The ecclesiastical future of the Channel Islands was one of the two substantive items of business conducted at Synod today (Monday 10 February). 70-odd miles from England, and less than 20 from France, the Bailiwicks of |Guernsey and Jersey have had something of a six-year nightmare, which we are trying to end. After a breach between them and the diocese of Winchester, it’s now (more or less) settled that they will be associated with Salisbury in future. The other big item was the Clergy Covenant. But in between we had a lot of heat (and a little light) about safeguarding and human sexuality.
But first: the Prologue
There are some traditional ‘starters for ten’ on Day One.
- Given the tensions of the last few weeks (see yesterday’s post) I was glad to be there for our opening worship – sensitively prepared and led by our Synod Chaplain. The singing of O worship the King seemed particularly robust today.
- We formally welcomed a raft of new members: people who came in by by-elections after places became vacant. It seemed like a long list, and these people will only have these sessions and the July ones to get accustomed to the place before full elections this autumn. Still, it’ll give them a head start if they get re-elected.
- The Business Committee’s report, nowadays known as “Guide to the business”.
The Business Committee report explains the ‘what and why’ of the agenda, and the Chair, Canon Sue Booys from Oxford makes a short speech highlighting the key events.
She noted that this is the last time this Synod will meet in London (a new Synod will be elected in the autumn before a November London meeting.),
Unusually, she warned that some changes were being made to the agenda we’ve got on the Synod App (free to anyone who’s trying to keep up: get it here). The Channel Islands business would include a presentation from Bishop Richard Chartres, who chaired the working group; and time would have to be found for debate on something that was intended to be ‘deemed business’ – the deep excitements of the Election Rules. (This matters now as new rules are meant to be in place in time for electing a new Synod this autumn.)
We can make short speeches on this report. Often they are usurped by people with axes to grind about big items coming up later on; sometimes complaints about important issues not on the agenda.
I managed to get in a ‘thank you’ – and a plug for the new guidance on photography in the Chamber.
After it was summarily banned by one Chair in July, I wrote to the Business Committee asking for some sensible rules. The availability of smartphones meant that photos in blogs like this, and in tweets, are rather important ways to explain Synod to outsiders. Pleasingly, several members got tweeting pictures straight away to celebrate. If you’re interested, the guidance is in this Seventh Notice Paper (pp5 & 6).
There was a grumble about the late setting of dates – we didn’t get the final dates for this session until just before Christmas. That makes it very hard for people with work or family responsibilities to commit themselves properly.
As I expected, there was some passion about the way the agenda offers debate (or not) on matters of human sexuality. (If that does not make sense to you, see yesterday’s post). Jayne Ozanne, a leading campaigner, said that the issue of the Bishop’s letter has once again removed trust. She called at the very least, a ‘take note’ debate in July on the Living in Love and Faith work, rather than just a presentation as we are to have tomorrow (Tuesday). And she threw back in the Archbishops face the phrase they produced after the debacle in February 2017 (when the Bishops report was thrown out – details here) that “to deal with… ..disagreement, to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church”.
The word on the street about the shambles of the way the guidance was published is that it was thought by many Bishops that it was never intended for publication as something new: it was simply a ‘holding position’ if anyone asked how the C of E viewed the new same-sex Civil Partnerships. However, somehow it got issued as a formal statement, with the resulting car-crash following.
Next came the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Presidential Address.
- He began by looking ahead to the challenges of the next year or two: going straight into the frying-pan by outlining the plan for Living in Love and Faith, before looking at this summer’s Lambeth Conference. He said 660 out of 995 bishops have registered; 3 Provinces say they are not coming.
- His address was built around 1 Peter and contained some convoluted imagery from a meeting on Kenya about the lions that await us, and the sheep they are stalking.
- He talked about some Synod preoccupations, including the Clergy Covenant for Well-Being – and the phrase ‘professional standards’ was heard again.
I thought he was less commanding than usual, and the passion only came in when he talked about taking the gospel of Christ and bringing it to people together – as opposed to a sense that we are fighting each other. His strict context here was about clergy and laity together, but I couldn’t help wondering if he was really thinking about the Lambeth Conference – and our own deep divisions on how to address issues of human sexuality. You can read the whole address here.
And so to the Channel Islands!
Bishop Chartres made witty start by mentioning he had been recalled to service in retirement “in the springtime of my senility”. His mention of how pleased he was to be returning to Synod brought some knowing smiles, as when he was Bishop of London, he was known for avoiding Synod whenever he could… This is a complex tale, and to really grasp it, you may need to look at the relevant paper GS Misc 1241. He reminded us that:
- Guernsey and Jersey are self-governing Crown dependencies
- There are historic differences and similarities with English parishes
- It was not going to be possible to repair the very painful breach with Winchester
- Linking to Salisbury makes eminent sense – travel to and from there will be easier than to Canterbury (who have had temporary oversight.)
It’s not just about the change to Salisbury. There is also a need to sort out the way in which Measures (which in England are the law of the land) are applied to the Islands – especially safeguarding and clergy discipline. The legislation on women Bishops is also an issue
In introducing the debate, Bishop Tim Thornton asked how many Synod members had ever lived in the Islands. There were 5 I could see, though many of us know the Islands through holidays or family links. He told us:
- the Measure is supported by Deanery Synods in Guernsey and Jersey, by Salisbury Diocesan Synod and the Archbishops Council. The Bishop of Winchester had welcomed the opportunity it gives for a fresh start.
