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?

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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

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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.

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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

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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!)

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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.
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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.

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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

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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.

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* 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.

 

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

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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* 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 , , , , , | 3 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.
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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

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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.

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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.
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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.

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* 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

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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…

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*  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

Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)

There are two big differences to this July Synod. One is cultural, the other is procedural.

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No more late nights!

The cultural change is the complete cancellation of late-evening sessions. No more earnest debating till 10.00 p.m.  – it’s all going to be over at 7.00. The idea is that we are then able to spend more time talking to each other, rather than at each other.

(I just hope someone has told the Vanbrugh Bar staff – there’ll be a lot more summer night chatting and drinking going on than usual. It would be tragic if the real ales for which they are famous ran out too soon.)

Oh, and we’re all going home on Monday night – there are no Tuesday sessions this year. So the usual 12 sessions of a York Synod are reduced to 6. That’s a 50% cut: it’s an Austerity Synod.

The procedural change is the late arrival on the scene of  a topical debate – about the state of the nation. The Archbishops have used their powers as Presidents to alter the agenda (already printed and sent out to us a couple of weeks ago) and put in a complex motion with the winsome title “After the General Election, a still small voice of calm” . There are always voices raised at Synod complaining that our agenda is too tightly planned and we never respond to current issues. The motion knocks that on the head straight away, with no less than six elements:

  • Four relate directly to the current fragility of parliamentary government after the election
  • one is about our contribution to society (and will doubtless bring forth some moving tales of local parish response to Grenfell Tower).
  • Oh, and the last is about Europe, and will be seen by some as a coded Brexit message about the folly of leaving the EU.
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Archbishop Justin at York

You can see the details here. Time will be tight, but it will give the Archbishops a chance reinforce their message about the country needing to find a new way of doing business, and what Archbishop Justin called the ‘urgent need’ to do Brexit differently. (See Grauniad report here)

Sexuality – continued from February…

Following the clear rejection of the House of Bishops February attempt to say something describing the human sexuality landscape, there will be an intense focus on this, and related issues, in York. If you’re just catching up, I reported on the February tram-smash here.

Sexuality

The key document this weekend

Private Members Motions (PMMs) about all this have leapt up the queue. But the Bishops have got their retaliation in first. So on Saturday morning, while you are doing your shopping, contemplating cutting the lawn or preparing a sermon, we will be looking at the elegantly-named “Proposals for the Pastoral Advisory Group on Human Sexuality and the Development of the Teaching Document“.

It’s a 9-page resumé (GS Misc 1158 – read it here) on how the proposed new ‘teaching document’ is going to be prepared.  With wondrous understatement, it suggests that we will come to York with “very clear memories” of February.

  • You’ll remember from February that after the crash, the Archbishops moved swiftly to set up a working group, chaired by the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman. Their job is to consider what advice to give dioceses about handling pastoral and other provision for same-sex couples.
  • Another group, chaired by Chris Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry, is to get working on a teaching document. It will have some supporting groups looking at the social and biological, Biblical, theological and historical aspects. It’s a massive task, and if you are interested, you will need to read GS Misc 1158, rather than relying on me.

The PMMs are what one seasoned Synod observer called ‘proxy motions’. That is, although they are about some specific subjects, they are really ways of raising issues and debating them as substitutes and pre-echoes of the bigger debates to come.

Voting (1)

We’ll have some ‘full house’ sessions

  • Jayne Ozanne has to wait until Saturday afternoon before her motion on Conversion Therapy gets Synod time. Again, you’ll need to read her note explaining her motion, as well as the Secretary-General’s backup information note for members if you want to make sense of the debate.
  • It’s a sign of the fast-moving culture change we are in that on Sunday afternoon, we have a pastorally-minded motion from the Blackburn diocese about how the Church should recognise people who have undergone gender transition. There are two papers to look at here and here if you want to find out more. I fear that some of the media will focus on this in an unhelpful way, and it may also be a debate that strays from it’s very clear focus into something wider where people will express views that are less than kind, and less than relevant.

Lobbying on comment on this area is intense. The bloggers are hard at it too. The temperature will be high.

Any other business?

When I started looking at this set of sessions, I thought we were in for a rather lightweight and boring time. The Archbishops’ state of the nation motion, and the ever-increasing lobbying on sexuality have put paid to that. Despite that 50% cut in debating time, we’ll get a lot done.

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University Central Hall – venue for Synod sessions

  • Something of interest to all clergy and churchwardens who read this: on Sunday afternoon, the House of Clergy is bringing a debate on clergy well-being. The Canterbury Prolocutor, Simon Butler, will propose that serious work is done on how the Church looks after its clergy – and how they can look after themselves. Once the jokes about ‘only working on Sundays’ are seen off, we need to recognise that clergy stress is a very real problem. So we (and I declare an interest as a  member of the House of Clergy Standing Committee) are suggesting a Covenant for Clergy Wellbeing should be developed. Read all about it in GS 2072 here.
  • People always get bothered about how Bishops are chosen. The nominating body is called the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), and it’s part-way through a review of how it works. We’re to have an interim report on Sunday afternoon. Having served on the CNC for one appointment, and having been involved in a number of senior appointment processes in my own diocese, I’ll keep a beady eye on this. The timing is interesting – nominations are open for the six Synod members who are elected to the CNC…
  • One of the ways in which Synod is being speeded up is by the use of the ‘deemed’ procedure’. Work that’s in progress, but which might not need a debate or any amendments, is presented to us and given potential agenda time, but if no-one asks for a debate, it’s deemed to be satisfactory and we move it along. So Synod nerds (who? me?) have to read the stuff. I found a couple of really interesting proposals are being worked up in the seductively-named GS 2064 – ‘Draft Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure‘. When finally enacted it will :
    • remove the need for clergy to sign a formal Deed of Resignation when they leave a post. They will, like normal people, simply be able to write a letter of resignation.
    • deal with a serious anomaly in the new Parochial Fees structure. Nowadays, funeral fees ‘belong’ to the diocese, who use the money to pay clergy. But this presupposes all clergy are parochial. But (for example) when a mental health chaplain takes the funeral of a patient, it’s wrong for the fee to go to the diocese: it ought to go to the priest’s employer. This has caused problems in Bath and Wells (and, I’m sure, elsewhere). So hoorah for lawyers bent on simplification who are adjusting the law to cover this.

If there was a debate, I would speak in favour. But hopefully it will be deemed OK, and I’ll be saved the effort. If you’re really keen on Miscellaneous Provisions, look here for the 9 pages of detail. And go here for the 16 pages of explanation.

I did warn you.

Nightime scene York

Central Hall at night: somewhere we won’t be during this ‘Austerity Synod’…

There is loads of other stuff coming up: reforming the elections system for the House of Laity; concern about the cost of applying for British citizenship; Presence and Engagement work in a multi-faith environment; the effect of schools admission codes on families moving into ‘tied house’ accommodation (like clergy have to).

