Listen, do you want to know a secret? *

I regret to say that your correspondent missed the morning Bible Study  on 1 Peter. However, the debate on environmental programmes that followed was very lively. And the three debates on evangelism covered a very wide field indeed. And even Standing Orders brought some fun.

Environment: actually doing something…

On what felt like a glorious April morning (in February, forsooth), we addressed global climate change and what we could do about it.

WIN_20190222_104633A very clear speech from Sophie Mitchell from the Church of England Youth Council, a student at Bristol University, caught everyone’s attention. She began by reminding us of the school students’ strike a couple of weeks ago, and cheekily pointed out that it was her generation, rather than that represented in much of the Synod, that was going to feel the effects.

Prudence Dailey struck a different note, asking us to vote against the motion. IN the light of the usual encouragements to make small changes in our lifestyles, she believed we should not kid ourselves that the local church can do anything whatsoever about climate change.

Her counter-cultural take was “if we all do a little, then we will just do a little.” Even if all Western countries became carbon neutral, it would only have a minimal effect, because of the enormous emissions from developing countries…

There was a procedural element to this debate. Because it had been adjourned from July, the Archbishops Council and others had got their retaliation in early and done a lot of work in the meantime:

  • The original motions from London and Truro set out some very specific targets for the church (read their paper GS2094A here)
  • The updated paper from the dioceses is GS 2094B – read it here
  • GS Misc 1212 indicates what they has been done centrally since July (read it here). The Chair of the Finance Committee John Spence, indicated what the Archbishops Council would be doing in future – at the cost of reducing work in other areas. But he said we cannot impose targets on dioceses and parishes.
  • The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, Lead Bishop on the environment reported that the Church is doing amazing things already, but we needed to follow Truro’s need by having specific staff resources.
  • The First Church Estates Commissioner Loretta Minghella (the Commissioners have huge investment funds) got applause when she explained how the Commissioners had tackled Shell, BP and Glencore. We are in a position to do more. There is no Plan B because there is no Planet B.

Much of what was said we have heard before. What was of value in this debate was threefold:

  1. Recognition of the need, and the possibilities of church action on the environment at all levels
  2. Central Church bodies are signed up to doing everything from sorting out the heating to re-investing large sums of money
  3. Diocesan Synod motions (often the poor relation of Synod proceedings) do sometimes work! This one in particular brought forth some inspirational speeches from people who had not intended to speak in the debate, but who had been challenged to think on their feet and the speeches were all the better for it.

Summing up, Enid Barron from London diocese, winningly called herself an ‘eco-granny’, and the motion was duly passed with only three votes against.

Evangelism, evangelism, evangelism

It’s unlikely that the Synod would vote against evangelism, just as they wouldn’t vote against action on climate change. And with three motions on evangelism today, there’s room to explore every angle…

The first debate was about Evangelism and Discipleship (read the paper GS2118 here and see its nicely-presented glossy annex A here.) It sets out six priorities, worth a read.

Evangelism 1Barry Hill was focussing on the work done in recent years by the Evangelism Task Group set up by the two Archbishops.

So his motion was partly about ‘getting the message out’ to parishes and individuals that we now have a Evangelism and Discipleship Department, supporting and encouraging faith-sharing in all sorts of ways.

The motion was specific about plugging Thy Kingdom Come the ‘global prayer initiative’ around Pentecost time (May 30 – June 9 2019). Their website is here.

There were some nervous asides, as I predicted in my preview piece. Andrew Lightbown from Oxford wanted to know what ‘Mission and Evangelism’ mean in Jewish or Muslim communities. He seemed to be concerned that the proactive confident approach implied in the vocabulary does not quite reflect the true nature of Christian presence and advocacy. Others expressed similar reservations.

