Before I get around to posting about Monday’s Women Bishops debate, how about a quick recap of Sunday afternoon. Two debates took place, one on ‘Church Tourism’ and one on ‘Climate Change and Security’. These were followed by a series of legislative debates, which I skived. Well, lets face it, I didn’t really skive, I just wasn’t exercising my right to sit on the public gallery.
The session opened with a private members motion, the only one to be discussed this summer, on ‘Church Tourism’. There was much quoting of time-honoured poets and writers, and some reference was made to pilgrims finding their experience marred by tourists. Thankfully the motion was very much about merging the two concepts, and about bringing a spiritual dimension into church tourism, combating the tendency for such churches to be a stale space, and simply a pile of stones. We should be inviting (and not forcing) visitors to make a transition towards pilgrimage.
During the debate, the role of church as a guardian of historical monuments was referred to, and I for one was not totally at ease with this. In response I heard a lot of people who were genuinely concerned that the motivation for opening the churches doors to allow people to meet God face-to-face rather than simply to ensure that what are undoubtedly national treasurers remain on display. Sadly, there was little or no reference to ideas like prayer installations as a key component of this engagement.
The motion carried with two amendments; one adding a phrase about the primary role of churches into the substantive, the other backing it up somewhat. I felt this was a little tacky, and that God must surely realise what everyone was thinking. And so it was put to the Synod, and carried by a huge majority. The other attempted amendment concerned the Greater Churches Group. It was discovered, by the wonders of Wifi, that they don’t have a website, and so a speaker who was ill-prepared but insightful nonetheless, resorted to quoting Wikipedia!
At this point, the Bishop of London got up and did his warm up act, a piece of legislative business approving the church’s hand over of cash to the Churches Conservation Trust. What was really exciting about this motion wasn’t the motion, which like all Legislative Business is written in completely dull tones, but in fact the announcement that a church in Liverpool, having been given to CCT to prevent it falling into disrepair and once a place of worship for the composer of “Amazing Grace”, is being pressed back into service. Given that the trust has been responsive to this need, its role as custodian of temporarily closed, rather than perpetual guardian of retired churches, made the budget feel all the more worthwhile. But there was some concern that this was a waste of money all the same. Ah, you can’t please ’em can you?
The Bishop of London then stood to present the next item of business. It was an interesting progression; we changed proposer whilst still essentially discussing Church Tourism, then changed subject, from conservation of church buildings to conservation of the planet, with Bishop Chartres still at the proposer’s desk. And so the Bishop famed for saying that thoughtless flying is a symptom of sin (though the press appeared to amend this to omit ‘thoughtless’ and ‘symptom’), and lets not forget, for being one of the most ‘old-boys-network’-ish of Bishops, stood to defend the planet.
I found myself liking Chartres considerably more than I did the first time I saw him at that lecturn, in a debate on the EU, where his jokes, while funny, were claustrophobic in their cliquishness. He outlined the effects of climate change on international politics and relations, prophesying, like so many, resource wars and a much greater number of immigrants to Europe. While the science was measured, the picture of its effect on people was bleak, but it was one in which the Church nationally has a clear role to play.
Enter the climate critics. Yes, they turned up like usual. But it was clear that most had little time for them, and once they’d given their speeches, they were all but forgotten as we approached the amendments.
We had a brilliantly simple amendment: “leave out ‘consider’ and insert ‘act on'”. This passed.
Next, an amendment wishing to take out the recommendation asking the Archbishops Council (rough equivalence: executive body of the C of E) to consider taking the church in to Stop Climate Chaos. Then we had the speeches against. Instead of taking a line against being yoked with unbelievers or the like, we had a speaker from Carlisle diocese extolling the virtues of nuclear power and lambasting Greenpeace and FOE for their unbelieving stance. Nuclear was to be seen as clean, the future, and no reference whatsoever would be made to dumping in Africa, even when France, who send their waste to Africa, was held up as an example of enlightened modernity.
The thing was, very little of the response that this amendment received actually condemned civil nuclear power production, which was a bit of a climb down, but thankfully the motion remained unamended. There was another amendment. Then a call for an international commission of high-profile faith leaders calling their adherents to challenge Climate Change personally and nationally/regionally/internationally, which fell (‘groan, not another talking shop’ to sum up the argument against).
The overall motion carried amidst a flurry of speeches that felt upbeat about the place for the churches at the negotiating table; Poznan and Copenhagen (the next two UN Climate Conferences) will both see participation from faith groups in the main event, rather than just the fringes, though whether this is a good thing, or even an effective thing, is yet to be seen. Coming from a Bishop often more associated with his views on Women Priests (don’t get me started!), this was a brilliant reflection on what the church should be known for; even if the message is hard to swallow for some, and reducing our consumption is definitely a tough sell, a clear message of justice in an age where greed is rife nonetheless.
I hope motions like this one will make mobilisations for protests easier amongst Anglicans. Sadly, I doubt there’ll be a massive surge in people buying tickets for December’s demo from Church backgrounds, though I’m desperate to see if we can manage a second York bus, and will be straight on with networking for it in early September. Also, I hope this debate will be the beginning of moves to put Copenhagen December 09 on the horizon as an event the church must be seen to mobilise around. But for now, at least the church has the foresight to join up climate change with issues of justice and security. Above all, like one of the speakers, I just hope the church will come to realise that this, and not homosexuality, is the greatest challenge facing Anglicans worldwide.