It’s a very unusual Synod. Getting ready for it has been different. Today’s agenda has been changed and (?more significantly?) we are going into purdah for Shared Conversations. Yes, on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday we close down the Standing Orders and debates, and go into a series of facilitated discussions around sexuality, and how the Church handles it. And – as in the 2013 group work on women and the episcopate (see here) – we do it under rules of confidentiality and mutual support, rather than being adversarial about it.
We’ve all had two books on the subject sent to us by what Parliament would call ‘lobbyists’. Journeys in Grace and Truth is a plea to evangelicals to be more open in their thinking. Amazing Love is a more theological (and some will say, ‘liberal’) assessment of the issues. It’ll be interesting to see how many of us have managed to read them. Back on the official side, there is a heavyweight theological paper from the Faith and Order Commission (FAOC) called Communion and Disagreement (read it here).
The Press have developed some annoyance that we are going into ‘secret session’, and have therefore had to max up their descriptions of the other business of the weekend. Which was a bit difficult,as there wasn’t much. Until, that is, the Archbishops used their Presidential powers to insert an emergency debate.
Synod does Brexit
Such a debate is a pretty rare thing, but there’s no doubt everyone is exercised about Brexit, and I am sure the Archbishops are right to take the opportunity to enable the Synod to express responses – especially those often un-heard views from the streets and schools that the Church of England inhabits so well.
The Friday afternoon session started with no messing: Bishop Ralf Meister, our ecumenical visitor from Germany was talking about Brexit, and about the Battle of the Somme, within two minutes of starting his address.
The Archbishops issued a joint statement very quickly after the referendum result was published (read it here). And as far as the synod emergency debate goes, you might be able to guess some of what Archbishop Justin would say from his intervention in the House of Lords on Tuesday (read it here). It’s not simplistic pro/anti-Europe stuff either: tackle inequality: education: public health: immigration… and much more. These, he said, are the areas where the UK needs to sort itself out in the bleak future if we are to have hope
So, what else are we talking about, apart from Brexit and sexuality?
- Tomorrow we start with four rather technical sounding legislative matters: first looks at proposed changes to church law. I’ve got form with one of them – Amending Canon 36, (see here and scroll down to my potted history of Hobbs, son of Hobson)
- There will be some fun in an evening Questions session tonight. I’m willing to bet some Synod wag will get in a point about encouraging HM government to copy synod’s practice of requiring a 2/3 majority for major decisions…)
- Archbishop Sentamu will give a presentation about his extraordinary six-month pilgrimage around the diocese of York.
- We’ll hear about the Anglican Consultative Council meeting Lusaka earlier this year
Friday’s major items
Once the formalities of the Business Committee agenda report are over, the Church Commissioners Annual Report gets a ‘take note’ debate. Often this is the opportunity for congratulations to them on their investment performance, or whingeing about some aspect of their wide-ranging responsibilities. Sir Andreas Whittam-Smith is not the most natural of platform performers, so the session can get a bit starchy.
However, after that, we have a go at what is called Nurturing and Discerning Senior Leaders. Old hands will know that this is one of the outcomes of the much-criticized Green Report – a ‘fast track’ training programme for those who are likely to take up senior leadership posts and those who already hold them. It involves selecting possible senior leaders form among ordinary parish clergy, and what are smilingly known as ‘Mini MBAs for Bishops and Deans’.
There’s been criticism of the whole thing on two levels:
- it’s importing the language and presuppositions of the business world and
- the process for choosing the participants is missing out some good people (Not sour grapes on my part: I’m far too old for it.)
Bishop Tim of Truro, who is presenting the report (GS 2026 read it here) apologised to Synod last year that some of the process had been badly handled. Notwithstanding that, there’ll probably be some sharp questions. But for a Church that usually moves at glacial speed, this project has been put in hand and is up and running within some eighteen months of its public launch. And those who’ve been on the mini MBA rather liked it….
But the main thing on most people’s minds will be the Shared Conversations. The buzzwords are ‘good disagreement’. Watch and pray as we spend serious amounts of time going deeper into stuff that most of us carefully avoid most of the time! I found Bishop David Walker’s blog about his ‘Bishop’s Packing Essentials’ quite helpful – read it here.
- I won’t be blogging any details, but if you want to know the timetable (for your prayers, please) read it here And if you want to understand the house rules, they are here
- However, if you want to get the overall picture of this most unusual Synod, all the papers can be read here. They include some Shared Conversations material, but much will only be revealed when we get started on Sunday afternoon.
- As always, Thinking Anglicans has a good round-up of relevant blogs and news items about Synod. Check it out here.
And you can follow the whole thing (well, up till Saturday night) on the live video stream. Just click here!
* Are you ready? Pacific Gas and Electric, 1970. A catchy minor hit for this bizarrely named US band. ‘Gospel-tinged’, according to Wikipedia.
Judge for yourself; there’s a YouTube version here