General Synod

of the Church of England - July 2008

by Tim Hind

from Signs of the Times, No. 31 - Oct 2008

Friday 4th

The General Synod is heading for a weekend of debates which will help to shape the future of the Church. This is how I started last year's report on the July Synod. No change there then.

Metropolitan John of Pergamon was invited to address Synod on the subject of Anglican-Orthodox Relations. This was followed by a debate on the singularly uninspiring "Cyprus Agreed Statement of the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue 2006". A group has been meeting on and off since 1973 and came up with the statement as a result of a renewed effort started in 1989. They have been trying to understand their differences for longer than our Lord was alive! In typical uncritical style we commended the statement for study in the Church of England. Presumably this will mean that a few more theologians out of touch with reality will be kept off the streets for a bit longer.

Bishop Nigel ( Manchester ) presented to us the challenge of looking at the potential options for Women Bishops as part of a series of Group Work sessions on Saturday morning. There are 6 options labelled as follows:

  1. Single Clause with no national provision to protect opponents. Under this option all existing restrictions would be swept away. This option is not likely to be accepted by opponents.

  2. Minimal Legislation with some provision in one of four flavours

    1. with an obligation for a statutory code of practice
    2. as a. above but with Part II of the 1993 measure in full force
    3. as b. with delegation of duties to a complementary bishop
    4. transfer of powers to a complementary bishop
  3. New structure for those opposed.

In the grand scheme of things 1 and 3 are diametrically opposed and are unlikely to gain Synod approval on the grounds of divisiveness.

It will be interesting to see whether 2a and 2b become the front runners,

Saturday 5th

The debate on the Women Bishops Report of the Legislative Drafting Group was very gracious. Much of the reason for this was the fact that the substantive disagreement was likely to be on the debate on Monday.

The media have been crawling all over us since early on Friday. Before Synod started I had been interviewed by the York Press - although nothing was attributed as I wasn't from the right province. During the afternoon of Saturday BBC Radio 4 were out and about gathering soundbites for their Broadcasting House programme on Sunday and I was interviewed live on Five Live during their news coverage, by John Pienaar no less, on Saturday evening.

Although the battle lines may be obscure for pew watchers it is quite clear at the moment as to the options. Revisiting the previous exposition of these, there are 3 general options which can be expressed as

  1. Single Clause which sweeps away existing legislation.
  2. Fudge
  3. Separate Dioceses for opponents.

The first appeals to those who have a real desire for Women's' Episcopate. The latter appeals to those who are fearful of it and want to build an alternative universe without Women's' episcopacy.

The Church of England has always had a sweet tooth and was appearing to test this out during the debate. In reality there were two scenarios emerging.

First there was a scenario where 1 and 3 were in evidence. This was epitomised by the groups who felt that the centre ground was genuine fudge.

The other camp feels that 1 and 3 are so unlikely to be chosen by "right minded folk" that they feel the only way forward was to adopt one of 2(a - d) mentioned above.

There is a massive hearts and minds activity needed required here because it is clear that human intervention cannot square this circle.

In his Presidential Address Archbishop Sentamu gave us 5 building blocks for mission. These were putting God's Kingdom first, an imperative for change, an emphasis to outreach and an undergirding of the whole by Love and Prayer.

He illustrated the idea of outreach by the mathematical conundrum of trying to divide 17 camels into 3 portions of 1/2, 1/3 and 1/9 of the whole. It can't be done without severing limbs. However, if an 18th camel is added voluntarily the portions amounting to 9, 6 and 2 becomes possible and the 18th camel is released for further service. We are all being called to be the 18th Camel.

Our first dose of Legislative Business covered the final stages of the Terms of Service Measure. This has been a 6 year struggle and its end is reached with great relief. There is still some tidying up to do but we are now in a position to offer real protection to those clergy who are not of incumbent status.

Other items included the Pensions Measure which allows for the Church Commissioners to spend capital in support of the funding of pensions.

A report on Reader Ministry was debated in the evening and commended to dioceses, deaneries and parishes for further study. Full of fairly obvious recommendations it was accepted but not universally acclaimed. Many members of Synod felt that it wasn't a quality production although the spotlight being placed on Reader Ministry was welcome. There was an impassioned plea from the Chief Executive of the Church Army to make sure that other accredited Lay Ministry wasn't forgotten in the clamour for a changed focus on this one aspect.

After the last debate, the Open Synod Group hosted a quiz which was part pub quiz style but also had a bit of a comedy style. We started with "I'm sorry, I haven't a Pew" with a number of the "favourites" being adapted to Synodical themes. We even had a Samantha, albeit in the form of an inflatable doll.

Sunday 6th

Throughout the weekend the debates around the meal tables have been about the Women's issue. This has meant to some extent that Synod has had a relatively relaxed attitude about the rest of the business - however important.

Having said that, the Church Tourism debate engendered an enormous amount of press coverage. This imaginative idea of promoting our churches in a coherent way came through as a Private Members Motion from Roy Thompson of York Diocese. There is a Church Tourism Association which has a Sacred Britain strategy. We are being invited to support their aims and to ask dioceses to resource appropriately to enable partnerships to be formed at regional and local level.

After a spot more Legislative Business we contemplated a very useful report into Climate Change & Human Security. Sharpened up to reflect the need for a bit more urgency the proposal to engage more actively to help to understand and respond to the threat of Climate Change was passed.