I could go on. But I won’t.

“Proper meals” vs “death by quiche”

There is another cultural change this year. In the name of saving money, fringe meetings (which happen during meal breaks) are no longer to be catered for.

  • You used to sign up in advance for your fringe meeting on (say) “ways to evangelise in a rural context” and your meal would be transferred to that meeting. So you forwent a “proper meal” in the dining hall. Instead, you had to force your way through a keen crowd of rural evangelists to a “death by quiche” buffet selection which had been brought to the fringe meeting’s room.
  • But now you’ll have to zip from the main session to grab your “proper meal”, and then hoick off to the meeting room to be regaled with nothing but hot and cold drinks while you study evangelism.

This is a big change, but the Business Committee report (read it here if you’re very keen) sees a silver lining in the money-saving: people will be much more likely to sit and chat to each other over their “proper meal”. I think that’s true, because often your dining hall time is spent with strangers and people you happen to sit next to, to everyone’s benefit. And there will definitely be more informal business done in the bars.

We’re trying to attempt ‘new ways of doing Synod’, and this money-saver might just have some very positive spin-off.

Jezebel’s Trumpet* finds a new voice

CT podcast logoThe venerable Church Times (founded 1863) has launched a 21st-century podcast! It’s a three-way conversation between Ed Thornton, Madeleine Davies and Hattie Williams – I’ll plug them if they plug me (hint, hint…) – listen to it here. The Synod bit is a fairly low-energy 8-minute chat between journalists, rather than interviews/conversation with partisan members or observers. It’s OK to listen to in the car or on the train, but for a speedy round-up, blogs may be a better bet. (Especially this one.) But credit to them for their consistently full reporting of Synod over many years, and this tech breakout into new media.

*Jezebel’s Trumpet – a nickname for the Church Times, variously credited to fierce Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics of the 1980’s. Take your pick.

And finally…

Saul Bellow Chapel

The Synod prayer space: much-needed

As ever, I’ll attempt a daily round-up for those of you for whom Wimbledon and Rugby are not enough. You can sign up to get an automatic notification – just click the Follow’ button in the right-hand column above. I’ll notify publication on twitter as well: @bathwellschap

Do remember to say a prayer for us all: some of this could get difficult.

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* Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) Came into my head as the 1978 split-location John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John song from Grease. But it’s actually the title of the 1965 Beach Boys LP that had Help me Rhonda and California Girls on it.

The Grease song is actually just called Summer Nights. Yes, it is on YouTube…Tell me more, tell me more, more, more…”

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

It’s yesterday once more *

Sometimes Synod can be at its most relaxed after a big event. There was plenty of post-match analysis this morningread on below for more about yesterday. But as people gathered, there was a treat in store, as we were going to say farewell to that larger-than-life figure, Bishop Richard Chartres.

Archbishop Justin paid an affectionate and witty tribute to this long-standing (21 years) Bishop of London. Bishop Richard and Caroline Chartres were up in the gallery, and took a standing ovation from those down on the floor. There were too many anecdotes to record, some beautifully phrased put-downs – and a truly horrendous selection of shirts in some video clips. We shall not see his like again.

No, but seriously…

Then we got serious. The Most Revd Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon, the Nigerian Bishop who became Secretary-General of the Anglican Consultative Council in 2015 gave an address. After noting the significance of the See of Canterbury as the mother church of the Communion, and the Church of England as the elder brother of the family of worldwide Anglicans, he got down to what many had been expecting – remarks about our discussions about human sexuality. Anglican-watchers will know that this issue has been the touchpaper for worldwide Anglican dissent and confusion, with GAFCON bringing together conservatives, and the Episcopal Church of the USA being seen as breaking all the rules in its welcome for same-sex marriages.

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Dr Idowu-Fearon (Pic: Episcopal News Service)

Surprise! His address was largely eirenical, referring to joint efforts in mission and development, evangelism, and theological education. Even if Provinces are divided on human sexuality, he said, inter-diocesan partnerships flourish. (In Bath and Wells we have a longstanding partnership with the dioceses of Zambia.) And he complimented us on the ‘beautiful gifts’ we are offering the rest of the communion – theological education, Fresh Expressions of church and the Renewal and Reform (R’n’R) programme.

He also paid warm tribute to Archbishop Justin for his sacrificial and demanding ministry. But at the end, he did go into the difficult corner: he said that our discussions on same-sex matters will cause difficulties, whatever we end up doing. But for him, the most pressing issue is the persecution of homosexuals in many countries. In Nigeria, the struggle is for the safety of our gay brothers and sisters. African Anglicans must denounce violence and change attitudes.  He praised the C of E’s work in liberalising attitudes in previous decades.(On this, see Graham James’ speech yesterday here).

To finish he talked about needing to set aside difficult issues ‘for now’.’Your struggles are our struggles’. That surprised several people! Read his full text here.

The Church: clergy and/or laypeople?

A serious report called Setting God’s People Free was the next big thing. It addresses the perennial task of putting into practice the theory that everyone subscribes to –  that the church consists of many disciples, of whom only a few (maybe 2% in our case) are ordained. (You can read the report here.) In a fiery I dare to dream speech, Mark Russell of Church Army introduced it as something that could enable us to help the 98%. It was quite a performance, and it set out a huge vision for laypeople being disciples at work, and not just in church. There were big smiles (and long applause) from all and sundry after a virtuoso Russell performance.

I observed that the tea room filled up with (predominantly) clergy as this debate began. That maybe just because people wanted a break after sitting down for over an hour listening to the Chartres tribute and Dr Idowu-Fearon. Or it may be that the clergy aren’t persuaded that this report is of great value to them.  On the other hand, there were tweeted complaints that despite large numbers of lay reps standing to be called to speak, the Chair seemed to be favouring clergy speeches. Hmmm….

Combined Operations?

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Members file into the Chamber (pic from earlier this week)

The Synod ended with a rather low-energy short debate on a Private Members Motion brought by Gavin Oldham of Oxford. Gavin is a successful businessman in the finance sector, and he wanted Synod to adopt a policy of combining ‘back-office’ functions in each of our 43 dioceses in a national facility, to free up diocesan money and energy for mission. His background paper was really unusual, with quotes from Antoine de Saint-Exupery as well as the normal background info and explanation. There was also a helpful paper from the Archbishops’ Council outlining what ‘combined ops’ are already in existence.

 

I had heard several people say that Gavin’s original proposal was somewhat unrealistic, and it was greatly improved by a successful amendment that focussed the target on getting the Archbishops’ Council to put together some concrete proposals. However, my own feeling was that the idea completely misreads the nature of relationships between individual parishes, churchwardens and clergy and their local diocesan office team. So I spoke (somewhat vehemently for me…) against it.

True to form, Synod then promptly voted in favour of the motion. A speech by Lynas is generally the kiss of death to any proposal he supports. Perhaps I’d better stick to blogging.

