IICSA concludes – for now

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

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

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

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

IICSA panel

Professor Alexis Jay is Chair of the IICSA Panel

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

Capture Justin

Capture Justin shame

Archbishop Justin’s shame

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

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

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

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

Capture Hancock

Bishop Peter Hancock gives his evidence

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

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

A couple of grumbles (well, three, actually)

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

    IICSA and the web (from today’s transcript)

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

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

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

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

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

They think it’s all over…

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

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

Capture Buck quote

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

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

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

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

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

Media coverage – or lack of it…

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

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

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

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

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

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




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IICSA’s first Anglican week


Independent: IICSA has started deep-level hearings

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

This feels personal…

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

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

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

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

But back to IICSA…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For new readers…

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

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

Professor Alexis Jay is Chair of the IICSA Panel

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

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

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

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

What have we learned?

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

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

Week two…

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday…

Bread stones

Voices: Synod members all received this booklet

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

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

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

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

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

A strangely silent synod

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

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

Empty tearoom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IICSA: Coming soon…


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

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

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

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

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

Some other highlights of his remarks:

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

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


Independent: IICSA’s planned inquiry starts in March

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

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

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

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

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

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


Audit: SCIE have been to every diocese

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

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

And… breathe…

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

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

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


Digi church

Tablet: part of contemporary digital evangelism

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

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

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

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

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


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

Synod GV from gallery

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

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

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

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


Good enough: the Revd Rachel Wilson

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

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

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

Saturday. Did it work?

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

Positive points about it:

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

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Negative points:

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

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

And finally…

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

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

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

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

SBL with Synod badge

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

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

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


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

Move in a little closer, baby *


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

Synod GV from gallery

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

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

Should robots have holidays?

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

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

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

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

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

Change is here to stay

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

He noted

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

You can read his text here.

Africa, Oceania, Pakistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jammy Dodgers

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



Crumb: Jammy Dodgers went viral

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

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

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

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

Food, inglorious food

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

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

Synod Masters visit

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

Cathedrals on the fringe

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

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

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

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

Amongst the recommendations:

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


Cathedral scribbled copy

Scribbler: how bathwellschap makes notes in fringe meetings.

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

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

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

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

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

Connecting with the Connexion

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Ecclesiological Brexit?

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

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

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

And finally…


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

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

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


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

Posted in 2018: Feb - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The leader(s) of the pack *


Tea-room chatter (2017 pic)

So, Synod assembled today with two issues that everyone knew would crop up – the Carlile Report about Bishop George Bell, and the dissatisfaction felt by some about liturgy and transgender people. When there are these overhanging issues, the atmosphere in the tea room and corridors is always a little subdued.

Many people arrived in time to chat over lunch, and amid the speculation and chatter it was easy to forget that the most of what we have to do is about a vast range of other issues. In fact, the main business of the day was about how our leaders (that is, diocesan bishops) are appointed.

Some of those wider concerns became evident straight after opening worship, when we greeted three significant overseas leaders:

  • The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of Southern Africa
  • The Most Revd Humphrey Peters, Bishop of Peshawar & Moderator of the Church of Pakistan
  • The Most Revd Dr Winston Halapua, Bishop of Polynesia and Primate and Archbishop of the Anglican Church Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia

We’ll hear something from one of them tomorrow (Friday) during the agenda item about world Anglican partnerships.

Comment, compliment complain…

But we began with the usual regular navel-gazing – the first business of a new session is always a critical look-ahead at the whole agenda. The Business Committee Chair, the ebullient Sue Booys, has to present a report on how it has been shaped, and we all get a chance to comment, complain or compliment the Committee on what has, and has not, been included.

Sadly, it’s often a time when the ‘usual suspects’ get called to speak about their pet concerns. (Disclaimer: I am one of them.) I was called (to my embarrassment, first of all) and complimented them on the evolutionary changes they have made to the way the report has been presented (see the preview post here). And we then heard from Sam Margrave, April Alexander, David Banting, Martin Sewell, Jayne Ozanne, and Jonathan Alderton-Ford – all very familiar names – on a range of concerns.

Speaking later to someone who is on the Panel of Chairs, I was told that the Chairs are sometimes frustrated by having to call the usual suspects to speak, but they are stuck – because nobody else is standing, or nobody else has put in a blue ‘Request to Speak (RTS) form’. So the same faces pop up to grind their usual axes every time. The solution is for more of us to put in an RTS in this particular debate (and, indeed, in others). Now we can put in the RTS form electronically, it ought to be easier for everyone to have a go at catching the Chair’s eye. Maiden speeches, I was told, are especially welcome! You know what to do… Find the form here.

Bishops: revolution and evolution

The real meat of the afternoon followed: a presentation about the work of the Crown Nominations Commission (aka the CNC – the body that discerns who might be called to be a diocesan bishop). I was a bit cheeky to say in my previous post that the report (read it here) was not terribly theological. Professor Oliver O’Donovan, who chaired the group convinced me that although there is a raft of practical recommendations in the report, it is rooted in a theological approach – that the process of finding God’s person for a particular bishopric is about prayer, shared discernment, finding room for the Spirit to offer surprises, and so on.

  • He believed the report was ‘on the revolutionary side of evolutionary changes’. Some of their recommendations are for the Archbishops to implement, others need to come through Synod.
  • He stressed that Bishops do not have a dual role (i.e the view that their diocese and national church responsibilities are two separate things): rather, they complement each other. A Bishop interprets the local church to the national, and vice versa.

Though it is not perfect, and some might prefer an open election of Bishops, as happens in Wales and Scotland, the CNC model allows for exercise of gifts by those given a CNC role to match what the church needs with what individuals can bring to a specific diocese. The CNC members have to make an act of discernment for the future – it’s not about what candidates have done in the past, but whether they are the right person for the future of the diocese of X. So it requires discernment collectively of what gifts God has given candidates. There are 14 people on a CNC (6 national reps, 6 from the diocese under consideration and the two Archbishops), who all must work together on that basis, making a decision representatively on behalf of the whole church.

Trust (and obey?)

O’Donovan spoke a lot about trust. That is against the background of the CNC to appoint in one specific case (Oxford – when the CNC had to go back and start again) and the Sheffield fiasco, when Bishop Philip North was appointed, but later withdrew. O’Donovan’s point was that trust is required not only amongst the 14 individuals: the wider church needs to be able to trust the CNC, and the candidates also need to trust the CNC interviewing them.

Summing up, he said there is not just one thing that goes wrong and needs to be put right: ‘modest and sensible’ corrections were on offer:

  • over-zealous and intrusive secrecy creates suspicions – so they recommend abolition of secret ballots and reforming the interview process, so that candidates and CNC members worship and eat together.
  • at the diocesan end to the process, some facilitation is needed so that the Vacancy in See (ViS) committee is more aware of how it will work. The ViS Committee should also have a minuted discussion of what the diocese needs before they elect their six representatives to CNC.
  • The Archbishops need a distinct voice in the process, as their job is to ensure the continuity of episcopal appointments, rather than just look at one job.
  • There is a suspicion that central members are elected to pursue a party agenda. This needs to be tackled by Synod in reforming the way their six people are chosen.

Archbishop Sentamu then introduced the formal ‘take note’ debate. He explained that when CNC members meet in March they will discuss the report’s recommendations. We were encouraged to make suggestions for the Archbishops and others to consider. The skates are on, and some changes will be made quickly; others will be the subject of a report back in July.

The Dean of St Pauls (a fellow-member of the Synod Sensible Party) talked about the failure of London ViS to elect a Black or Minority Ethnic (BAME) member in the recent Bishop of London CNC process (from which Bishop Sarah Mullaly emerged as the Bishop-elect). They had 4 BAME young people on their ViS, but when the 54 people voted, they prioritised a theological party position or the representation of women. In other words, they did not think the BAME factor was a important as these issues. His suggestion was that a diocese should be able to have a ‘reserved place’ among their 6 for someone representing an aspect of that diocese as set out in the statement of needs.

Having served on a CNC myself, I recognise the strength of many of O’Donovan’s points. The secrecy thing is definitely unhelpful, and having to keep the separate candidates quarantined from each other does not help the process.

