Whose life is it anyway?

27 May

The debate about euthanasia (or assisted dying) has come back into focus this week (www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-32893689). Listening to the discussions on the radio reminded me of a piece I had written as part of my Reader (lay minister) training a few years ago. I had been assigned the task of preparing some introductory thoughts for an ethics tutorial. I do not generally regard myself as a particularly good writer but, on this occasion, my words seemed to hit the mark.
Perhaps it was because I was writing from experience of a client who was, at the time, dying from motor neurone disease. My piece for the tutorial was written as a letter to him (though, of course, with changed names and details). It occurred to me this week that it might be worth posting as a blog to this (rather underused) site. So here goes:

My Dear George

I’m glad you asked me, all that time ago, to be around to support and help you when things got worse, though the dilemmas that you have created have not helped my sleep over the past few weeks as I have asked myself what I should say to you.

Having watched your health deteriorate, and the fit and active George I once knew become so frail and dependent, I can well appreciate why you decided to make that ‘living will’ when the MND was in its early stages. I guess I might easily have done the same.

But, oh dear, the more I think about the whole situation, the less certain I become. The issue of whether to carry out the wishes expressed by you at that time is tearing your family apart, and I wonder whether you would still wish the same outcome as you did then. But we can’t ask you, can we; at least, we could ask you but you are not able to tell us.

Part of the problem is that the living will was made so soon after your diagnosis, when you were having the inevitable reactions of fear, disbelief, anxiety about the effect on Ruth and the children, and that real sense of isolation because of the feeling that you were ‘different’. One of your son’s fears is that, when you made those decisions, you might not have been thinking straight, that you paid too much attention on the effect on the family – the sheer pressure of being carers as well as the financial consequences of meeting your needs – and that you gave too much weight to not wishing to be a burden.

Ruth, of course, faces something quite different; the pain of seeing the man whom she loves so much physically disintegrating before her tear-filled eyes. The pain for her is, of course, immense. Her dearest wish would be to see you released from the agonies that you are going through and which she fears will get worse, and she can see no other way to achieve that than through fulfilling the wishes you expressed.

Your condition is, of course, incurable, and it is inevitable that your health will continue to get worse. You know this, and I will not insult your intelligence by lying to you about it. You know that eventually you will find breathing difficult and this is what would bring your struggle against the disease to an end.

Yet, what has surprised me about the way you have reacted since the early days after your diagnosis, is the lack of anger and depression that you have exhibited. You appear to have accepted what life has thrown at you with remarkable equanimity.

So, then, what are choices and issues that should influence you now?

Well, put bluntly, the choice is between the quick exit via the Swiss clinic, or a slower and almost certainly more painful decline albeit with palliative care. Whatever choice you were to make, no-one would judge or condemn you. How does the saying go: ‘Do not criticise a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.’ And, yes, I remember what you used to add: ‘at least then you are a mile away and he will find it difficult to chase you because he hasn’t anything on his feet’. So, if you get to be able to communicate what you want, it’s your decision mate.

But that’s not what you really want to hear. You want to know what I really think about the issues.

Well, there are various approaches that you could take. You could simply say ‘It’s my life and no one else has any rights in relation to it – it is mine to preserve and mine to end.’ You might add that your hasted parting would bring benefits not only to you but also to your family, who would be spared the agony of watching your increasing discomfort and be spared of the financial cost of your future care.

You might well add that there would be benefits too for society at large with scarce health resources being made available to others with more life – and more productive life ahead of them.

OK, but is it that simple? John Donne’s comments about no man being an island might be relevant. It is easy to think that our choices affect no-one else, but they usually do. Your wife and son are affected by your decision, but so too are others who might have less freedom to choose if your decision, and that of others, makes euthanasia more the ‘norm’ and the expected option. You know that Ruth would never pressurise you for wrong reasons – her only motivation is love – but not every wife is like Ruth… Others might employ subtle (or even not so subtle) pressures on ‘no longer useful’ partners or parents to follow your path, whether it is what they wanted or not.

