We got seriously surreal this morning!
We worked our way through a succession of largely technical legislative materials, finishing with proposals to alter the rules about who has authority to decide on disposing of church furnishings. Simon Cawdell from Hereford had put in a series of amendments dealing with such things as hatchments, royal coats of arms and other things to be found in rural churches. But what about pianos? We had to decide how to define a grand piano (apparently, the ones that matter most). Then we got to who could decide to demolish or alter a lych-gate. There was much cheering and laughter, not to mention loads of Twitticisms (© me, for jokes made on Twitter) as we ploughed through it all.
Safeguarding: tightening up – and spending more
But before all that fun, some frank discussion about improving the legal regime around safeguarding. In his now-customary sober but sympathetic tones, the Bishop of Durham took us through a set of measures to tighten up in areas such as:
- Clergy who need to undertake a risk assessment
- Preventing non-licenced clergy from robing and appearing to be authorised to minister when they are not
- Making safeguarding training compulsory for all clergy (not just those on modern ‘Common Tenure’ terms of service)
- Applying sanctions to churchwardens and PCC members where necessary
You can read the details in GS1952B here. Bishop Paul mentioned in passing that all this would involve more expense, both nationally and locally. Having just had a briefing in Bath & Wells from the new National Safeguarding Officer, Graham Tilby, I was aware of the size of this, and made a short speech highlighting that the national safeguarding budget is being increased from £44,500 last year, to £557,500 next year. That’s a twelve (yes, 12)-fold increase.
The afternoon began cheerfully, with a fulsome farewell tribute to the former Bishop of Gloucester, Michael Perham. He had to stop work before his intended retirement date last year after allegations were made which required police investigation. He was eventually cleared, but it has taken some months to clear it all up. He received a standing ovation after Archbishop Justin ran through his astonishing ministry in parishes, cathedral and dioceses; as liturgist, and as pastor. Bishop Michael has moved to live in Bath and Wells, and we’re pleased to have him.
Then we got into the set-piece of the day: Fr Simon Killwick’s PMM bringing the row about developing senior leaders to a head. You’ll need a jargon-buster from this point on.
Jargonbuster: Today’s acronyms:
- FAOC – the Faith and Order Commission
- PMM – a Private Member’s Motion
- CCU – the Council for Christian Unity
- WCC – World Council of Churches
- EGGS – Evangelical Group on General Synod
What kind of leadership? How do we decide?
The debate was a fascinating mix of pastoral theology, and raw ecclesiastical politics. Who would ever have thought that FAOC would become a lightning conductor for Synodical dissent?
The astonishing speed with which Simon Killwick’s motion got the necessary signatures is indicative of the discomfort felt by many in this Synod. It took 2 days to get 115 signatures: he only needed 100, and sometimes PMMs can hang about for years and never even get 50! What people wanted was to express their dislike of:
- the model of leadership development offered us in the Green Report
- the process by which it has been put into circulation in the Church.
I had one of those frustrating Synod days, popping up and hoping to called to speak, but never catching the Chair’s eye/being consistently ignored by the Chair (delete as you think applicable). I had wanted to explore the history of the FAOC thing (with which Simon Killwick associated me in his paper) and to say it was at cross-purposes with the Green Report and the current unpopular work on senior leader development.
The FAOC report was only brought to Synod by a public revolt. It asks all the right questions about senior leadership to which the Green Report and associated ‘Reform and Renewal’ materials give only partial answers. At Questions last night there were brave attempts by the Bishops of Truro, Coventry, Sheffield and others to describe the two documents as somehow being in harmony. Not many people bought it.
Bishops apologise to Synod!
But something pretty astonishing happened this afternoon. Prompted by a hostile amendment from Salisbury’s Jane Charman, and a succession of grumpy speeches about the way Green and the wider ‘Reform and Renewal’ work had been presented, both the Bishop of Truro and Archbishop Justin apologised for the way things had been done. Bishop Tim agreed that the whole Green Report had not been well handled or presented; Archbishop Justin apologised for tetchy replies to Questions last night.
Apologies work wonders. (Christians ought to know that, of course..) But I think we are now in a new place: Synod’s grumpiness has been acknowledged, there is a commitment to report on progress next year , and much of the grumbling will now stop. Thanks to Jane Charman’s amendment and much grace being shown, perhaps this hour and half enabled us to move on a bit.
We debated high-octane ecumenism with the CCU’s report on the WCC ‘convergence text’ Towards a Common Vision. I had put in an amendment to remove the requirement to commend the document (which is pretty heavy going) to all levels of church life. My thinking was that Synod keeps doing this, and there is little evidence that dioceses, parishes and Deaneries actually respond. So we should prioritise, not send everything down. I made a point of standing at the mic opposite our distinguished ecumenical guests, in order to say ‘this is not about you, it’s about our Synodical process.’ Anyway, I was politely heard; several people came up afterwards to say they agreed with me, but (you’ve already guessed) my amendment was defeated. Ho-hum!
Life on the fringe
I attended an evening fringe meeting that gave me and many others pause for thought. I’ll include links from here on in, as you may want to check out some of these groups yourself. The group Accepting Evangelicals had invited Jayne Ozanne, a former member of the Archbishops’ Council, to speak about her personal journey to ‘coming out’ and accepting her sexuality. (Evangelicals are generally very strongly attached to traditional Biblical understandings of sexuality and very resistant to same-sex marriage and to the Church’s recognition or blessing of same-sex partnerships in any form.) Although some have joined in the ‘Shared Conversations’ programme (details here), others have declined to have anything to do with something that (they would say) indicates the Church is preparing to betray traditional belief and practice.
I knew Jayne from my own time working at Church House just before the Millennium. We learned tonight that at that time she was a confused and tortured soul who had not come to terms with what she now sees as her God-given sexuality. The meeting wasn’t an occasion for debate or throwing Bible texts around. To hear her stories of rejection (by family and friends) and her confusion as she struggled to reconcile her lively Christian faith with her same-sex attraction was quite an experience. We don’t hear this openly very often. Two things struck me:
- I am a member of EGGS, but very few EGGS members turned up to the Accepting Evangelicals meeting. The crowd was mostly people who are active in pressure groups such as Changing Attitude, or individuals who, like me were interested to hear a first-hand story without necessarily being signed up to joining Accepting Evangelicals
- When Jayne finished there was profound silence, and a few tears from some. Individuals were clearly very moved, and made to think in ways that were uncomfortable. However this pans out in the next Synod quinquennium, many people will have to confront their ignorance and fears, and hear about individual’s pain – at the same time as trying to make sense of a Christian approach to it all.
We’ve got a new worship venue! The 7.30 a.m. Communion was in a very nice lecture theatre, with huge windows giving a green campus vista behind the modern altar and 8-foot cross. It wasn’t the time to take a picture, so you will have to imagine it.
My old Church House mucker Robin Stevens organised the late-night revue that traditionally adorns the last Synod of a Quinquennium. Held in the Roger Kirk Centre, it offered a variety of ‘turns’ from the specialist (Vasantha Gnanadoss’ Indian Dance) to the corny (various sketches and songs).
The two highlights were the minimalist spoken Cinderella – Archbishop Sentamu playing Prince Charming with Tim Hind and John Spence as the (very) Ugly Sisters – and SW1P, a spoof of the BBC spoof W1A, in which the Synod office staff took the mickey out of themselves. SW1P is the Church House postcode. Unbelievably, It starred the normally-urbane William Fittall as the gormless office intern. Inspired casting.
Sunday morning means I have to tog up in my Convocation robes (cassock, academic gown, hood and preaching bands) to assist at the Synod service in York Minster. A grand occasion! When we get back we’ll look at the simplified Baptism service (read it here) in the afternoon.
* Who’s sorry now? Connie Francis, 1958 What a song. Listen if you dare. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9QEAtcz3o8