So, the first day is over. I posted earlier about the Women Bishops issues. There’s a bit of extra news to update – scroll down for that. But this post is about the other stuff we’ve done today.
It’s Synod, Jim – but not as we know it.
If you’ve seen the video feed of Synod, you’ll have seen the shiny new set – white backdrop, a Cross with a purple neon background, and so on. During the debate on the agenda (the traditional kick-off at the beginning of a set of sessions), I ventured to the microphone to congratulate the Business Committee on the ‘new look’.
(They had kindly invited me to a session in London a couple of months ago when they were considering how to ’refresh’ the look of Synod, on the back of a speech I made in February.) Foolishly I quoted a couple of comments made on the Twitter hashtag #synod – one comparing the Chair of the Business Committee, Canon Sue Booys from Oxford, to the TV comedienne Victoria Wood, and the other comparing the backdrop to the USS Enterprise (from Star Trek).
Everyone had a good laugh, and the Twitter feed enjoyed it, but on returning to my seat I was soundly berated by a senior lay Synod member for bring the outside world into debate. Apparently I had opened the floodgates by permitting internet comments about Synod to be mentioned in debate. I suspect she would not have minded if I had quoted a Fleet Street paper – but the Internet?!? Looks like Synod has a lot of catching up to do…
The serious point behind my cheery observations was that if we intend to widen the appeal of synod, we need to be aware of what is being said about us ‘live’ on the internet as well as in tomorrow’s papers. Apparently, not everyone at Synod is ready for that.
The Bishop of Durham introduced some amendments to the Clergy Discipline Measure and Canon Law that will tighten up our requirements on safeguarding. In the light of serious failings in some dioceses, and the high-profile cases recently in the courts, it must be obvious that the Church’s arrangements need updating. He talked about the need for improved training regimes for all clergy and Readers, and for PCCs to carry the responsibility for their actions in respect of safeguarding of children and adults in their care.
I was able to chip in (on the basis of my own role within the safeguarding programme in our diocese) to say that some clergy and Readers are reluctant to undertake training. This may be partly because of an unwillingness to face up to the reality of abuse in society. Abusers are not (despite what the popular press may say) evil monsters with staring eyes: they are someone’s choirmaster, parent or (sadly) Vicar. So we have to ensure there is training for those in leadership – not just to know how to deal with children and vulnerable adults, but to work out how to deal with sex offenders who may turn up and want to come to worship. And (very challenging for some) to come to terms with their own feelings about abuse. So – more training, more resources. I was able to put in a plea for sensible budget provision at Church House to ensure quality oversight and training across the dioceses.
Dusting off the clapometer
So, two interventions about other matters by me in a Synod that is preoccupied by the Women Bishops issue. In the tearoom and the bars, and in Question Time, there were some significant hints about what will happen on Monday.
- There was an interesting approach taken by the Bishop of Rochester on the prospects for appointing a ‘headship evangelical’ to a bishopric. There have been conversations, very sensitive, it’s looking positive… Without giving any details, he gave some beef to the Archbishops’ commitment (expressed here) that they really really do want such a Bishop in the House of Bishops as part of the change if/when women Bishops come in.
- Sniffing the air, there is a mood that it will probably go through. I dusted off the Lynas clapometer again when Susie Leafe (a prominent Reform member) made a rather rumbustious intervention in the afternoon ‘take note’ debate, setting out strong reservations about where we are now. A year ago, there would have been loud applause from a considerable number of opponents. Today there was loud clapping, but only by half a dozen people. Everyone else stayed silent, felling, I think that the time for that kind of speech has now passed.
- On the fringes, I have heard leading ‘Reform’ people indicating they expect it go through (though they will vote against). That’s a good sign (from where I sit).
When is a vote not a vote?
There is a move afoot to encourage those in conscience opposed to abstain, in order that the wider church might go forward. But is abstaining an honest thing to do?
The business of ‘when is a vote not a vote’ got everyone in a tangle during the debate on the agenda. On the Planet Synod, there are two ways of abstaining. The first is simply to sit on your hands when the vote is taken. But in an electronic vote, you can actually register your abstention on the voting machines, which means your abstaining will become part of the public record. Either way, your action does not affect the count: we only count those actually saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. But obviously the maths gets better (for those in favour) if some of the objectors abstain, rather than vetoing ‘No’. So expect some passionate pleas in favour of not voting!
The most entertaining part of the day was a series of exchanges in Questions about Sir Elton John. In the light of his recent comments about Jesus and gay people, would the House of Bishops be recruiting him as an adviser? The Bishop of Willesden had to answer, and we had a joyful exchange of song title bingo, worthy of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. For the questioner’s Rocket Man, and Candle in the Wind (which ended up with him being told him by the Chair that he was out of order)the Bishop had a response of I’m still standing. The only thing missing was Sorry seems to be the hardest word.
The humour helps defuse the tension. Heaven knows (thank the Lord) how we will all feel by Monday. Stay tuned.
* OK, I cheated. Should be Monday I’ve got Friday on my mind. The Easybeats, 1966