A new Chair of Pension Board - Dr Jonathan Spencer - was appointed from 1 January 2009 for a period of 5 years.

A selection of Audit Issues and Governance reports was discussed.

Before the next substantive debate we were advised that there were going to be 14 amendments tabled to the next debate on Women Bishops due to take place on Monday afternoon. This meant a serious restructuring of the agenda for the next day.

In February we had discussed a report on parochial fees called Four Funerals & a Wedding. The review group had been advised to rethink its strategy a touch and this resulted in an addition report which outlined the short term legislative requirements and the medium to long term regulations.

The report calls for legislation to be put in place to revise the current fees framework. The process we are going through is broken and is in desperate need of repair. There are doubts about the validity of some practices and there is some unease about the way in which funeral fees, in particular, are collected and disbursed.

The level of fees, what they include, how they are justified - amongst other things - all need to be addressed. Although the Synod is always a bit unhappy about change it received this report well.

A number of people challenged the prospective changes but the proposal was passed by a very large majority.

At the end of the session it was a retreat to one of the bars on the campus to continue the dialogue on ... Women Bishops.

Monday 7th

Although we had a very valuable report on the Anglican Methodist Covenant and a debate on the Parochial Fees Order 2008 and even a debate on Faith Work & Economic Life which was immensely worthwhile, everyone was so tense about the coming debate on Women's' Episcopacy that very few of us were able to concentrate during the morning.

Where did we think we were at this time? Some of us naïvely thought that we were going through a process that everyone would accept when the final whistle was blown and the fat lady sang - to mix my metaphors!!!! How wrong we were.

The options described previously are graded in terms of generosity towards opponents. When the debate started there were a few wrecking amendments that were despatched summarily by significant majorities. Option 1 was defeated by 65% and the Option 3 amendments were likewise dismissed by 67% and 62% respectively.

So what were seen to be the extremes had been seen off by the respective parties. This was where the proponents of the consecration of women had underestimated the rigidity and single-mindedness of the opponents.

Each variation of option 2 was an attempt to be generous to the opposition. However, it became abundantly clear through the debate and conversations that took place during any breaks, that this would not appease any of the hardliners who had been holding out for a separate diocese or for some form of statutory transfer/delegation of Episcopal power.

The Archbishop of Canterbury set the expectations early on that we should seek to have more rather than less robust solutions. This was to overcome any misunderstandings of what he described as "local autonomy".

Bishop Peter Price, Bath & Wells went on to say that "justice lay at the heart of our theology" and that we must not create a framework that discriminates.

The Bishop of Chichester endorsed the need for Women Bishops to be seen as no different to Male Bishops but cautioned that that didn't stop some bishops denying the validity of their orders.

The debate started at 2:30 in the afternoon and finished at 10:15 at night. We were allowed time off for good behaviour for 1½ hours for an evening meal. By the end we were all knackered and some were in tears.

There was one moment of irony that was not lost on all members of Synod. Each debate or amendment has a number and this was tabled as item 20. Each member likewise has a number and the two numbers are displayed on electronic notice boards all around the chamber. It was the opportunity for the Bishop of Gloucester to open the debate on Women Bishops. As his number was also 20 the display showing 20/20 was considered by some to be a hopeful sign that we would have a perfect vision for the future.

In the end the result was 68% in favour of taking the proposals back to the legislative drafting group for work on a simple measure with a statutory code of practice. This will be brought back in February 2009.

This was a bruising debate in which both sides were robust. The ascendant side doesn't know what more they could have done to be more accommodating without ending up with a discriminatory solution. The other side doesn't wish to compromise in any way - even though their preferred solution was unlikely to get through Parliament in the long term.

From my viewpoint the stubbornness exercised by the opposition was noticeable but the opposition and the outside world may judge differently.

Tuesday 8th

A very different day started with a very poignant Eucharist presided over by one of the so called flying bishops. With ironic choices for readings which spoke darkly of heretics the bishop led us through to the beginning of the final session by talking about how the church will always be there to be missionaries to a messy world.

One of those messes is the proliferation of bodies that claims to direct or govern our ways of thinking. General Synod, The Anglican Communion and The Archbishops' Council etc all appear to be part of Anglican Governance. But no-one has a clear route map which shows the relationship. In a sense it is because of this vacuum that things like GAFCON can contemplate creating other structures.

In a very good debate (which had a lot of good humoured speeches) we asked for the House of Bishops - itself a part of the mess - to draw up a relationship chart.

The rest of the morning was spent on approving the 2009 Budget and its Apportionment, a report from the Church Commissioners and farewells.

On a light-hearted note it was a good weekend for fraternal relations (with the slight local difficulty of the Women Bishops debate). Eight brothers, including the Bishops of Carlisle, Chichester & Leicester, were conjoined with the Bishop of Burnley and his wife and with Maggie Swinson and her daughter Becky to form an exclusive group called FROGS (Families and Relatives on General Synod). Our inauguration was marked by a breakfast on Sunday Morning and special badges.

The Bath & Wells grouping on this elite band of 12 (rather biblical) consists of Jonathan Lloyd and me.

I would like to continue to think that our group which has a broad range of churchmanship will be a beacon for the principle of communion within our church.