As is traditional, Synod began today (Sunday 7 July) with a grand service in York Minster. We had both Archbishops, fab choir (though the organ is under reconstruction), stunning architecture and all the glories of Anglicanism at its height.
However, once we got back to the University, and after roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, we plunged back into business – beginning with safeguarding progress and tentative Methodist steps.
Distrust and progress: safeguarding
Safeguarding had to be handled today as those involved, including Peter Hancock, the Bishop of Bath and Wells (disclaimer: my former boss) were at the IICSA inquiry all last week and will be there next week. Pete Spiers was in the chair, and he reminded us that there would be victims and survivors of abuse here in the hall, as well as following proceedings online. He then invited Bishop Peter to say a prayer, which we were told had been written by a survivor of abuse.
So, we settled (in a rather unsettled manner) to the Safeguarding questions.
- Seasoned campaigners in the matter of the late Bishop George Bell had some closely-argued issues to raise about ‘evidential threshold’ and the details of the claims made about him and how they were handled.
- The Bishop promised that victims whose experience led them to distrust care from their own diocese would be found a way to be looked after by a different diocese.
- A number of aspects to IICSA’s work came up – particularly whether the church would follow any IICSA recommendation about mandatory reporting (he said he was in favour).
A surprising number of people did not ask a supplementary, so that the 20 questions were covered in 20 minutes. You can read the Questions and the written answers here. (They are at the back of the book, numbers 92-111)
Immediately afterwards, Peter Hancock led a presentation from the National Safeguarding Steering Group (NSSG) reporting their progress. You might want to read their report, it is GS2134 – read it here.
Peter Hancock gave an overview, citing the controversial Blackburn letter approvingly when it talks about the need for culture change. You can read his full address here. He gave a list of major developments since the last July Synod:
- Changes have been made to the leadership and management of safeguarding at the national level. Two new heavyweight appointees are in place: former MP Meg Munn as Independent Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, and Melissa Castle, a former Director of Children’s Services in local government as Director of Safeguarding. Significantly, her post is ‘Director’, not ‘Adviser‘
- This synod falls at the halfway stage of the two-week IICSA hearing into the Anglican Church. He described IICSA as throwing a ‘helpful spotlight’ on us. He commended IICSA’s interim report on the Diocese of Chichester and Peter Ball, and their Truth Project’s report which amongst other things highlit the culture of clericalism and reverence in which the conduct of perpetrators is not questioned. He insisted that Synod members should read both reports.
- You can read Chichester/Ball here, and the Truth Project experiences are here.
- A national Case Management System is due to be rolled out in 2020. This will assists diocesan and national safeguarding staff to handle their record-keeping and communication.
- Independent Learning Lessons reviews are in train for John Smyth, Bishop Victor Whitney and Trevor Devamannikam
- There is now a Survivors Reference Group; Safe Spaces work is proceeding, and a Victims and Survivors Charter is to be planned.
- The Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) is being examined with a mind to improving the church’s ability to handle safeguarding matters in a discipline framework more effectively.
Meg Munn then spoke about the work of the National Safeguarding Panel, of which she is the independent Chair.
The Panel are ‘critical friends’ to the C of E, looking at policy development, but also to provide a challenge.
She is the first independent Chair – the Panel was previously chaired by the Lead Bishop.
She reminded us that the Church has been slow to wake up to all this, and, interestingly, said that the Panel will shortly do some work on prevention of abuse.
Phil Johnson, a Chichester survivor member of the Panel then spoke. He said that survivors need to be heard, because not only do they have experience of abuse, but they may also have the experience of reporting it, going through court proceedings, trying to get compensation and justice. So the Panel includes three survivors.
Phil described himself as ‘not part of the church establishment’, and ‘one of the most vocal members of the Panel’. He believes things have improved since the days when their input into the Parish Safeguarding Handbook was left until late in the drafting, and they never even saw the final text to approve or improve it. (I have heard elsewhere that there are some inaccuracies in the book that might have been avoided by a little more consultation during pre-publication.) He also said:
- The CDM is not effective in safeguarding matters, partly because it leans towards ‘penalties by consent’ which may minimise the significance of offending and CDM outcomes
- Despite all the progress, there is still huge mistrust from survivors. The Church has yet to earn their trust.
Phil was very measured, but very pointed, and he was loudly applauded when he’d finished.
Then came a half-hour of non-scripted questions to the panel. Some pointers from that:
- The new Director of Safeguarding is likely to review the staffing and reduced required, in the light of the huge expansion of activity (made more difficult by the volume of IICSA work, which may pass).
