One of the reasons I started this blog two years ago was to communicate to people back in the diocese what Synod was doing about the King’s Great Matter (Women and the Episcopate) . I had been emailing short reports to a small group of (mainly) women clergy and some other colleagues, when the social media revolution caught up with me.
It’s easier to write one piece and make it publicly available than to knock out several emails. I was also seduced into the Twittersphere (@bathwellschap – try it!): it was the easiest way possible to let a wider audience know I was blogging. And, selfishly I hoped it would increase the readership. It’s been enchanting to find the WordPress stats showing people in the USA, Argentina and all sorts of far-off places are reading this stuff. In just the last three days there have been over 500 readers, averaging 2 pages each. They can’t all be old school-friends, relatives, and other assorted hangers-on…
On reflection, there is another reason for doing this. It’s been cathartic. The pressure and stress (particularly at York sessions in the last two years) has been considerable. The weight of decisions, the tensions trying to hold people together, and the long-delayed hope that we might actually get somewhere all combine to demand some outlet for a kind of low-grade ‘journalling’.
My previous existence in media and on the fringe of journalism has (I hope) trained me to try to be clear and (reasonably) objective. By which I mean I don’t hide my own views, but I try to present a picture the ‘new reader’ will comprehend. In this, my role-model is the effervescent-but-well-informed technical railway journalist Roger Ford. Roger writes a column for Modern Railways called ‘Informed Sources‘. He specialises in giving people who want to know the background to major decisions being taken in the railway industry. And he has lots of ‘old chums’ who are his (usually anonymous) sources in Network Rail, the Train Operating Companies and even in the Department of Transport. Railways are something I know a bit about. But when it comes to Synod, I too have one or two old chums (and some new ones) across the Synod and central church structures…
So, on occasion I have been able to ‘do an Uncle Roger’ and get tea-room gossip, report on late-night scheming, and make the odd irreverent prediction, just as he does. (It’s easier at York, where we all live on campus for the weekend, than it is in London, where everyone has to rush off and get a train to their digs.) But it makes me feel a whole lot better about being in this particular ecclesiastical circus to know I am sharing out the pain. And, just sometimes, the joy.
Such a day is today, when we have at long last set our face, pretty well united, on proceeding towards the ordination or consecration of female candidates as Bishops in this particular part of the Church of God we call the Church of England.
Your missing correspondent
Honesty requires to make a confession at this point. Today’s critical debates took up all morning and a part of this afternoon. But (against my will, really) I was not sitting, as regular readers might expect, in the chamber or up in the gallery taking copious notes and making sharp observations about the ebb and flow of debate. My ‘synod clapometer’ remained in it’s box. I was not collecting anonymous-but-well-informed predictions as to how it would go.
Why? Well, the truth is that yesterday’s business about the housing of our next Bishop kept me right on the margins of the debate. There was a whole lot of reporting-back and consulting with colleagues to do, about which I will not report here. That’s for another day.
Happy with the hurry
But this I know. The initial debate, to accept the Report setting out the way ahead was interesting only because it wasn’t, er, very interesting. There was a sense of purpose and direction. Several ‘big hitters’ for the various shades of opinion spoke. Most notable was a difference of opinion within Reform (the ‘headship evangelicals’, to use the shorthand). David Banting indicated he was not happy with the hurry – getting the dioceses to debate and report back within three months – while Rod Thomas spoke eirenically: despite his reservations about the principle, he accepted we must get on with it. Voices from the Catholic wing were much more coherent – and in favour of moving on.
So by lunchtime. though I did not hear it all, we had agreed the shape of the draft legislation, to include the rescinding of the 1993 Act of Synod – though the ‘flying Bishops’ will remain. And I felt a huge surge of pride as Sue Booys, Chair of the Business Committee, steered the ‘three months’ business through. She must feel very good at being the person who was in the hot seat at this historic moment.
So, is it all over?
Each Diocese must now vote on the current proposals in the next three months. For one or two, that will mean scheduling an extra Diocesan Synod. In our case, we have got the debate already pencilled in for our March meeting. Then in July, Synod must vote finally to accept the proposals. That will need a two-thirds majority in each of the three Houses (Laity, Clergy, Bishops). Last time around, the House of Laity rejected it. This time…? Well, the only two clues we have are:
(a) the generally positive tone of debate: people were cheerful, engaged, and there was no wholesale repetition of the painful agonies expressed last year by those opposed.
(b) the overall voting figures: 303 in favour, 33 against, 9 abstentions. That’s well over the two-thirds hurdle, but remember today it was a ‘whole-synod’ vote, not by houses. And also remember that a number of people who gave it a fair wind today may yet vote against in July. Two-thirds in each house is by no means guaranteed.
In other news…
Flooding has been a major preoccupation for many Synod members as it has spread across the country. Church of England Bishops in the House of Lords met with DEFRA ministers and staff today. A very positive statement has emerged – and we can claim with some pride that our own Bishop of Taunton’s visit to flooded areas on the Somerset Levels played a part in getting this far.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) is a bit of a ‘loose ends’ day. It includes some ‘routine’ business:
- some updating work on Safeguarding (I hope to be called to speak about that).
- Later in the day a Private Members Motion on clerical robes comes up – should they remain officially compulsory while conducting worship? Again, I hope to speak (in favour of a revision of the relevant Canon.)
- At the very end of the day, a presentation on how the higher-ups intend the church should deal with the ‘Pilling Report’ on human sexuality. No debate, lots of talk of ‘facilitated discussions’. This one will run and run.
You can read the papers here (scroll down to the ones you want.)
Two final reflections tonight
First, I have found myself on the worship rota for the first time in 7 years’ membership. Twice. This morning I assisted at the huge Synod Communion service by administering the chalice. It’s very odd – you have to be part of a ‘Communion Station’ in the draughty circular corridor that encloses the Chamber. But it is immensely moving to be performing this ‘simple-yet-significant’ role for Bishops, lay reps, clerics and staff; friends and unknown people, fierce opponents and fellow-travellers. On Sunday I shall be doing the same in two village churches on the edge of the flood-hit Somerset levels. We are all one in Christ Jesus, as the man said.
Second, I now realise another reason why I do this blog. Synod with all its ups and downs and peculiarities, needs to explain itself. Being partially a synod nerd, I’ve followed it pretty closely for about forty years. If reading this collection of notes, gossip and opinion helps anyone to understand it and say to themselves ‘I think I’d like to stand for Synod’, then all the tensions and late night writing will have been worth it.
Reader, could it be you? Next elections are in 2015 in a diocese near you…
* I can see clearly now (the rain has gone) – Johnny Nash, 1972 hit single