Love of the common people *

The Bishops of Willesden and Burnley had some jovial cracks made about them skiving off to watch football (Burnley played Spurs today), but fears that this Saturday Synod would be badly-attended were, by and large, not realised. The gallery was fairly full too, with some welcome Bath & Wells visitors who had made the long trek up from Wells and Shepton Mallet to see how Synod works.

Racism by nice people

We began the day with a pretty full house for a surprising debate about Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities, based on a report called Centuries of Marginalisation; Visions of Hope. The report GS2123 makes interesting reading, especially if, like me, you know little, other than the prejudiced chatter in the pub and the endless Press stories about land use and rubbish-dumping  First of all, we heard from three people intimately involved with these communities:

  • Jenny Cadona spoke about her own experiences of discrimination as a member of the travelling gyspy community. She was brought up ‘at the side of the road’ as her family could not find a place to stay. She went to school for a year only – where she did learn to read and write. She is now completing a PhD.

She explained that people in the community had learned not to respond to insults and discrimination, but she had decided at one stage not to keep on in that way, but to do something about it. Even when land had been bought to make a home, people dumped their rubbish on the site and talked about “dirty stinking gypsies.”

She said that nothing will change for her people until they are part of the community. She has brought her children and grandchildren up to challenge discrimination. She would like her grandchildren to be the last generation to experience discrimination, but for now, “we are seen as ‘the other people’ and gypsy is seen as a dirty word”. She concluded “I’m proud of my community”

  • Professor Thomas Acton has worked all his life with Roma, gypsy and traveller communities. Romany language is only a thousand years old, but there is an enormous confusion of sub-groups, dialects. The one thing they have in common is the experience of discrimination. He spoke of the different strands in gypsy Christian life in Europe, and the difficulties people face, up to outright persecution
  • The Revd Martin Burrell is a chaplain to gypsies, travellers and Roma; he believes there are only two such chaplains. Current pastoral needs include caring for people looking for a permanent place to live, and for Roma worried about the impact of Brexit. He said the Church of England has chaplaincies to all sorts of communities: we should also be doing the unpopular thing by standing up for those on the margins and discriminated against. He asked Bishops to find the people with a calling to serve these outcast communities as chaplains, to build bridges and be reconcilers.

Do we have many of these people…?

 

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Cottrell

Bishop Stephen Cottrell seen here preaching at St Paul’s Cathedral Image: Graham Lacdao, St Paul’s Cathedral.

In the debate, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell gave an impassioned plea to recognise the racism and discrimination in our society.

He noted Trevor Phillips’ assessment that racism against Roma, Travellers and Gypsies is the last acceptable form of racism in the UK. It is not called out, and is fuelled by media stereotypes.

GS 2123 contains examples of all this within the church.

“Friends, this must change” he said. And he went on to talk about the practicalities – the number of authorised sites has decreased, people are being evicted with nowhere else to go, they are denied healthcare, and so on. The Church could help do something about it. One survey reckons that just one square mile of land in aggregate would contain enough space for the sites people need.

There were some chilling observations in speeches:

  • The Bishop who asked “Do we have many of these people in our diocese?” None of the people he was meeting knew, either…
  • “Racism against Roma, Gypsy and Travellers is done by nice people”
  • “What’s lacking is not the means, but the will.”
  • Words associated with ‘the night of the Gypsies’ at Auschwitz: “You shall not live among us as equals; you shall not live among us; you shall not live”.
  • The passage in John’s gospel often rendered as “In my father’s house are many mansions” might be more accurately translated as “In my Father’s house are many caravans
  • My own Bishop, Peter Hancock spoke about a chaplain in the diocese who self-describes as “chaplain to nomads”: Gypsies, Roma, Travellers and Canal-dwellers.

This was an impassioned, eye-opening debate. One of the speakers was heard in sympathetic silence as she gave an account of what happened in her parish church when some travellers set up camp in their church car park. We were told about the clearing up afterwards – but also the divisions between those who wanted to turn the churchyard tap off (thus denying water to the families) and those who insisted it must be kept on while they were there.

I was a Young Person once…

When it came to the Youth Evangelism debate – the fourth debate on evangelism this Synod – there was plenty of advocacy for different forms of working with young people. But several speakers observed that they were once a Young Person, found faith, and maybe even became ordained. But they are still the youngest person in the room at church gatherings.

Youth a partMuch reference was made to the 1996 report Youth A Part. It’s headline thought was that young people are not the church of the future: they’re the church of the present, and must be taken seriously. Everybody loved Youth A Part, but it still has not had the effect it might have done. (It’s still available on Amazon and you can get an secondhand copy for just 1 penny!!)

This was, amazingly the fourth debate with an evangelism theme this week. The paper setting out the overall approach is GS 2124A (read it here), and there’s a note about what the national church is doing GS2124B (read it here).

Mark Russel speaksThe debate was introduced and closed by the fiery Mark Russell, Chief Executive of Church Army, whose speeches entranced our deputation from Wells and Shepton Mallet. Sadly, your reporter spent time in the tearoom with them at this point in the day, so heard only a few of the speeches.

When the fun stops…

You may have noticed lots of adverts for tombola games, football betting and all the rest of it on your TV or computer in recent years. The Bishop of St Albans used words like ‘corrosive’ and ‘pernicious’ of this change in our culture, speaking in a fairly fierce debate built on a thorough report Advertising and Gambling (GS2125 – read it here). He listed the various kinds of gambling adverts, and spoke of how young people are being drawn into the ‘toxic mix’ of online, TV and pitchside adverts.

gamblingIt’s not just about a distaste for low culture: the problem of gambling addiction is very real.

He explained he was not greatly troubled by church tombolas or even the National Lottery – though other speakers were. The debate was pretty pointed:

  • The industry should stop ‘nationalising’ the cost of gambling addiction (by creating people needing healthcare or other interventions) and ‘privatise’ it by funding some remedies.
  • David Lamming proposed an amendment reminding us that the Church of England Bishops in the Lords had had some success with restricting the bets on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, but we now live in a world where children are being groomed to gamble. Can we do it again with gambling adverts?
  • The Bishop of St Albans resisted the amendment, as his original text had been carefully prepared for maximum impact.
  • Bishop Stephen Cottrell attacked the flood of gambling adverts on the internet, widely viewed by children – another example of how in the digital environment, companies wrongly claim they are not ‘providers, only ‘carriers’.

One speaker pointed out that having once clicked on a gambling-related YouTube, he found he was then getting endless streams of gambling ads in his computer timeline. And he is an adult.

To grind my own axe, I find if I am watching  TV, I am besieged by adverts about tombola, bingo, and sport-related bets. We are being normalised into thinking gambling is fun, profitable and risk-free. The ‘gambleaware’ logos do appear – briefly – but they’re hardly a disincentive to the desperate or addicted.

Whatever happened to the common good?

State of Nation colourWhen it came to the State of the Nation debate – the last thing in the day – the chamber was a little emptier. Those who went  home early missed a treat. The motion had been brought by the two Archbishops, there was no supporting paperwork, but I think we all knew what it was about.

Archbishop Justin began by listing some of the positive things about the UK: relative stability and prosperity, and so on. But he reminded us of inequalities and Brexit uncertainties. His point was that for many decades, politicians have failed to seek the common good, and the nation needs to pay attention.

As a church, we need to work out how we minister in this context. The Bible does not do ‘trickle-down’ economics: it prefers Isaiah’s ‘rolling rivers of justice’. He quoted Edmund Burke’s description of what we nowadays call God’s ‘preferential option for the poor’ from his 1788 speech on the impeachment of Warren Hastings. (My thanks to Simon Fisher for tracking down the quotation.)

Burke on churchRather than avoiding politics, Archbishop Justin talked about the inability of our current politics to deal with the problems so that the country works for all. Our political leaders have the responsibility of resolving the current crisis; we have the responsibly to pray for them.

His speech was a rallying call to look beyond the current chaos and see how the poor and marginalised can be protected and restored.