  • Long-serving CNC member April Alexander reminded us that the Report arose out of the failure of the CNC to appoint in the specific case of Oxford, and she said the ability of CNC members in to block candidates (in the secret ballots) is a real problem. She assumed we knew more about specific cases than we did, but I think her drift was about the failure of CNC to appoint women in certain cases. All very mysterious.
  • Another long-serving Synod member, Jonathan Alderton-Ford, reminded us of the capacity of the CNC to ‘leak like a sieve’, and finished by stating that some of those appointed through the CNC, once appointed, have ended up as unhappy people.
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury put in a bit of (relevant) special pleading: that the Bishop of Dover (aka the Bishop in Canterbury, who effectively runs the Diocese of Canterbury), should be subject to a full CNC process.

So, a long and thoughtful discussion and debate: action will certainly follow.

Twenty Questions

Questions was the place where the ‘overhanging issues’ were going to come up, and they certainly did. There was a lot of nervous anticipation about how Questions would go.

There were twenty consecutive ones about the Carlile Report and Bishop Bell (see yesterday, Ball and Bell for the background). That is approaching a record. Even the saga of the Bishops Palace in Wells in 2014 didn’t have that many.

And there were a further nine on transgender issues, reflecting the discontent felt by some at the House of Bishops decision not to authorise specific liturgy for people who have undergone gender transition. (Go here for details of that debate)

Fortunately, the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, was in the chair. He does it in an avuncular and genial fashion, but he (gently) snaps at people whose supplementary question is a poorly-disguised speech.

It started to get tense when the nine ‘transgender’ questions came up.

  • The Bishop of Willesden batted firmly for the House of Bishops, forcefully ticking off those who have been using social media to complain about the Bishops’ response to the question of a new liturgy. He restated the theological issue: initiation into Christ is through baptism, and no other way; though pastoral provision for any individual’s situation can be made by a priest in other ways.
  • He was followed by the Bishop of Exeter who related how he and others had been meeting trans people (‘talking with, not talking about’) with a view to preparing guidance for clergy.

Then we came to the twenty questions around safeguarding, and at the instigation of the Canterbury Prolocutor, Simon Butler, a moment’s silence for reflection was held. He anticipated the atmosphere would be ‘febrile’. In the event, several of the questions passed without any supplementaries. But:

  • One of the unresolved issues around the Carlile report into the Bishop Bell affair is one of vocabulary – ‘victim’, ‘survivor’ ‘complainant’, and the Bishop of Bath and Wells (disclaimer: he used to be my boss) acknowledged that this was not fixed terminology,, and a consistent use was not yet achievable.
  • He clarified that the figure of 3,300 safeguarding concerns being handled by dioceses (2016 figures), 18% related to concern’s or allegations against church officers and clergy, and promised more detail on Saturday morning.
  • He also promised to try to provide details about how many of those cases relate to so-called ‘historic’ allegations (while stressing that particular phraseology is no longer used).
  • the National Safeguarding Team is currently working through Lord Carlile’s recommendations: anyone who thinks they will be ignored is wrong.
  • When pressed to say more about the most recent development about the ’fresh information’ on the Bell case, he said he was unable to give any more information.

Martin Sewell from Rochester has made this something of a personal crusade, so he pressed the Bishop hard on whether the Church accepted the dangerous idea that ‘the victim must be believed’ and whether the Church would be following Carlile’s recommendations. He got some reassurance from the Bishop on both fronts. Martin’s fiercely-argued blogpost about Carlile can be read here. Thinking Anglicans has a good roundup of Bell-related blogs and news stories.

Questions works best when there are some jokes and repartit. The sober mood meant there was not much of that, but Bath & Wells’ Jenny Humphreys raised a laugh when she reminded the House of Bishops, in a supplementary, that in 1918 the Bishops had voted against the Representation of the Peoples Act ‘to a man’.

After that, the only round of applause came when Sir Tony Baldry, Chair of the Church Buildings Council, stated that they are not in favour of retain church pews for the sake of retaining church pews.

The end is near

And that was a foreshortened afternoon on our first day. We said an abbreviated form of evening prayer at 5.30, and the Bishops went off to put on their best bib and tucker for dinner with the Lord Mayor. (If you don’t understand that reference, you need to read my preview post.)

Looking forward to tomorrow (Saturday):

  • there’s a debate on companion links, which ought to be an uncontroversial discussion about what we can learn from working with our partner dioceses. But the debate could get diverted into discussion about GAFCON: the ‘breakaway’/’faithful’ (depending which side you are one) bits of world Anglicanism, Another possible side-issue may be what some see as an increasing tendency for dioceses to link with ‘liberal’ churches in Europe (through the Porvoo and similar agreements) rather than global south Anglicans.
  • The food waste debate may run into trouble with amendments which, though possibly worthy, may prevent proper discussion and story-telling about the main issue.

And finally…

Twitter’s #synod brought forth this gem: Word of the day: TSUNDOKU (Japanese) – the practice of buying a pile of books and then not getting around to reading them. It sounds a little like many of us, who get our two big white envelopes (or downloaded zip file) of papers, but don’t actually read them till we get on the train… If then.

If you are half-interested in Synod, following it via twitter can be fun. If you want the full monty, you need the videostream – click here (when we are in session).

Or if you just want the selected (or selective) highlights, the official summary will appear here. Or you can just read me again tomorrow.


 * Leader of the Pack The Shangri-Las, 1965. Wonderful ‘girl-group’ record about losing your boyfriend in a motorbike accident. If you’ve never heard it, you must do something about it. Now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8UKf65NOzM

(It engendered an even more hilarious ‘spoof’ record called ‘The Leader of the Laundromat’ by a fictional group called The Detergents. You may want to hear that too https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi5yDBvYUcE) ‘Who’s that banging on the piano?


Posted in 2018: Feb - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Oh, won’t you stay (just a little bit longer)?*

The Church of England General Synod is not immune from the general trend towards digital campaigning and voluble protest. This week’s meeting has some pretty hot topics to cover. There are people who are cross about Bishop George Bell. There are people who are annoyed about transgender liturgy (or lack of it). And there are genteel differences of opinion about other matters. So I expect we’ll have floods of e-comment  – and some (peaceful) demonstrations outside Church House – when we meet from Thursday to Saturday.

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Saturday! I hear you say in disbelief. Yes, Saturday. Although July meetings are weekend events in York, the winter sessions in London since time immemorial (i.e. 1970) have been midweek affairs.

Until now. In a further move to reform and renew Synod – oh, sorry, I meant renew and reform, didn’t I – instead of meeting from Tuesday till Friday, we are gathering on Thursday this week, and staying on till 4.00 p.m. on Saturday. That’s the plan, anyway. And in that time we’ll have some fairly tense debates on safeguarding (Bishops Ball and Bell will figure, of whom more below). Not to mention an uncomfortable look at our potential for closer links with Methodism, some thinking about how Bishops are (s)elected, and more. Now read on…

Why Saturdays?

For many years people have complained that meeting midweek makes it very hard for lay people to get to Synod.

  • If you have a job, you have to take holiday time to be there (unless you have a very holy and supportive employer). And that means Synod is overfull of retired laypeople – they can easily manage their diaries to fit in three or four days in London. Drilling deeper, it means that working laypeople simply don’t stand for election to Synod. So, as an experiment, the Business Committee have arranged these sessions to include a full day on Saturday.
  • On the other hand… Clergy (who apparently find no difficulty in popping off to London from their parishes midweek) will find that their usual Saturday (family time, weddings, sermon and worship preparation) has disappeared. Those who have to travel long distances will not be on top form to roll up and take the 8.00 this Sunday. So, if your parish priest is a General Synod member, do be kind to her or him on Sunday…

Full House: a London (weekday) session

All credit to the organisers: this has got to be worth a shot. But I do wonder if existing Synod laypeople (even the predominantly retired types) may end up resenting the loss of their usual Saturday routines – shopping, grandchildren’s sport, watching the footy, etc.

The acid test will be: how many people drift off home early, and how many stay on for Saturday afternoon’s debate, which is a very significant one on valuing people with Down’s Syndrome. (More below.)

Safeguarding – Ball and Bell

I suspect the headline-grabber of this Synod will be safeguarding. It’s scheduled for Saturday morning, but will undoubtedly pop up in Questions on Thursday afternoon. So we’ll have the whole of Friday for chatter, gossip, conspiracy theories and position-taking by some members.