- the change is not just is not just about repairing the breach – it’s about putting the governance and systems of both Bailiwicks on a better footing, and more in line with the wider Church.
- it’s been six years the Islands have been in limbo, and this is the time to enable them to build into their own Canons and processes what’s needed to deal with anomalies, and take their Anglican identity forward.
In debate, some concerns about the speed and the fear that the Islands are being allowed to choose their own future. But as Bishops Nick Holtam put it: “if it was about choosing their own Bishop, they wouldn’t choose me”.
- Simon Cawdell from Hereford said the report was bad in theology, ecclesiology, and there are practical issues in making the change in this way at this stage. He would oppose the motion before us.
- He was backed up by Clive Scowen from London, saying that the Christian way should be to pursue reconciliation (between Winchester and the Islands); not to move them to another diocese.
- From Winchester, Archdeacon Peter Rouch, spoke of the hurts, the prayer and the conversations that have led to the Salisbury move. He believes Winchester see this as a significant structural step making reconciliation and redemption possible.
- The Winchester lay chair, Alison Coulter, spoke movingly about the need to move on and build a better future.
- The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke strongly in favour, saying that the proposed arrangement is a form of reconciliation.
- He was followed by the Dean of Guernsey, Tim Barker, effectively winding up the debate with a powerful restatement of the Islands’ wishes to go in this direction.
So this first stage was passed with an overwhelming majority. We will (notionally, I hope) revise it tomorrow in full synod (no committee!), and finally pass it on Thursday. We can get a move on when we need to.
Caring and sharing…
The Clergy Covenant for Well-Being was the other substantive item today. This is an Act of Synod – something that is not law, but expresses the will of Synod, which dioceses have to take forward. Simon Butler, the Canterbury Prolocutor introduced the debate. You can read the Covenant in GS2153 here.
On the face of it, this is a Good Thing: everyone wants their clergy and laity to get on, and the Bishops to guide and protect their clergy. However, there was some nervousness.
- The Bishop of Willesden restated his concern that it was leading us to a point where clergy would be seen as employees, not office-holders – but said he would vote for it.
- One or two speakers diverted to discussing the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), rather than the Covenant. (There is considerable work going on to look at how to improve or completely change the CDM, with a working party chaired by Bishop Tim Thornton, and work by the Sheldon Community in conjunction with Aston University, with some 6000 responses involved. However, the CDM is tangential to the Covenant, which is a much wider thing. An attempt to get the Covenant adjourned until such other matters had been resolved.
- In winding up, Jacqueline Stamper said it is a move towards a relational structure for clergy, parishes and bishops. This ought to lessen those CDM cases that are really not disciplinary matters, but about minor disagreements and personality issues…
The Act of Synod was passed with only a couple of votes against. We then had a little Gilbertian moment when the Registrar formally read it out. It now goes to each and every diocesan Synod for reading out and follow-up work. That will be the key to whether it catches on, and some user-friendly versions of the excellent discussion points in the document are badly needed.
And so to Questions. Zoe Heming, in the chair, warned that as we have a record number of questions (121), she would be strict on ensuring people asked a question, rather than speechifying. It would be tedious to go through the raft of topics that came up – you can read the Questions and Answers here. I spotted on or two that clearly touched communal nerves:
- There were some sharp questions about the process by which the Archbishops Council found the money to loan to Westcott House theological college, who are in financial difficulties. Would the Council be supporting all colleges in this way? What about the non-residential courses for ordinands?
- Like many organisations the Church has had to pay the Government Apprenticeship Levy. But it seems we have not been able to apply the money to funding of curates, so it is not being used in dioceses, although the National Church Institutions do have 11 apprentice posts in place.
The House of Bishops statement on Civil Partnerships, as I noted yesterday, attracted 19 Questions and there were a further 16 on safeguarding issues.
On sexuality, the Bishop of Newcastle’s defence of the statement as stating the church’s teaching “for now” will have been seen by some as a slight opening of the door to change. One or two very pointed questions about lay and clergy people in same-sex relationships were ruled out of order on the basis that they were asking for an opinion.
In the light of the shambles around the statement, one questioner, suggested that the House of Bishop needed external independent media advice. Bishop Christine replied “I think our review of our procedures needs to go beyond media strategy” Much laughter and some applause.
It all went very tense when we got on to safeguarding: there were questions piling on the pressure about known cases (Jonathan Fletcher, Iwerne camps, John Smyth) from several members. The Bishop of Bath & Wells, as outgoing Lead Safeguarding Bishop was able to give some comfort to those looking for some open-ness about cases once reviews of past cases have been concluded. But it came as a surprise to many that one reason why some reviews have been delayed is data protection: the GDPR regulations have made it very hard for an independent reviewer to access the information they need about cases.
The review of the CDM brought some interest: it’s evident from Answers 72-3 that it is a wide-ranging review. There will be consultations around the country and the Aston University/Sheldon Community research has garnered 6,000 responses. There was much use of the language of “professional standards”.
We also learned that should Coronavirus get worse, advice is being prepared on how to manage the ‘mechanics’ of administering Holy Communion. London diocese has already issued some sensible and non-panic-inducing advice online – read it here.
So, after a shortened Evening Prayer, we were all let loose to meet again tomorrow!
To regular readers: Apologies for the late posting of this, and the rather stripped-down presentation. WiFi problems meant I got completely stuck and had to do a complete rewrite. Argh!
* Island of Dreams. Big hit for the Springfields in 1962 – yes, the female voice is the fabulous Dusty Springfield… There’s a marvellous monochrome TV performance here.