So, Synod assembled today with two issues that everyone knew would crop up – the Carlile Report about Bishop George Bell, and the dissatisfaction felt by some about liturgy and transgender people. When there are these overhanging issues, the atmosphere in the tea room and corridors is always a little subdued.
Many people arrived in time to chat over lunch, and amid the speculation and chatter it was easy to forget that the most of what we have to do is about a vast range of other issues. In fact, the main business of the day was about how our leaders (that is, diocesan bishops) are appointed.
Some of those wider concerns became evident straight after opening worship, when we greeted three significant overseas leaders:
- The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of Southern Africa
- The Most Revd Humphrey Peters, Bishop of Peshawar & Moderator of the Church of Pakistan
- The Most Revd Dr Winston Halapua, Bishop of Polynesia and Primate and Archbishop of the Anglican Church Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
We’ll hear something from one of them tomorrow (Friday) during the agenda item about world Anglican partnerships.
Comment, compliment complain…
But we began with the usual regular navel-gazing – the first business of a new session is always a critical look-ahead at the whole agenda. The Business Committee Chair, the ebullient Sue Booys, has to present a report on how it has been shaped, and we all get a chance to comment, complain or compliment the Committee on what has, and has not, been included.
Sadly, it’s often a time when the ‘usual suspects’ get called to speak about their pet concerns. (Disclaimer: I am one of them.) I was called (to my embarrassment, first of all) and complimented them on the evolutionary changes they have made to the way the report has been presented (see the preview post here). And we then heard from Sam Margrave, April Alexander, David Banting, Martin Sewell, Jayne Ozanne, and Jonathan Alderton-Ford – all very familiar names – on a range of concerns.
Speaking later to someone who is on the Panel of Chairs, I was told that the Chairs are sometimes frustrated by having to call the usual suspects to speak, but they are stuck – because nobody else is standing, or nobody else has put in a blue ‘Request to Speak (RTS) form’. So the same faces pop up to grind their usual axes every time. The solution is for more of us to put in an RTS in this particular debate (and, indeed, in others). Now we can put in the RTS form electronically, it ought to be easier for everyone to have a go at catching the Chair’s eye. Maiden speeches, I was told, are especially welcome! You know what to do… Find the form here.
Bishops: revolution and evolution
The real meat of the afternoon followed: a presentation about the work of the Crown Nominations Commission (aka the CNC – the body that discerns who might be called to be a diocesan bishop). I was a bit cheeky to say in my previous post that the report (read it here) was not terribly theological. Professor Oliver O’Donovan, who chaired the group convinced me that although there is a raft of practical recommendations in the report, it is rooted in a theological approach – that the process of finding God’s person for a particular bishopric is about prayer, shared discernment, finding room for the Spirit to offer surprises, and so on.
- He believed the report was ‘on the revolutionary side of evolutionary changes’. Some of their recommendations are for the Archbishops to implement, others need to come through Synod.
- He stressed that Bishops do not have a dual role (i.e the view that their diocese and national church responsibilities are two separate things): rather, they complement each other. A Bishop interprets the local church to the national, and vice versa.
Though it is not perfect, and some might prefer an open election of Bishops, as happens in Wales and Scotland, the CNC model allows for exercise of gifts by those given a CNC role to match what the church needs with what individuals can bring to a specific diocese. The CNC members have to make an act of discernment for the future – it’s not about what candidates have done in the past, but whether they are the right person for the future of the diocese of X. So it requires discernment collectively of what gifts God has given candidates. There are 14 people on a CNC (6 national reps, 6 from the diocese under consideration and the two Archbishops), who all must work together on that basis, making a decision representatively on behalf of the whole church.
Trust (and obey?)
O’Donovan spoke a lot about trust. That is against the background of the CNC to appoint in one specific case (Oxford – when the CNC had to go back and start again) and the Sheffield fiasco, when Bishop Philip North was appointed, but later withdrew. O’Donovan’s point was that trust is required not only amongst the 14 individuals: the wider church needs to be able to trust the CNC, and the candidates also need to trust the CNC interviewing them.
Summing up, he said there is not just one thing that goes wrong and needs to be put right: ‘modest and sensible’ corrections were on offer:
- over-zealous and intrusive secrecy creates suspicions – so they recommend abolition of secret ballots and reforming the interview process, so that candidates and CNC members worship and eat together.
- at the diocesan end to the process, some facilitation is needed so that the Vacancy in See (ViS) committee is more aware of how it will work. The ViS Committee should also have a minuted discussion of what the diocese needs before they elect their six representatives to CNC.
- The Archbishops need a distinct voice in the process, as their job is to ensure the continuity of episcopal appointments, rather than just look at one job.
- There is a suspicion that central members are elected to pursue a party agenda. This needs to be tackled by Synod in reforming the way their six people are chosen.
Archbishop Sentamu then introduced the formal ‘take note’ debate. He explained that when CNC members meet in March they will discuss the report’s recommendations. We were encouraged to make suggestions for the Archbishops and others to consider. The skates are on, and some changes will be made quickly; others will be the subject of a report back in July.
The Dean of St Pauls (a fellow-member of the Synod Sensible Party) talked about the failure of London ViS to elect a Black or Minority Ethnic (BAME) member in the recent Bishop of London CNC process (from which Bishop Sarah Mullaly emerged as the Bishop-elect). They had 4 BAME young people on their ViS, but when the 54 people voted, they prioritised a theological party position or the representation of women. In other words, they did not think the BAME factor was a important as these issues. His suggestion was that a diocese should be able to have a ‘reserved place’ among their 6 for someone representing an aspect of that diocese as set out in the statement of needs.
Having served on a CNC myself, I recognise the strength of many of O’Donovan’s points. The secrecy thing is definitely unhelpful, and having to keep the separate candidates quarantined from each other does not help the process.
- Long-serving CNC member April Alexander reminded us that the Report arose out of the failure of the CNC to appoint in the specific case of Oxford, and she said the ability of CNC members in to block candidates (in the secret ballots) is a real problem. She assumed we knew more about specific cases than we did, but I think her drift was about the failure of CNC to appoint women in certain cases. All very mysterious.
- Another long-serving Synod member, Jonathan Alderton-Ford, reminded us of the capacity of the CNC to ‘leak like a sieve’, and finished by stating that some of those appointed through the CNC, once appointed, have ended up as unhappy people.
- The Archbishop of Canterbury put in a bit of (relevant) special pleading: that the Bishop of Dover (aka the Bishop in Canterbury, who effectively runs the Diocese of Canterbury), should be subject to a full CNC process.
So, a long and thoughtful discussion and debate: action will certainly follow.
Questions was the place where the ‘overhanging issues’ were going to come up, and they certainly did. There was a lot of nervous anticipation about how Questions would go.
There were twenty consecutive ones about the Carlile Report and Bishop Bell (see yesterday, Ball and Bell for the background). That is approaching a record. Even the saga of the Bishops Palace in Wells in 2014 didn’t have that many.
And there were a further nine on transgender issues, reflecting the discontent felt by some at the House of Bishops decision not to authorise specific liturgy for people who have undergone gender transition. (Go here for details of that debate)
Fortunately, the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, was in the chair. He does it in an avuncular and genial fashion, but he (gently) snaps at people whose supplementary question is a poorly-disguised speech.
It started to get tense when the nine ‘transgender’ questions came up.
- The Bishop of Willesden batted firmly for the House of Bishops, forcefully ticking off those who have been using social media to complain about the Bishops’ response to the question of a new liturgy. He restated the theological issue: initiation into Christ is through baptism, and no other way; though pastoral provision for any individual’s situation can be made by a priest in other ways.
- He was followed by the Bishop of Exeter who related how he and others had been meeting trans people (‘talking with, not talking about’) with a view to preparing guidance for clergy.
Then we came to the twenty questions around safeguarding, and at the instigation of the Canterbury Prolocutor, Simon Butler, a moment’s silence for reflection was held. He anticipated the atmosphere would be ‘febrile’. In the event, several of the questions passed without any supplementaries. But:
- One of the unresolved issues around the Carlile report into the Bishop Bell affair is one of vocabulary – ‘victim’, ‘survivor’ ‘complainant’, and the Bishop of Bath and Wells (disclaimer: he used to be my boss) acknowledged that this was not fixed terminology,, and a consistent use was not yet achievable.
- He clarified that the figure of 3,300 safeguarding concerns being handled by dioceses (2016 figures), 18% related to concern’s or allegations against church officers and clergy, and promised more detail on Saturday morning.
- He also promised to try to provide details about how many of those cases relate to so-called ‘historic’ allegations (while stressing that particular phraseology is no longer used).
- the National Safeguarding Team is currently working through Lord Carlile’s recommendations: anyone who thinks they will be ignored is wrong.
- When pressed to say more about the most recent development about the ’fresh information’ on the Bell case, he said he was unable to give any more information.
Martin Sewell from Rochester has made this something of a personal crusade, so he pressed the Bishop hard on whether the Church accepted the dangerous idea that ‘the victim must be believed’ and whether the Church would be following Carlile’s recommendations. He got some reassurance from the Bishop on both fronts. Martin’s fiercely-argued blogpost about Carlile can be read here. Thinking Anglicans has a good roundup of Bell-related blogs and news stories.
Questions works best when there are some jokes and repartit. The sober mood meant there was not much of that, but Bath & Wells’ Jenny Humphreys raised a laugh when she reminded the House of Bishops, in a supplementary, that in 1918 the Bishops had voted against the Representation of the Peoples Act ‘to a man’.
After that, the only round of applause came when Sir Tony Baldry, Chair of the Church Buildings Council, stated that they are not in favour of retain church pews for the sake of retaining church pews.
The end is near
And that was a foreshortened afternoon on our first day. We said an abbreviated form of evening prayer at 5.30, and the Bishops went off to put on their best bib and tucker for dinner with the Lord Mayor. (If you don’t understand that reference, you need to read my preview post.)
Looking forward to tomorrow (Saturday):
- there’s a debate on companion links, which ought to be an uncontroversial discussion about what we can learn from working with our partner dioceses. But the debate could get diverted into discussion about GAFCON: the ‘breakaway’/’faithful’ (depending which side you are one) bits of world Anglicanism, Another possible side-issue may be what some see as an increasing tendency for dioceses to link with ‘liberal’ churches in Europe (through the Porvoo and similar agreements) rather than global south Anglicans.
- The food waste debate may run into trouble with amendments which, though possibly worthy, may prevent proper discussion and story-telling about the main issue.
Twitter’s #synod brought forth this gem: Word of the day: TSUNDOKU (Japanese) – the practice of buying a pile of books and then not getting around to reading them. It sounds a little like many of us, who get our two big white envelopes (or downloaded zip file) of papers, but don’t actually read them till we get on the train… If then.
If you are half-interested in Synod, following it via twitter can be fun. If you want the full monty, you need the videostream – click here (when we are in session).
Or if you just want the selected (or selective) highlights, the official summary will appear here. Or you can just read me again tomorrow.
* Leader of the Pack The Shangri-Las, 1965. Wonderful ‘girl-group’ record about losing your boyfriend in a motorbike accident. If you’ve never heard it, you must do something about it. Now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8UKf65NOzM
(It engendered an even more hilarious ‘spoof’ record called ‘The Leader of the Laundromat’ by a fictional group called The Detergents. You may want to hear that too https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi5yDBvYUcE) ‘Who’s that banging on the piano?