The Can(n)on’s thunder can’t prevail *

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The big deal today was Cathedrals: but before that we had to get ready to leave. The last morning of a York Synod is always slightly odd (it only lasts till lunchtime). Some people have already gone home, and there is the whole business of packing your bags up and hauling them to a storage space so the University can get into the rooms to service them. Get up, shower, hurry to Communion, a hurried breakfast and a high-speed clamber back up the hill to Alcuin College (the Siberia of the campus) to clean teeth, pack bag, get back to the store-room with it – and then to Central Hall. And all by 9.00.  I managed it by about 9.03, so worship had already started.

The Commissioners are exciting!

The late night bar grumbling about the Evangelism report being missed  out owing to yesterday’s over-runs was not manifested in spurious points of order. There was some Twittering about it, and a couple of people made clever interventions in the opening business. But we then experienced something new – an exciting report from the Church Commissioners!


New face: Loretta Minghella joined the Commissioners from Christian Aid

Loretta Minghella has now been in charge for 8 months, succeeding Sir Andreas Whittam-Smith. ‘Andreas’, as he was universally known was wise, cautious in discussion, and lugubrious when presenting a report, whether the Commissioners’ finances were up or down. He rarely strayed into the realms of theology. Loretta Minghella was rather different. Lively, passionate, sympathetic to mission…

She said she found an in-tray full of funding requests in her first week. But the Commissioners have to be careful about distribution of money – actuaries keep them on the straight and narrow. Among her remarks:

  • she recalled that in the 50s and 60s the Commissioners over-stretched themselves. However, over 10, 20 and 30 years, their investments have out-performed their benchmarks. But she
  • she returned to the impact of the ethical investment work they do in conjunction with others. “We are changing the way business does business.”
  • although last year they did not hit their ‘inflation plus 5%’ target, they are putting money in to the Archbishops Council’s strategic funding for dioceses a form of co-operation between the national bodies that has not always been the case.
  • she spoke warmly of the work of the other two leading Commissioners – Dame Caroline Spelman MP (who speaks for them in Parliament and has to take a huge range of questions about the Church in the House) and Eve Poole, the Second Estates Commissioner, who (amongst other things) will be leading on the Cathedrals reforms (see later in this post).

So she was really addressing the Commissioners’ role beyond just being investors to being supporters and enthusiasts for building the Kingdom. The Commissioners are not always greatly loved, even when they are respected for their financial performance. There’s been a tradition in Synod of taking a swipe at them at Questions or when they make a report. (I’ve done a bit of that in the past…) But they are now loved for their leading in the TPI and ethical investment work (see report on Sunday’s debates here)

This was a breath of fresh air.  And, note, all three of the Estates Commissioners are now women.

Clergy pensions sneak in…

Afterwards there was a formal motion to extend the appointment of the Chair of the Pensions Board, Dr Jonathan Spencer. Such motions usually pass without note, but Jonathan Alderton-Ford, an old Synod hand, took the opportunity to remind the Board – and Synod – of the issue raised in the House of Clergy meeting on Saturday night: the deleterious effect on clergy pensions of the decision to go into SERPS just before the Government abolished SERPS.

The effect has been to cut clergy pensions from 2/3 of the national stipend to ½. In other words, retired clergy in receipt of a pension earned from that point are worse off. (I declare an interest as a recipient of a clergy pension.) This one won’t go away if the House of Clergy’s request for a review of clergy remuneration (see the end of Saturday’s report) goes ahead. It was raised again during the Cathedrals debate that followed what is the justification for paying residentiary canons more than incumbents?

Which brings us to Cathedrals…


The Rt Revd Vivienne Faul (pic: York diocese)

Viv Faull, the new Bishop of Bristol, introduced the presentation and debate. She reminded us that she had worked in three different cathedrals over the years, and was Dean of one (York) when appointed vice-Chair of the working group. She cleverly reminded us that when the last raft of Cathedral reforms were put through, the Grand Deans of Grand Old Cathedrals were unhappy to be relegated to having the same status as the Provosts of the jumped-up ‘new’ cathedrals. But they put up with it.

She went on to give a Cook’s Tour of the things being done and said about Cathedrals at the moment:

  • there are plenty of people who love cathedrals and work for them, despite knowing their frailties and failings.
  • the current report (GS2101A -read it here) is the result of a big consultative process. (Some would dispute that, in view of the time frame; and we were told that the Bishop of Stepney, Chair of the review group had apologised to residentiary canons for lack of consultation.)
  • many of the non-legislative recommendations are already being put in place by cathedrals in a collaborative way
  • Eve Poole at the Commissioners has pulled together the work in an energetic way (see here and scroll down for more or this)
  • there is conflict between those who think cathedrals are too far from their Bishop and diocese and those who think they must maintain a healthy independence for the Bishop and the diocese.
  • relationship breakdowns and confused accountability have been part of the story of recent years.
  • special care will need to be taken with the smaller, less well-resourced and parish church cathedrals
  • to resolve the tensions in the ‘Dean and Chapter’ structure, the Report has altered the accountabilities and introduced a vice-Chair. Strategy and executive management are separated out. No one Canon will be able to frustrate the corporate decision-making.
  • cathedrals and Bishops need to work closer together for the benefit of mission and to ensure no gaps in areas like safeguarding

Her serious parting shot was to say that the way the 1990s Howe report was handled is instructive. (It was hacked about by Synod, so was not implemented as drafted.) So that explains why the current group did not want any cherry-picking of their recommendations. If Howe had been adopted in its original form, this report might not have been needed. So she hoped this Synod would not do the same thing again.

Her closing lighter remark was about the proposal to have Cathedrals regulated by the Charity Commission. Sounds a simple idea. But it may be interesting: when other ancient foundations (Oxbridge colleges) had to sign up, they found their foundation documents were in Latin!

Heavyweights come in

The Bishop of Worcester followed on. For him, this is about finishing the unfinished work in the Howe report and its patchy implementation.  He defended the proposals that were causing trouble.

  • extending Chapters is an evolutionary idea, not a revolution – it just extends the first steps into lay involvement that Howe introduced.
  • the Vice-Chair idea has been greeted with suspicion. But this is not to introduce a Bishop’s spy: the V-C carries the same trustee responsibilities and accountabilities as the rest of Chapter, and will be a ‘critical friend’ for the Dean and Chapter.

So far, so official. But the heavyweight floor speakers came next: David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s, Eve Poole, Second Church Estates Commissioner, and Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark

David Ison was very kind about the report at first, with 5 points to register:

  1. Greater accountability is welcomed: and he cheekily asked if parish clergy and Bishops would accept similar accountability? In some places where there is a vice-Dean, a vice Chair might conflict with the vice Dean. So they want further consideration of the lay vice-Chair idea – it’s not the right accountability
  2. We welcome stronger accountability, but we notice nobody wants to actually do it: the  Church Commissioners do not see it as their role, and the Charity Commission may not either.
  3. There must be flexibility in implanting the report: the 42 cathedrals are very different in size, resourcing, buildings issues and so on.
  4. Specifically, he believed the implementation by the central group must have representation from Deans: to consult and work together needs more time.
  5. The report states the praying heart of a cathedral is also its governance heart. That must be maintained.

Eve Poole, Third Church Estates Commissioner is the focus for greater activity in ensuring implementation. She has set up workstreams within the Commissioners, but with representation for all the bodies with an interest in cathedrals – clergy, fabric, finance, residentiary canons, and so on. She will ensure all cathedrals and the central group walk in step.

Nervousness about the speed of work meant that everyone gave a sympathetic hearing an amendment moving the date for the first draft new Measure from next February’s Synod to July. That will give Eve Poole’s group more time to consult and plan well.


Mediaeval: this stonework in Wells probably represents cleric and others from the past

But Andrew Nunn used the amendment to spell out the annoyance that was felt across many Cathedrals at the original time-scale and lack of consultations, particularly with and about residentiary canons He quoted Archbishop Justin’s mantra that ‘Cathedrals are safe places to do risky things in Christ’s service’. And he saw the insertion of a vice Chair as restricting that freedom. So he would vote for the motion ‘with reluctance’.

With the big guns out of the way, a general debate ensued. We heard:

  • the power of prayer is the beating heart of the Cathedral.
  • in some overseas places the lay vice-chair is a benefit that works.
  • there is deep suspicion of the vice-chair as ‘the Bishop’s nark’
  • communicating all this must be done very carefully – remembering the Daily Mail’s ludicrous report about selling off cathedrals. If you’re in need of a good laugh, read it here.
  • bishop’s oversight is to be welcomed: it is preferable to no contact between cathedral and Bishop.
  • the contrasts between different Cathedrals must be taken into account in the final Measure – Pete Wilcox, former Dean of big-city Liverpool and a canon at small-city Lichfield cited them as examples
  • the need for stronger financial management must be built into governance
  • cathedrals are places where the gospel can be ‘overheard’ by all who visit or attend events

Barchester Towers totters?


Cathedrals are great survivors: Wells’ scissor arches date from 1338-48

As I see it, the things that the ‘cathedral community’ are cross about are largely about management and governance, as well as about the process so far.

But they do not amount to the end of Cathedral civilisation as we know it. Three points emerged for me:

  1. a running concern of Deans and Chapter members is the insertion of a vice-Chair who will take the Chapter chair in the absence of the Dean. Despite Viv Faull’s clear statement that a vice-Dean must act as any trustee should – in the Cathedral’s interest, not the Bishop’s, they clearly have not ‘got’ this
  2. the timescale for getting a Measure off the ground is worrying some. Cathedrals do tend to move at a glacial pace, of course. Did you ever see a verger running? Eve Poole has clearly got an energetic set-up ready in the Cathedrals Support Group at the Commissioners, and it appears on paper to be well-resourced. But everyone in the Cathedral world is busy, and chasing off to London for meetings at short notice is not easy. December, for example, is a non-time to get anything done except the essentials. So delaying presenting a draft Measure until July will create space for better consultation and better drafting. It settled some beating hearts – the people who were worried that we were in too much of a hurry.
  3. Shades of Barchester do hang around the proposed tightening up around residentiary canons. In some cases true collegiality is hard to find, with some independent spirits doing their own thing and not the corporate thing. There were grumbles from the floor that the £2,000 uplift on stipend they get is unjustifiable. But making them more accountable and collegiate is clearly not liked by some.

Homeward thoughts

Now the July sessions are over, apart from the business transacted – and I’ve written more than enough about that – there are or two reflections to offer:

Sophis CEYC

CEYC group at York Minster (pic: Sophie)

The young members from the Church of England Youth Council (CEYC) have been more prominent than I remember them being for some years. If you don’t know what CEYC is, look here. There have been some very good speeches from their reps, and they have engaged with us oldies more than used to be the case. And there’s Sophie’s blog, too.

In debates, we have a sprinkling of fairly new Chairs, but all the Chairs seem to have upped the quotient of maiden speeches. This prevents ‘the usual suspects’ (I am potentially one of those in certain matters) hogging the floor, and it widens the range of voices and experiences we hear. That’s good.

Saul Bellow Chapel

The Chapel has not has Vera Lynn before…

I spoke on Friday’s debate on the agenda about the importance of the early Communion service each day. (That brought about the delightful and bizarre Vera Lynn moment on Saturday morning…)

In the event, the service at 07.00 attracted between 30 and 40 people each day (as far as I could count).

But I met several people who had breakfast meetings and suchlike who still could not fit in prayer, breakfast and whatever their meeting was and be ready to go in the Hall at 09.00.

And that’s not the only timings issue. I think the Business Committee need to look carefully again at this.

  • Taking food away from fringe meetings has two bonuses: it saves money, and it helps people to meet and chat over food. The Synod Alpha effect, if you like.
  • On the other hand… It means the pressure on dining halls is increased. Vanbrugh was certainly too crowded to be pleasant at times – just too many people crammed in, and the queues made eating less pleasant all round. Not everyone had time to sit in the bar and sip a gin while waiting for the queues to diminish. What actually happened was that people with an evening fringe meeting were skipping evening prayers to get into eat in order to be somewhere else at 8.00. If you stayed to pray, you could not do it, so you got to your meeting late. And friends, the story is true. I know. I was that soldier. +

I don’t know what the solution is (or I would suggest it), but it is just a bit too cramped.

My late-night chats with the journalists and old Synod hands (no names, no packdrill. I must protect my sources…) revealed a very interesting observation from the hacks. They think that compared to five or six years ago, there is very little tribalism in Synod now. And I think they are right. You would see blocks of traditional Catholics sitting together, eating together, drinking together. Equally, protagonists for women in ministry would often keep together, as would the evangelicals. That doesn’t happen now.

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People sit more randomly, they chat over meals with whoever happens to be at their table, and the whole atmosphere is more collegial. The Shared Conversations and this weekend’s seminars have doubtless helped with that. That bodes well for the difficult times ahead.

Other blogs are available…

As ever, I am surprised at the take-up to this blog, originally started in July 2012 to help interested people keep up with the progress in the women bishops debates. Now it simply gives a daily update when Synod is in session. People have been kind enough to say they like the detail I give (not that I give a lot now) and the ‘light touch’. The Law and Religion blog even went so far as to describe it as “essential reading for anyone seeking an unbiased analysis of events at General Synod”. (Gosh. Do they mean me?)

WordPress gives me stats of who’s visiting the blog (not personal data, obv.) As of Tuesday afternoon (when I wrote this on the train home), bathwellschap has clocked up 1067 visitors over the weekend of this Synod, with 1925 page views. Readers (or at least, skimmers) are from the UK for the most part (just over 1,000 visitors), but the country roll includes Argentine, Nigeria, the Philippines and Japan.

  • I put considerable time and effort into providing links to the key documents or other sources when I have finished drafting each day’s post. That’s what keeps me up late at night.
  • My thinking was to help people get behind the initial coverage and see stuff for themselves – to improve their understanding and interest. But if nobody wants the links, I can save myself a lot of time and get a lot more sleep if I don’t bother.
  • So it’s been gratifying this time around to see a slightly higher take-up of the links. And don’t ever be cautious about clicking on a link. Use them or lose them.

But I am not the only person doing this. So you might want to look up some other Synod bloggers. It’s not a competition: the whole point is to communicate Synod to those outside who want to know what goes on (I hope this blog will encourage more people to stand in elections in 2020, for a start). And, let us be honest, it’s a way of self-affirmation and saying ‘I am here!’ to the wider world.

  • Sophie Ann Florence from the Church of England Youth Council gives a newcomers’ impressions of joining in as a member of the CEYC delegation.
  • Andrew Williams, a lay member from Coventry does a daily report – which is a lot easier to read than this one…
  • Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark and a much-admired Chair of many debates does a daily Synod blog too– it’s more ruminative and reflective than bathwellschap and ends with a prayer each day. Good stuff.
  • Rachel Mann is a new clergy rep from Manchester and she’s blogged about her first Synod. She’s craftily included the text of her maiden speech and explained how it feels to be called to speak without much warning.
  • Charlotte Gale, a Coventry clergy rep normally blogs her Synod report once she gets home
  • The other place to go for info and comment about General Synod is Thinking Anglicans. They link to official documents, etc. – and have a lively below-the-line conversation about current matters. And they link to bathwellschap, which is largely why I get such a good readership, though Twitter does well. (You can get an automatic notification of a new bathwellschap post by clicking the ‘follow’ button in the right-hand column near the top of this post.)

And finally…

Lastly, as I was writing this I was accosted by William Nye, the Secretary General, and we had a quick chat about my current hobby-horse – the centenary of the 1919 Enabling Act. (See Friday’s report – scroll down to ‘A moment of fame’.) This was the law that gave the Church at national level the freedom to make laws, subject only to some riders (such as the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament in certain areas). At local level, it revived lay participation by inventing PCCs and (I think) the House of Laity in the Church Assembly, the precursor to General Synod. We’ll see what can happen, though time is now too short for the proper book I had hoped for.

Bathwellschap will be back for the February General Synod, and I may follow up my posts about IICSA by posting something about the hearings into Peter Ball that happen at the end of this month, though it won’t be done on the day.