Mulally

Bishop Sarah Mulally

  • The Bishop of London, Sarah Mulally spoke about the European dimension of the current crisis. (It affects the Church’s Diocese of Europe in many ways). The old left/right opposition seems outdated, and may be being replaced by other polarities, such as ‘networked metropolitan youth’ versus ‘the old and left behind’. Our task, she said is to speak out for and care for the poor and the marginalised. We must help our communities to come together as neighbours, and work for each other.
  • The Bishop of Bristol, Viv Faull spoke powerfully about the impact of the recently-announced closure of the Honda plant in Swindon. It will take a generation to recover, but straight away the churches are naming the problem in public worship, preparing for the inevitable ‘blame game’ and other actions. We are there to speak about ‘an unshakeable kingdom in uncertain days’.
  • Another speaker noted how as well as anti-Islamic rhetoric being prominent in the UK and elsewhere, in several countries there’s an increasing tendency to use the term ‘Christian’ as a banner to rally behind to protect ourselves from other ‘undesirables’.
  • Simon Butler suggested that when we pray for our own leaders, we need to pray for them to be better leaders…

I joined the many members who had hoped to speak, but who were not called. Sometimes, Synod can be frustrating!

And finally…

One or two people have queried the reference to bishops walking on custard in yesterday’s post. This YouTube explains it all: it’s more entertaining than the still image. Go to about 1.15 from the start.

CustardThree more serious points in retrospect

1.This was a good set of sessions.

  • The heavy focus on evangelism cheered up some who complain that Synod does not pay enough attention to Christian basics
  • the State of the Nation and the other ‘social/community’ debates on homelessness, travellers and the environment meant we kept our feet in the real world.
  • In between we had some fun with Standing Orders
  • There was a progress report on the Living in Love and Faith project that at least gave people a chance to air their views, without there being any damaging fights.

If you want to know more about any of that, have a look at the other posts from this week.

2. A minor thing that has become an irritation is about the calling out of points of order from people’s seats. Obviously, if you need to intervene quickly – say, when a vote is being called, or you have some other procedural point to make – you need to shout out from where you are. But if the Chair accepts your intervention, it’s very unhelpful to people following at home on the video link, or in the tearoom – or who are deaf – if you then make your point from your chair, instead of going to a microphone.

I’ve started using hearing aids since the last Synod, and even with mild hearing loss, it’s a pain. If you are not in the room, it’s hopeless, and if the Chair reacts to the Point of Order by making a decision about a speaker or a vote, you haven’t a clue what’s going on. Bill Braviner raised this in a clever Point of Order himself about this yesterday, and several Chairs took note – but not all. I am assured the Business Committee will follow this up with Chairs before we meet again in York in July. All it needs is for the Chair to repeat the off-mic point, or ask the speaker to find a mic, and everyone will be happy!

Picture of computer

Coffee, tablet, banana – Bathwellschap’s blogging kit.

3. Lastly, a word of thanks to those who take the trouble to say they value the blog. It makes the midnight oil worthwhile. As I’ve said before, I try to give a personal account of what I see and know.

I try not to grind any personal axes, or join in campaigns, and I hope the blog helps those outside Synod to understand something of what goes on and how it works.

I also hope that it may help anyone thinking of standing for Synod in the 2020 elections to see what they’re in for!

To my amazement, the blog is getting between 300 and 450 visitors per day, and though the bulk of them are in the UK, there are people in China, Malaysia, Peru and dear old Guernsey who’ve been to have a look. There are 103 sign-up followers – feel free to join them. You won’t hear from me, just get an email next time I post. Click on the ‘Follow’ button in the righthand column.

UPDATE: Other blogs are available:

I’ll be back in July with a preview and daily roundups.

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* Love of the Common People:much-recorded song about living on the breadline and the strength of relationships to help you cope. The Four Preps, John Denver, the Everyls have all done it, but the ‘definitive’ version for me is Paul Young’s 1982 UK number 2 hit, with its brilliant backing singers.

 

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Posted in 2019: Feb - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Listen, do you want to know a secret? *

I regret to say that your correspondent missed the morning Bible Study  on 1 Peter. However, the debate on environmental programmes that followed was very lively. And the three debates on evangelism covered a very wide field indeed. And even Standing Orders brought some fun.

Environment: actually doing something…

On what felt like a glorious April morning (in February, forsooth), we addressed global climate change and what we could do about it.

WIN_20190222_104633A very clear speech from Sophie Mitchell from the Church of England Youth Council, a student at Bristol University, caught everyone’s attention. She began by reminding us of the school students’ strike a couple of weeks ago, and cheekily pointed out that it was her generation, rather than that represented in much of the Synod, that was going to feel the effects.

Prudence Dailey struck a different note, asking us to vote against the motion. IN the light of the usual encouragements to make small changes in our lifestyles, she believed we should not kid ourselves that the local church can do anything whatsoever about climate change.

Her counter-cultural take was “if we all do a little, then we will just do a little.” Even if all Western countries became carbon neutral, it would only have a minimal effect, because of the enormous emissions from developing countries…

There was a procedural element to this debate. Because it had been adjourned from July, the Archbishops Council and others had got their retaliation in early and done a lot of work in the meantime:

  • The original motions from London and Truro set out some very specific targets for the church (read their paper GS2094A here)
  • The updated paper from the dioceses is GS 2094B – read it here
  • GS Misc 1212 indicates what they has been done centrally since July (read it here). The Chair of the Finance Committee John Spence, indicated what the Archbishops Council would be doing in future – at the cost of reducing work in other areas. But he said we cannot impose targets on dioceses and parishes.
  • The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, Lead Bishop on the environment reported that the Church is doing amazing things already, but we needed to follow Truro’s need by having specific staff resources.
  • The First Church Estates Commissioner Loretta Minghella (the Commissioners have huge investment funds) got applause when she explained how the Commissioners had tackled Shell, BP and Glencore. We are in a position to do more. There is no Plan B because there is no Planet B.

Much of what was said we have heard before. What was of value in this debate was threefold:

  1. Recognition of the need, and the possibilities of church action on the environment at all levels
  2. Central Church bodies are signed up to doing everything from sorting out the heating to re-investing large sums of money
  3. Diocesan Synod motions (often the poor relation of Synod proceedings) do sometimes work! This one in particular brought forth some inspirational speeches from people who had not intended to speak in the debate, but who had been challenged to think on their feet and the speeches were all the better for it.

Summing up, Enid Barron from London diocese, winningly called herself an ‘eco-granny’, and the motion was duly passed with only three votes against.

Evangelism, evangelism, evangelism

It’s unlikely that the Synod would vote against evangelism, just as they wouldn’t vote against action on climate change. And with three motions on evangelism today, there’s room to explore every angle…

The first debate was about Evangelism and Discipleship (read the paper GS2118 here and see its nicely-presented glossy annex A here.) It sets out six priorities, worth a read.

Evangelism 1Barry Hill was focussing on the work done in recent years by the Evangelism Task Group set up by the two Archbishops.

So his motion was partly about ‘getting the message out’ to parishes and individuals that we now have a Evangelism and Discipleship Department, supporting and encouraging faith-sharing in all sorts of ways.

The motion was specific about plugging Thy Kingdom Come the ‘global prayer initiative’ around Pentecost time (May 30 – June 9 2019). Their website is here.

There were some nervous asides, as I predicted in my preview piece. Andrew Lightbown from Oxford wanted to know what ‘Mission and Evangelism’ mean in Jewish or Muslim communities. He seemed to be concerned that the proactive confident approach implied in the vocabulary does not quite reflect the true nature of Christian presence and advocacy. Others expressed similar reservations.

