Yes, today (Tuesday 11 February) was a real mixed bag at Synod. Detailed legislation, passionate advocacy, long-awaited details about Living in Love and Faith. It’s all here… In all this nitty-gritty and worthiness, the bombshell was Archbishop Justin’s ad lib remarks about racism, injustice and the legacy of the Windrush generation in a speech at the end of the day. (And, therefore, at the end of today’s write-up.)
He’d already spoke clearly and passionately about the danger of ‘weaponising’ God in his sermon during the Communion service that began the day.
He was making a general point, but he did make a couple of references to the way we sometimes argue in discussions about sexuality. It was a scene-setter, perhaps for the presentation in the afternoon about Living in Love and Faith.
Read on to know more…
Cathedrals and Deaneries
After the service came the first heavyweight legislative stuff of the day – revision of the draft Cathedrals Measure. (The pics are of Wells, naturally.)
Andrew Nunn, the Dean of Southwark was in charge of the debate, and he began by saying “You may well remember that I was less than complimentary about the original proposals.” He then professed conversion to the extent he was now in charge of the process. As someone once said, There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…
He reminded us that reform of cathedral governance was required to meet the requirements of the 21st century. He set out the changes now proposed to governance, explained how the Measure now clarified the distinction between a cathedral’s pastoral/liturgical duties, the day-to-day management, and the strategy and governance. (To make sense of this, you would need to read paper GS2136Y)
- Wherever possible, the tone is of permissions, rather than prescriptions – all cathedrals are different, so the Revision Committee has built in local flexibility whenever possible,
- There is a new ‘passport’ available as part of the 2020 Year of Pilgrimage. You can find details here. (It costs £4.99). So he spent a bit of time encouraging us all to visit our lovely English cathedrals, rather than jetting off to foreign climes. At this point, Debbie Flach from the diocese of Europe raised a laugh by encouraging people to visit that diocese’s three cathedrals (Brussels, Gibraltar and Malta) clutching their nice new blue passports.
- This was all complex stuff. The Charity Commission have been breathing heavily on Cathedrals to update their governance, so much of the content being debated was affected by their views.
The Revision Committee had thrown out a number of ‘special pleading’ requests from particular cathedrals. So some of them came to Synod with amendments in an attempt to put back their special case. We have a ’40 member’ rule for such amendments. The proposer can make a short speech explaining why the main motion should be amended: after that, they need 40 members to stand in their places to indicate their support. If 40 members don’t stand, there is no further debate and their amendment fails. So we had a bit of exercise, with a few proposals briefly proposed, failing to get support in that way, so getting thrown out.
- We went into a fog of ‘consequential amendments’. After a particularly tortuous explanation of why a paragraph should be removed, the difficulties of wading through the technicalities of legislation were lightened by an intervention on a fake Point of Order from the Archbishop. He suggested that only those who understood the explanation should be allowed to vote.
- The other entertainment in this otherwise rather dry discussion was the search for a definition of what defines a “member of the church of England”, The Bishop of Leeds first raised it (the phrase occurs in the Cathedrals legislation in connection with who is entitled to vote as members of a cathedral congregation). To much laughter, various learned people told us there is no definition in law. But perhaps you know who you are!
A collection of people…
Next came a discussion close the hearts of many here: Deanery Synods. We seemed to forget the classic definition of a Deanery Synod as ‘a collection of people waiting to go home’, because people seemed quite keen on their Deanery.
- There had been a huge consultation about whether people should only be allowed to be members of their Deanery Synod for two three-year terms.
- The theory was that this would prevent the blockage that sometimes occurs of ‘old stagers’ who have been on their Synod for many years preventing any prospect of younger and fresher people coming on from local parishes.
- The consultation had been firmly against this, and the platform proposal was that the parish Annual Parochial Church Meeting should be allowed to set such a limit if they chose, but there should be no compulsion.
- Several speakers spoke warmly of the joys of wise, experienced hands on a Synod, or the difficulty of finding people willing to go on if vacancies occurred.
- Archdeacon Jane Steen spoke against the proposal and in favour of term limits. I entirely agree with her, but I’m in a minority on this.
There was a well-chaired ping-pong between speakers in favour and against. Eventually, Simon Butler persuaded us to close the debate and the platform proposal (no compulsory fixed terms) won.
