A Maiden Speech

11 02 2011
Members of the General Synod of the Church of England come in different shapes and sizes. Some like to speak, make amendments, and submit questions; many others prefer to listen and exercise their judgement simply through voting.
I’m not sure which I would like to be – It is no secret that I like the sound of my own voice, but I’m also aware that a high profile in the chamber is not necessarily the same as being influential. Just like in Parliament, the really important stuff happens in the tea-rooms.
Nevertheless, I felt bound to make my maiden speech during a debate on the ‘Challenges for the next Quinquennium‘. It was a wide-ranging debate, considering the Church’s priorities for the next five years. I wanted to challenge the assumption that Church was regarded as a national institution.
The speech was received extremely positively. I was flattered that so many people took seriously what I had to say, and that it even got a mention in the Guardian. You can read the text of the speech below, or listen here:
Full Text:

Mister Chair, thank you for calling me.

This report speaks admirably of a desire to improve our contribution to the common good of the nation. But might I humbly suggest that it understates the real urgency of the situation?

I speak about the church with my friends quite often. Some are Christians, most are not, but they find the church rather fascinating. I tell them that we are the national church, giving spiritual and moral leadership at both a parish and national level.

They say to me: “Are you having a laugh?”

Because, Synod, the uncomfortable truth is that for my generation we are not the ‘national church’ in any meaningful sense.

For my generation we are the nutters on the sidelines, squeezed out of the public sphere because we had nothing relevant to offer there; at best an outdated relic of a bygone age; at worst an interfering group of bigots.

If I could take you to Manchester – to Ordsall, Cheetham Hill, or Stalybridge – I could show you why I think we have become irrelevant. You can see there the great challenges faced by communities across the country – homelessness, unemployment, poverty, the great battle for equality. But where is the church on these issues?

We pen the occasional report, make the odd speech and when we do we are at our best. But we waste too much of our energy on internal debates – debates about issues the rest of society thought they had settled decades ago.

And let me tell you, Synod, that is what we see. And we do not like it.

Synod, my generation lives in a seemingly valueless age: a shallow celebrity culture complemented by the perceived supremacy of material wealth.

We are crying out for spiritual leadership. Over the next five years I hope and pray that our church will be at the front of the queue to provide it. Ready to offer a relevant, compassionate and inspiring message of Christ.

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One response

15 02 2011
Bishop Alan Wilson

A disturbing but truthful account. Perhaps we worry too much about how to make ourselves more significant, when what would actually make our message more resonant would be less hypocrisy and more alignment amongst ourselves — the courage to grow up a bit, and act like we actually believed the stuff we say we believe and expect to be held accountable for it.

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