  • Fr Thomas Seville expressed his difficulty by talking about ‘dialects’. The dialect of the report was not his: it put evangelism first and worship second. But the dialect he speaks starts with worship.
  • One thread of significance was that we must recognise that most clergy are not natural evangelists – and have many other callings on their calling.
  • The Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow spoke of encouraging people to have everyday faith conversations
  • Philip Plyming, head of Cranmer Hall theological college, said ordinands were being told evangelism was not a technique, but a way of being.
  • Mary Bucknall of Deaf Anglicans Together, made a very powerful speech telling us of the obstacles put in the way of Deaf people. There is rarely access to British Sign Language (BSL) or subtitles in evangelistic work. Theological training is not available, major conferences only offer one-off events, and most diocese do not have a chaplain to the Deaf. Deaf church services usually only happen once a month. Some courses such as Pilgrim can be offered in BSL, but major providers such as Bible Society do not offer subtitles on many products.
Plyming screen

Big Screen: Philip Plyming in full flow

There was a bit of dissonance, it seems to me, between ‘evangelism’– characterised by some speakers as ‘a shady business’, numbers-focussed, something for ‘Lone Rangers’ and so on – and straightforward discipleship – following Christ and living exemplary lives. There was grumbling about an amendment that tried to suggest clergy time was better spent on discipling new Christians rather than ‘servicing the existing church community’ which reflected this, but it was defeated.

Changing the rules…

The diversion between all the evangelism debates was the improvement of our Standing Orders. Sounds tedious, but it turned out to be one of those good-humoured conversations which can make Synod such fun. The paperwork (GS2119) is here if you’d like to peep behind the curtain.

To begin, Geoffrey Tattersall, an avuncular lawyer who is Chair of the Standing Orders Committee (he self-describes as a ‘Synod anorak’) explained that the proposed changes were in the light of experience.

Tattershall screen

Gladness: Geoffrey Tattersall on Standing Orders

Firstly, there was some jousting about the length of Questions. Mr Tattersall’s recommendation was to set a word limit (150 words) to Questions, to avoid verbosity and time-wasting. Can you restrict a question to 150 words? However, David Lamming, a serial speaker in this group of sessions, urged us to resist limits on the length of a question. The Tattersall proposal was lost.

The Archbishop of Canterbury proposed a change that would permit representatives of the world Anglican family not only to attend Synod, but to have speaking rights, in the same way that the panel of ecumenical guests do.

Then it got exciting…

More complex were the changes about how the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) works. The CNC is the body that appoints diocesan Bishops – or, in church-speak, “discerns” who God is calling to be the next Bishop of Barchester (or wherever the next vacancy is). GS 2120 sets out the changes being proposed. – read it here).

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The CNC is chaired by the relevant Archbishop (with the other one in attendance), has 6 ‘central’ members (elected by General Synod) and 6 ‘diocesan’ members (who come from the diocese which is vacant. I have served on one CNC and am sworn to secrecy about the discussions. However, the changes being proposed are no secret: they include

  • A ‘central member’ should have a substitute if it is their own home diocese being considered
  • The voting method used should no longer be a secret ballot of the 14 people on the CNC, but an open vote. The theory is that secret voting enables people to say one thing about a candidate in discussion, but vote another way.
  • A reduced threshold in the voting (from 2/3 members present to 2/3 present and voting) to avoid an appointment not being made if there is some sort of deadlock. Effectively, this would reduce people’s ability to abstain in a vote if they were unhappy at a candidate going forward.

The Archbishop of York steered us through the uncontroversial bits, but we had some debate about the ‘reduced threshold’. Two experienced CNC members (Aidan Hargreaves-Smith and Jane Paterson) spoke against this particular proposal, reminding us that the CNC’s inability to achieve an appointment has only happened twice (Hereford and Oxford) in recent times. Their advocacy convinced Synod, so the rule will not be changed.

Papers 2But next came the proposal to have secret voting removed within the CNC. Another experienced CNC central member, Andrew Nunn spoke up for the proposal to go open; John Dunnett, another central member wanted secret voting to remain. He reckons that the discrepancy between what people said and how they voted has now disappeared, thanks to the Archbishops’ chairing techniques. He believed the secret ballot prevented ‘groupthink’ affecting the result.

There was a lot of angst about this one. Old Synod hands smiled when John Dunnett (a leading evangelical) quoted a psychologist, and Simon Butler (Prolocutor) quoted St Paul back at him. But Archbishop Sentamu cut away much of the opponents ground by explaining that the open voting would not be obligatory –just that a CNC could choose to have a secret ballot if it wished.

cropped-win_20151123_122154.jpgSomeone called for a vote by Houses (presumably in an attempt to defeat the motion). The motion failed in the House of Laity, so was thrown out. Ironic that we should vote in secret on our little machines about open voting! (But the names of who voted which way results will be published in due course – or punished, as I mistakenly tweeted after the result was read out.).

No more Silos

Growing in Faith was the title of the second evangelism-related debate of the day. It was built around a House of Bishops ‘vision’ document (GS2121 – read it here) which is particularly concerned with churches, schools – and households. The paper relates some survey data from ComRes about the age at which young people give up on active faith, and (amongst other interesting points), notes the significance of parents nurturing their children in faith with family prayer, for example. It’s an interesting paper that shows cross-departmental work being done at Church House. No more silos!

We heard some lively and cheerful speeches giving examples of innovative work, practical examples of how people build their faith into their family life, summer holiday camps and much more.

It was particularly rewarding for me to hear two Bath and Wells lay speakers.

  • Farmer Kathryn Tucker talked about the imaginative youth work that goes on on Exmoor, where schools, churches and homes are far apart and young people very isolated.
  • James Cary told a tale of his own childhood experience of learning about Christ through familiarity with the Bible, and spoke of how he works with children in his church in Yeovil, simply using the Scriptures as the source for learning and questioning.

Unusually, we then had two farewells (they usually happen on the last day of Synod). Bishop Graham James of Norwich and Bishop Trevor Wilmott, Bishop of Dover were duly (and rightly) eulogised. The tribute included a stunning video of Bishop Graham walking on custard. Don’t ask…

Wilmott

Split screen: part of the tribute to Bishop Trevor Wilmot

Start with the poor!

Then we moved to the third evangelism debate – Estates Evangelism – led by the effervescent Bishop of Burnley, Philip North. In irrepressible form, he started by trying to persuade people to vote against – unless they were serious about the implications. He listed the Apostles, Francis of Assisi, St Vincent de Paul and others to say anyone who is serious about proclaiming the gospel starts with the poor.

Our urban estates were good when they were built. But now things have deteriorated for those living there: services withdrawn, transport cut, resources privatised, benefits cut. And yet the Church has been withdrawing resources too. His vision was to have a loving, serving, witnessing community on every estate. “If you start with the poor, the rich will catch on.”

The paper GS 2122 setting out the approach of the Estates Evangelism Task Group, (who are behind this debate) is here.

untitled (8)My own diocese of Bath and Wells (to the surprise of many) has a number of urban priority areas n Bath, Bridgwater, Weston-Super-Mare and other places.

We call them ‘Magnificat’ parishes – picking up a line in Mary’s song (Luke 1.46-55) about ‘lifting up the lowly’. Our magazine Manna just run a special edition about them, under the title Hidden Treasures. Read it here.

As well as moving stories about the realities of life, and church life in estate areas, we were also challenged to think about what changes the church needs to make to have any effect.

  • The Bishop of London, Sarah Mulally, said that things take time on estates. People – whether lay ministers, youth workers, or clergy – need to stay: to remain long enough to make a difference.
  • A number of speakers reminded us that our usual academic training courses for ministry need changing for candidates from different backgrounds.
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury said that success in this context might not mean bigger numbers, but more holiness and discipleship, in a church that did things with people, rather than for them.
  • In that context, several speakers asked who was making the decisions, and who was choosing where any available funding was going.

Clearly, Bishop North’s request that we did not vote for the motion was a smart rhetorical device. But it brought forth a passionate and lively debate, with real stories of real places (mostly in the North), and sharp warnings about the need for us the change – and the possibility that we might benefit.

Pastoral Advisory Group resources

Last night we heard about the Pastoral Advisory Group (PAG), available to help the church work through testing pastoral questions about what a welcome for LGBTI people in church actually means.

