The Queen has inaugurated the Tenth General Synod of the Church of England, following a service at Westminster Abbey this morning.
Arriving with the Duke of Edinburgh, Her Majesty looked radiant as she took her seat in a grey and cream striped tweed jacket and hat amongst the hundreds of religious leaders and worshippers gathered for the pre-Synod Eucharist.
During the service, presided over by Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, both The Queen and Prince Philip received communion and listened intently to the sermon, delivered by Father Raneiro Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household.
In a passionate and engaging address, Father Janeiro said that disagreements over moral issues should not divide churches. “It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity is not wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to establish each other’s rights and wrongs,” he said. “Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gates of a river or a canal enable ships to continue to navigate at a higher water level.
Raising the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation, he said: “The situation has dramatically changed since [Reformation times]. We need to start again with the person of Jesus, humbly helping our contemporaries to experience a personal encounter with Him.”
“We should never allow a moral issue like that of sexuality divide us more than faith in Jesus of Nazareth.”
His comments come at an increasingly difficult time for the Church which has faced criticism, both internally and externally over its approach to same-sex marriage and gender inequality.
In the Synod gathering following the service, The Queen recognised the divisive nature of the Church, saying: ” The last Synod will be particularly remembered for the way in which, after prolonged reflection and conversation, even in the midst of deep disagreements, it was able to approve the legislation to enable women to be consecrated as bishops.”
The General Synod, which is the Church of England’s national assembly, deals with all matters of religious, or Canon, law and has powers to pass measures which receive Royal Assent and become part of the law of England, if approved by both the House of Commons and House of Lords.
In November last year, the Synod passed the measure which ended centuries of male dominated leadership in the Church to a mixed response. Some religious leaders argued that tradition should be upheld and only men should hold the most senior positions. The decision to allow women to become bishops came 20 years after they were first ordained as priests.
England’s first female bishop, Rt Rev Libby Lane, Bishop of Stockport, gave the Gospel reading at today’s service, quoting St John 17: 20 – 26.
It is expected that the Synod’s main debate will be how the UK should deal with the ongoing refugee crisis. Indeed, Graham Kendrick’s hymn ‘Beauty for Brokeness’ was the one chosen as the Abbey congregation received communion.
Numerous lines including “Voices to plead the cause of those who can’t speak”, “Refuge from cruel wars, havens from fear” and “shelter for fragile lives” were all poignant and relevant to the escalating problem facing Britain.
In her speech, The Queen urged assembled members to “continue to draw deeply on your faith, judgement, and life experiences” as they discuss issues facing the Church in the coming days.
“This new Synod will have to grapple with the difficult issues confronting out Church and our world,” she said, adding “On some of these there will be many different views.”
Her Majesty also spoke of the many changes the Church had undergone since the first Synod meeting. She said: “The presence among us today of the Preacher to the Papal Household would not have been possible but for the notable advances since 1970 in co-operation across the great Christian traditions.”
She spoke of the show of unity within the Church and its willingness to embrace other viewpoints, saying that a gathering of different faith leaders at Lambeth Palace in 2012 was one of the highlights of her Diamond Jubilee.