We all thought the big deal today (Thursday) would be the Living in Love and Faith presentation. How wrong could we be. The morning was spent in mildly specialist debate about how long people should be allowed to be Deanery Synod members; the afternoon was upstaged by a revolution on the floor demanding a debate on homelessness.
How long, O Lord?
People say that legislation debates are boring. They often have a thin house. Yesterday, Simon Butler, the Canterbury Prolocutor, even reminded us that Synod’s job is to make legislation, and people jolly well ought to be in the chamber and debating things that affect parish life.
However, the first legislative item today was the subject of some controversy. The revised Church Representation Rules – which have the wholesome aim of simplifying and modernising church elections at national, diocesan, Deanery and parish level – took up all our time. If you want to get the detail, read this. It’s only 103 pages long…
The Archdeacon of Southwark, Jane Steen, presenting the report for Final Approval made an elegant defence of the controversial element. It’s about preventing people holding a Deanery Synod seat for more than two 3-year terms.
The theory is that it brings in fresh thinking, removes the old dead wood, and allows the elderly Deanery faithful to stop being part of “a collection of Anglicans who want to go home” (the writer Catherine Fox’s definition of a Deanery Synod) and actually just stay home, while younger people take up the cudgels.
The key procedural issue is that Synod looked at the matter in July and turned down the proposal to remove the ‘two strikes and you’re out’ idea. And at this late stage, it is not possible to amend the Measure: the debate, formally, is just to rubber-stamp ‘drafting amendments’ – little tweaks in the text.
- Long-standing member Bath and Wells Tim Hind recalled that it took one three-year term for him to find his feet in a Deanery Synod, and a further three years to contribute wisely. At that point someone might be in a position to be an effective Lay Chair or other officer. So limiting the ability to serve more than two terms means limiting the pool of people who can take up responsible lay positions. And it’s hard enough, especially in rural parishes, to find people who will stand for responsible roles. He concluded: Please, Synod, think again!
- I gathered at a fringe meeting last night that there was considerable upset about this. Diocesan Lay Chairs are universally against it – a couple spoke strongly.
- A telling point is that nobody suggests a two-term limit on General Synod membership – because Synod thrives on the knowledge and experience of those who’ve been around for a while. (Disclaimer: I joined in 2005)
- Clive Scowen, a procedural expert, suggested that we have created a problem by bringing serious amendments into a Measure at the late drafting end of the process.
To vote down the whole Measure on the basis of this one problem would be a very blunt instrument and would wreck the other ideas in the Measure – such as electronic voting, which everything thinks is a Good Thing. So a cunning plan was needed.
The good news is that the provision in question does not take effect until 2026.
The Business Committee Chair, Sue Booys, came to the rescue by reminding us that between now and 2026, the Elections Review Group could look at it and bring forward a Plan B.
And one Lay Chair encouraged people to abstain if they were unhappy, rather than vote against and kill the whole thing.
So after all that, the Measure was passed. As the debate wrapped up:
- the Bishop of Willesden, progenitor and Head of Simplification, stood to thank Synod for a good job well done. He reckons the new Rules will make life easier in rural and urban parishes, and looked forward to an opportunity tackling the Mission and Pastoral Measure next.
- Simon Cawdell ran through some of the beneficial changes – legal establishment of Benefice Councils, electronic voting to streamline our democracy, and so on.
- Interestingly, once the heated bit of debate was over a couple of speakers made speeches which clearly were in favour of a two-term limit.
- Chair of the Elections Review Group, Clive Scowen reassured us that the ERG (no, not that one) would be looking at the two-terms limit fairly quickly. It’ll be interesting to see if the tide turns…
Strangely, the media took little interest in this absorbing by-way of church news.
Instead, the Telegraph (and others) focussed on a minor tweak of legislation that permits parishes with more than one church to only have to hold a Sunday service on one of them.
Bizarrely, for the Telegraph, this was front page news. (Web version is here)
There was also the first of two revolutions when Synod got to discuss the statutory fees payable for weddings and funerals.
The Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, a redoubtable champion of the poor and estate communities, barnstormed Synod into trying to abolish fees altogether – to attract people to churches for these significant life events.