  • Fr Thomas Seville expressed his difficulty by talking about ‘dialects’. The dialect of the report was not his: it put evangelism first and worship second. But the dialect he speaks starts with worship.
  • One thread of significance was that we must recognise that most clergy are not natural evangelists – and have many other callings on their calling.
  • The Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow spoke of encouraging people to have everyday faith conversations
  • Philip Plyming, head of Cranmer Hall theological college, said ordinands were being told evangelism was not a technique, but a way of being.
  • Mary Bucknall of Deaf Anglicans Together, made a very powerful speech telling us of the obstacles put in the way of Deaf people. There is rarely access to British Sign Language (BSL) or subtitles in evangelistic work. Theological training is not available, major conferences only offer one-off events, and most diocese do not have a chaplain to the Deaf. Deaf church services usually only happen once a month. Some courses such as Pilgrim can be offered in BSL, but major providers such as Bible Society do not offer subtitles on many products.
Plyming screen

Big Screen: Philip Plyming in full flow

There was a bit of dissonance, it seems to me, between ‘evangelism’– characterised by some speakers as ‘a shady business’, numbers-focussed, something for ‘Lone Rangers’ and so on – and straightforward discipleship – following Christ and living exemplary lives. There was grumbling about an amendment that tried to suggest clergy time was better spent on discipling new Christians rather than ‘servicing the existing church community’ which reflected this, but it was defeated.

Changing the rules…

The diversion between all the evangelism debates was the improvement of our Standing Orders. Sounds tedious, but it turned out to be one of those good-humoured conversations which can make Synod such fun. The paperwork (GS2119) is here if you’d like to peep behind the curtain.

To begin, Geoffrey Tattersall, an avuncular lawyer who is Chair of the Standing Orders Committee (he self-describes as a ‘Synod anorak’) explained that the proposed changes were in the light of experience.

Tattershall screen

Gladness: Geoffrey Tattersall on Standing Orders

Firstly, there was some jousting about the length of Questions. Mr Tattersall’s recommendation was to set a word limit (150 words) to Questions, to avoid verbosity and time-wasting. Can you restrict a question to 150 words? However, David Lamming, a serial speaker in this group of sessions, urged us to resist limits on the length of a question. The Tattersall proposal was lost.

The Archbishop of Canterbury proposed a change that would permit representatives of the world Anglican family not only to attend Synod, but to have speaking rights, in the same way that the panel of ecumenical guests do.

Then it got exciting…

More complex were the changes about how the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) works. The CNC is the body that appoints diocesan Bishops – or, in church-speak, “discerns” who God is calling to be the next Bishop of Barchester (or wherever the next vacancy is). GS 2120 sets out the changes being proposed. – read it here).

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The CNC is chaired by the relevant Archbishop (with the other one in attendance), has 6 ‘central’ members (elected by General Synod) and 6 ‘diocesan’ members (who come from the diocese which is vacant. I have served on one CNC and am sworn to secrecy about the discussions. However, the changes being proposed are no secret: they include

  • A ‘central member’ should have a substitute if it is their own home diocese being considered
  • The voting method used should no longer be a secret ballot of the 14 people on the CNC, but an open vote. The theory is that secret voting enables people to say one thing about a candidate in discussion, but vote another way.
  • A reduced threshold in the voting (from 2/3 members present to 2/3 present and voting) to avoid an appointment not being made if there is some sort of deadlock. Effectively, this would reduce people’s ability to abstain in a vote if they were unhappy at a candidate going forward.

The Archbishop of York steered us through the uncontroversial bits, but we had some debate about the ‘reduced threshold’. Two experienced CNC members (Aidan Hargreaves-Smith and Jane Paterson) spoke against this particular proposal, reminding us that the CNC’s inability to achieve an appointment has only happened twice (Hereford and Oxford) in recent times. Their advocacy convinced Synod, so the rule will not be changed.

