It’s been an extremely draining day at General Synod today (Wednesday 12 February). Our subject matter included safeguarding and the climate crisis, as well as more internal church affairs. And our brains hurt later in the day when we got tangled up with procedural overload. On the other hand, there was pastoral concern for people caught in funeral poverty, and keen commitment to work better with under 16s. Yes, another very full day…
Aiden Hargreaves-Smith was a good choice of Chair for this emotionally-charged debate. He is unfailingly polite and calm, and he set the tone by reminding us that there would be victims and survivors present, not only in the gallery, but among Synod members. So he asked that we kept focussed on the motion before us and the amendment proposed. He then asked for a moment of silence and led us in a brief but profound prayer, before calling on the outgoing Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, Bishop Peter Hancock, Bishop of Bath and Wells. (Usual disclaimer: he used to be my boss)
Bishop Peter began his speech by reflecting on the fact that he was at the end of his term (Bishop Jonathan Gibbs of Huddersfield is taking on the role, and spoke later on). When he took it on, four years ago, he did not know the full impact of what it would be like. He noted the pain, the shame and the apologies that had been part of his responsibility.
We can, and should celebrate some of our safeguarding achievements, he said. 250,000 people have undergone training, there are new structures, and so on. But these developments have come about too slowly. He said that we still sometimes thought of safeguarding as ‘someone else’s responsibility’.
The motion is formally about our response to IICSA. It called on us to endorse the five recommendations to the C of E from IICSA. The Church has accepted them and full text of our response to their five recommendations is in the supporting paper – read it here. He gave a broad picture of IICSA’s enquiries as they affect us: there have been three public hearings on:
- The diocese of Chichester
- Bishop Peter Ball
- Safeguarding more widely across the C of E, with four dioceses looked at in detail.
A full IICSA report about the C of E will follow this year.
He warned us to expect more recommendations and actions required.
He several times referred to victims and survivors – commending their bravery in coming forward, lamenting out failures to support them well and take concrete actions.
The journey is far from done…
As soon as he had finished the Archbishop stood to speak. He wanted to re-affirm his own apologies to survivors and victims present: “they are voices we need to hear and to heed”. He reminded us that as well as those in the gallery, there are victims and survivors of abuse in the House of Bishops, in the clergy and in the laity.
He supported Bishop Hancock in saying “the journey is far from done”, but paid tribute to Bishop Hancock’s work, which he said had been personally painful, exhausting and committed. He read out a tribute to Bishop Hancock from an (anonymous) survivor of clergy abuse, thanking him for the time and energy Peter had put into their own situation. Without wanting to imply that there was any cause for complacency, he invited the Synod to pay tribute to Peter: there was a standing round of applause.
Than came a long, emotional and intense debate. I’ll give a fuller summary than usual, as I know it is of great interest to many who follow this blog
- Kashmir Garton from Worcester, a Probation Service professional, welcomed the setting up of a proper basis for oversight of religious communities, and the inclusion of clergy as people in ‘positions of trust’.
- The Bishop of Burnley‘s speech was a call for further reform – including a national, rather than diocesan safeguarding structure. He encouraged people to read the paper in full: it had had a powerful effect on him and his colleagues. He reminded us that as leaders in the church, we forget the power we have over people, reminding us of the faux-humility that was one of Peter Ball’s tactics. He said we need better accountability for clergy – the freehold and even Common Tenure are insufficient in this regard. Our safeguarding arrangements across dioceses and cathedrals are often not in accord with one another.
Now is the time for action and change…
Bishop Jonathan Gibbs, the new lead safeguarding Bishop then spoke to his amendment, which added “concrete actions” to apologies; looked for a more “survivor-centred” approach, including arrangements for redress, and a follow-up report to Synod on the five recommendations. “The season for apology and lament is by no means over” he said, but that does not mean further actions.
His speech was a powerful call for further action: “too many of us just don’t get it”. Now is the time for action and change”. If we are to make redress, we must find ways to fund it. Our response must be on the basis of the values of the Kingdom, not protecting our reputation.
