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 , , , , | 3 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…

synod-chamber-filling-up

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…

bar-fellowship-3

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’.

bar-fellowship-2

..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.)

wp_20170213_17_29_08_pro

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…

justin

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.

synod-papers-2017-5

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.

synod-bbc-news

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’.

synod-voting-machine

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…

synod-papers-2017-2

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.

 

synod-papers-2017-4

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

Perchance it is not dead, but sleepeth

This is about a wonderful narrow-gauge revival in North Devon, If you’re not interested in such things, look away now.

Lynton Barnstaple (4)Being in need of a change of air, I spent a day wandering round Exmoor and North Devon, an area I haven’t really been back to since I spent most of 1973 there as a member of the community at Lee Abbey. One reason was that I wanted to see the revived Lynton and Barnstaple Railway. I was well impressed.

Lynton Barnstaple Lumix 12Built in the 1890s to link bustling Barnstaple with remote Lynton and Lynmouth, this narrow-gauge (1′ 11½”) line clambered across the fringes of Exmoor, but succumbed to motor competition in 1935.  Even the Southern Railway couldn’t keep it going, but the day after closure, someone put a wreath on the bufferstops at Barnstaple Town with this biblical allusion – perchance it is not dead, but sleepeth.

It’s been a long sleep.

81 years later, a short section (the highest, 1,000 feet up) is now running daily steam trains using the original carriages, which have been wonderfully restored.

Lynton Barnstaple (3)The little first-class compartments (I treated myself) are stunning – the observation one I used has red upholstery and panoramic views; the other one is a more subdued Edwardian blue.

Woody Bay station is in the pseudo-Swiss style much favoured for ‘little Switzerland’ seaside resorts. It reeks Southern authenticity. The café operation is not huge but they really do have home-made cakes.

The loco shed is there: currently there are two engines available, but there are replicas of the original USA-designed engines in existence, and they do visit.Lynton Barnstaple Lumix 15

The cunning plan is to extend the line in both directions from Woody Bay. Heading for Lynton, Caffyns may be the eventual terminal; going the other way a station at Wistlandpound  reservoir is in prospect. But the ambition is huge: perhaps they have the revived Welsh Highland Railway project as their model. A team is already at work at Chelfham station, near Barnstaple (famous for it’s substantial viaduct), and other stretches of trackbed have been bought…

Lynton Barnstaple Lumix 03The run is only one mile each way at present, but it’s worth a visit, if only for the panoramic views and the excellence of the restored carriages.Lynton Barnstaple Lumix 11

Bibliography – and film clips!

I first learned about the line’s history through John Prideaux’s books (good old David & Charles):

  • The Lynton and Barnstaple Railway (I’ve got the 1971 edition ISBN 0 7153 4958 9) – a study of the line’s history, operating practices, closure, with lots of diagrams for the modeller to pore over…
  • Lynton and Barnstaple Railway Album (1974 – ISBN 0 7153 6809 5) – a comprehensive picture album with proper notes.

These days, Google is our friend, and YouTube has 8 lovely minutes of genuine 1930’s film of the line in action. There are also two BBC documentaries from 1987 which tell the good tale: Part 1 is here, part 2 is here.Lynton Barnstaple Lumix 01If your appetite has been whetted, and you are in North Devon…. It’s near Parracombe – head for EX31 4RA

Posted in Not the Synod

She said “You don’t understand what I said” *

“So, what were the General Synod Shared Conversations like?” I’ve been asked that several times, but only now, with a week’s distance, can I attempt to reflect on how it went, what it means, and (big question) What Might Happen Next…

It was an intense experience. The object of the exercise was to reflect together on the question: Given the significant changes in our culture in relation to human sexuality, how should the Church respond? And our York programme (spread over three days) was the third and final part of a programme that has involved the College of Bishops and a number of regional shared conversation events. Altogether, some 1300 people have taken part. (If all this is new to you, then you might like to look at the official Shared Conversations website – click here). Despite publicised threats of a boycott, we were given to understand that fewer than a dozen people opted out at York.

 How was it all done?

David Porter

David Porter

First things first.There are around 400 people involved, so we worked in ‘small groups’ – around 20 per group, each with a professional facilitator. Canon David Porter headed up a very experienced team, which gave me confidence that this was not going to be a tram smash. They led, encouraged (and occasionally reproved) us well.

David has ‘form’ with Synod: he successfully led the process that got us through the ‘women Bishops’ maze in 2013 – I wrote about it here – so those of us who were around in the last Synod knew roughly what to expect. This time, we were in small groups for about half the programme, the other half being informative plenary sessions back in the Central Hall. And there were free evenings – unknown in normal Synod timetables, but vital for resting the brain and/or talking informally with others.

We operated under a strict set of house rules, the St Michael’s Protocol. They are like a Christian version of the famous Chatham House Rule (there is only one, apparently), and cover non-disclosure of who said what, together with how we treat one another in the discussions. (Read the Protocol here). So my reflections will be impressionistic, and if you want to know who said what to whom, tough luck.

Big group, small groups…

York rainbow central hall

The plenaries happened in the Central Hall

The timetable (you can read it here) inserted plenaries into the group work. I’m not going to say who addressed the plenaries, but they covered:

  • testimony: accounts of their personal faith journeys from people of Christian faith with differing experiences of handling their own sexuality in a church setting. They were predominantly young, and all were impressive in their commitment and explanation of why they take the position that they do.
  • theology: short presentations from serious theologians with different understandings of what Scripture has to say
  • church and culture: further personal accounts of how our culture has changed in the past twenty years or so, and how this has affected various people within church life and leadership
  • the world context: speakers from Africa, Asia and North America on the worldwide Anglican Communion’s varying understandings of human sexuality

My group had 21 members. we met in a horrible echoey room next to a noisy kitchen. But the commitment was there to make it work. There was time in threes, in sixes and as a whole group. My triplet included someone I didn’t know at all, and someone else who I know from Synod membership, and who on other issues I would tend to disagree with. So we had lots to talk about.

In my group, I learned…

There was some pretty deep conversation; some surprises, some emotion. But two things I can share, I think.

  1. There were no ‘campaigners’ for a traditional view or a ‘liberal/inclusive’ view in the group. I don’t think that was fixed by the organisers. It may just demonstrate that we are not as polarised as everyone thinks we are! But I felt slightly disappointed: having prepared myself for engaging with both ‘sides’ it was disconcerting to find that – although there were people more ‘traditional’ and more ‘liberal’ than me – nobody was banging a drum for their cause. (I can now see that this was actually rather useful, because it highlit the fact that pretty well everyone is slightly confused, and pretty well everyone (in our group) was ready to listen without shouting.)
  2. It felt to me as if we were attempting to discuss this in a vacuum, as if the Church of England’s trials were the only show in town. So we talked about ourselves, our families, and  churches we know. But actually, there is a lot going on elsewhere. These ‘noises off’ include:
  • the United Reformed Church’s decision this month to permit same-sex marriages in church (read more here…)
  • the Methodist Church’s decision this month to ‘revisit’ its position on same-sex marriage (Read more here…)
  • the Scottish Episcopal Church’s decision last month to rewrite its official description of marriage to remove references to ‘man and woman’ (read more here…) UPDATE: see Kevin Holdsworth’s clarification in “comments” below
  • The Anglican Church of Canada’s mis-counted vote on the subject last week (read more here…)
  • There are legal cases in the offing in respect of individual clergy who have been denied licences.

And that, of course, is just in the Christian community. Again and again we were brought up against the fact that while traditional church teaching has not moved, society has. Our stance on homosexuality is cited as a major missional block, especially among young people.

Outcomes?

Its been said over and over again that there are no planned outcomes from this process.

  • there are no draft revisions of the Canons, or motions about same-sex marriage, or anything of the sort in view.
  • there are no agreed statements – other than a brief official note which you can read here
  • there is no ‘reporting back’ to anyone.

The official “what happens next” is that the Bishops, when they meet in the autumn – and they have planned an extended meeting – will take counsel on what, if anything, happens now. (The Bishops were spread evenly round the groups, so all of them will have heard what was being said, and been in the vulnerable position of sharing their own views and stories, like the rest of us).

Outside the groups, and while chatting in the bar, some pressure points for the Bishops’ autumn meeting emerged:

  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.
Synod voting 02

We might need less of the formal voting stuff in the future…

For me, the biggest outcome is that everyone (apart from those who stayed away) realised that General Synod can work without agendas and resolutions. And if we are ever to make progress on the human sexuality issue, then we must not expect a motion or a working party from the Bishops: we need to spend more time in our threes and sixes and small groups, just hearing how it is for each other, and setting that against our biblical material, our prayers and our understanding of real life.

So probably the Business Committee are going to have to look at finding time for more of this way of working. General Synod must retain its legislative role: but its deliberations could be less starchy on subject like this.

In the meantime…

If you want to get a good view of where the Church of England is on this matter, the Shared Conversations website has a good list of reading resources here (scroll down the page)

 

===============

She said “you don’t understand what I said” a line from She said, from the Beatles 1966 album Revolver. The next line is “I said “No, no,no you’re wrong”. The kind of conversation we hope to avoid in this matter….

Posted in 2016: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Wishing you were here *

York Postcard

Rainbow over the University site on Saturday evening. Pretty, innit?

I’m observing the protocols we are using for the Shared Conversations here at York.

That means I’m not posting an update into what has been going on today. Sorry if you’ve had a wasted journey!

  • I may try to post once we’re all home and have processed some of the ‘stuff’ we’ve been thinking through.
  • If you want to be sure of seeing it (and future posts about the work of General Synod), just press the ‘Follow’ button down the right-hand side of this page. Easy-peasy.
  • You can see Andrew Nunn’s remarks on the Synod (published before we went into the conversations) here.

Specialist and nerdy

I continue to be staggered at the readership of this blog. Highlights have been

For a slightly specialist and (some would say) nerdy blog, that is pretty gratifying. And the list of countries is extraordinary: UK, USA, Australia and Canada, fair enough. But someone in Croatia, another in Finland… not to mention the Netherlands, France and Guernsey (thank you, Joan!) Particular thanks are due to those who have helped point you at me:

And, of course, dear old Twitter.

I’ll leave you with a picture of a spaceship that landed here a moody picture of the University Central Hall at night.

Nightime scene York

Central Hall is the circular disc with a reflection. The blue lights are the footbridge over the lake. Pretty, innit?


*   Wishing you were here: Chicago, 1974 If Wikipedia is to be believed, three of the Beach Boys sang on the harmony tracks. No, I didn’t know that either. Listen and see if you can hear them (if you see what I mean) – click here

Posted in 2016: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I don’t want to talk about it… *

Samaritan WS

The ‘icon of mercy’

Actually, I would love to talk about it, but I’m not going to! The Shared Conversations process began after lunch today, and we’re not talking about it while it’s happening. But the day started with some epic ceremonial in York Minster, where Synod traditionally attends the main Communion service on a Sunday, complete with fabulous choir, two Archbishops, and a procession a mile long.

As if the glories of the Minster, its music and it’s worship were not enough, we had a treat of a sermon from Archbishop Sentamu. Rather than just talk about the Good Samaritan, he had arranged for everyone to be given a card showing an icon from Taizé, on which was ‘written’ the parable.

She is still lying there…

Samaritan 1 attackHe then expounded the well-known story in an entirely fresh way. The French icon-writer shows Christ at the centre, and around him six panels.The first panel shows the traveller being attacked on the road. Others show the priest and Levite passing by, and the man being helped onto a donkey.

“Did you notice the traveller is in white, like Christ?” we were asked. And, repeatedly: “He is still lying there! She is still lying there!

At the end, we see the Christ-traveller seated at the inn, eating with the innkeeper and the Samaritan. It’s a Trinitarian motif. And Archbishop Sentamu’sSamaritan 6 eat trio point was that we have a duty to help those cast aside, and that in doing so, we serve Christ himself.

Like many of the best sermons, you probably had to be there. But it was a bravura performance which pointed us to the global issues and to the cast aside and wounded in our own circles. A powerful message as we go into those Shared Conversations.

 

The service requires the Synod’s Officers to join the main procession, so Simon Butler and I were turned out in our most seemly formal Convocation robes. Hopefully this has persuaded one or two opponents that I can dress appropriately to the circumstances, and do not conduct worship in jeans…

Prolocutor bling

Canterbury’s pro-Prolocutor and Prolocutor demonstrating seemly clerical vesture

The impact of Saturday’s debate about clergy vesture (catch up here) has been more than I expected. A number of people have come up to me with points of view. They will need to make them to the Revision Committee – and they have one month to do so.

The Mail on Sunday, to my surprise, had a reasonably unsensational report, though it could not resist the ‘manikin’ diversion. But still, it quotes a number of speakers and reflects the debate we actually had. Read it here.

The fringe: around the edges of Synod

Part of the joy of Synod at York is the way in which there is time to get involved in fringe meetings of various kinds. Some of them are set up by pressure and lobby groups. Others are simple information sessions about current topics. You can consume your buffet lunch while discussing arcane or vital topics with experts.

Pete Hobson CECA

Fringe: Pete Hobson on the CECA stand

Then there is the ‘fringe corridor’, where well-meaning bodies set up stands and try to catch your eye and intercept you as you wander by. I was very chuffed to see the Church of England Clergy Advocates (CECA – the professional association for clergy) there staffed by my old mate Pete Hobson. He also ran a lunchtime fringe session, and you can learn all about CECA here. Pete is the man who oversaw the reburial of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, and he was kind enough to give me a copy of the flyer about his book How to bury a King. Details are here.

There’s also committee work that happens in the breaks, causing diary conflicts.

  • On Saturday I was at the House of Clergy Standing Committee when I might have been at CECA’s briefing lunch
  • On Friday night I was at a session on the impact of the Goddard Enquiry on the Church of England so I missed the EGGS (Evangelical Group on General Synod)meeting.
York OSG Quiz night (1)

Fiercely competitive quiz time

And Saturday saw the Open Synod Group Quiz , a traditional break from the hard work. Despite starting at 10.00 p.m., it was a full house, and I regret to tell you the team I was in came a mediocre 4th equal. But those of you who know my interest in railways will not be surprised that I knew which station featured in the wartime classic film Brief Encounter. (It was Carnforth, should you wish to know.)

Because we were going into purdah after Saturday, in advance of the Shared Conversations, all campaigning ceased, and the fringe corridor was shut down.

Yes, but what about the Shared Conversations?

Oh yes, you wanted to know about the Shared Conversations. Well, other than that they have started, there’s nothing I can really say. We have all undertaken not to give a running commentary while the process goes on. However…

  • The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood has a fairly well-informed piece here
  • If you want to know more about how it works, there are publicly available documents here. (Scroll to bottom of that page to find them)

And we were really delighted to be given these prayer cards when we went to the Minster this morning. Feel free to use them between now and Tuesday. Thank you!

 And finally…

Milner-WhteI spotted this name-plate while wandering round the campus to catch the bus to the Minster this morning. The building is named after a famous former Dean of York and writer, Eric Milner-White.

He was instrumental in founding the University in the early 1960’s. Nice that they commemorate him, though I suspect he preferred the soaring piers and arches of the Minster to the concrete panels of the University buildings.

 

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I don’t want to talk about it Rod Stewart. Recorded 1975, a hit several times since then.

Posted in 2016: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Handbags and gladrags *

Saul Bellow Chapel

Chapel with a view: morning Communion

Wandering across the campus at what felt like the crack of dawn for a 7.30 a.m. communion service, I barely thought about Saturday’s business. There’s no doubt that the imminent transmogrification of Synod into a very large Shared Conversation is pre-occupying many people here.

  • Tetchy questions (as reported yesterday) were indicators of a nervousness that will only settle when we have our briefings and introductions tomorrow.
  • I heard last night that at one fringe meeting, one or two members declared openly that they were going to boycott the Conversations.
  • There are rumours that the Reform members will be doing a Brexit and staying out of the Conversations

So a very ‘standard’ Common Worship service in the unusual setting of the Saul Bellow Building got the day off to a good start.

Tennis or Cricket? the issue of the day

York voting machnie

Pesky voting machine: the card is at the top

Things went downhill after breakfast. A glitch with the voting machines yesterday meant that all our voting cards had to be re-programmed overnight. Handing out the new cards led to huge queues to get into the Chamber, meaning that many of us missed the opening worship. Then we had to test the new cards.

So a cheery Chair of the Business Committee invited us to vote on the motion that we prefer tennis to cricket. The motion was duly carried (to largely male cries of ‘Shame!’ and ‘Resign!’). Then we voted on it again, by Houses. Thankfully, the House of Bishops voted for cricket, so order in the firmament is restored.

Legislative Business on the agenda induces groans in many members. However, we had a very lively and passionate debate about a key bit of simplification: the snappily-titled Draft Mission and Pastoral etc. (Amendment) Measure. (Read the paper GS2014A here, or for an easier ride, the Report that goes with it GS2014Y here)

Without going into heavy detail, what seemed to be going wrong was we were getting into a proxy debate. Argument over how to simplify the way in which the church can (for example) close down a team vicar post as part of pastoral reorganisation turned into grumpy complaints about whether we trust our Bishop, why my local team vicar post has not been filled, and so on. So we heard very lively and emotional speeches that largely were not about the technical changes proposed in the Measure.

Everyone is in favour of renewal and simplification. Until, that is, they start to look at how to achieve it.

All those in favour…

The three draft Measures that followed were all to be sent off for Revision Committees. So general debate was in order, suggestions to the Committee, and relevant illustrations of how the proposals would improve/wreck things would be welcome.

Broadbent screen

Heads down for detailed legislative work

However…

  • We got into a lovely pickle over the proposals to change the rules on how churches are inspected. After a succession of food metaphors (pig in a poke, sandwich with no knowledge of the filling…), various influential voices suggested that now is not the right time to get into this complicated (and controversial) matter.
  • Simon Butler the Canterbury Prolocutor proposed a procedural motion – that the debate be adjourned until such time as the Business Committee feels it right to bring it back. And the Synod agreed.

So we moved on to the matter of how clergy and other ministers dress when leading worship. For better or worse, this change to the Canon B8 is part of a double proposal, joined with a (entirely uncontroversial) change to Canon B38 that currently bans the use of the funeral service for someone who takes their own life. (It is almost universally disregarded.)

Gladrags

I’ve been banging on about the clergy vesture issue in recent years, in support of a Private Members’ Motion that came through in the last Synod. You can see the background in an old Synod paper here.

Convocation robes York (2)

York Minster: bathwellschap in appropriate Convocation vesture!

The debate was broken by the lunch break, during which many of us went off to various fringe meetings (see below). When we came back, it was clear that people were much more nervous about the ‘clergy robes’ aspect than they were about the funerals of suicides.

  • To my dismay, speaker after speaker spoke about the benefits of traditional robing (one even claimed to wear an alb for Evensong…), and no-one seemed to allow for the ‘mixed economy’: that what works in one place is wrong in another.
  • Jayne Ozanne, a prominent advocate of a change in our policy on human sexuality, made a powerful speech in which she used some of the same arguments she might use elsewhere to urge Synod to allow for difference from parish to parish.
  • April Alexander made a careful point about how not wearing robes puts different pressures on women clergy, a point stressed to me in a private conversation with a woman priest later in the day.

The Bishop of St Alban’s, in summing up, simply encouraged Synod to pass the Amending Canon on to revision, and to write in with their particular reservations and suggestions, rather than throw the whole thing out. And in the end, after a rather tense half hour, we passed the motion. It’ll come back in due course with a worked-up draft Measure – which could still fail, of course.

Renewal, Reform, Education, Leadership… money!

The Renewal and Reform paper was rather grandly titled A Vision and Narrative for Renewal and Reform. (GS2038 – read it here). But it was rather thin – just four pages about the biggest slab of Church Reform since the invention of Synod in the 1970s. Perhaps it was intended to be inspirational, but I suspect people wanted to have details about particular programmes, and to be able to discuss specifics about the task groups, which were sadly lacking in the paper. You wouldn’t know what a wide-ranging programme it is from reading the paper, nor did it go much beyond some basic Bible references on growth and hope.

The response was better than the paper deserved. There was a terrific front-line report from inner-city Newcastle, and chirpy reminders from Alexandra Podd (a 19-year-old Youth Council rep) that there is energy and movement among our young Christians. She was an inspirational speaker.

York GV wide shot (standing)

A full Chamber

I missed the latter part of the debate, but it sounds as if it succeeded in drawing together people around the Reform and Renewal ‘badge’, with a commitment to mission in our actual settings – without setting anyone ablaze. A debate on the new Church of England Vision for Education report (GS2039 – read it here) followed, which I also missed.

And then a more controversial subject, delayed from yesterday, the Nurturing and Discerning Senior Leaders report. This is the practical outworking of the Green Report, which upset so many people when it first came out. Synod heard from people who has been through the various opportunities for senior leadership (actual and potential), together with some critiques of the theology and the selection procedures.

  • Synod members were moved by contributions from members with disabilities, questioning how we perceive their abilities
  • there was first hand comment about the church’s failure to bring a representative number of people from black and minority ethnic communities into leadership roles.
  • At one point Archbishop Sentamu broke into the debate to call for a pause and lead a worship song

The Bishop of Truro, summing up, once again acknowledged the weaknesses and shortcomings that people had raised, and remarked that the whole scheme is on the way, but still a work in progress.

Synod finished off its business this Saturday night with the budget (see details here), presented entertainingly and passionately by the Finance Chair Canon John Spence.

images

John Spence, Chair of Archbishops’ Council Finance Committee.

Anyone who sees church budgets as penny-pinching would be amazed to hear his constant message of hope, support, change and new thinking. You could do worse than look at the Archbishops’ Council Annual Report (click here)  to get the general tone.

  • Huge sums are being made available from the centre for new work in mission and evangelism from next year.
  • Budget sessions will be reporting how that money is being spent in the dioceses. It might add up to half a billion pounds over the next ten years.
  • He spoke of an enormous step by the Church Commissioners to release £50m each year for this missional work.

It’s not often that finance cheers people up, but it did tonight.

And finally…

As we went into the hall, an astonishing rainbow appeared over the University. Maybe a sign of hope for the beginnings of the Shared Conversations work tomorrow…

York rainbow central hall

This is my promise to you: the rainbow overhead. Genesis 9.14-15

 

We’ll see. Purdah will mean I have to impose many reporting restrictions, but I’ll endeavour to reflect on the mood if I can. Watch this space.

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* Handbags and gladrags 1967, written by Mike D’Abo, later of Manfred Mann. The version I always hear in my head is Chris Farlowe’s gravelly-voiced one, though it’s been done by Rod Stewart and by the Stereophonics. And it turned up in The Office, too.

Posted in 2016: July - York, General Synod | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments