Much of General Synod today (Saturday 24 April ) was taken up with how we deal with the consequences of what should be good, turning bad – in safeguarding and in clergy misconduct.
But a little technical issue kicked off this second day of the Zoom Synod, and it put Robert Hammond, the new Chair of the Business Committee, on the spot. There had been some grumbling yesterday (I plead guilty to being a grumbler) that we were taking a lot of time doing routine and non-contentious votes by the time-consuming Crystal online voting platform. In the olden days, such things would be done by a show of hands, but we were told yesterday the Zoom equivalent (‘blue hand’) had been banned.
But now Robert appeared at the beginning of business to explain that Zoom polls were back on the agenda, though it necessitated suspending Standing Order 38(9). We had to vote on that: and to suspend SOs, a special majority (3/4 of those voting) was needed.
So we voted, using the electronic system to allow us to vote without the electronic system. Confused? Oh yes! The end result was that, at the Chair’s discretion, some votes could be done simply by Zoom poll. As the day wore on, it certainly speeded things up: a sensible change.
Improving the Rules for Clergy Discipline cases
Introducing this item, Paul Benfield, a priest and diocesan Registrar, explained that the amendments to the Rules up for debate today were a separate matter from the overall review of the CDM being conducted by the (outgoing) Bishop at Lambeth, Tim Thornton. There’s a helpful explanation of the Rules changes here.
The Clergy Discipline Measure came into force in 2005, amended twice in 2013 and 2016, largely to catch up with safeguarding law and practice. The changes being proposed came under four headings, to improve the much-maligned (and misunderstood) CDM process.
- Efficiency – introducing non-paper forms for submissions and legitimising email as a means of communication.
- Clarity – complainants must now provide a timeline of events related to their allegation The word ‘complaint’ is commonly used in relation to minor matters: the CDM is concerned with significant misbehaviour by clerics, and so ‘complaint’ is being replaced by ‘allegation’. Also page limits
- Active case management: various Rules are being amended to allow the President of Tribunals to ensure matters are handled expeditiously, and not held up by bureaucracy or processes outside the church’s remit.
- Vulnerable witnesses: the Rules adopt the practice used in Family Courts of not permitting cross-examination of witnesses by respondents who do not use a lawyer.
A number of generally constuctive and well-informed comments followed from the floor:
- The idea of the vicar being in a union will surprise some, but Simon Talbot spoke of the work of the Church of England Clergy Advocates (CECA), encouraging all clergy to join: “you never know when you might need it” You can find details of CECA here. He said the current CDM system continues to cause harm both to clergy against whom allegations have been made, and to those the subjects of misconduct. He stressed that these changes were not ‘the answer’, but they are also not just ‘tinkering around the edges’.
- Professor Joyce Hill, a lawyer, pointed out that the much-to-be-avoided phrase “to have due regard” appears in the documentation. In the light of IICSA, it ought to be changed.
- Bishop Tim Thornton welcomed the updating of the Rules, pointing out that whatever overall recommendations his review group arrived at for a new Measure, the Rules would still be needed. Thinking more broadly, he said no Measure would solve all the problems: we need to take away the pressure of thinking about ‘discipline’ and concentrating always on what people do wrong: clergy need better support throughout their ministry.
- The Dean of the Arches, Morag Ellis QC said that these amendments were looking for ‘quick wins’ and the proposals had drawn on consultation with people involved. The 4th point (vulnerable witnesses) is critical if we are to be just. Removing the word ‘complaint’ was significant: as many involved have said, the CDM is not about minor grumbles.
- Simon Butler reminded us that with clergy discipline, as with safeguarding, people, not processes, must come first.
David Lamming – again, sitting in his hospital ward – proposed an amendment which sought to specify that the timeline (see ‘clarity’ point 2 above) should be a separate document from the main allegation document. (From my experience of working on CDM cases, this is a sensible move.) Sometimes people’s account of their allegation is very confused and it is hard to establish what happened when. A separate chronology would make things much clearer, though we were advised to bear in mind that some victims of traumatic events will find it difficult to provide precise timetables of their experience…
The amendment was accepted and the Rules were approved: we await the wider Thornton CDM reforms, which will begin to appear at York. In the meantime, there is a Code of Practice to examine, which we looked at later in the morning.
Significant senior roles
Various important jobs within the Church’s administration require Synod’s approval, so next we then took two of these normally routine appointments.
We saw the Chair of the Pensions Board, Clive Mather, in action yesterday during the Pensions debate. Clive has been in the lead of moves to make pension funds generally more aware of their ability to influence companies on matters relating to climate change. His appointment went through without demur.
After that, the new Chair of the Dioceses Commission, Dame Caroline Spelman was up for appointment. Introducing her, the Archbishop of York spoke of her coming into role at a time when the C of E is at ‘a kairos moment’ as we emerge from the pandemic. There is a lot of work happening ‘at the centre’ about re-imagining the Church. Whether this will extend to revising the map of dioceses with amalgamations, or significantly altering the numbers of Bishops, is not known, but he was certainly hinting that change is in the air, and she is a good person to head up the work.
Dame Caroline is a former Conservative MP and former member of Synod as Second Church Estates Commissioner.
There were one or two politely gung-ho speeches encouraging radical work to streamline dioceses and their administration, countered by an equally polite note of caution from the Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, referring to the ten-year story of amalgamating three Yorkshire dioceses into one.
Amid the welter of ‘establishment’ expressions of support from Synod grandees for the appointment, two backbench comments from Tim Hind and Charles Read raised questions about the transparency of the appointment process. Were there other candidates? Were UKME people on any shortlist? We don’t know, and while Charles put it succinctly – “you can get a good result from a bad process” – the question remains: is this a good process? The Archbishop of York assured Tim and Charles that “we will look at this.”
Synod farewells are often entertaining. Today Archbishop Justin gave a warm and entertaining tribute to Bishop Chris Foster, Bishop of Portsmouth, on his retirement. I have known Chris since 1977, when we crossed paths in Cambridge: we were curates in the same Deanery, and we’ve kept in touch through various highs and lows in the intervening years. And he and Sally are retiring into the Bath & Wells diocese, hooray!
Other farewells to the Bishops of Salisbury and Bath and Wells, came at the end of the day and are reported below
“You cannot say you did not know…”
We looked in detail yesterday at the Safeguarding (Code of Practice) Measure, so the Final approval item was a short one. The Dean of the Arches, Morag Ellis QC, said we were at a significant point. Now, the House of Bishops will be under a legal obligation to introduce a Code of Practice; clergy and others will be under an obligation to follow it. Even churchwardens now come under its remit, should they fail in a parish’s safeguarding obligations. You can read the Measure itself here – it’s the foundation for a Code of Practice, which will follow. She recycled a quote from William Wilberforce to say that with everything that has come to light through IICSA and survivors’ stories in recent years: “you may look away, but you cannot say you did not know”.
On such a motion, we have to vote by Houses, to check that all three (Bishops, Clergy and Laity) support it. Needless to say, the votes were unanimous in favour: Bishops 29-0 Clergy 131-0 Laity 146-0
The Measure has to go to Parliament for the Ecclesiastical Committee to scrutinise it- which ought to be a formality.
Clergy Discipline or Clergy Misconduct?
The other Code of Practice (under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM)) had been parked as ‘Deemed business’, but a member wanted it debated, so time was found after the Safeguarding Code Measure to look at it.
The CDM Code of Practice has been revised four times since the CDM came into effect – a sign of how things have changed relatively quickly to meet problems that the CDM has encountered.
- If you just want to know what the changes are, read this document.
- If you want to see the whole Code, read this one. Warning: it has 95 pages… (In my former job, it was a document I had to refer to in depth when a complaint against a cleric was made in our diocese.)
- Simon Talbot returned to speak with reference to his role with the Church of England Clergy Advocates, welcoming the improvements, but with some concerns about using the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy in reference todisciplinary matters.
- Peter Collier, who had chaired the Ecclesiastical Law Society’s group looking at improving the CDM, welcomed some of the improvements in the latest revision, but pointed out that the major revision of the CDM that Bishop Tim Thornton is leading would require new legislation, which will take time. He wanted two tracks – one for minor problems, one for major misbehaviour – and he believed the Measure should be entitled the Clergy Misconduct Measure, to stress it was only there for serious troubles.
Much of the revision to the Code is intended to speed up handling complaints, and also giving more consistent support to those making allegations. If you read the ‘full fat’ 95-pager, you’ll see the changes are in red, so they are easy to spot.
Nobody in the debate was against the changes to the Code, but as Jamie Harrison pointed out in summing up, rescuing this item from the purgatory of ‘Deemed Business’ had led to a rich and well-informed discussion about how discipline cases should be handled.
Bishops: endorse or receive?
The Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) is the body that discerns from a number of candidates which one is being called to fill a diocesan Bishop role. The much-anticipated debate about reform to the present system got off to a bad start when Aidan Hargreaves-Smith, introducing the debate, lost his internet connection within a minute of starting his speech.
Five minutes later, he was back, and off we went. I previewed the background in an earlier post which you might want to read. You can read the report Responsible Representation here.
True to form, amendments had been put in to:
- Replace the word ‘endorse‘ (the report) with ‘receive’. In other words, people did not want anyone to think Synod agreed with the whole complex package of reforms being suggested. (Dr Jamie Harrison)
- Require candidates to declare their views (and the reason for holding them) on a woman becoming a diocesan Bishop (Professor Joyce Hill)
- Remove the recommendation that General Synod elects its 6 CNC members in ‘pairs’ (i.e. have 12 members available to the CNC) rather than individually (Christina Baron)
Aidan said that the group’s work should not be seen about process: a CNC has to wait on God as they represent the whole body of the church. This requires CNC members to carry the confidence of the whole church – so the report made recommendations that included declarations of interest. There are issues about trust, confidence and diversity. A complete culture change in the CNC was required. We need to find a new narrative that reflects the vocation of not just the candidates, but the voters, and the CNC members they elect.
Thus there are 38 recommendations. He covered the way Synod elects its 6 ‘central members’: there ought in future to be a meeting in the February Synod before the July CNC elections, so that people understand better what they are voting for and have an opportunity to check out the candidates for the CNC.
In order to lighten the burden on central members, the group recommended the concept of electing 3 pairs of lay central members, and 3 pairs of clergy. This, he said, would strengthen diversity. Notg everyone is convinced about this scheme.
The diocese with a vacancy also elects 6 members for the CNC covering their vacancy. There are recommendations to revivify the Vacancy in See committees – again, to develop a better diversity and representation among the diocesan 6.
The ‘R’ word and the ‘E’ word
As I reported in my preview post, there is some concern about what we were being asked to do. Aidan defended the group’s use of the E-word (‘endorse’) – the motion asked us to ‘endorse’ the report – saying their advice was that it only meant a general endorsement. Nonetheless, he then said they welcome Jamie Harrison’s ‘clarification’ by using the R-word (receive) instead.
He also used his time to remind members that accepting the report today did not commit Synod to any particular recommendation: everything would have to come back to Synod for detailed debate and acceptance.
- Fr Thomas Seville CR suggested that much of the problem of entrenched attitudes encountered (or sometimes hidden) within CNC deliberations was toi do with fear: hence the need for a culture change
- Abigail Ogier stressed the need for greater diversity in election candidates, so that the CNC (or any body) truly represented the real life church
Bishop Pete Broadbent made a brief heavyweight contribution. He explained that he had been a diocesan representative on CNC for three successive Bishop of London, and he asked 5 questions:
- Politics cannot be wished away: politics and power are given by God for the benefit of all. So does the ‘consensus’ approach try to remove politics?
- Will the ‘pairs’ concept weaken the experience and influence of elected representatives (who would, mathematically, only be involved for 50% of CNCs). This would give more influence and power to the Archbishops and Appointments Secretary
- What kind of Bishops are we looking for? Could a maverick Bishop be elected under this system?
