A hard day’s night *

The last day! It seems to have been a particularly tiring Synod that finished today (Thursday 13 February). We dispatched some business, had two really good debates on poverty-related issues – and got into a classic Synod wrangle about something we decided a few years ago. Maybe we were all washed out after yesterday’s endless battle with amendments….

Back to the Islands

Our first task was to get some business signed off successfully: the third and final visit to the Channel Islands Measure, meaning that its provisions for putting the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey under the care of the Bishop of Salisbury could go ahead. In real life, there is still a lot of spadework to be done with the States of Guernsey and Jersey, with HM the Queen, and various other (usually un-noticed) corners of our constitutional life, but it’s going to happen.

Guernsey aerial 1

Islands: Guernsey, Herm, Jethou and Sark as the Bishop of Salisbury will see them

Such debate as there was was generally good-natured and cheerful. The point at which people held their breath was when the Bishop of Winchester, Tim Dakin came to speak: he has kept his silence publicly over the whole business since the initial breach between Winchester and the Islands six years ago.

(If all this sounds complex, you probably need to read my previous posts from this week’s Synod to make sense of it. If you are interested in constitutional minutiae, then a read of the report that brought us to this point is, well, interesting, if not essential. Read it here.)


Bishop Tim explained that he was welcoming this conclusion as he wanted the church in the Islands to flourish.

  • He had maintained daily prayer for them in the last six years, even though he had handed over pastoral responsibility to the then Bishop of Dover, while himself attempting to deal with the safeguarding matter that caused the breach. He said it was one of the most painful and complex he had encountered.
  • In earlier debates, there had been voices saying that the way to resolve the dispute with the Islands would have been for a mediation and reconciliation process with Winchester. He concluded: “Providentially, only a wider process (i.e. the Archbishops Commission led by Lord Chartres) could bring reconciliation and a hopeful future”.

He mentioned that his wife had Channel Island connections – there were le Lacheurs in her ancestry. He was followed by Jayne Ozanne, who recounted her own Guernsey heritage, growth in faith through the St Peter Port Town Church and a charismatic evangelical church there. She reminded us that the Bailiwicks are fiercely independent, which was a cue for the Bishop of Salisbury, Nick Holtam to say that he was glad to be forming this new relationship for the Islands, who have had centuries of being at arms’ length from ‘the Mainland’, as they call it.

(Anyone who was anyone with Channel Island connections has probably had their say over the three stages of getting this Measure through this week. I refrained, claiming only a sister and niece who are Guernsey le Flems, – and heaps of golden holiday memories.)

The serious point about this episode is that not only is there a new Bishop for the Islands, but the Deaneries in each Bailiwick will be entering into Memoranda of Understanding with Salisbury that will re-set their episcopal relationships, and assist them to develop their distinctive mission and ministry – in step with the rest of us, but recognising their own unique contexts.

Repetitive Amendment Syndrome

There were groans when the Order Paper for this morning appeared, with no less than 14 pages of amendments to the detailed Rules for the election of the new Synod, which will happen  this autumn. It had been hoped they would be passed as ‘deemed business’, but it was not to be…

After yesterday’s amendment marathon, people wanted less legislation, and more mission in their last day in London. You can, if you are really interested, see the amendments here. They are not for the faint-hearted.


Complex: extract from one of the three sets of amendments

Despite appearances. the meat of them was very simple: adding an agreed appeal process to the detailed Rules if, in the forthcoming elections, there is a dispute about a result or the conduct of an election.

  • But, because the three Houses of Synod: Laity; Clergy (a.k.a. Lower House of Convocation); and Bishops (a.k.a. Upper House of Convocation) are separate legal entities, each one needs a separate batch of arrangements.
  • Still with me?
  • The good news was that because textually the amendments were very similar, the actual voting and passing of them need take no great length of time.

But (and this is a big but…)

But before we got to the detail, we had a long diversion. Long, long ago (I think it was in the previous 5-year Synod), we agreed that we would in future do our elections electronically. So each diocese, instead of having to print, mail out, collect and count the voting papers, would do it all electronically through a portal, run by those ultimate election professionals, Civica Election Services (formerly known as the Electoral Reform Society). CaptureFor ecclesiastical psephologists, the papers spelling out how the new rules work can be found here.

What happened today was this:

  • a series of members stood to worry out loud about the potential for electronic voting to go wrong.
  • Once one had seeded the idea, others sprang from their seats to add more worries. Emails get lost, or go into spam. People’s email addresses might get confused in the system.
  • Whereas with paper and Royal Mail, everything is certain.
  • (You may detect I am being a little less than unbiased about these contributions.)
  • On the other hand, the Bishop of Europe pointed out the huge cost and unreliability of conducting elections by post across a diocese that runs from Moscow to Gibraltar.
  • So, precious debating time for really significant motions got eaten away by this proxy war between snail mail and email.
Platform perks

Privileged: the view from the platform

I took advantage of my temporary seat on the platform, (sitting in for the Prolocutor, Simon Butler) to use my speaking rights to say we were worrying unnecessarily: with the Channel Islands in mind, that we could launch into the new system with confidence: Come on in, the water’s lovely.

More seriously, I believe that electronic voting will increase the (usually dire) turnout – too many lay and clergy electors just fail to vote.

Sue Booys followed up with a reminder that we had voted in favour of this system some years ago. Now we were right up to the wire – if we failed to pass the new Rules, there could be no Synod election this autumn.

Eventually, common sense prevailed. We moved to the detailed amendments, and, fortunately, their mover, David Lamming, had got support from the committee responsible for the new Rules. So, without debate, but with some lawyerly joshing in Latin, we passed the amendments en bloc, 15 at a time. Unanimously!

Unanimous 2

Unanimous: the blocs of amendments are voted through

So Diocesan Secretaries and other administrators can prepare, and many readers of this blog (as lay members of a Deanery Synod, or as licensed clergy) will be able to vote for a new General Synod, electronically, later this year! Laus Deo.


A church for the poor..?

And so we did some real business, two motions that took us to the church’s ability to work with, and support those at a disadvantage in today’s society.

Through his Poverty was a Diocesan Synod motion from Leeds about our failure (or inability, if you prefer) to be ineffective in communicating with, and attracting people from more disadvantaged communities. So we were, at last, absolutely debating mission and our ability to do it well. The paper for the debate is here.

The Leeds team were well prepared, with a number of speakers, including their own Bishop. And they told stories of good work and uphill work, asking that we get some studies done into why we are not good at being at the heart of these communities.


    Speaking: Jason Roach


    They accepted an amendment from The Revd Dr Jason Roach (London) in order to avoid the procedural treacle that amendments to legislative debates have got us into

  • and also one from Catherine Pickford (Newcastle) which stressed the work being done by the Church Urban Fund’s GRA:CE project. Details of that are here.
  • There was a classic barnstorming speech by the Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, champion of estates ministry, challenging us to really register what would be the consequences for the comfortable C of E if we really were ‘a church for the poor’
  • The debate covered rural isolation and disadvantage; inappropriate clergy housing – that forms a barrier to many people; problems for people with deafness, reported by Sarah Tupling (with a BSL interpreter); and our need to be much more politically aware when looking at the problems facing people in these areas.

Sarah Tupling Deaf AnglicansAnd that debate led nicely to the last of the sessions, about the huge reduction in the availability of Legal Aid since the 2012 Act reducing funding for it.

Carl Fender, a barrister from Lincoln, brought this Private Members Motion, and spoke calmly but with some force about how people once eligible for Legal Aid have been eclipsed: there is even a double whammy, in that if you are on benefits but need to challenge the Benefits Agency about a decision, you can’t now get Legal Aid. What was seen as a right in the post-war period for those without access to professional support in the courts has now effectively been removed. Carl’s papers, very informative on the history and the issues, are here.

Charles George, the outgoing Dean of the Arches and Auditor (a senior legal figure in church and the secular justice system) spoke powerfully on the way in which Family Court cases now no longer get Legal Aid, meaning poor decisions are being made when couples split up. On the day of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet Reshuffle, he also pointed out that we have had 7 Lord Chancellors in 9 years – there’s no continuity or direction. This last point matters because the motion includes a call on the Government to explore ways in which the effect of the 2012 Act can be alleviated.

Other speakers spoke of Britain becoming a two-tier society (mirroring our debate on Funeral Poverty yesterday) where people no longer matter – only money talks.


Traditionally, Synod ends with farewells to senior figures, if any are retiring at the end of a group of sessions. Today we had four to say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ to:

  1. Chris Palmer, Secretary to the Corporation of Church House, responsible for all sorts of improvements to the way Synod uses that imposing building
  2. Dame Caroline Spelman, formerly First Church Estates Commissioner when an MP, who as Archbishop Justin put it, ‘went in to bat for the Church’ with Government many a time. (UPDATE: her successor, Andrew Selous MP was at Synod and made a brief speech. Apologies for misinforming you in the original version of this post.)
  3. Charles George, whose last speech (about Legal Aid, see above) was a model of deadly accurate-fire legal discourse.
  4. WP_20170707_17_27_32_Pro 1

    Archbishop Sentamu speaking at York

    And then, in absentia, Archbishop Justin delivered a farewell speech to the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who will have retired by the time we meet in York in July. Sentamu was in Fiji, visiting places threatened by rising sea levels, but we were reminded of his directness and his passion for the Gospel; his imprisonment and torture in Idi Amin’s Uganda, and his work on the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.

There was a long standing ovation for the absent Archbishop. Although Sentamu had apparently said he wanted no speeches, I hope he gets to see a video of it all.

And finally…

It’s been a tough Synod:

  • pretty well everyone’s patience was tried by the real difficulties over handling too many detailed amendments.
  • the ongoing tensions of how we handle human sexuality and safeguarding were ever-present. One sign of hope (for me) was the well-attended Evangelical Forum on Tuesday (covered toward the end of this post)

But it’s also been a good Synod :

  • with funeral poverty, disadvantaged communities, children and young people all on the agenda, we had a very ‘missional’ stance
  • there was a lot of good humour, jokes and asides from a team of good Chairs – it all helps
London Synod fisheye

Full house: A Church House picture of Synod in session

When we get to York in July, it’ll be rather ‘end-of-term’, complete with the Open Synod Group’s traditional cabaret/revue looking back at this five-year quinquennium.

Blog notes

As ever, my thanks to those who take the trouble to read this blog – total views are well over a thousand this time around, with readers all round the world. Even more, thanks to those who comment on it online or when they bump into me. And thanks to Tim Hind and Paul Cartwright for some fine images.

  • If you find the blog’s too long, tell me. Or read Andrew Nunn’s much more concise and reflective accounts here.
  • There’s an interesting blog around the children and young people debate from yesterday in Ali Campbell’s Resource blog here
  • I dare say the wonderful Coventry shopkeeper-priest Charlotte Gale will post a Synod report in due course: it’ll turn up here.
  • Thinking Anglicans will have the best round-up of news stories and links about Synod: find them here.
  • There’s a very different perspective from Dave Lucas, from Disability and Jesus, on his View from the Edge blog here. He’s been following us from his hospital bed.

My specific hope this year is that people thinking of standing for election in the autumn will find bathwellschap a handy way of imagining what it might be like to be on General Synod. Do tell them about it!

Bathwellschap will return in July.


* A hard day’s night: classic 1964 Beatles song from their mop-top days, with the Richard Lester film of the same name setting a new standard for pop music films. Legend has it the title came from Ringo Starr’s exhausted comment at the end of, well, a hard day’s night. Go on, take a trip back to 1964 with a live performance, screams and all, here.

Posted in 2020: February - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone *

It’s been an extremely draining day at General Synod today (Wednesday 12 February). Our subject matter included safeguarding and the climate crisis, as well as more internal church affairs. And our brains hurt later in the day when we got tangled up with procedural overload. On the other hand, there was pastoral concern for people caught in funeral poverty, and keen commitment to work better with under 16s. Yes, another very full day…

Safeguarding: progress…?

Aiden Hargreaves-Smith was a good choice of Chair for this emotionally-charged debate. He is unfailingly polite and calm, and he set the tone by reminding us that there would be victims and survivors present, not only in the gallery, but among Synod members. So he asked that we kept focussed on the motion before us and the amendment proposed. He then asked for a moment of silence and led us in a brief but profound prayer, before calling on the outgoing Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, Bishop Peter Hancock, Bishop of Bath and Wells. (Usual disclaimer: he used to be my boss)


Bishop Peter Hancock, Bishop of Bath & Wells

Bishop Peter began his speech by reflecting on the fact that he was at the end of his term (Bishop Jonathan Gibbs of Huddersfield is taking on the role, and spoke later on). When he took it on, four years ago, he did not know the full impact of what it would be like. He noted the pain, the shame and the apologies that had been part of his responsibility.

We can, and should celebrate some of our safeguarding achievements, he said. 250,000 people have undergone training, there are new structures, and so on. But these developments have come about too slowly. He said that we still sometimes thought of safeguarding as ‘someone else’s responsibility’.

The motion is formally about our response to IICSA. It called on us to endorse the five recommendations to the C of E from IICSA. The Church has accepted them and full text of our response to their five recommendations is in the supporting paper – read it here. He gave a broad picture of IICSA’s enquiries as they affect us: there have been three public hearings on:

  • The diocese of Chichester
  • Bishop Peter Ball
  • Safeguarding more widely across the C of E, with four dioceses looked at in detail.

CaptureA full IICSA report about the C of E will follow this year.

He warned us to expect more recommendations and actions required.

He several times referred to victims and survivors – commending their bravery in coming forward, lamenting out failures to support them well and take concrete actions.

The journey is far from done…

As soon as he had finished the Archbishop stood to speak. He wanted to re-affirm his own apologies to survivors and victims present: “they are voices we need to hear and to heed”. He reminded us that as well as those in the gallery, there are victims and survivors of abuse in the House of Bishops, in the clergy and in the laity.

He supported Bishop Hancock in saying “the journey is far from done”, but paid tribute to Bishop Hancock’s work, which he said had been personally painful, exhausting and committed. He read out a tribute to Bishop Hancock from an (anonymous) survivor of clergy abuse, thanking him for the time and energy Peter had put into their own situation. Without wanting to imply that there was any cause for complacency, he invited the Synod to pay tribute to Peter: there was a standing round of applause.

Than came a long, emotional and intense debate. I’ll give a fuller summary than usual, as I know it is of great interest to many who follow this blog

  • Kashmir Garton from Worcester, a Probation Service professional, welcomed the setting up of a proper basis for oversight of religious communities, and the inclusion of clergy as people in ‘positions of trust’.
  • The Bishop of Burnley‘s speech was a call for further reform – including a national, rather than diocesan safeguarding structure. He encouraged people to read the paper in full: it had had a powerful effect on him and his colleagues. He reminded us that as leaders in the church, we forget the power we have over people, reminding us of the faux-humility that was one of Peter Ball’s tactics. He said we need better accountability for clergy – the freehold and even Common Tenure are insufficient in this regard. Our safeguarding arrangements across dioceses and cathedrals are often not in accord with one another.

Now is the time for action and change…

Bishop Jonathan Gibbs, the new lead safeguarding Bishop then spoke to his amendment, which added “concrete actions” to apologies; looked for a more “survivor-centred” approach, including arrangements for redress, and a follow-up report to Synod on the five recommendations. “The season for apology and lament is by no means over” he said, but that does not mean further actions.

His speech was a powerful call for further action: “too many of us just don’t get it”. Now is the time for action and change”. If we are to make redress, we must find ways to fund it. Our response must be on the basis of the values of the Kingdom, not protecting our reputation.

He warned that the upcoming final report from IICSA would not make pleasant reading.

The Gibbs amendment strengthens the original. It came about because a group of victims and survivors, and their advocates, were profoundly annoyed that the original main motion was simply about process: a commitment to do work on IICSA’s recommendations.