- The CDM review will take some time, and any changes will have to go through Synod. Maybe some completely different system will need to be be in place for safeguarding?
- Recent disclosures about Jonathan Fletcher and Emmanuel Church Wimbledon have highlit the fact that Proprietary Chapels need to be brought within the usual safeguarding network.
- Archbishop Sentamu tried to get the Synod to acclaim mandatory reporting by a show of hands.
- In response to a direct question from Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley (in Blackburn diocese), Meg Munn said she did not feel that changing clergy status form ‘office-holders’ to ’employees’ would make a significant difference. The Church needs to work out for itself what is the most appropriate status for clergy: her role is to point out to us what we need to consider, not to give us the answer in an instruction. Clergy have high responsibility, a lot of autonomy, and built-indifference. So what is required in addition is a high level of accountability, however that is established.
- IICSA appears to believe that the Church’s apologies are unconvincing.
This was a very intense session. We concluded it with a period of silence, and a meditative prayer. But then the Archbishop encouraged us to thank those taking part, and there was a long and loud standing ovation: partly appreciation of the work going on, and partly simply a release of tension.
It’s been more than two hundred years since the Methodist Church spun itself out of the Church of England. And there is bad history in the last sixty years’ attempts to bring our churches back together. There is plenty of local shared activity; there is a Covenant; there are some Anglican clergy ‘recognised and regarded’ by Methodists as local ministers. But our structures remain separate and our governance is very different: they have the Methodist Conference; we have Bishops in Synod.
The latest attempt to draw us together is now in full swing.
People with long memories will remember how a similarly optimistic scheme in the 1960s/70s was killed off by Synod, the objections led by a joint Evangelical/Anglo-Catholic team with their book Growing into Union.
(Wonderfully, you can get it on Amazon for £2.99. Not bad for something published 49 years ago! But you’d better hurry, they only have 9 copies left.)
So at first glance, the proposals might seem a warmed-up version of what’s gone before. But there’s been a sea-change in ecumenical activity since then. What was presented today by the Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth might seem sensible, particularly in a time when church attendances (for both of us) seem fragile, and combining our efforts might be good for mission. You can read the document here.
But… (and this is a big but)
There are stumbling blocks (I dare not say ‘the devil’) in the detail.
Our clergy have to be episcopally ordained (i.e. by a Bishop), and behind that for many is the concept of the ‘apostolic succession’ from the first apostles down to the present day. Methodism in the UK doesn’t have bishops, and their apostolic authority (if I have understood the document aright) lies with the Conference, which commissions new ministers.
Our sacramental practice differs, too. I am not talking here about the mechanics of Communion – a common cup/chalice with alcoholic wine (C of E) vs individual glasses with grape juice (Methodism). It is whether those not episcopally ordained can ‘consecrate’ validly: for some Anglican, a Methodist Communion is not as true, valid sacrament because of the deficiency of the minister conducting the service.
So the proposals, as in previous attempts, require the Methodists to move more towards us than we are required to move towards them.
(Bearing in mind the general readership of this blog, I am not going to go into the theological niceties of all this, save to indicate that we had some key phrases to wrestle with like ‘Bearable anomaly’, ‘the Lambeth Quadrilateral’, ‘episcopal succession’,’ ‘mutual recognition of ministry’,’ formal declaration’ and much more).
Anyway, the theological elements in opposition to the proposal were around interchangeability of ministry, and the role of Bishops. The Methodist have indicated they are willing to accept turning their leadership into Bishops. But at a local level, Anglo-Catholics would want to see Methodist ministers ordained by a Bishop: this would be unacceptable to many in Methodism who would not see their ministry as defective and therefore requiring a top-up.
- A St Albans priest, Kevin Goss, initiated the critique. He said that the legislation was papering over the cracks, and going in too much of a hurry (the motion calls for legislation to start going through in February next year!) He also said we must be honest; ‘commissioning’ is not the same as ‘ordination’.
- Another element brought in by Fr Paul Benfield was timing. He believed that bringing legislation forward at such an early stage would be a mistake. The history of the Women Bishops legislation ought to teach us that starting the legislative process before people have really thought things through leads to much pain and damage. He proposed an element to remove all the references to legislation from the main motion, while retaining the general aim of proceeding.
- Bishop Cocksworth opposed the Benfield amendment with some vigour, citing the timescales required by our partner churches.
There is another, topical undercurrent here. I know there was concern amongst some conservative evangelical members that the Methodist Church’s recent decision to move towards supporting same-sex relationships means that we should not try to get too close to their structures and recognise their ministry. Andrew Atherstone from Oxford spoke to this to say this development presents the possibility of a deep rupture over the doctrine of marriage – if we have incompatible theologies of marriage How could a united church operate with both?
