She will in 2021, anyway, as we have voted for a pattern of winter meetings that will include a full weekend in London. Believe it or not, that was the most hotly-debated topic of today. But the undercurrents of discomfort over trans gender people were never far away…
It is well with your Vicar..?
For me and my fellow House of Clergy members, Synod began with a separate meeting to look at the proposals for a Covenant for Clergy Care and Well-being.
Simon Butler introduced the discussion with about a hundred of us there. To make sense of this report, you need to look at the draft document – read it here.
It was always going to get a fair wind in the House of Clergy – not because we are selfish snowflakes who want to be mollycoddled through our various ministries, but because we’re all aware of clergy who get into difficulties in their parishes and chaplaincies.
It might be relationships with parishioners that go wrong, or a disciplinary matter, or home life falling apart under the ‘goldfish bowl’ of clergy life. But we know that every year, some clergy ‘crash and burn’, while others struggle on and lose hope.
So the Covenant is designed to open up conversation and commitment between the priest, the parish, and the wider church and head off some of this trouble at the pass. It might also save some money, marriages and sanity. Resources are wasted in all these cases.
Simon acknowledged that the report offers several suggestions and possibilities
- The one that has a price tag is ‘supervision’ in the way that many other caring professions such as social work take for granted. He said that it risks dominating debates in future, and if it turns out to be an unaffordable or a low priority, the other good things in the Covenant report must not get lost.
- There are competing priorities in the Church at present – Setting God’s People Free is the Big Thing at present, stressing lay discipleship. Concern for clergy wellbeing and care should not be seen as a rival for attention or resources.
- The current document is intended for a rather specialist group of Anglicans – members of Synod. The intention is to produce a series of leaflets which could be used by churchwardens, PCC members and others in a local context to consider the elements in the main document.
- Another concern is about clergy moving into an appointment where there is some ‘history’, or into their first incumbency appointment without proper briefing and support.
We heard some sobering tales from clergy who had been through the mill in their parishes, with different levels of understanding and support offered to them. Even the ‘in-word’ resilience is risky|: to some it means having the capacity and strength to recover from setbacks, to others it sounds liker an insensitive instruction to ‘man up’.
I made a brief speech to reinforce Simon’s hesitation about some of the vocabulary in the paperwork, particularly the shorthand use of ‘care package’– which reminds people of elderly parents coming out of hospital, and implies there is one clergy care package, available everywhere. Which there patently is not.
There are some brilliant discussion questions within the document (sections 18-26, if you’re looking at it) which balance the concerns of priest, parish and wider church. The next steps are to get a final draft ready for the July Synod, for an Act of Synod to be passed setting out and commending the covenant to dioceses and parishes.
Your reporter was not at the House of Laity, who had a parallel discussion but I was told they were generally positive about it, and that clergy should ‘feel the love’ that was emanating from the speakers there. Jolly good.
Is the labourer worthy of his/her hire?
Ian Paul reported briefly on the matter of clergy remuneration. In July, (see my report here and scroll down) the House of Clergy were told that provision of stipends and housing had lagged behind the benchmarks set in a 2001 report called Generosity and Sacrifice. (GS1408. Miraculously, it is still available on the internet here). Changes in national law such as the abolition of SERPS have also affected clergy benefits .
Ian reckoned that the National Minimum Stipend (presently around £24,000) would be somewhere just under £40,000 if Generosity and Sacrifice had been followed through.
But all these issues are complicated – theologically and practically. Take housing, for example. A generation ago, many clergy entering training – even in their 20s and 30s – might already own a house that they could ‘bank’ for their retirement planning. In the current world, people entering ministry – and we are encouraging younger ordinands – are most unlikely to be home owners.
We were told that there will be some national church work done on stipends, housing and pension provision in response to the clergy’s concern. But the big issue is affordability – we all know there is no spare money sloshing around the diocesan systems. Clergy therefore have a difficult and delicate discussion to have:
- What is appropriate and right financial package for clergy and clergy pensioners?
- Is it affordable and achievable?
Nothing’s going to happen in a hurry, but it’s good that a thoughtful assessment is on the cards.
Report on the agenda
This is always a slightly tense item. Chair of Business, Sue Booys gently encouraged us not to waste time, in order to get the business done – some of it is time-critical. The tension is usually around complaints that subject X is not on the agenda, or that subject Y is on the agenda.
So today we had complaints that there is no regular item on safeguarding, and it should be on the agenda every time we meet; and a calmly phrased, but strongly felt complaint from Jayne Ozanne that the tone and vocabulary of the 30 or so Questions (see below)about transgender issues and liturgy go against the Synod Code of Conduct.