They had proposed a series of amendments, which were ruled out of order before Synod began (on the basis that they took the motion beyond its original intent.) So Bishop Gibbs’ four-point amendment was designed to take up their intentions in a way that satisfied the house rules, but also expressed the campaigners’ desire for a public commitment to action.

This, his first public appearance as responsible for safeguarding, made a powerful impact. There was a feeling of a serious gear-change, a re-set of what we are doing next.

Serious speeches

  • Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford) expressed disappointment at the progress made on support and redress for victims and survivors. One had been waiting for seven long years, she said. While there may be progress on change in our approach “we are still on the nursery slopes”.
  • The Bishop of London, Sarah Mulally said we need culture change: it’s for all of us, not just the Bishops, to change ‘the way we do things around here’. Training, communication and audit are a part – but culture change only happens ‘if we know what good looks like’. To know that, we have to resource ourselves to work together with victims and survivors. Like the Bishop of Burnley, she wanted us to look again at Freehold and Common Tenure. That change should extend to Synod, because the experience of victims and survivors cannot be fitted into amendments and Standing Orders.
  • Martin Sewell (Rochester) spoke about the meaning of ‘redress’. He believed that this debate was a reset moment: the original motion was an inadequate response to the Peter Ball IICSA report, but Bishop Gibbs had worked with him and the others who wanted a stronger motion. He has won the provisional tryst of victims and survivors, giving them a glimpse of hope. We must not let them down again. We need justice and mercy.
  • Susie Leafe from Truro spoke in a broken voice to express her apologies for how the church had treated people over the years: she apologised for keeping silent. She referenced the case of the Revd Jonathan Fletcher (a well-known leader in conservative evangelical circles). She had four pointers – Listen; speak up (even when people say it would be ‘unhelpful’); put the survivors first; conceal nothing – bring it to the Lord and the world. And take responsibility.
  • Archdeacon Julie Conalty (Rochester) reminded us that rather than waiting for ‘the Church’ to make realistic settlement for survivors, we as Synod members are so well placed to ask difficult questions. “Don’t just wait for the national Church – survivors are watching and ready to help us”.
  • Peter Adams (St Albans’ told the story of Robert, an abused choirboy, now in his sixties, who had managed to rebuild his confidence in God and the church and called on us to do more, as the motion, as amended, required.
  • Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, said her job title was one she found hard to bear (Peter Ball had been Bishop of Gloucester). The Dame Moira Gibb Report, two years ago and IICSA’s work on Peter Ball had led her to publicly apologise and rebuke those who had failed to take the right actions. The recent BBC Peter Ball documentary had brought her many letters from people who, to her surprise, seemed to be responding as if they had heard the story for the first time. This caused her to realise that we do not learn from the reviews and enquiries. The questions they ask should change us. How are the reviews – “and all that training” – changing us.
  • Emily Bagg (Portsmouth) said she had been abused in her church, but saw herself as a survivor, not a victim. Real concrete actions are what people in her position need to see.
  • Simon Friend (Exeter) reminded us that we are a very cerebral body: but where is the space for lament? We need to remember that the response that many feel to things like the Peter Ball programmes is emotional, rather than cerebral.
  • Archdeacon Luke Miller (London) is also a parish priest: he spoke of the maze that clergy find they are in over things like ‘who needs a DBS check?’ and everyday decisions about working with young people.
  • Archdeacon Gavin Kirk (Lincoln), in supporting the motion as amended, but wanted two further moves made, First: We s=need to strengthen the independence of Diocesan Safeguarding Advisers: some have been ignores and over-ruled. @Adviser’ is the wrong title: should they not be called ‘Directors of safeguarding’. And we need a one-stop whistleblowing arrangement for DSAs when that happens. His second point was about the formation of clergy: there needs to be rigour in the training of ordinands in safeguarding, with exams and essays, just as there are in theology.
  • Canon John Spence (the chief finance person) said we must not fret about money. If there is need in this area, “the funds will be found”

Winding down…


Banned: the poster in the gallery. Pic credit: Rosie Harper

Earlier on, and unnoticed by many of us, the survivor group in the gallery had unveiled a simple poster suggesting that the Church Commissioners had spent £23million on the Lambeth Palace Library project, but nothing on redress or compensation. It had been removed the security staff (demonstrations in the Chamber are not permitted) but Debbie Buggs took the trouble to read out what it had said, so it will appear in the written record.

Bishop Hancock’s summary was a round of thanks to those who had spoken, some with great bravery and vulnerability. He concluded with three points he hoped would be part of the future:

  • The importance of a victim-led response: “Do not repay evil for evil, or abuse for abuse, but repay evil with blessing” (a reference to 1 Peter, which had been the subject of the morning’s Bible Study)
  • We will need to make adequate space for response to the next IICSA report
  • Concrete actions will require significant resources

It was a draining experience, sitting through the debate and trying to take these notes. But it does look like a re-set or a gear change in our safeguarding  policies, with that commitment to look at, and pay for, redress.

There’s a number of others who’ve blogged about all this. I can recommend:

  • Meg Munn, the Independent Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, reflecting on the IICSA and the C of E – read her here.
  • BBC Cornwall journalist Donna Birrell has written a very thoughtful report on the revelations that came about in this debate – read her Coffee Time blog here.
  • Andrew Nunn, the Dean of Southwark, writes sensitively and prayerfully about the effect of it all – read him here.

From one serious issue to another…

After a further prayerful pause, we moved onto the other big subject of the day: the Church’s responses to Climate Emergency and Carbon Reduction Target. The basic document for the debate is here.

Introduced by the lead bishop on the environment, Bishop Nick Holtam of Salisbury, this was a debate with huge enthusiasm, a sense of urgency, and – inevitably -some amendments to the main motion to argue about. The key one was about critical timescales (such as 2045 or 2030 for reaching net zero emissions).

It had been focus of a ‘Memorial for Life’ vigil outside Synod – which was a tale in itself. Christian Climate Action had announced a few days ago their intention to gather at the Dean’s Yard entrance as we arrived this morning. Unfortunately, we were told, they had failed to ask the permission of Westminster Abbey (who own Dean’s Yard) and the Abbey said they would be closing the entrance in order to avoid the people coming in, unwanted.

Climate bannersClimate Banners (1)So what actually happened was they moved their vigil, banners and all, to the Great Smith Street entrance, where (fortunately) some roadworks meant there was room for them to set up their banners and leafletting.

New powers for the Chair to call for the closure of debate on amendments at a time s/he sees fit are a big timesaver and keep complex debates like this moving. We no longer need to have shouted points of order from the much-loved John Freeman of Chester. The Bristol diocesan amendment setting 2030 as the target was accepted, though many felt targets were arbitrary or unachievable. How do you make a mediaeval Grade 1 listed church building carbon neutral?

Your correspondent missed most of the debate: I was taking some time out after an exhausting time earlier on. However, I did discover some things that may get you thinking…

  • For example, we all worry about church heating, gas boilers and so on. But shortly your church could work out its own carbon footprint which ought to help sensible decision-making at PCC level. Give it a go, here.
  • eco-church-july2015-2-colourBishop Nick pointed out to parishes – and dioceses: the A Rocha Eco Church awards scheme. Very simple, but making a difference. Details are here.
  • The Bishop of Manchester spoke on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day about the climate change crisis: you can hear it here https://t.co/1txc2EmZuS

In his summary, Bishop Nick warned that whatever target is set will be very hard work, particularly when we are custodians of so many heritage buildings with heritage boilers.

It’s a sign of how the climate of debate about climate change has changed that there were half a dozen speakers against the general idea. One speaker gave a somewhat chilling speech, saying our job as Christians is to preach the gospel and save people from going to hell, not putting our energy into other matters like climate change. The riposte came from Simon Butler, saying he did not want to be part of a church that condemned people in Australia to remain the hell they have seen in recent months.

Inevitably, the motion was passed, with the 2030 target date.

Dead poor: who cares?

Clergy are very often at the front line of funeral ministry: supporting families, dealing with undertakers, arranging services. But not everyone gets a ‘good send-off’. A sober debate about the scandal of paupers’ funerals was introduced by Sam Margrave (Coventry) as a Private Members motion.

These funerals, often called Public Health Funerals, are those of people who have no funding to pay for their own funeral. His speech concluded, unusually with a video – an ITV news report – reporting on the numbers of such funerals, and the very varied way in which local authorities treat them. I was embarrassed to note that one of the local authorities criticised was North Somerset, in my own Bath and Wells diocese.

Sam’s motion wanted us to set up a task force to plan ways in which the current process could be ended, and to find ways of providing more compassionate ways to bury or cremate the dead where there is no funding. He explained his reasons in this paper.

Paupers funeralsWe heard how families are not given access to the service, not permitted to set up a memorial – or even know where their loved one is buried; and not being given the ashes of their loved one: just because the deceased was poor.

As Andrew Dotchin put it, he had sat with a weeping family who had been denied access to the crematorium. We should be ashamed.

Jackie Doyle-Brett simply spoke of the terrible use of the word ‘pauper’ about individuals, loved by someone: she saw it as a throwback to the Victorian concept of the ‘undeserving’ poor. She wanted the C of E to work to make funeral poverty a thing of the past.

The trouble with Sam’s motion, as originally proposed, was that it offered rather vague and uncosted areas of work to be done, and it ignored the very active role of the Churches’ Funeral Group and the C of E’s own Life Events Team. A note from the Secretary General gently suggested there were other ways to look at the problem – read it here.

So Tiffer Robinson (St Eds and Ips) proposed an amendment which rewrote Sam’s work, to avoid a new Task Force in favour of focussed work by the Life Events team, and to give a date for a report back to Synod (in 2021).

Sam was unwilling to accept the amendment at first, though he wisely and graciously said he would accept the mind of Synod when a vote came…

The Bishop of Exeter talked about the people he’d met in St Budeaux in Plymouth where one of families’ chief worries was ‘paying for the funeral’, leading to loan sharks and other evils on the estate. He quoted a survey that said, nationally, 93,000 families had taken out loans to pay for funerals. He also noted the rise of ‘Cremations Direct’ (who cut out the cost of funerals by simply taking the body to the crematorium) and independent funeral celebrants. He saw the way forward as having a ‘charm offensive’ towards local authorities and others who are the gatekeepers to dealing with funeral poverty.

  • Tiffer’s amendment was carried, and further amended to put in the 2021 deadline for a report back. Sam then moved an amendment to his own motion – really rare – calling on Government, but in slightly vague terms that did not commend themselves to me: it referred only to Christian funerals, as if poverty was only a problem for Christians. In the later debate we heard about people having to crowd-fund a funeral.
  • Chris McQuillen-Wright said we are moving towards two levels of coping with death: one for those who can pay, another for those who can’t. This has implications for our fees structure.
  • Catherine Farmbrough, from Deaf Anglican Together, using BSL and an interpreter, told us about the pauper’s funeral of a deaf person, whose friends were not communicated with. The deaf community found out too late and were unable to grieve. There is also an issue with having to pay for interpreters to be present at some funerals.

The motion, as finally amended, was passed. You can see info about the Life Events national work here.

Where have all the children gone?

There’s an increasing interest in, and use of, statistical evidence across the Church of England. Parish officers have been heard to grumble about filling in returns of Statistics for Mission, and such-like. But when you aggregate them, they can tell you quite a lot about what is happening. Or, possibly, not happening.

So in introducing this debate about children and young people in church, Mark Sheard reminded us of the appalling statistics that have emerged about the number of under-16s engaged in church life. They are there for all to see in the paper for the debate.

  • While we can argue about the detail, and celebrate the occasional Messy Church, we cannot ignore the clear trend, which is an existential threat to the future of the C of E. One of his lessons was that churches with youth and children’s workers saw better numbers (which at one level, you might think obvious).
  • But smaller churches can’t afford youth workers! So Fr Thomas Seville (Religious Communities) wanted to amend the text to be specific about smaller churches wishing to increase their number of under 16s. He was thinking of small and rural parishes, but Mark Sheard resisted this, as he wanted to focus on places with strategic potential. This brought up the ever-running debate within the church, and in each rural diocese, about the conflicting styles and resources of rural church as against bigger suburban and urban ones.
  • Gavin Oldham wanted to widen the focus from ‘under 16s’ to ‘children and young people’. His speech was largely about the Child Trust Fund, and the way many thousands of 16-18 year olds has ‘lost’ the Fund to which they were entitled. He envisaged Deaneries with larger numbers of young people convene meetings for such young people to learn hot find their money, but also to learn something of the Christian faith. Must be a first: evangelism via money-tracing.

Despite the fact that the stats on which this debate was founded are about under 16s because that is the data available, Mark Sheard was happy to accept the wider age range. With a range of ‘good news’ stories and a continuing friction between those concerned with small churches and those with bigger operations, the motion was passed.

Schools… and death by a thousand amendments

I kept out of the debate about Diocesan Boards of Education (DBEs), partly because I don’t pretend to understand it, not having much day to day contact with DBEs over the years. And, frankly, as a college crony used to say years ago: you can’t go to everything. If church schools and academies are your thing, the paperwork here explains what changes are proposed.

However, the debate threw up a significant issue. I did overhear (on the relay in the members’ room) complaints about the numbers of people attending legislation sessions like this one.

empty Synod

Half-empty: the Chamber during the legislation debate

Now, there were a large number (more than 20) of technical amendments being offered to the main DBE motion. Some were matters of substance, requiring explanation and thinking about: others were more technical.


David Lamming (Eds and Ips) had put in several amendments about different technical aspects of the legislation. He began a speech on one of them by saying legislation was important, and more people ought to be there. He went on to say that the Revision Committees had been under-attended, too. What made things worse that several of his proposals were items that had been put to the Revision Committee, considered and rejected. But here they were back again, getting rejected again, and wasting 5-10 minutes for each one.

  • I found myself thinking: well, perhaps people don’t want to sit through the technical stuff and the convoluted procedure. In other words: the way we do business like this is failing because it’s too hard for members to engage with.
  • I don’t know what the answer is – maybe is the way Business Committee schedule different kinds of business, maybe it is something more significant about  how members see their role in Synod. But there were a lot of tired people, tired of heavy detail – and, perhaps, tired of the same voices.
  • On Twitter, the Bishop of Willesden was suggesting a way to avoid these slow-motion procedural car-crashes: “We need a different way of doing legislation. I would propose a Legislative Scrutiny Forum to sit between Revision Committee and the Synod and bring items, properly digested, to Synod. Nit picking to try again when you’ve lost at Revision Ctte is not the way to do this.”
  • Funnily enough, on Monday, Jonathan Alderton-Ford suggested that members ought to make a self-denying ordinance to only speak twice in a group of sessions. He got a ripple of cheers and applause. It wouldn’t work, but it’s a tempting thought.

UPDATE: David has posted a reply to this piece in which he explains his frustration and reasons better than I could. Scroll down to the ‘Comments’ to see it.

And so to bed…

We ended the day with a lively and good-humoured debate confirming the numbers of people who will be elected to Synod this autumn. There was a bit of sparring about whether the split of 70% of members coming from the (much larger) Canterbury province and 30% from York was correct.

If you want to know how many reps your own diocese will be sending after this years’ elections, the details are in Appendix A (clergy) and B (laity) of the paper – read it here. There are winners and losers, but, as the paper explains, it’s a logical and fair allocation.

Tomorrow we have just a morning to get through. And I get to sit up on the platform as substitute for Simon Butler (who is away leading a clergy study day) in the Prolocutor’s seat. When my friends ask Stephen, what exactly is a pro-Prolocutor? they’ll see for themselves.

Platform party (1)


*You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone: a line from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi (1967), maybe the first ever environmental anthem.

Posted in 2020: February - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

All kinds of everything *

Yes, today (Tuesday 11 February) was a real mixed bag at Synod. Detailed legislation, passionate advocacy, long-awaited details about Living in Love and Faith. It’s all here… In all this nitty-gritty and worthiness, the bombshell was Archbishop Justin’s ad lib remarks about racism, injustice and the legacy of the Windrush generation in a speech at the end of the day. (And, therefore, at the end of today’s write-up.)