Yesterday…

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Tea-room chat (pic from earlier this week)

There were lots of huddles in the tearoom in the morning as people picked over the bones of yesterday’s events. The media still can’t work out what it means. Giles Fraser in the Guardian sees it as the clergy being way ahead of the Bishops in their desire to move on with same-sex issues.

But I suspect when the voting names are released (an informed source tells me that’ll probably happen next week) we’ll see it was an unholy alliance of very conservative and fairly liberal people that ensured the vote failed in the House of Clergy. They did so for different reasons: as explained yesterday, the conservatives don’t like it because it’s too liberal, the liberals don’t like it because it’s too conservative. As Bishop Graham James memorably put it: we don’t even agree what we disagree about.

Meanwhile, as I predicted last night, there was some planning and discussion going on behind closed doors about what is going to happen next. The outcome of that is a very clear letter sent out today from the two Archbishops. It sets out a programme of work that will start now.  You can read the letter here – it is very interesting and responds to much that was said in the debate. There are four main actions

  1. Every diocesan Bishop is going to call in his or her Synod reps for an ‘extended conversation’ in which they can set out what they would like to see happen.
  2. The Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman (an old Synod hand and former Prolocutor of the House of Clergy) is to chair a new Pastoral Oversight Group. Its job will be to give specific advice to dioceses about pastoral situations that are arising. They say ‘the group will be inclusive’, (which I take to mean it will include LGBTI members).
  3. There will be proposals for a teaching document, as suggested in GS2055 and largely welcomed in group work and the debate.
  4. They will also ‘suggest’ to the Business Committee that time is found for ‘a debate in general terms on marriage and sexuality’. No timescale is given for that – whether that’s an omission, or there wasn’t time to get agreement on it, but most people will assume that is going to happen in July at York.

And a good thing too: now the dam has broken, we need to immerse ourselves in the flood of a franker and more sympathetic-to-each-other discussion.

The blog: almost as good as being there?

It’s now an established Tradition of the Church that on the last day of Synod I reflect briefly on the impact of this blog. Recidivist readers will know that it began in 2012 as therapy for me in the midst of the women bishops fiascos of that era. It also served as a way of telling people back home in Bath and Wells what was going on.

It’s now developed into a niche form of para(sitic) journalism, and people have been kind enough to be glad about the (relative) objectivity, the tearoom chitchat and the occasional informed source. And even the jokes.

The stats continue to amaze me. This is a snapshot from today.stats

  • There are three readers in Guernsey! I know who two of them are, but who’s the other one? As for Canada, Sweden, New Zealand and the USA…
  • There was one from Bolivia last year, but that turned out to be a Synod member who was away travelling, trying to keep up.
  • WordPress enables you to see how people find the blog (apart from the 60 or so automatic followers. (If you want to get this automatically, sign up using the little ‘Follow’ button in the right-hand column). Two-thirds of them come via Twitter, most of the rest via search engines.
  • Sadly, the Church House Comms department no longer feature bloggers in the Daily Digest (which has a huge circulation and you can sign up to it here – they might not plug me but I’ll plug them…) So my overall readership is down to something just over half of what is was, compared to July, (when they did plug blogs.)
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Bathwellschap’s blogger’s kit

In the interests of better understanding of Synod, I always try to link to the relevant source material, so people can see documents for themselves, rather than rely on me (or even more unreliable commentators). The other interesting stat, then, is to see what people do click on.

  • Sadly, the top click away from yesterday’s post was the Guardian report on poor Christopher Cocksworth’s EFS (Episcopal Finger Syndrome) incident last night. Such is populism.
  • Otherwise, it’s pleasing to see people heading for original GS reports and write-ups of speeches. I really do think that much of the ill-informed comment about the Church’s current work would disappear if more people looked at what we actually do, as opposed to what their favourite paper or blogger say we do.

So that’s why I stay up at night…

bathwellschap will be back when we meet in July. Unless something synodically significant happens before then.

 


* It’s yesterday once more, The Carpenters, 1973. Super-smooth harmonies and arrangements – no relation to General Synod, then?

Posted in 2017: February - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Where do you go to, my lovely?

wp_20170215_09_28_55_pro-1Demonstrators and lobbyists greeted us this morning. The anticipation of this afternoon’s debate on the legendary report GS2055 was such that the other routine business of the morning passed by without huge enthusiasm or controversy. Eyes, ears and prayers were on the big event. I previewed the report earlier this week, if you need to catch up.

So I report only in sketchy form that the Synod agreed with the diocese of Leicester’s request that a new Bishopric of Loughborough should be created. Bishop Martyn Snow made much of the fact that an extra episcopal pair of hands would mean the diocese could focus much better on the multicultural and multi-religious opportunities presented in the city and the diocese. More details of the biggest thing to hit Leicester since Richard III (and football) are here.

Next was a debate about the evils of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. There was unanimous support for a London diocesan motion which condemned the way these machines are operated and regulated, with some terrifying tales of gambling addiction and the effects it has on some lives. You could tell the betting companies are worried about this (there is talk of government action) because they wrote to all of us giving their side of the story. Unpersuaded, Synod voted unanimously in favour. You can see the  paper here and the background briefing here.

And then the last thing before we got down to human sexuality was the unfinished debate about clergy robes. To my great delight, the Canon was accepted through to the final stages with speeches from both ‘low’ and high’ church people speaking in favour of this ‘permissive’ measure.  With it went to formal changes to permit authorised funeral services to be used for someone who has taken their own life – a humane and pastoral change that was long overdue.

Then it was time to begin. The work came in three parts

  1. Introductory speeches from the two lead Bishops
  2. Group work on some pastoral case studies
  3. A formal ‘take note’ debate

 

 1. The introduction: Norwich and Willesden

It sounds like a building society, but it was these two prominent Bishops, one evangelical and urban, the other liberal catholic and rural, who fronted up the first steps at tackling GS2055. Graham James, Bishop of Norwich charted the Church of England’s journey on same-sex matters. Surprisingly to many, it is a long story. Bear with me…

 

  • The government’s 1957 Wolfenden report (chaired by a prominent Anglican layman) led to decriminalisation, but took 10 years to get to the Sexual Offences Act. In 1979, the church’s  Gloucester Report addressed homosexual Relationships, as did the Lambeth Conferences (recent ones are often quoted– but he said previous work had been forgotten).
  • Through the 80s and 90s, the Bishops tried to keep to a ‘contribution to discussion line’ while the Thatcher government was hostile to any promotion of homosexuality. Who remembers Clause 28 of the Local Government Act, which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools, and referred to ‘pretended family relationships’?
  • So the Church’s Osborne Report was written but not published; and Tony Higton’s Private Members Motion of that era condemned homosexual relationships – the first time a Synod had done so. (They voted 403 to 8 for it). In 1991 the House of Bishops responded with Issues in human sexuality, which became policy and nothing has changed since, despite it being ‘not the last word’. It became a touchstone and is now seen as ‘the rules’ to be obeyed.