“Put me to what you will…”
The voting handsets came out and the Benfield amendment failed. It was followed by an attempt by Jane Steen from Southwark to detach ‘exploring the idea’ from any specific legislative timetable. Her amendment therefore asked that the work continue (including drafting the formal declaration and mutual recognition of ministries), but legislation should not be brought until those texts are ready. In other words, we don’t move on this until we see what it actually looks like.
More electronic voting: her amendment succeeded, and after a speech from the Methodist representative, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a strong speech asking Synod to support the motion as amended “with the necessary, but minimum delay”. The Rev Rachel Mann from Manchester reminded us of the much-loved words of Wesley from the Methodist Covenant service: ‘Put me to what you will’, and, looking at the Methodist guests in the gallery, suggested we applied it to each other in a new mutual relationship.
On an electronic vote by houses (laity, clergy, bishops), the motion, as amended by Jane Steen, passed in all three. It was a really long, engaging debate, to which I cannot do justice. We had wrangles, clear amendments, calls to vote by houses – all the fun of there Synod fair, but in the cause of discerning the right way forward.
There’s a crisp and positive review of the debate by Andrew Nunn – who chaired the session – on his blog here.
I was a stranger…
I missed the debate on Refugee Professionals: after three and a half concentrated hours in the chamber, which got hotter by the minute, I had to get out. The motion was brought by Southwark Diocese, concerned at the way professionally trained refugees cannot work in their own field, and end up taking low paid jobs.
If things were changed so that they could work I their own field, it would be a win for them and their families, and a win for the organisations who take them on and need skilled staff.
I gather that, as often happens, the original Southwark motion got watered down (or amended away, according to some people) when an amendment from the Bishop of Durham was accepted.. This is a frequent occurrence with motions that are brought to General Synod from Diocesan synod. Among the reasons are:
- By the time they reach us, things have changed and some content may be out of date. “They grow whiskers” as one old Synod hand put it.
- The original local text may not fit a national debate, and need rephrasing
- The financial consequences of the diocesan motion may be too much for General Synod to stand.
It’s very frustrating for the people who bring their diocesan motion, with pride and passion, to see it chopped about and altered. But it does seem Synod can’t avoid it, often, and members vote for the changes, as happened today.
So Southwark’s very specific encouragement to each diocese to take specific actions to offer support for at least one qualified refugee got changed to a general encouragement to take other less specific actions. You can read the actual texts here on th eorder paper.
On the fringe
Tomorrow we debate changes to the way Cathedrals are run. I went to an evening fringe meeting organised by the Cathedrals Working Group (CWG). They have now produced their very full report on changes that they believe are needed to Cathedral governance. The report is here. When this first came to Synod, there was much rustling in Cathedral dovecotes at some of the proposed changes – installing a Vice Chair of Chapter, chosen by the Bishop, and thus seen by some as a ‘Bishop’s nark’; putting Residentiary Canons under much closer authority of the Dean – and much more, some technical about charitable status.
Last July it got approval to move on – I wrote about that here. So tomorrow is a big day: the start of the First Consideration discussion. I got the feeling that there is a measure of nervousness within the CWG that their amended proposals (see the explanation here) will be filleted by Synod.
They laid on not just a wine reception, but a presentation led by Eve Poole, the Third Church Estates Commissioner. A bunch of documents were provided including some Frequently Asked Questions about the changes and the impact on Cathedrals; indicative guidance about some aspects, and even a Summary of the Bishop’s Role, which felt designed as something not to scare the horses.
The room was packed out – either too small a room was booked, or there’s more interest than they realised.
The various chestnuts (charitable status, lay Chapter members, Residentiary Canons) were amicably chewed over, and it was a very worthwhile prelude to tomorrow. The ‘platform party will have gained an insight into what is likely to bug Synod, and Synod members have been much better-informed about what is proposed and why.
Cash or Card, sir?
We encountered something new at York Minster this morning: an offertory plate that has a built-in contactless credit card reader.
We were the guineapigs for an experiment with this device, which rejoices in the name of Goodplate. It consists of an offertory plate that can take cash in the usual way, with a card reader in the centre that you just tap.
- It’s made by a company called Goodbox and you can find some details here.
- They have a video showing how to set it up and use it here
I used it myself, very simple way to give £5, butt you can alter the amount. I gathered that the one I used had already processed some £700 that morning, and there were others in use. Hmmm…
* Move in a little closer, baby. Chirpy little ditty, inviting you to shar eoyur troubles and get closer to the one you love.In 1969 you could have Harmony Grass’ version or Mama Cass’s.