So, General Synod got started today (Friday 5 July) with a half-day of business, starting after lunch. There were one or two skirmishes which indicate that people are very concerned about aspects of safeguarding, and wanted answers – which they generally could not get. But in general it was a fairly peaceful start.
For once, the debate on the agenda got quite agitated. As predicted, the speeches made were largely about safeguarding – or the lack of it, according to some – on the agenda.
There were plaintive requests that
- we respond to the catalogue of failings being rehearsed at the current IICSA hearings (see yesterday’s post for some context on this)
- we should debate the Blackburn letter (which I referred to in yesterday’s post, and which you can read here). A number of members had petitioned the two Archbishops (as Presidents of Synod) to use their powers to insert a debate into the agenda, despite the lack of notice. Their request was turned down.
- We recognise that the outside world is under the impression that we are ‘dragging our feet until IICSA goes away’ (a reported quote from a legal adviser at IICSA this week).
The overall tone was of dissatisfaction on behalf of victims and survivors of abuse, that when the Bishops speak out on safeguarding failures, they do not ‘speak from the heart’.
Unusually, the Archbishop of Canterbury intervened in this debate to respond to this pressure from the floor. He revealed that both he and the Archbishop of York were to give further evidence to IICSA next week. He was heard in total silence as he said that on a previous occasion at IICSA he had broken down while speaking. Bishops do speak from the heart, he said.
Because this is something very close to many readers of this blog, I’ll record the three reasons why he said the kind of debate people wanted was not going to happen.
- IICSA is enquiring into the Church of England this week and next week. It is an official Government-sponsored enquiry and has its own prerogative: we cannot trample on their toes. The implication was that discussing events at IICSA while it was still sitting was foolish. And, it seems to me, would put the two Archbishops and Bishop Peter Hancock in a very difficult position when they grove evidence next week.
- The ‘Blackburn letter’ has been well-publicised, but it is not the only letter going out from diocesan leaders to parishes. We can’t debate just one of them. We need to hear from victims and survivors, and they need time to formulate their own views.
- We need to wait for the final IICSA report. W heave already had the interim one, focussing on the diocese of Chichester and Peter Ball: the final report will contain some hard questions for us
So when all that was said and done, the smouldering fire on current safeguarding issues was left to re-ignite on Sunday afternoon.
Same-sex 1: Synod fails to see the wood for the trees.
After the speeches from our two visitors, we got down to legislative business. Or at least, that was the plan. It’s an indication of the intensity of feeling about matters related to same-sex relationships that we spent about twenty minutes arguing about a fairly recondite legal provision to do with building on old burial-grounds in cathedral precincts. You may need to read that sentence again before proceeding further…
A technical motion was put before us to amend the law of the land (as expressed in a C of E Measure) as regards what happens if a cathedral wants to put a building on a burial ground.
- The proposal requires that relatives of people buried there should be consulted.
- Seems reasonable. With me so far?
- But who is a relative? Well, obviously a spouse should be consulted.
- But who is a spouse?
- Here we come up against the recent changes in civil law, which would include as ‘spouses’ same-sex partners in civil partnerships and same-sex marriages.
On of Synod’s best detail people, Clive Scowen, pointed out that the text as proposed used the ‘state’ definition of spouse (and thus by implication, marriage), which is in conflict with the C of E’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Now there are those in Synod who wish that teaching would change; and others who will fight to the last ditch to keep it the same. As Archdeacon Luke Miller from London put it ‘this is a battle about one thing that is actually about something else.’
If you want to look this up (which seems unlikely) we are talking about the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, which you will find here. The bit that was exercising people is Clause 5 (3D) (a) on page 6
Speaking in support of the proposal, Simon Cawdell said “now is not the time to be earning Pharisee points”, and there were calls for us to pass the proposal back to the House of Bishops to make up a better wording that avoided the problem. However, both Archdeacon Pete Spiers (introducing the item) and Canon Simon Butler (Canterbury Prolocutor) reminded us that “the church of England’s finest legal brains” had told us that the strict technical wording of the Measure has no bearing on the church’s teaching. So we should just vote it through and get on with other, more significant matters.
Inevitably, there was a proposal to adjourn this matter until Monday, to give people time to think it through. That was defeated and we were reminded that this proposal was about burial grounds, not about the doctrine of marriage. It was about being pastoral with relatives of the deceased.
It was eventually passed by a large majority. It took up 45 minutes, but that’s Synod for you.
Same-sex 2: living in love and faith
Tomorrow we go ‘offline’ for the afternoon, with a series of workshops and seminars on various aspects of current work about human sexuality. The details are here. So we had a preview of those sessions tonight. Partly, I’m sure, to encourage people to turn up.
The Bishop of Coventry reported that the major work in Living in Love and Faith (LLF) – subtitled Christian teaching about was at a stage where a third draft is expected to go to the House of Bishops in the autumn. Avoiding pressing any tech buttons himself (he has form for voting the wrong way by mistake), he introduced a video in which the participants in the LLF project spoke about their time together. It was very warm in tone, but said nothing about content.
So we then heard from Dr Eva John, who is leading the project work about the difficulties in writing material about human sexuality for the church. She asked:
- Who holds the pen?
- Who has the power?
- How do we talk with one another, rather than about one another.
There is an emphasis on people’s personal ‘lived experience’, as well as academic expertise. But we must avoid the temptation to go politicking about all this. (Sadly, the excitements about Clause 5 indicate that we may not have quite got that message yet…)
She admitted that we have people who think this is all too slow, and others who find it is going too fast. It is much harder for some than for others. Patience is required: with each other, and with God ‘who seems to be much slower in revealing himself to those with whom we disagree’.
She suggested that God may be doing a new thing among us. Pain is being shared; politics is being put in its place
The LLF resources will be published next summer. That is when the real work will begins: getting people in parishes to wrestle with the problems of being God’s church in there 21st century. There is a website about the project, if you want to know more about the size, scope, and people involved.
That is the cry that is heard from the flow during Questions – one of the more unpredictable sessions of Synod. The urbane Dean of Southwark, Andrew Nunn was in the chair today, and he went into mock schoolteacher mode to remind us of the rules.
The original Questions and Answers are published in a downloadable booklet, so when it comes to a particular Question, the original questioner is allowed one supplementary go; and anyone else may be given a supplementary as well.
I was appalled to find from the Answer to Question 1 that I am among the five oldest members of the House of Clergy. The questioner had asked for an age breakdown of the Clergy and Lai members. It seems that something like two-thirds of clergy members are between 55 and 64 (I am 67); whereas the Laity are predominantly even older two-thirds of them are between 55 and 74, and they have one member in his 80s. But they can also muster two members under 25. With General Synod elections coming in the summer of next year, the discussion of how representative it is, or can be, will be in the air.
I put in a cheeky supplementary to the Secretary-General, William Nye, asking why were we not being told the age breakdown of the House of Bishops. He replied promptly, simply (and accurately) that it was because the original questioner had not asked for that information. Much laughter at my expense…
Saturday at Synod
Tomorrow is another half-day, in the sense that there are no formal afternoon sessions as we go ‘offline’ to look at the various LLF materials. But in the morning we have:
- Archbishop Sentamu’s last Presidential Address (he is retiring next year)
- The debate on Serious Youth Violence – read the document here
- The presentation and debate on Clergy Wellbeing – read the document here
You can follow the morning’s events on the live video stream
The Twitter hashtag #synod has been pretty busy today, and I am sure it will be tomorrow
For those who follow at a distance – we were told of someone following us in Athens today – the Synod App has all the timings and paperwork you need. Get it from the Apple store or Google Play. It’s free.
And mercifully hear us when we call upon thee…
Something rather wonderful happened at the end of the day… Justin Brett was to lead Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Possibly out of sympathy for being asked to deliver liturgy from the age of books, the projection system went on strike: the screens were blank. There were a hundred or more people remaining in the chamber. Others had left – important meetings to go to, desperate for supper (“whose god is their belly…” etc).
Justin, with considerable panache, informed us that he thought there were probably enough of us who knew it off by heart to carry on anyway. And so we went through the Cranmerian liturgy more or less faultlessly, apart from the Psalm (which Justin read) with neither book (nor bell, nor candle). Fortunately the hymn was Glory to thee, my God this night and again, enough people knew the first and last verses for it to work.
It was extremely moving, and as one member said to me as we strolled off later, it’s remarkable how something you learned years ago through repetition comes back to you when you need it.
As a child of the ASB generation (Alternative Service Book 1980, do keep up)I am not a great fan of the BCP. But it clearly works! For a certain generation, anyway – see the Question about age groups above.
I’ll post a report on tomorrow’s proceedings: don’t forget you can get an automatic notification of a new post by clicking on the ‘follow’ button on the right of this page.
As ever, I am surprised (and gratified) by the number of people who seem to like reading this not entirely comprehensive, but usually cheerful, account of the General Synod.
* I know there’s an answer – the Beach Boys, from the astounding Pet Sounds album (1967)