diocese as a whole, working together in their complementary roles, so that the Body, though made up of individual parts, may be a single organic whole. Autocracy by either bishops or clergy or councils is as foreign to authentic Anglicanism as congregationalism, and always must be. This way of Anglican identity as well as governance, which is also called our polity, is intended, I hope I don’t need to say, for the glory of God, the flourishing of his Body the Church, and the good of all humanity. It means that we can never be content to define ourselves by locality alone, even while honouring place and particularity as blessed by the incarnate Son of God. It also means that we are eagerly to seek the good of the whole world. In these times, when the pandemic has reminded us that all borders on the planet are relative but when the temptation could easily be to circle the wagons, we who are Christians, let alone we as this Anglican diocese, know that won’t do, precisely because the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof. In that spirit let’s now go forward into all the sessions and days of this synod with both prudence and ambition, and relish the chance to consider together how best to love and care for Creation, whose Creator has always loved and will always love and care for us, way beyond even fifty years, into life eternal.