He’d already spoke clearly and passionately about the danger of ‘weaponising’ God in his sermon during the Communion service that began the day.

20200211_091128He was making a general point,  but he did make a couple of references to the way we sometimes argue in discussions about sexuality. It was a scene-setter, perhaps for the presentation in the afternoon about Living in Love and Faith.

Read on to know more…

Cathedrals and Deaneries

After the service came the first heavyweight legislative stuff of the day – revision of the draft Cathedrals Measure. (The pics are of Wells, naturally.)

Andrew Nunn, the Dean of Southwark was in charge of the debate, and he began by saying “You may well remember that I was less than complimentary about the original proposals.” He then professed conversion to the extent he was now in charge of the process. As someone once said, There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…

He reminded us that reform of cathedral governance was required to meet the requirements of the 21st century. He set out the changes now proposed to governance, explained how the Measure now clarified the distinction between a cathedral’s pastoral/liturgical duties, the day-to-day management, and the strategy and governance. (To make sense of this, you would need to read paper GS2136Y)

  • Wherever possible, the tone is of permissions, rather than prescriptions – all cathedrals are different, so the Revision Committee has built in local flexibility whenever possible,
  • There is a new ‘passport’ available as part of the 2020 Year of Pilgrimage. You can find details here. (It costs £4.99). So he spent a bit of time encouraging us all to visit our lovely English cathedrals, rather than jetting off to foreign climes. At this point, Debbie Flach from the diocese of Europe raised a laugh by encouraging people to visit that diocese’s three cathedrals (Brussels, Gibraltar and Malta) clutching their nice new blue passports.
  • This was all complex stuff. The Charity Commission have been breathing heavily on Cathedrals to update their governance, so much of the content being debated was affected by their views.
Inside St Paul's

A large congregation under a very large dome. Image: Graham Lacdao, St Paul’s Cathedral.

The Revision Committee had thrown out a number of ‘special pleading’ requests from particular cathedrals. So some of them came to Synod with amendments in an attempt to put back their special case. We have a ’40 member’ rule for such amendments. The proposer can make a short speech explaining why the main motion should be amended: after that, they need 40 members to stand in their places to indicate their support. If 40 members don’t stand, there is no further debate and their amendment fails. So we had a bit of exercise, with a few proposals briefly proposed, failing to get support in that way, so getting thrown out.

  • We went into a fog of ‘consequential amendments’. After a particularly tortuous explanation of why a paragraph should be removed, the difficulties of wading through the technicalities of legislation were lightened by an intervention on a fake Point of Order from the Archbishop. He suggested that only those who understood the explanation should be allowed to vote.
  • The other entertainment in this otherwise rather dry discussion was the search for a definition of what defines a  “member of the church of England”, The Bishop of Leeds first raised it (the phrase occurs in the Cathedrals legislation in connection with who is entitled to vote as members of a cathedral congregation). To much laughter, various learned people told us there is no definition in law. But perhaps you know who you are!

A collection of people…

Next came a discussion close the hearts of many here: Deanery Synods. We seemed to forget the classic definition of a Deanery Synod as ‘a collection of people waiting to go home’, because people seemed quite keen on their Deanery.

  • There had been a huge consultation about whether people should only be allowed to be members of their Deanery Synod for two three-year terms.
  • The theory was that this would prevent the blockage that sometimes occurs of ‘old stagers’ who have been on their Synod for many years preventing any prospect of younger and fresher people coming on from local parishes.
  • The consultation had been firmly against this, and the platform proposal was that the parish Annual Parochial Church Meeting should be allowed to set such a limit if they chose, but there should be no compulsion.
  • Several speakers spoke warmly of the joys of wise, experienced hands on a Synod, or the difficulty of finding people willing to go on if vacancies occurred.
  • Archdeacon Jane Steen spoke against the proposal and in favour of term limits. I entirely agree with her, but I’m in a minority on this.

There was a well-chaired ping-pong between speakers in favour and against. Eventually, Simon Butler persuaded us to close the debate and the platform proposal (no compulsory fixed terms) won.

It’s back: Living in Love and Faith…

In the afternoon, we got to a long-awaited session on the whole Living in Love and Faith project (LLF). As a witty and wise old Synod hand said, LLF  is something that has developed huge expectations amongst people in favour of, and against, change – and they all expect to be disappointed by the final product.

It began with a briefing about the work of the ‘Pastoral Advisory Group’. Christine Hardman, Chair of the group explained how the Group has been formed with people of very different views. One of the fruits of their work is a set of cards that can help people in churches have better discussions about sexuality. They set out 6 principles for getting better conversations.

She showed a very short video which explains their work very clearly. You can see it here – and use it in your church, Deanery Synod or wherever.

Then the Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth explained where the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) work had got to. Since the demise of the Bishops’ February 2017 document (read that up from my previous post here), a huge amount of work has been done by a working group, a coordinating group, and specialists. We’ve engaged with it all as a Synod in the last two July Synods.

Dr Eeva John, the Enabling Officer for the work, then explained how in all this activity, there had been painful speaking and listening, but much learning of how to communicate with those you disagree with without riding roughshod over the other. It has not been plain sailing, and those involved have had to learn through their failures. She said:

  • the LLF book is in its 6th draft, having been crawled over by all sorts of people. There are 6 videos, a podcast and many other resources, all to be ready for thus summer, when the Lambeth Conference assembles.
  • they are teaching and learning resources, not recommendations, hinting that, as the wise old hand said, that ‘both sides’ may find themselves disappointed.
  • she characterised two positions: those who say God’s mission demands that we change; and those who say God’s mission demands that we remain as we are. She floated the idea that we are not ready to make any decisions of that character: maybe it’s about first discovering how we can truly love one another deeply (both in individual relationships and as churches

Bishop Christopher said that LLF is a call to learning together, inviting parishes and dioceses to learn together as they dig more deeply into the Bible, the Christian tradition and people’s own experiences. A key concept is how we deal with difference – a call to step out of our ‘like-minded’ church groups to meet each other. He saw the July 2020 launch as the beginning of a time of “whole-church learning”, not an end in itself.

We were then treated to a staged conversation between 7 members of the LLF group. Sitting in a semicircle, they were a very varied bunch – 2 Bishops, theologians, laypeople – coming from very different places on the spectrum of Christian beliefs about human sexuality and relationships.

I’m always slightly wary about these staged conversations – I think I worked too long in radio and TV – and, true to form it did rather look like a group of 7 people agreeing with each other and saying how interesting they found each other. Except they spoke about desperation, wanting to walk away, and so on.

Knowing something of the background of the participants, I can see it was an extraordinary testimony to what can happen if people so different really put effort into reading, praying and eating together. And I guess that is the model for how the C of E can navigate their way through this confusion about human sexuality. But it might take a while. May be those who are impatient or worried had best find the resources to put their energy into talking and listening, rather than campaigning?

And then we moved into an ‘empty chair’ exercise. Synod members were invited to come up if they wishes sit in the empty chair and ask the group their question, hear some answers, and even get in a supplementary.

There was some groaning (probably affectionate…) when the first two to come up were Ian Paul and Jayne Ozanne, activists on the ‘opposite sides’ of this debate.

  • Ian wanted some reassurances that this work was to be built around the teaching of Jesus.
  • Jayne expressed the frustration and the fears of many who are awaiting change, but feel marginalised/ignored/left out. They want some guarantees that church will be safe for them.

If this is a subject that is on your heart, I do suggest looking at the video from the C of E website.

The Lamming Amendments


Amendments: David Lamming at the podium

Yes, it sounds like an airport bookstall thriller, but it’s actually some deep-level procedural stuff that came to us in two bites today: one about how church elections work, and the other about our own Standing Orders. The indefatigable David Lamming from Eds and Ips diocese was behind both.

Clive Scowen from London, the doyen of Synod proceduralists was the right person to introduce the Church Representation Rules (Amendment) Resolution, 2020. Even I, a great enthusiast for church democracy, struggle with the hard detail of this stuff. The new Church Representation Rules (which we agreed a year or two back) are now published, in time for the annual round of parish Annual Parochial Church Meeting, the three-yearly Deanery Synod Elections which follow, and the five-yearly General Synod elections this autumn.

STEPHEN-SURFACE - WIN_20200211_161255

Detailed: text of the amendments

So we were deep in the detail of election appeals, arrangements for congregations that are not parish churches, tweaks to the Churchwarden’s measure, and other matters. I hesitate to say it’s the Devil who is in the detail, but you know what I mean..

The fun began as we realised we had 16 amendments tabled by David Lamming.

  • Clive said Mr Lamming had fortunately spotted some errors in the original drafting: he was willing to accept them all as they made the new Rules more coherent. Clive warned us that we had to vote all 16 through, recognising that there was a temptation to be bored, or skip away…
  • The Bishop of Willesden reminded us that despite the complexity, this was about simplification of church practices. He worried that they would not be easily accessed by ordinary parish officers, who might been sitting with a can of Dulux, watching it dry. He therefore wanted the current crop of minutiae to be put in the public domain in a coherent way, not as a very detailed and complex document, like the one we were discussing.

I regret to confess that I headed for the tea room at this point, but you will be relieved to know that they all passed without disaster.

The second volume of the Lamming thriller franchise came at the end of the evening, with some tweaks to our own Synod Standing Orders. Geoffrey Tattershall introduced this necessarily arcane material (about things like what should happen when a diocesan bishop if not able to function and a suffragan is ‘acting Bishop’.). He revealed that Mr Lamming had been ‘quite properly’ in touch with him and the lawyers about improvements that ought to be made to the proposals – “including at twenty to one this morning, when I was asleep”. David remonstrated that he only sent a copy email; after some repetitive voting injury to our arms, everything was passed and they all lived happily ever after.

“We do not do justice…”

News that the government had deported a number of people to Jamaica (see press report here) despite a court order staying some of the deportations gave a special relevance to the Private Members Motion from Andrew Moughtin-Mumby about the legacy of our treatment of the ‘Windrush generation.’ You can see his paper here.

Synod came to a stunned silence when his speech was followed by one from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Welby silent tearoom (1)

Archbishop Welby’s ad lib speech

Welby silent tearoom (2)

The tea-room goes quiet

Visibly moved, and having ditched his carefully-prepared notes, he plainly said he wanted to apologise for the Church’s – and his own – failures to combat racism and to support Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the church. He said “We did not do justice in the past: we do not do justice now”. And he went on to say that we need to ensure our recruitment panels need to have minority representation if we are ever to change. It was a powerful, off-the-cuff speech, and all the chatter in the tea room ceased as people stopped their gossip to listen. You can read his speech here. Highly recommended.

We then heard a number of speeches from Synod’s BAME members, clergy and lay.

  • Annika Matthews, a Church of England Youth Council rep, followed the Archbishop, and again brought the tea-room to silence with a personal account of growing up and living in this country.
  • Dr Rosemarie Mallett memorably said: “We are sick and tired of being sick and tired”
  • Later speeches bewailed racism in cathedrals, the inability to make BAME people visible in church life – on PCCs, in greeters at the door, and at every other level.
  • Making what one might call a ‘modified maiden speech’ (she was been on Synod a few years ago before she became Chaplain to the House of Commons and then Bishop of Dover. As someone of Jamaican origin, she spoke passionately about the current deportations. While we celebrate the Pilgrim Fathers as “pioneers”, we talk about today’s escapees from poverty and oppression as asylum-seekers and refugees. “We will be a better church when we celebrate the gifts and skills that we all bring to the table. Minority ethnic people will always be at the table”

It was a terrific debate, and has attracted media interest – the Grauniad has this piece by Harriet Sherwood.

In other news…

I wrote a post about the differences of approach within the Anglican evangelicals at Synod a week or so ago. It’s called ‘Scrambled EGGS’ – if you missed it, read it here. Today the new ‘Evangelical Forum’ held it’s first gathering. About 40 of us crammed into a room that was too small for what was an initial exploration of how a more open, sensitive and accepting way of being evangelicals at Synod could be brought into being.

For me, I must say it was a breath of fresh air. All the ‘normal’ elements were there: prayer in small groups, simple Bible study, a look at the agenda. But the running of the meeting was in the hands of two women and one man – which is a departure from other ways of doing it. And the approach was about listening and speaking to each other, rather than following a more directive business-oriented model.

We looked at this way of describing the Forum’s approach to discussion which seemed to be more in tune with how people want to operate in fellowship and with respect.

Evangelical Forum (2)It’s all too early for a proper committee and traditional leaders to be in place, but the convenors will be meeting to think about how to build on this fresh approach for the July Synod. There’s nothing secret: I’m happy to put any Synod members in touch with them if you’d like to be put on the emailing list to keep up with developments.

Tomorrow the two big formal items are Safeguarding and Climate Change. DOn’t ever say we don’t look at the big issues…


* All Kinds of Everything Yes, the schmaltzy, horrible 1970 Eurovision winner by Dana. Enough already…

Posted in 2020: February - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Over the sea, on the Island(s) of Dreams *

The ecclesiastical future of the Channel Islands was one of the two substantive items of business conducted at Synod today (Monday 10 February). 70-odd miles from England, and less than 20 from France, the Bailiwicks of |Guernsey and Jersey have had something of a six-year nightmare, which we are trying to end. After a breach between them and the diocese of Winchester, it’s now (more or less) settled that they will be associated with Salisbury in future. The other big item was the Clergy Covenant. But in between we had a lot of heat (and a little light) about safeguarding and human sexuality.

But first: the Prologue

There are some traditional ‘starters for ten’ on Day One.

  1. Given the tensions of the last few weeks (see yesterday’s post) I was glad to be there for our opening worship – sensitively prepared and led by our Synod Chaplain. The singing of O worship the King seemed particularly robust today.
  2. We formally welcomed a raft of new members: people who came in by by-elections after places became vacant. It seemed like a long list, and these people will only have these sessions and the July ones to get accustomed to the place before full elections this autumn. Still, it’ll give them a head start if they get re-elected.
  3. The Business Committee’s report, nowadays known as “Guide to the business”.

Doing the business: Sue Booys

The Business Committee report explains the ‘what and why’ of the agenda, and the Chair, Canon Sue Booys from Oxford makes a short speech highlighting the key events.


She noted that this is the last time this Synod will meet in London (a new Synod will be elected in the autumn before a November London meeting.),

Unusually, she warned that some changes were being made to the agenda we’ve got on the Synod App (free to anyone who’s trying to keep up: get it here). The Channel Islands business would include a presentation from Bishop Richard Chartres, who chaired the working group; and time would have to be found for debate on something that was intended to be ‘deemed business’ – the deep excitements of the Election Rules. (This matters now as new rules are meant to be in place in time for electing a new Synod this autumn.)

We can make short speeches on this report. Often they are usurped by people with axes to grind about big items coming up later on; sometimes complaints about important issues not on the agenda.

Happy Snaps

I managed to get in a ‘thank you’ – and a plug for the new guidance on photography in the Chamber.


Photos: a view from the floor

After it was summarily banned by one Chair in July, I wrote to the Business Committee asking for some sensible rules.  The availability of smartphones meant that photos in blogs like this, and in tweets, are rather important ways to explain Synod to outsiders.  Pleasingly, several members got tweeting pictures straight away to celebrate. If you’re interested, the guidance is in this Seventh Notice Paper (pp5 & 6).


There was a grumble about the late setting of dates – we didn’t get the final dates for this session until just before Christmas. That makes it very hard for people with work or family responsibilities to commit themselves properly.

As I expected, there was some passion about the way the agenda offers debate (or not) on matters of human sexuality. (If that does not make sense to you, see yesterday’s post). Jayne Ozanne, a leading campaigner, said that the issue of the Bishop’s letter has once again removed trust. She called at the very least, a ‘take note’ debate in July on the Living in Love and Faith work, rather than just a presentation as we are to have tomorrow (Tuesday). And she threw back in the Archbishops face the phrase they produced after the debacle in February 2017 (when the Bishops report was thrown out – details here) that “to deal with… ..disagreement, to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church”.