He warned that the upcoming final report from IICSA would not make pleasant reading.
The Gibbs amendment strengthens the original. It came about because a group of victims and survivors, and their advocates, were profoundly annoyed that the original main motion was simply about process: a commitment to do work on IICSA’s recommendations.
They had proposed a series of amendments, which were ruled out of order before Synod began (on the basis that they took the motion beyond its original intent.) So Bishop Gibbs’ four-point amendment was designed to take up their intentions in a way that satisfied the house rules, but also expressed the campaigners’ desire for a public commitment to action.
This, his first public appearance as responsible for safeguarding, made a powerful impact. There was a feeling of a serious gear-change, a re-set of what we are doing next.
- Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford) expressed disappointment at the progress made on support and redress for victims and survivors. One had been waiting for seven long years, she said. While there may be progress on change in our approach “we are still on the nursery slopes”.
- The Bishop of London, Sarah Mulally said we need culture change: it’s for all of us, not just the Bishops, to change ‘the way we do things around here’. Training, communication and audit are a part – but culture change only happens ‘if we know what good looks like’. To know that, we have to resource ourselves to work together with victims and survivors. Like the Bishop of Burnley, she wanted us to look again at Freehold and Common Tenure. That change should extend to Synod, because the experience of victims and survivors cannot be fitted into amendments and Standing Orders.
- Martin Sewell (Rochester) spoke about the meaning of ‘redress’. He believed that this debate was a reset moment: the original motion was an inadequate response to the Peter Ball IICSA report, but Bishop Gibbs had worked with him and the others who wanted a stronger motion. He has won the provisional tryst of victims and survivors, giving them a glimpse of hope. We must not let them down again. We need justice and mercy.
- Susie Leafe from Truro spoke in a broken voice to express her apologies for how the church had treated people over the years: she apologised for keeping silent. She referenced the case of the Revd Jonathan Fletcher (a well-known leader in conservative evangelical circles). She had four pointers – Listen; speak up (even when people say it would be ‘unhelpful’); put the survivors first; conceal nothing – bring it to the Lord and the world. And take responsibility.
- Archdeacon Julie Conalty (Rochester) reminded us that rather than waiting for ‘the Church’ to make realistic settlement for survivors, we as Synod members are so well placed to ask difficult questions. “Don’t just wait for the national Church – survivors are watching and ready to help us”.
- Peter Adams (St Albans’ told the story of Robert, an abused choirboy, now in his sixties, who had managed to rebuild his confidence in God and the church and called on us to do more, as the motion, as amended, required.
- Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, said her job title was one she found hard to bear (Peter Ball had been Bishop of Gloucester). The Dame Moira Gibb Report, two years ago and IICSA’s work on Peter Ball had led her to publicly apologise and rebuke those who had failed to take the right actions. The recent BBC Peter Ball documentary had brought her many letters from people who, to her surprise, seemed to be responding as if they had heard the story for the first time. This caused her to realise that we do not learn from the reviews and enquiries. The questions they ask should change us. How are the reviews – “and all that training” – changing us.
- Emily Bagg (Portsmouth) said she had been abused in her church, but saw herself as a survivor, not a victim. Real concrete actions are what people in her position need to see.
- Simon Friend (Exeter) reminded us that we are a very cerebral body: but where is the space for lament? We need to remember that the response that many feel to things like the Peter Ball programmes is emotional, rather than cerebral.
- Archdeacon Luke Miller (London) is also a parish priest: he spoke of the maze that clergy find they are in over things like ‘who needs a DBS check?’ and everyday decisions about working with young people.
- Archdeacon Gavin Kirk (Lincoln), in supporting the motion as amended, but wanted two further moves made, First: We s=need to strengthen the independence of Diocesan Safeguarding Advisers: some have been ignores and over-ruled. @Adviser’ is the wrong title: should they not be called ‘Directors of safeguarding’. And we need a one-stop whistleblowing arrangement for DSAs when that happens. His second point was about the formation of clergy: there needs to be rigour in the training of ordinands in safeguarding, with exams and essays, just as there are in theology.
