Wandering across the campus at what felt like the crack of dawn for a 7.30 a.m. communion service, I barely thought about Saturday’s business. There’s no doubt that the imminent transmogrification of Synod into a very large Shared Conversation is pre-occupying many people here.
- Tetchy questions (as reported yesterday) were indicators of a nervousness that will only settle when we have our briefings and introductions tomorrow.
- I heard last night that at one fringe meeting, one or two members declared openly that they were going to boycott the Conversations.
- There are rumours that the Reform members will be doing a Brexit and staying out of the Conversations
So a very ‘standard’ Common Worship service in the unusual setting of the Saul Bellow Building got the day off to a good start.
Tennis or Cricket? the issue of the day
Things went downhill after breakfast. A glitch with the voting machines yesterday meant that all our voting cards had to be re-programmed overnight. Handing out the new cards led to huge queues to get into the Chamber, meaning that many of us missed the opening worship. Then we had to test the new cards.
So a cheery Chair of the Business Committee invited us to vote on the motion that we prefer tennis to cricket. The motion was duly carried (to largely male cries of ‘Shame!’ and ‘Resign!’). Then we voted on it again, by Houses. Thankfully, the House of Bishops voted for cricket, so order in the firmament is restored.
Legislative Business on the agenda induces groans in many members. However, we had a very lively and passionate debate about a key bit of simplification: the snappily-titled Draft Mission and Pastoral etc. (Amendment) Measure. (Read the paper GS2014A here, or for an easier ride, the Report that goes with it GS2014Y here)
Without going into heavy detail, what seemed to be going wrong was we were getting into a proxy debate. Argument over how to simplify the way in which the church can (for example) close down a team vicar post as part of pastoral reorganisation turned into grumpy complaints about whether we trust our Bishop, why my local team vicar post has not been filled, and so on. So we heard very lively and emotional speeches that largely were not about the technical changes proposed in the Measure.
Everyone is in favour of renewal and simplification. Until, that is, they start to look at how to achieve it.
All those in favour…
The three draft Measures that followed were all to be sent off for Revision Committees. So general debate was in order, suggestions to the Committee, and relevant illustrations of how the proposals would improve/wreck things would be welcome.
- We got into a lovely pickle over the proposals to change the rules on how churches are inspected. After a succession of food metaphors (pig in a poke, sandwich with no knowledge of the filling…), various influential voices suggested that now is not the right time to get into this complicated (and controversial) matter.
- Simon Butler the Canterbury Prolocutor proposed a procedural motion – that the debate be adjourned until such time as the Business Committee feels it right to bring it back. And the Synod agreed.
So we moved on to the matter of how clergy and other ministers dress when leading worship. For better or worse, this change to the Canon B8 is part of a double proposal, joined with a (entirely uncontroversial) change to Canon B38 that currently bans the use of the funeral service for someone who takes their own life. (It is almost universally disregarded.)
I’ve been banging on about the clergy vesture issue in recent years, in support of a Private Members’ Motion that came through in the last Synod. You can see the background in an old Synod paper here.
The debate was broken by the lunch break, during which many of us went off to various fringe meetings (see below). When we came back, it was clear that people were much more nervous about the ‘clergy robes’ aspect than they were about the funerals of suicides.
- To my dismay, speaker after speaker spoke about the benefits of traditional robing (one even claimed to wear an alb for Evensong…), and no-one seemed to allow for the ‘mixed economy’: that what works in one place is wrong in another.
- Jayne Ozanne, a prominent advocate of a change in our policy on human sexuality, made a powerful speech in which she used some of the same arguments she might use elsewhere to urge Synod to allow for difference from parish to parish.
- April Alexander made a careful point about how not wearing robes puts different pressures on women clergy, a point stressed to me in a private conversation with a woman priest later in the day.
The Bishop of St Alban’s, in summing up, simply encouraged Synod to pass the Amending Canon on to revision, and to write in with their particular reservations and suggestions, rather than throw the whole thing out. And in the end, after a rather tense half hour, we passed the motion. It’ll come back in due course with a worked-up draft Measure – which could still fail, of course.
Renewal, Reform, Education, Leadership… money!
The Renewal and Reform paper was rather grandly titled A Vision and Narrative for Renewal and Reform. (GS2038 – read it here). But it was rather thin – just four pages about the biggest slab of Church Reform since the invention of Synod in the 1970s. Perhaps it was intended to be inspirational, but I suspect people wanted to have details about particular programmes, and to be able to discuss specifics about the task groups, which were sadly lacking in the paper. You wouldn’t know what a wide-ranging programme it is from reading the paper, nor did it go much beyond some basic Bible references on growth and hope.
The response was better than the paper deserved. There was a terrific front-line report from inner-city Newcastle, and chirpy reminders from Alexandra Podd (a 19-year-old Youth Council rep) that there is energy and movement among our young Christians. She was an inspirational speaker.
I missed the latter part of the debate, but it sounds as if it succeeded in drawing together people around the Reform and Renewal ‘badge’, with a commitment to mission in our actual settings – without setting anyone ablaze. A debate on the new Church of England Vision for Education report (GS2039 – read it here) followed, which I also missed.
And then a more controversial subject, delayed from yesterday, the Nurturing and Discerning Senior Leaders report. This is the practical outworking of the Green Report, which upset so many people when it first came out. Synod heard from people who has been through the various opportunities for senior leadership (actual and potential), together with some critiques of the theology and the selection procedures.
- Synod members were moved by contributions from members with disabilities, questioning how we perceive their abilities
- there was first hand comment about the church’s failure to bring a representative number of people from black and minority ethnic communities into leadership roles.
- At one point Archbishop Sentamu broke into the debate to call for a pause and lead a worship song
The Bishop of Truro, summing up, once again acknowledged the weaknesses and shortcomings that people had raised, and remarked that the whole scheme is on the way, but still a work in progress.
Synod finished off its business this Saturday night with the budget (see details here), presented entertainingly and passionately by the Finance Chair Canon John Spence.
Anyone who sees church budgets as penny-pinching would be amazed to hear his constant message of hope, support, change and new thinking. You could do worse than look at the Archbishops’ Council Annual Report (click here) to get the general tone.
- Huge sums are being made available from the centre for new work in mission and evangelism from next year.
- Budget sessions will be reporting how that money is being spent in the dioceses. It might add up to half a billion pounds over the next ten years.
- He spoke of an enormous step by the Church Commissioners to release £50m each year for this missional work.
It’s not often that finance cheers people up, but it did tonight.
As we went into the hall, an astonishing rainbow appeared over the University. Maybe a sign of hope for the beginnings of the Shared Conversations work tomorrow…
We’ll see. Purdah will mean I have to impose many reporting restrictions, but I’ll endeavour to reflect on the mood if I can. Watch this space.
* Handbags and gladrags 1967, written by Mike D’Abo, later of Manfred Mann. The version I always hear in my head is Chris Farlowe’s gravelly-voiced one, though it’s been done by Rod Stewart and by the Stereophonics. And it turned up in The Office, too.