Their resources are now available for free download. Anyone with any interest in the current thinking about humans sexuality issues needs to get a copy, and think about how to use them in church conversations. You can download them here.

And finally…

A lot of people got to speak today about subjects close to their experience and their hearts. Maiden speakers got plenty of airtime and ‘the usual suspects’ were not too prominent. In that respect, it was a very good Synod day.

Tomorrow might be a bit strange. All day Saturday (some will not be staying for the day), and topics covering Roma, gypsies and travellers,; youth evangelism; gambling advertising – oh, and the state of the nation to finish. Could be quite a day.

I offer the usual encouragement to follow the proceedings live, or electronically. The links are at the end of yesterday’s post.

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* Listen, do you want to know a secret: Big hit in the early days (1963) of ‘the Mersey Sound’ from Brian Epstein’s unlikely-name-for-a-Liverpool-group Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas. It got to number 1; the Beatles version made number 2 in the USA in 1964.

Posted in 2019: Feb - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

How many years can some people exist? *

We all thought the big deal today (Thursday) would be the Living in Love and Faith presentation. How wrong could we be. The morning was spent in mildly specialist debate about how long people should be allowed to be Deanery Synod members; the afternoon was upstaged by a revolution on the floor demanding a debate on homelessness.

 How long, O Lord?

People say that legislation debates are boring. They often have a thin house. Yesterday, Simon Butler, the Canterbury Prolocutor, even reminded us that Synod’s job is to make legislation, and people jolly well ought to be in the chamber and debating things that affect parish life.

Floor WSHowever, the first legislative item today was the subject of some controversy. The revised Church Representation Rules – which have the wholesome aim of simplifying and modernising church elections at national, diocesan, Deanery and parish level – took up all our time. If you want to get the detail, read this. It’s only 103 pages long…

The Archdeacon of Southwark, Jane Steen, presenting the report for Final Approval made an elegant defence of the controversial element. It’s about preventing people holding a Deanery Synod seat for more than two 3-year terms.

The theory is that it brings in fresh thinking, removes the old dead wood, and allows the elderly Deanery faithful to stop being part of “a collection of Anglicans who want to go home” (the writer Catherine Fox’s definition of a Deanery Synod) and actually just stay home, while younger people take up the cudgels.

The key procedural issue is that Synod looked at the matter in July and turned down the proposal to remove the ‘two strikes and you’re out’ idea. And at this late stage, it is not possible to amend the Measure: the debate, formally, is just to rubber-stamp ‘drafting amendments’ – little tweaks in the text.

  • Long-standing member Bath and Wells Tim Hind recalled that it took one three-year term for him to find his feet in a Deanery Synod, and a further three years to contribute wisely. At that point someone might be in a position to be an effective Lay Chair or other officer. So limiting the ability to serve more than two terms means limiting the pool of people who can take up responsible lay positions. And it’s hard enough, especially in rural parishes, to find people who will stand for responsible roles. He concluded: Please, Synod, think again!
  • I gathered at a fringe meeting last night that there was considerable upset about this. Diocesan Lay Chairs are universally against it – a couple spoke strongly.
  • A telling point is that nobody suggests a two-term limit on General Synod membership – because Synod thrives on the knowledge and experience of those who’ve been around for a while. (Disclaimer: I joined in 2005)
  • Clive Scowen, a procedural expert, suggested that we have created a problem by bringing serious amendments into a Measure at the late drafting end of the process.

To vote down the whole Measure on the basis of this one problem would be a very blunt instrument and would wreck the other ideas in the Measure – such as electronic voting, which everything thinks is a Good Thing. So a cunning plan was needed.

Booys screen (1)The good news is that the provision in question does not take effect until 2026.

The Business Committee Chair, Sue Booys, came to the rescue by reminding us that between now and 2026, the Elections Review Group could look at it and bring forward a Plan B.

And one Lay Chair encouraged people to abstain if they were unhappy, rather than vote against and kill the whole thing.

So after all that, the Measure was passed. As the debate wrapped up:

  • the Bishop of Willesden, progenitor and Head of Simplification, stood to thank Synod for a good job well done. He reckons the new Rules will make life easier in rural and urban parishes, and looked forward to an opportunity tackling the Mission and Pastoral Measure next.
  • Simon Cawdell ran through some of the beneficial changes – legal establishment of Benefice Councils, electronic voting to streamline our democracy, and so on.
  • Interestingly, once the heated bit of debate was over a couple of speakers made speeches which clearly were in favour of a two-term limit.
  • Chair of the Elections Review Group, Clive Scowen reassured us that the ERG (no, not that one) would be looking at the two-terms limit fairly quickly. It’ll be interesting to see if the tide turns…

_105743416_telegraph-frontStrangely, the media took little interest in this absorbing by-way of church news.

Instead, the Telegraph (and others) focussed on a minor tweak of legislation that permits parishes with more than one church to only have to hold a Sunday service on one of them.

Bizarrely, for the Telegraph, this was front page news. (Web version is here)

TV cameras (3)There was also the first of two revolutions when Synod got to discuss the statutory fees payable for weddings and funerals.

The Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, a redoubtable champion of the poor and estate communities, barnstormed Synod into trying to abolish fees altogether – to attract people to churches for these significant life events.

Frankly, some people can’t afford what we charge (even though we are cheaper than wedding venues, and our fees are not the largest part of funeral directors’ costs. He managed to garner about one-third of people voting in support – but it was not enough, and a new fees order is in place. If you want the details of how the fees are set, they are here, with the background story here. The second people’s revolution, at the end of the day, was more successful – see below.

 

On the fringe…

There was some agitation yesterday about safeguarding.  One or two people wanted a standing agenda item on safeguarding at every session. I’m not convinced how helpful that would be – while Synod can debate and decide policy, there are some things you can’t decide by voting, and some deeply personal and pastoral matters that can’t be discussed by three hundred people. So a lunchtime fringe meeting hosted by the National Safeguarding team gave an opportunity to see how things stand.

Safeguarding fringe (3)On a show of hands, about half the people at the fringe meeting declared they had not been to a safeguarding fringe meeting before. That indicates a growing interest in knowing more about the subject, rather than arguing about it. The fringes happen every year, and (to my mind) they’re a more useful regular thing than a full debate.

Graham Tilby, the National Safeguarding Adviser, brought us up to date on some of the big issues that are current, especially IICSA (The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse):

  • the interim report on their work on Peter Ball and Chichester has been imminent for some time. He expects it will be released by IICSA in the next month.
  • Although individuals have had a Maxwellisation process (seeing the draft text about them and able to comment on it) the Church will not see a text before it is released to the public.
  • There is to be a further two-week Anglican Church investigation hearing in July, clashing nicely with the York Synod – there’s been some negotiation with IICSA about Bishops not being called during Synod time.
  • York Sheffield, Worcester and London dioceses are responding to IICSA requests for more detailed information

Read about the IICSA investigation into the Anglican Church here

Has anything changed?

bread stonesA year ago we were all given a booklet written by victims and survivors called We asked for bread but you gave us stones as part of the safeguarding discussions. See my report here. This year they have produced an update, and part of its content is the claim that nothing has changed.

Bishop Peter Hancock (the Lead Bishop on safeguarding and [disclaimer] my former boss), said that was not the case. The report to this Synod GS Misc 1213 (read it here ) gives an overview of a huge amount of current work, including:

  1. Survivor support and engagement
  2. Clergy selection, suitability and discipline
  3. Structure, independence, oversight and enforcement of church safeguarding work.

There have been some prominent examples of victims and survivors expressing frustration and mistrust with the way safeguarding is being handled. What many people do not know is that the church is working with external bodies such as SCIE (the Social Care Institute for Excellence – website here – and MACSAS (Minister and Clergy Abuse Survivors – website here – to establish an independently chaired Survivors’ Panel.