The word on the street about the shambles of the way the guidance was published is that it was thought by many Bishops that it was never intended for publication as something new: it was simply a ‘holding position’ if anyone asked how the C of E viewed the new same-sex Civil Partnerships. However, somehow it got issued as a formal statement, with the resulting car-crash following.

Justin’s time

Next came the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential Address.

  • He began by looking ahead to the challenges of the next year or two: going straight into the frying-pan by outlining the plan for Living in Love and Faith, before looking at this summer’s Lambeth Conference. He said 660 out of 995 bishops have registered; 3 Provinces say they are not coming.
  • His address was built around 1 Peter and contained some convoluted imagery from a meeting on Kenya about the lions that await us, and the sheep they are stalking.
  • He talked about some Synod preoccupations, including the Clergy Covenant for Well-Being – and the phrase ‘professional standards’ was heard again.

I thought he was less commanding than usual, and the passion only came in when he talked about taking the gospel of Christ and bringing it to people together – as opposed to a sense that we are fighting each other. His strict context here was about clergy and laity together, but I couldn’t help wondering if he was really thinking about the Lambeth Conference – and our own deep divisions on how to address issues of human sexuality. You can read the whole address here.


And so to the Channel Islands!

Herm Sark Condor GVs 2

Lifeline: a ferry passes between Guernsey and Jethou en route to Jersey

Bishop Chartres made witty start by mentioning he had been recalled to service in retirement “in the springtime of my senility”. His mention of how pleased he was to be returning to Synod brought some knowing smiles, as when he was Bishop of London, he was known for avoiding Synod whenever he could… This is a complex tale, and to really grasp it, you may need to look at the relevant paper GS Misc 1241. He reminded us that:


  • Guernsey and Jersey are self-governing Crown dependencies
  • There are historic differences and similarities with English parishes
  • It was not going to be possible to repair the very painful breach with Winchester
  • Linking to Salisbury makes eminent sense – travel to and from there will be easier than to Canterbury (who have had temporary oversight.)

It’s not just about the change to Salisbury. There is also a need to sort out the way in which Measures (which in England are the law of the land) are applied to the Islands – especially safeguarding and clergy discipline. The legislation on women Bishops is also an issue

In introducing the debate, Bishop Tim Thornton asked how many Synod members had ever lived in the Islands. There were 5 I could see, though many of us know the Islands through holidays or family links. He told us:

  • the Measure is supported by Deanery Synods in Guernsey and Jersey, by Salisbury Diocesan Synod and the Archbishops Council. The Bishop of Winchester had welcomed the opportunity it gives for a fresh start.
  • the change is not just is not just about repairing the breach – it’s about putting the governance and systems of both Bailiwicks on a better footing, and more in line with the wider Church.
  • it’s been six years the Islands have been in limbo, and this is the time to enable them to build into their own Canons and processes what’s needed to deal with anomalies, and take their Anglican identity forward.

In debate, some concerns about the speed and the fear that the Islands are being allowed to choose their own future. But as Bishops Nick Holtam put it: “if it was about choosing their own Bishop, they wouldn’t choose me”.

  • Simon Cawdell from Hereford said the report was bad in theology, ecclesiology, and there are practical issues in making the change in this way at this stage. He would oppose the motion before us.
  • He was backed up by Clive Scowen from London, saying that the Christian way should be to pursue reconciliation (between Winchester and the Islands); not to move them to another diocese.
  • From Winchester, Archdeacon Peter Rouch, spoke of the hurts, the prayer and the conversations that have led to the Salisbury move. He believes Winchester see this as a significant structural step making reconciliation and redemption possible.
  • The Winchester lay chair, Alison Coulter, spoke movingly about the need to move on and build a better future.
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke strongly in favour, saying that the proposed arrangement is a form of reconciliation.
  • He was followed by the Dean of Guernsey, Tim Barker, effectively winding up the debate with a powerful restatement of the Islands’ wishes to go in this direction.


    Islander: the Dean of Guernsey

So this first stage was passed with an overwhelming majority. We will (notionally, I hope) revise it tomorrow in full synod (no committee!), and finally pass it on Thursday. We can get a move on when we need to.

Caring and sharing…

The Clergy Covenant for Well-Being was the other substantive item today. This is an Act of Synod – something that is not law, but expresses the will of Synod, which dioceses have to take forward. Simon Butler, the Canterbury Prolocutor introduced the debate. You can read the Covenant in GS2153 here.

On the face of it, this is a Good Thing: everyone wants their clergy and laity to get on, and the Bishops to guide and protect their clergy. However, there was some nervousness.

  • The Bishop of Willesden restated his concern that it was leading us to a point where clergy would be seen as employees, not office-holders – but said he would vote for it.
  • One or two speakers diverted to discussing the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), rather than the Covenant. (There is considerable work going on to look at how to improve or completely change the CDM, with a working party chaired by Bishop Tim Thornton, and work by the Sheldon Community in conjunction with Aston University, with some 6000 responses involved. However, the CDM is tangential to the Covenant, which is a much wider thing. An attempt to get the Covenant adjourned until such other matters had been resolved.
  • In winding up, Jacqueline Stamper said it is a move towards a relational structure for clergy, parishes and bishops. This ought to lessen those CDM cases that are really not disciplinary matters, but about minor disagreements and personality issues…

The Act of Synod was passed with only a couple of votes against. We then had a little Gilbertian moment when the Registrar formally read it out. It now goes to each and every diocesan Synod for reading out and follow-up work. That will be the key to whether it catches on, and some user-friendly versions of the excellent discussion points in the document are badly needed.

Any Questions?

And so to Questions. Zoe Heming, in the chair, warned that as we have a record number of questions (121), she would be strict on ensuring people asked a question, rather than speechifying. It would be tedious to go through the raft of topics that came up – you can read the Questions and Answers here. I spotted on or two that clearly touched communal nerves:

  • There were some sharp questions about the process by which the Archbishops Council found the money to loan to Westcott House theological college, who are in financial difficulties. Would the Council be supporting all colleges in this way? What about the non-residential courses for ordinands?
  • Like many organisations the Church has had to pay the Government Apprenticeship Levy. But it seems we have not been able to apply the money to funding of curates, so it is not being used in dioceses, although the National Church Institutions do have 11 apprentice posts in place.

The House of Bishops statement on Civil Partnerships, as I noted yesterday, attracted 19 Questions and there were a further 16 on safeguarding issues.

On sexuality, the Bishop of Newcastle’s defence of the statement as stating the church’s teaching “for now” will have been seen by some as a slight opening of the door to change. One or two very pointed questions about lay and clergy people in same-sex relationships were ruled out of order on the basis that they were asking for an opinion.

In the light of the shambles around the statement, one questioner, suggested that the House of Bishop needed external independent media advice. Bishop Christine replied “I think our review of our procedures needs to go beyond media strategy” Much laughter and some applause.

It all went very tense when we got on to safeguarding: there were questions piling on the pressure about known cases (Jonathan Fletcher, Iwerne camps, John Smyth) from several members. The Bishop of Bath & Wells, as outgoing Lead Safeguarding Bishop was able to give some comfort to those looking for some open-ness about cases once reviews of past cases have been concluded. But it came as a surprise to many that one reason why some reviews have been delayed is data protection: the GDPR regulations have made it very hard for an independent reviewer to access the information they need about cases.

The review of the CDM brought some interest: it’s evident from Answers 72-3 that it is a wide-ranging review. There will be consultations around the country and the Aston University/Sheldon Community research has garnered 6,000 responses. There was much use of the language of “professional standards”.

We also learned that should Coronavirus get worse, advice is being prepared on how to manage the ‘mechanics’ of administering Holy Communion. London diocese has already issued some sensible and non-panic-inducing advice online – read it here.

So, after a shortened Evening Prayer, we were all let loose to meet again tomorrow!

To regular readers: Apologies for the late posting of this, and the rather stripped-down presentation. WiFi problems meant I got completely stuck and had to do a complete rewrite.  Argh!


* Island of Dreams. Big hit for the Springfields in 1962 – yes, the female voice is the fabulous Dusty Springfield… There’s a marvellous monochrome TV performance here.




Posted in 2020: February - London | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Return to Sender *

One or two of the Bishops may be humming that old Elvis song to themselves. You know, the one that goes:

I gave a letter to the postman; he put it in his sack.

Bright and early next morning he brought my letter back!

Yes, the House of Bishop’s much-apologised-for pastoral message about Civil Partnerships will be raising the temperature as General Synod meets from Monday (10 February) to Thursday. It’ll be the subject of much unofficial conversation, anger – and even some prayer – alongside the official agenda

Having now perused my pile of papers (4.5 cm high this time, a whole centimetre higher than last February), I’ll preview the official agenda further down this post. But first I’ll attempt to explain the unofficial stuff, which is largely about the ongoing sore point of human sexuality. So, let’s get that out of the way.

Messed up – and ‘fessed up

In the last two weeks, a huge row has broken out, to the point where the House of Bishops, having issued a statement, have now broken ranks in an unprecedented way: a large number have issued apologies, either for the statement itself, or at least for the way it was presented and the timing. I won’t re-hash the gory details here: there’s an excellent summary from the Church Times team here, or you can get some of the blow-by-blow tale via Thinking Anglicans here.

However, for new readers or those in a hurry, what happened was this (in 7 stages):

  1. The Government changed the law about Civil Partnerships (CP), so that opposite-sex couples could enter into a CP instead of getting married.
  2. The House of Bishops issued a statement spelling out what this meant for the C of E. They were effectively saying nothing new – just that the church’s teaching was that sexual activity is reserved for opposite-sex married couples. (Remember, under the same-sex marriage law, the C of E is unable to conduct same-sex marriages, and also the teaching means people in civil partnerships should remain celibate).
  3. However, the statement caused outrage amongst people campaigning for a loosening of church practice, and in the wider LGBT population. They were angry partly because of the content, and partly because of the timing: the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) work, taking a long hard look at all issues relating to human sexuality, is due to be published this Spring/Summer, before the Lambeth Conference of world Anglican Bishops.
Laughing-stock: a ‘Telegraph’ headline
  1. The Press had a field day with it, leading to Private Eye’s headline No sex please, we’re Bishops in the current edition. If you missed it all, there’s a reasonably sober account  in this Guardian report.
  2. Hence Return to Sender. Many individual bishops pulled back and apologised for the statement. That’s unheard-of. Astonishing. But I understand that pretty well every Bishop’s office was receiving angry phone calls, letters and emails. So even those not at the forefront of recognising a wind of change realised they had caused a huge upset and felt they had to pull back.
  3. But that then caused further outrage – this time from traditionalists, who resented the Bishops’ apologies, when all they had done was restate traditional church teaching. The ‘traditionalists’ are largely (but not exclusively) from the evangelical end of the C of E. Ian Paul’s Psephizo blog has a thorough analysis from this perpective – read him here.
  4. A further statement was then issued from the two Archbishops, apologising. It’s short, to the point, and you can see it here.

(Last week I put up a special post about Synod evangelicals’ internal wrangling over human sexuality. I called it ‘Scrambled EGGS’ and you can read it here.)

How will this play out at Synod?

So, there has been upset about the content of the statement. But the timing is definitely part of the problem, as we will doubtless hear this week. Campaigners for change have been holding their breath for a while, and pinning their hopes on the publication of the LLF materials. So a bald statement of the status quo – just before Synod, and in advance of the Lambeth Conference – was not what they needed.

Synod gives campaigners an opportunity to fire on all cylinders in Question Time on Monday evening. The Questions paper has no less than twenty questions about different aspects of this mess…


You can see the Questions, and the written Answers here. There’ll be other heat-generating moments on the Fringe – and when we have a presentation about the LLF materials  on Tuesday morning.

All this raises a question about the process by which the Bishops’ statement was issued. You could argue that no statement was necessary: there was nothing new in it. But the backtracking by many bishops has shown a real weakness in the House of Bishops’ way of working. Because the statement was dealt with by the ‘Delegation Committee’ (a sub-group of the House that deals with detail and matters for which it is deemed the full House either doesn’t have time, or doesn’t need to look at too closely.

The full House, it seems, passed it on the nod. And behind that little problem is the whole business of who wrote it (presumably a staff member, not one of the bishops themselves) and who authorised its publication in its final form and at such an inopportune time. I anticipate some keen supplementary questioning on both those aspects…

Yes, but what about the rest?

Way in: Church House entrance

Yes, there is an ordinary normal Synod agenda.

Those who are keen can inspect the whole thing here; or you can download the Synod App from here, which will give you the full running order and access to the papers.

On Monday, as well as Questions:

  • Archbishop Justin will give a Presidential Address. I would have expected this to be partly about looking forward to Lambeth, but in the light of the above, there may be some archiepiscopal humble pie being eaten, too.
  • Then we go into the seemingly bizarre and arcane matter of which diocese the Channel Islands should belong to in future. As they are not part of England, but Crown dependencies with their own governments, they always need special provision in making Measures and Canons. But in the light of a seemingly unsolvable breach of trust between them and the Diocese of Winchester (with which they have been linked for centuries), it’s being suggested that they transfer to Salisbury. The legislation is very complex, but will probably go through at speed (the aim is to get all three stages through this week), though I understand some (non-Island) members have reservations about the speed. As one with family in, and long connections with, Guernsey, I’ll follow this with interest. And I’ve bunged in a few pics: Island aficionados can work out where they were taken….

All churches great and small

On Tuesday morning we begin with a huge Communion service. It’s Bath & Wells’ reps turn to assist with distributing Communion – always a moving experience.

  • For the rest of the morning we look at the proposals for altering the governance of our Cathedrals, and try to decide how many years someone can represent their parish on their Deanery Synod.
  • After lunch we hear about the LLF process – with questions. (After the House of Bishops mess, there may be more heat than light in the questions – see above).
  • After a quick trip to the Channel islands (for the ‘second reading’) comes a Private Members motion. These are fairly rare, because you have to get the support of a hundred members before your pet motion stands a chance of being debated. But Andrew Moughtin-Mumby from Southwark has achieved that with a motion about the ‘Windrush generation‘ and our commitment to it, and our resolve to combat racism in the Church and nation.

IICSA: how to respond?

Wednesday offers some more difficult debate, as we consider a motion that looks at the Church of England’s response to IICSA – the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

Independent: IICSA’s recommendations

IICSA made five specific recommendations about things it thinks the Church of England needs to change. All have been accepted, and the outgoing Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, Peter Hancock (disclaimer: he used to be my boss) will explain how each of them is being followed through.

As regular readers know, there is always an element of dissatisfaction and anger about how safeguarding has been handled in the past. There are 16 Questions in for Monday night, covering specific cases as well as the treatment of victims and survivors. Some members who wanted to propose amendments to Wednesday’s main motion, highlighting some issues, have been told they cannot do so, as their amendments are technically out of order. So again, there will be some sharp debate. (The Church Times has details on the failed amendments here.)

Chinon nucleaire03
Low-carbon, but… Steam from a nuclear power station

We finish Wednesday morning with a motion calling on all parts of the Church to respond to the climate emergency, and set themselves carbon reduction targets.

The Press have had some fun with this: (“Cathedrals to turn off the heating…”), but I expect the debate to be both measured and focussed on what’s achievable. Targets and dates will be set. (Christians involved in Extinction Rebellion have invited Synod members to a vigil outside Church House on Wednesday morning at 8.30.)

By now, you’ll have spotted we have a very varied agenda. Wednesday afternoon includes:

  • discussion of the way in which we can bring the scandal of ‘paupers funerals’ to an end
  • a look at ministry among children and young people: there are some pretty horrifying statistics in the paperwork.
  • In a fast-changing educational environment, revise the status of Diocesan Boards of Education to make them more able to deal with the complexities of academisation, governance, Free Schools and all the rest.
  • We end the day with a glance forward to the elections of a new Synod this autumn. The numbers of reps from each diocese will be tabled and agreed. Yes, this is the opportunity for lay people and clergy to offer themselves for election to Synod. I sincerely hope some readers of bathwellschap will consider doing so.

