There was a lot of talk about money today (Saturday 11 July) at General Synod. But we did talk about other things too. Like love, and housing. But money came first.
For most of my 16 years on this Synod, the Annual Reports of the Archbishops Council and Church Commissioners have been presented by men in suits: not so nowadays: Loretta Minghella, Third Church Estates Commissioner and Archbishops’ Council member Maureen Cole fronted their respective parts of the first-ever joint presentation. (A cynic might think that taking them together was a way of saving time, and cutting down the scrutiny as fewer questions could be asked. But even I am not that cynical.)
Loretta reminded us that the Commissioners’ funds rose by 10.4% last year, and that they made a record £281 million distribution. But she went on to say that what the Commissioners do is not just about money. The soundbite was “respect for people, respect for the planet”, and she went back to the ethical engagement the Commissioners make: their approach is to engage with companies, rather than instantly exclude them from the portfolio (we heard more about this yesterday in connection with the Transition Pathway Initiative).
- Between them, the two bodies had distributed £35 million to dioceses in response to COVID, in addition to the Strategic Development Funding (SDF) that dioceses are using for new work (chaplaincies, pioneers, and suchlike) they would not otherwise be able to fund
- The various digital worship opportunities had achieved 7 million views: the Daily Hope phone line had received half a million calls.
- Since face-to-face Bishops Advisory Panels for potential ordinands had had to be suspended, a temporary online way of getting candidates through the process had had to be devised.
Next slide, please!
If you’ve ever wondered what Church House is for, you’d have found Maureen’s account of the Archbishops Council’s work. Most informative. Her slide set out the 9 current objectives, which she ran through with some details and examples. It was a slightly tedious list, and the slides always go through too fast.
But Maureen’s contribution was indicative of a new, proactive approach at Church House. I noted:
- The huge impact of COVID on ways of working: it had produced all sort of new work under difficult conditions.
- The ‘digi-church’ support made available for parishes in lockdown to use had been extraordinarily successful. The thinking is that it will need to carry on in a ‘mixed economy’
In questions, people asked:
- with such huge surpluses, could more be distributed to parishes came up. For example, could there be grants to parishes to help them buy equipment for digi-church? (The answer was that this should be done via a diocesan application for SDF money)
- given the decision not to fund the diocesan Racial Justice Officers (see yesterday), could the current budget not enable some incremental progress, for example by funding half-posts? (We came back to this later in the morning).
Then came the big-ticket item, the Archbishops’ Council budget for next year. John Spence, the finance chief, pulled no punches in explaining the ‘dense and complex’ nature of finances, during and post-covid.
- Diocesan income was down last year: for some, just 5%, for three, more than 15%
- Parish share income to diocese was down 10% in 2020 (compared to 2019) – again with many variations. Some dioceses saw parish share income drop by 20%
- There is such uncertainty at the moment that Bishops and dioceses are so busy dealing with the present that they have no space to develop a strategy for the future.
- Hard choices had to be made last year, with some curates furloughed, vacancies not filled (in diocesan teams and in parishes)
- He noted that with more clergy retirements coming post COVID, funding for curacies was essential as people came out of curacy
- Dioceses had been offered grants to appoint Giving Advisers – not all had taken it up
- The experimental digital giving programmes had been knocked off course by lockdowns and were having to be restarted
You can see the slides he used here: vital info for any parish treasurers of Diocesan Synod people here.After that set of explosive details, there was no shortage of questions from the Synod, but not enough time to take many of them…
- Philip Plyming, Warden of Cranmer Hall, Durham, made a plea that funding for clergy training must remain at a level that enables people called to be clergy to have depth and time in training. He suggested this is strategic investment because theology matter for church leaders. This sounded like a bit of a riposte to the stories circulating recently about only needing lay leadership of new churches.
- The Bishop of Dover said we are in a spiritual crisis, not a financial one. We need more confident disciples, and to teach them about generosity as part of their discipleship. She also took a poke at those who see their parish share contribution to the diocese as ‘voluntary’ while at the same time receiving a stipend from the diocese.