And there is, too, the element that whenever something that underpins that sense of specialness about human life and dignity is lost or diminished in any way, it wears away part of the central core of humankind and civilisation, and makes less ambiguously evil outcomes more likely.

There are some who might suggest that your life is not yours alone; that you do not have the right to bring it to an end. Whether you focus upon life as sacred or as having dignity, many – even people who do not subscribe to any particular religious viewpoint – see life as being something ‘special and given’ that should not be brought to a premature end. That most religions teach against euthanasia is indication, if of nothing else, of the high value that humankind has always put on human life and its aversion to our taking it into our own hands to end it, even from the most noble of motives. Of course, for Christians (and you were well aware of my faith when you asked me to support you through these times) there is a real understanding that we were made in the image of God, and it is upon this foundation that our belief in the sanctity of life rests.

You asked me once what I thought about suffering – whether I believed that there was something of spiritual value that came out of it. My reaction then was pretty black and white; I really could not see how suffering could ever be good. In some ways, I still feel the same – especially about other people’s involuntary suffering. The thought that your suffering might, in some ill-defined way, be a source of strength and growth seems almost obscene in the light of what lies ahead for you. Yet, I do know that the difficult times in my own life have been the times that I have later regarded as having contributed to such maturity and usefulness as I may now have. Seeing others cope with their suffering has also inspired me. But still I could not in all honesty say that I can imagine anything positive coming from the suffering that you are likely to endure if your son were to be able to stop the process that you have set in train. I cannot offer that as a reason to encourage the alternative to the Swiss clinic.

So, dear George, where does that leave us? I have no desire to see you suffer, and would do anything in my power to save you from it. Yet I cannot encourage you to take the ‘Swiss clinic’ option – not just for your sake, but for the sake of humankind generally. But, if you decide upon that route, I shall not think the less of you as a man or as a friend.

I read this to the tutorial group.  It was almost a minute before anyone spoke.  You see, for all the theoretical arguments, for and against assisted dying, the reality is, for anyone in that situation, a real life one.  And, whatever, our views, we have no right to judge those whose shoes we do not wear.

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A Notable Bear’s Reflections on 2014 – a guest post by Theodore

13 Dec

A noteable and distinguished bear

A noteable and distinguished bear

As I stand in my place of honour at the entrance to my domain, I have ample opportunity to observe the comings and goings of my staff – or the Grumpies, as I know them.

The grumpiest of them is, of course, my manservant, Mr Grumpy.   I have to confess that he has generally seemed a little less grumpy of late.  I have noticed that, when he talks to Mrs Grumpy about his work, he seems rather more upbeat.   He talks a lot about meditation (at least I think that’s what he is saying – I am getting a tad deaf in my old age) so that probably means he is taking time to relax.  On the other hand he talks a lot about helping couples sort out the decisions they make about their dens and their cubs after they separate, so maybe I have misheard him.   Whatever it is, it certainly seems to be making him happier that when he was always talking about court.

He also talks about church and reading, though I still can’t fathom why he has to go to church to be a reader.  He seems to do quite a lot of reading when he is in the room I let him use as a study (when I don’t need it for entertaining my friends).

He is still the most grumpy though, and I am hopeful that he will be able to do more of that meditating (or whatever it is) in 2015 and perhaps he will become easier for my housekeeper to cope with.

Talking about my housekeeper, or Mrs Not-Quite-So-Grumpy, as I call her, she seems to have changed her going out into the big-wide-world arrangements. She used to talk about going to the College and about the NHS but, in the Summer, all that stopped and she started talking about retiring and going to School. Whatever that means, it seems that she doesn’t stay out quite as long and has more time to visit some of the neighbours. She has seemed very tired at times, though, which I think has something to do with an accident she had a while back – these humans don’t seem to recover as well as us bears do [thank you for asking, yes that dislocated shoulder has been fine ever since my trip to hospital a few years back].