  • Nationally, work is going ahead on a further Past Cases Review, a national casework management system, and resources for parishes.
  • It’s estimated 85,000 people have now received safeguarding training in the Church of England.
  • Independent auditing has moved on from dioceses to look at cathedrals, Lambeth and Bishopthorpe.

In a climate when all churches are under the cosh for safeguarding failures, it was good to be shown what is going on to try to deal with the damage done in the past – and to improve things in the future. It will never be enough, or speedily enough for those who are victims and survivors, as I saw graphically portrayed at the end of the day (see below).

For those who are concerned that the Church is marking its own homework on safeguarding, we met

  • Meg Munn, a former MP, the new Independent Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, and clearly not a pushover
  • Sir Roger Singleton, a former senior figure at Barnardo’s introduced himself as the Interim National Director of Safeguarding. He simply said there are two significant issues to be dealt with:
  1. There has been abuse of individuals in a church setting by clergy and church officials. Whatever we do, there will always be some abuse, but we can reduce it significantly by good preventive measure, training and challenging behaviour of individuals and church organisations
  2. There has been concealment and failure to follow through. This has some way to run, simply because survivors and victims may not disclose for many years after the event.

He concluded by saying we cannot bring down the shutters on all this, and there is no doubt the level of activity in parishes and diocese is on the increase. More resources will be needed to fund this work (nationally and at diocesan level). More practical resources for people in parishes are being produced.

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Listening – and hearing

This morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury got a second bite of the cherry at addressing Synod without being tied to a debate or motion. Yesterday he made a Presidential address, which was well received, and today he was the preacher in the Communion service. Again he focussed on (without using the phrase) ‘good disagreement’, and the Christian option to fail (in relationships with one another)

I couldn’t help but feel he was attempting to appeal to those whose views on the imminent human sexuality project are diametrically opposed. I also couldn’t help but feel that they are not ‘listening’. He said:

The biggest and the deepest way of being transformed is through stepping outside the company of those who reinforce our views and listening to those who disagree with us profoundly.

Listening, not so as to speak, but so as to hear.”

Read the whole homily here.

Now the plan was to take a presentation about the Living in Love and Faith work on human sexuality as the last item of the day, and giving it an hour and a half – time for careful explanation, and questions from the floor. However, there was a second revolution in the rank! When Sue Booys tried to recommend we delay taking a Private Members Motion on homelessness (there was only about 15 minutes to take it in), Synod was having none of it, and we had a passionate, if rushed, debate. See the paper from the proposer here, and a comment document here.

Needless to say, it was passed with only one vote against. (You can’t help wondering if that vote was the result of finger trouble with the voting machine – “doing a Cocksworth”, as we say, after the famous occasion when the Bishop of Coventry accidentally voted against a House of Bishops proposals a year or two ago. We’ll know when the voting results are published in a week or two!) My own reservation about the debate (apart from the rushed nature of it) was that there was very little about the causes of the recent increases in homelessness and rough sleeping.

Living in Love and Faith

This is what many people have been waiting for: some enthusiastically, others with suspicion. The much-vaunted ‘teaching document’, promised by the Bishops, will not be a standard leaflet or even a book. It’s a mammoth, very wide-ranging package of work. There have been 80 academic papers, and more than 200 real-life stories in the preparatory stages. It has its own website (here); and new resources are becoming available – I expect to have details tomorrow.

Synod being Synod, and the media being the media, there was some preliminary publicity being done. TV news crews were talking to Jayne Ozanne and the Bishop of Liverpool yesterday, and this morning, 15 Synod members who are happy to be described as LGBT gathered for a group photo.

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So, after a delayed start, we heard a slightly plodding presentation from the Pastoral Advisory Group (PAG) where they set out the guidelines for good pastoral ministry amongst LGBTI people. They spoke of the key pervasive evils that prevent churches being truly welcoming. The introductory document about the PAG can be read here.

That was followed by a presentation from those working on Living in Love and Faith project. This was at the end of a long day, and after the excitement of the people’s revolution just half an hour before, it went off rather quietly. There were reasonably polite questions from people at both ends of the spectrum of attitudes on same-sex and transgender issues, and a very knowledgeable panel answered them. No heat, lots of light. Not bad.

Beyond the fringe…

Tea breaks and coffee stops are a vital part of Synod life.

You can see people catching up their emails, preparing speeches, doing Terribly Important Things in conversation with friends, and – yes – gossiping. Some of the backroom fixing that oils the wheels gets done there too. Today I overheard some careful mapping out of a procedural way to resolve a timetabling clash. And that was just about a pub supper tomorrow night.

Centenary posters (2)I was really pleased to find the small exhibition of pictures marking the centenary of the Enabling Act which established the Church Assembly in 1919, forerunner of General Synod, as well as Parochial Church Councils.

There was a comedy value in some of the images on display, showing the worthiness and the simply patronising approach taken in church documents in days gone by.

But as I have been saying for 18 months or so, we should be proud of a church polity where Bishops, clergy and laity take counsel together, and none of the parties can overrule the other.

So three cheers to the Lambeth Palace Library for assembling this little reminder of a very significant anniversary.

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GroomedMy day ended with a one-man show about the impact of abuse on people’s lives.

Peter Sandford’s drama is based on his own experience of abuse as a 9-year old in a Kent primary school in the early 1960s, and the impact it has had on his life. It was put on by the National Safeguarding Team, and at the end we could quiz Peter about the show.

It packs a real punch: he brilliantly portrays his younger self, and the teacher who abused him.

 

Tomorrow is the evangelism blockbuster day, worth three separate motions about different aspects – see my preview here. The day begins with a Bible Study session, followed by a motion (held over from July) about environmental programmes in church life. Oh, there’s some standing orders revision to deal with too. Something for everyone, then…

 

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* How many years can some people exist? Existential line from the 1963 Dylan classic Blowin’ in the wind. He probably wasn’t thinking of Deanery Synod members, it’s more likely to be a Civil Rights reference – before they’re allowed to be free.

Posted in 2019: Feb - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

But when the weekend comes, she knows where we will be… *

She will in 2021, anyway, as we have voted for a pattern of winter meetings that will include a full weekend in London. Believe it or not, that was the most hotly-debated topic of today. But the undercurrents of discomfort over trans gender people were never far away…

It is well with your Vicar..?

For me and my fellow House of Clergy members, Synod began with a separate meeting to look at the proposals for a Covenant for Clergy Care and Well-being.

Clergy covenantSimon Butler introduced the discussion with about a hundred of us there. To make sense of this report, you need to look at the draft document – read it here.

It was always going to get a fair wind in the House of Clergy – not because we are selfish snowflakes who want to be mollycoddled through our various ministries, but because we’re all aware of clergy who get into difficulties in their parishes and chaplaincies.

It might be relationships with parishioners that go wrong, or a disciplinary matter, or home life falling apart under the ‘goldfish bowl’ of clergy life. But we know that every year, some clergy ‘crash and burn’, while others struggle on and lose hope.

So the Covenant is designed to open up conversation and commitment between the priest, the parish, and the wider church and head off some of this trouble at the pass. It might also save some money, marriages and sanity. Resources are wasted in all these cases.

Simon acknowledged that the report offers several suggestions and possibilities

  • The one that has a price tag is ‘supervision’ in the way that many other caring professions such as social work take for granted. He said that it risks dominating debates in future, and if it turns out to be an unaffordable or a low priority, the other good things in the Covenant report must not get lost.
  • There are competing priorities in the Church at present – Setting God’s People Free is the Big Thing at present, stressing lay discipleship. Concern for clergy wellbeing and care should not be seen as a rival for attention or resources.
  • The current document is intended for a rather specialist group of Anglicans – members of Synod. The intention is to produce a series of leaflets which could be used by churchwardens, PCC members and others in a local context to consider the elements in the main document.
  • Another concern is about clergy moving into an appointment where there is some ‘history’, or into their first incumbency appointment without proper briefing and support.