As the man used to say on the wireless (or nearly so) – If you have been, thanks for reading.


* The cannon’s thunder can’t prevail. OK, so I cheated on the spelling! But I couldn’t resist. It’s from You will be my ain true love, as sung by Sting and Alison Krauss in the 2003 film Cold Mountain

+ “And friends, the story is true…” If that phrase seems familiar… it’s the spoken pay-off to Wink Martindale’s version of Deck of Cards, the sentimental song about the soldier who justified his pack of cards by explaining how each aspect represents some element of the Christian story. “And when I see the four aces, I am reminded of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John..” etc. etc

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I fought the law… *

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The General Synod can make laws. Not many people know that. It’s a power given to the Church of England as the Established Church 99 years ago in the Enabling Act. So every now and then we examine or sign off new Measures. Don’t worry, we can’t make laws about parking or taxes or very much – except things affecting church life. And this Monday we did a lot of it in the afternoon. As the next line of the song goes: ‘and the law won’. It was a long session that wore most of us down.

Head Office is here to help…

But we began with annual meeting type stuff. First a well-meaning but slightly anodyne presentation from two lay members of the Archbishops Council. It rather had the flavour of a report from Head Office telling the troops everything is going well at the centre, but it was illustrated by some very good videos, including the heart-rending car wash one about exploited slave workers. Have a look here to see the vocations video and here for the modern slavery in car washes videohighly recommended.

There was a grumble that the videos had no subtitles,, making it very hard for the Deaf Anglicans Together members. It’s a sign of how nimble Church House Comma has got that within 30 minutes, a tweet told us they had put subtitled versions of the videos up online, with apologies.

Then the rumbustious John Spence, Chair of the Archbishops Council Finance Committee came on to present the budget.

…but we have to get the money right

His brief was to present the Archbishops Council budget – i.e. the plans and costs for central church resources. After some jokes – as usual – came the bad news: parish finances are under pressure in a way that has not been seen recently: the stats on planned giving and parish reserves are not looking good. In the middle of our structures stand the dioceses, from whom he reported nervousness about finance and confidence. But then he launched into a quickie list of good news stories – ordinands numbers, take-up of the church website and lots more. We are not seeing the harvest yet, but we are investing for a good future, was his approach. “I am brimming with confidence!” he said.

The proportion of money coming from the dioceses will reduce from 93% to 76% next year – thanks to cooperation and support from partners such as the Commissioners, the EIG and the Corporation of Church House. (The latter are giving £2m to the Council in this budget.) He is looking for a financial strategy that will give an equitable solution to the Council’s concerns: there will need to be prioritisation at the centre: they will be looking out for opportunities and needs. More ordinands mean increased support required. Safeguarding needs more resource. The detailed budget is no secret: anyone can read it here.


John Spence, Chair of Archbishops’ Council Finance Committee. Pic: Newcastle Diocese.

John Spence can be funny, and he can be combative. He channelled the spirit of Bishop John Curry in a barnstorming summing-up.

He then put himself on the line by saying “If you want a Chair who balances the books while the C of E goes down the plughole, I’m not that man” (That at least is the gist of what he said, as Beyond the Fringe’s classic sermon would say – I don’t have an accurate quote).

He sat down to thunderous applause.

In discussion people said

  • Is it right to take money from the Church House Corporation while they host a major arms fair? John Spence noted they are an independent charity, and it was a British Army event: we should support them. But he also noted the Council are tenants: the Corporation are our landlords.
  • Planned giving is falling partly because millennial generation don’t work that way: we need to address giving amongst younger people. A genuine millennial, Annika Mathews pointed out that church and job mobility is important for them: we need to go to direct debits and touch card machines. An older person said they also have student debt and unattainable mortgages to worry about.
  • New financial arrangements for theological training are giving huge problems for colleges and courses, especially for candidates over 40.

Needless to say, the budget was approved. There has to be a series of quick-fire votes on the various elements, so for five minutes it looked a bit like Ceausescu’s Politburo, with massed shows of hands in favour of what the Leadership were proposing.

Law-makers and law-breakers

The legislative business followed – a long gruelling session with detailed amendments when dedicated ‘backbench’ members tried to improve or change the proposals before us. The range of subject areas was huge.

We signed off new ecumenical relationship arrangements, and some very detailed changes to the law about funeral provision, Church Commissioners’ powers to support the wider church, and more. It’s not called the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure for nothing.

It got really exciting after that when we moved on to  two draft Measures about church property and pensions for clergy. The general plan is draw together (‘consolidate’) a patchwork of legislation which has accumulated over many years. Should you be so moved, a glance at GS2083A will give you the idea. If you are really keen, the pages on pages of details of textual amendments can be seen via this webpage (scroll down) , but I’m not going to encourage you…) A couple of examples of the detailed nature of this stuff:

  • the Property measure allows church lawyers to work as ordinary ones do – exchanging documents electronically. (It is only a rumour that current rules permit nothing but vellum and parchment.)
  • Someone has discovered a lacuna in current pensions law that means it is not strictly legal to pay retiring clergy their lump sums should they take early retirement. So that has to be fixed.

So the Measures sort these things out. It’s a tidying up exercise. Paradoxically, such complications are all about our simplification agenda.

Vote, vote, vote…

The Church Representation Rules (CRC) are the Bible for people who are involved in, er, Church Representation: that is, PCCs, Synods, and all that. They set out who is eligible for a post, how they should be elected, and for how long, and so on. They have been completely revised to take account of the possibility of electronic voting (e.g. for Diocesan Synod) and make all sorts of detailed alterations to procedures. Wherever possible, they have simplified procedures and devolved things down where that can be done.

This is deeply tedious to many, but absolute manna to some. Not because they are sad nerdy types, but because they care about how our church is, under God, governed. Most church members won’t ever need to read them (you can see the draft being discussed here), but the CRC are the safety nets that stop the church being ruled by power-hungry churchwardens, inefficient clergy or dozy PCC secretaries. There are rules, which are there for everyone’s good. One good new aspect was that there will be a set of model rules for a PCC to use, which may help prevent some of the haphazard PCC management that still happens in some places, in an era when they are increasingly subject to Charity Commission oversight.

We did a lot of voting. The football-loving Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, was an early speaker. As the man who led the simplification work at its early stages, he wanted us to sing “Simplifications coming home!“. His speech was to warn us to avoid nit-picking, unlike the last time the CRC were revised, when there were detailed  discussions that took for ever and pulled the original plan apart. So he wanted people to avoid insisting on specific changes that would suit their own context, in order to keep some universality across the whole church, but with room for flexibility.

There was some tangential discussion about the allegedly nefarious acts of the diocese of London in the case of the PCC of St Mary le Strand in London (the new rules would stop that ever happening again), and then we got into some (very) detailed amendments – nearly all of which failed.

Some further first proposals for tidying up or improving aspects of church life followed that, and it was with a sigh of relief that we got back to normal with a proper debate about the NHS.

We love and care for the NHS

It was one of those Synod debates when we had a number of real experts in the Chamber, including, of course, Bishop Sarah Mulally, once Chief Nursing Officer for the NHS. At one level there were no surprises:

  • we all love the NHS, but it is a political football
  • expectations have risen, at an even greater rate than medical advances
  • the age profile means social care must be sorted out
  • funding is insufficient for current needs
  • NHS staff are often stressed and feeling unwell, with unrealistic expectations put on them
  • there was a really brilliant speech by open of the Church of England Youth Council reps about the moral basis for what the NHS does.

Bishop Sarah took the discussion to deeper level, talking about the NHS as an inspiring act of empathy, a huge contributor to the common good, and a place where the vulnerable are cared for. Other speakers reminded us we are all NHS users, and spoke of their own special knowledge of hospital staffing, working as a physio or surgeon, and so on.

The paperwork for this debate, brought by the Bishop of Carlisle after a motion from his diocese is here. He is the lead bishop on health issues, and speaks in the Lords for the Church on them. The Carlisle motion’s approach was based on last year’s House of Lords Select Committee report with the emphasis was on the long-term sustainability and related social care matters, rather than any short term issues or ethical areas. By the wonders of the Internet, read the Lords report here. Central Church House staff had also prepared a background note.

The debate ended with a slight damp squib feeling because the day’s timetable had rather got messed up by the very long legislation debates. We also had a surprise visitor after lunch, the Archbishop of South East Asia, the Most Revd Moon Hing. So we had to drop two items (an evangelisation discussion and the Church Commissioners report). They may re-appear in the morning) and the NHS debate was squashed into 50 minutes instead of the more normal 90 minutes one might expect. That meant we did not get to hear from people with experiences of the service, or explore in depth any views about how it can be sustained, long-term.

And finally…

The long-running law debates mean something had to give, and it was a planned debate on a report from the Evangelism Task Group. Late-night bar conversations indicated some frustration amongst those who feel that Synod should put its energy into evangelism at a time when church attendance is falling. But there was resigned acceptance from those actually involved in the work. The debate will happen in when we meet again in February. In the meantime, you can read their report here.

The last night of a York Synod is a time for reviewing, planning, holy gossip and farewells. In an ad hoc group in the Vanbrugh bar, consisting of two old hands, one Bishop, two journalists and a Church House staffer, we did all those things. We decided that Synod is much less ‘tribal’ than in the dark days of the women Bishops votes; that legislation was a pain, but necessary; and discussed the problem of clergy career progression (or lack of it).

That’s what’s good about General Synod. We finish tomorrow lunchtime with the Church Commissioners report, dealing with the Cathedrals reforms, and some farewells. Trains permitting, I’ll report by the end of the day.

If you want a different take on Synod, try Synod new member Rachel Mann’s first impressions here. And talking of Synods, our Bath & Wells Diocesan Synod summer meeting on Wednesday night has been rescheduled to start and finish earlier… I wonder why.


* I fought the law, and the law won a 1966 hit for the Bobby Fuller Four. Written in 1958 by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets! I’ve still got my 45 rpm vinyl single. (Younger readers may know it was also done by the Clash in 1979…)

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No-one to save, with the world in a grave


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People with an attitude for ecclesiastical argument wrote today off as motherhood and apple pie. It’s been a green day. An earth day. A day about investing to make money and change the world. There were three big motions:

  • about using church investments to get action on transition to a low-carbon economy
  • about the Church’s own environmental activities
  • about nuclear weapons

The reality is that Synod is passionate about all three: and they are things that affect the Church’s role in the world. So it was a day about mission as social justice and  community action: about what we mean when we talk about protecting God’s creation.

Greenwash? Or pushing for change?

There are those who criticise all this as ‘greenwash’. But we have heard first hand at previous Synods about variations in weather in many places, and rising sea levels in the Pacific Islands, and we (nearly) all accept that climate change is real. So this was a speciality debate about what we can do – beyond recycling glass bottles and turning off the heating. Large industries rely on fossil fuels and want to grow. So, getting into the boardroom is what this was about.

To make any sense of the debate about climate change and investment, you needed to have all the acronyms to hand. This was a debate about whether the NIBS should, using the TPI, backed up by the influence of the EIAG, could do more to influence big companies who are not doing enough about ‘climate change’.

  • The NIBS are the Church’s National Investing Bodies: the Church Commissioners, the Pensions Board, and the Church of England Funds. Between them they are a very powerful force in the investment world.
  • TPI is the Transition Pathway Initiative, an initiative that the NIBS and others have developed to track companies performance into the moves they make (if any) towards transition to a low carbon economy. The Church is a leading player in TPI coalition, which as a group has £7bn to invest.
  • EIAG is the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group, which for years has been steering the NIBS towards ethical investing goals.

I’ll spare you any more acronyms. You can find the NIBS approach set out in GS 2093 – read it here). But the battle today was about whether the NIBS should continue their activities at the current rate, bringing companies son track by the threat of disinvestment and by continuing discussion with them; or whether a ‘final whistle’ target should be set so that if companies had not toed the line by a certain date (2020 was mentioned).

Oxford take on the big guns

For the NIBS, all the big guns were brought out – the dry assessments of the Chair of the Pensions Board were balanced with the fiery rhetoric of Loretta Minghella, formerly of Christian Aid, now the First Church Estates Commissioner. In a presentation, they produced statistics and quotes and stories to back their view that gradual disinvestment and continual engagement are the way.

But for the ‘get on with it’ brigade, the Bishop of Oxford made a passionate speech reminding us that the world, despite the Paris Agreement, is going in the wrong direction. Net zero emissions are not in sight. We have to put pressure on now and show companies they are in the last chance saloon.

So it was the big beasts of the C of E versus the diocese of Oxford. The two sides were very polite to each other, recognising their good motives. But it was a fight about whether the church’s influence should be used to gradually get results with big fossil fuel companies, or whether we should tell companies we are in the last chance saloon and they will lose out money if they do not make changes quickly.

For the gradualists, a six-point motion set out the plan. Their supporting paper can be read here.

For those on the ‘hurry-up’ side, an amendment from Oxford set time limits, and changed ‘start to divest’ to divest by 2020. Christian Aid, Tear Fund and others support the Oxford line, which you can see spelt out in their paper – read it here. Former Archbishop Rowan Williams weighed in over the weekend saying this is the moral approach. You may have noticed the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Stock Exchange the other day, speaking about these things. A further amendment from long-standing campaigner on this subject, Giles Goddard, looked at 2023 as a target date.

So it was a classic Synod set-piece debate about something that affects us all. For the NIBS, the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker. For the 2020 group, the Bishop of Oxford, Stephen Croft.

  • Predictably, in a way the debate went around the old conundrum: is it better to influence the powers that be from inside the tent, or by walking away and shaking the dust from our feet?
  • A sub-argument was that only 3 years ago the Synod went into TPI, and it would be wrong to renege on that commitment now.
  • In the end, the Oxford amendment was heavily defeated, but the 2023 amendment was accepted and the motion passed by 347 votes to 4.

After that, things got a little complex…

I was not in the Chamber for the next debate, but a long and thoughtful motion from the London diocese about getting the Church, nationally and locally, to be more aware of its environmental footprint, ran into trouble. They  brought forward proposals that would involve ensuring the Shrinking the Footprint programme was followed through everywhere. The details are in their paper here and the background paper here.

So they wanted a toolkit available to help all church properties calculate their CO2 emissions so they could then monitor a reduction of 42% by 2020. There was some resistance in debate from parish officers – another job to do, however worthy and important. What’s more, the motion required the Archbishops Council to “assess and furnish” the resources necessary to make it happen.

Someone at Church House smelled a blank chequebook there, so proposed an amendment simply assessing likely costs, and then coming back for permission to raise/use the money when amounts were known.

It all got a bit procedural. Despite an amendment to soften the work required, the redoubtable John Spence, Chair of Finance at the Archbishops Council wanted only to be committed to look at costs. So eventually the matter was adjourned until the February sessions in London, which gives the Council time to get out the back of the envelope and come up with some costs. However, as one or two wise hands spotted, since no motion was passed, formally, they have no mandate to even do that!

Ban the bomb…

So Synod moved on unexpectedly quickly to the next business, the ethics of nuclear weapons debate. The background to this is well explained in the paper here. Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, is a barnstorming speaker, and he was backed up by some very powerful speeches, both for retention of the nuclear deterrent, and for its abolition. A Services chaplain spoke of the men and women maintaining the deterrent.

But this motion too went all procedural with an attempt to derail it by moving to next business. This would mean the motion lapses and cannot be brought back in the life of the Synod – i.e. until 2020. But that procedural motion failed, so debate continued.

After some passionate and well-informed speeches, the motion was passed, doubtless to the chagrin of more conservative media outlets….

What are Cathedrals for?

There are lots of reservations about the Cathedrals report (read it here – it’s long…) that is coming up on Tuesday morning. It was written at speed, and plenty of those involved (residentiary canons, for example) were unhappy about that. The report makes some strong and clear recommendations about reforming the governance of Cathedrals, inserting lay non-executives into Chapter, for example.