Papers 2But next came the proposal to have secret voting removed within the CNC. Another experienced CNC central member, Andrew Nunn spoke up for the proposal to go open; John Dunnett, another central member wanted secret voting to remain. He reckons that the discrepancy between what people said and how they voted has now disappeared, thanks to the Archbishops’ chairing techniques. He believed the secret ballot prevented ‘groupthink’ affecting the result.

There was a lot of angst about this one. Old Synod hands smiled when John Dunnett (a leading evangelical) quoted a psychologist, and Simon Butler (Prolocutor) quoted St Paul back at him. But Archbishop Sentamu cut away much of the opponents ground by explaining that the open voting would not be obligatory –just that a CNC could choose to have a secret ballot if it wished.

cropped-win_20151123_122154.jpgSomeone called for a vote by Houses (presumably in an attempt to defeat the motion). The motion failed in the House of Laity, so was thrown out. Ironic that we should vote in secret on our little machines about open voting! (But the names of who voted which way results will be published in due course – or punished, as I mistakenly tweeted after the result was read out.).

No more Silos

Growing in Faith was the title of the second evangelism-related debate of the day. It was built around a House of Bishops ‘vision’ document (GS2121 – read it here) which is particularly concerned with churches, schools – and households. The paper relates some survey data from ComRes about the age at which young people give up on active faith, and (amongst other interesting points), notes the significance of parents nurturing their children in faith with family prayer, for example. It’s an interesting paper that shows cross-departmental work being done at Church House. No more silos!

We heard some lively and cheerful speeches giving examples of innovative work, practical examples of how people build their faith into their family life, summer holiday camps and much more.

It was particularly rewarding for me to hear two Bath and Wells lay speakers.

  • Farmer Kathryn Tucker talked about the imaginative youth work that goes on on Exmoor, where schools, churches and homes are far apart and young people very isolated.
  • James Cary told a tale of his own childhood experience of learning about Christ through familiarity with the Bible, and spoke of how he works with children in his church in Yeovil, simply using the Scriptures as the source for learning and questioning.

Unusually, we then had two farewells (they usually happen on the last day of Synod). Bishop Graham James of Norwich and Bishop Trevor Wilmott, Bishop of Dover were duly (and rightly) eulogised. The tribute included a stunning video of Bishop Graham walking on custard. Don’t ask…


Split screen: part of the tribute to Bishop Trevor Wilmot

Start with the poor!

Then we moved to the third evangelism debate – Estates Evangelism – led by the effervescent Bishop of Burnley, Philip North. In irrepressible form, he started by trying to persuade people to vote against – unless they were serious about the implications. He listed the Apostles, Francis of Assisi, St Vincent de Paul and others to say anyone who is serious about proclaiming the gospel starts with the poor.

Our urban estates were good when they were built. But now things have deteriorated for those living there: services withdrawn, transport cut, resources privatised, benefits cut. And yet the Church has been withdrawing resources too. His vision was to have a loving, serving, witnessing community on every estate. “If you start with the poor, the rich will catch on.”

The paper GS 2122 setting out the approach of the Estates Evangelism Task Group, (who are behind this debate) is here.

untitled (8)My own diocese of Bath and Wells (to the surprise of many) has a number of urban priority areas n Bath, Bridgwater, Weston-Super-Mare and other places.

We call them ‘Magnificat’ parishes – picking up a line in Mary’s song (Luke 1.46-55) about ‘lifting up the lowly’. Our magazine Manna just run a special edition about them, under the title Hidden Treasures. Read it here.

As well as moving stories about the realities of life, and church life in estate areas, we were also challenged to think about what changes the church needs to make to have any effect.

  • The Bishop of London, Sarah Mulally, said that things take time on estates. People – whether lay ministers, youth workers, or clergy – need to stay: to remain long enough to make a difference.
  • A number of speakers reminded us that our usual academic training courses for ministry need changing for candidates from different backgrounds.
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury said that success in this context might not mean bigger numbers, but more holiness and discipleship, in a church that did things with people, rather than for them.
  • In that context, several speakers asked who was making the decisions, and who was choosing where any available funding was going.