- On safeguarding, the reply was that it is best to include an item when there is something to discuss. It’s complicated by the fact that IICSA (the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse) is holding another two weeks of hearings about abuse in the Anglican Church in July – at exactly the same time at the York Synod. So it would be foolish to plan a debate while that is going on, and it’s possible that media coverage of those hearings will affect the way Synod feels then…
- On the tone and vocabulary, Sue promised the Committee would take a look at how this relatesto the Synod Members’ Code of Conduct at their residential meeting. The oft-quoted, seldom read Code of Conduct can be read here.
- (You can read the Questions here – go to numbers 47 to 79 – and make your own judgement about how hostile/ignorant/rude/transphobic they are)
That debate went off speedily and in good humour. I was especially glad that Sue wished Synod a happy birthday – 2019 is the centenary of the invention of the Church Assembly, its predecessor. As Private Eye would say, I wonder if they are by any chance related?
Last year I tried, and failed, to get the central bodies to do something to mark the event, But, courtesy of Lambeth Palace Library, there is an exhibition about the anniversary in Church House for us to look at.
What are you doing at the weekend..?
Straight afterwards, we did the diary booking for the next 5-year term of Synod (2020-2025). Normally, there’s not much to argue about, but the Business Committee wanted to try some sessions in London that avoid weekday working days. They had therefore planned two ‘York-style weekends’ in London for February 2021 and 2023.
Sue took us through the impossibility of avoiding everyone’s half-term dates, but asked us to vote for what we did not like (i.e. weekend meetings). The point being, that the aim is to make Synod more attractive to younger, working people.
- There was some warm genuine applause for a plea from David Banting that we use the November (contingency) dates in future as we are not doing our work thoroughly enough.
- Mark Russell made a powerful plea that we keep the weekend meetings in the plan so that more people who cannot afford to take so much holiday – we are missing the voices of these – often estate dwellers – in Synod.
Astonishingly, we went to an electronic vote on the first proposed amendment, to remove the first London Weekend in 2021. It was lost. Simon Cawdell from Hereford then moved a clever amendment that set a ‘window’ of nine possible days for February 2023,. Not because he wants a none-day session, but allowing the new Synod after 2020 to make its own mind up about this contentious issue. Sue Booys indicated that she supported this flexi-time concept and it was carried.
- The debate, for me, was partially about dates and times. But it was also about what Synod is for. Is it to be a gathering of the old and grey, who spend a lot of time debating; or something more attractive to the young?
- Frustration at spending 30 precious minutes arguing about dates boiled over into a couple of very sharp speeches stating that if we want younger people to join Synod, then we need to make it a place where things actually get changed. Loud cheers.
- There’s another issue about London weekends: while they can save people taking holidays (at the price of being out of normal family/church life), they can never be like York. Because York happens on campus: we eat, pray, chat and drink together. In London, everyone has to get off to their digs or hotel, meals are expensive, and there are temptations to drift away to – galleries, shows, family and friends.
Anyway, the choice is made: one weekend for definite in 2021, and the potential for another in 2023. So, if you are thinking of standing for election in next year, book the dates now.
Bishops and Archbishops…
We heard from Dr Prem Chand Singh, the Moderator of the Church of North India and Bishop of Jailapur and Paul Korir, Bishop of Kapsabet, Kenya. They were received with rapturous applause and a standing ovation for Bishop Paul. As the Bishop of Manchester (in the chair) said, they have set a very high bar for whoever comes next.
And next was a Presidential Address from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He began by saying that evangelism, like worship, is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself. (That may come as news to those whose understanding of evangelism at parish level is ‘getting more people through the door’.)
- He signposted the 2020 Lambeth Conference, with its biblical strand the Epistles of Peter – letters addressed to fragile churches, reminding them of what they were, what they are, and what they will be.
- This mini-Bible study may have been intended to calm the troubled souls of those who are upset at the published arrangements for Lambeth 2020. He reminded us that it is good to hear what Anglicans do in other parts of the world, even when they do things in a different way to ours.
- That led him to say that Synod needs to think about what it is doing, and he reiterated the Greek origin of the work: walking together. We are mixed up together from different traditions: we should note that and see what happens.
In yesterday’s preview post I wrote about the culture change in the Church of England. In his Address, Archbishop Justin rehearsed many of the new initiatives and changes that are going on around us. For Lent, he suggested we give up cynicism and start renewing love for those from whom we differ.
Then came the thing that horrifies some: he put Synod into mini buzz groups to talk about their own personal hope in Christ (not their hopes for the Church). I was up in the gallery at the time, so missed out: but the noise of conversation was astonishing.