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A fringe meeting tonight explored some of the issues. Deans from Southwark (Andrew Nunn), St Paul’s (David Ison and Sheffield (Peter Bradley) spoke about their particular situations, and Eve Poole, the Third Church Estates Commissioner set out how the Cathedrals Support Group at the Commissioners intend to operate as the new legislation is prepared and put through. One of the chief concerns is what is happening to residentiary canons: they are still very upset, despite modifications to the report since its first draft. There was also nervousness: everyone is very keyed up to ensure the cathedrals communities point of view gets across – but what about other interested parties, like the dioceses?

I won’t spoil the debate by spilling the beans on what was said in detail – they’ll want to make their own points in the debate. But in vague terms:

  • there is a plan for a number of workstreams to ensure nothing is forgotten – starting with theology and governance
  • A degree of independence from the Bishop means freedom to do risky things, which needs to be maintained
  • Endowments vary dramatically across the 42 cathedrals: all funding is complex
  • religion is getting more prominent in public life – witness requests to cathedrals to host local NHS70 services.
  • Cathedrals engage a broad public with a clear message: they create an atmosphere which helps parishes to flourish elsewhere. Communities are realising they need a place of faith.

Cathedral people are clearly quite worried about what may happen to change them. I think they are working hard behind the scenes to get a consensual approach from the various interested parties. A fierce debate and voting on the floor of Synod about the report would be very risky.

All dressed up…

A York Synod Sunday morning begins with attendance (optional) at York Minster’s Sung Eucharist. This is the Church of England in full fig: superb choir, breathtaking architecture, well-thought out liturgy. Getting into the Minster we walked through some cheerful protestors (about the closure of a Minster-related school).

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For me, it’s a dressing up day – as a (minor and insignificant) Officer of the Synod – a Canterbury pro-Prolocutor, since you ask – I join the procession dressed in ‘Convocation Robes’ – an academic gown over my grey cassock. I take some family pride with me, as the gown is the one my father wore when he graduated with a B.Sc from Leeds University in 1938. The yellow cross on my scarf is that of Wells Cathedral, dedicated to St Andrew.

Synod Officers 2018

Officers of the Synod assembled before the service. That’s me in the grey cassock and Dad’s old gown.

As a Yorkshire-born man, my father would have loved to see it in use, 80 years later, in York Minster.

Safeguarding postscript

Looking back to yesterday, the immediate heat seems to have gone from the safeguarding area.

  • The official Synod press release about yesterday takes the line that we are going in the direction that IICSA has suggested.
  • The Telegraph’s Olivia Rudgard (read her here) draws on a quote about ‘hostility and anger’ taken from Simon Butler’s speech,
  • the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood is more interested in what happens next, with a line about the ombudsman concept (read it here).

There were some victims and survivors outside the Minster as we came and went, and they were engaging with some of us – and we with them –  rather than protesting about us. That may be a straw in the wind. I do not mean that individuals’ safeguarding problems have gone away, more that the confrontational nature of exchanges in recent years has had the sting taken out, and quieter, appropriate progress may be possible for individuals and for the church as a whole.

Yesterday’s round-up has attracted some critical below-the-line comment grumbling that I did not say anything about the Bishop Bell issue. I try hard to only report and comment on things I know about or have special interest in. The point of bathwellschap is to explore and explain Synod for those who aren’t there but might be interested. I don’t do campaigning here.

And finally…

People sometimes ask me why I enjoy Synod. I admit it is a minority sport. But apart from participating in church governance, one of the reasons is the extraordinary breadth of knowledge and shared faith that I find here. Tonight, for example, I spent a couple of hours in the Vanbrugh bar with a group including several Business Committee members, two Bishops, a liturgy expert and a parish priest.

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The liturgist gave us a hilarious blow-by-blow account of the Synodical and backroom shenanigans that went on in the late 90s as Common Worship Communion prayers were drafted, redrafted and voted on. I now know where that eerie phrase about the silent music of your praise comes from, and how the responsive Prayer H came into being, despite opposition. The names of Stancliffe, Harries and the late Michael Perham came into it. There’s enough there to write a book.

On top of that, we discussed the prospects for the Cathedrals Report, England v Croatia, reviewed the guitar/keyboard/violin Evening Worship of tonight, and sank a few good Yorkshire beers. So, for me, Synod can be a combination of retreat, ministerial development, and seeing old friends. It is a huge privilege to share time and fellowship with these people.

Don’t miss tomorrow’s exciting episode…


* There’ll be no-one to save, with the world in a grave. A line from gravel-voiced Barry Maguire’s Eve of Destruction, one of a wave of nuclear apocalypse songs in the mid-60s. Written by P.F.Sloan. There’s a Ph.D. thesis there, which would include such gems as What have they done to the rain? (smooth harmonies and guitars from the Searchers) and Dylan’s acerbic Masters of War. The 70’s moved on to more environmental versions of the same theme, with Woodstock and Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell), and Whose Garden Was This? (Tom Paxton).

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There’s a shadow hanging over me… *

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The shadow of safeguarding hung over the morning session. There had been a private fringe meeting for victims and survivors and church leaders last night (Friday): I understand that conversations were direct and pointed. We were immensely helped by the morning prayers that opened the day: sensitively and carefully led by the Revd Dr Rowan Williams, currently Chaplain at York University, but about to move to Peterborough Cathedral. They touched on all the concerns that safeguarding raises: for victims, for survivors, for those who have never spoken about what happened to them, for perpetrators and for those in parishes and families living with the aftermath.

Safeguarding – the human stories

A full house listened in silence to a presentation, having been told that several victims and survivors were in the gallery listening. It began with Jo Kind, herself a survivor of abuse, and a volunteer at MACSAS (Ministers and Clergy Abuse Survivors), which was founded 20 years ago. She made the point that five years ago, victims and survivors had to sit in the gallery while their words were read out for them by a Bishop. But now her presence meant victims and survivors could speak for themselves to the Synod. Old Synod hands like me probably do not appreciate how difficult it must be for someone to come and speak to the governing body of the church about what happened to them and the damage done to them by the church.

She said

  • we need a re-orientation, focussed on the needs of victims and the impacts on parishes, rather than on the organisation
  • people feel Jesus is nowhere to be seen in the response people experience
  • she hoped the Church would move much faster on all the much-talked-about support systems for victims and survivors, and making the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) fit for purpose.

Quoting another survivor, she pleaded ‘please borrow our courage’ to make these things happen. On specifics, she argued for the central management of diocesan safeguarding advisers (DSAs) and to independent supervision of the National Safeguarding team. (Those were to be debated when the motion was put.) She received a standing ovation – very rare indeed for a visiting speaker.

Dr Sheila Fish from SCIE (the Social Care institute for Excellence) followed her. SCIE have been engaged in an audit of every diocese’s current safeguarding work. (I was involved in their visit to Bath and Wells last year – it was thorough and testing.) She reminded us how difficult it can be to develop effective safeguarding in an organisation. In church, there can be a ‘holy hush’ where people don’t and won’t talk about it. It’s a cliché to say ‘we are on a journey’, but she used it because it is accurate, and SCIE would reckon the C of E is at an urgent point where we have to question some assumptions about power and hierarchy.

I was glad to hear her say that one of the learning points for anyone involved is that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ when trying to resolve things and move forward. People have to work together to resolve things. This is something that, sadly, to date has not been very visible in the church’s public dealings with survivors of abuse. We really do need to recognise the long term impact of abuse – something I became increasingly aware of in my term as a Bishop’s Chaplain, dealing with people and parishes where abuse had happened at some time.

Dr Fish finished with a very powerful quote from a survivor who had had a very poor experience of care and follow-up: “I’ve no idea who you think you are you are safeguarding, but it isn’t me”.

Both speakers were heard in almost total silence: there was some hard listening to some hard sayings. Some questions followed: generally respectful and asking for help in understanding how we could do better.

Safeguarding – the debate

Bishop Peter Hancock began the debate on the motion by expressing his thanks and appreciation to the survivors and victims of abuse who had come to York, joined in a fringe meeting, and come to be in the gallery. He said the church, over the years, had not seen what was before its eyes. He gave a long list of failures: at senior level, in dioceses and in parishes. He reinforced his list by noting that the time he had spent with survivors and victims himself had taught him that.

It was only the Archbishops Commissaries going into Chichester that brought movement and change. He hoped Synod would recognise that there have now been many changes for the better. As one measure of change, national safeguarding spending had gone from £7K a few years ago to £1.6m in 2018. Overall, the church of England (i.e. including diocesan resources) spends £7m. He spoke of the key phrase – a “whole church” approach.

The paper up for debate (GS2092 – read it here) came from the National Safeguarding Steering Group. It is not a comprehensive action plan but sets out themes.:

  1. Support for and engagement with victims and survivors
  2. Clergy selection and training
  3. Structures, independence, oversight and enforcement.

You need to read the paper to get the detail on this, but it is pretty comprehensive.


Independent: IICSA’s inquiry continues

On IICSA, there will be an interim report late this year, but the final report into the C of E won’t be ready till 2020. We should not wait for that, but act where we can as quickly as we can. He rejected calls for the church to hand safeguarding over to others: we must take accountability for what we do and it is part of our mission

In the debate,

  • David Kemp, a former diocesan secretary from Canterbury, asked about Bishop’s accountability: he did not believe a bishop who doesn’t ‘get’ safeguarding would be brought to account properly. (I’m not sure about that: they would be liable under CDM for not having regard to safeguarding policy.)
  • Calls were made for national control over diocesan safeguarding advisers: it would bring budgetary certainty and a consistent approach everywhere. Again, I am not convinced about this: being able to palm complaints and investigations off to London or York would weaken the local response, whether disciplinary or pastoral.
  • The Bishop of Durham (formerly the Bishop for safeguarding) resisted those wanting us to outsource safeguarding to independent bodies. We must remain responsible for the things we are responsible for. But he did want more independent scrutiny and an ombudsman for complaints, to avoid the CDM, which – like many – he felt is not fit for purpose in safeguarding cases. He also wanted a redress system that helped people without the clumsiness of insurance claims – something that helped survivors stand on their own feet.
  • But the Dean of St Paul’s suggested that we should have outside people to deal with complaints on our behalf: we are conflicted between the law, insurance, reputation management and caring for people, and we are compromised. “Stop trying to do everything!” Going further, he suggested that money being put into Renewal and Reform programme might better be put into proper compensation schemes.

Simon Butler then proposed an amendment that would offer a way of ‘dialling down’ the atmosphere of mistrust that exists between some very vocal survivors and the National Church Institutions. This is in the context of some of the things that are being said on social media, and in private conversations, whereby heated exchanges and expressions of mistrust are being aimed at the national safeguarding team. The Bishop accepted his amendment and it was passed, as was one from Simon Taylor highlighting the need for safeguarding to work at parish as well as national level

The Archbishop of Canterbury followed the new Bishop of London, Sarah Mullaly, in thanking victims and survivors who had come forward and participated. She talked of their ‘tenacity’ But Archbishop Justin went on to say

  • there will be others who have not disclosed abuse, including members of Synod, and he gave a further apology to them
  • he gave a warning about the call for more resources: it is all very well but someone has to pay. So this discussion needs to be had at diocesan synods and at PCCs, so that people are aware and ready to pay for things that they want to happen, rather than seeing it all as something ‘top-down’
  • He was cautious on the pressure for more independence, again stating that it must be balanced with us taking responsibility. He finished by saying the culture has to change so that the survivor or victim is not blamed, but the offending behaviour (like drink driving) is condemned.

The angst and anguish that we heard in Questions and the debate on the agenda was largely absent in this debate (thank goodness).That was probably because we heard the voices of victims and survivors through Jo Kind and Dr Fish, and their very intimate, personal approach to speaking to us defused some of the procedural thunder we’d previously heard beforehand.

At the end of the day, looking back on it, some of us discussed whether it had been a turning point in our relationship with victims and survivors of abuse. It seems to me that the presentation and the presence of victims and survivors defused things, and the continual angry barracking that we have seen in recent months had dissipated. Meanwhile the debate indicated that things are changing – but also that they will take time to put in place and require even more resources. As a ‘glass half full’ person, I think we have seen a sea-change in tone today. It might mean that dealing with these awful issues will henceforth be done in a more constructive way.

New ways of working

The seminar afternoon had been retimed to allow full participation in the World Cup match. So there were two early afternoon opportunities to attend seminars and workshops (for the programme, see here and for my explanation see here and scroll down). A brief session before lunch oriented us and helped us choose what to attend.

On the Teaching Document, we were told that it had now been given the snappy title of Living in Love and Faith: Christian teaching and learning about human identity, sexuality and marriage. Well, it certainly beats the 1991 Issues in human sexuality – currently the ‘official line’, though it was comprehensively ridiculed during Questions yesterday, on the basis that its use of the term ‘homophile’ was meaningless in today’s society.

Dr Eeva John, who is coordinating the work spoke about the vision for the Teaching Document.

  • If it succeeds it will gain respect for the Church, will contain widely accessible teaching and learning resources and be seen as good news. It could have a unifying impact. Well, that’s the hope for what success might look like.
  • It will also support the role of Bishops as teachers of the faith, There is deep scholarly study going on, which will probably emerge as a substantial book, which must be coherent
  • Trying to make this massive and potentially explosive project comprehensible, she used the image of cake: at this point, we do not have a cake to taste: we have a range of ingredients to assess to choose what will make up the cake.

Her address revealed that this is an immense task. I suspect some people thought it would simply be a book along the lines and size of Issues. She made it very clear this was a much bigger event. Her extensive use of imagery may not have endeared her to those whose preferred thought pattern is linear and word-based

The Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman explained what the Pastoral Advisory Group is doing. She stated clearly that their role is to work within the current doctrine and teaching of the Church, acknowledging that this will not please anyone.

  • Those looking for change will be unhappy that the Group is not moving on from traditional teaching and Issues
  • Those wanting to stay where we are (or even go back) will see the Group as the thin end of the wedge.
  • She repeated several times the thought that for everyone their sexuality is a point of great vulnerability – not just LGBT people.

They have started work on the increasingly frequent requests in parishes for ministry to LGBT people.


And here, dear reader, I confess my failure to make the most of what was on offer. Returning to my room for a brief lie-down after lunch (you do realise that this blog gets written in the small hours, don’t you?) I managed to fall fully asleep and woke up at 4.45. Not only had I missed two seminars, I’d also missed the football, which was clearly a huge corporate event. I discovered later I was not alone: one priest I know went off shopping in a deserted York city centre; another dozed through the afternoon.

It was interesting that the media, in their search for ‘interesting pictures of people enjoying the match, leapt onto the idea that the Synod, Archbishops and all, were watching it.

Thus the BBC website on the second Alli goal : The goal also went down well at the General Synod, where the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent was heard to shout ‘Close him down’. My footballing friends inform me that while Pete did say that, it wasn’t at the point of a goal. Given that I missed the whole thing, Twitter helped me catch up. Personally, the tweet I liked best was a pic tweeted by the BBCs Paddy O’Connell from an (un-named) church.

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Learning about the teaching document

The seminar I did attend was a revelation. I chose the Biblical studies option, as it’s clearly the subject area that is the root of much division of opinion. About 40 of us were treated to short sharp mini-lectures from top quality biblical scholars looking at important texts and themes.

  1. So on John’s gospel’s phrase ‘the beloved disciple’, we got a Cook’s Tour of what that concept might have meant in a first-century Greek culture. It seems it would have had homoerotic overtones, but the gospel writer was subverting that expectation in his readers to develop a theme about love which was primarily about the love between God the father and Jesus his Son.
  2. The Ephesians 5 passage about marriage relationships echoing Christ and the Church may be more about the latter than the former, we were told.
  3. Finally, the modern concept of ‘identity’, so important in current sexuality discussions cannot be found in the Bible. What can be found are stories about people changing or finding a new identity or role in the context of their community and God’s action.

There is neither space nor mental capacity on my part to go into all this: I simply give those highlights to show the depth and quality of the thinking that is going into the teaching Document work. I really enjoyed it, but I imagine that people not theologically trained may have found it too difficult. In questions, one asked: how do we make this simpler for people? The answer may be that we can’t: we have to find a way of showing people how complex it actually is.