Frankly, some people can’t afford what we charge (even though we are cheaper than wedding venues, and our fees are not the largest part of funeral directors’ costs. He managed to garner about one-third of people voting in support – but it was not enough, and a new fees order is in place. If you want the details of how the fees are set, they are here, with the background story here. The second people’s revolution, at the end of the day, was more successful – see below.
On the fringe…
There was some agitation yesterday about safeguarding. One or two people wanted a standing agenda item on safeguarding at every session. I’m not convinced how helpful that would be – while Synod can debate and decide policy, there are some things you can’t decide by voting, and some deeply personal and pastoral matters that can’t be discussed by three hundred people. So a lunchtime fringe meeting hosted by the National Safeguarding team gave an opportunity to see how things stand.
On a show of hands, about half the people at the fringe meeting declared they had not been to a safeguarding fringe meeting before. That indicates a growing interest in knowing more about the subject, rather than arguing about it. The fringes happen every year, and (to my mind) they’re a more useful regular thing than a full debate.
Graham Tilby, the National Safeguarding Adviser, brought us up to date on some of the big issues that are current, especially IICSA (The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse):
- the interim report on their work on Peter Ball and Chichester has been imminent for some time. He expects it will be released by IICSA in the next month.
- Although individuals have had a Maxwellisation process (seeing the draft text about them and able to comment on it) the Church will not see a text before it is released to the public.
- There is to be a further two-week Anglican Church investigation hearing in July, clashing nicely with the York Synod – there’s been some negotiation with IICSA about Bishops not being called during Synod time.
- York Sheffield, Worcester and London dioceses are responding to IICSA requests for more detailed information
Read about the IICSA investigation into the Anglican Church here
Has anything changed?
A year ago we were all given a booklet written by victims and survivors called We asked for bread but you gave us stones as part of the safeguarding discussions. See my report here. This year they have produced an update, and part of its content is the claim that nothing has changed.
Bishop Peter Hancock (the Lead Bishop on safeguarding and [disclaimer] my former boss), said that was not the case. The report to this Synod GS Misc 1213 (read it here ) gives an overview of a huge amount of current work, including:
- Survivor support and engagement
- Clergy selection, suitability and discipline
- Structure, independence, oversight and enforcement of church safeguarding work.
There have been some prominent examples of victims and survivors expressing frustration and mistrust with the way safeguarding is being handled. What many people do not know is that the church is working with external bodies such as SCIE (the Social Care Institute for Excellence – website here – and MACSAS (Minister and Clergy Abuse Survivors – website here – to establish an independently chaired Survivors’ Panel.
- Nationally, work is going ahead on a further Past Cases Review, a national casework management system, and resources for parishes.
- It’s estimated 85,000 people have now received safeguarding training in the Church of England.
- Independent auditing has moved on from dioceses to look at cathedrals, Lambeth and Bishopthorpe.
In a climate when all churches are under the cosh for safeguarding failures, it was good to be shown what is going on to try to deal with the damage done in the past – and to improve things in the future. It will never be enough, or speedily enough for those who are victims and survivors, as I saw graphically portrayed at the end of the day (see below).
For those who are concerned that the Church is marking its own homework on safeguarding, we met
- Meg Munn, a former MP, the new Independent Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, and clearly not a pushover
- Sir Roger Singleton, a former senior figure at Barnardo’s introduced himself as the Interim National Director of Safeguarding. He simply said there are two significant issues to be dealt with:
- There has been abuse of individuals in a church setting by clergy and church officials. Whatever we do, there will always be some abuse, but we can reduce it significantly by good preventive measure, training and challenging behaviour of individuals and church organisations
- There has been concealment and failure to follow through. This has some way to run, simply because survivors and victims may not disclose for many years after the event.
He concluded by saying we cannot bring down the shutters on all this, and there is no doubt the level of activity in parishes and diocese is on the increase. More resources will be needed to fund this work (nationally and at diocesan level). More practical resources for people in parishes are being produced.
Listening – and hearing
This morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury got a second bite of the cherry at addressing Synod without being tied to a debate or motion. Yesterday he made a Presidential address, which was well received, and today he was the preacher in the Communion service. Again he focussed on (without using the phrase) ‘good disagreement’, and the Christian option to fail (in relationships with one another)
I couldn’t help but feel he was attempting to appeal to those whose views on the imminent human sexuality project are diametrically opposed. I also couldn’t help but feel that they are not ‘listening’. He said:
The biggest and the deepest way of being transformed is through stepping outside the company of those who reinforce our views and listening to those who disagree with us profoundly.
Listening, not so as to speak, but so as to hear.”
Read the whole homily here.
Now the plan was to take a presentation about the Living in Love and Faith work on human sexuality as the last item of the day, and giving it an hour and a half – time for careful explanation, and questions from the floor. However, there was a second revolution in the rank! When Sue Booys tried to recommend we delay taking a Private Members Motion on homelessness (there was only about 15 minutes to take it in), Synod was having none of it, and we had a passionate, if rushed, debate. See the paper from the proposer here, and a comment document here.
Needless to say, it was passed with only one vote against. (You can’t help wondering if that vote was the result of finger trouble with the voting machine – “doing a Cocksworth”, as we say, after the famous occasion when the Bishop of Coventry accidentally voted against a House of Bishops proposals a year or two ago. We’ll know when the voting results are published in a week or two!) My own reservation about the debate (apart from the rushed nature of it) was that there was very little about the causes of the recent increases in homelessness and rough sleeping.
Living in Love and Faith
This is what many people have been waiting for: some enthusiastically, others with suspicion. The much-vaunted ‘teaching document’, promised by the Bishops, will not be a standard leaflet or even a book. It’s a mammoth, very wide-ranging package of work. There have been 80 academic papers, and more than 200 real-life stories in the preparatory stages. It has its own website (here); and new resources are becoming available – I expect to have details tomorrow.
Synod being Synod, and the media being the media, there was some preliminary publicity being done. TV news crews were talking to Jayne Ozanne and the Bishop of Liverpool yesterday, and this morning, 15 Synod members who are happy to be described as LGBT gathered for a group photo.
So, after a delayed start, we heard a slightly plodding presentation from the Pastoral Advisory Group (PAG) where they set out the guidelines for good pastoral ministry amongst LGBTI people. They spoke of the key pervasive evils that prevent churches being truly welcoming. The introductory document about the PAG can be read here.
That was followed by a presentation from those working on Living in Love and Faith project. This was at the end of a long day, and after the excitement of the people’s revolution just half an hour before, it went off rather quietly. There were reasonably polite questions from people at both ends of the spectrum of attitudes on same-sex and transgender issues, and a very knowledgeable panel answered them. No heat, lots of light. Not bad.
Beyond the fringe…
Tea breaks and coffee stops are a vital part of Synod life.
You can see people catching up their emails, preparing speeches, doing Terribly Important Things in conversation with friends, and – yes – gossiping. Some of the backroom fixing that oils the wheels gets done there too. Today I overheard some careful mapping out of a procedural way to resolve a timetabling clash. And that was just about a pub supper tomorrow night.
I was really pleased to find the small exhibition of pictures marking the centenary of the Enabling Act which established the Church Assembly in 1919, forerunner of General Synod, as well as Parochial Church Councils.
There was a comedy value in some of the images on display, showing the worthiness and the simply patronising approach taken in church documents in days gone by.
But as I have been saying for 18 months or so, we should be proud of a church polity where Bishops, clergy and laity take counsel together, and none of the parties can overrule the other.
So three cheers to the Lambeth Palace Library for assembling this little reminder of a very significant anniversary.
My day ended with a one-man show about the impact of abuse on people’s lives.
Peter Sandford’s drama is based on his own experience of abuse as a 9-year old in a Kent primary school in the early 1960s, and the impact it has had on his life. It was put on by the National Safeguarding Team, and at the end we could quiz Peter about the show.
It packs a real punch: he brilliantly portrays his younger self, and the teacher who abused him.
Tomorrow is the evangelism blockbuster day, worth three separate motions about different aspects – see my preview here. The day begins with a Bible Study session, followed by a motion (held over from July) about environmental programmes in church life. Oh, there’s some standing orders revision to deal with too. Something for everyone, then…
* How many years can some people exist? Existential line from the 1963 Dylan classic Blowin’ in the wind. He probably wasn’t thinking of Deanery Synod members, it’s more likely to be a Civil Rights reference – before they’re allowed to be free.