Today (10 July) sees the beginning of a rather special Synod. It’s the last time the present membership will gather. The five year term is up (yes, the Church of England beat the UK government to fixed terms, only, being ecclesiastical, we call it a quinquennium). Everyone will go home on Monday (see below) and never return. Unless, of course:
- they are re-elected this autumn (to the House of Laity or Clergy, as the case may be)
- they are diocesan Bishops (who have no need of such worldly processes and sit by right in the House of Bishops).
So there will be an end-of-term feeling. Possibly on Saturday night there may even be a fin-de-siècle spirit of ribaldry and laughter. For, as is traditional (i.e. it has happened for the last 20 years or so), the Open Synod Group has organised a Revue. Normally staid and ponderous Synod types will appear on a stage and entertain the rest of us. I am reliably informed that there will be an archiepiscopal presence at one point during the show.
But before that, there is work. But the agenda has the appearance of an end-of-session clear-up. Lots of nuts and bolts items and final revisions: things that can’t be left over till a new Synod gets on-stream in November.
We clergy have to turn up early for a session of the Convocations. Wolf Hall fans will know the Convocation is the assembly of clergy and it has a very long history. It rarely meets separately, but we have a new Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy to ratify. As if your Vicar is not bound around enough by Common Tenure, the PCC, Ministerial Development Reviews and the Clergy Discipline Measure (not to mention stroppy churchwardens and Archdeacons who turn up in taxis, Rev-style)! Much of the document is holy common sense, but there are some nervous twitches about the safeguarding section (it keeps being overtaken by events) and the old chestnut about the so-called ‘seal of the confessional’. Read it here if you’re strong enough to take it.
Friday night fun – and accountability
What’s good about Friday evening is the new-look Questions. The changes to Questions, implemented today, might bring some fun. Unlike Parliament, the Questions tend not to be staged, and for the first time, the formal Answers to all 84 Questions that have been tabled are publicly available before the session starts. You can read them all here. Publication in advance means two things:
- People can prepare better supplementary questions – hopefully drawing out more information than the formal reply. Initial Answers can be a bit reluctant to divulge the full story at times…
- We can judge the level of interest among members in particular topics. For example, there is a wodge of no less than 24 Questions about the ‘Reform and Renewal’ programme. They are mostly critical or at least concerned about the impact of this programme, particularly the effect on ministerial training.
So, even with the end of term mood, I expect some pretty sharp exchanges tonight. I am a great fan of Questions: it is the one space in Synod where ordinary members can hold the Church’s central structures to account,. It does my heart good to see bishops and bureaucrats alike having to face up to ordinary clergy and laity and – if the supplementaries are good enough – having nowhere to hide.
Tomorrow, what looks like a lot of boring nuts and bolts stuff will probably be more interesting than it looks. Each item will have two or three members who want to raise a point about something, so we will travel down some remote byways of church life. Faculties, voting rules, clergy discipline, ecclesiastical property – it’s all here! I suspect that Standing Orders will become a bit of a Synod meme over the weekend. There are about half a dozen opportunities for the urbane, patient, and knowledgeable Geoffrey Tattersall QC to guide us through proposed revisions, and it’s vital to get them cleared up this weekend, so that the newly-elected Synod on November can start with a clear set of rules and regulations.
Church Leadership – a surge of frustration
But in the afternoon we have the response to a surge of frustration that was voiced in London in February. The ‘Reform and Renewal programme was being pushed through at a pace that un-nerved many. But what really upset them was that Synod was not permitted to debate the Green Report on senior leadership – ‘talent pools’ and mini-MBAs for Cathedral Deans, etc. I wrote that up here. In the background was a serious report on the theology of leadership, a report from the Faith and Order Group commissioned some years back, but never debated. So people power has fought back! Fr Simon Killwick, a leading light in the Catholic Group got Private Members Motion up, and it very rapidly attracted enough signatures for it to have to be debated this weekend.
Amusingly, I find Simon quoted me using cricket terminology on the front page of his paper (read it here), so I may have to attempt to speak…
Other than that, the other main theme of this weekend is going to be climate change and ethical investment. I was annoyed to hear on the radio this morning that the Church of England is looking at establishing solar farms on church land. This may be a journalists’ over-simplification of the Synod motion we debate on Monday. But I’m going to take a look at that, for I cannot see that turning acres of food-producing land into deserts of glass is at all green!
Closer to parish priests hearts (maybe, unless they are the fabled ‘eco-theologians’) are the final texts for a revised and simplified Baptism service. It’s the second crack in the Common Worship walls (the first was a set of simplified Collects) – we are in a multi-choice world now, like it or not.
It’s a short Synod. We are all going home on Monday evening, rather than on Tuesday, which is more usual. Cynics will say it is because the powers that be don’t want Synod members stirring up any more trouble over ‘Reform and Renewal’ issues. Others would point out the lack of ongoing business (as it is the end of the quinquennium) and mention the large cost savings in shortening the session. Take your pick!
@bathwellschap on Twitter will have some updates and comments through the weekend, and I will try to post a daily summary for the very keen…
* The Last Time – the Rolling Stones single, 1965