We learned, then ,that the Teaching Document programme is a huge piece of work: no wonder it cannot be issued in a hurry. Organising this web of seminars around the campus must have been a huge task: all credit to the Synod officers and others who made it happen.

Is your Vicar properly paid?

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After supper, the House of Clergy met separately to consider whether the clergy remuneration package should be reviewed. I previewed the basic issue and linked to the documentation here – scroll down on this link.) This is not something the clergy can decide for themselves, of course: it is for the Archbishops Council to set stipend levels, and the Pensions Board and Church Commissioners deal with pensions. In any case, a full General Synod debate would be required to make any changes.

The erudite and thoughtful Stephen Trott proposed, therefore, that the Archbishops Council be asked to undertake the work of reviewing the whole remuneration package –stipend, pension, retirement housing provision, etc . The Council’s paper (see link above)explains where things stand at present.

The last look at all this was in 2001, when the aspiration was for clergy to be remunerated at a rate comparable to a newly appointed primary school head. Stephen observed that clergy have no increments or salary progression – it is basically flat scale (unless you become a Bishop or Archdeacon. He produced a 1943 definition of the stipend as a ‘maintenance allowance’ to enable a man (sic) to provide for his family in neither poverty nor plenty.

As well as looking at the base stipend figure (around £25,000 for most clergy, there is the element of the ‘tied house’: potentially a blessing to ministry, but something that prevents clergy getting on the housing ladder, and having to fund a house from scratch when they retire.

Pension provision has also been altered – for the worse. Just after the Church went into the SERPS scheme – which made pension contributions less onerous – the government abolished it. But nothing was done to restore the value that had been lost. I give some detail on this as I know many readers of this blog are clergy or in clergy households.

  • Speakers talked from the heart about the ‘massive worry’ they have about adequacy of pension provision.
  • Withdrawing from SERPS had been a strategic mistake. ‘They’ (the Archbishops Council, presumably) should pay back into the scheme the money that had been saved over the years.
  • Differentials between ‘ordinary’ clergy and senior clergy are a bone of contention: one speaker, himself an Archdeacon, said they should not exist. An amendment was put to include specific mention of differentials in the message to Archbishops Council
  • Over the years since Generosity and Sacrifice, the stipend has gradually slipped so that it is now around 43% of national average income- though the value of the ‘tied house’ is problematic to assess.
  • one speaker SA
  • id the pension question os more critical than the stipend level.
  • If clergy were paid a salary, the hours they do would mean they are paid less than the minimum wage.
  • Rural clergy with a family cannot afford more than one car, making family life difficult if the priest is using it.
  • We need a theology of ministry and remuneration, not just a numbers exercise.
  • The move to Universal Credit will affect clergy families who currently receive Family Credit very badly, losing thousands of pounds.
  • Any work done must include the specific differences in tax, pension and social security regimes in diocese outside the UK (Channel Island,, Sodor and Man and Europe)
House of clergy (5) - Copy

All smiles: Canterbury Prolocutor Simon Butler chaired the House of Clergy meeting

Support was pretty well universal in speeches. But one speaker did put the contrary view, citing the job and pay security enjoyed by clergy. And some financial facts were set out – such as the unwillingness/impossibility of dioceses putting more into clergy pensions above the current level of 37% of stipend.There was an attempt to alter the motion to make specific reference to pensions and housing provision. This was seen off in the interests of getting on with it.

So we voted to proceed, and we had a brief update on the Clergy Covenant work that is ongoing. The clergy Standing Committee (of which I am a member) meets on Monday to reflect on the debate and to set in motion the request to the Archbishops Council, and to review progress on the Clergy Covenant.

And finally…

Having encouraged people yesterday to get up early and come to the 07.00 Communion service, I had to follow my own advice. I dare to think my intervention yesterday did do something to increase the numbers, as supplies of bread and wine were perilously tight at the end. However, the piece de resistance of the service was the celebrant, Glyn Webster, the Bishop of Beverley.

Having gently ticked me off in his welcome for forcing him to prepare a homily (In my speech I’d joked that ‘you might hear a good homily: you might not), he reflected on Amos 9 by getting us all to sing Vera Lynn’s classic eschatological vision There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. There were some witty comments on the way over to breakfast about persuading a choir to sing it ‘to a setting by Palestrina’, to which one wag added we could change the dismissal, too… to We’ll meet again.

Tomorrow (Sunday) we worship in York Minister in the morning (I shall have to put on my gladrags and process with the Prolocutors), and then the day is about nuclear weapons, disinvestment on climate change grounds, and environmental programmes. A cynic might say ‘worthy but dull’, but I’ll let you know tomorrow in the next post.



* There’s a shadow hanging over me –  a line from the Lennon-McCartney classic Yesterday on the 1965 Help! LP McCartney says that when the tune first came into his head he ha don words for it, and wrote down ‘scrambled eggs’ as it fits the melody. Try singing it.

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Football crazy, football mad *


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The big news at Synod is that the timetable for tomorrow has been altered to allow people to watch the football in a guilt-free way. As you will have read yesterday, the innovation of a Saturday afternoon looking at difficult topics in a non-adversarial way was at risk once England had beaten Colombia. Saturday afternoon was likely to be the opportunity for divided loyalties.

But Sue Booys raised a round of applause and some cheering when she announced the timetable was to be re-arrranged. What’s more, they are showing the match on the big screen in the main hall, so we can have a group experience. Twitter had a minor burst of excitement when I accused the applause of being ‘mainly male’: I was reminded that at least two female members claimed to have started the applause.

Interior GV (1)

Guests: ecumenical visitors get a special row of seats.

Today has been a day of settling in, but not settling down. The formal agenda is slightly routine on Day One: but the content gave vent to some fairly difficult discussions. The welcome to new members is usually a bit of a formality, with polite applause. However, it was more enthusiastic than usual, which I attribute to the fact that the first two new member introduced were Bishop Viv Faull (now of Bristol) and Bishop Sarah Mullally (London). Things have really changed!


“The Church is trying to survive…”

We moved on to welcome overseas visitors. Synod has previously heard from Bishop Humphrey Peters, Bishop of Peshawar and Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, so we are aware of the extreme anti-Christian violence that has marred Pakistan in recent years. Today he gave us a depressing picture of the difficulties for Christians in a Pakistan that is riven with persecution and increasing Islamic fundamentalism. Christians are on the margins politically, socially – and in terms of education. A phrase that hit me, from my comfortable Church of England existence was “The church is trying to survive. The church is trying to exist”.

He explained that on independence, Christians inherited some good facilities, but 70 years later, the authorities are not supporting minority facilities. He invited us to notice how in other parts of the world, the same intolerant tendencies are increasing. Using video clips, he related some simple projects the church ran to encourage better relationships – practical things like training First Responders for emergencies and developing advocacy schemes. There has been some success at this level – and this was his beacon of hope. He wished people in Pakistan to see Christians and other minority faiths as ‘Pakistani Communities’, not ‘Minority communities’.

He has been warned by the security services that he is a target. This is brave Christian leadership. You might want to watch his contribution on the Synod Youtube channel.

Views from elsewhere

It was good to see Archbishop Albert Chama, Archbishop of Central Africa, because as Bishop of Northern Zambia he has been a regular visitor to Bath and Wells. (The diocese is celebrating 40 years of partnership with Zambian Anglicans at a big bash next Saturday. Bath and Wells readers – see you there?) He spoke about the recent assassination attempt on the Zimbabwean vice-President, and asked for prayer for Zimbabwe as the elections fall due and there is a t last a chance for change there. And he advised us as a Synod: “Don’t only concentrate on in-house. Think of us and our issues”

From Germany, Ralph Meister voiced the fear that many of us have – we are living in an age of uncertainty. He reminded us of the uncertainties in our (British and German) lives – Brexit got a specific mention, but he spoke of the whole European climate of populism and nationalism that seems to have taken over from co-operation and working together.

Interior GV (2)

Filling up: Synod members come into the Chamber


Underlying tensions

I wrote in my preview post that there was a great deal of pressure around the issue of human sexuality and the church. In presenting her report on the agenda, Sue Booys tackled that head on, explaining that the Business Committee had unanimously decided to ‘park’ a number of diocesan and private members’ motions about it. There are two elements to that controversial decision

  1. The House of Bishops Teaching Document is in a long process of consultation and preparation: the various motions would pre-judge it
  2. The desire to have less adversarial time mean they decided to have the workshop sessions on Saturday afternoon

This did not go down well with some. Jayne Ozanne repeated her view that Synod is being ‘managed’ into avoiding debate on sexuality, and wanted Synod to vote down the report. She listed a number of events that, in her view, showed the Bishops are not listening. The ‘radical Christian inclusion’ that the Archbishops promised after the February 2017 debacle, she said, is empty words. (See here to understand this). She claimed a debate would make Synod a safe place for LGBT Christians, which is it not at the moment. Caroline Herbert from Norwich then put the opposing point of view, backing Sue Booys and welcoming the Saturday workshops as a chance to listen and learn. There were more complaints that the motions had been ‘parked’ and issues were put in the long grass.

It all got a bit tense, and I managed to break the mood by a short speech noting that a minor change in timetabling had brought the early morning Communion to 7.00 a.m. (instead of 7.30) – and hoped this would not prevent people from turning up. I have discovered that prayer at Synod is an important factor in sticking together. One or two people said to me later that they had not realised the time had been changed, and they were not happy. I put the Business Committee on notice to review this after these sessions.

Platform CU Libby Lane

Platform Party: the Bishop of Stockport in the chair.

As I predicted yesterday, there were also calls for proper debate about the various safeguarding concerns. David Lamming (a campaigner on these matters from St Edmundsbury and Ipswich diocese) going so far as to suggest that the Business Committee should reinstate a group of session this November. That did not get approval.


Another theme (which also came up in Questions) was the recent GAFCON conference in Jerusalem. This is a worldwide body of Anglicans who have pulled back from full involvement with the Anglican Communion, largely over trends in dealing with sexuality in North America, though there is also a strong element of ‘preaching the full gospel’ (implying that the C of E has strayed from it). It is quite a divisive subject, but the GAFCON enthusiasts pressed hard for some recognition of what had happened in Jerusalem. They got little change, and I got the impression they do not understand that not everyone thinks the way they do.

Lively questions

When we came to Questions – always a lively start – we went at some speed. Out of 83 Questions tabled, 32 of them were to House of Bishops, of which 11 were on safeguarding and 9 around the various sexuality concerns.

  • There were pointed questions about recent reports that LGBT parishioners have in some places been refused admission to Communion or children from their households refused for baptism. The bishops of the Lichfield diocese have issued a note to their clergy commending a warm and open welcome to LGBT people in church life: the Bishop of Maidstone has responded saying that LGBT people would only be admitted to full participation in church life after repentance and changing their ways.
  • In all, there was a lot of heat, and not much light, but it does reflect the fact – unwelcome to some – that there is a head of steam about getting the Church to move on human sexuality matters. However it emerges from the complexities of the proposed Teaching Document (we’ll have more on that tomorrow) it will be fiercely opposed by some. But those wanting a debate now were told, politely, that it would be divisive and premature.
  • On safeguarding, similarly, people wanting details answers (to some very detailed Questions) about Bishop Bell or the Singleton Report (see yesterday) were politely held at bay. But they will get another chance tomorrow, when there is a substantive safeguarding debate. There was a top comedy moment when Bishop Peter Hancock was passed a note from the lawyers delaying his reply to a tricky question from Martin Sewell about the George Bell case. Wonderfully, he couldn’t read the lawyerly scrawl! Much laughter and applause – and it broke the tense mood.
  • Further comedy ensued when the Bishop of Ely, called on to take a supplementary Question, apparently did not realise he was ‘on’ and remained in his chair in a thoughtful attitude. After some moments, he hurriedly stood up, ambled to the microphone, and (I am sure I remember this bit…) indicated he did not know the answer anyway. He paid the price for this later tonight in the bar, when he was hailed by a fellow-bishop with the cry of “SUPPLEMENTARY!” to general applause and affectionate derision.

A moment of fame…

I managed to get two Questions in.

One was about the supervision of the company through whom the Pensions Board rent houses to retired clergy unable to buy their own home. I’d been to see a former colleague now in one of these houses, who had a catalogue of poor service and insufficient inspections, meaning her retirement home was not in optimum condition, and required numerous not-very-well-organised visits by contractors. So I asked how the Pensions Board monitored the company concerned. The answer given me was fairly straight by the book, so in a supplementary, I asked whether the Board might increase its direct contact with tenants to check on the quality of service, rather than relying on the contractor’s reports so heavily. The case I had in mind cannot be the only one, as I received a tweet immediately from someone saying that is why they avoided the rental scheme.

My second was a further attempt to get some official celebrations planned for the anniversary of the passing of the Enabling Act of 1919. Abstruse and obscure, you might think. Many Synod members do too. But bear with me. The Act was the thing that moved the Church of England from being almost entirely subject to the government to being a self-governing body. It established Parochial Church Councils and thus hastened the demise of ‘parson and squire’; it formed the Church Assembly, thus bringing Bishops, clergy and laity together to regulate church life for the first time. The Assembly transmogrified into the General Synod in 1970. Diocesan Synods are another of its gifts to us. (Well, you know what I mean…) Under William Temple, later Archbishop of Canterbury, the Life and Liberty movement brought the C of E from Victorian stasis to something with a life of its own, capable of making its own choices. The Act brought all this about, and I believe a centenary is a good excuse to remind ourselves of where we have come from.

I originally (I raised this in February 2017) had high hopes of a book covering the story of how the Act came to be, and its impact on church life, with some choice vignettes of early PCC minutes – which I suspect would be very entertaining. That would require a good historian or two. And I had thought thee might be a celebratory service at St Paul;’s or the Abbey. After all, if the Incorporated Church Building Society can have a bicentenary, why can’t democratic church institutions mark a centenary?

Platform WSAnyway, the official answer was a disappointment, referring only to the General Synod and not the ‘real church’ in parishes. I politely (I hope) expressed this to William Nye, the Secretary General, who took the point, and managed to make us all laugh with the thought that for many PCCs, it does seem as if their meetings have lasted a hundred years.

Afterwards, two well-meaning thoughtful people suggested that the book would be an ideal project for some enthusiastic semi-retired priest with an interest in the subject. Sadly, it might need someone who actually knows about these things, not me.

If you want to get an idea of the range of Questions that come in, you can see all 83 of them, together with the initial Answers here.

And finally…

So, that was Day One, Tomorrow will be very heavy on safeguarding. We will be hearing from some victims and survivors of abuse within church life, as well as how the National Safeguarding Team see things developing in the future. The rest of the day is devoted to the various seminars (as I outlined yesterday).

Oh, and the football.

6 bishops

No prizes: but can you name all six Bishops?

More tomorrow – keep up on Twitter. Or follow the live safeguarding presentation and debate on the C of E Youtube channel.



*  Football crazy, Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor, 1960. Sardonic Scottish song, from the folkie duo who so often appeared in those monochrome days on Tonight with Cliff Michelmore.

Posted in 2018: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Off we went, to make a great big tent, on the weekend *

Football and Wimbledon may be a distraction. The formal agenda is not very controversial. The off-agenda is full of potential for excitement. So whether we can maintain the ‘big tent’ of the York July Synod, I am not sure. The heatwave will not help. I’m taking suntan lotion: there’s a lot of walking round the campus involved. Fortunately the dress code is very relaxed: think Bishops in shorts and Archdeacons in T-shirts. On second thoughts, maybe not…

Agenda suntan

York essentials: Synod Agenda and sun protection kit.

If my bathroom scales are to be believed, the papers for this Synod weighed 3.5 kilos. and amounted to a pile 3½” high. So doing the preparatory reading has been harder than usual. We can opt for entirely electronic documents, but I am one of those who finds it easier to read stuff off paper. But I won’t carry all that weight to York with me: I have it all on my tablet and only take three or four documents – ones that I’m particularly interested in.

July papers tape measure

Hot work: masses of paper in 30 degrees of heat.