But then society changed fast. In 2005 Civil Partnerships came in, and same-sex marriage very recently. And the Church has not responded coherently

Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden’s task was to set us up for the rest of the day’s discussions. He confessed that like many he did not enjoy group work, but he was there to explain and commend the group work and the debate that followed. He apologised for the hurt that had been caused to many by GS2055. He said:

 

  • The Bishops themselves had done group work with case studies like ours.
  • There is a spectrum of views – from those who want to tighten things up to those who want to have liturgies provided, and those who want full acceptance of same-sex marriage.
  • ‘taking note’ did not commit the Synod to saying it agreed with anything in the report. He noted that some members had little badges saying they would not ‘take note’. He responded: ‘You may not like it, but that’s where we are’.

 

He appealed to people with reservations to come to the groups and participate. His speech described the fault-line underneath this debate: that there is no meeting of minds between those with different understandings of scripture. Unlike women bishops, where we coalesced around an end-point – everyone accepted there would be women Bishops – and it was a question of how. On this matter, we have no potential shared end-point. So we need to do a lot more talking. You can see the two Bishops’ morning speeches in vision on YouTube, or you can access their texts here.

2. Off to the groups

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There was a huge buzz of conversation as we broke at 11.45 for an early lunch. I’m sure I heard someone say I agree with Pete – shades of 2012. And I certainly heard someone else clearly changing their mind about boycotting the groups. The Lunch room was heaving with people eating and talking. Then we went off to group work, conducted under the St Michael’s House Protocol that we used during the Facilitated Conversation at York last year. I can say:

 

  • my group was well-chaired, and was sufficiently small for a real exchange of views and confidences.
  • we looked at some (very) real-life scenarios about how same-sex issues are now arising in parishes.
  • we were also asked to submit some comments about the bullet points that are towards the end of GS2055 – what do we think might happen next?

The GS2055 follow-up questions (para 70) for discussion of the specific areas proposed for new work might include:

 

  1. How can a more consistently welcoming and affirming culture toward lesbian and gay people and those who experience same sex attraction be enabled to develop within the Church?  What might be ways in which this can be facilitated and encouraged?  
  2. What might help a new teaching document on marriage and relationships from the House of Bishops to be widely useful across the Church of England? Are there specific points it needs to cover? What level of theological understanding should it assume in the reader? 
  3. What issues might need particular attention in preparing guidance for clergy in their ministry to those in same sex relationships? How much should be addressed in national guidance and how much determined by local pastoral practice? 
  4. How important is it that all clergy are seen to be living in accordance with the Church of England’s teaching in this area, and how is the bishops’ responsibility for oversight best exercised? 

3. The debate: take note – or not

Back in the main hall, Graham James returned to introduce the formal debate. He said the changes in recent years means we cannot separate out what we say about marriage from what we now need to say about same-sex relationships. Thus there is a need for a new teaching document: we have nothing up to date. And what are saying at present is seen by many as discriminatory. The gospel does not get a hearing if we are seen as lacking in love.

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The hall was heaving for the whole time of the debate

 

Finally he said that history shows it takes many years to come to agreement on doctrine. And it also shows that in every era there are issues which of themselves may not be so significant, but can become touchstones and cover for other disputes.

More than 100 people had asked to speak. It was a two-hour succession of quick-fire comments (the speech limit was three minutes per speaker) Some key speakers made an impact on me:

 

  • Archdeacon Nikki Groarke regretting staying silent for so long, as her own views have changed.  Open evangelicals like her have remained the ’silent middle’ instead of speaking out from the middle of the opinion spectrum.
  • (Oops, missed the name): Much of the pain has been caused by the way the Bishops have communicated, rather than necessarily by the content. Much more effort must go into future documents: how will they be received. Don’t dig a bigger hole!
  • Jayne Ozanne: we need to be honest. We disagree. We disagree about whether God blesses same-sex relationships or not. We can’t possibly answer the questions about ordinands, liturgies, etc until we acknowledge we disagree.  And the Bishops have not given a lead by saying what they actually want. Do we really love each other, or are we staying together for the sake of the children?
  • Susie Leafe of Reform: she had been compared to a dwarf from CS Lewis’ Narnia stories – a dwarf who could not hear the truth or see the beauty. She wanted clarity, and didn’t feel she was getting it.
  • Simon Butler got long and loud applause as he reflected on his long, but fractured friendship with an old friend, who believes he is living dishonestly as an openly gay priest. They are forced to work together: it is ‘workable disagreement’, rather than ‘good disagreement’. He believes the Bishops have not reached even ‘workable disagreement’. He could not, however, just give up on people he disagreed with (including Susie Leafe and the Bishops), citing Genesis 32.26 I will not let you go until you bless me.
  • Andrew Foreshew-Cain: this document is not good enough for the church, the country or for LGBTI people. We are not beggars, scrabbling for bread: we are flesh and blood brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • Andrea Minichiello-Williams made the very conservative case: the two positions cannot be reconciled. Jesus died for all: we are all beggars. But repentance is required for that which is sinful (quoting Genesis 2 and Matthew).
  • Sam Alberry: I am being bullied at Synod for being same-sex attracted and affirming the traditional doctrine of marriage.
  • Giles Goddard: as a gay partnered Vicar do not want to take note. Bishops have misread the mood. GS2055 can’t be the basis of an official teaching document.
  • Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool: passionate about ensuring maximum freedom under the law for LGBTI people within the church. Will work with fellow-Bishops, clerical colleagues, etc to give maximum freedom. This report is not the end of the road. And we should take note.
  • Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester – a rallying call to take note and then begin the real work to widen our horizons. She stressed the Bishops approach had been not unanimous, but was common ground.
  • Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark: sharp critique of the Bishops. Being nice to LGBTI is not enough; if this report is the first sign of the new tone I don’t like it. Can we not celebrate what our LGBTI people bring to the church?

After a procedural delay (for a suggested adjournment), the tension went up as Archbishop Justin rose to speak. He seemed to be working from hand-written notes, and called for some radical new thinking about the whole of human sexuality to be part of what comes next.  His soundbite was ‘there are no problems, only people’. Procedurally, he said, whether we take note or not, we will move on to find a radical new inclusion based in love based in our Christian understanding, not careless in our theology, but aware of the human race around us. We will seek to do better wp_20170215_16_45_19_pro– we could hardly do worse. You can see a version of his remarks on his website here.

 

To the vote

Summing up, Graham James indicated the depth of our disagreement: we even disagree what we disagree about, and he said many speeches illustrated that.