The final stretch

We finish on Thursday morning. The plan is

  • to sign off the Channel Islands business, and then take a motion from Leeds diocesan Synod about the C of E’s weakness in ministering to and among disadvantaged communities.
  • In a similar mood to what Catholics note as ‘God’s preferential option for the poor’, we’ll then have another Private Members motion: Carl Fender from Lincoln, a barrister, will ask us to address the scandal of the cutbacks in legal aid which make it so much harder for vulnerable and disadvantaged people to get professional representation in courts and tribunals.

So it’s not all navel-gazing: there are some serious ecclesiastical and national issues before us.

  • As usual, I’ll be reporting on each day’s debates as I see them, with some added ‘behind the scenes’ stuff.
  • You can get an email advising you of each day’s update by clicking the ‘Follow’ button at the bottom of the right-hand column on this page, and I’ll advertise the new posts on twitter @bathwellschap.
  • We begin at 2.30 on Monday – you can follow a video stream from here
  • The official Twitter feed is @synod. Unoffical tweets are prolific and a lot more fun than the offical record. You get the feeling of being in the chamber. Try #synod or @GenSyn
  • If you’re so minded, you might like to offer a prayer for us all: it’s going to be hard graft.
Church House Westminster: the London home of Synod

My computer tells me this is the one-hundredth post on bathwellschap As long as it’s either useful, or fun – and I remain on Synod – I’ll do a few more yet.


* Return to Sender: Big hit for Elvis in 1962, on the back of his film Girls! Girls! Girls! If you don’t know it, it’s a song about a heartbroken man whose ex-girlfriend won’t read his letter. And the letters keep getting returned, unwanted. Might be a lesson here…

You can see Elvis in a full hip-swivelling performance here

Posted in 2020: February - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Scrambled Eggs *

General Synod meets in a couple of weeks. This post isn’t my usual preview (you’ll have to wait for that…): it’s a look behind the scenes. And it’s a bit more personal than my usual pseudo-journalistic approach.

Floor fisheye

Circles: General Synod in session in London

You’ve got to be a bit of a Synod obsessive to be noticing what goes on in the various fringe groups and meetings that are an essential part of Synod life, though they are often below the surface.

  • There’s the Catholic Group, and Open Synod Group and EGGS (Evangelical Group on General Synod, geddit?) for a start.
  • You wouldn’t call them ‘parties’ in a Parliamentary sense. In the old days they were groups for Anglo-Catholics, unaligned ‘middle of the roaders’ and evangelicals respectively to get together for fellowship, discussion of Synod business, and – sometimes – thinking about what line people might agree on a specific amendments or motions.
  • And there are also special interest groupings who have fringe meetings – Inclusive Church, and then people with expertise on cathedrals or prison ministry or world development or – you name it, there’ll be a fringe meeting about it.


My fifteen years…

SynodMon 03

Early days: me at a York Synod, c.2006

I’ve been a member of EGGS since I first came onto Synod in 2005.

Although I was brought up in an Anglo-Catholic parish, it was through Anglican evangelicalism that my own calling and faith development came about. And they were developed and matured through my ministerial training at an evangelical college (St John’s Nottingham, now sadly out of that business).

I’ve particularly valued the fellowship in prayer and the informed input on Synod business over supper together on the first night of a session.

EGGS was never a ‘holy huddle’ of particularly conservative or even campaigning evangelical synod members: it was (to use the jargon) an ‘open evangelical’ forum, where a wide range of people were welcome. People who would not describe themselves as ‘evangelical’ attended (but they could not not vote, – though voting was rare). In that spirit we managed to hold ourselves together during the long tooth-drawing agony of the Women Bishops process, and enjoyed some fun looking at the arcane wonders of legislation about parish and legal matters.

Anyway, in July last year (2019) there came a point where a number of us decided we could no longer remain in EGGS. The point at issue was – believe it or not – a rewriting of the constitution of EGGS. The Committee were recommending a revision of the ‘Basis of Faith’ that went so far as to include some very specific phraseology about marriage and sexuality. The paragraph that seemed to us to close off debate was this:

 “We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.”

And this at a time when officially, the Synod and the wider church is , through the Living in Love and Faith exercise, trying to work out with how we, as a Christian church, can wrestle with the huge changes in society and in scientific awareness about sexuality. (By coincidence, it’s very similar to the re-statement of traditional church teaching in the House of Bishops statement that has caused such upset in the last week or so. But that’s another matter for another day.)

A single-issue..?

York rainbow central hall

York University Central Hall – venue for July Synod sessions

A number of us tried to persuade the July meeting that this was a mis-step. It would effectively mean that EGGS was in danger of becoming a single-issue group: thus – it seemed to us –

  • precluding much discussion on how to handle the vast changes all around us
  • and excluding people who could, with honesty, claim to be evangelicals while taking a different view to the classic one.

We felt the timing of the change was unhelpful and divisive, and we were concerned about the rejection and hurt being felt – and loudly expressed – by LGBTI+ people. As we all know, they feel unwelcomed by the church in so many places. I know of a number who have felt unwelcome at EGGS, too.

Well, the Committee didn’t want to deal in such subtleties: the vote was put, and we lost.

The difference between the EGGS Committee and those of us who felt we could not continue seems to me largely about our desire to apply scriptural thinking to the question of same-sex relationships in a way that doesn’t permanently close down debate. We’d like some open debate with integrity. That does not seem possible under some of the new clauses added to the EGGS ‘basis of faith’.

Indeed, for most of my 15 years membership, the sexuality issue has been one about which open discussion has just not happened within EGGS. I’ve always felt the group as a whole has never been at ease with the emphasis brought in by Archbishop Justin on Shared Conversations, Good Disagreement, and the whole Living in Love and Faith package, including the resources produced by the Pastoral Advisory Group.

Scriptural and pastoral?

This is not the place to rehearse the biblical and theological arguments about same-sex relationships. I’d just say that in the light of the very real pastoral situations that arise in every parish now, and with an ear to scientific understanding about sexuality, there are  respectable evangelical approaches that take a deeper look at the scriptures than just looking at the ‘usual suspect’ passages about homosexuality in the ancient world.

  • For example, Bishop David Gillett makes a clear case here
  • And David Ison, the Dean of St Paul’s, takes a careful look at some Christians’ unwillingness to explore ‘good disagreement’ here.

Like a lot of fairly traditionally-brought up people, I’ve found all it hard to keep up with the rapid changes in society’s approach to gay relationships. For most of my life, we used the word ‘homosexuality’, but in one generation, British approaches to same-sex relationships have changed completely.

  • 1988 – a Conservative Government forced through the infamous ‘section 28’ (which banned even discussion of homosexuality in schools
  • 2004 – a Labour government instituted civil partnerships for same-sex couples
  • 2014 – a Conservative government introduced same-sex marriages (which the Church of England is legally prevented from conducting, even if we wished to do so).

It’s not the Church’s role to ‘keep up with the programme’ (as David Cameron once said about our hesitancy on women Bishops). But as a national church claiming to engage with every community, we have to think hard about how our mission and ministry are affected.

Just saying ‘we don’t like this’ won’t do. And you don’t have to sign up to some “woolly liberal” theology to feel we could offer people more than that. What has bothered me for a long time is the seeming inability of many evangelicals to face up to the pastoral implications of the new world in which we find ourselves.

  • What happens when a church member finds themselves falling into a same-sex relationship? The official line is “stop it! You mustn’t…”
  • More typical for many clergy, perhaps is the scenario where a parishioner’s (or their own) son daughter or grandchild, is in a committed same sex relationship.
  • What do you say to them in your usual family relationships, let alone if they start to think about a civil marriage, or prayers for the couple?
  • More niche is the matter of clergy in same-sex relationships. Here we find bishops repeating the official line, but at the same time not ‘enforcing’ it, and in their hearts encouraging the ministry of priests who are, formally, breaking the rules. It’s a blind eye, but not exactly a Nelsonian one.

In such cases, it seems to me we are closing our eyes to the reality of our own family or colleague’s situation. We either look the other way, or we retreat to safe Bible verses and mantra that do not meet the real, changed world of today.

  • Four years ago I wrote about an ‘Accepting Evangelicals’ fringe meeting, and how cross I was very few members of the Synod evangelical establishment turned up. (Scroll down to Life on the fringe in this post from July 2015 )
  • Around that time I went up to London to study day on same-sex relationships organised by EGGS, and was profoundly depressed by it. There was some quality input on the Bible, psychology and other matters, but it was, shall we say, one-sided. Fair enough. But there was nothing said about the pastoral implications of effectively turning people away if they did not conform.

Faith & Love

Question: extract from a Synod document from February 2019

You can characterise this debate as:

  • Literalistic interpretation of the Bible versus thoughtful engagement
  • A ‘pure’ church versus one that grapples with real life situations and lives with compromise
  • The value and mores of the Victorian era or the 1950s versus different approaches to love and marriage found today.
  • Paul versus Jesus

At the end of the day, if we pretend to offer ministry to the whole nation as part of our mission, then we have to decide how we engage with people who don’t fit the old patterns of living. We have managed it with divorce, and with women taking the lead in ministry. On modern sexuality, we’re in a pickle.

Talking about this to someone only this week, she quoted a Bishop we both knew, who, when confronted with simplistic verse-quoting, would say:  Jesus said nothing about this: Paul said a little. Follow Paul if you wish to: I will follow Jesus.

Missing you already…

Tea room (1)

Tea-room: venue for informal chat and debate

Anyway, the outcome of all this is that for the first time in 15 years, I won’t be at the EGGS meeting that opens Synod.

It’s not about flouncing out. A number of us (ordinary clergy, Archdeacons and laypeople) wrote to the EGGS Committee after July’s meeting assuring them of our desire to continue in fellowship, given we have so much in common. Regrettably, the Committee decided not to share our letter with the rest of the membership, so that many EGGS members will not be aware of our resignation or the thought behind it.

However, a new thing has appeared on the horizon, the “Evangelical Forum” fringe meeting (Synod members: Tuesday lunchtime, Westminster Room – the info is in your Flyers document), described as ‘a safe place for conversation, reflection and fellowship.’

It’s not a rival to, or a substitute for EGGS. My hope is that EGGS members (and others) will attend, and we can plot a path to some brave exploration of how all this can be handled by a mission-focussed evangelicalism that deals with the realities of life today in the light of a broader and deeper understanding of the scriptures than has often been used before.


  1. For regular readers of bathwellschap: this is not the usual ‘preview’ piece looking ahead to Synod business. (You might have worked that out already…) It will follow – in a week or so.
  2. In order to keep this post focussed, I’ve ignored the current excitement over the Bishops’ statement and the row it has caused. But, of course, it’s part of the larger picture.


* Scrambled Eggs was the working title given by Paul McCartney to a tune that came to him one night. It took a while to find the words… it became “Yesterday”, released in 1965.




Posted in 2020: February - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

I’m going home… *

And so at lunchtime on Tuesday (July 9) we all went home after a low-key, but very intense, Synod. The last morning offered some detailed stuff, some ‘culture change’ stuff – and some pastoral stuff. That’s Synod for you.

Seven whole days, not one in seven

Setting God’s People free is the title of a report which took the focus away from clergy to  re-awaken interest in lay discipleship. It is about living out discipleship between Monday and Saturday. There are some elements within it that have been widely picked up (in church…) such as “this time tomorrow” – a moment in a church service when someone speaks about their everyday life and where their faith intersects with it.

Full York Hall

Together: when Synod meets, it’s hard to tell who is clergy and who is lay

We’ve heard a lot about clericalism in the C of E, and introducing the debate, Dr Jamie Harrison reminded us that Setting God’s People Free is not about getting laypeople to take things on  to release clergy. It is about all the people of God taking up ‘intentional discipleship’

He said that often lay people have been consumers of religion, taking what the clergy and organisation gives them on Sunday. And some clergy only regard the laity through the lens of what they do for the church, rather than in their everyday lives. And he remarked that even when ordinary church people get involved in wider discipleship, somehow it often ends up as ‘more people doing more churchy things’.

If all this is new to you, you might like to look at the original report, which came as part of the Renewal and Reform programme. We looked at in February 2017 (my report is here) .The paper before Synod today is here.

We heard a lot about ‘learning communities’ (33 dioceses have cohorts of these), ‘everyday faith’, ‘national portals’ and ‘culture shift’. Certainly in Bath and Wells, one event that was related to this agenda, an Everyday Faith training day for laypeople (with some added clergy) was a sell-out and hugely appreciated.

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In speeches

  • Hannah Gravely, from the C of E Youth Council, pointed out that the church makes things hard for people at work by holding meetings when they are at work.
  • Bishop Martin Seeley chairs the Ministry Division. He said that they are re-orienting their work to deal first with the bigger questions about the whole people of God, before looking at details of ordained and non-ordained ministry.
  • Alison Coulter from Winchester reminded us that we are just as much Christians when we are at work as when we are in church.
  • Ruth Newton pointed out that rural Christians are more obviously everyday Christians than people in the relative anonymity of towns. They are seen, and known, for their Sunday attendance and the many community and pastoral activities they do.

An amendment was passed to make specific reference to race, class, sexuality, physical ability or gender. In one sense it was unnecessary, as the main motion said nothing about categories of lay people – it needed no amplification, as the whole project is about the whole people of God- all laity, all clergy. But it’s an indication of the undercurrents of sensitivity about inclusive language as well as LGBT and human sexuality concerns.

The motion was passed with a record 18 speeches inside an hour, and no ‘death by anecdotes’, which sometimes kills enthusiasm for similar debates.


When it came to the Legislative Reform Order, much was made of the fact that this was the first such Order to be put through Synod – it’s a product of the Simplification work that’s been done over recent years. It enables much speedier reform of many of our procedures by avoiding us having to put new Measures through so frequently. (The Measures require a complex procedure.) The Chair, Aidan Hargreaves-Smith cheered me up by noting that this is a historic change, and comes in the centenary year of the ‘Enabling Act’ of 1919, which freed the C of E to make certain decisions without Parliamentary involvement. It’s only taken one hundred years…

This particular Order aims to remove some of the administrative and financial burdens associated with filling vacant clergy posts – that is, finding and installing a new parish priest. So there is some streamlining of the current formal processes to speed things up. The debate was introduced by Simon Butler, Prolocutor of the Canterbury Convocation.

House of clergy (5)

Canon Simon Butler (archive pic)

I don’t propose to go into lots of detail, but these changes will cheer up churchwardens, PCC secretaries and Diocesan Registrars.

  • The Bishop must kick the process off no later than the day that a benefice becomes vacant.
  • A ‘start date’ is established when the clock starts ticking for all the various consultations that have ot take place.
  • The PCC’s ‘Section 11’ meeting (some readers will know what this is) has long been under the pressure of unrealistic timetables. So that has been simplified out now, with different timescales, such as giving the PCC one deadline (up to 6 months) to carry out their duties.
  • Where there are multiple patrons for parishes, the new Rules offer ways of keeping things simpler
  • It will now be legal to use email for these processes.

Summing up his introduction, Simon Butler, suggested that the Order is about ‘Setting PCC Secretaries Free’. Boom boom!

Next came what seems complex, but is important – some changes to the Church Representation Rules (CRR). For all the work done in the last fifteen years on Fresh Expressions of Church (see yesterday), Bishops Mission Orders and other ‘new ways of being church’, the electoral system is still built around PCCs and their electoral rolls.

Sue Booys starship

Podium: Canon Sue Booys (archive pic)

Sue Booys introduces some new, improved sections to the CRR, which set out ways in which members of such non-traditional congregations can participate in, and be represented in, ecclesiastical democracy.

This matters, and as we have to elect a new General Synod next autumn, it will be interesting to see what the make-up of the new membership is going to be (see Closing Thought 1, below).