Definitely with me in paper form will be the Bible to all this stuff – the Agenda Document. Decoding it is infinitely easier if you also have to hand the ‘Synodipedia’ – otherwise known as GS2091: A Guide to the July 2018 group of Sessions. Between them they tell you what’s on when and why, and give you the all-important GS or GS Misc number that enables you to quarry the paper mountain for the right document. Whether you are a Synod member of not, you can see all the papers electronically on the C of E website here. (Alternatively, you could rely on me to know what’s happening, but I do not claim to tell the whole story. Other commentators are available.)

More new ways of being Synod…

July papers garden

Preparation: there is a bit of a temptation to stay home….

We’re in York from Friday till Tuesday, and as well as the usual wodge of legislative stuff, there is something new – a Saturday afternoon spent entirely in briefing workshops on hot topics. Well, that was the plan anyway, until Wednesday’s penalty shoot-out. Some members may feel divided loyalties (and I don’t mean supporting Sweden).

The Business Committee feel members increasingly want ‘to discuss matters in a less binary fashion than our debating structure allows’. And there is no doubt in my mind that the various excursions into non-debating mode have helped Synod members learn from each other and be a bit more charitable towards those they disagree with. We did it with Women and the Episcopate, for example, and in the Shared Conversations. So we have some tent-pegs, and maybe even the frame is laying on the ground. But putting it up is frustrating and requires co-operation.

But – as with Brexit in another place – there are hard-liners on some issues who want only to get to a vote and have their view enshrined in policy. They, I suspect, do not enjoy group work. (The Synod people, I mean, not the Brexiteers. Though having Jacob Rees-Mogg in a discussion group would be, er, interesting.)

York rainbow central hall

Big campus: finding your way around can be fun.

So theoretically we’re committed to a Wimbledon and football-free Saturday afternoon wandering round the campus (with sun-hats and lotions) navigating our way around a complicated set-up of 9 seminars (each being repeated three times so we can go to more than one). The details are in GS Misc 1188 – read it here).

Although the official line is that the seminars are designed to help members keep up to speed with various pieces of ongoing work, you might guess what the real agenda is by the fact that four of the nine are looking at aspects of the Teaching Document that the Bishops are preparing on…. Yes, you’ve guessed… sexuality. So there’ll be panels of People Who Know Stuff available in 45-minute seminars on:

  • Teaching Document: Biblical Studies
  • Teaching Document: Theology
  • Teaching Document: Social and Biblical Sciences
  • Teaching Document: History

And, as these enable us to go deeper into the issues, these four will  be paralleled by participatory workshops which enable us to assist with the construction and development of the document itself. The other workshops are on broader topics:

  • The Pastoral Advisory Group set up last year “with the task of supporting and advising Dioceses on pastoral actions with regard to our current pastoral approach to human sexuality”  If you don’t know what that’s about, go read GS Misc 1158 here 
  • Digital evangelism
  • The Archbishops’ Evangelism Task Group
  • Mission among children and young people
  • The Church’s environment programme (doubtless with a nod to Sunday afternoon’s climate change and investment debate)

Now a cynic might say (doubtless someone will) that going off into group work is stopping real debate on the sexuality issue. They might also note that for those of a tender disposition, choosing the four non-sexuality workshops gives a chance to escape engaging with people they disagree with. Realists will recognise that a certain percentage will be following the match on their phones.

All that could happen, but my hope is that Synod members – particularly the non-campaigning backbench types – will fully engage. Otherwise the Synod risks being taken over by those who can shout the loudest…

Saul Bellow Chapel

Prayer space: the Synod that prays together, stays together?

Don’t talk about the war!

There will be impatient people at Synod who are wanting to move forward on human sexuality.  The Church is now caught in a position where it is out of kilter with society and the state on the wider issue around same-sex relationships, and on the narrower matter of people wishing to have a same-sex marriage blessed or solemnised in church. (The Cameron government’s legislation on same-sex marriage specifically locks the C of E out of conducting such weddings.)

Synod has members (largely, but not exclusively from the evangelical end of the church) who hold firmly to the traditional Christian understanding of marriage, and do not see how the church can move an inch. It also has prominent campaigners for change in the church. There are several Private Members Motions looking for support, but they won’t get debated this side of the Teaching Document being finished. So, other than the seminars mentioned above, there is no outlet for discussion on these things this weekend – except for fringe meetings, bar conversation, and quiet chats in tea-breaks. Some will find this irksome, and may find a way of saying so during Questions or the debate on the Agenda. Indeed, they already have started sounding off. If you don’t believe me, look at Thinking Anglicans Synod preview note and scroll down to the comments…

Meanwhile, there is a lot going on in the public domain.

  • Oxford Synod member Jayne Ozanne has published a new book Just Love about her own journey to self-acceptance and has launched the Ozanne Foundation to work on Christian LGBTI issues.
  • Former synod member Anna Norman-Walker has blogged Who speaks for Anglican Evangelicals?, an ‘outsiders’ look at the range of views within what is often perceived as a monochrome subculture. She comments on the spat between the bishops of the Lichfield diocese and the Bishop of Maidstone on affirming and welcoming LGBTI people in the church.
  • Christian musician Vicky Beeching has had a lot of publicity for her book Undivided in which (amongst other things) she explains why she has decided she cannot go further with a call to ministry in the C of E because of it’s current position on same-sex issues.
  • The Psephizo blog written by Ian Paul (Synod member and a member of the Archbishops Council) carries several postings exploring a traditional viewpoint theologically as well as commenting on current debates.
  • On Tuesday, the government launched an LGBT action plan. Theresa May told Cabinet last week ‘there is “more to do” to ensure the UK is a country where “no-one feels the need to hide who they are’. (On ‘conversion therapy’, you could argue that the Church beat the government to it, as we passed a motion about it last July.)


In other words, there is a lot of background noise on sexuality at the moment, which will not be heard formally in York. But you can bet it will be on a lot of minds. And in a lot of prayers, too.

To begin at the beginning…

We start on Friday at 2.30 with the customary welcomes to guests. This time we have world Anglican visitors as well as ecumenical guests. This is sometimes a rather routine exchange of pleasantries, but with pressure mounting in world Anglicanism from GAFCON,  and the Lambeth Conference 2020 looming, there might be some important things said by no less than four Archbishops: from Pakistan, South East Asia, Central Africa and Polynesia.

Bp Ralf Meister

Landesbishof Ralph Meister (2016 picture)

And then the ecumenical speaker is Landesbishof Ralph Meister from Germany, who might have something to say about migrants. Or even Brexit? (Incidentally, ecclesiastical fashionistas may recall his extremely natty outfit from his last Synod visit – a very classy flared frock coat affair, it was. Sadly, my picture doesn’t do it justice.)

Debate on the Synodipedia follows – the Business Committee’s report (GS2091). As ever, there’ll be complaints that the agenda does not include someone’s favoured topic, and probably some strictly out of order remarks about matters that are on the agenda from people wanting to get their retaliation in first. Some witty type will put in a request we create free space for several hours on Saturday…

Sue Booys starship

Canon Sue Booys (Oxford) Chair of the Business Committee

Despite the occasional irritants (I confess to being one sometimes), the debate gives the ever-resilient Sue Booys, Chair of the Committee an opportunity to explain why the agenda is as it is, and to politely see off the off-beam speeches.

I predict there’ll be some discussion about the merits or otherwise of the Saturday group work time – and probably some pre-ignition of safeguarding fireworks before Saturday morning’s big debate.

After that – Questions (see the previous paragraph…) and an evening free of official business for fringe meetings, bar fellowship and frantic speech-writing. That is, if you are a lay member. We clergy have a House of Clergy meeting – see How well off – and happy – is your Vicar? below.

Making Church a safe place

Saturday morning looks like being quite a set-piece. Archbishop Sentamu will give a Presidential Address. Even bathwellschap, with 12 years on Synod, will not attempt to predict where he will go with that. But he’ll be followed by a formal motion on the Church’s safeguarding progress (or lack of it, depending where you stand). There are enough issues swirling around here to make this quite a difficult morning.

  • The IICSA inquiry spent three weeks looking at the diocese of Chichester,, which was not a pretty sight. They will spend another week on Bishop Peter Ball at the end of the month, with implications for the dioceses of Chichester, Gloucester, Bath and Wells, and more than one Archbishop. I’ve posted extensively on IICSA here.
  • There is a long-running row about Carlile Report into the way the church handled allegations made about Bishop George Bell: this has exercised several Synod members and media figures. We had twenty questions about it in February, and it hasn’t gone away.

Just issued is Sir Roger Singleton’s independent report into how dioceses managed (or mis-managed) a Review of Past Cases in 2007-8. Seven dioceses are to do the work again – the Church Times has produced this handy map so you can work out which ones they are for yourself.

Church Times map

And where are the seven..? Church Times map

There was an acerbic Guardian leader about this (“the church that didn’t want to know”), and Bishop Peter Hancock was given a hard time on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme about it – listen to it here.

For bathwellschap’s background on the Ball and Bell cases, go here and scroll down . The Singleton report is here. It’s a long read, but essential for anyone involved in safeguarding or diocesan or episcopal administration.


Lead Bishop: Peter Hancock, Bath and Wells (pic credit: Church of England)

As Lead Bishop on Safeguarding, Bishop Peter Hancock (disclaimer: my boss until I retired in December) will doubtless touch on all the above, and if he doesn’t, you can bet Synod members will in their questions or speeches.  It’s going to be complicated, and will stretch the ‘big tent’ as people with strong views on what has been done badly in the distant past and in the various enquiries press for more action and for justice. UPDATE (Thursday 5 July): Synod member Martin Sewell has posted a characteristically trenchant review of where we are up to on the Archbishop Cranmer blog.

The format is to be a presentation with questions. Victims and survivors of abuse, who are increasingly finding a voice (and, I hope, being listened to) will be part of the presentation. That will be followed by a formal motion endorsing the current plans for safeguarding work.

York chamber GVs (2) rpt

Hot discussion: the Central Hall, venue for presentations and debates.

More change is on the way…

As ever, we have to ask whether – as with so much in the current safeguarding situation – we are looking at events of ten years and more years ago through today’s spectacles. But too much looking back is probably not helpful when the actual report from the National Safeguarding Steering Group (GS 2092 – read it here) is about what we do now and what we do next. It sets out a range of new policies and changes to existing ones, covering (for example) a national clergy register, and new ways of looking at potential ordinands and supervising retired ‘Permission to Officiate’ clergy.

I highlight just one recommendation, which is definitely part of changing the culture at all levels: ‘We recommend that all parts of the Church co-operate to ensure that there is a “Whole Church” approach to safeguarding.’ In other words, ways need to be found to ensure parish employees and volunteers (who are not subject to the same disciplinary and legal obligations as clergy) are held accountable. This also applies to non episcopally-led parts of the Church – the theological colleges and courses, religious communities (a new Canon is already in train for them) chaplaincies and (in some cases) Cathedrals.

Having spent ten years dealing with some of these things, there have been huge changes, and  landscape it portrays is so different to that when I became a Bishops Chaplain in 2007. But it sets out very clearly what needs to be done next. I just hope those contributing to the debate recognise, whatever our failings are, we have come a long way – and we’re going further. It’ll be an interesting morning.

Yes, we do look at non-Church stuff too!

Other highlights of the weekend (I’ll spare you the details at this stage) are a Sunday afternoon on outward-facing matters:

  • We start with climate change and investment. It’s about how the Church can use its investment power to influence big companies. There is already some discomfort at the main motion from our investing bodies (pension funds, the Church Commissioners, etc): critics say it is not strong enough so I think it will be a fiery discussion. GS 2093 and GS Misc 1196 will explain all.
  • A broader motion, brought by London diocese about the Church’s own actions on environmental matters – CO2 emissions, church energy usage, and so on. (GS 2094A and GS 2094B)
  • The Church and the Bomb is back with a motion about the ethics of nuclear weapons (GS2095), which will be introduced by Bishop Stephen Cottrell – so it’ll be lively and forceful.
  • On Monday we do the “AGM” stuff – budgets and suchlike – along with a topical motion from Carlisle about long-term issues for NHS, and a report on Evangelism.  Something for everyone there, I think.

Changeless? Cathedrals like Wells are the subject of the report

Finally, on Tuesday morning, the Cathedrals Working Party are looking to Synod to commend and act on their report, now finalised (GS2101 – read it here). This has been a bit of a rush job, and makes some pretty major changes to the way Cathedrals are run and how they are accountable. Needless to say, it has not gone down well everywhere, and we should have a lively time of it.


How well off – and happy – is your Vicar?

clerical suitWhile the laity enjoy the delights of a summer Saturday evening in York, the poor clergy have a separate meeting to attend. The House of Clergy will be looking at two things:

  • The clergy remuneration package
  • Clergy well-being

Clergy pay is often an irritant (to clergy and to some church members, not to mention clergy spouses and children). Yes, they get a ‘free’ house – but it many not be ideal, and it keeps them off the ‘property ladder’, leading to some hard decisions at retirement time.

The clergy package was last looked at 17 years ago in a report winsomely titled Generosity and Sacrifice. That set some benchmarks, such as relating an incumbent’s package to that of a primary school head. That went well. What’s more. Government changes to the world of pensions (remember SERPS?) mean clergy pension s are also not what they were in real terms.

So it looks as if the clergy are going to ask the Archbishops Council not for a pay rise, but ‘to review the adequacy of stipends (pay, to most people) and pensions’.

  • The papers for this clergy meeting are not restricted in any way, and if you are involved in church life at any level, you should certainly take a look at Ian Paul’s personal look at the issues around clergy remuneration (read it here).
  • You might also want to look at the formal ‘background note’ offered to the meeting by the Secretary General of Synod (read it here). This spells out the detail of how clergy remuneration is arrived at, and what the options might be for change, with reference to the Living Wage, affordability value of the ‘tied housing’ provided and so on.

It ends with a wonderfully gentlemanly plea to the House of Clergy to say what we actually want… The central church bodies, it says “have no wish to inhibit the debate that the House of Clergy will be having. However, if the House to wished to give an indication of its priorities and particular concerns, that would be immensely helpful.”

Related to this, of course, is the matter of clergy well-being. For every survey that shows clergy are happy and purposeful, there are also sad tales of demoralisation, poor health and even bullying. So the House of Clergy is working up a ‘covenant’ document, (think of the ‘Military Covenant’) and we’ll hear a progress report. If things go well, then the whole Synod will be invited to consider it in due course.

Brice Avery zombie quote

Pressure: Dr Brice Avery quote from a Church Times profile

In the meantime, do take your priest out for a drink or a nice meal sometime and see if you can work out whether he or she is in a ‘good place’. And if not, how you can support them.

And finally…

Church times guideWell, that covers about 1 of the 3½ inches of paperwork. I hope I’ve taking the waiting out of wanting for you, but you can download all the papers here if your interest has been excited . (You don’t need a Dropbox account, there’s an option to download without signing up.)

If all the above is impenetrable to you, then those nice people at the Church Times have produced a handy infographic explaining Synod, They will do proper grown-up objective reporting on paper, and electronically here.

  • I’ll report, as usual, at the end of each day’s proceedings with my usual unbiased, cheery and selective account of how we’re doing.
  • I’ll post on twitter @bathwellschap when I put the next post up, or you can automatically be alerted by clicking on the ‘follow’ button – go to the right hand column at the top of this post.
  • You can follow proceedings yourself on a live video stream on the C of E’s Youtube channel.
  • There are official tweets through the day @synod and unofficial, sometime very funny ones @GSMisc. Or you can just follow the #synod tag on Twitter, though it can be a bit episodic.


* Weekend, Eddie Cochran, 1961. A posthumous hit in the UK (he was killed in a car crash near Chippenham in 1960) but it never charted in the US, despite the cheery hot-rod boy-meets-girl lyrics. Have a listen – it’s all of 1 minute 52 seconds!

Posted in 2018: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

IICSA concludes – for now

CaptureI was in London this week for other reasons, but being there meant I was able to attend the IICSA hearing in person on Wednesday. I sat in the public gallery as Archbishop Justin and Bishop Peter Hancock, the Lead Bishop for Safeguarding (disclaimer: my former boss) gave their evidence.