It’s back: Living in Love and Faith…
In the afternoon, we got to a long-awaited session on the whole Living in Love and Faith project (LLF). As a witty and wise old Synod hand said, LLF is something that has developed huge expectations amongst people in favour of, and against, change – and they all expect to be disappointed by the final product.
It began with a briefing about the work of the ‘Pastoral Advisory Group’. Christine Hardman, Chair of the group explained how the Group has been formed with people of very different views. One of the fruits of their work is a set of cards that can help people in churches have better discussions about sexuality. They set out 6 principles for getting better conversations.
She showed a very short video which explains their work very clearly. You can see it here – and use it in your church, Deanery Synod or wherever.
Then the Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth explained where the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) work had got to. Since the demise of the Bishops’ February 2017 document (read that up from my previous post here), a huge amount of work has been done by a working group, a coordinating group, and specialists. We’ve engaged with it all as a Synod in the last two July Synods.
Dr Eeva John, the Enabling Officer for the work, then explained how in all this activity, there had been painful speaking and listening, but much learning of how to communicate with those you disagree with without riding roughshod over the other. It has not been plain sailing, and those involved have had to learn through their failures. She said:
- the LLF book is in its 6th draft, having been crawled over by all sorts of people. There are 6 videos, a podcast and many other resources, all to be ready for thus summer, when the Lambeth Conference assembles.
- they are teaching and learning resources, not recommendations, hinting that, as the wise old hand said, that ‘both sides’ may find themselves disappointed.
- she characterised two positions: those who say God’s mission demands that we change; and those who say God’s mission demands that we remain as we are. She floated the idea that we are not ready to make any decisions of that character: maybe it’s about first discovering how we can truly love one another deeply (both in individual relationships and as churches
Bishop Christopher said that LLF is a call to learning together, inviting parishes and dioceses to learn together as they dig more deeply into the Bible, the Christian tradition and people’s own experiences. A key concept is how we deal with difference – a call to step out of our ‘like-minded’ church groups to meet each other. He saw the July 2020 launch as the beginning of a time of “whole-church learning”, not an end in itself.
We were then treated to a staged conversation between 7 members of the LLF group. Sitting in a semicircle, they were a very varied bunch – 2 Bishops, theologians, laypeople – coming from very different places on the spectrum of Christian beliefs about human sexuality and relationships.
I’m always slightly wary about these staged conversations – I think I worked too long in radio and TV – and, true to form it did rather look like a group of 7 people agreeing with each other and saying how interesting they found each other. Except they spoke about desperation, wanting to walk away, and so on.
Knowing something of the background of the participants, I can see it was an extraordinary testimony to what can happen if people so different really put effort into reading, praying and eating together. And I guess that is the model for how the C of E can navigate their way through this confusion about human sexuality. But it might take a while. May be those who are impatient or worried had best find the resources to put their energy into talking and listening, rather than campaigning?
And then we moved into an ‘empty chair’ exercise. Synod members were invited to come up if they wishes sit in the empty chair and ask the group their question, hear some answers, and even get in a supplementary.
There was some groaning (probably affectionate…) when the first two to come up were Ian Paul and Jayne Ozanne, activists on the ‘opposite sides’ of this debate.
- Ian wanted some reassurances that this work was to be built around the teaching of Jesus.
- Jayne expressed the frustration and the fears of many who are awaiting change, but feel marginalised/ignored/left out. They want some guarantees that church will be safe for them.
If this is a subject that is on your heart, I do suggest looking at the video from the C of E website.
The Lamming Amendments
Yes, it sounds like an airport bookstall thriller, but it’s actually some deep-level procedural stuff that came to us in two bites today: one about how church elections work, and the other about our own Standing Orders. The indefatigable David Lamming from Eds and Ips diocese was behind both.
Clive Scowen from London, the doyen of Synod proceduralists was the right person to introduce the Church Representation Rules (Amendment) Resolution, 2020. Even I, a great enthusiast for church democracy, struggle with the hard detail of this stuff. The new Church Representation Rules (which we agreed a year or two back) are now published, in time for the annual round of parish Annual Parochial Church Meeting, the three-yearly Deanery Synod Elections which follow, and the five-yearly General Synod elections this autumn.
So we were deep in the detail of election appeals, arrangements for congregations that are not parish churches, tweaks to the Churchwarden’s measure, and other matters. I hesitate to say it’s the Devil who is in the detail, but you know what I mean..
The fun began as we realised we had 16 amendments tabled by David Lamming.
- Clive said Mr Lamming had fortunately spotted some errors in the original drafting: he was willing to accept them all as they made the new Rules more coherent. Clive warned us that we had to vote all 16 through, recognising that there was a temptation to be bored, or skip away…
- The Bishop of Willesden reminded us that despite the complexity, this was about simplification of church practices. He worried that they would not be easily accessed by ordinary parish officers, who might been sitting with a can of Dulux, watching it dry. He therefore wanted the current crop of minutiae to be put in the public domain in a coherent way, not as a very detailed and complex document, like the one we were discussing.
I regret to confess that I headed for the tea room at this point, but you will be relieved to know that they all passed without disaster.
The second volume of the Lamming thriller franchise came at the end of the evening, with some tweaks to our own Synod Standing Orders. Geoffrey Tattershall introduced this necessarily arcane material (about things like what should happen when a diocesan bishop if not able to function and a suffragan is ‘acting Bishop’.). He revealed that Mr Lamming had been ‘quite properly’ in touch with him and the lawyers about improvements that ought to be made to the proposals – “including at twenty to one this morning, when I was asleep”. David remonstrated that he only sent a copy email; after some repetitive voting injury to our arms, everything was passed and they all lived happily ever after.
“We do not do justice…”
News that the government had deported a number of people to Jamaica (see press report here) despite a court order staying some of the deportations gave a special relevance to the Private Members Motion from Andrew Moughtin-Mumby about the legacy of our treatment of the ‘Windrush generation.’ You can see his paper here.
Synod came to a stunned silence when his speech was followed by one from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Visibly moved, and having ditched his carefully-prepared notes, he plainly said he wanted to apologise for the Church’s – and his own – failures to combat racism and to support Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the church. He said “We did not do justice in the past: we do not do justice now”. And he went on to say that we need to ensure our recruitment panels need to have minority representation if we are ever to change. It was a powerful, off-the-cuff speech, and all the chatter in the tea room ceased as people stopped their gossip to listen. You can read his speech here. Highly recommended.
We then heard a number of speeches from Synod’s BAME members, clergy and lay.
- Annika Matthews, a Church of England Youth Council rep, followed the Archbishop, and again brought the tea-room to silence with a personal account of growing up and living in this country.
- Dr Rosemarie Mallett memorably said: “We are sick and tired of being sick and tired”
- Later speeches bewailed racism in cathedrals, the inability to make BAME people visible in church life – on PCCs, in greeters at the door, and at every other level.
- Making what one might call a ‘modified maiden speech’ (she was been on Synod a few years ago before she became Chaplain to the House of Commons and then Bishop of Dover. As someone of Jamaican origin, she spoke passionately about the current deportations. While we celebrate the Pilgrim Fathers as “pioneers”, we talk about today’s escapees from poverty and oppression as asylum-seekers and refugees. “We will be a better church when we celebrate the gifts and skills that we all bring to the table. Minority ethnic people will always be at the table”
It was a terrific debate, and has attracted media interest – the Grauniad has this piece by Harriet Sherwood.
In other news…
I wrote a post about the differences of approach within the Anglican evangelicals at Synod a week or so ago. It’s called ‘Scrambled EGGS’ – if you missed it, read it here. Today the new ‘Evangelical Forum’ held it’s first gathering. About 40 of us crammed into a room that was too small for what was an initial exploration of how a more open, sensitive and accepting way of being evangelicals at Synod could be brought into being.
For me, I must say it was a breath of fresh air. All the ‘normal’ elements were there: prayer in small groups, simple Bible study, a look at the agenda. But the running of the meeting was in the hands of two women and one man – which is a departure from other ways of doing it. And the approach was about listening and speaking to each other, rather than following a more directive business-oriented model.
We looked at this way of describing the Forum’s approach to discussion which seemed to be more in tune with how people want to operate in fellowship and with respect.
It’s all too early for a proper committee and traditional leaders to be in place, but the convenors will be meeting to think about how to build on this fresh approach for the July Synod. There’s nothing secret: I’m happy to put any Synod members in touch with them if you’d like to be put on the emailing list to keep up with developments.
Tomorrow the two big formal items are Safeguarding and Climate Change. DOn’t ever say we don’t look at the big issues…
* All Kinds of Everything Yes, the schmaltzy, horrible 1970 Eurovision winner by Dana. Enough already…