You can read the full text of his address here.
(One hundred and) Twenty Questions
When we got to Questions, I for one was glad we were in the safe chairing hands of the urbane and polite Aiden Hargreaves-Smith, who reminded us that several of the questions were on sensitive topics (in fact, one-third of them were on one area– transgender and liturgy, and Jayne Ozanne had already warned of the difficulty she saw with some of them earlier.).
120 questions had been tabled, more than in any recent session of Synod.
- The first 46 were on a wide range of topics – maternity leave for ordinands, numbers of self-supporting ministers in house-for-duty posts, and even the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
- I was rude about the Daily Mail in yesterday’s post, but they did give some publicity to a question about BBC Songs of Praise (now in a graveyard slot) from Chris Angus. As a former Songs of Praise producer myself, I was interested to ask what the church might do about the ongoing marginalisation of the programme, so I put in a supplementary:
In a former life I was a BBC producer who worked on SOP in the days when the audience was around 6-8 million; nowadays it is so emaciated I can’t bear to watch it. What advice would you, or the Communications team, give to those people who would like the BBC to put more resources into Songs of Praise so that it becomes worth watching again.
Sadly, I fell foul of Aiden’s polite ruling that I was asking for an opinion, and I was told that Archbishop Sentamu might perhaps talk to me out of the session about it. Hey-ho! But I rather enjoyed the comment of a member in the supper queue that the programme now reminded her of ‘a night out at the Miners’ Welfare Club.’
- Some careful work by those involved with the House of Clergy group working on clergy care and well-being meant there was a batch of questions on that topic, aimed at extracting data about clergy who fall out of ministry through stress and similar concerns, ready for the main debate on this topic when we meet in York in July.
- Canon John Spence managed to make us laugh while dealing with some technical financial concerns.
The epic set of questions around gender transition began at 6.30. A series of questions regarded by Jayne Ozanne as tendentious were deftly handled by the various bishops who had to answer them.
- Bishop Christine Hardman of Newcastle gently reminded one questioner that the House had not issued any guidance about gender transition – it was advice about liturgy in a pastoral context.
- The Bishop of Coventry built on that with a reminder that the use of reaffirmation of baptismal vows was intended to help people mark a stage in their faith life, rather than to mark gender transition per se.
- The Bishop of Willesden fielded questions about whether clergy could decline to offer the liturgy if they were unhappy about it (he was 99% certain the answer was ‘yes’) and reminded us that the Bishops’ guidance was issued in response to a Synod motion, and would therefore not be withdrawn.
The questions were heard in attentive silence; there are few jokes in this. Some were aimed at the process by which the House of Bishops issued its guidance in December. Other questions indicated that there are people with discomfort about the whole contemporary discussion about Trans concerns – we heard of potential Gnosticism in recognising gender transformation, as well as some hypotheticals about people who might re-transition
All in all, despite the build-up, the Question time was a bit of a damp squib. Maybe the questioners (most of whom were from the ‘anti’ end of the spectrum) felt that putting their question in was enough – a significant number did not bother to follow up with supplementaries.
Tomorrow is largely legislation. Sounds dull, but there will be some excitement about the small print.
The long list of Measures and Canons, etc, to be sorted out includes the Church Representation Rules, which govern church elections, from your local PCC up to General Synod. They have to be finally passed now in order that electronic voting can be used for the 2020 General Synod elections.
However, there is some criticism of a proposal about the membership rules for Deanery Synods. I’m aware that many Diocesan Synod Lay Chairs are particularly against it, so there will be some procedural fiddling done, I suspect. Opponents should take comfort that this particular change will not take effect until the 2026 Deanery elections – so there are a number of ways in which it could be resolved.
The thing that will touch most nerves, however, is the presentation and questions at the end of the day about the progress in the Living in Love and Faith process. If you’re not sure what that means, you need to look at this document . The presentation comes at the end of the day. Thank goodness.
It’s been fun to follow people’s views who are watching at home on the live stream, and/or commenting on Twitter as the day rolls on. If you want to join in,
- there is a live video stream, which will start around 10.30, after the Communion service.
- The unofficial Twitter #synod tag is here – informal reaction from the floor, and comment from people watching elsewhere
- The official Twitter feed is here: progress reports, results of votes, etc.
- Android and Apple users can download the free Synod App from the Apple Store or Google Play. Or you can get all the documentation in PDF form here,
* But when the weekend comes, she knows where we will be: Chorus line from the Drifter’s 1974 hit Kissing’ in the back row of the movies. (Yes, I thought it was a 60’s song too – but I was thinking of Saturday night at the movies, which has a not dissimilar theme…)