There are probably two things on the minds of most Synod members as we fight our way from the First Sunday of Lent to the First Day of the February Synod. One is change – what we call here R’n’R , short for Reform and Renewal. The other is love, and… Well, I’ll come to that one later.
Devil in the detail (1)
R’n’R is quite controversial. It’s a huge programme of change for the Church of England. Lots of people said in their election addresses last year they were in favour of it: but lots of them (including me) also have reservations about bits of it. The devil is in the detail.
But there’s a charm offensive going on around R’n’R, as well as some sniping about it. On the charm front, it’s a sign of fresh air blowing round the corridors of Church House that the new Head Honcho (a.k.a William Nye, the Secretary General of the Synod and Archbishops Council), has broken with tradition and written a personal blog post about R’n’R!
And very clear it is too. Former Secretaries-General would steer clear of engaging too closely with public debate, other than giving civil-service-like briefings beforehand. But if you are, like many, struggling to get a grip on what can seem like a many-headed monster, his explanation is rather helpful (read it here). William even hints at the fact that some of it is a bit, er, controversial. Or at least, misunderstood.
The Comms people have also wheeled out the Liverpool Diocesan Secretary, Mike Eastwood, with a very positive look at R’n’R – read it here. Which is as well, because on the complaints side, a bit of spice has been added to the mood by the cleverly-timed intervention of ten heads of theological colleges and a heavyweight critique by a former college head.
A letter to the Church Times, emails circulated to Synod members… This is how you go activist in the C of E nowadays. The complaint is about one aspect of R’n’R, called (in Synod-speak) RME – Resourcing Ministerial Education. You can tell it’s significant because the Bishop of Sheffield has rushed out a response to their complaints. It’s posted on the C of E official blog site (read the episcopal retaliation here) but the Principals’ letter doesn’t seem to be online, other than behind the Church Times paywall).
The principals’ whole way of doing training will be altered if the RME elements of R’n’R goes through, and they want us to know it’s not only their self-interest. The way dioceses pay for people in training is scheduled to be changed, and they see some very negative impacts on the wider church – not least a threat to encouraging more women candidates for ministry.
There’s plenty more informed comment on R’n’R available via Thinking Anglicans, who do their usual excellent round-up (lots of facts, not much comment – the opposite to me!), including links to:
a hard-hitting critique by Martyn Percy, formerly a college head, now Dean of Christ Church Oxford
sober reflections on how the Archbishops Council operates from Robert Cotton
So we have some controversy booked in for Wednesday’s debate: Synod bigwigs and Bishops vs Expert practitioners. Kick-off is Wednesday, 2.30 p.m… (read the paper GS2020 here – but make sure you go as far as page 9, which indicates several of the original proposals have already been watered down or scrapped.)
Now we get to the difficult bit
The second thing looming in our minds is probably love. Well, to be more specific, sex. Or…
as we actually say, sexuality
more appropriately, human sexuality
to be perfectly explicit Shared Conversations on Spirituality, Scripture and Mission.
Everyone knows that when we get to York in July, we are to spend two days in facilitated conversations amongst ourselves on this ultra-thorny topic. Pretty well every diocese has now been involved in regional facilitated conversations with hand-picked reps drawn from ordinary parish life. Synod’s turn comes in the summer, but we are to be briefed about it on Monday afternoon. There’ll be some nervousness, and some drum-banging, I suspect.
There’s been huge activism in the election period and since around this:
There’s been an LGBTI Mission statement aimed at persuading the church to deliver on some specifics
candidates for elected synod posts have been quizzed about their views
There are fringe meetings of various sorts this week – conservative, accepting, inclusive – you name it, it’s got a discussion going on over Church House canapés and orange juice
Those who are firmly encamped in one field or the other will be setting out their stalls: those who are thought to be on the fence will have to start deciding which side to jump off.
“Synod” and “evangelism” (not two words you often get in the same sentence…)
Thank God, it’s not all ecclesiastical politics. On Tuesday morning a great chunk of synod time is being devoted to evangelism. Well, we’re not actually going out onto the streets of London, but we are going into groups to share our own experiences and understandings of the ‘E’ word – one that many good Anglicans find hard to use. So we are being dispersed all round Church House and Lambeth Palace in groups of 24 or so. That’s too big, in my reckoning – but we are limited by the facilities available, and we will break into smaller groups.
Horror of horrors, we will be asked to share our own faith story – how we came to an active faith, and how we have (or maybe have not) succeeded in sharing our faith with others. And we’ll pray together for people we want to lead to faith! This is brave new territory for synod – but it’s got to be worth a go.
Afterwards, we gather back at Church House for an hour and a half discussion of the current Evangelism Task Group report (GS2015 – read it here).
Devil in the detail (2)
Simplification! Many in parishes rejoice at the thought the C of E could simply some of its procedures which can be arcane, frustrating to mission, expensive, or just plain irrelevant. The ebullient Bishop of Willesden (he of “I agree with Pete” fame in 2013 – click here if you want to know the origins of that phrase) has chaired a Simplification Group which now brings to Synod the idea that instead of having to laboriously debate stuff several times before new Measures can be passed, we should adopt Parliament’s procedures of allowing the Archbishops Council to make some changes of its own volition, without Synod having to do the whole thing.
Naturally, this has immense appeal – but it will be criticised for preventing proper scrutiny of proposals. Devil’s in the detail, again. So, Tuesday afternoon should be fun.
(Read GS 2018 with the details here). Note that the Enabling Measure paper that hopes to bring about simplification procedures is a mere 11 pages long. The actual legislation required to put it into effect will be a bit longer.
And there’s lots more…
The Church of England’s attempts to set out its relationship with the Church of Scotland has annoyed lots of people: that debate is on Tuesday.
The real world of poverty and austerity comes into focus on Wednesday when we debate a diocesan motion about the effects of benefits sanctions on people.
Missing from the agenda – but buried in the paperwork – is the vexed question of clerical robing. We passed a motion in 2011 asking for a relaxation of the Canons on this matter. It has gone out to consultation – Synod members have till April to give their views. It looks as if putting it out to grass is in the Bishops’ minds,and the Law and Religion blog is certainly not keen.
Like the whole Synod (50% new people) the ‘Platform Party’ has been considerably refreshed by the elections. These are the four people who get to sit on the platform as the senior elected reps of clergy and laity. They also get the right to speak: when they stand, the Chair has to call them. So it’s a big responsibility.
Canterbury has a new clergy chair (Prolocutor). Avid readers of this blog will be dismayed that I was not elected to the post, but I accept the verdict of the voters relatively cheerfully. I am actually very happy that Canon Simon Butler from Southwark was elected. He is a really good Synod contributor and will not mis-use his ‘speaker’s rights’ privileges.
The York clergy declared themselves entirely satisfied with their previous Prolocutor, Archdeacon Cherry Vann – she was returned unopposed, and is widely liked and respected..
But the two Laity figures are in one sense new – though both are old hands.
Dr Jamie Harrison from Durham is the new House of Laity Chair – a frequent contributor to debates, not least on health issues – he is a GP.
His Vice-Chair is Dr Elizabeth Paver, a long-standing member with previous experience on Archbishops Council, and a doughty figure in ‘traditional Catholic’ circles.
What looks on the surface like a quick and simple Synod session actually has plenty going on under the bonnet. So do say a prayer for us all, that we may emerge on Wednesday night open to change, and still full of love…
As ever, you can follow via Twitter (@synod for the official stuff, @GenSyn for something more personalised); or just look for #synod. There’s a live video feed running when we are in session if you are really keen,or just want to see what your own rep is doing!
- Let’s not talk of love and change – my long-held mishearing of a line from Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye, The Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967