- Canon John Spence (the chief finance person) said we must not fret about money. If there is need in this area, “the funds will be found”
Earlier on, and unnoticed by many of us, the survivor group in the gallery had unveiled a simple poster suggesting that the Church Commissioners had spent £23million on the Lambeth Palace Library project, but nothing on redress or compensation. It had been removed the security staff (demonstrations in the Chamber are not permitted) but Debbie Buggs took the trouble to read out what it had said, so it will appear in the written record.
Bishop Hancock’s summary was a round of thanks to those who had spoken, some with great bravery and vulnerability. He concluded with three points he hoped would be part of the future:
- The importance of a victim-led response: “Do not repay evil for evil, or abuse for abuse, but repay evil with blessing” (a reference to 1 Peter, which had been the subject of the morning’s Bible Study)
- We will need to make adequate space for response to the next IICSA report
- Concrete actions will require significant resources
It was a draining experience, sitting through the debate and trying to take these notes. But it does look like a re-set or a gear change in our safeguarding policies, with that commitment to look at, and pay for, redress.
There’s a number of others who’ve blogged about all this. I can recommend:
- Meg Munn, the Independent Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, reflecting on the IICSA and the C of E – read her here.
- BBC Cornwall journalist Donna Birrell has written a very thoughtful report on the revelations that came about in this debate – read her Coffee Time blog here.
- Andrew Nunn, the Dean of Southwark, writes sensitively and prayerfully about the effect of it all – read him here.
From one serious issue to another…
After a further prayerful pause, we moved onto the other big subject of the day: the Church’s responses to Climate Emergency and Carbon Reduction Target. The basic document for the debate is here.
Introduced by the lead bishop on the environment, Bishop Nick Holtam of Salisbury, this was a debate with huge enthusiasm, a sense of urgency, and – inevitably -some amendments to the main motion to argue about. The key one was about critical timescales (such as 2045 or 2030 for reaching net zero emissions).
It had been focus of a ‘Memorial for Life’ vigil outside Synod – which was a tale in itself. Christian Climate Action had announced a few days ago their intention to gather at the Dean’s Yard entrance as we arrived this morning. Unfortunately, we were told, they had failed to ask the permission of Westminster Abbey (who own Dean’s Yard) and the Abbey said they would be closing the entrance in order to avoid the people coming in, unwanted.
So what actually happened was they moved their vigil, banners and all, to the Great Smith Street entrance, where (fortunately) some roadworks meant there was room for them to set up their banners and leafletting.
New powers for the Chair to call for the closure of debate on amendments at a time s/he sees fit are a big timesaver and keep complex debates like this moving. We no longer need to have shouted points of order from the much-loved John Freeman of Chester. The Bristol diocesan amendment setting 2030 as the target was accepted, though many felt targets were arbitrary or unachievable. How do you make a mediaeval Grade 1 listed church building carbon neutral?
Your correspondent missed most of the debate: I was taking some time out after an exhausting time earlier on. However, I did discover some things that may get you thinking…
- For example, we all worry about church heating, gas boilers and so on. But shortly your church could work out its own carbon footprint which ought to help sensible decision-making at PCC level. Give it a go, here.
- Bishop Nick pointed out to parishes – and dioceses: the A Rocha Eco Church awards scheme. Very simple, but making a difference. Details are here.
- The Bishop of Manchester spoke on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day about the climate change crisis: you can hear it here https://t.co/1txc2EmZuS
In his summary, Bishop Nick warned that whatever target is set will be very hard work, particularly when we are custodians of so many heritage buildings with heritage boilers.
It’s a sign of how the climate of debate about climate change has changed that there were half a dozen speakers against the general idea. One speaker gave a somewhat chilling speech, saying our job as Christians is to preach the gospel and save people from going to hell, not putting our energy into other matters like climate change. The riposte came from Simon Butler, saying he did not want to be part of a church that condemned people in Australia to remain the hell they have seen in recent months.
Inevitably, the motion was passed, with the 2030 target date.
Dead poor: who cares?
Clergy are very often at the front line of funeral ministry: supporting families, dealing with undertakers, arranging services. But not everyone gets a ‘good send-off’. A sober debate about the scandal of paupers’ funerals was introduced by Sam Margrave (Coventry) as a Private Members motion.
These funerals, often called Public Health Funerals, are those of people who have no funding to pay for their own funeral. His speech concluded, unusually with a video – an ITV news report – reporting on the numbers of such funerals, and the very varied way in which local authorities treat them. I was embarrassed to note that one of the local authorities criticised was North Somerset, in my own Bath and Wells diocese.
Sam’s motion wanted us to set up a task force to plan ways in which the current process could be ended, and to find ways of providing more compassionate ways to bury or cremate the dead where there is no funding. He explained his reasons in this paper.
We heard how families are not given access to the service, not permitted to set up a memorial – or even know where their loved one is buried; and not being given the ashes of their loved one: just because the deceased was poor.
As Andrew Dotchin put it, he had sat with a weeping family who had been denied access to the crematorium. We should be ashamed.
Jackie Doyle-Brett simply spoke of the terrible use of the word ‘pauper’ about individuals, loved by someone: she saw it as a throwback to the Victorian concept of the ‘undeserving’ poor. She wanted the C of E to work to make funeral poverty a thing of the past.
The trouble with Sam’s motion, as originally proposed, was that it offered rather vague and uncosted areas of work to be done, and it ignored the very active role of the Churches’ Funeral Group and the C of E’s own Life Events Team. A note from the Secretary General gently suggested there were other ways to look at the problem – read it here.
So Tiffer Robinson (St Eds and Ips) proposed an amendment which rewrote Sam’s work, to avoid a new Task Force in favour of focussed work by the Life Events team, and to give a date for a report back to Synod (in 2021).
Sam was unwilling to accept the amendment at first, though he wisely and graciously said he would accept the mind of Synod when a vote came…
The Bishop of Exeter talked about the people he’d met in St Budeaux in Plymouth where one of families’ chief worries was ‘paying for the funeral’, leading to loan sharks and other evils on the estate. He quoted a survey that said, nationally, 93,000 families had taken out loans to pay for funerals. He also noted the rise of ‘Cremations Direct’ (who cut out the cost of funerals by simply taking the body to the crematorium) and independent funeral celebrants. He saw the way forward as having a ‘charm offensive’ towards local authorities and others who are the gatekeepers to dealing with funeral poverty.
- Tiffer’s amendment was carried, and further amended to put in the 2021 deadline for a report back. Sam then moved an amendment to his own motion – really rare – calling on Government, but in slightly vague terms that did not commend themselves to me: it referred only to Christian funerals, as if poverty was only a problem for Christians. In the later debate we heard about people having to crowd-fund a funeral.
- Chris McQuillen-Wright said we are moving towards two levels of coping with death: one for those who can pay, another for those who can’t. This has implications for our fees structure.
- Catherine Farmbrough, from Deaf Anglican Together, using BSL and an interpreter, told us about the pauper’s funeral of a deaf person, whose friends were not communicated with. The deaf community found out too late and were unable to grieve. There is also an issue with having to pay for interpreters to be present at some funerals.
The motion, as finally amended, was passed. You can see info about the Life Events national work here.
Where have all the children gone?
There’s an increasing interest in, and use of, statistical evidence across the Church of England. Parish officers have been heard to grumble about filling in returns of Statistics for Mission, and such-like. But when you aggregate them, they can tell you quite a lot about what is happening. Or, possibly, not happening.
So in introducing this debate about children and young people in church, Mark Sheard reminded us of the appalling statistics that have emerged about the number of under-16s engaged in church life. They are there for all to see in the paper for the debate.
- While we can argue about the detail, and celebrate the occasional Messy Church, we cannot ignore the clear trend, which is an existential threat to the future of the C of E. One of his lessons was that churches with youth and children’s workers saw better numbers (which at one level, you might think obvious).
- But smaller churches can’t afford youth workers! So Fr Thomas Seville (Religious Communities) wanted to amend the text to be specific about smaller churches wishing to increase their number of under 16s. He was thinking of small and rural parishes, but Mark Sheard resisted this, as he wanted to focus on places with strategic potential. This brought up the ever-running debate within the church, and in each rural diocese, about the conflicting styles and resources of rural church as against bigger suburban and urban ones.
- Gavin Oldham wanted to widen the focus from ‘under 16s’ to ‘children and young people’. His speech was largely about the Child Trust Fund, and the way many thousands of 16-18 year olds has ‘lost’ the Fund to which they were entitled. He envisaged Deaneries with larger numbers of young people convene meetings for such young people to learn hot find their money, but also to learn something of the Christian faith. Must be a first: evangelism via money-tracing.
Despite the fact that the stats on which this debate was founded are about under 16s because that is the data available, Mark Sheard was happy to accept the wider age range. With a range of ‘good news’ stories and a continuing friction between those concerned with small churches and those with bigger operations, the motion was passed.
Schools… and death by a thousand amendments
I kept out of the debate about Diocesan Boards of Education (DBEs), partly because I don’t pretend to understand it, not having much day to day contact with DBEs over the years. And, frankly, as a college crony used to say years ago: you can’t go to everything. If church schools and academies are your thing, the paperwork here explains what changes are proposed.
However, the debate threw up a significant issue. I did overhear (on the relay in the members’ room) complaints about the numbers of people attending legislation sessions like this one.
Now, there were a large number (more than 20) of technical amendments being offered to the main DBE motion. Some were matters of substance, requiring explanation and thinking about: others were more technical.
David Lamming (Eds and Ips) had put in several amendments about different technical aspects of the legislation. He began a speech on one of them by saying legislation was important, and more people ought to be there. He went on to say that the Revision Committees had been under-attended, too. What made things worse that several of his proposals were items that had been put to the Revision Committee, considered and rejected. But here they were back again, getting rejected again, and wasting 5-10 minutes for each one.
- I found myself thinking: well, perhaps people don’t want to sit through the technical stuff and the convoluted procedure. In other words: the way we do business like this is failing because it’s too hard for members to engage with.
- I don’t know what the answer is – maybe is the way Business Committee schedule different kinds of business, maybe it is something more significant about how members see their role in Synod. But there were a lot of tired people, tired of heavy detail – and, perhaps, tired of the same voices.
- On Twitter, the Bishop of Willesden was suggesting a way to avoid these slow-motion procedural car-crashes: “We need a different way of doing legislation. I would propose a Legislative Scrutiny Forum to sit between Revision Committee and the Synod and bring items, properly digested, to Synod. Nit picking to try again when you’ve lost at Revision Ctte is not the way to do this.”
- Funnily enough, on Monday, Jonathan Alderton-Ford suggested that members ought to make a self-denying ordinance to only speak twice in a group of sessions. He got a ripple of cheers and applause. It wouldn’t work, but it’s a tempting thought.
UPDATE: David has posted a reply to this piece in which he explains his frustration and reasons better than I could. Scroll down to the ‘Comments’ to see it.
And so to bed…
We ended the day with a lively and good-humoured debate confirming the numbers of people who will be elected to Synod this autumn. There was a bit of sparring about whether the split of 70% of members coming from the (much larger) Canterbury province and 30% from York was correct.
If you want to know how many reps your own diocese will be sending after this years’ elections, the details are in Appendix A (clergy) and B (laity) of the paper – read it here. There are winners and losers, but, as the paper explains, it’s a logical and fair allocation.
Tomorrow we have just a morning to get through. And I get to sit up on the platform as substitute for Simon Butler (who is away leading a clergy study day) in the Prolocutor’s seat. When my friends ask Stephen, what exactly is a pro-Prolocutor? they’ll see for themselves.
*You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone: a line from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi (1967), maybe the first ever environmental anthem.