Time to go home…

To my shame, for the first time in 12 years I missed the last debate of the day. I just knew that I was too tired to pay full attention and manage a 5-hour drive home.

It was about a subject that increasingly affects us all – dementia and elderly care. The diocese of Rochester has developed a project to set up ‘Anna chaplaincies’ – named for the elderly widow who recognised the Christ-child in the Temple (see Luke 2: 25-38). The Rochester paper is well worth a read, and there is a useful background paper here. Anyone who has elderly and frail people in their congregation (or who have ‘disappeared’ from normal attendance because of frailty) might want to read them.

Oh, that’s pretty well all of us, then…

I also missed farewells to the retiring Bishop of Hereford and to Andrew Brown, a key figure at the Church Commissioners for all my time active in church affairs. An unscheduled addition was an address from the Revd Canon Dr Joseph Bilal of the troubled South Sudan, who has been with us all weekend. There’s a good summary from the Dean of Southwark, Andrew Nunn, here.

UPDATE: My friend Charlotte Gale (clergy rep from Coventry) has now posted her commendably tightly-written blog summing up the whole Synod weekend which you can read here.

Three closing thoughts

1. This Synod has one more year to run (London in February, York in July), and then a new one has to be elected, under slightly amended rules.

BWS screen

Big screen: relay in the York tea room

Believe it or not, the various interest groups are already buzzing round asking people if they are standing again, or inviting them to suggest people in their diocese who might be invited to consider standing for election.

The actual voting period is September 2020, with nominations in over the summer. So if you are at your own Diocesan Synod, be ready to hear about the election procedures, e-hustings, and all that.

And if you are just an ‘ordinary’ Anglican (lay or ordained), have a think about whether, next year, you’d be prepared to offer to stand for election. Somebody has to, and why should it not be you? Try reading some of the ‘back issues’ of this blog (click anywhere in the top right hand column of dates) and you’ll get some idea of what it’s like.

App2. Process has been greatly helped by the Synod App, giving instant access to the daily timetable, Order Papers, text of amendments, and much more. The Church House digital team deserve a medal for getting it up and running.

3. The whole Human Sexuality issue is, and will remain an undercurrent. I got the distinct impression that people who were unhappy about this focus and the Living in Love and Faith process are now less suspicious, and prepared to join in. As I have said before, this issue is our Brexit.

Cynics will say Synod is just kicking this can down the road. But it’s not like the Church Rep Rules or even permission not to hold a service in every church every Sunday. This is a heart-and-minds affair, with deeper attention required both to the Scriptures and to our own internal maps of ourselves. It’ll take some time, and some humility.

And finally…

It’s now an immutable tradition of the church that at the end of a group of sessions I reflect on the extraordinary reach of this blog – and thank you for taking an interest.Capture

  • There have been just over 5,700 page views over this weekend, and between three and four hundred individual visitors each day.
  • People in 25 other countries have been taking a peep – the most unexpected of those being Algeria. (The WordPress stats machine can’t tell me who any of these people are, of course.)
  • Comments on Twitter and the blog have been rather kind. Apparently I am ‘the go-to source of information about Synod’; and ‘the most readable roundup of General Synod stuff’. Who knew?

bathwellschap will be back in February. The outline dates are 10-15 February – I think we assume that we’ll actually start on Wednesday or Thursday, and run through until the Saturday, but that’s in the hands of the Business Committee.


The blogger’s kit


* I’m going home Loud blues-rock song by Ten Years After, 1968. There’s an extraordinary live version of it on YouTube, filmed at the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969, when Alvin Lee gives his all. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do right now, but give it a whirl here.

Posted in 2019: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

I went down to the sacred store *

We talked a lot about cathedrals and money today (Monday 8 July). On the money front, it was (largely) good news. On cathedrals, reform is in the air. You need money to support mission, which we see as helping more people to discover and encounter God’s love. On the other hand, reforming our Cathedrals is not primarily about money.

Sacred spaces for the community?

Despite the fact that I went to the fringe meeting last night (reported at the end of this post), I hadn’t realised what a huge range of reform is involved in the new Cathedrals Measure. Until this morning, that is., when Robert Hammond, a lay Canon at Chelmsford Cathedral introduced the proposals for change. So much so that in his speech, he stressed that the Measure only covers some of the reform proposals  – the ones that require legislation. The Report has many other changes that are not written in that book, and may be achieved by other means.

  • To read the explainer document about the proposals, click here.
  • To see the formal legal text of the draft, click here
  • To see the (arguably more exciting) background paper including some theology click here

Speaking to the work she had overseen as Third Church Estates Commissioner, Eve Poole said that when she began the work, she had read both the Rule of St Benedict (a foundation for much Cathedral historic governance) and Barchester Towers.

The images above are from Wells. The Measure covers all Cathedrals, and includes safeguarding, management, charitable status, roles of Chapter and much more. Including money. If you want to see the wood for the trees, the two key themes are probably these:

  1. The need to bring Cathedral’s governance and procedures into parallel with those pertaining to ordinary churches, particularly being accountable to the Charity Commission. The proposals include some ‘shared oversight’ between the Commission and the Church Commissioners.
  2. The desire to improve the way Cathedrals work, by distinguishing between trustee oversight and operational management – requiring reform of the roles of Dean, Chapter, the Bishop and lay non-executive members of Chapter.

There was a long, but fascinating, debate, bringing in views from every aspect of Cathedral life

  • Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark, confessed he had been grumpy about this a year ago; he was now much less grumpy because Eve Poole and her team had run a really good process of consultation and development in the least 12 months. He reminded us that there are 42 Cathedrals, and 42 different ways of being a cathedral: so the Measure must allow for flexibility. For example, smaller Cathedrals and ‘parish church’ Cathedrals will have to handle many issues differently to the grander and better-resourced ones.
  • James Allison from Wakefield reminded us that there has to be ‘fun’ in Cathedral life: ‘If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right’. Cathedrals can experiment and do things parish churches can’t do – they can be pirates (or more accurately, privateers).
  • Caroline Spelman MP, who speaks for the Commissioners in Parliament reminded us that Cathedral receive public funding in various ways (World War 1 grants, Lottery, etc) and it is anomalous that they are not accountable to anyone at present. Thus bringing the Charity Commission in is wise.
  • Carl Hughes was intimately involved into the enquiries a few years ago at Peterborough Cathedral, which in part led to the acknowledgement of the need for reform. He reminded Synod that 20 years ago Synod chose to cherry-pick the reforms suggested in the Howe Commission, which led to dilution and the Cathedrals Measure passed then has proved to not be fit for purpose. He stressed the need to separate management from governance.
  • Several speakers expressed hesitation about the Bishop having to come to Chapter once a year: Bishop and Chapter need to be independent of each other in many ways.
  • Sarah Gulping, one of our Deaf Anglican Together reps reminded us of the need for Cathedrals, as they cater for 10 million visitors a year, to be aware of the need for provision for proper access for people with a range of disabilities and languages. For example: any video used in displays must be subtitled. She wanted such access provision to be written into the Measure.

So the Cathedrals Measure went off for its Revision stage. It’ll be back next year.

OUtside paths 2

Campus: York University

Brief, but important…

We approved the snappily-titled “Faculty Jurisdiction (Amendment) Rules“. This is the much-longed for simplification of the process by which churches obtain a faculty (aka ecclesiastical planning permission). The details, for any overworked clergy, PCC secretaries and churchwardens reading this can be found here.

We signed off a final draft amending Canon that covers the activities of Anglican religious communities – both traditional ‘monks and nuns’ as well as newer intentional communities and groups.

  • The Bishop of Manchester explained that part of the reason for this Canon was to draw the communities into the framework for safeguarding that everyone else has (this is something IICSA has concerns about). But there are other aspects that simply express a way in which they can be wholly Church of England bodies – while retaining their tradition and independence.
  • We heard a plaintive plea from Sister Catherine SLG (Sisters of the Love of God) to recognise the pressures on traditional communities, where members tend ot be aging, and she asked that people remembered ot pray for and with the various communities covered by the Canon.

Changes at Head Office

Following that, we had a presentation about the work of the Archbishops’ Council in 2018.

“I’m from Head Office and I’m here to help you” is one of those business phrases that is used with heavy irony when people are talking about their remote, ill-informed bosses. There is a tendency in the C of E to have that frame of mind, whether it is a parish grumbling about the Diocesan Office, for people in a diocese grumbling about Church House and the Archbishops Council.

ABC report video still

Watching: video showing church community work

The report on their work of the last year was well-communicated. UPDATE The report is available online via the Charity Commission – click here for download. Thanks to Thinking Anglicans for spotting that!

It was introduced by two Council members, Mary Chapman and the Revd Ian Paul. Their report used a lot of video, and they centred on activities: work on digital evangelism – there are some startling figures about the number soft people using the C of W’s digital work : the Alexa Skill, A Church Near You, Lent and Christmas prayer resources, etc. They covered the developing numbers of people responding to a call to ministry, Green activities, education work, and much more.

It’s a huge turn-round from the old bureaucratic reports we used to get. It seems to me that this is not just about Head Office justifying itself: it’s about the national church providing resources and services for the local church – and the digital thing, of course is about reaching people who wouldn’t come into a church building. There is now much talk of investing in activities that help churches to flourish and grow, rather than just reciting ‘keep the show on the road’ stats. A lot is changing.

Revolution! Financial changes

Another piece of evidence that things are changing came when we it came to finance. A three-year plan was set before us. And – I think for the first time, – it had been prepared by all three relevant National Church Institutions. (In the old days we had separate plans and budgets). They are:

  • The Church Commissioners
  • The Archbishops Council
  • The General Synod

The priorities for financial planning that they now share are these:

  • Recruiting and training more ordained ministers
  • Supporting mission and ministry in our Lowest Income Communities.
  • Growth programmes in the dioceses. We are a quarter of the way through a ten year plan for Strategic Funding Development (i.e. money awarded to dioceses against specific growth plans)


Loretta Minghella

For the first time I can remember, the Commissioners have made a decision (backed by research and the actuaries) that they can safely afford to distribute more from their funds. Loretta Minghella explained that they have to be even handed between today’s church and the church of tomorrow (especially given they are still responsible for many clergy pensions).

But they believe it is safe, as far as can be foreseen to make additional distributions, enabling money to be made available (£155m over the next three years).

This is revolutionary. For years the Commissioners have stressed that ‘inter-generational fairness’ means that cannot disburse capital very freely, in order to safeguard pensions. So there will be grants to the Archbishops Council  (for agreed priorities) and the award-winning digital church work; one-off extra support to Cathedrals (in the transition to the new governance models). But she stressed this is a three-year plan: future amounted will be decided when future reviews are done.

You can see the thinking and some figures behind this in the Triennium Funding Group report here.

Spend, spend, spend?

Then we came to spending the money. More revolution. John Spence, the Finance Chair, was in his usual ebullient form, clearly rejoicing in the synergy that is possible when the three bodies work together. He explained that the aim is to match the priorities of the Archbishops’ Council. The targets are ordinands and curates, social investment spending and diocesan sustainability.Digi church

  • The C of E digital team has won fifteen national awards from the digital industry. Further work is being done now to deliver resources for school, local churches, and build on current successes.
  • There will be funding to support additional ordinands and curated over a 12-year period.
  • The dioceses in the greatest need will have access to a pot of 45m to make them stronger financially.
  • The social impact fund will eventually be a revolving £20m


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

A round of detailed questions followed – probably people in shock at the idea that there may be more money around for vital areas of work.

In closing the debate, John Spence reminded us that this is not largesse: it only grows the C of E economy by 3%: increases in parish giving are still needed if we are to flourish.

The formal budget process followed and was passed.

There’s a lovely account of the budget and the way that John Spence presents it on Andrew Nunn’s Synod blog.


Legislation in Synod is not always fun, though some of us have a liking for it. We got the final approval of the Miscellaneous Provisions Measure. This is the Measure that caused such a holdup on Friday over who has to be consulted for building on a Cathedral burial ground. (If that makes no sense, see Friday’s post).

There were some, er, miscellaneous questions about the detail of how it will work. For example, will the National Clergy Register be accessible (online) so incumbents can check up instantly that visiting clergy are in good standing? Will it have photographs, to prevent impersonation?

With that, the Final Approval went through, and the Measure goes to the Queen with a flowery petition, to be enacted. When that happens may depend on factors such as whether there is an election in the autumn. But once it has happened, the detailed work for implementation can begin.

By 5.oo p.m., everyone ewes flagging a little. Diversions were taking place, like little boxes of liquorice sticks being passed round. (I was lucky enough to get a toffee penny from a tin of Quality Street!) But the next item was about Mission-Shaped Church and Fresh Expressions.

It’s Church, Jim… But not as we know it.

book cover

Cover: Mission-shaped church

It’s fifteen years since the Mission-Shaped Church report first came to Synod. We heard that it is a Barnabas-like exercise in founding new ‘ecclesial communities’. The word ‘church’ is not quite appropriate because these are things set up for people who do not connect with Church as we know it. One of the oft-repeated stats is that 92% of the population do not worship in a church anywhere.


Archbishop Rowan Williams set up an initiative to help support and grow all kinds of ‘Fresh Expressions’ of Church, and Bishop Steven Croft told us of his early discussions with Dr Williams about it. You may recall Dr Williams would speak of a ‘mixed economy’ church – traditional and fresh, side by side. They are often abbreviated to ‘FX’.

A decade and a half later, some feel the movement (which is ecumenical) is flourishing and bringing new people to understand discipleship in new ways. Others were (and remain) critical that ‘FXs’ ignore the power and presence of traditional church life and don’t have it he same staying power. Within the C of E, Strategic Development undoing has been used to support the activity nationally.


Bishop Steven Croft

Bishop Croft spoke warmly and with some theological depth about the principles and origins of the movement.

One of the phrases that has caught on is about ‘Finding out what God is doing and joining in’.

The background paper goes into some detail about the history – and the future, which is what the debate was really about.

The Rev Heather Cracknell than gave an invigorating presentation of how Fresh Expressions will continue to flourish in the future.

God appSo we had the Godsend app commended to us – it’s there, for free, on the Apple and Google Play; as well as the Greenhouse Project – resources to be used to train and develop leaders so that church plants can grow.

  • There is a Greenhouse programme to find, train and develop new leaders for FXs so that there are more plants and more growth from among people who would not go near ordinary church.
  • There is going to be some funding for dioceses to work with Greenhouse. Already 16 dioceses have expressed interest; more will follow.
  • Mark Sheard, presenting the formal motion, indicated that some 50,000 people worship in FXs – maybe the equivalent of two dioceses. The age and social profile is different to ordinary church congregations. He said the motion is about both celebration and accountability hence encouragement to parishes, and asking for a progress report in 2011.

In the debate, we heard from Messy Church (MC) legend Lucy Moore from Winchester. She said there are more Messy Churches in the country than there are branches of Tesco. Behind the enthusiasm, she registered some serious points, like – is anyone celebrating and thanking the Messy Church leaders near you? She also nailed the oft-heard complaint that MC attendees ‘don’t come to church.’ The answer is ‘they do come to church: it’s just different and messier than standard church!’

The debate that followed included lively anecdotes and theological critiques. Emma Forward, from an Anglo-Catholic viewpoint, suggested that the truest expression of Christ was the Eucharist at the altar, and noted that some Cathedrals are finding young people are attending Choral Evensong. Her point was that “new people don’t always ultimately need something new, but perhaps just a different way into the heart of our faith”.

Any other business?  1 – Bishops

Legal and ecclesiastical nerds will be desperate to know how we got on with “Proposed Changes to the Standing Orders relating to the Crown Nominations Commission”. The CNC is the body that meets candidates, discerns who is the right person for a vacant diocesan Bishop’s post, and puts the nominations through to the Crown via the Prime Minister. (Being a – long – Established Church, it is the monarch who formally chooses Bishops. In practice, the Church now does the choosing through the CNC.)