In the summer Mr Grumpy and Mrs Not-Quite-So-Grumpy started talking about rubies, and about Mrs Not-Quite-So-Grumpy deserving a present for having coped with Mr Grumpy for forty years.  Then suddenly a new seat arrived for me in my garden.  How appropriate for them to give the present to me instead – after all, I have to put up with both of them!  They put the seat round the tree that they bought for me a few years ago, near my sundial.

IMAG0381

We have had a number of visits from young Mr Andrew Grumpy and his lovely wife Keeley. They talk about their den in Kidderminster and all the work they are doing to make it just as they want it. They seem to be working rather hard to my way of thinking, with more than one job each and, when she is not working, Keeley seems to be studying. I hope they are not over-doing it. They have also been talking about a trip they are planning to make New Zealand in February to visit Keeley’s brother. I have asked Mr and Mrs Grumpy to arrange for Andrew, Keeley and Keeley’s family to visit me on Christmas Day. I have met them before and they seem to be nice people – perhaps they will help to reduce Mr Grumpy’s grumpiness.

Andy and Kee 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew and Keely

I must say how much I am looking forward to 2015.

Getting the wrong end of the stick – Palm Sunday responses

19 Apr

A sermon preached on Palm Sunday 2014…

I expect that, like me, there have been times when you have got completely the wrong end of the stick and misread a situation. And how embarrassing it can be.

I am comforted by the fact that it is such a common situation that we have coined that phrase ‘wrong end of the stick’ to readily describe the situation. I am even more comforted by the fact that people in the Bible, even Jesus’ followers, are constantly misreading the situation, even though they have been given so many clues that their responses seem bewilderingly stupid. If they can get it so wrong, perhaps I needn’t beat myself up about my blunders…

In our gospel narrative today, almost everyone misreads what is going on. Let’s have a closer look.

The first group we shall call the pilgrims. They are devout Jews who knew their Hebrew Bible. They were travelling to Jerusalem for the Passover. Devout Jews did that. Jesus and his immediate followers were with this group, having travelled from Galilee, down the East side of the Jordan (the traditional route, avoiding Samaria) and were now approaching Jerusalem from the East, from the City of Jericho. The closer they got to Jerusalem, the bigger the pilgrim band will have grown, and the greater their excitement and apprehension.

Eventually, they will have reached the Mount of Olives and paused to take in the stunning view of the City, and especially of the Temple Mount and the Temple itself.

They will have been excited to have had Jesus in their midst. They know he is a wonderful teacher and miracle worker, and are wondering whether he just might be the Messiah who was to set them free from their oppressors, the one they have been praying for all these years.

Then came the clinching moment. The donkey – the colt. What was it that Zechariah had said?

Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is it! This time, we know it’s the Messiah. He’s coming from the Mount of Olives – as we knew he would – riding on a colt, as Zechariah prophesied.

Small wonder, then, that they responded as they did. If Jesus is about to be anointed as our King, we must do what our ancestors did. We must demonstrate our commitment to him by laying our cloaks on the road for him to walk on – just as we were told was done for Kings Solomon and Jehu. And what shall we shout out in acclamation? Oh yes, that passage from Psalm 118.

Save us, we beseech you, O Lord
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success
Blessed is the one that comes in the name of the Lord

Only their word for ‘save us’ was the word ‘Hosanna’

There was another crowd. They were the Jerusalem city dwellers. They were less thrilled that it was Passover time. All those irritating Oiks from the country – including those rough northerners – would be invading their City, and it would be bedlam. And Passover time was often a time when people would forget the reality their situation and start thinking about overthrowing the Romans. They can remember the last time that happened, and how it ended – the rows of crosses, with grown men crying out in excruciating pain for their mothers.

