If you’ve ever served on a church committee, you will know that on PCCs and Deanery Synods there are always a number of ‘long stay patients’, people who have been there for, er, many years. Sometimes their knowledge and experience are positive and helpful; sometimes they are not. we spent a bit of time at Synod today (Sunday 11 July) thinking about that.
How long, O Lord?
A couple of years ago (i.e. pre-COVID), we arrived at a point where we were going to change the Church Representation Rules (CRR) to say that parish lay representatives on a Deanery Synod would only be allowed to serve two consecutive three-year terms. The idea was to prevent the people who hold on to office for too long from continuing in place, thereby opening up the possibility of new blood and diversity of membership, as there would always be an element of ‘churn’.
However, this policy raised hackles among, yes, mostly longer-serving people, so a classic Anglican fudge has been cooked up: amending the CRR to remove the compulsion, and say that a parish’s Annual Meeting may decide for itself whether to put the two-term limit in place. Clive Scowen, introducing the proposal, talked about it as a ‘flexible freedom’, with decisions taken at the local level, rather than a top-down imposition. The explanation of how we got to this, and whatis proposed, is here.
Well, we had many speeches in defence of the long-stay patients. To be fair, it was pointed out that it can take a while to comprehend how church business and ecclesio-politics works, and several speakers noted that they would not have progressed as far as a Diocesan or General Synod without serving long-term at Deanery level.
The C of E has ‘form’ on this business: some 20 or more years ago there was a Measure passed by Synod to limit churchwardens’ terms of office: that was given a sniffy reception by Parliament’s Ecclesiastical Committee, and the Synod of those days thought it wise to think again… (Which raises all sorts of questions about the establishment of the C of E, re-runsof the 1928 Prayer Book debacle, and so on.)
I was bothered by the inconsistency on view – only yesterday we were enthusiastically behind putting term limits on Church Commissioners Board members in order to get new blood, increase diversity, etc. And here we were today helping the turkeys as they sought to avoid Christmas. So I made a short speech pointing out the inconsistency (and was backed up by Paul Ayers, a Northern archdeacon) – but it went down like a lead balloon.
I had no intention of voting against the motion, but people assumed otherwise. There were dire warnings about the clergy interfering in the laity’s business, and we were pressed to remember that a 2/3 majority in each House was needed for the CRR changes to pass. Otherwise, nothing would happen.
Do something Lastminute.com
Passing this item mattered for another reason. An amendment had been tabled straight from lastminute.com. The CRR require any lay candidates for the imminent General Synod elections to be ‘communicant members of the C of E’. That is apparently defined as having received Communion three times in the last twelve months.
BUT… (and this is a big but) Coronavirus has meant church closures and people isolating. Thousands of good loyal Anglicans have not received Communion for sixteen months: because Communion has not been available – either because their church is closed, or they are isolating.
A number of current Synod members stood to explain that this applied to them, and without this late change to the CRR, they were not eligible for election. But it ended well, we passed it, and they all lived happily ever after.
If you’re a lay Anglican – even if you haven’t been able to receive communion in the last year or more – you are eligible to stand for election to represent your diocese in the new General Synod this autumn. There’s great video here which explains all – take a look . And a useful webpage here.
Stipends, salaries, sacrifices
That was followed by a deeply technical matter – amending clergy Terms of Service to tidy up some loose ends. Cathedral Canons have a complicated life, and their ‘employment’ status can be complicated, too. Some Canons are fully funded from the Church Commissioners, others also hold a diocesan role (often an archdeacon). For the latter, all sorts of aspects of their role are subject to divided accountability – between the Bishop and the Cathedral’s Dean. So we tidied up what happens with their ill-health time off, training requirements and much more, so it’s clear in future which things rest with the Dean, and which with the Bishop.
Also, because clergy are office-holders, not employees, they receive stipend, not wages or salaries. This affects their eligibility for ‘salary sacrifice’ – various rules (which are too technical for me to explain here, but read the details here) prevent them taking advantage of these ‘deductions from salary’ which might help them lease an electric car. So we changed the rules.