Three cheerful candidates

Consecration: new Bishops at St Paul’s

The CNC processes have got a bit mired in recent years, and it’s been thought wise to tighten things up; the recent Sheffield and Oxford vacancies each had their problems. They used to send the Queen two names, of which she would choose the first. PMs Callaghan and Brown got us to that point: before then there were potential shenanigans with interference by thestate in the Church’s preference. IICSA has uncovered some dodge dealing at the point when the late Peter Ball was chosen for Gloucester ion the 1990s, and there was a famous diversion before that when (it is said) that Margaret Thatcher declined to accept the first name (Jim Thompson) for Birmingham. (He eventually went to Bath and Wells, who loved him.)

Anyway, what happened today is that we agreed to avoid the potential problems of the Crown having two names to play with. What will now happen is that there CNC will choose two names, one being a reserve in case the first cannot or will not accept the job. Only if that happens will the second name go off to the Crown.

Yes, it all sounds pretty fussy. But its another very small step in the very long journey to a place where the Church has complete control over the selecting of Bishops.

Any other business?  2 – Cameras in Synod

And so to internal rumblings: after lunch, the Chair told us that we are not allowed to take pictures in Synod sessions and would we please stop.

  • This affects me (because I put pictures in this blog to make it more bearable readable).
  • It also affects many other members who use their phones or tablets to get pictures to help their reporting back to their diocese.
  • People also snap pictures of charts, etc that appear on the big screen for use later.

SBL with Synod badge

Potentially illicit selfie (taken in London)

I had it at the back of my mind that photography used to be banned, so I turned to Standing Orders, and found nothing. But in the Synod Members Code of Conduct, paragraph 20, it does say that photos during votes are banned.

  • Older hands than I say this dates back to the days of voting by show of hands or physical division, in order to prevent people knowing how others actually voted. That is now all out of the window, of course, because on any heavyweight vote, we use the machines, and the lists are published!
  • There is live streaming of what happens in Synod nowadays, too.
  • When I joined Synod 12 years ago I was bothered that people were using handheld devices. (Blackberries, in those days). Now they are almost universal and Synod encourages us to use them for papers, the Synod App, etc etc. I could not do this blog without my phone and my tablet, for sure.
  • The irritating thing, I am told by another old hand, is when people faff about trying to get pictures of graphs, etc on the big screen. That would be seriously annoying to your close-packed neighbours if you were wielding a tablet around next to them.

Full-ish hall

Not sure this pic should have been taken…

So I think a review of the Code of Conduct is due, maybe permitting discreet use of phone cameras only, coupled with a commitment that all slides used in presentation could be made available electronically for people to use back home. Informal conversations with members of the Business Committee suggest that that could happen for the new Synod in 2020.

Let’s hope that people who do use phones do so discreetly!

And finally…

We began this morning with a serious chunk opt Bible study led by Archbishop Justin’s Chapin, the Revd Dr Isabelle Hanley. She took us through 1 Peter 2, putting it in its context of the Roman Empire and slavery, with heavy doses of the Old Testament woven through it.

She put a familiar passage in a whole new light. I gather there may be more of this when we meet in London in February. But we finish here in York tomorrow (Tuesday) at lunchtime. I’ll post about that – but probably not till after I get home, so it may be not till Wednesday.


* I went down to the sacred store: a line from American Pie, Don MacLean’s epic xminute ramble through the disappointments of youth, Vietnam and rock’n’roll, 1971. To see the original full-length version with it’s video is to take a trip through a lost world of American optimism and loss. It’s 8 minutes 37 long, but it is fab. Go on, watch it now, here.

Posted in 2019: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Together we can make it happen; wait and see *

As is traditional, Synod began today (Sunday 7 July) with a grand service in York Minster. We had both Archbishops, fab choir (though the organ is under reconstruction), stunning architecture and all the glories of Anglicanism at its height.

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However, once we got back to the University, and after roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, we plunged back into business – beginning with safeguarding progress and tentative Methodist steps.

Distrust and progress: safeguarding

Safeguarding had to be handled today as those involved, including Peter Hancock, the Bishop of Bath and Wells (disclaimer: my former boss) were at the IICSA inquiry all last week and will be there next week. Pete Spiers was in the chair, and he reminded us that there would be victims and survivors of abuse here in the hall, as well as following proceedings online. He then invited Bishop Peter to say a prayer, which we were told had been written by a survivor of abuse.

Survivor prayer

So, we settled (in a rather unsettled manner) to the Safeguarding questions.

  • Seasoned campaigners in the matter of the late Bishop George Bell had some closely-argued issues to raise about ‘evidential threshold’ and the details of the claims made about him and how they were handled.
  • The Bishop promised that victims whose experience led them to distrust care from their own diocese would be found a way to be looked after by a different diocese.
  • A number of aspects to IICSA’s work came up – particularly whether the church would follow any IICSA recommendation about mandatory reporting (he said he was in favour).

A surprising number of people did not ask a supplementary, so that the 20 questions were covered in 20 minutes. You can read the Questions and the written answers here. (They are at the back of the book, numbers 92-111)

Hancock podium

Safeguarding lead: Bishop Peter Hancock

Immediately afterwards, Peter Hancock led a presentation from the National Safeguarding Steering Group (NSSG) reporting their progress. You might want to read their report, it is GS2134 – read it here.

Peter Hancock gave an overview, citing the controversial Blackburn letter approvingly when it talks about the need for culture change. You can read his full address here. He gave a list of major developments since the last July Synod:

  • Changes have been made to the leadership and management of safeguarding at the national level. Two new heavyweight appointees are in place: former MP Meg Munn as Independent Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, and Melissa Castle, a former Director of Children’s Services in local government as Director of Safeguarding. Significantly, her post is ‘Director’, not ‘Adviser
  • This synod falls at the halfway stage of the two-week IICSA hearing into the Anglican Church. He described IICSA as throwing a ‘helpful spotlight’ on us. He commended IICSA’s interim report on the Diocese of Chichester and Peter Ball, and their Truth Project’s report which amongst other things highlit the culture of clericalism and reverence in which the conduct of perpetrators is not questioned. He insisted that Synod members should read both reports.
  • You can read Chichester/Ball here, and the Truth Project experiences are here.
  • A national Case Management System is due to be rolled out in 2020. This will assists diocesan and national safeguarding staff to handle their record-keeping and communication.
  • Independent Learning Lessons reviews are in train for John Smyth, Bishop Victor Whitney and Trevor Devamannikam
  • There is now a Survivors Reference Group; Safe Spaces work is proceeding, and a Victims and Survivors Charter is to be planned.
  • The Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) is being examined with a mind to improving the church’s ability to handle safeguarding matters in a discipline framework more effectively.

Munn pic2

Independent: Meg Munn

Meg Munn then spoke about the work of the National Safeguarding Panel, of which she is the independent Chair.

The Panel are ‘critical friends’ to the C of E, looking at policy development, but also to provide a challenge.

She is the first independent Chair – the Panel was previously chaired by the Lead Bishop.

She reminded us that the Church has been slow to wake up to all this, and, interestingly, said that the Panel will shortly do some work on prevention of abuse.


Johnson podium

Survivor: Phil Johnson, member of National Safeguarding Panel

Phil Johnson, a Chichester survivor member of the Panel then spoke. He said that survivors need to be heard, because not only do they have experience of abuse, but they may also have the experience of reporting it, going through court proceedings, trying to get compensation and justice. So the Panel includes three survivors.

Phil described himself as ‘not part of the church establishment’, and ‘one of the most vocal members of the Panel’. He believes things have improved since the days when their input into the Parish Safeguarding Handbook was left until late in the drafting, and they never even saw the final text to approve or improve it. (I have heard elsewhere that there are some inaccuracies in the book that might have been avoided by a little more consultation during pre-publication.) He also said:

  • The CDM is not effective in safeguarding matters, partly because it leans towards ‘penalties by consent’ which may minimise the significance of offending and CDM outcomes
  • Despite all the progress, there is still huge mistrust from survivors. The Church has yet to earn their trust.

Phil was very measured, but very pointed, and he was loudly applauded when he’d finished.

More questions…

Then came a half-hour of non-scripted questions to the panel. Some pointers from that:

  • The new Director of Safeguarding is likely to review the staffing and reduced required, in the light of the huge expansion of activity (made more difficult by the volume of IICSA work, which may pass).
  • The CDM review will take some time, and any changes will have to go through Synod. Maybe some completely different system will need to be be in place for safeguarding?
  • Recent disclosures about Jonathan Fletcher and Emmanuel Church Wimbledon have highlit the fact that Proprietary Chapels need to be brought within the usual safeguarding network.
  • Archbishop Sentamu tried to get the Synod to acclaim mandatory reporting by a show of hands.
  • In response to a direct question from Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley (in Blackburn diocese), Meg Munn said she did not feel that changing clergy status form ‘office-holders’ to ’employees’ would make a significant difference. The Church needs to work out for itself what is the most appropriate status for clergy: her role is to point out to us what we need to consider, not to give us the answer in an instruction. Clergy have high responsibility, a lot of autonomy, and built-indifference. So what is required in addition is a high level of accountability, however that is established.
  • IICSA appears to believe that the Church’s apologies are unconvincing.

This was a very intense session.  We concluded it with a period of silence, and a meditative prayer. But then the Archbishop encouraged us to thank those taking part, and there was a long and loud standing ovation: partly appreciation of the work going on, and partly simply a release of tension.

Strangely warmed…

It’s been more than two hundred years since the Methodist Church spun itself out of the Church of England. And there is bad history in the last sixty years’ attempts to bring our churches back together. There is plenty of local shared activity; there is a Covenant; there are some Anglican clergy ‘recognised and regarded’ by Methodists as local ministers. But our structures remain separate and our governance is very different: they have the Methodist Conference; we have Bishops in Synod.

untitled (9)The latest attempt to draw us together is now in full swing.

People with long memories will remember how a similarly optimistic scheme in the 1960s/70s was killed off by Synod, the objections led by a joint Evangelical/Anglo-Catholic team with their book Growing into Union.

(Wonderfully, you can get it on Amazon for £2.99. Not bad for something published 49 years ago! But you’d better hurry, they only have 9 copies left.)

So at first glance, the proposals might seem a warmed-up version of what’s gone before. But there’s been a sea-change in ecumenical activity since then. What was presented today by the Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth might seem sensible, particularly in a time when church attendances (for both of us) seem fragile, and combining our efforts might be good for mission. You can read the document here.

But… (and this is a big but)

There are stumbling blocks (I dare not say ‘the devil’) in the detail.

Our clergy have to be episcopally ordained (i.e. by a Bishop), and behind that for many is the concept of the ‘apostolic succession’ from the first apostles down to the present day. Methodism in the UK doesn’t have bishops, and their apostolic authority (if I have understood the document aright) lies with the Conference, which commissions new ministers.

Our sacramental practice differs, too. I am not talking here about the mechanics of Communion – a common cup/chalice with alcoholic wine (C of E) vs individual glasses with grape juice (Methodism). It is whether those not episcopally ordained can ‘consecrate’ validly: for some Anglican, a Methodist Communion is not as true, valid sacrament because of the deficiency of the minister conducting the service.

York Minster (3)

Who may preside at the Lord’s table? (Pic: York Minster this morning)

So the proposals, as in previous attempts, require the Methodists to move more towards us than we are required to move towards them.


(Bearing in mind the general readership of this blog, I am not going to go into the theological niceties of all this, save to indicate that we had some key phrases to wrestle with like ‘Bearable anomaly’, ‘the Lambeth Quadrilateral’, ‘episcopal succession’,’ ‘mutual recognition of ministry’,’ formal declaration’  and much more).

Anyway, the theological elements in opposition to the proposal were around interchangeability of ministry, and the role of Bishops. The Methodist have indicated they are willing to accept turning their leadership into Bishops. But at a local level, Anglo-Catholics would want to see Methodist ministers ordained by a Bishop: this would be unacceptable to many in Methodism who would not see their ministry as defective and therefore requiring a top-up.

  • A St Albans priest, Kevin Goss, initiated the critique. He said that the legislation was papering over the cracks, and going in too much of a hurry (the motion calls for legislation to start going through in February next year!) He also said we must be honest; ‘commissioning’ is not the same as ‘ordination’.
  • Another element brought in by Fr Paul Benfield was timing. He believed that bringing legislation forward at such an early stage would be a mistake. The history of the Women Bishops legislation ought to teach us that starting the legislative process before people have really thought things through leads to much pain and damage. He proposed an element to remove all the references to legislation from the main motion, while retaining the general aim of proceeding.
  • Bishop Cocksworth opposed the Benfield amendment with some vigour, citing the timescales required by our partner churches.

There is another, topical undercurrent here. I know there was concern amongst some conservative evangelical members that the Methodist Church’s recent decision to move towards supporting same-sex relationships means that we should not try to get too close to their structures and recognise their ministry. Andrew Atherstone from Oxford spoke to this to say this development presents the possibility of a deep rupture over the doctrine of marriage – if we have incompatible theologies of marriage How could a united church operate with both?

“Put me to what you will…”


Push-button: instant results



The voting handsets came out and the Benfield amendment failed. It was followed by an attempt by Jane Steen from Southwark to detach ‘exploring the idea’ from any specific legislative timetable. Her amendment therefore asked that the work continue (including drafting the formal declaration and mutual recognition of ministries), but legislation should not be brought until those texts are ready. In other words, we don’t move on this until we see what it actually looks like.

More electronic voting: her amendment succeeded, and after a speech from the Methodist representative, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a strong speech asking Synod to support the motion as amended “with the necessary, but minimum delay”. The Rev Rachel Mann from Manchester reminded us of the much-loved words of Wesley from the Methodist Covenant service: ‘Put me to what you will’, and, looking at the Methodist guests in the gallery, suggested we applied it to each other in a new mutual relationship.

On an electronic vote by houses (laity, clergy, bishops), the motion, as amended by Jane Steen,  passed in all three. It was a really long, engaging debate, to which I cannot do justice. We had wrangles, clear amendments, calls to vote by houses – all the fun of there Synod fair, but in the cause of discerning the right way forward.

There’s a crisp and positive review of the debate by Andrew Nunn – who chaired the session – on his blog here.

I was a stranger…

I missed the debate on Refugee Professionals: after three and a half concentrated hours in the chamber, which got hotter by the minute, I had to get out. The motion was brought by Southwark Diocese, concerned at the way professionally trained refugees cannot work in their own field, and end up taking low paid jobs.

If things were changed so that they could work I their own field, it would be a win for them and their families, and a win for the organisations who take them on and need skilled staff.

I was pleased to see a positive reference to my own Diocese of Bath and Wells in the supporting background paper; the Southwark paper about the motion is here.

I gather that, as often happens, the original Southwark motion got watered down (or amended away, according to some people) when an amendment from the Bishop of Durham was accepted.. This is a frequent occurrence with motions that are brought to General Synod from Diocesan synod. Among the reasons are:

  1. By the time they reach us, things have changed and some content may be out of date. “They grow whiskers” as one old Synod hand put it.
  2. The original local text may not fit a national debate, and need rephrasing
  3. The financial consequences of the diocesan motion may be too much for General Synod to stand.

It’s very frustrating for the people who bring their diocesan motion, with pride and passion, to see it chopped about and altered. But it does seem Synod can’t avoid it, often, and members vote for the changes, as happened today.

So Southwark’s very specific encouragement to each diocese to take specific actions to offer support for at least one qualified refugee got changed to a general encouragement to take other less specific actions. You can read the actual texts here on th eorder paper.

On the fringe

Tomorrow we debate changes to the way Cathedrals are run. I went to an evening fringe meeting organised by the Cathedrals Working Group (CWG). They have now produced their very full report on changes that they believe are needed to Cathedral governance. The report is here. When this first came to Synod, there was much rustling in Cathedral dovecotes at some of the proposed changes – installing a Vice Chair of Chapter, chosen by the Bishop, and thus seen by some as a ‘Bishop’s nark’; putting Residentiary Canons under much closer authority of the Dean – and much more, some technical about charitable status.