We have been provided with two hefty and disturbing reports on former Bishops:

  • one long dead but whose reputation is in the balance (George Bell of Chichester)
  • the other released from prison last year after conviction for sex offences over a number of years (Peter Ball of Gloucester and Lewes).

Neither is the subject of a formal debate, but both will come up, I have no doubt.

The way the Church handled an allegation about Bishop George Bell has been the subject of an independent enquiry by the eminent lawyer Lord Carlile. It was published just before Christmas. It is long and detailed – it runs to 75 pages – and comes with a bunch of Annexes looking at some specific matters. You can read it all here.

Bell, who died in 1958, has been something close to an Anglican saint for his robust ecumenism and independently-minded ministry during the Second World War. (His hymn Christ is the King! O friends rejoice is a favourite of many, me included.)

Bell Hymn

Bell’s hymn: “Brothers and sisters, with one voice…”

There has been vigorous campaigning in Bell’s defence by many people inside and outside Synod. They have friends in the Press, and the profile of the case has been further raised by an announcement this week that further allegations about Bishop Bell are being assessed. One Private Members’ Motion about Bell has been withdrawn because of the latest developments – see the Telegraph’s report here.

Campaigners will doubtless have planted some Questions, and will have more when the Safeguarding presentation happens on Saturday. The Church Times described the whole mess as ‘an unwinnable wrangle over an unprovable case’. I just hope that those who wish to shout about Bell take the trouble to read the Report before they open their mouths.

UPDATE The Church Times has an interview with Archbishop Justin on their website now (Tuesday) in which he explains his position. Read it here. This will calm some people, and add fuel to the fire for others…

Safeguarding – Ball and IICSA

Ball Bell Reports

Heavy reading: Reports from Dame Moira Gibb and Lord Carlile

It’s unfortunate that Bishop Bell was Bishop of Chichester, because that diocese features large in another independent report that we’ve been given. This one is about how the Church of England handled the case of Bishop Peter Ball, who was Bishop of Lewes (in Chichester diocese) before becoming Bishop of Gloucester. He resigned from Gloucester on accepting a police caution in 1996, but Dame Moira Gibb’s report (read it here) describes a catalogue of failings and poor judgements in various parts of the Church which left victims and survivors of abuse without any recourse over many decades. Her report is difficult reading, and is called An Abuse of Faith, which says it all.

In the background to the Bell and Ball issues is IICSA  – the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. The Church of England and Church in Wales will be put under the IICSA spotlight later this year, but a preliminary hearing last week revealed the huge scope of their work. IICSA’s focus is on diocese of Chichester, but that is a lens through which to view the wider Anglican church.

IICSA is heavyweight stuff. To give an idea, their preliminary hearing last week revealed:

  • there are, as evidence, 28,677 documents amounting to 206,863 pages – with more to come. One barrister explained this documentation is providing  “road maps through the avalanche site of disclosure”
  • it is full of lawyers: there are 7 QCs representing some of the key participants; others have solicitors
  • there will be a three-week hearing on Chichester/Anglican church in March, and a further week on the implications of the Bishop Peter Ball case in July
  • interim reports will be issued on both
  • further hearings on the Anglican Church in 2019 will focus on victims, survivors, and reparations.

In other words, IICSA will be crawling all over the Church, and the diocese of Chichester in particular for the foreseeable future. You can  read the transcript of the IICSA preliminary hearing (pdf download) from their website.

First this week’s Synod, and then IICSA: it’s going to be a torrid time for the Lead Bishop on Safeguarding, Bishop Peter Hancock of Bath and Wells (disclaimer: he was my boss till I retired just before Christmas), and the National Safeguarding Team.

How should Bishops be chosen?

The vehicle for discerning who might be the next diocesan Bishop of any particular See (as we love to call them) is a wonderfully Anglican body called the Crown Nominations Commission (usually just called the CNC). Recent long delays in appointing a Bishop of Oxford, and the decision of Bishop Philip North to stand down from becoming Bishop of Sheffield have brought the CNC’s way of working into sharp focus, so on Thursday afternoon we are to have a presentation about a theological review of the CNC’s work.

  • The group preparing the report was chaired by Professor Oliver O’Donovan: we had a snapshot of their work in July (read my report here – scroll down), but now we have a proper document, called Discerning in Obedience.
  • After questions with the group, we’ll be invited to ‘take note’ of it – hopefully we won’t have a take note disaster debate like we did last February on another matter).

My own thought is that, for a theological review, it does have an awful lot of practical recommendations. But you can decide – read it here.

St Pauls (1)

Chosen: Bishops in procession after a consecration at St Paul’s Cathedral

Wonderfully, we are not having an evening session on Thursday, because the Bishops have what is coyly called in the Report on the Agenda “another, externally arranged, engagement”. I can (not exclusively) reveal that this is the Lord Mayor of London’s Archbishops and Bishops Dinner at the Mansion House. It always happens in Synod week, and it used to be the case that most Bishops went, but enough stayed behind to enable Synod to carry on into the early evening. But this year they must have a three-line whip (or else they’ve seen the menu and they like it) because we are shutting down with prayers at 5.30 instead of 7.00.

World church, simplification – and food

Hancock Zambia

Partnership: Bishop Peter Hancock visits dioceses in Zambia (2015)

Friday morning will see an address from a church leader from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion. Unusually, there will be six guests from around the Anglican world with us, and the address will be the prelude to a debate about Companion Links. These are the partnerships that pretty well every diocese has with other world Anglicans – Bath & Wells, for example, is linked to the dioceses of Zambia and celebrates 40 years of the link this year. Though people often think of these links as ‘us’ sending stuff to ‘them’, the  partnership has been fruitful in both directions.

  • The basis for debate will be a research-based report on how Companion Links work (or in some cases, don’t work well).
  • There will also be a push to prepare for hosting guests from the worldwide Communion before and during the 2020 Lambeth Conference.

Against the controversialism and mini-schisms around GAFCON and sexuality, this could be a positive reminder that what unites us is more significant than what people choose to divide us. We’ll see. The report is here.

Friday is a bit of a mixed bag, and continues with:

  • a diocesan motion from Eds & Ips on Food Wastage. There are two interesting papers here (the diocese’s paper) and here (the Secretary’s background document). Hard to see anyone voting in favour of food wastage – motherhood and (especially) apple pie come to mind.
  • Justin Welby Screen

    Archbishop Justin speaking at a York Synod

    after lunch, Archbishop Justin will give a Presidential Address. These are always pretty substantial reflections, sometimes biblical, sometimes about world or national issues. It will be interesting to see if he pre-empts some of the safeguarding arguments by setting out his position.

  • then follows a mass of legislative business. Regulars here will know that we are working through a ‘simplification’ process to try to ease the burdens of regulation on parishes. Naturally, simplification means complication – in terms of re-writing Canon Law and other rules and regs. So we’ll whizz round ecumenical rules, and what are delightfully called ‘miscellaneous provisions’. Do try and stay awake.

Inch by inch towards the Methodists

There’ll be more tension towards the end of Friday, when we look at our relationships with the Methodist Connexion and the potential for moving towards unity.


Orb and Cross: The Methodist Church’s logo

This has been around for all my 45 years observation of the C of E. Old hands will remember the unlikely combination of Colin Buchanan and Jim Packer (from the evangelical end), and Bishop Graham Leonard and Eric Mascall (from the Catholic end) writing Growing into Union in 1971. This was an attempt to explain why, for them, the then-current proposals for unity with the Methodists would not do. (There are still copies around on the internet (try here, for £3.28, or get a succinct review by the late Cyril Bowles for free!)

I drag up these historical references, because I fear that we will be hearing much the same arguments again. Despite the 2003 Anglican-Methodist Covenant, and huge progress in local working together in may places, the underlying theological issue about how Methodism can take episcopacy into its system remains.

We’ll have an address from an invited leading Methodist speaker, and then debate Mission and Ministry in Covenant – read it here. And though your heart says ‘let’s get on with it’, your head takes a different line, and that’s where the debate will get interesting: ecumenical politeness vying with theological rigour. If you want shorthand accounts of the two opposing views, try the Church Times pieces by Bishop Steven Croft (for) and Andrew Davison (against). And there’s an eirenical blog post approach from the redoubtable ‘education priest’ Fr Richard Peers here

What will we do on Saturday?

