The theme of Monday’s Synod was whether we really really want to effect change in the Church of England. At several points we found material that is the result of Renewal and Reform (as R’n’R is now known) being handled with extreme care, some nervousness, and even outright rejection. We’ve asked for change, we’ve voted for it, money is going to be put into it. But now push is coming to shove, are we are shying at the fence?
The debate on the agenda contained the usual knockabout and whinges as people complained about what was not on the agenda, and suggested what ought to be on. I joined in, regretting that the Hobbs motion was heading for the long grass. (New readers: it’s about clerical vesture – to robe or not to robe?- q.v.my post at the time here and scroll down to the Hobbs/Hobson section).
The long grass awaits unless Synod members take advantage of the House of Bishops request for comment by the April deadline. Few members will have got as far as paper GS Misc1133 (read it here), which sets out the Bishops’ views. My reading of it is that they are not enthusiastic to get on with this, so I hope people will pick up the baton in it.
Before that, Archbishop Justin was given Synod’s permission (yes, that’s how it works…)
to make an extended Presidential Address, in which he knocked on the head some of the mis-reporting and fabrication about the recent Primate’s gathering at Canterbury. Despite his ability to lighten the tone by working in ad-libs and gags, it was a solid listen, and would repay a careful read as a key assessment of where the Anglican Communion goes now. Read it here
The first serious debate was about the (wait for it) Draft Mission and Pastoral etc (Amendment) Measure. This is one of the fruits of the “simplification” programme and is fronted by the Bishop of Willesden. There are 11 clauses in the draft Measure, and should you wish to know more, look here.
There was a lot of nervousness about this – Bishop Rachel Treweek of Gloucester described it as fear. People were concerned about:
- patron’s rights being sold short
- the financial compensation to be offered if clergy posts are closed down during re-organisation
- parishioners views being ignored by the Bishop
Michael Stallybrass from York made us all laugh by comparing the intricate revision process with British Rail’s timetable revisions of 40 years ago – heaps of detail, many changes being made before a final version arrives. Unspoken fear: the train that eventually arrives may not be the one you thought you were catching…
But this is only the first visit of the draft Measure, so there is time for revision and thinking again. Simon Butler, the new Canterbury Prolocutor, made an effective speech warning us against paranoia – “someone is out to get us and therefore we want to put the brakes on this work”. If we want change, we can’t back down. On the other hand, some laity speakers exhibited deep concern about clergy being done down by re-organisation and got fierce applause from a small number of sympathisers. They may be difficult to get on board.
It’s unlikely that Bishop Pete and the group responsible will agree to much watering down when it goes for revision. He had to be allowed 7 minutes to respond to the debate, and agreed we would look again at the patronage side of things. So there will be a continuing debate.
Shared Conversations get closer…
The chamber filled up and was very attentive when Archbishop Justin’s head of reconciliation, David Porter, led a presentation on the Shared Conversations. There are three circles of conversation in the process:
- The House of Bishops (last year)
- 13 Regional Shared Conversations (11 down, 2 to go)
- The one we will be doing at York in July (We are the church’s decision-makers – though July will not be decision time.)
York will be different to the other two, because we’ll be residential, and the whole thing will be spread over six sessions.
- Sunday afternoon: Story of our Faith (work in groups of three or four, sharing our own journey of faith; listening deeply and non-judgmentally
- Sunday evening: Understanding Scripture. We were told this proved immensely valuable n the regional conversations. A panel of three will present from their perspective, followed by questions
- Monday morning: Reading Scripture together. Here the aim is to understand how others understand the key passages differently
- Monday afternoon: Changing culture – a panel of people from outside the church to set out their views and then go to small group.
- Monday evening: ecumenical and world Anglican perspectives.
- Tuesday morning – how will we walk forward together? Discussion about decisions and processes
It’s going to be a marathon. There will be a different tone during the three days that all this goes on. No fringe meetings. No watching Wimbledon – we are asked to make a genuine commitment to ‘guarding the space together’. No campaigning discourse, please, but respectful discourse.
So far, so eirenic. But when it came to questions, there were some pretty barbed ones – people wanting to be assured about the voices of LGBT people, about treating Scripture properly, and about not talking only about homosexuality. All that defensiveness and drum-banging does not bode well. But there were some sensible questions about process, media reporting, and so on. (There will be strong discouragement from using social media, so that’ll upset some of us…)
The Bishop of Dimbleby?
Question Time is always fascinating, and occasionally very funny. The Bishop of Birmingham did his Dimbleby impression, inviting us to quiz the panel of experts but (morphing into Nicholas Parsons) warning us not to stray into hesitation, deviation or repetition. The new-style format (in which both Questions and Answers are in a booklet) means we whizz through, and if you don’t keep awake, you get lost very quickly. It’s quite fun watching the various Bishops (who tend to have to answer the Questions) popping up and down like jack-in-the-boxes as the Chair keeps things moving.
- The Bishop of Norwich usually able to raise a laugh with some dry repartee, today at the expense of Charles Reed and Cranmer Hall’s reluctance to admit the Hail Mary into Anglican prayer resources.
- The Bishop of Portsmouth stonewalled an enquiry about re-drawing the Canterbury and York boundaries by repeating that the matter rests with the Archbishops and declining to give any timescales.
- Archbishop Justin batted well against some sharp questions about the ‘consequences’ of the Primates’ Canterbury meeting.
- The Bishop at Lambeth pointed up the conflicting demands of the state’s intention and the Churches’ unwillingness to conduct same-sex religious marriages in consecrated military chapels.
- As ever, the irrepressible John Spence, Chair of the Archbishops Finance Committee, broke the rules by telling a self-deprecatory gag before answering a question about funding projects.
We covered pretty well everything that people are currently bothered about – RME, human sexuality, the Church of Scotland, bats in churches, church schools and academy status… Perhaps the prickliest section was when the Bishop of Sheffield fielded some very sharp questions about the changes proposed to ministerial training – an indicator that Wednesday afternoon will be quite hot.
If you want to get an insight into what bothers Synod members, look through the Questions and Answers (read them here) – but you won’t get the interplay and the supplementaries, of course. Watching from up in the gallery, it seemed to me that it was not just the ‘usual suspects’ chipping in with supplementaries, which shows new members are getting stuck in to the processes. It is a great strength of Synod that ordinary church members can press their leaders in this way. ‘Other churches are available’, but they don’t operate as we do. But, again, there was a distinct note of nervousness and suspicion when Questions about the proposed R’n’R changes were asked.
Fear of change in ministerial training
In yesterday’s preview post (read it here), I said that the theological college principals who’d written to the Church Times were doing so not just out of self-interest. At a fringe meeting tonight, some of them amplified that observation. Their point is really that if the proposals go through unchanged on Wednesday, there will be unintended consequences… They are not opposed to the whole shebang, but they don’t believe the detail has been properly planned. (During Questions the Bishop of Sheffield indicated concessions were forthcoming, and encouraged us to have faith in the process, but they are not convinced…) There are real practical concerns about the effect on different kinds of ordinands (men/women; young/old; with/without dependents.) One person with knowledge of the sector described it as an attempt to ’market-ise and regionalise’ training.
In a context where money is finite, and the traditional colleges and courses have had to cope with the onward march of St Mellitus College with it’s new-style ‘learning pathways’ training, there will be quite a fierce debate. Those supporting the Bishop talk of the danger of vested interests ganging up and (yet again) no change happening. This could be a moment to cut through the bureaucracy of centralised control by Ministry Division (the argument goes) – a moment for entrepreneurial training institutions to get moving.
So on all these fronts we’re looking change in the face, but not quite liking what we see. Whether this is because a 50% new member Synod is just not used to the procedures and responsibilities, or because back in their dioceses people are picking up real resistance to some of the R’n’R programme, I am not sure.
Thank the Lord we’re talking to each other about evangelism in the morning. Oh, no, hang on…
- Please don’t ever change – The Crickets, 1961. (Best thing they ever did after Buddy Holly died..?) If Wikipedia is to be believed, it was also recorded by Brinzley Schwarz, Bryan Ferry and Mud. Definite signs of musical good disagreement there..