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.
- Professor Linda Woodhead has appeared as the cheerleader for those who are unhappy and she engages with Bishop Steven Croft on the BBC Sunday programme (starts at 25.45 )
- Ian Paul gives a suspicious response to her views in his blog
- The C of E Comms team has a youtube channel with pieces from the Task Group chairs
- As ever, a trawl through Thinking Anglicans will give you a picture
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.