We often think of them as a single fickle group, as reflected in some of our hymns. ‘Sometimes they strew his way…’ It certainly doesn’t read that way in Matthew’s account. The Jerusalem city boys weren’t excited, they were bothered – actually they were in turmoil, and even that word doesn’t do justice to their feelings. ‘Who is this?’ is the way Matthew reports their question. We may allow ourselves to imagine that there might have been a few expletives added to their question. This was no polite enquiry.

But both of our companies got the wrong end of the stick: The pilgrim company were understandably disillusioned when Jesus was arrested. They had got it wrong again. One of them talked about it days later, not realising that he was talking to the risen Jesus:

‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

In such a state of disillusion and disappointment, is it surprising that they melted away, leaving the arena for the Jerusalem political and religious leaders to do their worst?

And for those leaders. We are quick to criticise them for their self-centeredness, their self-serving collaboration with the Roman authorities, but they had seen it all before and really did not want to allow anyone to tweak the Roman lion’s tail again – the consequences would be all too predictable.

But what about us? We think we know better. But do we? Is our reading of Jesus just as flawed as theirs?

We may think we know our Bibles (though probably none of as well as those devout Jews knew the Hebrew Bible). We may think we have got Jesus, his person and his message all sewn up. And we may be quick to proclaim the answers. If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it is perhaps of the danger in being so sure of our understandings and interpretations.

Perhaps the honest doubts of Nicodemus and the quiet bravery of Joseph of Arimathea who asked for Christ’s body are a better example to us than the loud certainty of the pilgrim crowd.

Just, perhaps, instead of pronouncing, like the Jewish leaders, quick and ready judgements on people and situations, we should pause and, with due humility, ask ourselves whether there might be other ways of understanding that might be equally or more in accord with the message of Jesus.

As we start the most Holy and significant eight days of the Christian calendar, may we come to Christ humbly and enquiringly, and ready – like the owners of the donkeys – to quietly and thoughtfully respond to the Master’s call.

The Magnificent Seven – a parable for Christmas

26 Dec

For those who have not seen the film, The Magnificent Seven were a group of hardened men who had fallen on hard times.   They were hired by the elders of a poor Mexican farming village – vulnerable, oppressed and desperate – to protect them from the bandits who periodically raided to steal their food.

The Seven were in it for the money that they could make.  They expected that they would come, deal with the bandits and leave – job done.   Sure they would be taking risks, but they considered themselves a match for any opponent – they were hard, they were strong and above all they were quick.   They were not vulnerable – because they did not care about the villagers.

The villagers, of course, were vulnerable.   And when the Magnificent Seven left, the bandits returned.  It seemed that nothing had changed and the best the villagers could do was to submit to their tormentors.

When Seven returned, however, they had changed – Bernardo had formed a bond with three of the village children, whilst Chico had fallen in love with Petra, a young woman of the village.    In the ensuing battle, the culmination of the story, four of the Seven lose their lives, Bernardo dying as he seeks to protect the children.  Whilst two of the survivors leave, Chico elects to remain and commits himself to Petra and to the village.

Chico’s transformation is complete – no longer remote and lacking commitment, he has chosen a path that will leave himself vulnerable, committed and identified with those whose life he is sharing.

The people of Roman occupied Palestine were vulnerable, oppressed, and desperate.   Many of them longed for someone to come to deal with their Roman oppressors and to give them back their freedom.  Their prayer was for another rescuer like Judas Maccabeus who had dealt with an earlier oppressor.   What they would have given for the equivalent of the Magnificent Seven.

But when God answered their prayer, it was not with a battle hardened political leader of the sort they expected, but a tiny defenceless child.   When God committed himself to the lives of humankind, he did so in about as vulnerable a form as might be imagined – a child in a time and place where infant lives were cheap. So far as those around were concerned, he was the illegitimate child of a young dishonoured woman. Jesus grew up in a time of political turmoil amongst an oppressed people.   Indeed, it is hard to imagine how the Incarnate God – God made flesh – could have chosen to be more vulnerable.  And in so choosing, he chose to identify himself with, and commit himself to,  the most vulnerable members of that of society – the poor, the weak, the socially and religiously unacceptable.

Chico’s choice of vulnerability in the Mexican village was motivated by his love of Petra.  God’s decision to make himself vulnerable in the person of Christ was motivated by his unconditional love for humankind.    Not because we deserved that love, or had somehow earned his favour.

Love, of course, demands vulnerability, because (as the life of Jesus demonstrates) it leaves us open to the likelihood of pain, of rejection, and of suffering.

As we celebrate the coming of the Christ-child this Christmas, may we too be inspired to choose to join him in his vulnerability, to commit ourselves to those around us and identify with the vulnerable and excluded in our society – not that they especially deserve our love – but rather, we love because God has first loved us and has called us to lead lives inspired by his love.

[I am happy to acknowledge that these thoughts were prompted by comments made by Revd Giles Frazer during a lecture in Bromsgrove]

Thoughts on Remembrance – and reconciliation

24 Nov

On the morning of the 15th November 1940, one man stood in the still smouldering ruins of a bombed building.  The previous night 4,000 homes in his City had been destroyed and scarcely a building had avoided some damage.

Quietly, deliberately, Dick Howard took a piece of chalk and wrote on a surviving wall a two word prayer: ‘Father forgive’.

Sometimes what is not said or written is more significant than what is said.  In quoting the words of the crucified Jesus, Dick might more obviously have added the word ‘them’, but he didn’t, for he knew that all needed the Father’s forgiveness at that time.

From that simply act, a commitment to work for reconciliation grew that has affected every continent and continues to impact lives in conflict torn regions to this day.

We shall return to Coventry Cathedral later.

Today, we have stood together to remember.   To remember those extraordinary ordinary people whose sacrifices in world wars and later conflicts have enabled us to enjoy freedom, justice and humanity in our everyday lives. And to remember is a right and proper response.  But my question, this morning, is whether simply to remember is a sufficient response, a sufficient honouring, of their sacrifices.

Suffering and sacrifice is something that the church should be able to understand, because it is at the heart of the gospel message.  The symbol most commonly associated with Christianity is that of the cross, a sign of extreme suffering.   But suffering with a purpose – the purpose of reconciliation – reconciliation between God and humankind.

It is that reconciliation which gives meaning to Christ’s suffering, and without it, his suffering would have been meaningless.

This raises the question.  What meaning do we give to the suffering of those whose lives have been ended, or irreparably damaged – physically or psychologically – in our defence?  How do we honour the sacrifices of those who were willing to put their bodies and lives on the line – to face danger, fear, even terror – for us and our sakes?

A not wholly unnatural response is one of hatred towards those who represent the forces against whom our military were ranged in those wars.   Last summer a friend of ours, young German woman, was married at St Mary’s Church.  Her family came to Kempsey for the wedding with some apprehension.   ‘Do they not still hate us?’ asked her mother.

And yet, to harbour hatred or resentment is to miss the challenge of remembrance.   

The challenge that the Cross of Christ poses, and the challenge that Coventry Cathedral poses, to the world today is this:  Will you instead confront the forces that lead to conflict, including those forces within you, and work for reconciliation?   In affirming a commitment to reconciliation, Dick Howard, and those who have followed him in the ministry of reconciliation, have proclaimed a determination to honour the sacrifices of the war dead – military or civilian – and from them to bring about works of redemption and reconciliation.   And in so doing, they are continuing the work of the Cross.

Every day across the world, men and women pray the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation.  We make it our prayer now:

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,  Father, forgive

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,  Father, forgive

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth, Father, forgive

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,  Father, forgive. 

Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,  Father, forgive

The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,  Father, forgive

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,  Father, forgive.  

Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Amen

The Scottsboro Boys and Grace Luke 18 9-14

24 Nov

Does the name Clarence Norris mean anything to you?   No?   