We heard some  sobering tales from clergy who had been through the mill in their parishes, with different levels of understanding and support offered to them. Even the ‘in-word’ resilience is risky|: to some it means having the capacity and strength to recover from setbacks, to others it sounds liker an insensitive instruction to ‘man up’.

I made a brief speech to reinforce Simon’s hesitation about some of the vocabulary in the paperwork, particularly the shorthand use of ‘care package’– which reminds people of elderly parents coming out of hospital, and implies there is one clergy care package, available everywhere. Which there patently is not.

There are some brilliant discussion questions within the document (sections 18-26, if you’re looking at it) which balance the concerns of priest, parish and wider church. The next steps are to get a final draft ready for the July Synod, for an Act of Synod to be passed setting out and commending the covenant to dioceses and parishes.

Your reporter was not at the House of Laity, who had a parallel discussion but I was told they were generally positive about it, and that clergy should ‘feel the love’ that was emanating from the speakers there. Jolly good.

Is the labourer worthy of his/her hire?

Ian Paul reported briefly on the matter of clergy remuneration. In July, (see my report here and scroll down) the House of Clergy were told that provision of stipends and housing had lagged behind the benchmarks set in a 2001 report called Generosity and Sacrifice. (GS1408. Miraculously, it is still available on the internet here). Changes in national law such as the abolition of SERPS have also affected clergy benefits .

Ian reckoned that the National Minimum Stipend  (presently around £24,000) would be somewhere just under £40,000 if Generosity and Sacrifice had been followed through.

But all these issues are complicated – theologically and practically. Take housing, for example. A generation ago, many clergy entering training – even in their 20s and 30s – might already own a house that they could ‘bank’ for their retirement planning. In the current world, people entering ministry – and we are encouraging younger ordinands – are most unlikely to be home owners.
We were told that there will be some national church work done on stipends, housing and pension provision in response to the clergy’s concern. But the big issue is affordability – we all know there is no spare money sloshing around the diocesan systems. Clergy therefore have a difficult and delicate discussion to have:

  1. What is appropriate and right financial package for clergy and clergy pensioners?
  2. Is it affordable and achievable?

Nothing’s going to happen in a hurry, but it’s good that a thoughtful assessment is on the cards.

Report on the agenda

This is always a slightly tense item. Chair of Business, Sue Booys gently encouraged us not to waste time, in order to get the business done – some of it is time-critical. The tension is usually around complaints that subject X is not on the agenda, or that subject Y is on the agenda.

Synod Chamber (2)So today we had complaints that there is no regular item on safeguarding, and it should be on the agenda every time we meet; and a calmly phrased, but strongly felt complaint from Jayne Ozanne that the tone and vocabulary of the 30 or so Questions (see below)about transgender issues and liturgy go against the Synod Code of Conduct.

  • On safeguarding, the reply was that it is best to include an item when there is something to discuss. It’s complicated by the fact that IICSA (the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse) is holding another two weeks of hearings about abuse in the Anglican Church in July – at exactly the same time at the York Synod. So it would be foolish to plan a debate while that is going on, and it’s possible that media coverage of those hearings will affect the way Synod feels then…
  • On the tone and vocabulary, Sue promised the Committee would take a look at how this relatesto the Synod Members’ Code of Conduct at their residential meeting. The oft-quoted, seldom read Code of Conduct can be read here.
  • (You can read the Questions here – go to numbers 47 to 79 – and make your own judgement about how hostile/ignorant/rude/transphobic they are)

That debate went off speedily and in good humour. I was especially glad that Sue wished Synod a happy birthday – 2019 is the centenary of the invention of the Church Assembly, its predecessor. As Private Eye would say, I wonder if they are by any chance related?

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Last year I tried, and failed, to get the central bodies to do something to mark the event,  But, courtesy of Lambeth Palace Library, there is an exhibition about the anniversary in Church House for us to look at.

What are you doing at the weekend..?

Straight afterwards, we did the diary booking for the next 5-year term of Synod (2020-2025). Normally, there’s not much to argue about, but the Business Committee wanted to try some sessions in London that avoid weekday working days. They had therefore planned two ‘York-style weekends’ in London for February 2021 and 2023.

Sue took us through the impossibility of avoiding everyone’s half-term dates, but asked us to vote for what we did not like (i.e. weekend meetings). The point being, that the aim is to make Synod more attractive to younger, working people.

  • There was some warm genuine applause for a plea from David Banting that we use the November (contingency) dates in future as we are not doing our work thoroughly enough.
  • Mark Russell made a powerful plea that we keep the weekend meetings in the plan so that more people who cannot afford to take so much holiday – we are missing the voices of these – often estate dwellers – in Synod.

Astonishingly, we went to an electronic vote on the first proposed amendment, to remove the first London Weekend in 2021. It was lost. Simon Cawdell from Hereford then moved a clever amendment that set a ‘window’ of nine possible days for February 2023,. Not because he wants a none-day session, but allowing the new Synod after 2020 to make its own mind up about this contentious issue. Sue Booys indicated that she supported this flexi-time concept and it was carried.

  • The debate, for me, was partially about dates and times. But it was also about what Synod is for. Is it to be a gathering of the old and grey, who spend a lot of time debating; or something more attractive to the young?
  • Frustration at spending 30 precious minutes arguing about dates boiled over into a couple of very sharp speeches stating that if we want younger people to join Synod, then we need to make it a place where things  actually get changed. Loud cheers.
  • There’s another issue about London weekends: while they can save people taking holidays (at the price of being out of normal family/church life), they can never be like York. Because York happens on campus: we eat, pray, chat and drink together. In London, everyone has to get off to their digs or hotel, meals are expensive, and there are temptations to drift away to – galleries, shows, family and friends.

Anyway, the choice is made: one weekend for definite in 2021, and the potential for another in 2023. So, if you are thinking of standing for election in next year, book the dates now.

Bishops and Archbishops…

We heard from Dr Prem Chand Singh, the Moderator of the Church of North India and Bishop of Jailapur and Paul Korir, Bishop of Kapsabet, Kenya. They were received with rapturous applause and a standing ovation for Bishop Paul. As the Bishop of Manchester (in the chair) said, they have set a very high bar for whoever comes next.

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And next was a Presidential Address from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He began by saying that evangelism, like worship, is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself. (That may come as news to those whose understanding of evangelism at parish level is ‘getting more people through the door’.)

  • He signposted the 2020 Lambeth Conference, with its biblical strand the Epistles of Peter – letters addressed to fragile churches, reminding them of what they were, what they are, and what they will be.
  • This mini-Bible study may have been intended to calm the troubled souls of those who are upset at the published arrangements for Lambeth 2020. He reminded us that it is good to hear what Anglicans do in other parts of the world, even when they do things in a different way to ours.
  • That led him to say that Synod needs to think about what it is doing, and he reiterated the Greek origin of the work: walking together. We are mixed up together from different traditions: we should note that and see what happens.

In yesterday’s preview post I wrote about the culture change in the Church of England. In his Address, Archbishop Justin rehearsed many of the new initiatives and changes that are going on around us. For Lent, he suggested we give up cynicism and start renewing love for those from whom we differ.

Then came the thing that horrifies some: he put Synod into mini buzz groups to talk about their own personal hope in Christ (not their hopes for the Church). I was up in the gallery at the time, so missed out: but the noise of conversation was astonishing.

You can read the full text of his address here.

(One hundred and) Twenty Questions

When we got to Questions, I for one was glad we were in the safe chairing hands of the urbane and polite Aiden Hargreaves-Smith, who reminded us that several of the questions were on sensitive topics (in fact, one-third of them were on one area– transgender and liturgy, and Jayne Ozanne had already warned of the difficulty she saw with some of them earlier.).

120 questions had been tabled, more than in any recent session of Synod.