 

A nice Synod nerd point arose here as he also addressed the fallacy that ‘not taking note’ equals rejection. If Synod members don’t understand their own Standing Orders, no wonder the world outside thinks today’s debate is simply in favour (or not) of same-sex marriage. Then we had some nice wrangling about what sort of vote we should have – of the whole Synod electronically (so names would be recorded), or by houses (so the strength of support in each House would be apparent and the whole thing might fail). By houses was decided, and the result was:

 

Laity 106 For 83 Against; Bishops 43 For 1 Against; Clergy 93 For 100 against

 

So the Take Note Motion failed. Although had it been a count of the whole Synod, it would have been won, 242 – 184!

 

So what have we learned? These are my purely personal observations:

 

  1. Any hope that debate can be confined to the church itself is out of the window. Social Media went haywire when GS2055 came out, and mis-information and vituperative comment are easily available (though not on this blog). And this issue is too complex for Fleet Street: they can’t make up their mind what it really means. The Telegraph thinks acceptance of same-sex marriage is a bit closer now: the Guardian speaks of ‘turmoil’ and a blow to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Once again, the Guardian wins the bathwellschap prize for sensible reporting (Harriet Sherwood strikes again – here). But the Telegraph has much better pictures in its report (here), plus a tremendous Mac cartoon. Overall, any future thinking, debate and publication must take on board at the earliest stage that people are interested in this and will have their say (accurately or otherwise). And people may leak things, too…
  2. The Bishops have got a bloody nose out of this. But behind that, the feeling is that they can have another look and this time, as well as restating what is not possible with the law as it stands, they will have to be clearer about what is possible. And in doing that they will have to show their workings, particularly their engagement with LGBTI people – talking to them, not about them.
  3. This report came to Synod too soon. Its compilation was rushed to get it out for February. It would have been a better document, and would have been received better, if the Bishops had spent longer talking to each other (and to others) so that it was more apparently the fruit of the Facilitated Conversations. And Synod itself would have avoided all the tension, arguments and lack of faith in each other if we had just had a holding statement this week, and the devoted proper consultative time together with a better document in July.
  4. There are some brave people on Synod who have been very frank and open about their own lives, and about the way they have had to re-think their faith. They deserve the support and affirmation from the rest of us (even if we find it hard to ‘hear’ them), not criticism and personal attacks. The circle that has to be squared is that a significant number of members (and therefore ordinary church people) believe homosexual acts are a sin: a different but also significant number of members (and ordinary church people) have come to believe that they are gifts from God and should be celebrated and blessed.
  5. Synod works. It does what it’s there for: hears and weighs the views of bishops, clergy and laity together, and then decides. Long-term, the vote by houses makes it clear that we are nowhere near seeing a 2/3 majority in the clergy or laity for anything very much. So serious structural change is not an option.

What happens next?

 

Well, in theory there is no follow-up to the motion, since it was thrown out. In practice, the Bishops will very quickly get their reflections group together, I suspect, and chart out a way to respond to the very clear messages from Synod. To do that they’ll have access to all the speeches made, and to the (anonymous) suggestions about the GS2055 bullet points. Whether that results in something new at York in July, or some more deep group work in July, who knows?

 

And finally…

 

Eagle eyes will have noticed that the vote in the House of Bishops was 43-1. So who was the odd single vote against? Given that GS2055 was a unanimous document, and the Bishops showed immense solidarity all the way through, a hunt for the traitor was launched straight after the vote. My sources tell me that the vote against was the result of what is technically known as EFT Syndrome – ‘episcopal finger trouble’: a Bishop simply pressed the wrong key on his/her voting machine.voting-machine-yes

 

There are names being mentioned, but as I only have this second-hand, I don’t think I can name the guilty man. Or woman, as the case may be.

UPDATE The Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, has ‘fessed up to being the errant Bishop.

 

 


* Where do you go to, my lovely? Peter Sarstedt’s sad song of a little society girl who lost her way,  1969. He was the guy with the moustache. Sad to report, he died last month.

 

Posted in 2017: February - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Every day, it’s getting closer *

Synod surrounds itself with worship. Nowadays, it is not all straight from the book. Words and music appear on the big screens.

  • This morning (Tuesday) we had a fairly straightforward Communion service in the main hall.
  • Tonight we finished with a small worship group from Holy Trinity Brompton and some robust modern songs.

That, and the continuing praying presence provided by the young members of the Community of St Anselm, for me, keep us on track, especially when Big Stuff is in the offing, and getting closer. Tomorrow’s a big day.

whittam-smithToday, we kicked off the morning’s business with a ‘goodbye’ to Sir Andreas Whittam Smith, whose tenure as First Church Estates Commissioner, it is generally agreed, has been very successful. Archbishop Sentamu took us on a brief tour of Andreas’ life, from a child of the vicarage to the soaring heights of founding editor of the Independent, chief Film Censor for the UK – and top man at the Commissioners.

I’ve not always appreciated his dry and somewhat disengaged manner at Synod, but there is no doubt that in his time the Commissioners, financially, have got onto a more than even keel, and gone into new areas of innovative funding for the Church. There was heartfelt applause, enough to embarrass the man.

Banns: to ban or not to ban?

Then came the Stephen Trott Private Members motion on marriage preliminaries. We were treated to a well-informed early speech explaining how banns were introduced in the 13th century, when everyone knew everyone in their village. It was the Hardwicke Act of 1753 that imposed compulsory registration of marriages: what was simple then is now complicated, as the state has laid increasing responsibility on officiating clergy over checking people’s eligibility to marry. We now have to live with the restrictions that imposes.

For my money (this is the cry of a disappointed man), Synod missed the point. We heard several heartwarming stories of couples shyly venturing into church, and slightly fewer sad stories of panicking couples and clergy scrabbling to get the paperwork in order against the clock. There were anecdotes galore, and we learned that the ‘Occasional Offices’ (weddings, funerals and baptisms) are now renamed as ‘Life Event Ministries’ by some.

Speaker after speaker focussed on the supposed abolition of banns under the proposed procedures, which rather missed the point. Stephen Trott stated very clearly that banns could continue. So while there were some thoughtful speeches noting the current practical issues with banns; and the plain discrimination involved in having to deal differently with non UK citizens, most members didn’t ‘get it’.

An amendment from Neil Patterson from Hereford (which I characterised as a halfway house and spoke against) failed by just 2 votes. Despite a barnstorming g speech from Tiffer Robinson, a St Eds and Ips priest, who declared he would be glad to see the back of banns, and listed real life problems that had occurred during his time in ministry, the motion failed in all three houses.

I found this a frustrating debate. Member after member stood to tell tales of the pastoral and missional value of the reading of banns (which everyone agrees with). Few were willing to engage with the bigger problem of other marriage preliminaries and the risks of getting it wrong.

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The tea-room can provide a welcome escape from the more tedious legislative debates…

Under the surface were the lurking references to tomorrow’s sexuality discussions. The context of what was said was often ‘traditional’ marriage, but some of the fears expressed about the Trott proposals were stated in a way that might apply to same-sex marriage in church one day. Separating the State and Church roles might open the way eventually for same-sex church weddings: celebrated by some, horrifying others.