- Does the desire to ‘improve’ the diocesan level work actually weaken the diocese’s voice into the system?
- Will the proposals reinforce the ‘mono-episcopacy’ model of a single character being appointed who is then expected to ride to the rescue of a weak diocese?
Dr Jamie Harrison then moved his ‘receive’ amendment.
- The Revd Simon Cawdell welcomed it as he welcomed the direction of travel, but was not persuaded about some of the recommendations. He saw problems with the pairs.
- Jane Patterson has been a lay central CNC member for some years, but got caught up in a very uncomfortable row about her role in a specific appointment. She said there are concerns about ‘mutual flourishing’ and the Five Guiding Principles, and she was also concerned about the scope of proposed declarations of interest.
- The Revd Stewart Fyfe said “something must be done”, and so supported the general approach, but wanted proper scrutiny of the 38 recommendations.
- Archdeacon Paul Ayers was less supportive: if we endorse or receive, we’ll be told later on that ‘you voted in favour’ so it will be very hard to amend the recommendations.
We then moved on to Professor Joyce Hill’s amendment about declaring a view on women diocesan Bishops. She explained that her aim was to ensure that candidates for the CNC stated their theological understanding about women bishops when soliciting votes from General Synod members. Without a record of their view, we would continue with ‘wriggle and fudge’. Transparency and trust are essential to the CNCs work, and it must start back at the election of the central 6 by General Synod. Aidan stated that the report Group were unanimously against her amendment.
- The Revd Caroline Herbert was against the amendment: the nuances of people’s views could be worked out in conversation and friendship, rather than in a few sentences on paper that night pigeonhole people
- Anne Foreman, a member of the group, was against Professor Hill’s amendment. “We can call out fudge when we see it.”
- The Revd Tim Goode supported the amendment: stating views would ensure openness of conversation and regain the integrity that is needed.
- The Revd Wyn Beynon was not impressed by appeals to the Five Guiding Principles. He thought that the CNC would revert to ‘choosing’, not ‘discerning’ if there was not clarity about candidates’ views.
The Hill amendment failed by 195 votes to 115.
Lastly, Christina Baron, a fellow Bath and Wells rep, an elected member of CNC then put her amendment, objecting to the ‘pairing’ scheme. She believed the group had gone beyond the original pairing proposal in the O’Donovan Report (they had simply looked for alternate members who could stand in for the elected member.)
She saw several practical problems with making the Group’s ‘pairs’ scheme work.
The huge disadvantage would be that elected central CNC members would only deal with half the number of appointments. They would therefore not have the experience and the knowledge. “It’s just not going to be quite so good.” There will be more people with less experience and it will inevitably give more power to the Archbishops and Appointments Secretaries.
Again, Aidan firmly resisted the amendment. By now, the clock was ticking, and so a one-minute speech limit was put in place by Zoe Heming, the Chair. The brief speeches included several from current or former CNC members, the issue turning on ‘practicality’ versus ‘improving diversity’. There were heavyweight speakers on both sides.
Judith Maltby, a current lay CNC member, was in favour of the amendment, on the grounds that diluting the elected memberships attendance would take the members back to a culture of deference and not feeling confident when dealing with the Archbishops. (Having worked alongside Bishops for 20 years or so, I am not especially deferent. But I know it took two or three years before I felt secure and confident when in discussions with them.) I was disappointed when the vote went against the Baron amendment by 189 to 98.
So, after the one really good debate of this Synod, the CNC motion escaped unscathed, other than changing the E-word to the R-word. The debate then ranged more widely.
- Martin Kingston said that clear guidance on declarations of interest were needed: the current proposals were not strong enough, Electors deserve to be told about anything about a candidate that might affect their
- Nick Land, a former diocesan Vacancy in See (ViS) Committee chair objected to the proposed restriction on the Chair of a ViS
- Jayne Ozanne wanted stronger definitions on conflicts of interest – including what Synod groups candidates belonged to.
At this point, Sam Margrave put in a point of order for an adjournment until we meet in July. His concern was about accessibility and people’s inability to be physically present. Simon Cawdell opposed, on the basis that Sam’s point could be dealt with when the legislation comes to be debate din due course. The adjournment was denied by vote. Had we been in the Chamber, there would have been rumbles of discontent at the time spent on this diversion, especially as we were running late anyway.
After a summing-up from Aidan Hargreaves Smith, in which he attempted to demolish the Bishop of Willesden’s arguments, the motion to ‘receive’ the report was passed.
What’s happening with safeguarding?
And so we came back to safeguarding. The document up for debate – read it here – gives one pause for thought. There is so much going on. I counted 11 major areas of work – a comprehensive list of activities going on to respond to IICSA’s recommendations about the Church of England.
We were being asked to ‘take note’ of the report, so in that sense, this item was a kind of presentation. But the debate format allowed members to comment and tell stories of experiences, preventing it being a ‘Head Office telling us what they are doing’ exercise.
Introducing the item, Bishop Jonathan Gibbs noted changes that have taken place in recent years and in response to IICSA.
He added that whatever we do, it will not be enough for victims and survivors who have suffered in a church context. Backing him up, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullaly talked about the need to get away from bureaucratic check-lists to a change of culture – “what we do around here”.
- Peter Adams warned us against partisanship across the church, which was related to some of the abuse recently highlighted in the report about the proprietary chapel in south London where Jonathan Fletcher ministered. Irregular structures and networks can be weak points and need to be brought into the Anglican safeguarding world
- James Cary (another Bath and Wells rep) spoke in appreciation of the work now going on at the National Safeguarding Team (NST), which he had seen close up as a memberof the Archbishops’ Council. Drawing on his own involvement with children and youngpeople’s work at his church in Yeovil, he reminded Synod members that preventing abuse and responding to it was for every church member in our church youth work and other activities. “It’s on all of us.”
- The Archbishop of Canterbury wanted to thank survivors struggling against the ‘intractable burden’ of the slowness of church responses. He went on to thank members of the National SafeguardingTeam, who receive “extraordinary abuse” from all sorts of quarters. He said the culture of safeguarding is going to change very significantly over the next couple of years – in transparency, in independence, and in justice for victims and survivors. But we have a long way to go.
- Judith Maltby apologised again for being a ‘broken record’ by once again reminding us of the connection made by IICSA and in other cases between abuse and the church’s approaches to sexuality. She felt the subject was not being fully addressed in current work.
- The Revd Charles Read spoke about his experience of being safeguarding lead for a Theological Education Institute, where safeguarding matters ‘popped up out of the woodwork’, and the contrast between doing theological work on safeguarding with students and with parish clergy.
- Canon Simon Butler reported that training a parishioner in the use of livestreaming equipment had made him think about how he related to her: he was quite shocked to see himself in a trial recording. From this he realised that in safeguarding and power relationships we must be much more self-aware, rather than just relying on processes and paperwork to ensure all goes well.
- Rosemary Lyon, as a Parish Safeguarding Officer commended the change of vocabulary from safeguarding training to safeguarding learning. The gets away from the routine tickbox approach where people think they have ‘done it’.
Jonathan Gibbs summed up, and the synod voted to ‘take note’ of the report.
The numbers game…
A lovely synodical bit of intraversion came as we wound down. Elections to General Synod are coming up in the autumn, and it seems the diocese of Lincoln messed up its count of members by some 4,000 people. This is vital, as it affects the number of seats each diocese gets.
To be fair, the counts were done last year, when electoral rolls, Church Annual Meetings and suchlike were disrupted by COVID lockdowns, so such mistakes could easily occur. Lincoln will lose 2 seats: the redistribution means Exeter and somewhere else I didn’t note get one extra seat each. I know some readers will be fascinated by how this works. I can only suggest you read the paper here, with its lovely Appendix B setting out the Divisor Methods, using words like integer and non-montonic. No, really…
Suggestions were made about automating the collection of numbers in future, though whether PCC or diocesan admin is up to this is another story…
Farewell, farewell, farewell
William Nye, the Sceretary-General gave a warm tribute to Canon Sue Booys, outgoing Chair of the Business Committee.
As well as getting the show on the road all through the 8 years she was Chair, she also pushed through ways of getting Synod better understood in the wider church. That included modernising the paper-based system – we now have electronic papers and a Synod App, for example.
I’ve been very grateful for Sue’s Synodical expertise; she’s been good company for a group of us in various pubs and bars after hours – but always very discreet about what might be going on behind the Synod scenes. She’s also been a good friend in tough times.
Archbishop Justin then spoke enthusiastically about the Bishop of Salisbury, Nick Holtam. He had been a priest who worked wonders for the dispossessed and homeless at St Martin in the Fields, and also as lead bishop on the environment while at Salisbury, including being a national and international influence on the COP climate change summits.
Lastly, in bidding farewell to my former boss, Peter Hancock, Archbishop Justin spoke of a special sadness’, because Peter and Jane have had to wrestle with Peter’s severe illness – which has led to his need to retire on health grounds. (I wrote a little about this towards the end of this post.)
The Archbishop recited the legendary story of the day Peter and Jane moved in to their apartment in the Wells Bishop’s Palace some seven years ago. Their introduction to the staff team there was when their dog Juno inserted herself into a meeting room and devoured cakes set out for a birthday party. More seriously, Justin said Peter had taken on the Lead Bishop for Safeguarding role, which meant he had to handle the IICSA processes and he’d devoted considerable time to victims and survivors. “We are so grateful to you for that”, he said referring to Peter’s “deep pastoral care and heartfelt love for survivors and victims”
“You have ministered through the example of illness, not in the way you would have hoped” was a memorable phrase he used, and on the screen I could see Jane nodding as Justin said “it was a heavy burden.”
Non-Bath and Wells readers: indulge me with this little slideshow of images the Archbishop used in his tribute.
Unable to clap in the usual way, we were encouraged to use Zoom’s yellow handclap icon – and we did.
In other news…
Hopefully, that was the last-ever Zoom Synod. For all the possibilities of online meeting and voting, we have been making the best of a bad job. It is very tiring, even with sensible screen breaks, and it ends up being a spectator sport, rather than a genuine ‘walking and talking together’ – which is what a Synod should be.
The Church House team and the Business Committee deserve huge thanks for making it work, and improving it as we went along. They, too, will have missed the human interaction.
This two-day meeting probably had too much business planned. We postponed the revision of Standing Orders; but debates still ran late, and you know when the Chair imposes a speech limit of one minute it’s a sign of desperation. Fortunately, there was nothing seriously contentious on the agenda – the only motion with significant amendments and proper debate was the CNC item .So most votes were almost unanimous. I was not the only person to refer to it as a ‘North Korean Synod…’
I know members of the Business Committee read this blog, so I’ll put my two penn’orth in now:
- If we do ever have to go back to Zoom, we should arrange it so that agenda item numbers appear on screen (as they do when we are in London or York. At times it got hard to work out where we wre on the day’s order of business.
- If we have to change the order of business – as we often do – the Chairs should tell us not just the item numbers being moved around, but also the subject matter. Otherwise you are busy diving through the Order Paper or agenda to work out what you are being asked to approve.
- But overall, they did superbly. The Chairs of debates, in particular, kept their cool and kept us informed when tech issues got in the way, or awkward customers chipped in unhelpfully.
All being well, COVID permitting, we will meet again in person York for the final Synod of this quinquennium (actually a sexquennium, if there is such a word). Many of us will not be standing for re-election, so it will be a time for reminiscence and farewells. And the bathwellschap blog will compose its last-ever reports!
If you’ve forgotten, this is what a real synod in York looks like!
We’ll be there July 9-13th.
* So sad to watch good love go bad: a real weepie from the Everly Brothers in 1960. Great two-part harmony. If you’re not quite old enough to rememberit, you can listen to it here…