Lastly in this little lot was an example of the text of the law keeping up with reality: references to Bishops in the legislation currently say ‘he’ and ‘him’. That will now be amended to say ‘he’ or ‘she’, etc. Yes, it’s obviously good housekeeping to get the texts representing reality, but this is a Synod where yesterday at least two speakers addressed ‘Madam Chairman’…
Clerical conduct and discipline
So far our Sunday afternoon had been relatively peaceful, and I suspect plenty of members had had one eye on the Wimbldeon men’s final. But then wew came to a much-anticipated double bill . Bishop Tim Thornton had two items for us which arose from the generally disliked Clergy Discipline Measure – the much maligned CDM.
First of all, he wanted us to recognise that the problem was not just the Measure, which in its fifteen or so years has caused untold grief to clergy accused of misconduct, as well as to the complainants in a case. His thesis is that simply changing the CDM will not address the underlying issues about the role and nature of ordained ministry. Hence he wanted a wider discussion about the expectations of clergy. He had been working on reform of the CDM for two years, and as a diocesan Bishop and Bishop at Lambeth had been closely involved with clergy discipline matters. This experience had persuaded him that new thinking was needed. A new CDM was necessary, but not sufficient. He spelled out his thinking in a paper GS Misc 1285 – read it here.
Bishop Tim’s proposals for a new Clergy Conduct Measure have come under much criticism, notably from the Sheldon Hub, whose research and publication have brought to light some awful stories of clergy and their families under the cosh when a CDM complaint comes in.
So he tried to make friends by recommending us to read the Sheldon Hub publications about a reform of the CDM.
To which Sheldon were replying in real time on Twitter, starting off with saying Bishop Tim was “off to a good start with plenty of motherhood and apple pie”
Other walks of life, he said, have systems in place for accountability: but the clergy – despite the Ordinal, Guidelines for professional conduct and much more – seem not to have a model that works, and this becomes apparent when things go wrong. There is no proper support, understanding and accountability. How can we ensure our public representatives operate to a standard, and are challenged when they fall short?
Questions came flooding in – about a ‘dignity at work’ policy, bullying, harassment, the role of the deacon, a holistic view of ministry of laity and clergy, the difficulty of dealing with the bullying of clergy by lay church members, and much more.
Having been involved in the administration of the CDM when I was working as a Bishops Chaplain, I am aware of many of its shortcomings. I also agree with Bishop Tim that many of the cases that end up with a CDM arise out of the concerns about clergy who may not realise the effects of their behaviour or style on others, or who fail to work accountably or in a collaborative way. I also have seen how what one speaker referred to as ‘recalcitrant’ members of a congregation of PCC can make a priest’s life hell.
So Bishop Tim has opened up a useful discussion. I just wonder whether Church House, the Synod, or ordinary parishes, have the energy to deal with all of this. We will return to this painful arena tomorrow when we look at the CDM itself.
This difficult topic went well because of good chairing by Rachel Jepson: there was genuinely quick-fire Q & A session, helped by her setting a 2-minute time limit on questions, and Bishop Tim’s ability to be succinct and clear.
Two tracks or three?
Having set the broader perspective, Bishop Tim then introduced a debate on the CDM itself. The proposals of his Lambeth Group have not met with universal acclaim. They can be seen here, and include
- Two separate tracks for allegations of ‘complaint’ and of ‘misconduct’
- early investigation of both, but in different ways
- independent oversight of disciplinary functions with professional training in place.
One key statistic is that 45% of CDM complaints are dismissed because the subject matter was not serious enough for a disciplinary process – it is usually around pastoral breakdown, rather than misconduct. But that means almost half of complainants are unsatisfied, and the clergy have been put through the mill in an unhelpful way.
Given the outspoken criticisms coming from Sheldon Hub and others, he went out of his way to credit Sheldon and the Ecclesiastical Law Society for their input and involvement. This was generous of him, given that both have made it clear they do not like the Report.
The Canterbury Prolocutor, Simon Butler suggested that the polarised discussions going on, fed by their objections, were unhelpful: he believed that Bishop Tim was open to conversation and the working party we well aware of the realities of the effects of the CDM. He urged caution in accepting the Sheldon approach, which concentrates on the trauma experienced by clergy respondents and their families: we must alsorecognise the trauma experienced by complainants.
Another heavyweight lawyer Peter Collier, who chaired the ELS own work on replacing the CDM, is critical of the present proposals, but said we must ‘take note’ in order for progress to be made.
His view was that a new system, as well as having a non-legal process for simple complaints should also recognise two kinds of ‘misconduct’:
- serious misconduct (which might end up with loss of livelihood and home)
- misconduct which is less than serious (which would attract lesser penalties).
This was proposed 25 years ago, but somehow fell out of the finished CDM legislation: it ought to be brought back.
There were one or two pleas that the ELS/Sheldon work ought to be integrated into refined Lambeth proposals. At the moment, Bishop Tim is simply ‘acknowledging’ them. It would be wise to bring them together before any definite legislation emerges, given there is significant popular support among the clergy for what they have come up with. Social media has been hot with it.
So, everyone wants progress made:
- to minimise the trauma (we heard that word a lot) experienced by people caught up in a CDM complaint)
- to establish a speedier way of handling complaints of all kinds
However, one of the chief unresolved issues is whether to set out two levels of complaint ( as the Lambeth proposals do) or three (as its critics do), In his closing remarks, Bishop Tim produced an olive branch, indicating that Peter Collier of the ELS may be willing to join the Lambeth group as they take this forward. Always better to have people inside the tent, as President Lyndon Johnson is said to have said…
Then came a ‘following motion’ from Simon Talbott. He has been involved inthe work of the Church of England Clergy Associates (CECA) in supporting clergy under the CDM cases. His aim in presenting the motion was to steer the process of devising the legislation in the direction of having three levels of misconduct, rather than two – the line preferred by the ELS, Sheldon and CECA.
His motion also set out a timeline – initial proposals this autumn, full synodical process to go through 2022. (This may be unrealistic, as the November sessions this year will be quite short, even if the work can be done (and the two options/three options matter resolved) by then.)The Talbott motion was passed in its entirety.
The day ended with two appointments.
- John Spence’s term as finance chair is coming to an end, and we agreed he should be ‘extended’ for a further two. John Spence is an ebullient and engaging character, a brilliant speaker and able to explain finances crisply and clearly. Because this is a Synod appointment, we had to vote on it, and a couple of speeches were made, entirely supporting John Spence’s work, but regretting our procedures in appointing members to the Archbishops Council are not entirely open. The question of term limits was mentioned – he has served for 18 years in various senior finance roles – so my intervention on Deanery Synod terms was not entirely wasted.
- There was considerably less interest and enthusiasm in the appointment that followed – the auditors. This is entirely formal: there’s a whole process of searching and shortlisting for auditors, and Crowe UK LLP won through, replacing BDO: they are charity sector specialists and will serve for five years.
Well, that was a mixed bag – overshadowed for some by Wimbledon and the football later in the evening. We seem to have settled into coping with doing complex stuff – like the legislation – on Zoom but where’s the passion gone? Online there is some pretty strong comment on the Clergy Discipline/Conduct prospects, but the debate today seemed to lack that. Maybe that’s a good thing, and Bishop Tim’s frank, open approach mayhave disarmed people. Perhaps we’ll see if the calmness lasts until tomorrow, when we have a potentially very divisive discussion on the Five Guiding Principles to enable people with different theologies of women in ministry to flourish in the one church. We’ll see…
And with all that stuff about term limits, I failed to to squeeze in my favourite gag about Deanery Synods, which I first heard from the writer Catherine Fox.
Question: “What is a Deanery Synod?”
Answer: “A collection of people waiting to go home.”
Well, it worked before COVID. Nowadays they all are at home…
I’ll be back tomorrow with my last-ever daily report on General Synod. It’ll be a moving day, with some fond farewells to be made over the screen. Ho-hum…
* Oh, won’t you stay just a little bit longer?: 1963 hit in the UK for the Hollies, and in 1977 for Jackson Browne. If you think you recognise it, it might be because the 1960 original, by Maurice Williams and Zodiacs, featured in the film Dirty Dancing.
Ironically, it’s the shortest song ever to feature in the US hit parade – 1 minute 36 seconds of teenage angst doo-wop. If only it was a little bit longer. Hear it here.