As outlined above, with Bell and Ball in the air, it’ll be interesting (to say the least) on the safeguarding front.  But there is other stuff to keep us busy during our first-ever Saturday in London:

  • A discussion about Religious Communities will bring to the fore both the traditional ‘monks and nuns’ Orders, as well as the various new expressions of religious life such as Lee Abbey (founded after World War II) or the Community of St Anselm (founded by Archbishop Justin). Because such communities hardly existed in the early days of the Church of England (i.e. post Henry VIII and the Prayer Book), they have little formal governance or recognition in the wider Church. So we’re being asked to set up a new Canon to give them a proper framework.
  • Capture

    Website front page: discipleship and mission , not structures

    A presentation on Digital Evangelism will highlight the amazing developments in digital communication that the Church of England is pursuing. If you haven’t seen the C of E website lately – take a look. Or if you want people to find your church and know what it’s about, get into this and play around with your postcode.

  • The weekend Synod will end at 4.00 on Saturday after what promises to be a moving debate on Valuing people with Down’s Syndrome. The report (read it here) is well worth looking at, and has already attracted some Press interest because of the references to NIPT. (And if you don’t know what that it – read the report!)

And finally…

Real Synod nerds will have noticed that the Business Committee have gently tweaked what we used to call the Report on the Agenda this time. It’s now called Guide to the February 2018 Group of Sessions (read it here). This user-friendliness is compounded inside, where the ‘Shape of the Agenda’ is set out under four helpful headings: Standing Items, Legislative Items, Church in the world and Ordering the Life of the Church. It’s a small touch, but anything that de-mystifies the works of Synod is to be welcomed.

  • In the same spirit of openness and making Synod accessible, I will, as ever, attempt a daily commentary here, and flag it up @bathwellschap on Twitter
  • There will be a live video stream so, with an agenda in hand, you can watch (or just listen to) the bits you’re interested in. The Synod office will advertise the location of the videostream – keep an eye on @synod on Twitter for details.
  • For just dipping in, follow @synod (official stuff) and/or @GenSyn (highly unofficial and more interesting..?), or just #synod on Twitter

Playing to the gallery: visitors’ seats up above the chamber floor

All the Synod documents are available here (you can download the lot, or just the ones you’re interested in).  And if you’re in London, you can come and sit in the gallery and watch the fun! Even on a Saturday, if you’re not at work…

PS: Cathedrals and change

Cathedral Report

Recommendations: the 100 page draft

A document that is not up for debate, is the preliminary report on how Cathedral governance works (or possibly, sometimes, does not work…). It has some pretty hefty recommendations for change, and if you don’t think that ‘change’ and ‘cathedral’ belong in the same sentence, you probably ought to read it – and take part in the consultation exercise, which is web-based.

The report is here.


*  Stay was the Hollies first top ten hit in early 1964, though it’s a 50s doo-wop song. It’s all about the guy trying to persuade his girlfriend not to go home just yet with the deeply philosophical lineWell your mama don’t mind, bop-bop-shu-waddah-waddah”‘ If you’ve never heard of it, there’s an energetic live version from a BBC radio show here.  It’s been covered by plenty of people, including Jackson Browne. A version appears in the film Dirty Dancing.


Posted in 2018: Feb - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Good times, better times *

After the tensions of the weekend, General Synod had a more typical day on Monday. Sighs of relief all round. And, as it happened, the subjects for debate were things we tended to agree about. So things ended better than they began, with a top comedy slot at the end. Now read on…

Welcoming the stranger?


The Birmingham motion

Proceedings opened with a motion from Birmingham diocese about the cost of applying for citizenship. Synod tends to be heavily loaded with people who were born and bred in the UK, so this was a subject about which many of us know little. But – as we saw in the way local churches responded to Grenfell Tower – parish churches deal directly and at some cost with asylum seekers, immigrants and their families. Ben Franks, introducing the debate, noted how clergy are often asked to provide references for people undertaking the expensive and difficult process.

  • it is bureaucratic (the application form has 80 pages) it is costly (£1,282 for an adult, £972 for a child) process
  • the fees are disproportionate, especially for those in low-paid jobs.

It’s hard not to agree that the whole business is designed to make it as difficult as possible.

The supporting papers for this debate (Birmingham one here and Secretary-General’s Note here) reveal how unfair and unwelcoming the whole thing is. It’s a little-known scandal, and the motion urged us to raise the matter with our MP.

  • A lawyer specialising in child welfare  told us that the Home Office is basically making a profit out of every application, and for children, lives have to go ‘on hold’ while they grind through the system’s maze of requirements.
  • A youth worker spoke of the trauma of his son’s application being refused, and the help he got from his diocese and Bishop in re-applying (for another £1,000…).
  • A long-stay American citizen reminded us that citizenship is about participation – voting, for example.

There was a double significance in Synod picking up this subject:

  1. The church as a voice for the voiceless: personal stories of people who have had to go through this process, or churches who have helped them
  2. Speaking the truth to power: there was united criticism of the disproportionate cost and Kafka-esque process required of people, and a commitment to take this to Parliamentarians. The Home Office (where Theresa May used to be in charge…) came in for particular criticism.

From a Synod-watchers perspective, this was the best debate of the weekend: full of Christian passion and speeches from people who knew what they were talking about. And, very unusually, there were 376 in favour, no votes against and no abstentions.

Sadly, it got minimal media coverage compared to the more pressing issues of clergy vesture (see below) and the potential for transgender liturgy (see yesterday).

Sock it to me


bathwellschap exclusive: the synod sock drawer (image credit: makitorfixit.com)

After that we went into Synodical navel-gazing: what Sue Booys called ‘the sock-drawer of General Synod.’ She meant the Elections Review Group: asking what can be learned from the 2015 elections to Synod, and what changes are required before the 2020 elections?

They have been looking at online voting in 2020, replacing the cumbersome postal votes in the dioceses, which are expensive to run, and probably ensure a low turnout among electors (members of Deanery Synods and licensed clergy).

  • There was some technical stuff about whether the Province of York is over-represented compared to Canterbury.
  • Some concerns were raised that older people are less likely to be comfortable with internet use.

To my mind, if we are talking about 2020, the digital revolution will have gone even further. There were howls of criticism after the women bishops legislation train crash four years ago. The criticism was that Synod is unrepresentative (because voter turnout at the 2010 elections (and again in 2015) was low). So if we can increase the turnout, we’ll get a better Synod. And the ease of button-pressing, as opposed to the hassle of writing, finding a stamp and posting a form will achieve that.


Who gets to choose: a straw poll

We then spent some time looking at the ‘electoral college’ for the House of Laity. Currently, they are elected by members of your local Deanery Synod. But there is widespread dissatisfaction with this, so we had a series of presentations about different ways of doing it. And then a straw poll! Non-binding, just to take the temperature, and so on.

If you wish to dig into this particular sock drawer, the papers are here.


The vesture venture

clerical suit

Outfit: clerical clobber is not what it used to be

To my delight, we finally got Amending Canons Nos 36 and 37 through and off for Royal Assent.  No. 37 is purely pastoral, and uncontroversial: it overturns the centuries-old prohibition on giving Christian burial to someone who has taken their own life. It is universally ignored by clergy, so this simply makes the law reflect the real world.

No. 36 has been more controversial. After a false start 20 years ago, the current process got started in 2014. It’s about whether clergy must always wear robes (we’ve been describing this as ‘vesture’) when conducting services. Many, many churches do dispense with robes for informal (or all) services; others would think it unthinkable (if you see what I mean). So the revised Canon B.8 gives permission for what is already happening in many places.

(If you really really want to get the back-story here, see my post Putting on the Style from 2014.) Bath & Wells’ own James Dudley-Smith set up a positive discussion by reminding us that the decision should not be made for the clergy’s benefit or comfort: it should be for those who are attending the service, be they ‘regulars’ or people attending a funeral.

Immediately afterwards, we passed No. 37, after hearing some moving stories from people with personal experience of being involved in the funeral of someone who had taken their own life.

Money, money, money (and vision!)

York chamber people (1) rpt

Concentration: an attentive Synod chamber

The Archbishops Council is the body that holds together pretty well all the national activities and specialisms of the Church of England (other than those handled by the Church Commissioners). So even though their Annual Report and next year’s budget was the last thing on the formal agenda plenty of people stayed to discuss them.