Clearly, Bishop North’s request that we did not vote for the motion was a smart rhetorical device. But it brought forth a passionate and lively debate, with real stories of real places (mostly in the North), and sharp warnings about the need for us the change – and the possibility that we might benefit.

Pastoral Advisory Group resources

Last night we heard about the Pastoral Advisory Group (PAG), available to help the church work through testing pastoral questions about what a welcome for LGBTI people in church actually means.

Their resources are now available for free download. Anyone with any interest in the current thinking about humans sexuality issues needs to get a copy, and think about how to use them in church conversations. You can download them here.

And finally…

A lot of people got to speak today about subjects close to their experience and their hearts. Maiden speakers got plenty of airtime and ‘the usual suspects’ were not too prominent. In that respect, it was a very good Synod day.

Tomorrow might be a bit strange. All day Saturday (some will not be staying for the day), and topics covering Roma, gypsies and travellers,; youth evangelism; gambling advertising – oh, and the state of the nation to finish. Could be quite a day.

I offer the usual encouragement to follow the proceedings live, or electronically. The links are at the end of yesterday’s post.


* Listen, do you want to know a secret: Big hit in the early days (1963) of ‘the Mersey Sound’ from Brian Epstein’s unlikely-name-for-a-Liverpool-group Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas. It got to number 1; the Beatles version made number 2 in the USA in 1964.

This entry was posted in 2019: Feb - London, General Synod and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Listen, do you want to know a secret? *

  1. Pingback: General Synod – Friday – Thinking Anglicans

  2. Annie Wynter says:

    Why was he walking on custard?

    Annie xxxx Sent from my iPad


  3. Annie says:

    Just loving the song titles, even though they get stuck in my head all day……. downloaded the Pastoral Principles resources. These will be mighty useful. Still want to know about the custard.😳 xxxxx

  4. Mary Hancock says:

    Custard walking sounds quite possible if you get the right ratio of cornflour to water…

    • I thought I might get into some conversations about General Synod when I started this blog. But I never expected custard recipes!

      • Mary Hancock says:

        I was thinking of oobleck, Richard. Have been trying for some time to think of a way of building it into a collective worship or sermon. Search on ‘walking on custard’ and you will a number of YouTube clips of precisely that.

  5. David Lamming says:

    Stephen, I enjoy your blog, which is both informative and interesting: not always an easy combination!
    However, might I ask you to re-write this paragraph in the above blog (about the SOs debate) since, as currently written, it is ambiguous/misleading:

    “Firstly, there was some jousting about the length of Questions. Mr Tattersall’s recommendation was to set a word limit (150 words) to Questions, to avoid verbosity and time-wasting. Can you restrict a question to 150 words? However, David Lamming, a serial speaker in this group of sessions, urged us to resist limits on the length of a question. His amendment was lost.”

    As written, it might suggest to readers that my amendment was lost, rather than Geoffrey’s on behalf of the SOs’ Committee. I admit that it might have seemed a bit confusing. I was opposed to any words limit for a question but, in case Synod was minded to agree to the proposed amendment to the SOs to insert a new SO 113(3A), I proposed an “amendment to the amendment” to set the limit at 250 words rather than 150, while saying that if my amendment was passed I would, nevertheless, urge Synod to vote against the main proposal. This also ensured that there was a debate on the issue, since otherwise the proposal to impose a 150 words limit would have been deemed approved by Synod pursuant to SO 40(5). Synod passed my “amendment to the amendment” and then proceeded (as I wished) to reject the main amendment to impose any words limit on a question. I was particularly grateful for Bishop Pete Broadbent’s speech in support, speaking up for ‘backbenchers’ and those who, through questions, seek to hold church officers etc to account. But I don’t now anticipate any thousand word questions! (For information, this comment is 295 words!)

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