The last day! It seems to have been a particularly tiring Synod that finished today (Thursday 13 February). We dispatched some business, had two really good debates on poverty-related issues – and got into a classic Synod wrangle about something we decided a few years ago. Maybe we were all washed out after yesterday’s endless battle with amendments….
Back to the Islands
Our first task was to get some business signed off successfully: the third and final visit to the Channel Islands Measure, meaning that its provisions for putting the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey under the care of the Bishop of Salisbury could go ahead. In real life, there is still a lot of spadework to be done with the States of Guernsey and Jersey, with HM the Queen, and various other (usually un-noticed) corners of our constitutional life, but it’s going to happen.
Such debate as there was was generally good-natured and cheerful. The point at which people held their breath was when the Bishop of Winchester, Tim Dakin came to speak: he has kept his silence publicly over the whole business since the initial breach between Winchester and the Islands six years ago.
(If all this sounds complex, you probably need to read my previous posts from this week’s Synod to make sense of it. If you are interested in constitutional minutiae, then a read of the report that brought us to this point is, well, interesting, if not essential. Read it here.)
Bishop Tim explained that he was welcoming this conclusion as he wanted the church in the Islands to flourish.
- He had maintained daily prayer for them in the last six years, even though he had handed over pastoral responsibility to the then Bishop of Dover, while himself attempting to deal with the safeguarding matter that caused the breach. He said it was one of the most painful and complex he had encountered.
- In earlier debates, there had been voices saying that the way to resolve the dispute with the Islands would have been for a mediation and reconciliation process with Winchester. He concluded: “Providentially, only a wider process (i.e. the Archbishops Commission led by Lord Chartres) could bring reconciliation and a hopeful future”.
He mentioned that his wife had Channel Island connections – there were le Lacheurs in her ancestry. He was followed by Jayne Ozanne, who recounted her own Guernsey heritage, growth in faith through the St Peter Port Town Church and a charismatic evangelical church there. She reminded us that the Bailiwicks are fiercely independent, which was a cue for the Bishop of Salisbury, Nick Holtam to say that he was glad to be forming this new relationship for the Islands, who have had centuries of being at arms’ length from ‘the Mainland’, as they call it.
(Anyone who was anyone with Channel Island connections has probably had their say over the three stages of getting this Measure through this week. I refrained, claiming only a sister and niece who are Guernsey le Flems, – and heaps of golden holiday memories.)
The serious point about this episode is that not only is there a new Bishop for the Islands, but the Deaneries in each Bailiwick will be entering into Memoranda of Understanding with Salisbury that will re-set their episcopal relationships, and assist them to develop their distinctive mission and ministry – in step with the rest of us, but recognising their own unique contexts.
Repetitive Amendment Syndrome
There were groans when the Order Paper for this morning appeared, with no less than 14 pages of amendments to the detailed Rules for the election of the new Synod, which will happen this autumn. It had been hoped they would be passed as ‘deemed business’, but it was not to be…
After yesterday’s amendment marathon, people wanted less legislation, and more mission in their last day in London. You can, if you are really interested, see the amendments here. They are not for the faint-hearted.
Despite appearances. the meat of them was very simple: adding an agreed appeal process to the detailed Rules if, in the forthcoming elections, there is a dispute about a result or the conduct of an election.
- But, because the three Houses of Synod: Laity; Clergy (a.k.a. Lower House of Convocation); and Bishops (a.k.a. Upper House of Convocation) are separate legal entities, each one needs a separate batch of arrangements.
- Still with me?
- The good news was that because textually the amendments were very similar, the actual voting and passing of them need take no great length of time.
But (and this is a big but…)
But before we got to the detail, we had a long diversion. Long, long ago (I think it was in the previous 5-year Synod), we agreed that we would in future do our elections electronically. So each diocese, instead of having to print, mail out, collect and count the voting papers, would do it all electronically through a portal, run by those ultimate election professionals, Civica Election Services (formerly known as the Electoral Reform Society). For ecclesiastical psephologists, the papers spelling out how the new rules work can be found here.
What happened today was this:
- a series of members stood to worry out loud about the potential for electronic voting to go wrong.
- Once one had seeded the idea, others sprang from their seats to add more worries. Emails get lost, or go into spam. People’s email addresses might get confused in the system.
- Whereas with paper and Royal Mail, everything is certain.
- (You may detect I am being a little less than unbiased about these contributions.)
- On the other hand, the Bishop of Europe pointed out the huge cost and unreliability of conducting elections by post across a diocese that runs from Moscow to Gibraltar.
- So, precious debating time for really significant motions got eaten away by this proxy war between snail mail and email.
I took advantage of my temporary seat on the platform, (sitting in for the Prolocutor, Simon Butler) to use my speaking rights to say we were worrying unnecessarily: with the Channel Islands in mind, that we could launch into the new system with confidence: Come on in, the water’s lovely.
More seriously, I believe that electronic voting will increase the (usually dire) turnout – too many lay and clergy electors just fail to vote.
Sue Booys followed up with a reminder that we had voted in favour of this system some years ago. Now we were right up to the wire – if we failed to pass the new Rules, there could be no Synod election this autumn.
Eventually, common sense prevailed. We moved to the detailed amendments, and, fortunately, their mover, David Lamming, had got support from the committee responsible for the new Rules. So, without debate, but with some lawyerly joshing in Latin, we passed the amendments en bloc, 15 at a time. Unanimously!
So Diocesan Secretaries and other administrators can prepare, and many readers of this blog (as lay members of a Deanery Synod, or as licensed clergy) will be able to vote for a new General Synod, electronically, later this year! Laus Deo.
A church for the poor..?
And so we did some real business, two motions that took us to the church’s ability to work with, and support those at a disadvantage in today’s society.
Through his Poverty was a Diocesan Synod motion from Leeds about our failure (or inability, if you prefer) to be ineffective in communicating with, and attracting people from more disadvantaged communities. So we were, at last, absolutely debating mission and our ability to do it well. The paper for the debate is here.
The Leeds team were well prepared, with a number of speakers, including their own Bishop. And they told stories of good work and uphill work, asking that we get some studies done into why we are not good at being at the heart of these communities.
They accepted an amendment from The Revd Dr Jason Roach (London) in order to avoid the procedural treacle that amendments to legislative debates have got us into
- and also one from Catherine Pickford (Newcastle) which stressed the work being done by the Church Urban Fund’s GRA:CE project. Details of that are here.
- There was a classic barnstorming speech by the Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, champion of estates ministry, challenging us to really register what would be the consequences for the comfortable C of E if we really were ‘a church for the poor’
- The debate covered rural isolation and disadvantage; inappropriate clergy housing – that forms a barrier to many people; problems for people with deafness, reported by Sarah Tupling (with a BSL interpreter); and our need to be much more politically aware when looking at the problems facing people in these areas.
And that debate led nicely to the last of the sessions, about the huge reduction in the availability of Legal Aid since the 2012 Act reducing funding for it.
Carl Fender, a barrister from Lincoln, brought this Private Members Motion, and spoke calmly but with some force about how people once eligible for Legal Aid have been eclipsed: there is even a double whammy, in that if you are on benefits but need to challenge the Benefits Agency about a decision, you can’t now get Legal Aid. What was seen as a right in the post-war period for those without access to professional support in the courts has now effectively been removed. Carl’s papers, very informative on the history and the issues, are here.
Charles George, the outgoing Dean of the Arches and Auditor (a senior legal figure in church and the secular justice system) spoke powerfully on the way in which Family Court cases now no longer get Legal Aid, meaning poor decisions are being made when couples split up. On the day of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet Reshuffle, he also pointed out that we have had 7 Lord Chancellors in 9 years – there’s no continuity or direction. This last point matters because the motion includes a call on the Government to explore ways in which the effect of the 2012 Act can be alleviated.
Other speakers spoke of Britain becoming a two-tier society (mirroring our debate on Funeral Poverty yesterday) where people no longer matter – only money talks.
Traditionally, Synod ends with farewells to senior figures, if any are retiring at the end of a group of sessions. Today we had four to say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ to:
- Chris Palmer, Secretary to the Corporation of Church House, responsible for all sorts of improvements to the way Synod uses that imposing building
- Dame Caroline Spelman, formerly First Church Estates Commissioner when an MP, who as Archbishop Justin put it, ‘went in to bat for the Church’ with Government many a time. (UPDATE: her successor, Andrew Selous MP was at Synod and made a brief speech. Apologies for misinforming you in the original version of this post.)
- Charles George, whose last speech (about Legal Aid, see above) was a model of deadly accurate-fire legal discourse.
And then, in absentia, Archbishop Justin delivered a farewell speech to the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who will have retired by the time we meet in York in July. Sentamu was in Fiji, visiting places threatened by rising sea levels, but we were reminded of his directness and his passion for the Gospel; his imprisonment and torture in Idi Amin’s Uganda, and his work on the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
There was a long standing ovation for the absent Archbishop. Although Sentamu had apparently said he wanted no speeches, I hope he gets to see a video of it all.
It’s been a tough Synod:
- pretty well everyone’s patience was tried by the real difficulties over handling too many detailed amendments.
- the ongoing tensions of how we handle human sexuality and safeguarding were ever-present. One sign of hope (for me) was the well-attended Evangelical Forum on Tuesday (covered toward the end of this post)
But it’s also been a good Synod :
- with funeral poverty, disadvantaged communities, children and young people all on the agenda, we had a very ‘missional’ stance
- there was a lot of good humour, jokes and asides from a team of good Chairs – it all helps
When we get to York in July, it’ll be rather ‘end-of-term’, complete with the Open Synod Group’s traditional cabaret/revue looking back at this five-year quinquennium.
As ever, my thanks to those who take the trouble to read this blog – total views are well over a thousand this time around, with readers all round the world. Even more, thanks to those who comment on it online or when they bump into me. And thanks to Tim Hind and Paul Cartwright for some fine images.
- If you find the blog’s too long, tell me. Or read Andrew Nunn’s much more concise and reflective accounts here.
- There’s an interesting blog around the children and young people debate from yesterday in Ali Campbell’s Resource blog here
- I dare say the wonderful Coventry shopkeeper-priest Charlotte Gale will post a Synod report in due course: it’ll turn up here.
- Thinking Anglicans will have the best round-up of news stories and links about Synod: find them here.
- There’s a very different perspective from Dave Lucas, from Disability and Jesus, on his View from the Edge blog here. He’s been following us from his hospital bed.
My specific hope this year is that people thinking of standing for election in the autumn will find bathwellschap a handy way of imagining what it might be like to be on General Synod. Do tell them about it!
Bathwellschap will return in July.
* A hard day’s night: classic 1964 Beatles song from their mop-top days, with the Richard Lester film of the same name setting a new standard for pop music films. Legend has it the title came from Ringo Starr’s exhausted comment at the end of, well, a hard day’s night. Go on, take a trip back to 1964 with a live performance, screams and all, here.