  • The first 46 were on a wide range of topics – maternity leave for ordinands, numbers of self-supporting ministers in house-for-duty posts, and even the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
  • I was rude about the Daily Mail in yesterday’s post, but they did give some publicity to a question about BBC Songs of Praise (now in a graveyard slot) from Chris Angus. As a former Songs of Praise producer myself, I was interested to ask what the church might do about the ongoing marginalisation of the programme, so I put in a supplementary:

In a former life I was a BBC producer who worked on SOP in the days when the audience was around 6-8 million; nowadays it is so emaciated I can’t bear to watch it. What advice would you, or the Communications team, give to those people who would like the BBC to put more resources into Songs of Praise so that it becomes worth watching again.

Sadly, I fell foul of Aiden’s polite ruling that I was asking for an opinion, and I was told that Archbishop Sentamu might perhaps talk to me out of the session about it. Hey-ho! But I rather enjoyed the comment of a member in the supper queue that the programme now reminded her of ‘a night out at the Miners’ Welfare Club.’

  • Some careful work by those involved with the House of Clergy group working on clergy care and well-being meant there was a batch of questions on that topic, aimed at extracting data about clergy who fall out of ministry through stress and similar concerns, ready for the main debate on this topic when we meet in York in July.
  • Canon John Spence managed to make us laugh while dealing with some technical financial concerns.

Synod Chamber (1)The epic set of questions around gender transition began at 6.30. A series of questions regarded by Jayne Ozanne as tendentious were deftly handled by the various bishops who had to answer them.

  • Bishop Christine Hardman of Newcastle gently reminded one questioner that the House had not issued any guidance about gender transition – it was advice about liturgy in a pastoral context.
  • The Bishop of Coventry built on that with a reminder that the use of reaffirmation of baptismal vows was intended to help people mark a stage in their faith life, rather than to mark gender transition per se.
  • The Bishop of Willesden fielded questions about whether clergy could decline to offer the liturgy if they were unhappy about it (he was 99% certain the answer was ‘yes’) and reminded us that the Bishops’ guidance was issued in response to a Synod motion, and would therefore not be withdrawn.

The questions were heard in attentive silence; there are few jokes in this. Some were aimed at the process by which the House of Bishops issued its guidance in December. Other questions indicated that there are people with discomfort about the whole contemporary discussion about Trans concerns – we heard of potential Gnosticism in recognising gender transformation, as well as some hypotheticals about people who might re-transition

All in all, despite the build-up, the Question time was a bit of a damp squib. Maybe the questioners (most of whom were from the ‘anti’ end of the spectrum) felt that putting their question in was enough – a significant number did not bother to follow up with supplementaries.

Tomorrow…

Tomorrow is largely legislation. Sounds dull, but there will be some excitement about the small print.

The long list of Measures and Canons, etc, to be sorted out includes the Church Representation Rules, which govern church elections, from your local PCC up to General Synod. They have to be finally passed now in order that electronic voting can be used for the 2020 General Synod elections.

However, there is some criticism of a proposal about the membership rules for Deanery Synods. I’m aware that many Diocesan Synod Lay Chairs are particularly against it, so there will be some procedural fiddling done, I suspect. Opponents should take comfort that this particular change will not take effect until the 2026 Deanery elections – so there are a number of ways in which it could be resolved.

The thing that will touch most nerves, however, is the presentation and questions at the end of the day about the progress in the Living in Love and Faith process. If you’re not sure what that means, you need to look at this document . The presentation comes at the end of the day. Thank goodness.

It’s been fun to follow people’s views who are watching at home on the live stream, and/or commenting on Twitter as the day rolls on. If you want to join in,

  • there is a live video stream, which will start around 10.30, after the Communion service.
  • The unofficial Twitter #synod tag  is here – informal reaction from the floor, and comment from people watching elsewhere
  • The official Twitter feed is here: progress reports, results of votes, etc.
  • Android and Apple users can download the free Synod App from the Apple Store or Google Play. Or you can get all the documentation in PDF form here,

App

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* But when the weekend comes, she knows where we will be: Chorus line from the Drifter’s 1974 hit Kissing’ in the back row of the movies. (Yes, I thought it was a 60’s song too – but I was thinking of Saturday night at the movies, which has a not dissimilar theme…)

Posted in General Synod | 2 Comments

Ch – ch – ch – ch – ch – changes *

Diligent synod 2My pile of papers for this week’s General Synod (we’re in London from Wednesday to Saturday) is a mere 3.5 cm high.

If that frightens you, I have good news: it’s all now available on the General Synod App.

More about that and other ‘modernising Synod’ developments below.

What are we discussing this week?

 

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Officially, the chief focus of the week is evangelism. But, as ever, there are other, unofficial currents flowing through the week, and so the other prominent thread will be human sexuality – both the work under the title ‘Living in Love and Faith‘ (long-term, official) and the ongoing rows about liturgy to be used with people who have undergone a gender change (current campaigning, unofficial).

We’ll get to the transgender row in a minute. But first of all, note the time being given to evangelism-related debates this week:

  1. On Wednesday, three contributions from Anglican leaders from elsewhere – North India, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya.
  2. Thursday is an evangelism-free day. But on Friday we have three major items – Evangelism and Discipleship, evangelism on estates,  and the Growing Faith debate on ministry among children and young people.
  3. On Friday we return to the subject with a Private Members Motion from Church Army’s Mark Russell about encouraging youth evangelism.

Evangelism 1

A change in C of E culture?

In the last few years there has been a sea-change in C of E culture about mission and evangelism. Money is being put into new ways of providing a Christian presence across the country; training of clergy is changing; there’s an emphasis on encouraging and equipping lay church members to be more intentional (as we have to say nowadays) about their witness in their homes and workplaces. In the language of the Discipleship paper GS 2118 – read it here), we need to help people move from being simply ‘attenders‘ to becoming ‘advocates‘ and ‘apprentices.’

Evangelism 2Now, some people in the C of E are allergic to the word ‘evangelism’. That is not to say they do not believe in sharing the gospel, and converting people to the Christian way. But they shy away from the word, with its connotations/baggage (delete as you feel led) of Billy Graham, Bible-bashing and badgering people, rather than bearing witness in other ways. People are unlikely to make speeches against the various motions, but there will be reservations from some about the vocabulary and style – someone will ask what ‘missional‘ means. I expect some amendments will be put to remind us that being a Christian is not just about getting the numbers up, it’s about faithfulness, and the Kingdom, not the Church.

  • The Estates Evangelism paper GS2122, written with characteristic clarity and directness by the Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, can be read here.
  • Shameless plug: my own diocese calls our Urban Priority parishes the ‘Magnificat’ parishes. Read about them in our excellent Manna magazine’s special ‘hidden treasures’ edition here.
  • The Growing Faith paper (Children and young people) GS 2121) is here.
  • StevenCroft_0

    Bishop Steven Croft

    The Bishop of Oxford, Bishop Steven Croft, has written a thoughtful post about rethinking evangelism in the light of his work with the Roman Catholic Church (their word is ‘evangelisation‘).

  • Read his post (not an official Synod document) here.
  • Mark Russell’s paper on youth evangelism (GS 2124A) is here and a supporting document 2124B is here.

Changing and making laws

There is a heap of legislative business to get through , mostly on Thursday. This is detailed stuff – remember that Measures passed in the Synod become the law of the land – so we have to get it right.

Agenda detail 1So we’ll cover a wide range of ‘Miscellaneous Provisions’, including:

  • setting out a way that we formally ‘recognise’ and ‘acknowledge’ different sorts of religious communities (yes, the C of E does have monks and nuns, as well as new-style religious communities) – giving the Bishops some oversight over monastic orders, while allowing their traditional independence to remain.
  • allowing parishes to have electronic Registers of Services (instead of those fat blue books that are in every vestry, which are supposed to be kept as a full record of services held, numbers attending, and so on)
  • setting up a National Register of Clergy – a list of those who are authorised to minister
  • tidying up (and liberalising) – the rules on how ministers from other churches may conduct worship in Church of England premises

Something for everyone!

Synod changes

The wind of change is beginning to blow in Synod – a combination of a proactive Business Committee and the ‘Simplification’ agenda.  I spot three things in this week’s work.