One or two people have said they were grateful for my reflections on the first week of the IICSA hearings into safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester, and disappointed I had not repeated the exercise for the second week. That was the week in which there was some fairly detailed – and horrifying – evidence:

  • about the dysfunctional relationships in the senior team there
  • from some survivors of abuse, one of whom (Professor Julie MacFarlane) was willing to waive her anonymity.  She has campaigned publicly about the shortcomings in the Church’s response to abuse, as well as recounting what happened to her.  (You can read her evidence here – scroll down to p 99)
  • the former Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, was quizzed about his actions in specific cases where abuse by clerics was known, or strongly suspected, to have occurred.(His evidence is here – it’s a long and hard read)
  • his then Archdeacon, Nicholas Reade, was also quizzed, giving an account headlined in the Church Times as “I could not believe a priest would lie to me”. (Read it here)
  • A member of the Archbishops’ Visitation group also gave evidence that week. Rupert Bursell, priest and canon lawyer, was forthright. (Read his evidence here – scroll down to p 26)

All in all, much light was shed on what went wrong, and what one witness described as ‘a paralysis of indecision’ which prevented even those who were ‘on the case’ from taking action.

IICSA panel

Professor Alexis Jay is Chair of the IICSA Panel

But back to this week, and my visit. It was all very clinical and polite. There was no cross-examination. The day had begun with continued evidence from Elizabeth Hall, a former National Safeguarding Adviser.  It’s a sign of how much things have changed that when she was in post, she was the only national-level safeguarding member of staff, and she was shared between the Church of England and the Methodist Church. There are now 13 full-time staff for the C of E alone. She painted a picture of trying to ensure that Chichester’s problems were being properly addressed in Chichester, while trying not to get drawn into a local matter when her responsibilities were both national and inter-church.

Capture Justin

Capture Justin shame

Archbishop Justin’s shame

She was followed by Archbishop Justin, whose admission that he has a sense of shame about it all was one of the few things that the mainstream media have reported about this scandal. Although he made it plain that an Archbishops (whether Carey, Williams or himself) has very little power, only a lot of influence, the lines of questioning continued to be those that implied he could change things if he, so to speak, clicked his fingers.

This lack of understanding of the complicated polity of the Church of England will not, I hope, carry over into IICSA final report and recommendations. To be fair, there was a lot of talk about ‘changing the culture’ as well as ‘changing the Clergy Discipline Measure’ and other ‘mechanical’ changes.

This emphasis on the Bishops’ supposed ability to fix things irritates me, having spent ten years working alongside Bishops. In safeguarding matters, while you can set out all sorts of procedures and legal requirements on Bishops and clergy, in the end, it is down to what happens in a parish. Which means that the volunteer Parish Safeguarding Officers and ordinary parents and volunteers are in the front line of blowing the whistle or reporting that ‘something is not right’.  In my view, good training is what changes the culture, and that has changed beyond measure in the last four years. And that applies at all levels, from parish people to senior clergy and laity.

Archbishop Justin did, by the way, confirm something that Elizabeth Hall had said: that he would refuse to consecrate any new Bishop who had not undergone the appropriate safeguarding training before taking up office. In fact, as they both said, he did plan to cancel a consecration at a few days’ notice in one case – though Ms Hall saved the day by giving the candidate some intense 1:1 training, and the consecration went ahead.

Capture Hancock

Bishop Peter Hancock gives his evidence

Bishop Peter Hancock followed the Archbishop. As the Lead Bishop on Safeguarding, he  was pressed on what disciplinary processes are in place for clerics who offend or do not attend training/ The lawyers’ phrase that a priest “must have due regard to” safeguarding policies came under attack as too weak.

He was the last witness to be interrogated, and so Ms Scolding rather gave him a Cook’s Tour of every issue under the sun, which (to my mind) meant that the whole examination was rather unfocussed. He did put the emphasis on people in parishes by referring to the Government’s current publicity about potential suspicions of terrorist activity: “See it; say it (to the safeguarding professionals); sorted” Is an appropriate motto for anyone in a parish with suspicions.

A couple of grumbles (well, three, actually)

  1. One of the problems I observe with the Inquiry is that while it has had chapter and verse on the Chichester cases, most of them occurred before the general tightening-up that has happened in the last three to five years.  Lawyers and witnesses alike have fallen into the trap of assuming things are still done that way. I know this has frustrated some of those who deal with safeguarding and canon law on a day to day basis. Whatever legal structures are – or may be –  put in place after IICSA, my own experience is that nowadays allegations are investigated and reported, and Bishops and archdeacons do not sit on them, hide them or try to deter Diocesan Safeguarding Advisers from doing the right thing. But maybe I have just been lucky…
  2. On some details, the lawyers have not properly assimilated their briefs. For example, on the matter of priests with Permission of Officiate (PTO), there was a presupposition that no proper recruitment checks are being done, when in fact, for the last few years, since the Chichester Visitation, all PTO clergy must have a detailed reference from their former Bishop. This reference (known as a Clergy Current Status Letter, or CCSL) sets out eleven evidence-based specific areas in which the ‘sending’ Bishop must reassure the ‘receiving’ Bishop about the priest’s good standing. Discussion at IICSA has been all about much close monitoring of PTO clergy (which, at detailed level, I am not persuaded will either work well or help much) – whereas it is recruitment and checking that matters, and that has been revolutionised since the Chichester Visitation.
  3. Capture online docs

    IICSA and the web (from today’s transcript)

    If like me, you have been puzzled by the absence of a number of witness statements and other documents on the website, today’s opening remarks will help: the Inquiry’s counsel, Ms Scolding, explained this morning that most of the missing evidence will be available very shortly. And lo and behold, the IICSA website has been populated with vast numbers now of witness statements and documents adduced.

Mind, you finding your way through the masses of reference numbers is not easy. You need to be even more dedicated than I am to get very far into it all.

  • The Youtube channel is perhaps the easiest way to get a flavour of it all.

If you do want to read stuff, this is probably how:

  • the ‘timetable of hearings’ page covers each day, but doesn’t tell you who was called on any particular day. I can only find the list for Week 1 online.
  • Open the ‘hearings’ page, which gives you the transcript and documents for any particular day.
  • The key to seeing individual witness statements is probably to download the ‘list of documents adduced’ which appears on some days – that gives you the name and reference number. Good luck.

They think it’s all over…

The three weeks of hearing ended today. Lest we forget what this is really about, the lawyer’s summings-up today were preceded by a very clear account from a survivor (whose name has not been made public) of abuse by a priest-schoolteacher. You may not want to read it, but it does bear witness to the way abusers can operate ‘in plain sight’, and how communities can rally round them, being unwilling to believe that such a nice man could so such awful things. (Today’s transcript is here – scroll down to p 11)

In the closing statements, Mr Scorer, representing victims and survivors, re-presented a comment made recently by the Bishop of Buckingham. It’s pretty blunt. Mr Scorer also re-ran a comment made by several witnesses to stress that although the focus in these hearings is Chichester – it’s not just Chichester. He suggested that every diocese has its Roy Cottons and that offenders are everywhere.

Capture Buck quote

Bishop of Buckingham’s comment, quoted in closing statements today

I said in my previous IICSA post that for me, this is personal. In fact, much of it of this had a touch of ‘All Our Yesterdays’. Events that cropped up during my time as a Bishops Chaplain appear throughout the verbal hearings, and even more so in the witness statements and other documents now online in which former colleagues and friends’ names appear.

It does seem incredible that it has taken such a number of internal and external reports over (effectively) twenty years to get us to this point where the Church’s complete safeguarding apparatus seems to be on trial. And in Chichester, that apparatus and the management of it has been shown to be grim – to the detriment of survivors and victims. In his characteristically sharp way, the Bishop of Buckingham puts it pretty clearly. Bishops Benn and Reade’s evidence rather supports his view. And Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, in her evidence read today is excoriating about Bishop Benn’s response to her when she interviewed him as part of her inquiry. Again, I commend reading the transcript. (Read it here – scroll down to p4)

But it’s not all over. The panel will now start the mammoth task of preparing their report on the evidence submitted to them as regards Chichester, but it cannot be completed yet. There will be a week of hearings on July looking especially at the way in which the Church handled the case of Bishop Peter Ball. I know a bit of the history, and if you search diligently through the evidence handled this week, or read the Gibb Report, you ‘ll realise that it will be an exceedingly complex, but interesting, examination of how everything is even worse when the allegations relate to a high-profile person.

Just this one ‘smoking gun’ document will cause a sharp intake of breath. The week of hearings into how Peter Ball was handled will be from 23-27 July.

Media coverage – or lack of it…

UPDATE: this next paragraph has been rewritten in the light of a comment from Andrew Brown. (see comments).

As Andrew Brown points out in today’s Church Times media column, the mainstream press has kept away from this, to our surprise. That is partly because of Brexit and Russia dominating the news agenda. The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood has been able to report clearly, if briefly, although her editorial colleagues had a rather ham-fisted comment piece yesterday (Thursday) which turned two horror stories (about Dean Treadgold of Chichester burning papers in the back garden and Bishop Bill Westwood of Peterborough burning papers on retirement))  into visions of serial evidence-suppressing conflagrations across the land: “Bishops quite often burned all their confidential files on leaving office, to ensure there was no evidence to trouble their successors.” That was in a Guardian editorial yesterday:  “Quite often” is an exaggeration of the evidence given and should be corrected.

I continue, then, to give three cheers for Hattie Williams at the Church Times, who has given details summaries in the paper and online.

And talking of the Church Times, there was a sad paragraph in last week’s paper about a clergy discipline case in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.  That diocese, it seems, has only belatedly made a public announcement that a priest who has been convicted of sex-related charges has been removed from his post and prohibited from ministry.  The penalty was imposed after a court case in 2017, but did not become public knowledge until this month. CDM guidance is that penalties should be published. So in some dioceses, it seems that the commitment to openness and transparency about clerical misdeeds has not yet taken root, it seems.

The American Justice Louis Brandeis said “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

However painful IICSA may be, it is shining a light.




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IICSA’s first Anglican week


Independent: IICSA has started deep-level hearings

So, the first week of IICSA’s enquiry into the Anglican Church, focussing particularly on the diocese of Chichester, is over. Every word spoken, every sentence of evidence given and every polite-but-incisive bit of lawyerly questioning is available to read online.

This feels personal…

As someone who has spent part of the last ten years dealing with some safeguarding matters as they affect clergy, it makes sobering reading. I offer these reflections, bearing in mind that there are two weeks to go yet, and another session to come in July.

It was within the first ten days or so of my time as a Bishop’s Chaplain in 2006 that one of our own diocese’s clergy was convicted of child sexual abuse and sentenced to imprisonment. With my then Bishop, we immediately had to do a round of media interviews, and we were made painfully aware of the shortcomings of what in those days passed for a process for dealing with clergy against whom allegations had been made.

Ten years later, freshly retired, I can see how that one case led to a sea-change in our understanding of abuse, and we’ve gradually realised the need to have proper processes and record-keeping.

The Inquiry is discovering that there has been considerable cultural reluctance to engage with these issues, let alone to come alongside survivors and victims. As well as the one case that hit me in the face as I started my job, I’ve followed another long drawn-out series of issues around a high-profile offender. Taken together, (and with the help of some very supportive and encouraging safeguarding professionals), these cases probably helped me to avoid some of the awful mistakes that the Inquiry is now looking at. I do not claim that Bath and Wells is any better or holier than the other dioceses of the Church of England: just that, for me, the learning curve started very quickly.

But back to IICSA…

CaptureAlthough the mainstream media (sorry!) have given blanket and usually condemnatory coverage of individual abuse scandals, they have not troubled themselves too much with covering these hearings. (I absolve the Church Times from this: they have given full coverage, both online and in print – try here.)

That will change next week, when high-profile figures come to give evidence (the list for next week is now available, and includes former Archbishops Rowan Williams and George Carey). So we can expect the headlines and detailed coverage that has so far been lacking. It won’t be pretty, and there are some useful background materials around to help parishes understand what IICSA is really about.

In the meantime, I commend a look at the transcripts to you. But you will need a strong constitution to follow them. This is because

  • some of the evidence consists of painful and moving accounts from victims and survivors – their voices are being heard and they name names.
  • much of it is very detailed, with forensic questioning about the specifics of how the diocese of Chichester handled a whole series of cases, what records were kept, who said what to whom, and so on.

Those who follow bathwellschap on Synodical matters include a goodly number of those who work in Bishops offices and diocesan teams. Like me, they will recognise some of the failings that are described, and they will also recoil in horror at some of the dystopian diocesan inter-personal goings-on that have just made things worse for victims and survivors of clerical abuse. If I just mention

  • a Bishop allegedly threatening libel action against colleagues
  • a safeguarding advisory panel taking out a Clergy Discipline Case against a Bishop

you’ll get a rough idea of just how rough it has been.

You need to read the evidence to see how bad things were. If you want to look at transcripts, or examine documents (everything is public) go here

For new readers…

CaptureIICSA (The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) is treating the Anglican Church as just one of nineteen areas of inquiry.

  • It is starting with the diocese of Chichester as a kind of first sample, because it is known that there have been long-running and high-profile cases in that diocese.
  • It is a full, proper public enquiry, with all interested parties represented by their own lawyers. Evidence is given on oath.
  • The scale is vast. As I wrote elsewhere “there are, as evidence, 28,677 documents amounting to 206,863 pages – with more to come. One barrister explained this documentation is providing  “road maps through the avalanche site of disclosure””
IICSA panel

Professor Alexis Jay is Chair of the IICSA Panel

So in this first week the Inquiry has heard from, and quizzed, some Chichester key players: they include the people responsible for safeguarding, a former Archdeacon, those who have led investigations or enquiries in the diocese, and a former Bishop of Chichester, John Hind. The Inquiry has also heard from victims and survivors of abuse – whose anonymity is protected.

  • On Wednesday, Bishop John  gave a masterclass explanation of what Anglo-Catholicism in the Church of England is all about.
  • On Thursday, the former Chaplain and Episcopal Vicar, Canon Ian Gibson gave evidence. His evidence was of particular interest to me (as a former chaplain myself) and I would say that anyone who works anywhere near a Bishop’s Office or deals with clergy files ought to read it (Thursday 8 March, afternoon session). I take my hat off to him.

On Friday, evidence from a former Diocesan Secretary and a Safeguarding Adviser gave a graphic impression of how the church (and not just in Chichester…) was being confronted with the realities of child abuse, and how the prevailing culture (and not just in Chichester…) made it very hard for them to  make progress.

Hats off also, then, to Ms Fiona Scolding, the Inquiry’s lead counsel, who has managed to navigate her way through the complexities of Anglo-Catholicism and Conservative evangelicalism, Canon Law, clerical nomenclature and the internecine squabbles and misunderstandings that have been revealed in this first week of evidence.

What have we learned?

  • The area system as practiced in the diocese of Chichester from Bishop Eric Kemps’s time lacked accountability, permitted a diversity of practice in record-keeping and laid the foundation for some serious strife amongst the senior clergy and lay leaders. Safeguarding allegations, past convictions, recruitment decisions, and even CRB/DBS disclosure blemishes were kept within an area, and not dealt with by the diocese itself.
  • Valiant attempts were made by a number of people to deal with the various messes, but they were stymied by poor personal relationships and a turnover of key staff (particularly Safeguarding and Diocesan Secretaries)
  • No less than three enquiries happened (Meekings, Butler-Sloss and the Archbishop’s Commissioners), none of which really got to the full truth of what had happened to victims, erring clerics, or to such paper files as existed about them.

There has been a line taken more than once by some of the lawyers about whether the Church should hand over all its safeguarding work to an independent body of some kind, to avoid the impression (and in some cases the reality) of the church not investigating itself thoroughly. I dare say we shall hear more of that.

Week two…

Hearings run every day this week, with high-profile witnesses as well as survivors and those who were at the coal-face of safeguarding and dealing with case-work.

  • You can see the outline timetable here with lists of those called to give evidence.
  • Transcripts will appear here
  • A live video link to all public evidence (except anonymous victims and survivors) can be followed here

I realise that the detail is all but impenetrable to those who are not well-versed in either safeguarding or ecclesiastical administration, but I hope media coverage will not just be drawn to the famous names who are giving evidence.

Of course those in authority, or who were in authority, must speak up and answer for themselves. But the detail of what can go wrong in recruitment, admin and relationships is being laid bare by these hearings.

Many readers of this blog will feel a chill come over them, as I did, as they read the unvarnished accounts of some serious falling short, which has damaged both individuals and the mission of the church.

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It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday…

Bread stones

Voices: Synod members all received this booklet

The first Saturday Synod in London began in a sombre mood. By 9.00 outside Church House, as people arrived, safeguarding victims, survivors and campaigners were joined by members (including those Bishops engaged with safeguarding matters) for a time of silence and prayer.

Inside, our opening worship was uncharacteristically sober. We were conscious of the heavyweight issues were about to handle, and of the presence of survivors and victims of abuse up in the gallery. Prayers and readings were around God’s engagement with pain and suffering, and the hymn Christ be our light spoke to the situation, with its opening line Longing for light, we wait in darkness.

The rest of the day had some upbeat material, it’s true – a look at our Anglican religious communities, and a cheerful exposition about the current ‘digital church’ work that’s going on. But everyone’s mind was on the first item after the worship.

We were launched straight into a powerful audio experience. A DVD prepared by some survivors of abuse, which has already been used with the Bishops, had a number of victims talking about their experience of how the Church dealt with them after they were abused. Sparse captions gave enough information about the people behind the voices. I won’t go into details because they asked that the material was not used in a wider sphere. As media reports have made clear, we knew there were some survivors and victims up in the gallery. I can’t have been the only member to have glanced up at the people there, wondering who had been through what experiences…

But when the DVD finished, Synod was strangely silent, as we went on, with hardly a moment to draw breath, into a short series of presentations

A strangely silent synod

The Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, has had to deal with the aftermath of many serious abuse cases: he said dealing with the cases he inherited at Chichester had been a life-changing experience. He stressed that we must see survivors as people, not ‘a problem to be solved’. He usually comes across as a rather gentle character, but today he came across quite forcefully, describing his (and every) diocese’s need to invest in training, as well as being very clear that nothing can excuse the criminal misuse of power. He said the church’s long-running denial compounds things – we cannot put the dignity of the church above ‘the inviolable dignity of an individual’. Abuse has consequences for the victim, the congregation, the family and friends of an abuser. We have a duty of care for them.

Having had some involvement with safeguarding matters in my previous job, I was struck by the very direct things he had to say, particularly in the context of Chichester, which has had the spotlight put on it in the past, and will do again when IICSA (see below) holds its hearings next month. In particular, he was positive about investigative journalism which, ‘at its best has given a voice to the voiceless and said in public what we might not want to hear’.

Empty tearoom

Tea-room: a big debate means hardly anyone sits it out. (Pic from yesterday)

We are not used to hearing such direct assessments by Bishops. It’s a sign of a change in the air. He was followed by Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester. She spoke about the deep shame she felt when Peter Ball’s crimes were exposed in court not long after she went to Gloucester. She gave a brief run-down of how safeguarding is tackled in her diocese, the big challenge now being getting it embedded in parishes, (a theme taken up by the next speaker, Sir Roger Singleton). Summing up, she said we must ensure that people realise safeguarding is the responsibility of all, and that relationships and communication are critical not just within a parish or diocese, but with external agencies as well.

Sir Roger is a member of the national safeguarding panel and has extensive experience in the charity sector and in government. He asked us how the church could move from having a rather shameful record on safeguarding to being a place where people can be as confident as reasonably possible that everything is being done.

He said that despite the recent changes and developments, a common theme in all the heavyweight reports on church failures is this: culture change is needed.  There is a lack of awareness and willingness to engage in some parishes. There is a minority of parish clergy and lay members of the church who “appear unable or unwilling to accept the need for sensible, proportionate measures; or who minimise the adverse impacts which physical, sexual, emotional or spiritual abuse can have on people’s lives; or who believe that complainants are only in it for the money”.

The message he gave was that even though those in leadership do now give heartening messages about safeguarding:

  1. we need to extend the leadership further – it is the actions of people in parishes that are critical (clergy, senior lay leaders). A tipping point has been reached where most clergy have got the message, and will tackle their lay leaders where necessary. But some still minimize the effects of abuse, or do not press their PCC.
  2. we need to communicate the differences that need to be made. The places where abuse is least likely to occur are the ones where the leaders understand it and take it seriously at detail level.

He described himself as belonging to a small rural parish. And the practical outcomes he is looking for across all parishes include

  • a proper review of safeguarding over the year at the parish annual meeting.
  • Archdeacons annual Articles of Enquiry must move beyond a ‘tickbox check’.
  • We must grasp the nettle of clergy and readers who persistently do not attend training or speak disparagingly of safeguarding.
  • Ordinands’ training needs a thorough exploration of safeguarding awareness.
  • There should be rigorous safeguarding questions in interviews.

I give a lot of space to this, partly because it is a subject close to my heart, having had some involvement; and partly because it was extraordinary how different Synod was during these remarks. There was no applause (polite or otherwise), and the speakers were heard in deeply attentive silence.

IICSA: Coming soon…


Lead Bishop: Peter Hancock, Bath and Wells (pic credit: Church of England)

Bishop Peter Hancock (disclaimer again: my former boss) took over to explain what is happening nationally now and what IICSA will bring forth. he has been Lead Bishop for Safeguarding for 18 months.

(New readers will need to know that IICSA is the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. The Anglican Church is one of its 19 areas of enquiry and the first major hearings start next month and run for three weeks.)

Bishop Peter, Bishop Martin and other church figures will be quizzed by the Inquiry at some depth, and we can expect a lot of media coverage – which will not be pleasant, as poor practice, cover-ups and failures will be forensically examined. Details of how IICSA works are here, and I wrote a little about it in my preview.

He explained that he had spoken to and met a number of victims and survivors, and was grateful to them for giving him their time and help and who have been willing to share their experiences with him. I suspect many listening would have been surprised to hear that, despite the very real difficulties, there is some dialogue with victims of abuse, many of whom are deeply hurt by the Church.

Some other highlights of his remarks:

  • In the last four years there has been a fivefold increase in national resourcing so the National Safeguarding Team, from a low base, is working much better.
  • In the dioceses, work has improved, and he encouraged us to be in touch with our own diocesan safeguarding teams – to know who they are and what they do.
  • There is a raft of legislative change going through to cover Clergy Discipline matters
  • Very large numbers of people at all levels have undergone quality training

He then turned to IICSA. The Anglican Church must not be defensive about it, he said, but be investigated in an atmosphere of transparency and openness, and listen to what victims will say.


Independent: IICSA’s planned inquiry starts in March

The first public hearing is on 3 March with another in July and more in 2019. He told us this will not be an easy couple of years. We will hear painful accounts of abuse, poor response and cover up. We will feel a deep sense of shame, and we need to respond as a whole church, rather than stressing what happened somewhere else.

(As I know him well, I won’t give my impression of how he performed, but I will pass on what a well-seasoned observer of Bishops said in my hearing later in the day – that he gave the impression of openness and integrity, not reading from a script, and that we could have confidence in his leadership on this.)

I sensed that people wanted to applaud, but were again unhappy to break the silence. So after a pause for prayer, the well-regarded and urbane Aiden Hargreaves-Smith in the chair moved us on to questions from the floor. The first one was about Bishop George Bell, but most questioners kept off national high-profile cases and asked about things affecting their diocese and parishes:

  • dioceses have acted independently – how can we ensure we act consistently?
  • increasing professionalism might stop parishes being more engaged and responsible
  • putting Communications Officers on Core Groups is unwise as they have no specialist knowledge
  • there are too many levels of training – can we have something streamlined appropriate for volunteers?
  • Are there proper resources for clergy spouses who may be vulnerable as a result of abuse within marriage? (The Bishop reminded Synod of the ‘Bishop’s Visitor’ (BV) scheme, and stated that Bishops have recently been told to ensure BVs have appropriate safeguarding training)
  • Can we be given an example of something tangible done for victims by the time Synod next meets in July?
  • How can we deal with the slow and painful processes that add further damage when an allegation is made? (The Bishop said that a review of the relevant aspects of the Clergy Discipline Measure is in train)

A few things emerged from this intense session. First, in response to a question about why are we having a presentation rather than a debate, Bishop Hancock said that people who wanted a debate now all had different notions of what their motion should be. However, having set out the ground today, he hoped we would have a debate in July.

I’m sure that’s right: if we had had a debate today, what would the motion be? It could not have covered anything currently before the courts or the subject of an enquiry; it would have pre-empted the IICSA scrutiny, and would have been hijacked into arguing about high-profile cases, when Synod’s role is surely to ensure diocese and parishes get their act together in the way Sir Roger Singleton had set out.


Audit: SCIE have been to every diocese

Secondly it was news (to me) was that the SCIE independent audits that have been covering every diocese are to be extended to the two Archbishops’ Offices, Cathedrals and to theological colleges and courses. SCIE (Social Care Institute for Excellence learn more here) is an independent body that audits cases, files, protocols and practices. All the dioceses have had their two-day visitation and a detailed report with recommendations. I was involved in ours – it was pretty searching and though we were told ‘this is not like an OFSTED it felt a bit like it, though it concludes with ‘learning points’ for development rather than ‘pass/fail’ assessments.

Thirdly, I was a little depressed by the poor level of knowledge exhibited by some questioners. I realise I have quite had quite a lot of engagement with safeguarding, but there was a naivety about some questions that proves Sir Roger is right: a lot more needs to be done at parish level.

And… breathe…

It felt like a huge relief to move on to a motion about our religious communities. Bishop David Walker spoke about his Franciscan links (and his famous habit of wearing sandals at all times), and the emergence of new religious communities alongside the age-old traditional orders such as the Benedictines and Franciscans. (It was only at the end of the 19th century that the Church of England recognised its own monastic religious orders.)

He explained that following the debate, the process of bringing in a new Canon to give a legal framework to our Anglican religious communities would begin. A Canon will allow them proper oversight as well as the freedom to work according to their calling. The motion therefore goes beyond welcoming and celebrating, but also ‘legislating’ for the communities.

Archbishop Justin spoke of the strength he finds from his own commitment as a Benedictine oblate – he reads part of Benedict’s Rule every day, and he has the Catholic Chemin Neuf community as well as the Community of St Anselm at Lambeth Palace. The debate heard from members and supporters of different communities, but I must confess, dear reader, that I sat some of it out, so cannot give you a decent report. “Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent”, as Wittgenstein put it.


Digi church

Tablet: part of contemporary digital evangelism

And from religious community in an age-old tradition, we moved on to hear about Digital Evangelism from Adrian Harris, Head of Digital at Church House, who produced some impressive statistics and examples:

  • the #Godwithus Christmas internet campaign had 6.8million visits for 2017 compared to 1.5m last year, with 98,000 copies issued of the booklet that accompany it.
  • The new Christmas videos had 2 million views.
  • The team is now routinely offering prayers on a daily or ‘response to an event’ (such as a bombing) basis.
  • Page views of the relaunched C of E website  are up 20% since the autumn redesign.
  • the new-look A Church Near You – ACNY for short  – has had a 50% increase in page views

Many church people have not quite registered that 89% of people use the internet (one priest said to me ‘the rest are in my benefice!’). Two-thirds now use smartphones to use the internet. So the team’s work is designed to use these media to bring people to their local church via the social media channels and the website. They have identified 9 distinct audiences they can communicate with, from ‘fully-engaged’ (e.g. PCC members) to ‘non-churchgoers’ (via specialist groups like ‘clergy’, ‘new parents’ and ‘wedding couples’).

Adrian’s presentation was very impressive, partly because  he is an enthusiast for his cause without being over the top about it, and partly because of the way he stressed that this work is about supporting parishes, rather than being some C of E plc corporate boastfest.

There’s more to come – he stressed that this is the beginning of  a digital journey for the C if E. If you’re not familar with this stuff:


To end this unusual day, we debated a motion about Downs Syndrome

Synod GV from gallery

In session: A fairly full house (pic from Friday)

There was a very full house, despite the fear that other calls on their time on a Saturday afternoon might draw people away. The Bishop of Carlisle spent some time explaining that this was not to be a debate about abortion, or discussing medical developments, but about treating those with Down’s Syndrome as full members of both church and society. In three generations, life expectancy for those with Down’s has moved from 9 years to 50-plus. So children may, with proper support, go through primary, secondary and tertiary education. This is amazing progress.There is a secular viewpoint that the Church is only concerned about preventing abortions. But our ethics stress independence, diversity and finding a way to coping with suffering.  He said ‘there’s an inherent contradiction between the secular celebration of diversity and the unintended consequence of getting rid of anything that is inconvenient and uncomfortable’.

This was a sensitive and soul-searching debate. Synod at its best: we had informed medical opinions and very real personal stories about advances in testing, making choices in pregnancy, caring for and living with people with Down’s. The background paper is a mine of information: if you, like me, are not well-informed and don’t know how to approach the issue, then it is well worth a read.

It concludes ‘People with Down’s Syndrome are complete human beings, made in the image of God’, and this theme was taken up by many speakers, either theologically or about their personal experiences.


Good enough: the Revd Rachel Wilson

The standout speech for many was from the Revd Rachel Wilson, a priest speaking from a wheelchair, who referred to her ‘catalogue of medical disasters’ before birth. She said “We need to remove the link between capacity and whether life is worth living. Being born with disability is not a disaster – I know I am what God made me to be. If it was good enough for God, it’s OK with me” She got a storm of applause.

Needless to say, there were amendments, largely what might be called ‘pro-life’, concerned with focusing on unborn children, termination of pregnancies and highlighting the very different approach being taken by our Porvoo church partners elsewhere in Europe. But they were demolished one by one, and before the debate ended, the Bishop of Ely reminded us of the radical thinking of Jean Vanier in working and living alongside people who society might despise or exclude.

There was a thread of comment (on Twitter and in speeches) that we had not heard from anyone who actually has Down’s Syndrome. Technically, if there is no one elected who has it, then we would have to work our way round Standing Orders to allow someone to speak or make a presentation. The Bishop of Carlisle pointed out that Heidi was at the fringe meeting yesterday and there was a ‘thank you’ video from some young voices just before we voted.

Saturday. Did it work?

Early in the morning we had an unprecedented appeal from the Archbishop of Canterbury for us not to go home early! He made the (justifiable) point out that the Down’s Syndrome debate was both important and sensitive and had attracted media coverage. But the very fact he spoke indicates that there was some nervousness that people would not stay on Saturday and the experiment was not going to come off well.

Positive points about it:

  • the public gallery was very full all day. Visitors included the Clergy Chair of the Bath and Wells Diocesan Synod, the Revd Jane Haslam
  • A young people’s group from Rochester made the journey, as did others – which they could not have done on a weekday.

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Negative points:

  • there were clearly some people reluctant to give up their Saturday, who stayed away despite the significant agenda and the Archbishop’s appeal
  • quite large numbers of Synod and Church House staff had to come in and work on a weekend. When asked discreetly, they professed not to mind, but it would be disruptive for them as well as for members. They did get a word of thanks from Archbishop Justin for their willingness.

The stated theory is that Saturday meetings would help working people to be on Synod. One Saturday experiment will not change the whole culture, and it seems to me unlikely to affect the 2020 elections to a great extent. But it’s too soon to know, and the Business Committee will have to decide whether to pursue it.

And finally…

  • People should be going home tonight much more aware of the bigger safeguarding picture, and Bishop Hancock thought the Business Committee might schedule a debate on it at York in July (when the first IICSA fallout will be in the public domain).
  • With the working party now in place to take on the Clergy Well-being Covenant, I suspect we’ll have a House of Clergy meeting in York before the main Synod starts. There’s an interesting Private Members motion up for signatures about clergy taking two days off per week, not one. That will stir up some debate if it gets onto agenda!
  • Twitter screen

    Social: tweeting is more popular, but misses the narrative and detail you get from a decent blog. If only there was one…

    It is an ancient and immutable tradition of the Church that I note the stats of this blog at this point. UPDATE: Up to teatime on Sunday, the bathwellschap blog has garnered 1062 visits about the February sessions, with 1701 page views. You reading this has added another 1 to those totals.