  • Next years’ budget? 41 million pounds
  • Increasing budgets for next year are evangelism, discipleship, safeguarding and Renewal and Reform.
  • To achieve that, freezes are being applied to some other areas.
  • The troubled business of providing support for housing for clergy going into retirement is getting some increases, but the whole system is being reformed – some near-retirees are not happy.
  • Increasing ordinand numbers by 10% is great! But paying for their training and their ministry and housing is going to frighten diocesan finance people.

Some of the financing, it is hoped, will come from a what was described as a ‘cunning plan’ –a special deal with the Church Commissioners.

  • But we were reminded of over-extending in the past (Ashford, anyone?). These risks must be carefully examined, said Keith Cawdron, a long-serving DBF finance expert.
  • Training institutes are not financially stable at the moment, said Charles Read from Norwich: what will happen in the future with the changes in view? How can we stabilise them?
  • Thanks to the finance Chair Canon John Spence’s winning ways, the budget voting went through without the picky debating points that we sometimes get.
Justin banana

Why is he holding a bottle and a banana? (To get the answer, follow YouTube link below)

And after all that we had hysterically funny farewells in which Justin Welby told stories about Bishops Mike Hill (Bristol) and Nigel Stock (Bishop at Lambeth). (And they are both retiring into the diocese of Bath & Wells…) It’s worth going to the YouTube to watch these – spin through to about 1hr 30 mins.

And finally…

Trying to sum up a Synod is hard. This one started very badly, You’ll recall I wrote about the tetchy atmosphere on Friday evening. There was nervousness, anticipation, and fear about the potential for the sexuality-related debates to explode. That was compounded by the very poor topical post-election Still small voice debate that the Archbishops inserted into the agenda.


Yes/No: not everything can be sorted out by voting

However, the increased social time defused some concerns, and in the end, the Ozanne PMM went off better than many (whatever their views) feared. At a group meeting later in the weekend, I suggested that part of the problem with that – and the gender dysphoria debate on Sunday – was that these are not topics suited to ‘win/lose’ debates. They require conversation and listening as people share their experiences, and try to work out what to do with what they have learned. Some ‘Shared Conversation’ time might have helped to get the story-telling and reaction done in a calmer atmosphere.

That said, it’s apparent to everyone that the Church of England has now made an explicit  public policy shift.

  • It is now formal policy that we both accept and welcome LGBT people into our churches. Effectively, the Church accepts that gay people were made by God that way. This will be news to some people, and a considerable minority remain opposed to formal liturgical recognition of same-sex relationships, let alone licensed ministers being in same-sex relationships.
  • How this policy works out is another question: we heard of many churches where couples are very welcome, the parish is involved in Pride marches, etc etc. We were told of others where gay people felt afraid to reveal themselves as such. And there will be others where the new outlook will not be put into practice: sometimes through ignorance, sometimes through prejudice.
  • The acceptance of the Blackburn gender dysphoria motion, unamended,  surprised me. But again, it indicates a sea-change.
  • The 26-year reign of Issues in Human Sexuality as the touchstone for policy in these matters is coming to an end. The promised ‘teaching document’ must replace it, and will presumably contain material that offers a policy that can be applied to ordinands, licensed clergy and others in a way that Issues was never designed to. But 2020 is a long way away and some people are impatient.

Two other thoughts on this

  1. Where were the Bishops? There are more than 50 of them on Synod, but we heard very little from them on either of these motions. Some will still be nursing bruises from February, but the suspicion is that they are keeping their heads down. Apart from Archbishop Sentamu and the Bishop of Liverpool, they largely remained quiet.
  2. Where was the theology? A number of discussions I’ve been in (in the bar and in committees) bewailed the fact that much of the debate  (on both motions) was personalised and story-driven. There was little theological reflection (apart from a few nods to Scripture, Tradition and Reason). While we were intensely pastoral, then, we were not as analytical as befits a major Synod with carefully-designed processes of scrutiny and decision-making.

And finally

Picture of computer

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

Once again, I am amazed at the readership of this blog, and the worldwide reach. One or two people have been kind enough to nobble me and express thanks for the jokes and for the even-handedness. (And for the factual content, of course.) 

I’m not sure I realised this when I started, but I suspect the bathwellschap blog philosophy was instilled in me by my time working in the BBC – to inform, educate and entertain, as Lord Reith put it.

Stats-watchers may like to know that these July posts have reached 830 people (not counting this page, obv).

  • Most just read the latest post, one in three goes on to look at another one.
  • Nearly all are in the UK, which seems reasonable.
  • Astonishingly, there are single readers in Israel, Bermuda, Uganda, Argentina and Belarus. The Swiss contingent has gone up this time – that’s either my sister on holiday there, or one of our Bath & Wells clergy who has taken up a post there and yearns to catch up with the old country.

Synod meets again in February, with a further revolution – we’ll end with a Saturday sitting! The idea is to help members who work in the week: we’ll start later in the week (which day is not yet known) and keep going till Saturday afternoon. Clergy with sermons to write might not be too happy…

The blog will be back then and I’ll faithfully report how it works out.


* Good times, better times, A rather naff 1968 Cliff Richard song that just came into my head while trying to make sense of the Synod weekend overall, maybe because the end was better than the beginning. Written by master-popsters Jerry Lordan, Roger Cook and Roger Greenway. May not be their best work.


Posted in 2017: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find out what it means to me *

Sentamu and Justin today in the  Minster. (Pic credit: Ravage Productions)

It’s always a big event: a full Minster, stunning music, both Archbishops in full rig… Yes, it’s the York Synod Sunday morning. For members whose normal Sunday routine is in an ‘ordinary’ or small congregation, the effect can be overwhelming.

This year, more than usual, perhaps, we left behind the tensions and factions of debates.

For the Officers of the Synod, we have to dress up in our Convocation robes, and be processed in and out. In the sanctuary, we even get seats of honour. It doesn’t feel quite Biblical, but it’s fun.

Synod Officers silly

Posed picture of Prolocutors with their pro-Prolocutors and Synodal Secretaries. Who’s the one playing the fool?

Trans people: a welcome, or a liturgy? Or both?

Blackburn Diocese had sent up a motion about our Welcome and affirmation for Trans People in the Church of England. Introducing the motion Chris Newlands from Blackburn made the point that we are at risk of talking about people, not hearing from them. The diocese’s paper (read it here) explained how it was that the concern first arose there, and Chris told us the stories of some individuals who have changed their gender identity.

This is not a subject that many members are at ease talking about. There was an informative background paper from the Secretary-General – read it here. Chris gave a confident account of how gender dysphoria has affected real people (anonymised); and how in some churches, they have been rejected. But if dysphoria is a real condition – and it is becoming increasingly recognised – then churches have got to move beyond their ignorance and prejudice. Where is the respect? He reminded us that there is trans hate crime in our communities; suicide is a real factor among trans people, especially the young.

He reminded the Synod that whatever decision we made, it would be heard by members of the trans community. Rejection would cause damage to individuals. He wanted the Church to set its face against rejection. More, to authorise some liturgy to mark the moment when an individual does take a new name as someone of a new gender

I report this in some detail as it is a subject thatYork chamber people (2) rpt many of tend to shy away from. As one GP pointed out, these are some of the most vulnerable people in society. Yet if we proclaim people find their true identity in Christ, then the Church needs to offer a welcome that allows trans people to encounter, not only him, but a range of people who will greet and stand alongside them.

  • On the liturgical aspect, Sonya Doragh from Liverpool pointed out that existing texts (with some amendment), will serve for this purpose: a thanksgiving is about marking a moment in someone’s life. So she opposed the motion – and got some warm applause
  • Dr Nick Land had an amendment which softened the practical outcomes of the debate, acknowledged the differences of view about dysphoria, but concentrated on the issues of welcome and care. He wanted the theology to be sorted out before liturgies were produced. Strong applause.
  • Bishop Richard Frith (Hereford) is vice-chair of the Liturgical Commission: he backed Sonya Doragh’s line while (confusingly)welcoming the motion as one that gave us the chance to air the issues.
  • There were powerful stories about people who had transitioned and who were part of church life: ‘success’ stories where someone was welcomed, supported and prayed with; and ‘disaster’ stories where people have walked away or been pushed out.

