You say you want a revolution *

This is a preview of General Synod’s London meeting on 10-12 February. There’s been plenty of fussing and fluttering in the dovecotes about the various Task Group Reports that are coming to Synod. This is partly because the Archbishops have engineered a Synod by-pass: the reports were not commissioned through a synodical process but by the Archbishops’ Council. And one of them – the ‘Green Report’ has seriously upset people.

Some Synod members, then, are feeling left out and not consulted. Others rejoice that the Archbishops have managed to cut through the committee structure and consultative waffle and actually get some changes moving.

Reform? Revolution? Renewal?

The Archbishops have explained their thinking about what they call ‘a programme for reform and renewal’ in a short paper ‘In Each Generation’. Their Task Groups have been working on (links to the text for the really keen reader):

  • Discipleship (GS1977)
  • Resourcing the Future and Ministerial Education (GS 1978 and GS 1979)
  • Simplification of church governance and processes (GS1980)
  • Church Commissioners funds and how to release more of them to effect change. (GS1981)

The reform (or is it a revolution?) is not only about the content of the reports. Synod is to engage in new processes too. Last thing on Tuesday we’ll have presentations on the Task Groups (and a chance for questions). Then the whole of Wednesday is built around the four key reports. In a mammoth logistical exercise (Church House Westminster is not readily equipped with ‘break-out rooms’) we spend an hour and a half in small group discussion, and a further hour and twenty minutes in larger groups before we ever get near debating the reports. The small groups are to look at ‘discipleship’; the larger ones are focussed on all four Task Group Reports.

Doing synod differently…

This is all part of the ‘New Way of Doing Synod’ that everyone says they are keen on. Suspicious minds see it as a way of avoiding conflict and serious debate. Others recognise the value of chatting things through together, rather than always being driven by debate, procedure and votes. (There is also the potential that this way of working may ease things when the Synod does its ‘shared conversations’ on human sexuality next year.)

One way of measuring the degree of excitement about any Synod topic is to see how many Questions have been put down (Question Time is always on the first day). For this week, as an experiment, all the Questions and prepared answers have been issued in a booklet (strangely, this is not on the website yet…). The idea is that we get more and better supplementary questions in – which is where the real meat (and often, a bit of fun) happens. so three cheers to the Business Committee for giving this a go.

Bathwellschap can non-exclusively reveal that of the 63 Questions, 13 relate to the reports. Not a huge number… and one of them is from me. Sadly, Questions on the Task Groups are nearly all at the end of a 63-Question queue, so it remains to be seen whether they can actually be dealt with in the 90-minute session on Tuesday afternoon.

My interest here is the process and the politics. I’m not going to get into the content of the Task Group Reports others have done that, and you can read them for yourself.

Green: talent pool or maelstrom?

The one that has caused the most excitement is the ‘Green Report’ on how we should develop and train senior leaders (or at least Bishops and Deans. Archdeacons don’t seem to count). Read it, if you dare, here. It’s known as ‘Green’ after the Chair of the group that produced it, the Revd Lord Stephen Green. His previous work as head honcho of HSBC bank will probably not help its acceptance, what with the adverse publicity for the Bank this week.

When it was leaked to the Church Times in the autumn there was serious trouble. It looked as if Archbishop Justin’s long honeymoon was over. Robert Runcie, George Carey and Rowan Williams all got to a similar point, but it was people outside the Church monstering them. In Justin’s case, it was in-house.

‘Green’ is largely about what used to be called ‘preferment’; what has briefly been called the ‘talent pool’ and what is now best described as ‘helping find and train future senior leaders in the Church’. People have objected to its ‘mini-MBA’ approach, and say the whole thing is redolent of outdated and/or secular business management models. To my mind, one of the most interesting parts of the revolution (sorry, I meant ‘reform’) is the fact that the Archbishops have found £2m to fund the exercise without having to get it through Synod. And it was commissioned in January 2014, and finished by September. That is fast for the Church of England.

Funnily enough, it’s not getting a debate of its own on Wednesday: it will be dealt with in the ‘warm-up’ presentation on Tuesday evening. But neither small groups, midsize groups, or the whole Synod are being allowed near it on Wednesday. (You could argue it is relevant to the resourcing the future and ministerial education Task Group, so maybe it will come up there.) There’s some very thoughtful stuff about it on Mike Higton’s kia euthus blog 

In other news

  • We begin Synod with a troubling world perspective on Tuesday – a visit from the Archbishop of the Chaldean Diocese of Erbil – representing Eastern rite Catholics in northern Iraq. That will stop all the politicking for an hour or two.
  • We end with something close to Bath and Wells hearts – mission and growth in rural multi-parish benefices. We have plenty of those in mid- and west Somerset.
  • In between, some safeguarding; changes to Standing Orders; and a sensitive pastoral motion about the funerals of people who have taken their own life.

And at the very end, on Thursday afternoon, the Alternative (i.e. simpler) Baptism texts are back for a ‘take note’ debate. It’s only been five years since the first request for these went through. And we are still not at final texts. You can see why the Task Group stuff looks like a revolution!


* Revolution – The Beatles 1968. You either love it or you hate it.

This entry was posted in 2015: February - London, General Synod and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to You say you want a revolution *

  1. Pingback: Forty Shades of Green * | bathwellschap

  2. minidvr says:

    I wouldn’t describe the now, discredited Green report as preferment, rather a secular attempt to take over the ministry of the Church. Lord Green, for all of his business expertise, wasn’t in a position to monitor what went on within his own organisation while he was in the hot seat, why would we therefore listen to his recommendations now.

    Sure we need to prepare future leaders for their prospective roles, but segregation (which the proposed ‘talent pool’) of them from the main stream of church life in secular institutions and in-service training (with a residential element) doesn’t seem the way forward to me. Give them say a six month sabbatical, where they can opt into a recommended or appropriate list of training, whether residential, on line or one day seminars. Most professional institutions in public life, due continuing professional development in this way. One or two day seminars, which are on specific subject areas of interest to professionals working in that sphere. I belong to three such institutions, and am spoiled for choice in access to such life long learning (the new mantra for my particular profession).

    Perhaps we need to set up an in-house training institute where they teach in parables, which might be more appropriate for future leaders in the Church. After all, it was good enough for the apostles, and our future bishops will claim that they are in succession to that line.

    General Synod can be quite good in seeing through the prevarication of the HoB, and I hope that they do so in respect of the Green report, let alone the other raft of changes proposed by the Arch Bishops council.

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