  1. The Synod App.

Lord, it is my chief complaint / that Synod papers are such a weight (as William Cowper did not quite write). But the great moan amongst Synod members is the bulk of paperwork that they have to handle. This session’s pile is not huge, but it’s enough to keep people up at night reading, carting bags of it around on the Tube, and so on.

So three cheers for the Church of England’s digital team, who have now perfected (well, hopefully…) the Synod App. This gives members (and anyone else interested) a timetable for each day with an instant link to the full text of all the relevant papers.

App

  • You can download the app from Google Play (Android devices) or Apple’s App Store. It is really easy to use
  • Yes, I have tried it and it comes with the bathwellschap Seal of Approval
  • There’s a guide to how to use it, if you need one, here.
  • Sorry, Windows/PC users, we have to make do with old-fashioned downloads of the papers here.

I predict this will find a home amongst the many people who follow proceedings live on the internet, comment on Twitter, and so on, as well as with Synod members. It’s a gem.

2. Weekend working!

Agenda detail 2This has been a bit controversial. This week is the second time our winter meeting has run into Saturday.

The Business Committee have surveyed us all. There’s much reluctance amongst the current membership to continue with Saturday sessions in London – clergy hate it, as getting back home somewhat weary and then having to do a full Sunday duty is not nice.

Despite that… we’re having a revolution! They now propose a couple of full weekend (i.e. Friday to Monday) winter London sessions in the next 5-year term (2020-2015.)

Their reason for going against the views expressed is simple: it’s about getting younger, working people to join Synod next time. The theory is that if they are in work, a midweek meeting is a powerful disincentive to getting elected. Expect some entertaining debate on this on Wednesday.

3. Round up the usual suspects

SynodMon 03

Bathwellschap has his say (ancient archive pic of one of the usual suspects)

The Business Committee have worked hard to reflect on how Synod works, and issued some interesting stats on last year’s York sessions, including hard evidence of who spoke and how many times. The grumble is always twofold:

  • that ‘the usual suspects’ speak too often
  • that too many clergy speak and not enough laity.

Now we have the stats to identify the usual suspects (thinks, hmm, better be careful here…) and a good analysis. We are colour coded, and its fascinating stuff – particularly good read for anyone thinking of standing for Synod in the 2020 elections. Read the speaker analysis here and read the feedback responses here. (Or find them on the synod App…)

Transgender and liturgy

In December, the House of Bishops sparked a noisy row when they issued some guidance on how parishes might help someone who has changed gender to mark that huge change liturgically. Their proposal emerged from Synod’s debate (my account is here) on welcoming transgender people.

Response websiteHowever, it has upset those who find it hard to agree that gender can be ‘changed’, and who object to formal liturgy being adapted in the way the Bishops suggest.

Yes, they’ve launched an online petition. It’s a closely worded, seven-point questioning of what the Bishops have said, and as ever, ends with warm affirmation and pledges to pray for them. Read it here.

Inevitably, a rival open letter, with some big-hitter signatures, has been produced in response and published in the Church Times,

I am interested in two dogs that have not barked in the objectors letter:

First: who got invited to sign up to it? I wasn’t asked. As a mildly recognisable member of Synod, signed up to both the Evangelical Group EGGS and the Open Synod Group, I am, frankly, amazed that the people behind it did not include me on their mailing list.

And that’s another thing. Who is behind it? The website is totally anonymous: no lead campaigners, no Council of Reference, not even a person or group who own the website. So – is it the work of one person? A small group of dissatisfied Synod members? A bunch of disgruntled non-Synod members? Or one of the usual interest groups and Christian charities? A Sussex priest, David Baker, confesses via the Christian Today website that he is “one of the informal team which has formed out of this spontaneous mass movement of Anglicans and got together to make the letter happen.” But that’s not exactly a full disclosure. I think they should unmask themselves.

Anyone can sign up to the petition if they wish. But the organisers are being dodgy with data, it seems to me, as they offer an option to go on their mailing list without saying who they are, or what they will do with your data.

There are two debates going on at once here.

  1. a theological and liturgical discussion about what the proper response is to current changes in scientific and social understandings of gender dysphoria.
  2. a sympathetic response to  anguished personal and pastoral issues that are faced by, and alongside, trans people.

The Grand Petition against the Bishops’ guidance will not feature on our agenda – but you can bet your bottom Euro it will come up in Questions on Wednesday evening, particularly in the light of the Revd Dr Tina Beardsley’s decision to withdraw from the Living in Love and Faith project. UPDATE: The Questions paper is now available. There are more than two dozen Questions on this. You can read the Questions and the Answers here. Doubtless people will be honing their carefully-crafted supplementary questions between now and Wednesday evening…

Diligent synod 2

There’s enough official paperwork to read without trying to follow the campaigners’ stuff…

Tactically, I am not convinced that petitions inviting the Bishops to reverse a decision they’ve taken are going to get very far. If you want to clue yourself up on the row…

To date, the objector’s letter has attracted just over 3,000 signatures. The round robin letter put out by those supporting the Bishops’ lines has 592 names attached. It’s a proxy war. Questions on Wednesday night will be the next raiding party. May we be spared a ‘my-letter’s-got-more-signatures-than-yours’ argument.

Living in love and faith

This is the title given to the wide-ranging work on human sexuality that was set in motion after the Synod’s rejection of the Bishops’ document. We are to have a presentation with questions on Thursday afternoon.

Faith & Love

One of the (many) questions being asked in the paperwork

This will be a tense one: a lot of people have a lot of emotional energy tied up in this, whether (simplistically speaking) they are ‘for’ or ‘against’ change in the way we deal with same-sex relationships and LGBTI issues. If the petitioning (above) is a proxy war, then this is the real thing.

 

You can read the documentation we’ve had here. I’ll say no more until we hear the presentation.

In other news…

  • Only the Daily Mail could make Thursday’s general updating of church legislation  (The Church Representation Rules) into a cunning plot to ensure the next Archbishop of York is a woman.  Read the full story here and weep. Or laugh.

Mail

  • An important motion (for me, at least) is the Bishop of St Alban’s Saturday morning one about gambling advertising. This is one of those issues where the Church, and Synod, can attract national attention on a subject of irritation, or concern, to many people. Give yourself a couple of hours watching TV (non-BBC, of course). Just see how many bingo/tombola/sport-betting ads you, and your children, and gambling addicts are being force-fed. GS2125 will give you the background – read it here.
  • Before Synod proper starts on Wednesday the House of Clergy and the House of Laity will meet (separately) to consider progress on the Covenant for Clergy Care and Well-being. If you are ordained, or a church officer or PCC member – or just know a vicar – you might want to read this document.

Clergy covenant

  • Saturday morning brings a motion about mission and ministry amongst Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities. That will, I suspect, be an eye-opener to many of us.
  • The closing item on Saturday will be a motion from the two archbishops about the state of the nation – divided, tense, uncertain – and it calls on parishes and national leaders to do things differently, highlighting particular to effect on the marginalised and poor. It could be a ‘motherhood and apple-pie’ debate. Or, given the B****t chaos around us, there might be some sharp words of prophecy.

It could be a good week!

  • You can follow it on Twitter – for the informal and informed snappy stuff #synod is good; for the official ‘results’, you need @synod
  • There will be a live video feed here
  • I’ll be posting a daily round-up in my usual unbiased (ish), comprehensive (sort of) and cheerful (undoubtedly) fashion after the end of each day: catch it the next morning or click on the Follow button on the right to get an automatic email telling you when its ready.

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* Changes: One of those David Bowie songs that ‘everybody knows’. Surprisingly, though released in 1972 as a single, it never got into the UK charts until after his death in 2016.

Posted in 2019: Feb - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

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!

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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…

faull

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.

Cathedral_Stonework_15

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?

Cathedral_Stonework_03

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.

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* 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.

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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.

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* 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…

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* 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.

IICSA

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.

Oops!

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.

 

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* 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.

 

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*  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.

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