- Carl Hughes brought up another theme that is being spoken of more frequently: that we need to stop doing the same things 42 time over (i.e. in each diocese). There will be a need for better effectiveness and more efficiency.
Racial Justice again…
The focus turned once again to the decision by the Council not to fund Racial Justice Officers for each diocese, as recommended by the Racial Justice Task Force report. John Spence gave a much better justification for the decision than we had from the Archbishop of York yesterday. In response to a passionate speech by Canon Ruth Newton from Leeds diocese. She had said that ‘money is a sacrament of our seriousness’ – how we use it expresses what we think matters.
John Spence’s reply was not just ‘there isn’t enough money’. He did give a headline figure for how much it would cost (which I failed to note…) butmade two cogent points
- The Lament to Action report was published quite late into the budget process and there had not been any effective discussion between the Task Force and the budget-planners that might permit better decision-making
- Putting one Officer in each of the 42 diocese was not the best model: different dioceses had different contexts, and we needed to find a better way than expensive blanket provision: one size does not fit all.
Lastly, Sue Rose, the Diocesan Director of Ordinands from Bath and Wells pointed out that the block grants to dioceses for Initial Ministerial Education (IME) were being unevenly used. Bath and Wells used their to the full because they sent their ordinands to the college or course best suited to their needs. Some other diocese had underspent their grants because they were sending more candidates to the cheaper courses. She wanted to know if that unused money could be pulled back and given to diocese that were unable to fund their candidates fully.
John Spence indicated that he was looking at retrieving the surpluses and putting them to good use,
There then followed detailed budget debate: but in the end, the budget was agreed, though ringing in our ears was the distinct possibility that the income shortfalls caused by COVID would mean a revision might be necessary halfway through the year.
‘Suspiciously round numbers…’
I explained (as best I could) why we are having to repeat the game of finding out how many seats on synod each diocese will get at the elections later this year. Have a look at my preview blog to see what it’s about. You had to feel sorry for Robert Hammond. As Chair of the Business Committee, he had the tough task of explaining what went wrong with the allocation of seats, and apologising for errors made when doing the complex sums that ensure fair representation of dioceses both large and small.
The numbers that govern the calculations stem from the returns made by individual PCCS to their diocese, who in turn provide numbers to Church House. There were some ‘suspiciously round numbers’ in the figures being used. A rep from St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Andrew Dochin, said it should be down to parishes and diocese to get their numbers right. If they don’t, they don’t deserve to be represented.
I absolutely decline to assess the maths involved: I did ‘A’ level maths (twice…), but you can read the explanation of how it works (or doesn’t if you do it wrong) for yourself.
Bishop Jonathan Gibbs, Lead Bishop for Safeguarding and Zena Marshall, Interim National Director of Safeguarding took us through the vast amount of work that is going on nationally to pull our safeguarding into better shape.
“We are entering a season of action” said Bishop Gibbs. “Engagement with survivors will be a vital part of what we do.” The report we had been given (read it here) and a PowerPoint offered us a snapshot of what is happening. Though it focussed on activity at national level, he stressed that it is about enabling churches to be safe places and healthy communities.
- There are new resources for safer recruitment and people management, launching in January but some now.
- New policies will revise Responding Well and also give guidance on responding to, assessing, and managing allegations against church officers.
- The independent oversight panel is being set up this year, with interviews for a Chair and Survivor Representative coming soon.
- A Case Management System contractor has been appointed. This will enable record-keeping to be consistent and standardise case management. It is expected to go live later this year
- Sunday 21 October is to be kept as Safeguarding Sunday. People expressed some caution about yet another ‘special’ Sunday – there are already two other themes available on that day.
Questions included one parish priest, Pat Hawkins, asking for pointers to help people in parish navigate all the changes in safeguarding that keep coming. She suggested communication could be modelled on the way Coronavirus pages on the website always highlight what’s new and what has changed.
And that took us to the much-needed lunchbreak. (In an hour and a quarter, I had time to make some lunch and pop out to the nearby farm to get some milk.)
Empty Chamber Syndrome
The other person to feel sorry for today was Professor Joyce Hill, who had to steer us through a very complex range of motions and amendments when we came to revise our Standing Orders after lunch. As I said in my preview post, the problem Professor Geoffrey Tattersall was hoping to help us deal with was Synod members ”lack of effective engagement” in debating legislative items.
This ‘empty chamber syndrome’ means that we sometimes get a poor-quality result in debates. But there is more: our Measures are the law of the land, and therefore have to be considered ‘expedient’ by Parliament’s Ecclesiastical Committee. They look at the voting numbers to ensure that what is proposed really is approved by Synod. So thinly-attended debates without proper scrutiny of proposed changes are a Bad Thing.
Should you wish to get into this procedural stuff, which is important, but dry, you can read the Standing Orders Committee report here.
David Lamming put amendments in, designed to ensure that meetings of Revision Committees stage of legislation could not proceed unless elected members (in addition to officers and the Measure’s Steering Committee) were present and in the majority. He spoke of one case where only the Chair and three Steering Committee people got to a meeting – so ordinary members were not present or voting. He cited events in a London parish where a PCC had effectively been ‘gerrymandered’: his amendment was designed to ensure Revision Committees could not similarly be stitched up.
Geoffrey Tattersall resisted him on grounds of practicality. The amendment failed, but David Lamming’s concern was met halfway by an amendment which required the Committee to state who had attended the relevant meetings.
Frankly, we had a very dry and over-long debate, not so much about any principles involved, but about detail. The irony of this was that while we were debating this technical stuff, the temptation to not be in the (virtual) chamber was strong, as the Wimbledon Ladies’ final was on… I noted 355 people on the Zoom call: one or two may have been watching the TV rather than following the debate…
Living in Love and Faith (again)
After a much needed screen break (get out into the garden, pick some strawberries…) we came to Living in Love and Faith (LLF) once more. This time, it was focussed on ‘passing the baton’ on to a new Synod in the autumn: many of its members will be new, and they won’t have the knowledge and experience of the last few often tortuous years. Fortunately, the supporting paper (GS Misc. 1284) contains a helpful timeline showing how the project has developed.
The Bishop of London spoke of the church as a place of inclusion and diversity – but also a place of division and hurt. Dr Eeva John, the overall co-ordinator of LLF explained that by now, we should have been at the conclusion of the LF journey in the wider church, with study courses taking place ready to feed back to the Bishops in February. But that hadn’t happened, meaning passing the baton to the new synod would be much harder.
- She took us back to the phrase used by Archbishops Justin and Sentamu after the debacle of when this Synod rejected the House of Bishops statement about human sexuality. They said we needed a radical new Christian approach. LLF was aimed at helping to provide a way for people to make that approach.
- She claimed that engagement with LLF was “well under way” with 5,500 people attending (online) ‘taster’ events using the resources, and 300 having done facilitator courses (for those leading study groups – I am one.) The next step was listening to what people were saying, with a view to the Bishops coming back to Synod in November 2022.
- I was glad to hear her recognise that many churches were not ready: the Next steps group were exploring how they could build in a period of waiting, while still keeping to the ‘end of 2022’ deadline.
- Questions after their presentation produced little heat (apart from some sharp statements from Ian Paul and Jayne Ozanne), but not much light either. And again, we were pressed for time.
They call it ‘simplification’…
There followed an long drawn-out legislative item about reforms to the way the Church Commissioners are governed. Father Paul Benfield, a priest and registrar, wanted us to reject the proposals being made, not so much for the content, but because we were being asked to deal with them under a new process – the Legislative Reform Order (LRO).
- This is a new, ‘simplification’ process that avoids us having to go through the complex and slow Measure process.
- Paul’s point was that the changes were of such a scale that an LRO was not appropriate – particularly because Synod cannot amend and LRO, whereas it can (and does) amend draft Measures.
- His view was that for such a matter, LROs turn Synod into a rubber-stamp to the Archbishops Council and the Scrutiny Committee
The 40-member test was applied, and people clearly wanted to debate the issue Paul raised. Sadly, that led us to a very long and detailed debate. A number of synod heavyweights chipped in to speak against Paul Benfield. Simon Butler, the Canterbury Prolocutor said there was a ‘misunderstanding’ in his analysis.
Vote early, vote often
Astonishingly, and maybe because of the Wimbledon factor, Paul Benfield’s motion was lost by just 4 votes (140 -144). Thus proving Geoffrey Tattersall’s thesis form earlier in the day, that Synod members are reluctant to fully engage with legislative business.
The debate went on about the substance of the LRO, and it all got a bit exciting when a vote by houses was called: Simon Butler had to rejig his closing remarks to explain that, from where he sat, this was a procedural wheeze to ensure the LRO was rejected. And then, when the vote came, the LRO was supported in all three Houses, total votes 181 in favour, 102 against. But here were still 80- or so members watching tennis, or having some other diversion to stop them voting.
Housing: a distinctive Christian vision
The last item in this long day was a follow-up to the Coming Home report on the church’s ability to do something about the housing crisis. Archbishop Stephen said the report offers a distinctive Christian vision for housing and we want to shape public debate. Good housing should be sustainable, safe, sociable, satisfying – and affordable to all.
We did not hear much that was new from Synod’s first look at the report earlier this year.
Lynne Cullens is the Rector of Stockport and a key player in the report. She said human flourishing relies not just on units of housing, but in building community. This is what the Church does, with a heart for the vulnerable. She told the story of a parish using its resources to house people under pressure, and how the individuals, the church, and the community benefited.
Ben Preece Smith, Gloucester Diocesan Secretary talked about the progress Gloucester had made in management of church land. They were trying to see sites not as a result of past mission, but as a basis for future mission – providing affordable homes for people who cannot afford houses in the current property market. 50 homes have been built, more are on the way.
Nick Pollock is on secondment from the Duchy of Cornwall to lead the executive team of three implementing the report – all three are seconded to the church. He told us:
- In the first few months they’ve built up good relationships with charities, government, and developers.
- The team are now actively working with a number of dioceses exploring how to use church lands for housing and a modern form of almshouses.
- Projects can also bring additional revenue to the church, for example if renting out affordable properties.
- Enabling people to stay I the community belong to is a vital thing
- They now have a geospatial map that records churches, vicarages, and glebe lands and will help diocese to manage their portfolio.
Concluding, Archbishop Stephen drew attention to the legal advice that said it is permissible for churches to dispose of land for less than market value, if to do so is in fulfilment of their charitable aims. There are also plans to offer more freedom to dioceses and parishes to make better use of ‘non-operational’ land and assets in order to make housing available, to support the environment, and to build community.
Today’s motion was simply asking permission to start to think about how that can be done, rather than to make a final decision, and after a short debate, it was duly passed.
It was a very long day with too much screen time for our own good, and too much legislation to keep all but the real Synod geeks going. Nevertheless, good work was done, – but we are really missing seeing each other in person and chatting on the margins of the Synod.
I always like to end these posts with something cheerful – the Synodical equivalent of the skateboarding dog. It’s a bit harder today, as it was so compressed and pressured that there weren’t many jokes. However, a reader of this blog drew my attention to YouTube’s occasionally entertaing attempt to run live subtitles on the live stream…
Sunday is a day of rest (sort of…) So you can find us here from 2.15. The twitter hashtag #synod will give you some inside track on how members are reacting to the proceedings. And I’ll have another update tomorrow night. (It might keep me away from the footy…)
* Money don’t get everything, it’s true: belting rock number, ‘Money (that’s what I want)’ popularised by the Beatles’ version on their 1963 album With the Beatles. Originally co-written by Berry Gordy, founder of Tamla Motown records in 1959.
Listen to the Fab Four version on YouTube here