In 1931 nine teenagers were falsely accused of having raped two young women.  Unfortunately for the young men, their arrest took place in Alabama, and they were black, and the women were white.   After a trial that inspired Harper Lee’s novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, they were convicted and condemned to death.  19 year old Clarence Norris was the oldest of the Scottsboro Boys.

 Though their sentences were, eventually, commuted and one by one they were paroled, it was only 46 years later that Clarence was ‘pardoned’. But even today, their convictions stand and they are still guilty in the eyes of the law.     On yesterday’s Today report, Clarence’s daughter spoke of the effect on her father: ‘I could see the hurt in his eyes. I’ve seen so much pain in his eyes and that pain never left.  It never left.’

 To live under a stigma of guilt – especially undeserved guilt – is a dreadful thing.

 The background to the parable told by Jesus, and recorded in Luke 18 9-14, is of guilt and innocence in the law court. 

What mattered to both the Pharisee and the tax collector was that they should be declared righteous or justified (our two words come from the same Greek word) – both the self righteous Pharisee and penitent tax collector wanted to know that they were innocent in the sight of God.

 The Pharisee considered that his confidence could be placed in his adherence to the requirements of the Old Testament laws.  He though he was able to stand up and assert his justification because he had done all that was required of him and more.

 The tax collector had no such confidence.   His circumstances were such that he would have found it almost impossible to meet the strict requirements of the Old Testament laws.  His only possible response was to throw himself on the mercy of God.

Today is Bible Sunday.  When we seek to understand – especially a gospel –narrative, a useful approach is to look at it on three levels:

 What was Jesus seeking to convey to his listeners in what he said?

 Well, he wasn’t having a go at the Pharisees on this occasion.  Rather, his message was directed at all those ‘who trusted in themselves that they were righteous (justified/innocent) and regarded others with contempt.’   The tendency to bolster our own sense of self worth, by identifying others as having less value – being less worthy – than oneself, is universal – it long predated the famous ‘that was the week that was’ class sketches with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett – anyone who is two young to remember those sketches, ask one of us oldies later!   The message of the kingdom, Jesus asserted, called for repentance – and then for dependence on God’s grace and not on his hearers’ attempts to satisfy God by their own efforts.   It was the penitent who would be declared innocent not the ones who strove to comply with their understanding of God’s expectations.

 Why did the gospel writer include an account of this incident in his narrative – i.e., what was he seeking to convey to his readers?

 One of the key debates among the early church was about whether gentile (non-Jew) converts to the Christian way should be expected to follow the Jewish rules – especially with regard to circumcision, the dietary laws and the celebration of particular festivals.   You may recall that Paul and Peter had been involved in some fairly robust disagreements on this issue.   There was a tendency for Jewish Christians to look down on the gentile converts – even to refuse to eat with them.  Luke’s inclusion of Jesus’ parable will have served as a powerful reminder to those Jewish Christians that they must depend upon God’s grace as demonstrated in Jesus death and resurrection if they wished to be ‘found innocent’, and not on their Jewish heritage and status.

 And finally, What is the Holy Spirit seeking to convey to us today?

 Our parable is part of the bigger theme – that we are declared innocent not because of the way we live, not because we understand more of God’s word than those around us, not because we pray regularly, not because we come to church, not because we make our offerings to God and seek to serve him.   Even though all of these things are good and to be encouraged.  Rather, we are declared innocent because God, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, took our sin upon himself on the cross, and because he rose from the dead.   In the cross and resurrection, and only in the cross and resurrection, we may be confident of being declared innocent in the sight of God.

Clarence Norris lived with the stigma of an undeserved declaration of guilt.  We are invited to live with the accolade of an undeserved declaration of innocence.

It tolls for thee

21 Nov

Like many in the Church of England, my mind has been working overtime since the outcome of the General Synod decision regarding women bishops.

All will now be aware that the majority in each of the Houses of Synod voted in favour of the legislation for women bishops, and that the overall vote was 72.65 percent in favour, but that the House of Laity majority was insufficiently emphatic (two-thirds) to ensure that the legislation would be approved.

Half following the debate, it was apparent that many were not interested in the details of the legislation but were seeking to re-run the debate on whether the consecration of women as bishops was theologically justified – a point that had already been decided by Synod.

The fateful decision on the 20th November 2012 was not, ultimately, about the legislation or whether there were sufficient safeguards to protect the consciences of those who struggled with Synod’s earlier decision, but rather was a vote on the principle.

That there were two groups opposed to the measure in principle is well-known and understood – those from the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church and those forming part (but not the whole) of the Evangelical part of the church.  Many who would describe themselves as having an evangelical theology would wish to distance themselves from those represented by the ‘Reform’ group whose reading of Scripture is that women must have the ‘covering’ of men and cannot, therefore, be in authority over them.

The events of 20th November have drawn attention to the House of Laity in General Synod.   Like most in the Church, I had never taken the trouble to find out how I was represented on Synod.    I now know.

The diocesan representatives to the House of Laity are elected by the lay members of the Deanery Synods.  Having very recently picked up the chalice of being a member of a Deanery Synod, I can understand why one twitterer described Reform as ‘the Church’s Militant Tendency’.

I do not think, for one minute, that our twitterer was likening the people within Reform to Derek Hatton and his cohort in terms of the way that they behave towards their fellow men, but rather, I presume, the association was with the methods of Militant Tendency.

The Labour Party in the 1970’s and before, was ultimately run by people appointed through Unions and constituency party representatives.    Those representatives were elected by those who had the commitment (and high boredom threshold) to sit through innumerable committee meetings.

Of course, few ordinary Labour members were so willing – Life is, after all, too short!

The danger within the Church of England is that only those who are willing to attend Deanery Synod meetings have a voice in who represents the laity of the Church of England in General Synod.

The day after I attended my first Deanery Synod meeting, Rev Richard Coles invited his followers on twitter to nominate ‘two words that filled them with dread’.   One of his own offerings was ‘Deanery Synod’, and I understood what he meant.

There are many ways in which I should prefer to spend my evenings than listening to people who like the sound of their own voice pouring out their opinions on matters that appear to be of only limited relevance to the mission of the Church.   If I had left the meeting after the superb opening act of worship, I should probably have gone to bed a much happier man!

And therein lies the problem.   If I was concerned to ensure that my point of view prevailed in the House of Laity, and had friends of a like mind, I should ensure that Ithey and I should seek election by their parishes to their Deanery Synods.   They would be elected unopposed since no-one really wants to spend their evenings at Deanery Synod meetings.   We would then be in a strong position to secure the election of ‘our’ candidates to General Synod and, just like Labour’s Militant Tendency, we would be ready to sit in place quietly until it was time to stage our coup against the leadership.

Is this what has happened?   It is difficult to be sure, but note this:  42 out of 44 Diocesan Synods supported the legislation, yet more (just more) than a third of the House of Laity opposed it.

No-one has ever claimed that the Church of England is, or should be, a democracy.   But, if members of the House of Laity use (or should that be ‘abuse’) their position to defeat the settled will of the Church, they will inevitably raise questions about how they were chosen and whether there should be changes to ensure that there is no repeat.

What changes might there be?   Well, if we did want a wider ‘electorate’ for the choice of members of the House of Laity, the information should be available to ask the Electoral Reform Society to run the five-yearly election with all those on parochial electoral rolls having a vote.   Or if that was too wide, perhaps the votes should be taken of all members of the laity who attend their Annual Vestry meetings.

In the meantime, the leaders of the Church and especially Archbishop Designate Justin, need and deserve the prayers of all members of the Church.

But what of those whose reaction today will be one of exultation at their ‘success’?   Reflection upon John Donne’s most famous lines might be relevant to their situation.  Harm suffered by any part of the church is harm suffered by the whole of the Church: ‘ask not for whom the bell tolls…’