Anyway, for two days running, Harriet Sherwood gets the bathwellschap prize for decent reporting of a Synod debate: read her report here.

Legislation, legislation, legislation

The rest of the day was taken up with a huge wodge of legislation. Some was initial consideration, where people can air their views but the real work will be done next in specialist committees. Other items were more final, when today’s proceedings were the last stage in changing the Regulations, Measure or Canon

The first item after lunch was introduced as a bit of a revolution that, as part of R’n’R, would streamline ecclesiastical law-making. The idea is that in suitable matters (and not everything), proposals for changes in church regulations could be dealt with in one single Synod session rather than the present cumbersome method (aping Parliament) by which legislation has to come back to Synod three times. Despite a couple of slightly grumpy speeches, the new set-up was welcomed, and was described by one as being a ‘conversion experience.’ Not often ecclesiastical law does that…

church-rep-rules-bookHaving been out to the Church House Bookshop to buy a shiny copy of the new edition of the Church Representation Rules (CRR) 2017 – published last autumn, I then sat through a debate about completely revision of the CRR!

The changes are part of the Simplification work, trying to help parishes work without too much paperwork and arcane procedures. So, for example,

  • it’ll be easier for multi-parish benefices to have a joint PCC and put individual PCCs into abeyance, if they so wish.
  • The outdated rules on some aspects of ecumenical relationships at local level will be updated to reflect the current realities
  • New curates need not be ordained to a ‘title’ parish, but to (for example) pioneer posts
  • Deans and Archdeacons need not have been in orders for six years before appointment. This repeals a mediaeval restriction, and is not there to allow for inexperienced 30-year olds to take up high office, but simply to put Deans and Archdeacons on parity with Bishops

The new CRR will be written in plain English, with short sentences and a logical layout. But this was an initial debate, so my shiny new copy of the 2017 CRR will probably last a year or two…

How old is your vicar?

A later debate was on plans to make it easier for some clergy to remain in post after reaching the compulsory retirement age of 70. Normal employment law does not apply to clergy, as they are ‘office-holders’. There are currently ways in which a Bishop can enable a priest to remain in post for a year or two after 70, but the proposed amendment to terms of service would make this easier. There was some discomfort about perfectly capable and competent priests being thrown out of office under the present rules. As ever, going slightly against the grain, I made a fairly impromptu speech reminding Synod that some clergy are ill-prepared for retirement, and cannot envisage a life outside ministry – any new regulations can’t easily cover those personal and psychological aspects.

There was clearly some discomfort amongst the clergy over this proposal, and some pleading from the laity to allow more clergy to carry on working – they sounded slightly worried that parishes might collapse, without noting the effects going on for ages might have on the clergy family. We were told that the numbers are very small, and the regulations were passed overwhelmingly.

Assessing risk

Safeguarding reared its uncomfortable head during this lengthy legislative session. Not because of recent media coverage and court cases but as an outcome of a Visitation in 2012 of the diocese of Chichester after some safeguarding incidents there. At the moment, a Bishop has no power to compel someone who has been the subject of a safeguarding incident. So one key recommendation was that the church needed legislation that could, where necessary, require a priest or deacon to go through a professional risk assessment.

So the Bishop of Bath and Wells (disclaimer – my boss) set out why Canon C.30 needs revision to put that into practice. He was proposing a new set of Regulations. (To make sense of this, you might need to read the Regulations and also the explanatory note.)

There are rules about what kind of professional person must do the assessment, and a priest who declines to take part will be liable to proceedings under the heading of ‘conduct unbecoming’. There are all kinds of, er, safeguards to ensure confidentiality, proper reporting, and timely process and challenges to the outcome. However, speakers pointed up what they see as practical challenges:

  • The Bishop might devise terms of reference that are biased
  • If a priest ‘denies everything’, how can the assessor proceed without making some findings of fact?
  • What professional skills will assessors have? In Court proceedings, they can be very variable.
  • Does the church have the specialist skills within the culture to do this well?

There was a call to delay approval until July when more detail was available, which was defeated.

To end the day, we returned to one of my old chestnuts, clergy vesture: what robes should a vicar wear to conduct worship? Bath and Wells’ James Dudley-Smith spoke entertainingly of the various churches in Yeovil (where he is Rural Dean): some would find it very difficult to use robes regularly. Some would find it equally difficult not to use them. But the new Canon gives flexibility. We never got to the end of that debate before close-down time, so it will be picked up tomorrow, hopefully.

Wednesday gets closer…

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There won’t be this many empty seats…

We expect a difficult day tomorrow, with planned demonstrations and leafletting. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) and Changing Attitude England have amalgamated into a coalition under the title One Body One Faith. Under the banner A time to build they set out an alternative manifesto for the House of Bishops, suggesting a different way forward than that offered under GS2055.

  • Amongst the journalism about this today, there was this very level-headed piece by the BBC’s Martin Bashir – well worth a read.
  • My impression is that the ‘boycott’ group has shrunk a little. People vented much anger on Monday, and the Archbishop’s Presidential Address helped a lot. And inevitably, people have been chatting over coffee and in quiet corners: listening, talking, persuading and praying together.
  • That is not to say it won’t be difficult tomorrow, and that there won’t be public expressions of anger and frustration and misunderstandings. But it won’t be quite as bad as we feared, even though a solution is not in sight.
  • I gather there were some behind the scenes discussions today about the troubling discussion groups. The outcome was Sue Booys, the Chair of the Business Committee telling us that it had been agreed to change the timetable. We’ll have an early lunch, earlier group work time, and thus a longer ‘take note’ debate starting at 4.45 p.m. Synod-watchers and campaigners, look for the live feed here.

And finally…

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Late night fish and chips with the Bishop of Willesden and Simon Butler…

One of the best things about Synod is the informal stuff. The Conversations at York in July helped forge some unlikely alliances, and many long-stay patients like me have got good friends we try to socialise with after hours when we can. Tonight I was able to eat and drink in some pretty thoughtful company.

 

We don’t all agree, by any means, but we understand each other better. And the speeches tomorrow will be all the better for it. It’s what we used to call ‘good disagreement’.

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..Sue Booys, Hannah Cleugh and Miranda Threlfall-Holmes

 

 

 


* Everyday, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, 1957. Two minutes of simple pop.

Posted in 2017: February - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Won’t you listen to what the man said? *

Usually, arriving in London for the first day of Synod is a cheery experience. This Monday, it wasn’t. The mood is febrile, and people were very tense.

For starters, I arrived late – I’d been to a funeral at home in Somerset. So I missed the House of Clergy discussion on Clergy well-being, the opening worship, and the all-important debate on the agenda. Thanks to South West Trains on-board wifi, I’d followed what was going on on Twitter. @synod and @GenSyn are really useful that way.

