And so at lunchtime on Tuesday (July 9) we all went home after a low-key, but very intense, Synod. The last morning offered some detailed stuff, some ‘culture change’ stuff – and some pastoral stuff. That’s Synod for you.
Seven whole days, not one in seven
Setting God’s People free is the title of a report which took the focus away from clergy to re-awaken interest in lay discipleship. It is about living out discipleship between Monday and Saturday. There are some elements within it that have been widely picked up (in church…) such as “this time tomorrow” – a moment in a church service when someone speaks about their everyday life and where their faith intersects with it.
We’ve heard a lot about clericalism in the C of E, and introducing the debate, Dr Jamie Harrison reminded us that Setting God’s People Free is not about getting laypeople to take things on to release clergy. It is about all the people of God taking up ‘intentional discipleship’
He said that often lay people have been consumers of religion, taking what the clergy and organisation gives them on Sunday. And some clergy only regard the laity through the lens of what they do for the church, rather than in their everyday lives. And he remarked that even when ordinary church people get involved in wider discipleship, somehow it often ends up as ‘more people doing more churchy things’.
If all this is new to you, you might like to look at the original report, which came as part of the Renewal and Reform programme. We looked at in February 2017 (my report is here) .The paper before Synod today is here.
We heard a lot about ‘learning communities’ (33 dioceses have cohorts of these), ‘everyday faith’, ‘national portals’ and ‘culture shift’. Certainly in Bath and Wells, one event that was related to this agenda, an Everyday Faith training day for laypeople (with some added clergy) was a sell-out and hugely appreciated.
- Hannah Gravely, from the C of E Youth Council, pointed out that the church makes things hard for people at work by holding meetings when they are at work.
- Bishop Martin Seeley chairs the Ministry Division. He said that they are re-orienting their work to deal first with the bigger questions about the whole people of God, before looking at details of ordained and non-ordained ministry.
- Alison Coulter from Winchester reminded us that we are just as much Christians when we are at work as when we are in church.
- Ruth Newton pointed out that rural Christians are more obviously everyday Christians than people in the relative anonymity of towns. They are seen, and known, for their Sunday attendance and the many community and pastoral activities they do.
An amendment was passed to make specific reference to race, class, sexuality, physical ability or gender. In one sense it was unnecessary, as the main motion said nothing about categories of lay people – it needed no amplification, as the whole project is about the whole people of God- all laity, all clergy. But it’s an indication of the undercurrents of sensitivity about inclusive language as well as LGBT and human sexuality concerns.
The motion was passed with a record 18 speeches inside an hour, and no ‘death by anecdotes’, which sometimes kills enthusiasm for similar debates.
When it came to the Legislative Reform Order, much was made of the fact that this was the first such Order to be put through Synod – it’s a product of the Simplification work that’s been done over recent years. It enables much speedier reform of many of our procedures by avoiding us having to put new Measures through so frequently. (The Measures require a complex procedure.) The Chair, Aidan Hargreaves-Smith cheered me up by noting that this is a historic change, and comes in the centenary year of the ‘Enabling Act’ of 1919, which freed the C of E to make certain decisions without Parliamentary involvement. It’s only taken one hundred years…
This particular Order aims to remove some of the administrative and financial burdens associated with filling vacant clergy posts – that is, finding and installing a new parish priest. So there is some streamlining of the current formal processes to speed things up. The debate was introduced by Simon Butler, Prolocutor of the Canterbury Convocation.
I don’t propose to go into lots of detail, but these changes will cheer up churchwardens, PCC secretaries and Diocesan Registrars.
- The Bishop must kick the process off no later than the day that a benefice becomes vacant.
- A ‘start date’ is established when the clock starts ticking for all the various consultations that have ot take place.
- The PCC’s ‘Section 11’ meeting (some readers will know what this is) has long been under the pressure of unrealistic timetables. So that has been simplified out now, with different timescales, such as giving the PCC one deadline (up to 6 months) to carry out their duties.
- Where there are multiple patrons for parishes, the new Rules offer ways of keeping things simpler
- It will now be legal to use email for these processes.
Summing up his introduction, Simon Butler, suggested that the Order is about ‘Setting PCC Secretaries Free’. Boom boom!
Next came what seems complex, but is important – some changes to the Church Representation Rules (CRR). For all the work done in the last fifteen years on Fresh Expressions of Church (see yesterday), Bishops Mission Orders and other ‘new ways of being church’, the electoral system is still built around PCCs and their electoral rolls.
Sue Booys introduces some new, improved sections to the CRR, which set out ways in which members of such non-traditional congregations can participate in, and be represented in, ecclesiastical democracy.
This matters, and as we have to elect a new General Synod next autumn, it will be interesting to see what the make-up of the new membership is going to be (see Closing Thought 1, below).
Time to go home…
To my shame, for the first time in 12 years I missed the last debate of the day. I just knew that I was too tired to pay full attention and manage a 5-hour drive home.
It was about a subject that increasingly affects us all – dementia and elderly care. The diocese of Rochester has developed a project to set up ‘Anna chaplaincies’ – named for the elderly widow who recognised the Christ-child in the Temple (see Luke 2: 25-38). The Rochester paper is well worth a read, and there is a useful background paper here. Anyone who has elderly and frail people in their congregation (or who have ‘disappeared’ from normal attendance because of frailty) might want to read them.
Oh, that’s pretty well all of us, then…
I also missed farewells to the retiring Bishop of Hereford and to Andrew Brown, a key figure at the Church Commissioners for all my time active in church affairs. An unscheduled addition was an address from the Revd Canon Dr Joseph Bilal of the troubled South Sudan, who has been with us all weekend. There’s a good summary from the Dean of Southwark, Andrew Nunn, here.
UPDATE: My friend Charlotte Gale (clergy rep from Coventry) has now posted her commendably tightly-written blog summing up the whole Synod weekend which you can read here.
Three closing thoughts
1. This Synod has one more year to run (London in February, York in July), and then a new one has to be elected, under slightly amended rules.
Believe it or not, the various interest groups are already buzzing round asking people if they are standing again, or inviting them to suggest people in their diocese who might be invited to consider standing for election.
The actual voting period is September 2020, with nominations in over the summer. So if you are at your own Diocesan Synod, be ready to hear about the election procedures, e-hustings, and all that.
And if you are just an ‘ordinary’ Anglican (lay or ordained), have a think about whether, next year, you’d be prepared to offer to stand for election. Somebody has to, and why should it not be you? Try reading some of the ‘back issues’ of this blog (click anywhere in the top right hand column of dates) and you’ll get some idea of what it’s like.
2. Process has been greatly helped by the Synod App, giving instant access to the daily timetable, Order Papers, text of amendments, and much more. The Church House digital team deserve a medal for getting it up and running.
- You can get it on your phone or tablet.
- And if you want to catch a particular speech or debate, the whole thing is available on video now.
3. The whole Human Sexuality issue is, and will remain an undercurrent. I got the distinct impression that people who were unhappy about this focus and the Living in Love and Faith process are now less suspicious, and prepared to join in. As I have said before, this issue is our Brexit.
Cynics will say Synod is just kicking this can down the road. But it’s not like the Church Rep Rules or even permission not to hold a service in every church every Sunday. This is a heart-and-minds affair, with deeper attention required both to the Scriptures and to our own internal maps of ourselves. It’ll take some time, and some humility.
It’s now an immutable tradition of the church that at the end of a group of sessions I reflect on the extraordinary reach of this blog – and thank you for taking an interest.
- There have been just over 5,700 page views over this weekend, and between three and four hundred individual visitors each day.
- People in 25 other countries have been taking a peep – the most unexpected of those being Algeria. (The WordPress stats machine can’t tell me who any of these people are, of course.)
- Comments on Twitter and the blog have been rather kind. Apparently I am ‘the go-to source of information about Synod’; and ‘the most readable roundup of General Synod stuff’. Who knew?
bathwellschap will be back in February. The outline dates are 10-15 February – I think we assume that we’ll actually start on Wednesday or Thursday, and run through until the Saturday, but that’s in the hands of the Business Committee.
* I’m going home Loud blues-rock song by Ten Years After, 1968. There’s an extraordinary live version of it on YouTube, filmed at the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969, when Alvin Lee gives his all. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do right now, but give it a whirl here.