Last July it got approval to move on – I wrote about that here. So tomorrow is a big day: the start of the First Consideration discussion. I got the feeling that there is a measure of nervousness within the CWG that their amended proposals (see the explanation here) will be filleted by Synod.

Catherdals fringe (1)They laid on not just a wine reception, but a presentation led by Eve Poole, the Third Church Estates Commissioner. A bunch of documents were provided including some Frequently Asked Questions about the changes and the impact on Cathedrals; indicative guidance about some aspects, and even  a Summary of the Bishop’s Role, which felt designed as something not to scare the horses.

The room was packed out – either too small a room was booked, or there’s more interest than they realised.

Catherdals fringe (2)Catherdals fringe (3)The various chestnuts (charitable status, lay Chapter members, Residentiary Canons) were amicably chewed over, and it was a very worthwhile prelude to tomorrow. The ‘platform party will have gained an insight into what is likely to bug Synod, and Synod members have been much better-informed about what is proposed and why.

Cash or Card, sir?

We encountered something new at York Minster this morning: an offertory plate that has a built-in contactless credit card reader.

Tap to give

We were the guineapigs for an experiment with this device, which rejoices in the name of Goodplate. It consists of an offertory plate that can take cash in the usual way, with a card reader in the centre that you just tap.

  • It’s made by a company called Goodbox and you can find some details here.
  • They have a video showing how to set it up and use it here

I used it myself, very simple way to give £5, butt you can alter the amount. I gathered that the one I used had already processed some £700 that morning, and there were others in use. Hmmm…



* Move in a little closer, baby. Chirpy little ditty, inviting you to shar eoyur troubles and get closer to the one you love.In 1969 you could have Harmony Grass’ version or Mama Cass’s.


Posted in 2019: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Take good care of yourself *

There was a focus on care at Synod today (Saturday 6 July). Care for the victims of serious violence among young people, care (and self-care) for clergy – and in the afternoon, some careful exploration of issues to do with our current preoccupation with human sexuality.

Youth violence: Samaritans or Pharisees?

The set-piece of the day was probably the debate on Serious Youth Violence: something that disturbs the tabloid media, people in communities, and our politicians (when they are not getting immersed in Brexit). We had been given a really good paper setting up the debate – read the document here, and there’s been press publicity about some aspects of it, such as knife crime.

Mallet screen

Onscreen: Canon Rosemarie Mallett

Introducing the debate, Canon Rosemarie Mallett spoke quietly and powerfully about her 12 years’ experience as parish priest and mother in South London. She talked about the funerals she had taken, fear and poor mental health among young people and the deaths of young parishioners. She also said that her church had been the first one to install a knife bin – as much a message about the church’s commitment to peace-making as for the weapons it actually got taken off the street.

  • She pointed the finger firmly at central and local government’s withdrawal of the kind of facilities that gave young people activity, purpose and community.
  • The church can offer pastoral care and offer the possibility of repentance. 
  • We should also open our buildings as places of sanctuary – something that has had a lot of media publicity in the last week or two, with slightly trivialised Press coverage of the concept of knife sin-bins and open churches..
  • Her great sound-bite was “We must be the Samaritan, not the Pharisee”.

But her speech was not all about the violence. She reminded us of the increase in exclusion from schools – a seedbed for opportunists involved in gang culture, county lines and the like. After Rosemarie spoke, we heard in the debate:

  • That although we have the premises and the commitment to take action, we do not have the experts. 
  • Bishop Joe Alfred from the Pentecostal churches spoke of the ‘live-saving work’ that churches can and should do for people who feel they have little to live for..
  • Jason Roach began his contribution by saying that this week he had had to take his children to school by different route – the usual one being coned off by a police cordon dealing with an incident.

The issue of school exclusions led to two very different amendments being suggested.

  • The Bishop of St Albans wanted a specific requirement for C of E schools to record exclusion numbers publicly and devise a strategy for minimising them.
  • Paul Hutchinson welcomed the new OFSTED position on exclusions, but simply wanted  to ‘welcome’ and ‘call upon’ those concerned to recognise exclusion’s impact and look for alternative strategies.

The Bishop’s amendment was welcomed by Rosemarie Mallet, but speakers were against it. People actually involved in schools were concerned that simply giving out raw statistics would be misleading – some schools with apparently ‘poor’ stats might actually be doing the best work, with large numbers of susceptible students through no fault of the school itself. His amendment was overwhelmingly rejected.

Full-ish hall

Venue: the University of York Central Hall

The Archbishop of York spoke to support the Hutchinson amendment, but it was defeated. A further amendment from Gavin Oldham attempted to draw the government into the equation, with reference to engender a sense of belonging among young people. He was powerfully opposed by the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullaly, who said we should concentrate on what we, as churches, can do. “Let us be the change that we long to see”. The Oldham amendment was defeated , so the main motion remained as originally proposed.

And was duly passed nem con to loud applause

Why can’t we agree..?

Archbishop Sentamu is a commanding figure in Synod. Not just because he is one of the two Presidents (alongside Archbishop Justin), but because of his ability to intervene forcefully, tell a good story, and admonish us (usually) gently. I recall some years ago when he was fairly new in the role when he claimed a true Yorkshire heritage – his middle name ‘Mugabe’, when reversed, comes out as “E-ba-gum

Today he gave what will be his last Presidential Address before retiring next year (in February it will be Justin’s turn)


Archbishop John Sentamu

I will confess to not being in the chamber to hear it ‘live’, but from the text, it’s clear he jumped straight in to the deep end of our difficulties in dealing with human sexuality.

He quoted former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, nine years ago, asking how it was that people who read the same Bible and share the same baptism, cannot agree?

In a memorable description of our current mess, he said the church is being an echo-chamber, rather than an interpreter or guide. And he proceeded on a tour including the late Archbishop Habgood, John Henry Newman and others, to make his case. Her gave painful testimony to the torrent of abused he received after appearing on TV talking about the baptism of the child of a gay couple, and concluded that when we disagree, we need to disagree Christianly in a Jesus Christ-shaped life.

He didn’t offer the answers – and this afternoon’s ‘offline’ seminar sessions (see below) help to understand why. But you can read the whole text here.

Is your Vicar OK?

In my eleven years as a Bishop’s Chaplain, I saw a number of situations where clergy had come under huge pressure: some erred and strayed, others ‘crashed and burned’; some lost their marriages or left ministry. So I see any attempt to encourage clergy well-being as very important if clergy are to flourish and thrive in roles that are complex, multi-faceted, and subject to expectations laid on the parish priest – sometimes by parishioners, sometimes by the priest themself. So a Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing is on the cards. You can read the document here.

The item began with a a (slightly stagey) presentation that took the form of a kind of spoken role-play. People representing laypeople clergy and bishops spoke about the pressure many clergy feel, and what they could do about it. (This mirrors the material in the report which sets out things the priest, the congregation and Bishops can do  to manage the pressures.) Phrases about ‘self-care’, ‘boundaries’, ‘living in a goldfish bowl’ and so on were heard.

Butler screen

Wellbeing: Simon Butler speaks

Canon Simon Butler, who led the initial stages of this work (it began in the clergy Convocations) spoke with gratitude for the support lay people give clergy. “Don’t let us hide behind the collar: find out who we are.” He went on to ask questions of the Bishop in the presentation (Tim Thornton, Bishop at Lambeth): how can Bishops be seen to look after themselves better than they do at the moment? Bishop Tim then reminded clergy of the need to take proper rest time, retreats and “it’s not selfish to care for ourselves, because in so doing, we can better care for others.”

Three key messages ended the presentation:

  1. For laity: offer better care for your clergy – maybe a different kind of care to what has been the practice. Ask how to offer support, rather than making assumption. Not intruding on their personal space.
  2. For clergy: when ministry gets very busy and hard (four difficult funerals in a fortnight), I must ensure I look after myself. Some of us are not good at that.
  3. For Bishops: I see many well-motivated clergy, others in difficulty. We must accept mutual accountability, and talk to each other about our vulnerabilities.

In the debate, we heard about

  • clergy who get isolated, and may end up leaving ministry
  • clergy who admit the situation and seek help through counselling.
  • the value of mentoring for clergy in their post
  • A realistic stipend is omitted from the report – but is a key factor in clergy household stress.
  • We are supposed to be re-imagining ministry: why are lay ministers not included?They too need care for their well-being

In a challenging speech, the Bishop of Willesden criticised the ‘muddle’ of good things that are in the proposed covenant. No-one can be against what is included, he said, but there is a risk that the Covenant will start to affect Clergy Terms of Service. A minority of litigious clergy will start to take Bishops to law because they are not fulfilling the commitments made at their licensing or in the Covenant. He was ‘deeply concerned’  that we were drifting towards a ‘contract culture’ He supported the ‘soft stuff’, but did not like the ‘covenant’.

In the end, the motion was passed. But the proof of the covenantal pudding will be in the parochial eating.

  • The final Covenant will be ‘promulged’ as an Act of Synod, and the dioceses will be required to take note of it and adopt it.
  • However, what will matter is whether there are documents made available in easy-to-use form so that (say) an individual PCC or as Deanery Synod can talk through the three dimensions of the Covenant –  the clergyperson’s, the parish’s and the Bishop’s.

Otherwise it’s just empty words. Because the power of the Covenant is that it enables people to talk about things that are, generally not talked about.

Here I give a big plug for the work of the Mary and Martha people at Sheldon on clergy care: see what they do here.

Living in Love and Faith

The big revelation of the ‘offline’ time on Saturday afternoon was the immense scope of the work that is going on to produce what was once described as a ‘Teaching Document’ called Living in Love and Faith (LLF). As I have said before, the finished product of the LLF process will not be a little handbook. It’ll be a very large compendium of well-thought-through materials. You can see details on the LLF website here. We were strongly encouraged to sign up for three of the five options on offer during the afternoon.

Notice paper

Options: the afternoon programme

LLF is not going to be ‘the answer’ to our disagreements on human sexuality. But it will help people to really think hard about their basic assumptions, and to re-frame questions as we try to have what Archbishop Justin calls ‘good disagreement’. A huge range of bishops, theologians and others, all of different traditions have been drawn together for study days, writing sessions – and prayer and worship together. 

I went to a workshop titled – somewhat vaguely to the outsider – “Who are we?” It was about our own self-understanding of what we are like: what is innate, what is learned, and so on. The two Biblical images used in the introduction by Bishop Christopher Cocksworth were Jacob wrestling with the angel, and the disciples walking on the Emmaus road with the risen Christ.

  • So the first heading in Who are we? was ‘Created, Fallen and Redeemed”.  All good basic theology – but clearly, different kinds of Christians understand each of those terms in different ways.
  • The second heading was Difference, Identity, Nature and Origin. Here the emphasis was on the interdisciplinary nature of the work – different disciplines look at who are we? in different ways.

LLF (2)The seminar was quite heavyweight theology. Not everyone will have enjoyed that, but if we are going to avoid trite restatements of old phrases, the team want us to go back to first principles. So (for example)

  • the question Who are we? refers immediately back to the imago Dei – the image of God – if we are made in his image. People are living icons of the divine image – so how does that work with reference to sexuality?
  • Nature is important, because we don’t always discriminate between what is natural (innate, distinctive etc…) and what is right or wrong. (This clearly applies to current understandings on sexuality.) What is ‘created nature’, and what is ‘fallen nature’.
  • When it came to Patterns of Relationship we touched on what other patterns are there alongside marriage and celibacy – for example, what about singleness. There are other patterns of relationship in society today – what do they say to the church? Thus we need to look at freedom, diversity, fulfilment and change.

There was group work – pretty hard in a lecture theatre. At one stage, my little group was discussing the difference between Thomas Traherne and Matthew Fox’s understanding of the Fall.

LLF (1)

Seminar: a proper dose of theology

The seminar was extraordinarily stimulating. But I was left feeling the project is ‘Theologian’s Playtime’.  I’m not sure the average Synod member is ready on a sunny summer Saturday to go into ‘theology student’ mode. I don’t know how we get round that, because if it’ s true, how much harder will it be to have discussions at parish level that don’t go beyond proof-texting and recycling inherited ideas.

Bishop Cocksworth did remind us that we Anglicans need to remember that our tradition is to work with  Scripture, Tradition and Reason, rather than over-simple analysis, and the LLF work is wanting to encourage people to think that way.

“All are welcome..?”

There was a rather different atmosphere at the second option I’d chosen – a session with the Pastoral Advisory Group (PAG). This is the body set up to help the whole C of E work out how to live together while in deep disagreement. It took the form of a discussion of real-life scenarios with the aid of the excellent pack of cards Pastoral Principles for Living Well Together.

Bishop Christine Hardman and the PAG team invited us to look over the resources and then to use them.

It was one of those things that you go to because you think you ought to, but it was really good. A table of eight of us worked through simple questions about how the ‘six pervading evils’ that PAG have suggested affect all of us should be confronted when it comes to dealing with LGBT+ people and issues in ordinary church life.

  1. Acknowledge prejudice
  2. Speak into silence
  3. Address ignorance
  4. Cast out fear
  5. Admit hypocrisy
  6. Pay attention to power.

The point is that whatever your view on human sexuality matters, these six are bound to be present – but not necessarily recognised or spoken openly about. We were given two ‘worked examples’: a conservative evangelical church’s policy and practice with regard to homosexual people, and an ‘Inclusive Church’s’ stated policy and practice. So we were in the territory of ‘all are welcome but…’ and ‘all are welcome and…’


Workshop: Pastoral Advisory Group materials

I was pleasantly surprised to see the real mixture of people who’d turned up. As I said in my preview post, I had feared a ‘stay away’ by people at either end of the spectrum of views. Looking round the room, I could see people who (in my miserable cynicism) I had assumed would have no truck with this work.  I was wrong. No names, no packdrill, but people were there and joining in.

The card set going over the six “pervading evils” is available from the Church House Bookshop, or you can download and print them from here. They offer a brilliant way to open up a conversation at a PCC, staff meeting or Deanery Chapter/Synod. Go fetch.

I regret to confess that my brain by then was sufficiently full and overflowing that I ducked out of my third chosen option. As an old college friend once said about lectures and meetings: “you can’t go to everything.”

In other news…

Conversation over supper and in the bar suggests that the LLF seminars have met with a mixed reaction:

  • there’s concern that those who are not trained theologians will have struggled with the heavyweight input  at Who are we? 
  • I was told that at Where are we? An infographic containing some fairly bald statistics about contemporary sexual behaviours was passed round.

Conspiracy theorists were suggesting that the target for publication is not related to the new Synod (to be elected next summer), but to the 2020 Lambeth Conference.

Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark has posted his summary of the day here. Worth a read – he takes a more reflective approach than I do.

Thoughts for tomorrow: two contentious matters will be before us:

  • the Safeguarding presentation and questions. I covered this in my preview post. There is at least one safeguarding victim and survivor who has set up a small protest at the entrance to the main hall. A number of bishops and other synod members were seen chatting to him during the day today.
  • the Anglican-Methodist proposals – coloured for some by the Methodist Conference’s move this week towards accepting same sex marriage. You can see the official Methodist press release about that here.

Less contentious, but full of pastoral passion will be a debate on how we can best support Refugee Professionals – to their benefit and everyone else’s as well.

There are innumerable ways to follow the proceedings once they start at 2.30 p.m. The links to them are at the bottom of yesterday’s post.

Before all that, Sunday morning worship, which, traditionally, is grand and glorious in York Minster. Your correspondent will be dressed up in the full regalia of an Officer of the Synod: as a Canterbury pro-Prolocutor I get to process (with greater beings) in 17th century garb: cassock, academic gown and hood, plus preaching tabs. Roll up, roll up…

Synod Officers 2018

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



* Take good care of yourself: twee little1975 number from (supposedly) Prince Charles’ favourite girl group, the Three Degrees. Lots of ‘ooh’s and aah’s.



Posted in 2019: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments