Football and Wimbledon may be a distraction. The formal agenda is not very controversial. The off-agenda is full of potential for excitement. So whether we can maintain the ‘big tent’ of the York July Synod, I am not sure. The heatwave will not help. I’m taking suntan lotion: there’s a lot of walking round the campus involved. Fortunately the dress code is very relaxed: think Bishops in shorts and Archdeacons in T-shirts. On second thoughts, maybe not…
If my bathroom scales are to be believed, the papers for this Synod weighed 3.5 kilos. and amounted to a pile 3½” high. So doing the preparatory reading has been harder than usual. We can opt for entirely electronic documents, but I am one of those who finds it easier to read stuff off paper. But I won’t carry all that weight to York with me: I have it all on my tablet and only take three or four documents – ones that I’m particularly interested in.
Definitely with me in paper form will be the Bible to all this stuff – the Agenda Document. Decoding it is infinitely easier if you also have to hand the ‘Synodipedia’ – otherwise known as GS2091: A Guide to the July 2018 group of Sessions. Between them they tell you what’s on when and why, and give you the all-important GS or GS Misc number that enables you to quarry the paper mountain for the right document. Whether you are a Synod member of not, you can see all the papers electronically on the C of E website here. (Alternatively, you could rely on me to know what’s happening, but I do not claim to tell the whole story. Other commentators are available.)
More new ways of being Synod…
We’re in York from Friday till Tuesday, and as well as the usual wodge of legislative stuff, there is something new – a Saturday afternoon spent entirely in briefing workshops on hot topics. Well, that was the plan anyway, until Wednesday’s penalty shoot-out. Some members may feel divided loyalties (and I don’t mean supporting Sweden).
The Business Committee feel members increasingly want ‘to discuss matters in a less binary fashion than our debating structure allows’. And there is no doubt in my mind that the various excursions into non-debating mode have helped Synod members learn from each other and be a bit more charitable towards those they disagree with. We did it with Women and the Episcopate, for example, and in the Shared Conversations. So we have some tent-pegs, and maybe even the frame is laying on the ground. But putting it up is frustrating and requires co-operation.
But – as with Brexit in another place – there are hard-liners on some issues who want only to get to a vote and have their view enshrined in policy. They, I suspect, do not enjoy group work. (The Synod people, I mean, not the Brexiteers. Though having Jacob Rees-Mogg in a discussion group would be, er, interesting.)
So theoretically we’re committed to a Wimbledon and football-free Saturday afternoon wandering round the campus (with sun-hats and lotions) navigating our way around a complicated set-up of 9 seminars (each being repeated three times so we can go to more than one). The details are in GS Misc 1188 – read it here).
Although the official line is that the seminars are designed to help members keep up to speed with various pieces of ongoing work, you might guess what the real agenda is by the fact that four of the nine are looking at aspects of the Teaching Document that the Bishops are preparing on…. Yes, you’ve guessed… sexuality. So there’ll be panels of People Who Know Stuff available in 45-minute seminars on:
- Teaching Document: Biblical Studies
- Teaching Document: Theology
- Teaching Document: Social and Biblical Sciences
- Teaching Document: History
And, as these enable us to go deeper into the issues, these four will be paralleled by participatory workshops which enable us to assist with the construction and development of the document itself. The other workshops are on broader topics:
- The Pastoral Advisory Group set up last year “with the task of supporting and advising Dioceses on pastoral actions with regard to our current pastoral approach to human sexuality” If you don’t know what that’s about, go read GS Misc 1158 here
- Digital evangelism
- The Archbishops’ Evangelism Task Group
- Mission among children and young people
- The Church’s environment programme (doubtless with a nod to Sunday afternoon’s climate change and investment debate)
Now a cynic might say (doubtless someone will) that going off into group work is stopping real debate on the sexuality issue. They might also note that for those of a tender disposition, choosing the four non-sexuality workshops gives a chance to escape engaging with people they disagree with. Realists will recognise that a certain percentage will be following the match on their phones.
All that could happen, but my hope is that Synod members – particularly the non-campaigning backbench types – will fully engage. Otherwise the Synod risks being taken over by those who can shout the loudest…
Don’t talk about the war!
There will be impatient people at Synod who are wanting to move forward on human sexuality. The Church is now caught in a position where it is out of kilter with society and the state on the wider issue around same-sex relationships, and on the narrower matter of people wishing to have a same-sex marriage blessed or solemnised in church. (The Cameron government’s legislation on same-sex marriage specifically locks the C of E out of conducting such weddings.)
Synod has members (largely, but not exclusively from the evangelical end of the church) who hold firmly to the traditional Christian understanding of marriage, and do not see how the church can move an inch. It also has prominent campaigners for change in the church. There are several Private Members Motions looking for support, but they won’t get debated this side of the Teaching Document being finished. So, other than the seminars mentioned above, there is no outlet for discussion on these things this weekend – except for fringe meetings, bar conversation, and quiet chats in tea-breaks. Some will find this irksome, and may find a way of saying so during Questions or the debate on the Agenda. Indeed, they already have started sounding off. If you don’t believe me, look at Thinking Anglicans Synod preview note and scroll down to the comments…
Meanwhile, there is a lot going on in the public domain.
- Oxford Synod member Jayne Ozanne has published a new book Just Love about her own journey to self-acceptance and has launched the Ozanne Foundation https://ozanne.foundation/ to work on Christian LGBTI issues.
- Former synod member Anna Norman-Walker has blogged Who speaks for Anglican Evangelicals?, an ‘outsiders’ look at the range of views within what is often perceived as a monochrome subculture. She comments on the spat between the bishops of the Lichfield diocese and the Bishop of Maidstone on affirming and welcoming LGBTI people in the church.
- Christian musician Vicky Beeching has had a lot of publicity for her book Undivided in which (amongst other things) she explains why she has decided she cannot go further with a call to ministry in the C of E because of it’s current position on same-sex issues.
- The Psephizo blog written by Ian Paul (Synod member and a member of the Archbishops Council) carries several postings exploring a traditional viewpoint theologically as well as commenting on current debates.
- On Tuesday, the government launched an LGBT action plan. Theresa May told Cabinet last week ‘there is “more to do” to ensure the UK is a country where “no-one feels the need to hide who they are’. (On ‘conversion therapy’, you could argue that the Church beat the government to it, as we passed a motion about it last July.)
In other words, there is a lot of background noise on sexuality at the moment, which will not be heard formally in York. But you can bet it will be on a lot of minds. And in a lot of prayers, too.
To begin at the beginning…
We start on Friday at 2.30 with the customary welcomes to guests. This time we have world Anglican visitors as well as ecumenical guests. This is sometimes a rather routine exchange of pleasantries, but with pressure mounting in world Anglicanism from GAFCON, and the Lambeth Conference 2020 looming, there might be some important things said by no less than four Archbishops: from Pakistan, South East Asia, Central Africa and Polynesia.
And then the ecumenical speaker is Landesbishof Ralph Meister from Germany, who might have something to say about migrants. Or even Brexit? (Incidentally, ecclesiastical fashionistas may recall his extremely natty outfit from his last Synod visit – a very classy flared frock coat affair, it was. Sadly, my picture doesn’t do it justice.)
Debate on the Synodipedia follows – the Business Committee’s report (GS2091). As ever, there’ll be complaints that the agenda does not include someone’s favoured topic, and probably some strictly out of order remarks about matters that are on the agenda from people wanting to get their retaliation in first. Some witty type will put in a request we create free space for several hours on Saturday…
Despite the occasional irritants (I confess to being one sometimes), the debate gives the ever-resilient Sue Booys, Chair of the Committee an opportunity to explain why the agenda is as it is, and to politely see off the off-beam speeches.
I predict there’ll be some discussion about the merits or otherwise of the Saturday group work time – and probably some pre-ignition of safeguarding fireworks before Saturday morning’s big debate.
After that – Questions (see the previous paragraph…) and an evening free of official business for fringe meetings, bar fellowship and frantic speech-writing. That is, if you are a lay member. We clergy have a House of Clergy meeting – see How well off – and happy – is your Vicar? below.
Making Church a safe place
Saturday morning looks like being quite a set-piece. Archbishop Sentamu will give a Presidential Address. Even bathwellschap, with 12 years on Synod, will not attempt to predict where he will go with that. But he’ll be followed by a formal motion on the Church’s safeguarding progress (or lack of it, depending where you stand). There are enough issues swirling around here to make this quite a difficult morning.
- The IICSA inquiry spent three weeks looking at the diocese of Chichester,, which was not a pretty sight. They will spend another week on Bishop Peter Ball at the end of the month, with implications for the dioceses of Chichester, Gloucester, Bath and Wells, and more than one Archbishop. I’ve posted extensively on IICSA here.
- There is a long-running row about Carlile Report into the way the church handled allegations made about Bishop George Bell: this has exercised several Synod members and media figures. We had twenty questions about it in February, and it hasn’t gone away.
Just issued is Sir Roger Singleton’s independent report into how dioceses managed (or mis-managed) a Review of Past Cases in 2007-8. Seven dioceses are to do the work again – the Church Times has produced this handy map so you can work out which ones they are for yourself.
There was an acerbic Guardian leader about this (“the church that didn’t want to know”), and Bishop Peter Hancock was given a hard time on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme about it – listen to it here.
For bathwellschap’s background on the Ball and Bell cases, go here and scroll down . The Singleton report is here. It’s a long read, but essential for anyone involved in safeguarding or diocesan or episcopal administration.
As Lead Bishop on Safeguarding, Bishop Peter Hancock (disclaimer: my boss until I retired in December) will doubtless touch on all the above, and if he doesn’t, you can bet Synod members will in their questions or speeches. It’s going to be complicated, and will stretch the ‘big tent’ as people with strong views on what has been done badly in the distant past and in the various enquiries press for more action and for justice. UPDATE (Thursday 5 July): Synod member Martin Sewell has posted a characteristically trenchant review of where we are up to on the Archbishop Cranmer blog.
The format is to be a presentation with questions. Victims and survivors of abuse, who are increasingly finding a voice (and, I hope, being listened to) will be part of the presentation. That will be followed by a formal motion endorsing the current plans for safeguarding work.
More change is on the way…
As ever, we have to ask whether – as with so much in the current safeguarding situation – we are looking at events of ten years and more years ago through today’s spectacles. But too much looking back is probably not helpful when the actual report from the National Safeguarding Steering Group (GS 2092 – read it here) is about what we do now and what we do next. It sets out a range of new policies and changes to existing ones, covering (for example) a national clergy register, and new ways of looking at potential ordinands and supervising retired ‘Permission to Officiate’ clergy.
I highlight just one recommendation, which is definitely part of changing the culture at all levels: ‘We recommend that all parts of the Church co-operate to ensure that there is a “Whole Church” approach to safeguarding.’ In other words, ways need to be found to ensure parish employees and volunteers (who are not subject to the same disciplinary and legal obligations as clergy) are held accountable. This also applies to non episcopally-led parts of the Church – the theological colleges and courses, religious communities (a new Canon is already in train for them) chaplaincies and (in some cases) Cathedrals.
Having spent ten years dealing with some of these things, there have been huge changes, and landscape it portrays is so different to that when I became a Bishops Chaplain in 2007. But it sets out very clearly what needs to be done next. I just hope those contributing to the debate recognise, whatever our failings are, we have come a long way – and we’re going further. It’ll be an interesting morning.
Yes, we do look at non-Church stuff too!
Other highlights of the weekend (I’ll spare you the details at this stage) are a Sunday afternoon on outward-facing matters:
- We start with climate change and investment. It’s about how the Church can use its investment power to influence big companies. There is already some discomfort at the main motion from our investing bodies (pension funds, the Church Commissioners, etc): critics say it is not strong enough so I think it will be a fiery discussion. GS 2093 and GS Misc 1196 will explain all.
- A broader motion, brought by London diocese about the Church’s own actions on environmental matters – CO2 emissions, church energy usage, and so on. (GS 2094A and GS 2094B)
- The Church and the Bomb is back with a motion about the ethics of nuclear weapons (GS2095), which will be introduced by Bishop Stephen Cottrell – so it’ll be lively and forceful.
- On Monday we do the “AGM” stuff – budgets and suchlike – along with a topical motion from Carlisle about long-term issues for NHS, and a report on Evangelism. Something for everyone there, I think.
Finally, on Tuesday morning, the Cathedrals Working Party are looking to Synod to commend and act on their report, now finalised (GS2101 – read it here). This has been a bit of a rush job, and makes some pretty major changes to the way Cathedrals are run and how they are accountable. Needless to say, it has not gone down well everywhere, and we should have a lively time of it.
- You might enjoy We need to talk about Cathedrals, Angela Tilby’s deeply suspicious piece in the Church Times .
- You can get the background with my February report here (scroll down to Cathedrals on the fringe).
How well off – and happy – is your Vicar?
While the laity enjoy the delights of a summer Saturday evening in York, the poor clergy have a separate meeting to attend. The House of Clergy will be looking at two things:
- The clergy remuneration package
- Clergy well-being
Clergy pay is often an irritant (to clergy and to some church members, not to mention clergy spouses and children). Yes, they get a ‘free’ house – but it many not be ideal, and it keeps them off the ‘property ladder’, leading to some hard decisions at retirement time.
The clergy package was last looked at 17 years ago in a report winsomely titled Generosity and Sacrifice. That set some benchmarks, such as relating an incumbent’s package to that of a primary school head. That went well. What’s more. Government changes to the world of pensions (remember SERPS?) mean clergy pension s are also not what they were in real terms.
So it looks as if the clergy are going to ask the Archbishops Council not for a pay rise, but ‘to review the adequacy of stipends (pay, to most people) and pensions’.
- The papers for this clergy meeting are not restricted in any way, and if you are involved in church life at any level, you should certainly take a look at Ian Paul’s personal look at the issues around clergy remuneration (read it here).
- You might also want to look at the formal ‘background note’ offered to the meeting by the Secretary General of Synod (read it here). This spells out the detail of how clergy remuneration is arrived at, and what the options might be for change, with reference to the Living Wage, affordability value of the ‘tied housing’ provided and so on.
It ends with a wonderfully gentlemanly plea to the House of Clergy to say what we actually want… The central church bodies, it says “have no wish to inhibit the debate that the House of Clergy will be having. However, if the House to wished to give an indication of its priorities and particular concerns, that would be immensely helpful.”
Related to this, of course, is the matter of clergy well-being. For every survey that shows clergy are happy and purposeful, there are also sad tales of demoralisation, poor health and even bullying. So the House of Clergy is working up a ‘covenant’ document, (think of the ‘Military Covenant’) and we’ll hear a progress report. If things go well, then the whole Synod will be invited to consider it in due course.
In the meantime, do take your priest out for a drink or a nice meal sometime and see if you can work out whether he or she is in a ‘good place’. And if not, how you can support them.
Well, that covers about 1 of the 3½ inches of paperwork. I hope I’ve taking the waiting out of wanting for you, but you can download all the papers here if your interest has been excited . (You don’t need a Dropbox account, there’s an option to download without signing up.)
If all the above is impenetrable to you, then those nice people at the Church Times have produced a handy infographic explaining Synod, They will do proper grown-up objective reporting on paper, and electronically here.
- I’ll report, as usual, at the end of each day’s proceedings with my usual unbiased, cheery and selective account of how we’re doing.
- I’ll post on twitter @bathwellschap when I put the next post up, or you can automatically be alerted by clicking on the ‘follow’ button – go to the right hand column at the top of this post.
- You can follow proceedings yourself on a live video stream on the C of E’s Youtube channel.
- There are official tweets through the day @synod and unofficial, sometime very funny ones @GSMisc. Or you can just follow the #synod tag on Twitter, though it can be a bit episodic.
* Weekend, Eddie Cochran, 1961. A posthumous hit in the UK (he was killed in a car crash near Chippenham in 1960) but it never charted in the US, despite the cheery hot-rod boy-meets-girl lyrics. Have a listen – it’s all of 1 minute 52 seconds!