The debate was interesting because as well as the stories (always powerful) we actually had some theology and biblical interpretation:

  • a look at Genesis from a gender theology point of view
  • an academic review about dysphoria.

Synod does not do enough of that, and it’s perhaps a nod to the opacity of the subject (to many people) that we delved seriously into theology, philosophy and medical practice. You might want to look at the debate on YouTube.

There were two key issues that came out:

  1. Do we need additional liturgies in order to affirm and welcome trans people? That’s a technical question, to which the answer is probably ‘no’?
  2. Regardless of the detail within the text, will passing (or rejecting) the motion be taken by the trans community as a signal that they are welcome (or unwelcome)?

The Land amendment came to a vote by houses. It was rejected by all three with fairly substantial majorities, indicating that people preferred the main motion that gave a stronger emphasis on (1). So we were back to the original Blackburn motion, which speaker after speaker said was ‘symbolic’ – and pointed out that it only asked the House of Bishops to ‘consider’ new liturgies. So it was passed, and this is what the media are picking up.

The BBC report is here, and the Grauniad report is here. Interesting that although they mention the pastoral side, they both focus on the liturgical aspect… Overall I was left with the impression that most of us want to offer respect and a welcome to trans people, though some were evidently not enthusiastic. Hmm…

Who chooses Bishops?

The operation of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) is seen as a mystery by many. The myth of secret groups choosing names persists, though it is not hard to find out who is on the CNC for any episcopal appointment, nor when the CNC meets. (You can start your search here on the CNC page) The days of people smuggling themselves into Lambeth Palace for a day of consultation are long gone.

York PBW rpt

The Bishop of Bath & Wells sitting among the clergy and lay members. Relaxed dress is the norm for York Synods

A review group is in place, and they presented a snapshot of their work so far. Professor Oliver O’Donovan’s presentation started with a clear explanation of what the ‘central’ members do. This matters, because 6 new ones are to be elected very shortly, and the 6 central members provide continuity through the five year term of the Commission. (There are 14 members – 6 from the diocese under consideration, 6 ‘central’ members and the two Archbishops. The two key words were discernment and representative.

On discernment, he stressed it is about working out who will be the right Bishop of X for the future. If the Spirit is guiding and calling for someone to be made a Bishop who is not already a Bishop, CNC people members must be ready to be surprised! It is a different task to any other that Synod members might be asked to do. It needs patience, willingness not to have the answer before you start, to be good at cooperating, and know who you are. They have to understand the candidates, and the rest of the panel. They have to be able to help the diocesan members (who will in variably be doing it for the first time) along.

On representative, another member of the group, Professor Morwenna Ludlow, explained that the CNC has to represent the church as a whole. Members thus need to be able to bring a wide range of experiences with them and to engage with people coming from other parts of the church. Synod’s groupings (i.e. EGGS, the Catholic group, etc) mean that people coming from one grouping bring presuppositions with them. CNC members therefore need to be able to build out from their own perspective, and be open to the Spirit in doing so. In voting for someone, they are not there to represent one group, but the whole church. The Group had been told that this was not happening in some cases: members’ own ‘group’ perspectives were overruling the ‘represent the whole church’ concept. Trust has become strained at times.

There is no way of ensuring all interest groups are represented on one CNC. Members must be able to work well together, with the Archbishops and the candidates, so there is truly shared discernment. Members must be trusted by the rest of the CNC and by the candidates.

York chamber GVs (2) rpt

Backbenchers’ view

The Questions on this were interesting, in that the review team were trying hard not to give away too much about their recommendations, as their work is not yet done. But with nominations for the 6 new central members closing on Monday this week, clearly there were key messages to get across for aspiring candidates and voters.

We learned

  • they are going to say something about the actual interview process (but they would not say what)
  • they were not going to comment on the recent difficult Sheffield and Oxford appointment processes
  • they were sympathetic to a potential candidate’s complaint that you cannot ‘sell’ yourself in the mere 100 words allowed on a nomination form, but it is a Synod responsibility, not theirs.

(Declaration of interest: I am intending to stand for this election. My informed sources indicate a large number of other people are also standing. It’ll be a key election)

Who’s looking after your Vicar?


Simon Butler introduces the report

The House of Clergy brought a report about clergy well-being. Simon Butler, introducing it, spoke about the complexity of clergy roles, and the ‘intricate web’ of pressures and challenges they have to deal with while bring in role. What do we need to do in order that our clergy are happy and fulfilled, rather than stressed and in danger of breakdown? The whole church has a duty of care. He wanted particularly to hear from lay members – and from Bishops: who is looking out for them?

The plan is to look towards a ‘covenant for the clergy’, in the way we nowadays have an Armed Forces Covenant. The debate brought out a lot of discussion about ‘best practice’, counselling, and stress in multi-parish benefices. Most speakers were clergy. The Bishop of Chelmsford, in the guise of exploring how busy a Bishop’s life is, gave an entertaining version of the talk he gives in schools about his cross, crosier and mitre. His point was that the Bishop is vicar to the vicars.

  • Where it got real was when the Revd Zoe Heming (Lichfield) talked about her own research with clergy who have become disabled. They have to agree that ‘I cannot do it all’ – and in a good case, their parishioners and colleagues jump in to take up the slack.
  • She was immediately followed by Archbishop Justin, who spoke about the loneliness and relentlessness of much parish ministry. Regarding Bishops stresses, he said that Bishops’ offices are often under-resourced (I could write a book about that). He also indicated, from painful experience, that the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) processes often damage people more than the original problem that led to a CDM.
  • Elizabeth Paver, House of Laity vice-chair, made a powerful speech gently chiding clergy for not taking their days off and holidays – and parish lay leadership for not pushing them to do so

The Report was accepted with some interest and enthusiasm. There’ll be more work done, and more people consulted, and it will return, with perhaps an Act of Synod as the final outcome. (An Act is an agreed policy of the Church that does not require legislation.)

And finally…

I must confess to skipping the last business of the day – a Private Members Motion about the effect of schools admissions policies on families living in ‘tied houses’. Tiffer Robinson, the proposer, had clergy families mostly in view, but the problem applies to other households who have to move into a ‘company house’ – such as military families. They can’t get school places sorted till they are established; and they can’t choose where to live.

There was, I gather, some opposition to this. People were uncomfortable at the idea that clergy families should ‘jump the queue’ to a school. But chums more diligent than I report that the motion was passed after some wrangling.

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Ideas wanted

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Ideas provided








A Business Committee fringe meeting drew about 30 people as keen as me to review the many changes that have been made saw we work towards ‘new ways of being Synod’. There has been huge progress in the three years since the Committee set its sights on change. The biggest one, though, is the reduction of sessions by 50% this July and the abolition of food at fringe meetings.

There were some criticisms acknowledged of problems with food queues and the timing of sessions. We agreed that the proposed Code of Conduct for Synod was heading the right way, but required some tweaks, and there was general concern that some members were going beyond the bounds of good behaviour in their social media comments. Look at #synod and search diligently and you may see what I mean.

Late night bar fellowship followed. There was plenty of reviewing the whole weekend, and some looking at the ecclesio-politics of how the evangelical grouping’s impact seems muted, or even fractured.  But that’s a long-term thing, and not fit for what passes as daily reportage.


* Respect, Aretha Franklin, 1967. Her powerful version of Otis Redding’s song. Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me… A soul classic from Atlantic Records.

Posted in 2017: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Stop! In the name of love *

There was an expectant hush in the chamber first thing this morning when Archbishop Justin stood to introduce Next steps on human sexuality – the presentation about the Teaching Document. A lot hangs on how this works.

Next faltering steps

He began by reminding us that God treats everyone the same, and that we ought to be doing the same. Given the slightly grim atmosphere yesterday, it was a pointed reminder. He then took us on a tour of some basic themes:

  • listening well is vital – but is not the same as agreeing
  • our task is to show the love of Christ to all, regardless of their sexual identity
  • extensive consultation is part of our tradition of listening to God through scripture, reason and tradition
  • there will be a significant level of untidiness. There always is in the Church of England.