Nervous and tense…

But when I turned up at Church House I found nervous and tense people. There was talk of trying to re-jig the agenda because people were so unhappy about Wednesday’s planned discussions on GS2055 – the House of Bishops Report on human sexuality issues. (New readers go to yesterday’s post (here) to get a briefing.)

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Simon Butler at the mic; a widescreen Bishop of Willesden. The white-robed army of martyrs in the gallery are the Community of St Anselm, the continuous praying presence at Synod

I gather that the opening worship had been difficult: sound system not working, and the projection screens hadn’t got the words of prayers or hymns. (Nice to know it’s not only in ordinary parish churches that the technology fails at times.) More seriously, the Debate on the Agenda – usually a time to complain about things not being up for discussion – got quite heavy. I heard that there was anguished comment about the group work planned for Wednesday (see yesterday). Some feel that after York’s facilitated conversations last July (see here) we aren’t ready or willing to do something that was less well-done. As well as well-rehearsed accusation that the Bishops have got it wrong.

 

By the time I was actually sitting down, we were on to the Reformation. A simple debate, and we decided the Reformation was a Good Thing, though there was an attempt to strengthen the main motion by specific reference to justification by faith. It was rather good to hear Philip Plyming, a leading evangelical, waxing lyrical about Pope Francis.

Straight from the shoulder…

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Archbishop Justin

 

Next came Archbishop Justin’s Presidential Address. Although he usually likes to throw in some one-liners and ad libs, this was a straight-from-the-shoulder address about the state we’re in ‘at such a time as this’. Nominally, it was about the condition of the country (and, indeed, the world). But it was a cleverly multi-layered script that was as much about Synod’s nervousness and polarisation as it was about post-referendum Britain and post-Trump USA

  • Now if you look at the Guardian, you might be deceived by the tendentious headline Archbishop of Canterbury suggests Brexit ‘in fascist tradition’. Well, not quite: he did refer to Brexit, Trump. Wilders, and le Pen and talk about nationalists and populists. He did use the word ‘fascist’ in the same paragraph, without actually calling any of them fascists. It’s a bit of a stretch by a sub-editor, though Harriet Sherwood’s article is a fair report.
  • He built his address around the three temptations of Christ, applying them to the world as well as to the Church of England – hence the subtext of our own pre-occupation with the sexuality issue.
  • But the subtext got some clear mentions, particularly when he referenced Jayne Ozanne and Simon Butler, two leading lights in the ‘inclusivist’ membership, in order to support and affirm them.
  • He was listened to in stunned silence. And his subtle parallelism meant that when he spoke about engaging in world affairs, he was alluding to the way he wants to see the Church getting engaged with its own ‘political’ issues : listening, talking, getting involved in discussion and voting – not shouting or disengaging.

It was a mild reproof to those who are campaigning to boycott the group work. Probably, rather than me summarising, you need to read it yourself, and thanks to the miracles of modern communications, you can do so here.

How will Wednesday go?

Wednesday draws ever-closer. I suspect that some of those who have taken a stand on not going to groups or voting against taking note of GS2055 may not take such a hard line after the Archbishop’s address and the inevitable conversations that go on in the tea room and at fringe meetings. But we may see some procedural fun.

There are two ‘following motions’ that can be debated if we do ‘take note’. One sets a deadline of July 2018 for the Bishops to bring a set of actual proposals on same-sex reationships; the other wants them to take a more explicitly conservative line. You can see the exact texts of them here.

If we don’t ‘take note’, they won’t get debated, but there are doubtless ‘cunning plans’ afoot to try and get round this. There’s also the possibility of someone proposing ‘next business’ or adjourning the debate. Synod nerds will have their Standing Orders to hand.

Tortured Questions

The last thing of the day was Questions. Normally there’s plenty of light-hearted banter amid the calling to account of Bishops, Committees and bureaucrats. But today was tense and tortured. The Bishops of Norwich and Willesden fielded a load of GS2055 questions as a double act. Both are very good at this, and can produce some very witty replies. But no-one was in the mood for that today, so they battled on in an edgy atmosphere. A good 40 minutes was spent on questions to the House of Bishops about GS2055 or disguised questions about it to other bodies such as Ministry Division.

Once we got off that to more routine Questions, the atmosphere lightened.

  • Our own Archdeacon Andy Piggott tried to get the Church Commissioners to offer loan funding to dioceses who, as vocations increase in answer to prayer, will need to buy more houses for new ministers to live in. He got a dusty answer from Sir Andreas Whittam-Smith.
  • The Pension Board decision to close down the nursing and dementia unit at the Manormead retirement home attracted three sharp questions: but only one supplementary, which did at least extract a commitment that there is no plan to close down and sell off the whole site. (This might come as a relief to those of us nearing retirement age…)
  • I got in a cheeky question about the forthcoming anniversary in 2019 of the Church of England (Enabling Powers) Act. Yes, I know, official “Synod nerd” status awaits me.

For the first time ever, we got through all the Questions (73 of them), and there was a round of cheerful (and relieved) applause for the Chair, Archdeacon Pete Spiers. If you want to know what Questions are all about (and see the Answers, or at least the scripted ones, look here)

And finally…

After that, closing worship brought us all together in a thoughtful mood. And the technology worked just fine.

Should you be minded to join us in spirit (or in prayer, for that matter) there’s a live stream here. And you can listen to audio of today’s proceedings here. You might enjoy Archbishop Justin’s Address, certainly.


 

  • Won’t you listen to what the man said?  Paul McCartney and Wings, 1975. Yes, I know it’s a bit naff, but it fits.
Posted in 2017: February - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

There must be some kind of way out of this place *

With the momentous goings-on in Washington and over Brexit, this week’s dear old General Synod ought to provide some light relief. But I fear it will not be so, as we head for a really difficult  day on Wednesday, preceded by some more-or-less routine business on Monday and Tuesday.

The main event will be a debate on the House of Bishops report on where we have got to in dealing with matters of human sexuality in the Church. Or, depending on your viewpoint, where we have not got to.

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The report that’s got everyone stirred up.  “2055” indicates the year in which things might change (joke…)

The document at the fulcrum of the debate is GS2055, ponderously titled Marriage and Same-sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations: A Report from the House of Bishops (read it here.) There has been huge reaction to it on social media. Even the mainstream papers have now got in on the act, as lobby groups and key individuals come out with their dissatisfaction.

The debate of the disappointed

So we are set for a humdinger on Wednesday. I don’t think it will be a dialogue of the deaf – more a debate of the disappointed. Because there are some seriously disappointed people at both ends of the spectrum. Conservatives think the document gives too much ground, those pressing for more inclusion and recognition of gay Christians believe it doesn’t go anything like far enough. They’re both going to make sure they say their piece, and they will both cast the poor Bishops as the villains of that piece.

If you are new to this, you might like to see how we got to where we are by looking at how synod handled its Shared Conversation last July. (Read my entirely objective and unbiased account here.) Some of that post bears repetition. I said:

  1. The mood of many congregations and clergy, and the government’s lock-out of the C of E from conducting same-sex marriages mean that we are not going to move to marrying same-sex couples in church any time soon. The Bishops may need to make that clear, which will not go down well with some, and will make others rejoice.
  2. There is a howling fudge going on in respect of our Church and same-sex relationships.  The way in which clergy are treated is different to the way other church members are treated. Clergy may enter into chaste civil partnerships; and not into same-sex marriages. Lay people are not so restricted. The position of licensed lay ministers (such as Readers) is ambiguous. This will only get worse. The Bishops may need to indicate whether they are prepared to make some kind of ‘pastoral accommodation’ in some of these cases.  This will not go down well with some, and will make others rejoice.
  3. Despite recent statements making all the right noises about welcoming LGBTI people into the life of our parishes, their experience very often is not one of being welcomed. There is a scale moving from ‘rejection’ though to ‘toleration’, then to ‘welcome’ and finally to ‘inclusion’. Our groups heard something of that from people whose church experiences were in different points on that scale.There is a mismatch between what is pronounced and what actually happens. The Bishops need to remind us all of that. This will not go down well with some, and will make others rejoice.

How right I was…

The Commentariat are hard at work

You really need to read the report before making up your mind about it, but there are some very interesting comments around that will give the flavour of how people see it.

  • Andrew Goddard, from Fulcrum: renewing the evangelical centre gives a forensic examination of the text here.  His Section B  How did the Bishops end up with this Report? is particularly helpful – he does a Sherlock in trying to see behind the actual text to the thinking and compromises it represents.
  • Characteristically pertinent and thoughtful response to the Bishops from Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, asking a lot of good questions, and avoiding simplistic answers – read her here.
  • Mark Hart, a Chester priest, lists what he sees as nine misconceptions in the Report  – read him here
  • Cathedral Deans have a degree of independence, and David Monteith, the Dean of Leicester gives a very thoughtful personal reaction on his blog – read it here
  • As usual nowadays, the mainstream media struggle to report church matters well. The Guardian’s web headline uses the classic cliché language of ‘Church faces new split’, though Harriet Sherwood’s article talks more sensibly about ‘rebellion’ and ‘crisis’.
  • At least two Bishops have broken cover and commented publicly. The Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, talks bluntly about the  anger and pain being felt by many, end tries to explain why the Bishops are where they are. Well worth a read – if only for the ‘bastard Bishops’ bit – here.  David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester issued a Pastoral Letter (read it here) in which he encourages people to actually read the thing, rather than talk about it at second- or third-hand. Not a bad plan.
  • As ever, Thinking Anglicans lists pretty well everything that is online about this. Lots to scroll through here.

The episcopal epistollers

14-bishopsHowever, the biggy that grabbed the media over the weekend was the open letter from fourteen retired Bishops to the present House of Bishops.  If you scroll down from the rather cheesy selection of mugshots, you can read their letter here.

They don’t address the theological or Biblical issues, but they do express their view that what is happening is that the Bishops, in GS2055, are managing rather the leading the Church. And, more particularly, they say the text of GS 2055 presents the classic/traditional/conservative view but the voice of inclusivists/gay people themselves is missing, which, after two or three years of shared conversations goes against the document’s claim to want to alter the culture and tone within the Church.

Boycotting groups and ‘taking note’

On the day, we are to have time in (very) small groups – three or four people, rather than the twenty or so last July. We’ll be looking at some real-life scenarios of how parishes handle gay relationships. Already some have indicated they will not attend the group time. I think that’s a pity. I realise that for some, it’s too painful or risky to go into close discussion about this, and I can see why they might be very nervous about group work. But others (who are declining to use the word ‘boycott’) say they will stay away ‘in solidarity’. I just can’t see how that helps anyone, and it leaves the field open for zealots to take over the group work.

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I suspect there’ll be some media interest…

The motion to be voted on simply ‘takes note’ of the Report. It doesn’t commit anyone to anything and is a standard Synod procedure for just airing a subject.  In fact the Standing Orders are clear that passing a ‘take note motion “is not to be taken as committing the Synod to the acceptance of any matter in the report”. So it’s almost unheard of for the Synod to refuse to ‘take note’.

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The voting machines might be busy

Nonetheless a coalition of groups and individuals is actively trying to persuade us to vote against. Indeed, there is almost an unholy alliance of some conservative evangelicals and liberal ‘inclusivists’ saying they will do so. And I suspect there’ll be some Synod wrangling about voting by houses, and all that, to try and see where the opposition lies.

I shall not vote against. For the reasons stated above, there was not much else the Bishops could say in GS 2055: it’s what they do next that matters. They are perfectly capable of hearing the shouts of dissent in a ‘take note’ debate. It would be a huge slap in the face to them to vote it down. They will go away bruised even if they win the vote.

In my view, for most Synod members, avoiding the group work (with the exception noted above) and then voting against goes right against the search for ‘good disagreement’.

There is more to synod than this…

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The Synod papers are voluminous. (Batteries not included)

Amongst the very large bundle of papers that we all receive, there are some pretty key issues that ought not to be overlooked. When we are not obsessing about GS 2055, we’ve got plenty more to go on.

 

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Spread out those papers!

The one that matters most is probably a report to be taken on Thursday called Setting God’s People Free. It’s a serious look at the age-old conundrum: how does a church with an inbuilt bias to the clergy free the laity (98% of the Church) to be empowered, liberated disciples – not to ‘help the Vicar’ but to be the Church in the real world? It’s part of the Renewal and Reform (aka R’n’R) work that’s going on and comes from a Lay Leadership Task Group. It even has a High Level Implementation Plan. So look out! And read it here. Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark, comments positively on it (read him here).

 

  • The House of Clergy have a special session on Monday afternoon looking at Clergy Well-being. If your Vicar is overstressed (or you are overstressing her/him), you might like to read the document they’re discussing.
  • There’s a wealth of legislative stuff to get through, including my own favourites about clergy robing regulations.
  • Stephen Trott has succeeded in getting a Private Members’ Motion on the agenda: it’s about the complexities of paperwork that now have to be done before church weddings. That’s on Tuesday – Stephen’s paper is here and the official (slightly unenthusiastic) Background Note is here.

If you’ve read this far, you are obviously quite keen. Don’t forget you can follow proceedings on the live webstream – it should appear here. And you can see each and every Synod document here.

And if you are the praying kind, you might like to remember us all. Especially on Wednesday.

 


* There must be some kind of way out of this place The opening line of All along the Watchtower, Bob Dylan’s 1967 song of dissatisfaction, wonderfully re-interpreted by Jimi Hendrix in 1968.

Posted in 2017: February - London, General Synod | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments