Day One of a new Synod session can be a good mood-checker. But nearly all the conversation and early public statements (during the Debate on the Agenda) have been about other things. On the King’s Great Matter there was silence today – apart from the Bishop of Rochester’s presentation setting the scene for tomorrow’s discussion groups (see below) . That doesn’t mean people aren’t conscious of it, and fringe meetings tonight and tomorrow will get people more focussed.
The story so far…
Bishop James Langstaff (Bishop of Rochester, Chair of the Steering Committee) was cool , calm and collected as he took us through the story so far. He reminded us that in July we asked for:
- legislation of the simplest kind
- a grievance procedure for parishes who felt their Bishop was not respecting their theological objections
- a House of Bishops declaration setting out the rules of engagement but falling short of actual legislation or a Code of Practice
The Committee that prepared the current proposals, it seems, has met for 5 full days. He reminded us of its broad membership of the Committee – and that 13 members had voted for the proposals, while 2 abstained. He hoped we would spend our group time tomorrow looking at the practical and pastoral ramifications of their work, spelled out in Appendices A and B to their report (read it here). And, he finished: there is no Plan B. Bishop Langstaff has just been announced as the next Bishop to Prisons – not sure if that’s a comment on his masterly role on corralling the Committee to such unanimity.
How will it play out?
Listening to tea-room chatter has been hard. As I said above, people are not talking about this subject much – yet. Tomorrow’s closed session discussion groups should help us all to explore what is in the Report, and (hopefully) to hear from Synod’s varying shades of opinion. I posted yesterday that there had been silence from Reform (who are especially concerned about making room for those who believe in male headship). Informed sources among evangelicals suggest there are three particular things troubling people in and around that constituency:
- They are nervous about the so-called ‘ombudsman’ or independent reviewer idea. Instinctively they were drawn to a legal Code of Practice (and there had been threats of going to law if a parish was being short-changed by their Bishop). Now that is all out the window, and they’re worried that when push comes to shove, an ‘independent review’ might be ignored by Bishops. But Philip Giddings – who was influential in getting the July proposals thrown out – is clearly an informed supporter of the idea, and will probably steady some nerves on this aspect. Any Bishop who declined to accept the reviewer’s verdict would be publicly shamed, he pointed out. And no Bishop wants that.
- All clergy have to swear an Oath of Canonical Obedience to their Bishop. How will that work if the Bishop is a woman (who, according to headship principles, cannot be ‘in charge’)? Again, there are significant voices in the Reform constituency offering an interpretation of what ‘allegiance to the Bishop’ means that may enable some waverers to sign up
- It would clearly cheer the ‘headship’ and other conservative evangelicals up if a Bishop of that persuasion were to be appointed. They regularly remind us that since the retirement of Bishop Wallace Benn there has been no-one of their ilk serving as a Bishop – and he, as a suffragan, was not a member of the House of Bishops. I’ve heard a couple of leading Bishops indicate that this is something that could be addressed – whether as a suffragan somewhere or a diocesan Bishop is not easy to foresee. But if it happened, it would calm a number of troubled breasts.
So we go into groups tomorrow with what seems like a fair wind for the proposals. We’ll see.
(Don’t expect a blow-by-blow account of the group work. They are confidential, and will remain that way as far as I’m concerned.)
In other news…
The serious debate today was on Intentional Evangelism. I won’t go into detail (read the main document here) except to say that there was a touch of ‘motherhood and apple-pie’ about it: we’re all in favour. The irrepressible Bishop of Willesden has some interesting top tips on the subject on his blog. I promised to link to it as he bought me a beer at the end of the day today. It’s worth a read, despite the blatant advert.
Fortunately,we have had a couple of laughs. During the opening worship, there was an unaccustomed period of silence before the Bible reading. (Most churches do that after we’ve heard the Word…) The silence was broken by the Prolocutor for Canterbury, Christine Hardman, plaintively asking: “Has anyone got a Bible?” Great joy and laughter all round. I’m not sure whether her iPad had failed, or just the person appointed to read hadn’t turned up, but she was rescued by the Chair of the House of Laity Philip Giddings, who produced a little red Bible from his jacket pocket, and handed it over to her. The first words she read? “Rejoice in the Lord always…”
We’ve acquired cameras and huge screens, so we can now see every facial movement of the speakers. It’s the same image you’ll be seeing on the live feed if you’re following (watch it here). Sadly, there is a lip-sync problem, so lip movements on-screen are about a second behind the words being spoken (thereby reversing one of the fundamental laws of physics, that light travels faster than sound). Standing to speak to encourage the Business Committee to take this further in future, I ventured to suggest that the reason the video feed was out of sync was because we are being monitored by GCHQ at Cheltenham. “As if!” replied the Chair. Anyway, we all laughed at the very thought.
Well, maybe you had to be there.