I met my wife, Joy Carroll, at Greenbelt, a summer festival of faith, arts, and justice held annually in England. It was August 1994. A few months earlier, in May, Joy was one of the first women to be ordained as a priest in the Church of England. We were both speakers on a panel one day at Greenbelt, in a tent with 5,000 young people. Afterwards, we met for coffee. Joy had been an ordained deacon in the church for six years and was a leader in the movement to recognize all the gifts women had to offer both to the church and the parishes they served. She was the youngest member of the General Synod that decided to ordain women, and she was there for the historic vote in Church House Westminster in London. That cup of coffee eventually led to our marriage in 1997.
I have a vivid memory of returning to Greenbelt as speakers in 2002 with our almost 4-year-old son Luke. It was Sunday morning, and Joy was up on the worship platform celebrating the Eucharist for 20,000 people. My little boy was sitting on my lap watching his mom lead worship up on the stage. Luke looked up at me and said, “Daddy, can men do that too?”
That was a moment that showed me how national and global conversations can change — and how the church can change them. It also taught me how important it is for boys to see their moms being priests and pastors in the church.
Last weekend, I spoke to the Church of England’s General Synod at York. And this was the opening story I shared when I preached on Sunday at York Minster, the Cathedral where all the delegates had gathered for worship. The story prompted great smiles from the congregants, who the next day, on Monday, July 14, would vote to affirm women as bishops in the Church of England. This historic vote, in turn, prompted big smiles from Joy and our two sons Luke and Jack.
The invitation for me to speak at York was a result of the Church of England’s year-long intensive study of an ancient idea called “the common good,” to which they now wish to return. On Saturday, I addressed the delegates on the timeliness and urgency of the common good. My talk was followed by small group work around the University of York, followed by corporate discussion and debate in the General Synod. These sessions culminated in a formal motion on the common good, which was passed at the end of the day.
The motion was as follows:
“That this Synod
(a) affirm the theological imperative of serving the common good;
(b) commend the practical activities which serve the common good, exemplified by our parishes, dioceses, and the NCIs, and encourage their future development, and
(c) call on churches at a local level, along with diocesan and national Church bodies, to ensure by word and action that the political parties are challenged to promote the common good when drawing up their manifestos for the 2015 General Election.”
When I was invited to speak at the General Synod, I had no idea such a process was even underway in the Church of England, or that my book On God’s Side, now renamed in the revised paperback edition to The UnCommon Good, was seminal to the process. I didn’t realize until after I arrived that my coming would give the Synod the opportunity to spend a half day of their Synod agenda on the common good and to make a formal Synod motion for a mission to practice the common good in their parishes throughout the country —and even extend it to calling the political parties to accountability in their next election in 2015.
I returned home very grateful. This is why I wrote this book. My hope and prayer is that individuals, churches, civil society, business, and public policy would ask this most critical question of all their decisions: “How will this serve the common good?” The cause of the common good has now become the moral prerequisite for any progress in our societies, economies, and politics now so corrupted with the ethic of self-interest.
And the historic Synod vote in York on Monday reminds us that all of our gifts will be needed for the full exercise of the common good — inclusive of every race, class, and gender. As in Galatians 3:26-28, “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Living out these words will make the common good far less uncommon in our societies today.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God’s Side, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.