Archbishop Justin Welby

He reminded us of the full text of his starting point. It’s important, so I’ll put it in bold:

To reflect a radical new Christian inclusion, founded in scripture, reason and tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it”

Part of what he then said was an attempt to manage expectations:

  • inclusion of all those elements wanting a place at the table (he read out a long list) would not be simple (or, I detected a hint, possible)
  • unity in Christ and truth go together: but they need to be in the service of mission
  • the joy of Christ needs to be seen in our relationships (and often is not): we are called to be a church of reconciled reconcilers

It’s a huge programme of work: he suggested it might be ready to come to Synod in early 2020

York chamber people (2) rpt

Synod in summer outfits, listening carefully…

The idea of a ‘teaching document’ is not terribly familiar to Anglicans. Roman Catholics are more used to them, where they have authority as the place where the Church’s teaching on race, sex, doctrine, etc etc can be found or appealed to. Archbishop Justin made it clear it would not be like that among us. Supported by Bishops Christopher Cocksworth (Coventry) and Christine Hardman (Newcastle), he explained it as a resource which would reflect the very varied nature of our humanity, and something that will help people to think this through, rather than just be told what the answer is. (Canterbury Prolocutor Simon Butler later suggested that it should be described as a ‘Learning and Teaching’ document…)

When the Chair invited questions, the first to the mics were some seasoned Synodical campaigners – Rosie Harper, Ian Paul, Dean David Ison. After that, wise chairing meant that not all the questioners were ‘the usual suspects’. We heard:

  • pleas for inclusion of Deaf people and young people
  • a passionate call that the Bishops recognise how urgent this is
  • complaints that the 26 year-old Issues of Human Sexuality is still being used as a touchstone in pre-ordination discernment processes
  • a pointed question about whether we would learn from (probably meaning ‘copy’) the Scottish Episcopal Church’s experience, which was batted off by the Archbishops reminding us that other provinces are available in the Anglican Communion – Canada and New Zealand, for example.

If you are very interested in the detail, you can:

  • pick the whole thing up on YouTube here
  • read Archbishops Justin’s introduction here (or not: it was not available online when I went to press)
  • read the document here.

Harriet Sherwood did a fair write-up in the Guardian.

For me, the (lightweight) highlight in this (heavyweight) discussion was a moment when the Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, used the words ‘doctrine’ and ‘fun’ in the same sentence.

Working together

Moving swiftly on, we opened up Presence and Engagement – a grass-roots look at the C of E’s ability to work with and alongside communities made up of very varied religious and ethnic groups (read the paper here). There was some criticism that the main motion did not explicitly refer to the uniqueness of Christ, thus potentially implying a more universalist view about other faiths. This was resisted, and what followed was a series of positive stories about grass-roots work in multi faith and multi-ethnic environments.

The Dean of Southwark, Andrew Nunn spoke movingly about his experience working with local Muslims on the night of the London Bridge terrorist attack. His point was that good responses at times of crisis only happen where groundwork has been done over many months before. We must be present and engaged all the time, he said. (He may blog about it https://anunnatsynod.wordpress.com/

Those of us in relatively monochrome shire county dioceses learned much.

Local and national

There were cries of ‘ooooh!’ when we were told that the item on National support for local churches would enable us to make choices about how we spent the afternoon. It’s in response to the mood of ‘new ways of doing Synod’ and some requests made by Synod members.

So we were reminded about six things that Church House Westminster is doing in connection with the national church’s emphasis on bringing the news of Christ to all. They are (and this will come as a surprise to those who criticise central church bodies, whether at national or diocesan level):

  1. The national Pentecost prayer event Thy Kingdom Come
  2. Life Events
  3. Digital Evangelism
  4. National events as opportunities for community witness
  5. Inclusion and Outreach to the marginalised
  6. Crossing the Generations

I was initially less than enthusiastic about this item, seeing it as an attempt by those at the centre to justify their existence to those who pay the bills (us people in the dioceses). But perusal of the document which spells out what is going on (read it here) reveals some impressive activity, all of which has pay-offs for parishes and diocese.

STEPHEN-SURFACE - WIN_20170708_144213

Planning the Christmas digital ideas

My workshop was the digital evangelism one. The ever-exuberant John Spence talked about the Church’s ambition to reach people we have no contact with by traditional ministry and mission – digitally. He was followed by the relatively new Head of Digital, Adrian Harris (ex-Tesco, ex-BUPA), showed how very large numbers of people viewed the C of E internet campaigns at Christmas and Easter, and our responses to tragedies like London Bridge. He also said:

  • Facebook works better than Twitter for his communications. Facebook followers have tripled in 6 months (admittedly from a low base) and the demographic is largely 25-44
  • the C of E website is being reformed and renewed based on research with 1,800 people involved.
  • It will be mobile-friendly (1/3 of traffic comes that way) and include A Church Near You (aka ACNY) – one Devon church got over 5,000 visits last year. If you’ve never explored ACNY go here. (Do not confuse with ACNA or GAFCON, which are slightly different animals)
  • resources (e.g. a writing for the Web module) will be made available the work priorities are based on hard data that is available through monitoring digital output.

There was lots of techspeak about ‘aggregating content’, ‘ingesting data’, and ‘cobweb content’. But overall, an cheerful and inspiring presentation with some fired-up digital dudes raring to take it further.

Inevitably, the debate that followed was less exciting. Mind you, twitter went bonkers about it, to the extent that #synod was trending for a while. Judging by the tea-room chatter and the speeches, my initial suspicion about this item was ill-informed. Well done Church House team!

Conversion conversation

Jayne Ozanne introduced her motion about ‘Conversion Therapy’ of LGBTI people with a calm but passionate speech combining her own (very damaging) experiences; references to medical opinion (against conversion therapy); and the need to listen to people’s experiences. While pretty well everyone is against the practice nowadays, she referred to various Christian healing and deliverance ministries, and people who practice prayer to bring people from homosexual desire to ‘normal’ desire. She brought out statistics indicating the particular damage to young people, and explained how she saw them as abuse and a safeguarding matter.

The debate that followed required the bathwellschap clapometer: loud and long applause for some speakers; short but noisy for others (indicating less support). The full text of the motions and amendments can be found here

  • Sean Doherty argued clearly for his amendment. It would remove the whole text of the Ozanne original and replace it with a softer approach, pointing also at good pastoral practice that must not include coercion; and looking to the House of Bishops for guidelines for work in this area.
  • Dr Jamie Harrison, Chair of the House of Laity, offered a much less specific amendment, (with the rider that he referenced a 2015 Royal College of Psychologists memorandum (the other motions went for a 2017 memorandum, conjuring up – for those of us who are not experts – the old Monty Python gag about the People’s Front for the Liberation of Judea and the Jeans People’s Liberation Front.)
  • Two relatively young members gave moving accounts of their own encounters with gay-change therapy approaches in church
  • With his usual clarity, the Bishop of Liverpool pointed out that if being LGBT is not sinful, then we can have no truck with attempts to change people, and he reminded us of the hate crimes happening in his own city.

Synod voting machine

As we got closer to a vote, the atmosphere (already hotter than was comfortable) got tense. Simon Butler reminded us that Ozanne ‘endorses’ the medical references; Doherty merely ‘notes’ them. So he was with Ozanne. It got to an electronic vote by houses (enabling everyone to see who voted for what when the figures come out) on every amendment.


The Doherty amendment failed in all houses. A further amendment from Bath & Wells’ Christina Baron failed only because a tie in the House of Bishops. And eventually the Harrison amendment succeeded in all three houses. A late addition was an instruction to call on the government to ban conversion therapy.

Winding down

All in all, I felt this was an unsatisfactory debate for those of us who like Synod to proceed in an orderly fashion. Nowhere was ‘conversion therapy’ defined; nobody went anywhere near speaking up for it. Effectively, we were voting against something that nobody supports. But as a wise old Synod bird said to me – this isn’t about the wording. It’s about alignment: getting the Church to be seen to be supportive of LGBTI people, not against them. There’s very clear write-up from Dean Andrew Nunn here. And Harriet Sherwood’s Grauniad piece is here.

The politics is fascinating: Despite the EGGS group having more than 100 people at their fringe meeting on Friday night, evangelicals did not have enough votes to stop the Ozanne motion going through – presumably because only the more conservative among them voted against.

In other business

WIN_20170709_012431A pleasant diversion was the book-signing by Catherine Fox, whose Lindchester series of novels throws a witty (and sometimes scabrous) light on cathedral city life. Catherine’s latest is Realms of Glory, and she even had some Lindchester mugs on sale. An ideal present for your Vicar, or Archdeacon. Maybe.

Tomorrow we all head off to York Minster for a grand Communion service, and then resume business after lunch with a diocesan motion on Welcoming Transgender People and an report on the work of the Crown Nominations Commission. After that – how well are clergy looked after (and how well do they look after themselves?); and a motion on schools admission policies.

A wonderful and varied day lies ahead.


* Stop! In the name of Love The Supremes’ 1965 Motown hit (written by Holland-Dozier-Holland) just before Diana Ross was picked out of the group to be the headline name. If you are old enough to remember b/w TV, you’ll just love the YouTube!

Posted in 2017: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

There’s something in the air *

York chamber people (1) rpt

First session: a full hall

The first day of this Synod has been described as ‘tetchy’, ‘prickly’ and ‘febrile’. Underlying the routine business that always begins the meeting there was a current of tense, personal, and fierce differences about sexuality matters. It was there from the beginning of the meeting.


Proxy debates, proxy wars

The greeting of ecumenical guests is usually polite but restrained. However, when Archbishop Sentamu first mentioned Bishop John Armes, Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC), there was instant and warm applause, even before Sentamu had given the customary biography of the guest.

York chamber GVs (1)

Ecumenical and other guests get special seats


The reason for this is not hard to discern: 15 members of Synod had declared that they were ‘searching their consciences’ about whether they could even attend Synod, in view of the invitation to him. Their unparalleled distaste for greeting an Anglican leader from within the UK is due to the SEC’s recent decision to make it possible for SEC churches to celebrate same-sex marriages. That decision brought forth the instant consecration of a ‘missionary Bishop’ for Europe (The Rt Revd Andy Lines) by conservative Anglicans in the US.

So this was an audible demonstration by those who object to the boycott and the irregular consecration. I had not got my (mythical) Synod clapometer out of it’s box, but if I had, it would have registered that there are a lot of people who feel that way. (There might be a subsidiary reason for such an enthusiastic welcome: only a year ago, we struggled with a perceived insult to the SEC by an ecumenical move to work closer with the established Church of Scotland (which is, of course Presbyterian, not episcopal). So some may have been clapping out of a differently tender conscience).

Disagreement, good and bad


After hours: Bishop of Willesden, Sue Booys, Sean Doherty, Jane Morris and Simon Butler

Yesterday I described the ‘cultural changes’ being brought in (read that post here). Opening the debate on the agenda the Business Committee Chair, Sue Booys, explained the thinking – shorter sessions and more time together out of the chamber may be a good thing. She dropped some very loud hints about broader changes in the way Synod works, taking the line that Synod is a huge investment of resources and members’ time. How can it be better used? So some navel-gazing is in order, and we were invited to a fringe meeting to help the Business Committee get it right. UPDATE:Room PT/005 on Sunday night at 8.30 is the place to be.

There is a draft (voluntary) code of conduct for members which is up for discussion (GS Misc 1162 read it here). In the debate, Jayne Ozanne spoke about the insults and painful comments she had received – particularly in social media – and proposed that members should be made to sign up to the Code. The febrile nature of this weekend was immediately apparent when Andrea Williams tried to raise a point of order relating to what Jayne Ozanne had said and was more or less howled down. Another speaker who grumbled about Bishop Armes’ presence then suggested that Bishop Lines should have been a guest instead: she was heard with some low growls of discontent – and some very enthusiastic clapping by a small number.

But two speakers gently ticked us off for not listening and told us to respond in a Christian manner, and as Sue Booys summed up – this is about what ‘good disagreement is about’.

The national church?

The Archbishops had inserted a debate on the state of the nation into the agenda. It was built round a long motion (read it here) which seemed to me to cover too many bases for its own good. Others clearly thought so too, as it attracted 5 amendments, each trying to make it more pointed/topical/specific policy-oriented.

York chamber GVs (4) rpt

Archbishop Sentamu addresses Synod

It began with Archbishop Sentamu’s wide-ranging speech, covering elections, Brexit, the financial crisis – and tax. We were asked to raise our hands if we were willing, personally, to devote more of our own income to education, social care and health. Pretty well everyone did. He ended by appealing for a “new, values-based politics” built around the common good.


He was immediately followed by Caroline Spelman MP, the shiny new First Church Estates Commissioner, who speaks for the Church in Parliament. She pretty smartly indicated that anything that the Press might interpret as being ‘Church bashes Government’ would not be not a Good Thing. When you read this, you’ll have access to Fleet Street’s finest, so we’ll see. The BBC midnight news certainly ran an item about Archbishop Sentamu criticising government activity, and the idea that we need to pay more tax.

Synod heavyweights then moved in. Canterbury Prolocutor Simon Butler moved a procedural attempt to kill off the motion, on the grounds that it was a vote for motherhood and apple pie. The Bishop of Willesden headed that off, saying that politics is in a bad state, and though the motion does not say everything, it is a contribution to the much-needed national debate.

After all that, the various amendments were taken.

  • One attempted to insert a reference to STV elections (hear hear!) and lowering the voting age to 16. It was rejected as being too specific.
  • Others wanted to support a second referendum on Scottish independence, to reinforce traditional values on family life, and to add in a very specific reference to commending the gospel.

So the ‘Still small voice of calm’ debate ground on, with the amendments all failing. The effect of all that time-wasting was we didn’t get the quality speeches we might have had on the main text. That’s democracy for you.

Over supper, it was suggested to me that the whole debate had been badly put together, Whenever people ask for more topical debates, the Business Committee response has been that without proper papers and preparation, such debates could be very poor and might show Synod in a bad light. Well, loth as I am to criticise our Archbishops, that seems to be exactly the case with this debate. No preliminary papers; a motion that was amended once between being first presented and printed, and then with an extra amendment put in on the day by Archbishop Sentamu. It was a worthy aim, but it was poorly planned, and time was hijacked by the various amendments from the floor – all of which fell.

Questions, questions, questions…

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The Bishop of Bath & Wells promotes new safeguarding information

At Question time two big themes emerged.


  • One was safeguarding, and (I declare an interest) my boss, the Bishop of Bath & Wells had to handle those. He got off to a good start, with a round of applause when a questioner complimented him on taking on ‘the toughest gig in the Church of England’. He opportunistically used questions about safeguarding developments to wave new and forthcoming publications before Synod, and had to deal with some tough questions about recent and current independent reports into safeguarding lapses.
  • The other theme was a resumption of the proxy wars on sexuality. Questioners wanted the answering Bishop to express support for their view on Conversion Therapy (and there are two clear schools of thought, as we will see tomorrow). The Bishop of Willesden carefully expressed support for people undergoing gender re-assignment or unwanted same-sex attraction – without being trapped into supporting one particular view by the questioners.

An evening fringe meeting reinforced my view that tomorrow (Saturday) we are going to be subjected to some very technical discussions about gender re-orientation therapy. Do we support the 2015 or 2017 version of Royal College of Psychiatrists Memorandum of Understanding? There’ll be much quoting of specialist medics – but is Synod competent to assess all this?

Culture change

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Good food, good company…


On this first day of the new-look York Synod, it was hard to assess whether the cunning plan to get us to spend more time talking to each other is working. The dining hall was heaving – much fuller than usual – at suppertime. And the fringe meeting I went to was also much fuller than usual. And the dear old Vanbrugh bar filled up earlier than usual – but noticeably emptied out earlier than usual, too, as people headed for an early night.

Saturday will see us

  • examining the Bishops’ presentation on the proposed ‘Teaching Document’ on sexuality issues. Liberals fear it doesn’t go far enough; conservatives fear it will be too liberal. See what you think here.
  • Looking at a whole bunch of legislation (Synod nerds specialist subject)
  • Reflecting on our work with people in a multi-faith environment (good report, read it here)
  • Considering how the national church can help local churches with evangelism in many ways

After all that, at the end of the day, we look at the Ozanne ‘Conversion Therapy’ motion and the various amendments that come with it. That will be tense. It was certainly the subject of much speculation and discussion in the bar…


*  Something in the air, Thunderclap Newman. A 1969 one-hit wonder that somehow caught the mood of change after all that flower-power and psychedelic stuff. Lovely dramatic beginning, great bass line. On YouTube if you’ve lost your copy.

Posted in 2017: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments