There are two big differences to this July Synod. One is cultural, the other is procedural.
The cultural change is the complete cancellation of late-evening sessions. No more earnest debating till 10.00 p.m. – it’s all going to be over at 7.00. The idea is that we are then able to spend more time talking to each other, rather than at each other.
(I just hope someone has told the Vanbrugh Bar staff – there’ll be a lot more summer night chatting and drinking going on than usual. It would be tragic if the real ales for which they are famous ran out too soon.)
Oh, and we’re all going home on Monday night – there are no Tuesday sessions this year. So the usual 12 sessions of a York Synod are reduced to 6. That’s a 50% cut: it’s an Austerity Synod.
The procedural change is the late arrival on the scene of a topical debate – about the state of the nation. The Archbishops have used their powers as Presidents to alter the agenda (already printed and sent out to us a couple of weeks ago) and put in a complex motion with the winsome title “After the General Election, a still small voice of calm” . There are always voices raised at Synod complaining that our agenda is too tightly planned and we never respond to current issues. The motion knocks that on the head straight away, with no less than six elements:
- Four relate directly to the current fragility of parliamentary government after the election
- one is about our contribution to society (and will doubtless bring forth some moving tales of local parish response to Grenfell Tower).
- Oh, and the last is about Europe, and will be seen by some as a coded Brexit message about the folly of leaving the EU.
You can see the details here. Time will be tight, but it will give the Archbishops a chance reinforce their message about the country needing to find a new way of doing business, and what Archbishop Justin called the ‘urgent need’ to do Brexit differently. (See Grauniad report here)
Sexuality – continued from February…
Following the clear rejection of the House of Bishops February attempt to say something describing the human sexuality landscape, there will be an intense focus on this, and related issues, in York. If you’re just catching up, I reported on the February tram-smash here.
Private Members Motions (PMMs) about all this have leapt up the queue. But the Bishops have got their retaliation in first. So on Saturday morning, while you are doing your shopping, contemplating cutting the lawn or preparing a sermon, we will be looking at the elegantly-named “Proposals for the Pastoral Advisory Group on Human Sexuality and the Development of the Teaching Document“.
It’s a 9-page resumé (GS Misc 1158 – read it here) on how the proposed new ‘teaching document’ is going to be prepared. With wondrous understatement, it suggests that we will come to York with “very clear memories” of February.
- You’ll remember from February that after the crash, the Archbishops moved swiftly to set up a working group, chaired by the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman. Their job is to consider what advice to give dioceses about handling pastoral and other provision for same-sex couples.
- Another group, chaired by Chris Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry, is to get working on a teaching document. It will have some supporting groups looking at the social and biological, Biblical, theological and historical aspects. It’s a massive task, and if you are interested, you will need to read GS Misc 1158, rather than relying on me.
The PMMs are what one seasoned Synod observer called ‘proxy motions’. That is, although they are about some specific subjects, they are really ways of raising issues and debating them as substitutes and pre-echoes of the bigger debates to come.
- Jayne Ozanne has to wait until Saturday afternoon before her motion on Conversion Therapy gets Synod time. Again, you’ll need to read her note explaining her motion, as well as the Secretary-General’s backup information note for members if you want to make sense of the debate.
- It’s a sign of the fast-moving culture change we are in that on Sunday afternoon, we have a pastorally-minded motion from the Blackburn diocese about how the Church should recognise people who have undergone gender transition. There are two papers to look at here and here if you want to find out more. I fear that some of the media will focus on this in an unhelpful way, and it may also be a debate that strays from it’s very clear focus into something wider where people will express views that are less than kind, and less than relevant.
Lobbying on comment on this area is intense. The bloggers are hard at it too. The temperature will be high.
Any other business?
When I started looking at this set of sessions, I thought we were in for a rather lightweight and boring time. The Archbishops’ state of the nation motion, and the ever-increasing lobbying on sexuality have put paid to that. Despite that 50% cut in debating time, we’ll get a lot done.
- Something of interest to all clergy and churchwardens who read this: on Sunday afternoon, the House of Clergy is bringing a debate on clergy well-being. The Canterbury Prolocutor, Simon Butler, will propose that serious work is done on how the Church looks after its clergy – and how they can look after themselves. Once the jokes about ‘only working on Sundays’ are seen off, we need to recognise that clergy stress is a very real problem. So we (and I declare an interest as a member of the House of Clergy Standing Committee) are suggesting a Covenant for Clergy Wellbeing should be developed. Read all about it in GS 2072 here.
- People always get bothered about how Bishops are chosen. The nominating body is called the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), and it’s part-way through a review of how it works. We’re to have an interim report on Sunday afternoon. Having served on the CNC for one appointment, and having been involved in a number of senior appointment processes in my own diocese, I’ll keep a beady eye on this. The timing is interesting – nominations are open for the six Synod members who are elected to the CNC…
- One of the ways in which Synod is being speeded up is by the use of the ‘deemed’ procedure’. Work that’s in progress, but which might not need a debate or any amendments, is presented to us and given potential agenda time, but if no-one asks for a debate, it’s deemed to be satisfactory and we move it along. So Synod nerds (who? me?) have to read the stuff. I found a couple of really interesting proposals are being worked up in the seductively-named GS 2064 – ‘Draft Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure‘. When finally enacted it will :
- remove the need for clergy to sign a formal Deed of Resignation when they leave a post. They will, like normal people, simply be able to write a letter of resignation.
- deal with a serious anomaly in the new Parochial Fees structure. Nowadays, funeral fees ‘belong’ to the diocese, who use the money to pay clergy. But this presupposes all clergy are parochial. But (for example) when a mental health chaplain takes the funeral of a patient, it’s wrong for the fee to go to the diocese: it ought to go to the priest’s employer. This has caused problems in Bath and Wells (and, I’m sure, elsewhere). So hoorah for lawyers bent on simplification who are adjusting the law to cover this.
If there was a debate, I would speak in favour. But hopefully it will be deemed OK, and I’ll be saved the effort. If you’re really keen on Miscellaneous Provisions, look here for the 9 pages of detail. And go here for the 16 pages of explanation.
I did warn you.
There is loads of other stuff coming up: reforming the elections system for the House of Laity; concern about the cost of applying for British citizenship; Presence and Engagement work in a multi-faith environment; the effect of schools admission codes on families moving into ‘tied house’ accommodation (like clergy have to).
I could go on. But I won’t.
“Proper meals” vs “death by quiche”
There is another cultural change this year. In the name of saving money, fringe meetings (which happen during meal breaks) are no longer to be catered for.
- You used to sign up in advance for your fringe meeting on (say) “ways to evangelise in a rural context” and your meal would be transferred to that meeting. So you forwent a “proper meal” in the dining hall. Instead, you had to force your way through a keen crowd of rural evangelists to a “death by quiche” buffet selection which had been brought to the fringe meeting’s room.
- But now you’ll have to zip from the main session to grab your “proper meal”, and then hoick off to the meeting room to be regaled with nothing but hot and cold drinks while you study evangelism.
This is a big change, but the Business Committee report (read it here if you’re very keen) sees a silver lining in the money-saving: people will be much more likely to sit and chat to each other over their “proper meal”. I think that’s true, because often your dining hall time is spent with strangers and people you happen to sit next to, to everyone’s benefit. And there will definitely be more informal business done in the bars.
We’re trying to attempt ‘new ways of doing Synod’, and this money-saver might just have some very positive spin-off.
Jezebel’s Trumpet* finds a new voice
The venerable Church Times (founded 1863) has launched a 21st-century podcast! It’s a three-way conversation between Ed Thornton, Madeleine Davies and Hattie Williams – I’ll plug them if they plug me (hint, hint…) – listen to it here. The Synod bit is a fairly low-energy 8-minute chat between journalists, rather than interviews/conversation with partisan members or observers. It’s OK to listen to in the car or on the train, but for a speedy round-up, blogs may be a better bet. (Especially this one.) But credit to them for their consistently full reporting of Synod over many years, and this tech breakout into new media.
*Jezebel’s Trumpet – a nickname for the Church Times, variously credited to fierce Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics of the 1980’s. Take your pick.
As ever, I’ll attempt a daily round-up for those of you for whom Wimbledon and Rugby are not enough. You can sign up to get an automatic notification – just click the ‘Follow’ button in the right-hand column above. I’ll notify publication on twitter as well: @bathwellschap
Do remember to say a prayer for us all: some of this could get difficult.
* Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) Came into my head as the 1978 split-location John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John song from Grease. But it’s actually the title of the 1965 Beach Boys LP that had Help me Rhonda and California Girls on it.
The Grease song is actually just called Summer Nights. Yes, it is on YouTube… “Tell me more, tell me more, more, more…”