While the overwhelming majority of readers are in the UK, long-distance visitors include China, Australia and New Zealand. Thank you: I hope the blog has fulfilled its aim of informing people on how our Synod works (with a bit of education and entertainment thrown in).

SBL with Synod badge

Show-off: bathwellschap caught on camera (Pic: Jane Haslam)

General Synod reconvenes on Friday 6 July in York, and bathwellschap will be back with a preview piece a day or two before that. Otherwise, this blog will remain silent till then. (Unless something epically interesting and General Synod related happens before then of course.)

If you want to be sure of not missing it, just join the 86 other people who’ve clicked on the ‘Follow’ button on the right hand at the top of this page – you’ll get an email with a link when a new post goes up..


  • “It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in” – Piano Man, Billy Joel 1973. He was singing about 9.00 p.m. in a city bar, but the lyric’s too good to waste for 9.00 a.m. Synod start!
Posted in 2018: Feb - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Move in a little closer, baby *


Archbishop Justin with Archbishops (L-R) Winston, Thabo and Humphrey

Synod GV from gallery

In session: A fairly full house, not too many visitors in the gallery

The Archbishop of Canterbury got two big gigs at Synod today – a homily at the morning Communion service, and then a formal Presidential Address after lunch. Around that we had three stunning guests, some serious debates about moving closer to the Methodist church, some heavy debates about legislative stuff, and some more domestic discussions about food waste. General Synod – all human life is here.

Should robots have holidays?

That was how he began his homily at Communion. He delivered it in the way that any priest would to a gathered congregation, despite the imposing setting. People often cite Leviticus as a classic instance of the irrelevance of the Old Testament, but he gave us an Old Testament masterclass. The passage (Leviticus 25.2-7) is about the Sabbath rest. On the face of it, it’s an instruction about the mechanisms of farming. But it is actually about the kind of people we are, who are tempted to reduce everything to economics. He suggested that:

  • as many farmers know in their bones – the land is not ours it is only entrusted to us.
  • there are consequences to mistreating it, as on a global scale, the peoples of Polynesia (see below) are finding out with rising sea levels.

That took him to a story that journalists have probably missed, as he talked about the way Brexit offers a challenge to the UK when the Common Agricultural Policy is replaced by something locally-devised. What choices will we make?

Like many good preachers, he returned to the robots he began with, pointing out that while the much-vaunted Artificial Intelligence is both inevitable and wonderful, we cannot do everything with it. Some things require time, love and relationships, such as social care.

All in all it was a clear combination of political-allusive Bible study based in both the Old Testament world and our own times and concerns. You can read it for yourself here.

Change is here to stay

The Presidential Address was something else. It showed us an Archbishop who is hungry for change, in a Biblical tour about coping with change. After his typically self-deferential opening joke, he ran us through the Bible from Leviticus to the Epistles, challenging our attitudes.

He noted

  • ‘traditional’ innovation and ‘faithful’ innovation are present throughout the story: through the ages the church has adapted itself without losing the tradition.
  • the church has never been without change: the Spirit disrupts stasis and brings change. Even now, the growth in social media means the church cannot live without awareness of the global south Ina way that was once possible.
  • one of his favourite phrases, ‘faithful improvisation’ cropped up, which he linked to the call to proclaim the gospel afresh in every generation.
  • so, to his listeners’ discomfort, he suggested we have not yet got very far with ‘re-imagining ministry’  – which may explain the speed of the Cathedral Review (see below).
  • episcopacy needs to be ‘locally adapted’. This was a bit of a coded message about the Anglican-Methodist item later in the day, when the nature of episcopacy, and our willingness to be flexible about it is a key issue (more ‘faithful improvisation’).

You can read his text here.

Africa, Oceania, Pakistan

The main event of the morning, for me, was the debate about our partnership links with other world Anglican Churches. We had with us three Anglican Communion guests from three very different places, all in the front-lines of Christian presence and mission.

Archbishop Thabo  from Southern Africa brought us down to our proper size by saying that nowadays in his Province, people regard the C of E as our ‘sister church’, rather than always stressing the ‘mother church’ image.

  • He got a round of applause for pointing out that Archbishop Sentamu was wearing his dog collar after some years not wearing one ‘while Mugabe was doing his thing’ in Zimbabwe
  • He light-heartedly reminded us of a very serious issue  as he referred to current water shortage in Cape Town, saying he was glad to be able to take a shower every day while in London.
  • The current difficulties in the Communion over ‘new understandings about human sexuality’ got a mention. He stressed that even when relationships break down, hospitality does not.

Lastly he reminded us that the African concept of indaba (much-derided by some after the Lambeth Conference in 2008) has a lot to offer in the current climate. Confirming my suspicions that part of the thinking behind this debate was to gear people up for the pre-Lambeth hospitality programme, he stressed how important the hospitality offered by C of E dioceses to visiting Bishops will be. ‘We belong to each other’

Archbishop Humphrey brought greetings from the under-pressure Church in Pakistan. Speaking without notes, he held us spellbound as he talked about the difficulties they face. ‘They burn our churches’, he said. Yet God in his wisdom is keeping this ‘little Body of Christ’ alive. Regarding terrorism in Pakistan, he reckoned 75-80% of people there, though mostly non-Christian are bruised by it all. ‘They all need someone to wipe their tears and they ask us to pray for them’. Even in Peshawar (where the church was bombed in an atrocity), he said the large mosque congregation ‘has become closer to us’.

Archbishop Winston spoke of the missionaries from the Church of England who, 300 years brought a blessing the peoples of Polynesia – ‘a new way of finding our identity’. As he spoke, images of the church and the Pacific were shown. As rising sea levels threaten island communities, he spoke with urgency about the Paris Agreement of three years ago and the world commitment to curb global temperatures by 1.5 degrees Celsius. Just as the Pacific Ocean cannot exist without the other oceans – it is interconnected –  ‘mission is a way of engaging in God’s activity in the world’ and so we can only do God’s activity if we do it together. ‘Together is a secular word for ‘Trinity’, he said.. He didn’t actually get into the US moving away from Paris, but it was pretty obvious that he regards it as critical to the survival of his Oceanic communities.

After that the bathwellschap clapometer broke as there was a standing ovation for all three speakers.

Jammy Dodgers

After that, the Bishop of Guildford opened the debate about partnership links by stating that it was the starting pistol for the pre-Lambeth hospitality programme, which Archbishop Thabo had mentioned. He warned us against the usual glib ‘we gain so much more than they do’ remarks, challenging us to see links as an integral part of our mission, discipleship and even Reform and Renewal. His speech made much reference to the rusty old biscuit tin in his childhood home, which contained both boring old Digestives and also occasional Jammy Dodgers. The latter became something of a meme during the whole debate.



Crumb: Jammy Dodgers went viral

  • The Bishop of Lichfield drew on his own two years in Japan to say that people’s vocations would be greatly enhanced by living and working in churches of another culture.
  • A Church of England Youth Council rep, Annika Mathews, talked about her time spent in Romania in the context of the welcome (or otherwise) that Romanians working the UK receive.
  • We heard many stories of encounter with companion links, both in the developed world and the Global South.
  • Bath & Wells own Jenny Humphreys spoke about the pre-Lambeth hospitality programme in 2008: it was very rewarding for everyone taking part – and we had a lot of fun. (I can vouch for that. We did the garden party thing with hundreds of guests; we worshipped in our Cathedral with bishops from Zambia (our link), Australia and Cuba. More importantly, the visitors went out and about in parishes so ordinary church members got some vision of the wider church. This year we have an interesting programme of exchange visits – details here)

Amid all the affirmation and celebration, Jayne Ozanne reminded us that there is an elephant in the room in all this: the divisions over human sexuality. If we accept the value of experiencing other cultures, then she wondered whether groups going to partner dioceses should include LGBT members. For her, a culture change is necessary.

In his usual forceful and entertaining way, the Bishop of Chelmsford reminded us that we cannot choose our companions on the Christian way. In a riposte to Jayne Ozanne, he spoke of many encounter with Christians of different views in Kenya: ‘the product is not agreement, it is love’.

The motion was carried, and I have no doubt that those who were here will go home invigorated as much by the formidable contributions by the three Primates as by the debate itself.

Food, inglorious food

The debate on Food Waste (read the papers here) had drama as Andrew Dotchin broke up a bread roll and threw a portion of it away to make his point. What followed was hampered by the fact that were six detailed amendments to the main motion. It meant that they all had to be disposed of, and although people were very good about not launching into speeches on each one, substantial debate on the main motion was frustratingly brief.

Who would be in favour of food waste? Well, no-one. In the short time we had, we heard plaintive cries about farmers’ anger at putting in huge efforts to grow food, only to see the amount of waste in domestic and retail bins. Food bank tales vied with horror stories of slavish devotion to ‘best before’ dates. The ‘shopping culture’ has led to huge consumption of imported out of season foods. (Declare an interest: I live near Cheddar, whose summer strawberries are fabulous tasting – for the few weeks they are available.)

Synod Masters visit

Just visiting: Bath and Wells Lay Chair Mary Masters spent the day up in the gallery

Cathedrals on the fringe

A lunchtime fringe meeting on the Cathedrals Working Group draft report proved very interesting to anyone who visits or who (like me) has some role within the Cathedrals world (I am a Prebendary – i.e.. Honorary Canon – of Wells Cathedral).

The working group has issued a monster report (100 pages) proposing pretty severe reforms to the governance and operation of our Cathedrals. It wasn’t up for debate this time, but Bishop Adrian Newman, the Bishop of Stepney, Chair of the Group, gave a quick run-down of the background at a fringe meeting attended by two dozen or so interested parties. The reasons for convening the groups were

  • Visitations to Exeter and Peterborough Cathedral revealing serious governance and financial concerns:
  • A Church Commissioners analysis of Cathedral finances showing 13 cathedrals at ‘considerable risk’ in their unrestricted funds
  • A planning permission problem at Guildford and financial concerns at Coventry
  • The Archbishops Council had therefore commissioned the Group under a tight timeframe.

They are positive about the many good things that happen in and around Cathedral life. But there is a tension between how to deal with the very real governance and finance concerns and destabilising the cathedrals  by changing the rules. He described cathedrals as a ‘Russian doll’ of complexity. They have Chapters, Colleges of Canons, Cathedral Councils, but there is no real equivalence to the standard charity model which separates out governance and executive action. The Bishop’s ability to intervene is limited to the ‘nuclear option’ of a Visitation.

Amongst the recommendations:

  • Cathedrals should come under Charity Commission oversight, as parish churches do
  • Bishops should have a closer role, including appointing a lay vice-chair of Chapter to ensure some outside expertise
  • Funding streams should look at rewarding innovation (as now happens with much Commissioners money to parishes), not subsidising decline
  • A stronger role for Deans in Chapter
  • Significant attention to financial oversight.


Cathedral scribbled copy

Scribbler: how bathwellschap makes notes in fringe meetings.

My own view is that this is all being done in a hurry.

  • The last look at all this was the Howe Report In 1994. This has had doughty defenders in the church press recently by opponents of the new report. In discussion, it became clear that Howe was ’watered down’ in the debating process – the House of Bishops of those days was blamed by some .
  • The last look at all this was the Howe Report In 1994. This has had doughty defenders in the church press recently by opponents of the new report. In discussion, it became clear that Howe was ’watered down’ in the debating process – the House of Bishops of those days was blamed by some .
  • The group have appealed for their work to be accepted in its entirely, not partially (the shadow of Howe lingers on). They don’t want anyone to amend the recommendations – no cherrypicking. But neither the Archbishops Council nor Synod will react well to being told ‘this is it. Take it or leave it.’
  • Why were Residentiary Canons (they were quite grumpy) not consulted during the group’s work? The timescale did not permit it. (An apology was given, but it’s a problem if their only input is going to be the online response now being offered. So they are unlikely to sign up with enthusiasm: it will be interesting when all the Chapters make their formal responses.

A cathedral’s nature is indeed complex: but at heart we must remember they are religious communities, not businesses or (in most cases) parish churches. One gag was that residentiary canons are really just married Carthusians. (If you don’t understand this joke, look up Carthusians. I had to. I can’t make everything lucid and easy…)

Cathedrals have been amongst the least regulated bodies in the Church. Bishop Adrian said the group do not wish them to become the most regulated bodies – but something must be done. There is an online consultation with a questionnaire going on now. You can join in here – you have until the end of this month.

But you do need to actually read the report before you do so!

Connecting with the Connexion

The day ended with a major debate on how we might move on from the Anglican-Methodist Covenant towards some formal recognition of each others’ ministries

This was warm-hearted in the sense that the two invited Methodist speakers (the Revd Gareth Powell, Secretary of Conference, and a former President, the Revd Ruth Gee, Chair of the Darlington District ) were heard not just politely, but with real interest, and the applause was enthusiastic.

The debate on the document setting out the proposals (read it here) was always polite.

  • We heard a mix of heartening stories of cooperation and shared ministry, and deep theological reflection both for and against.
  • The concept of seeing the Methodist Conference in the form of its President as some sort of episcopacy is, er, adventurous.
  • There was much talk of ‘ecclesial anomalies’ – welcomed by some, rejected by others – and the ‘historic episcopate, locally adapted’ that Archbishop Justin spoke of in his homily.
Nunn chair

Nunn better: a grabbed shot (not by me) of the Dean of Southwark in the Chair


Andrew Nunn, the Dean of Southwark  chaired this tense and busy debate with his usual good humour, with one eye on the clock to try to get the business through by closing time. Off-piste, there are mumblings about this being a bad time to put this through, as there is a perception that the Methodist Church is not in a strong position financially or in numbers: though there is nothing in the paperwork about any financial support being part of any agreement.

Some speakers looked back to the Growing into Union debates of the early 70s (you read it first here in my preview piece) and regretted that we seem to be no further on. Others reckoned that the problems we had then have still not been resolved in this project

Ecclesiological Brexit?

Archbishops can be quite strategic in their timing, and in doing so they can sometimes change the tide of debate. In this case, Archbishop Sentamu interjected in the middle of the debate with a classic bravura encouragement to go and get on with it. Archbishop Justin popped up at the end to say ’though there are still lots of questions if we don’t pass this proposal, nothing will happen’.

  • Despite lots of strong hints from the Archbishops, Synod members had too many questions, and thought more work was needed to flesh out the detail of the proposals.
  • Despite the excellent mix of heavyweight contributions (Bishops and others on the theology; people from the parishes with strong stories of local shared activity and ministry) there was opposition.
  • The Twitter conversations during the debate (with people in the Chamber and out in parishes and theological institutions)  were very lively.
  • The motion, amended to insist on some more joint theological work, passed in all houses.

Afterwards, someone said to me ‘This is our ecclesiological Brexit’: voting for something without really understanding or thinking through the implications. In my view, tonight’s vote – as so often happens in Synod – was about two different things: the hard detail of the theology, and the warm aspiration to show how much ‘these Christians love one another’. So drawing closer to Methodism is a muddle. But something will eventually happen.

And finally…


Way in: Church House’s Dean’s Yard entrance

What with jammy dodgers and comparisons with Brexit, it was quite a day. Tomorrow we start off with work on safeguarding, with a number of survivors, claimants and victims, inviting us to stand with them at the Church House entrance and pray with them before we start the day. Many of them will be in the gallery. Your prayers appreciated for all concerned. It won’t be easy for anyone.

You can get my update automatically by clicking the ‘follow’ button higher up this page on the right. Or keep an eye on @bathwellschap or Thinking Anglican, who, as ever, have a good roundup of media coverage and kindly give me a mention.


 * Move in a little closer, baby, Harmony Grass, 1969. Hideous, awful song, recorded also that year in a much better version by Mama Cass. No I’m not going to give a link to it. If you must, find it yourself.

Posted in 2018: Feb - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments