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Thursday, 6 July 2006

...from London to York...

A man was on a train, from London to York is the opening line of one of the York-based Riding Lights Theatre Company sketches of the 1980s. For their July excursion, General Synod is heading towards its northern summer sitting. This will be the first York synod for quite a significant proportion of the members of this 'new' synod. Roumer has it that the shorts and t-shirts are used by members a little too liberally for the fashion police...

York University Central Hall, from the Uni web-site
York University Central Hall

The agenda is, as earlier promised, rather dominated by two related issues - Women bishops, and what it is to be in Communion. Recent manoeverings in the ECUSA General Convention, and interventions from concerned provinces such as Nigeria, not to mention thesions within the Church of England, indicate a lively 5 days.

Papers are published here.

Alastair GS101

Contribute to the Blog

I am not sure how easy it will be to keep up-to-date with the blog this synod, as Chichester is on duty as tellers for some of the debates. We can but try.

Can I remind any Synod members of the invitation to become members of this blog by sending an email to Synod @ mac.com, and you can follow the link in the returned email.

Alastair GS101

Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Did I say finally...





A couple of photos from inside the Chamber, before it has the re-vamp...

The Archbishop of York chairing.

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

And finally... from February 06 General Synod

Thank you, if you have been following my musings and meanderings over this month's CofE General Synod February meetings. They are listed below, and as with most blogs, in reverse order, so you might want to start reading from the bottom in the February Archive on the right.

Most of the official documentation of synod is now available from the official CofE site, and the other source with useful ongoing information is Thinking Anglicans. A CofE RSS must!

So what of the reflections over last weeks sessions?

There was a lot of debating on Women in the Episcopate! Then Synod should not be approaching such a decision lightly, - so good. I was very surprised - and much filled with hope too - at the final vote being all but unanimous. That vote was not, of course, a vote in favour of women bishops in the CofE, yet, but was a vote we should proceed in that direction, making adequate provision for those opposed. For me, going forward as a church that is able hold both those for and those unable to accept the ministry of women bishops, is very important; if we are able.

Would I vote against women bishops if it threatened a split in the CofE? If there was a real, inclusive, working solution pending in the short/medium-term, I would be prepared to wait a bit, and vote against. But if it is all basically a stalling tactic; ‘wait, but actually we never want it, and will never accept it’: then adding together most of the other arguments (theological, historical, reasoned, etc), and, as there are a number of Anglican provinces already with women bishops, I think I would vote for.

Other reflections from this Synod? I loved the diversity of the people. I made a point of sitting in different parts of the chamber, and if possible with some new member or another. (So far I have managed to do so withoufrighteningng most other members off!) With someone you have not met before there is that frisson of wondering whether they are on the women bishops scale, or the gay clergy scale, or indeed any other scale you could mention.

The other diversity I enjoyed more than I had expected, was the diversity of some of the debates that, at first glance - well, ok, hit the boring pile. Time and again - with the slightly obsessional way of not wanting to miss anything exciting in the chamber that keeps a new boy there to bladder bursting point - I found I had stumbled across a debate with valuable things to teach me, relating to the wider church, and probably a parish/individuagovernmentnt near you.

I was also struck at hosometimeses the outside impression of what went on, and what really went on, could sometimes be so different. Take, for instance the ‘Caterpillar Inc.’ debate. Well, actually, it was a debate on Ethical Investment, with a few additional riders added in a following motion. The way it was reported, one would have thought the motion was decidedly anti Jewish - which it was not, as I for one would have no truck - sorry - with any such angle. Being pro-Palestinian Christian does not automatically mean that the Synod is therefantiaSemiticitic: not this member, and not any I spoke to about the issue.

I trust that ++R's letter to the Chief Rabbi was able to allay some of those concerns. I could not agree more with his words: “...it may be helpful for me to clarify what this resolution did and did not say and, even more importantly, what it did and did not imply... I must repeat that no-one in the Synod would endorse anything that could even appear to endorse terrorist activities or anti-Semitic words or actions...

How Synod is reported is one of those things that I ache over. Sometimes itÂ’s great, getting the feel spot on - but sometimes reading the reports I wonder if I was in the same country - far less the same debate - the slant, or selective quoting, can so colour the impressions people are left with. I was fascinated that even some of the journalists in the Synod press room (don’t ask how I ended up there...) also found this. I loved the discussion where none of the other journalists agreed on the take one had publicised on the Women BishopÂ’s debate. ‘No-one else heard what you think you heard in that debate, .withheldes witheld to protect the innocent; me in this case, from a defamation & slander & writs & such]’ they said.
So it’s not just me, then!

So, as this is primarily a live-ish blog from Synod, it’s is (probably) a wrap from me until Synod next meets in July in York. Shorts and T-shirts at the ready. Reputedly. But probably not from this correspondent, who was born wearing a jumper.

If there are other Synod members who would like to join this blog, and contribute as well, email me to my email address in the Synod members list, and I will add you on too.

Alastair GS101

Thursday, 9 February 2006

Questions, Questions - (2) 9Feb2006

What is the value of the man/woman-hours churchwardens, PCCs, fabric committees, clergy, and other volunteers spend on church buildings up and down the land? How much subsidy do churches get by comparison to other arts or heritage sites?

+London introduced this debate with aplomb, partly based around another excellently presented report ‘Building Faith in our Future’, and included the answers to these, and many other statistics. Numbers attending the debate were not as low as can be for the last afternoon, because of what was next on the agenda. Whilst an unfair assumption against the presenters of the debate, it did mean that more people were able to participate in, and hear a great debate about important issues. We know the church is the people not the buildings, - but sometimes even our church buildings speak eloquently about God. I suspect the debate will pick up few headlines; but it ought to.

Synod had let the Business Committee know in no uncertain terms what its mind was about the placing of Questions at the very end of the agenda, earlier in the week. In fact the Business Committee then allowed for some of the questions - specifically those in relation the Church Commissioners selling the freehold to some properties, including the Octavia Hill estates - to be taken earlier after all. They have been widely reported on.

There are legal responsibilities on trustees of a charity - but there are also responsibilities to individuals, and to the reputation of the Church of God. Sometimes we get things wrong. This may be one of them. The assets committee of the Church Commissioners are, we were informed, answerable to no one else. This may change…

And then on to the rest of the Questions. These have to be submitted in advance, written. Without being re-read, just the prepared answers are presented by chairs various committees etc. There is the opportunity at that point to add up to two supplementary questions verbally.

A fast and furious skirmish takes place; subtly worded questions, carefully crafted answers, and suddenly with the supplementaries, a new chink of information sometimes falls out unexpectedly. The chairing has to be quite severe - and even then the questions rarely all get covered. Ones not covered verbally are presented immediately afterwards online in written answer form. The full transcript of Questions, as with all the minutes, will appear in time.

There is often a thank you at the end of session - and then Synod is formally prorogued (closed) by ++R with a blessing. We won’t be back at Church House for a year, as major renovations are taking place. No more voting by going through lobbies. Let’s hope the new seating is more comfortable, as I doubt the 3-4 hour debates will have been completely replaced!

Alastair GS101

The third bite; or the cherry swallowed whole? Women Bishops 3rd debate - (1) 9Feb2006

So the debate has been had, and the result of what was seen as one of the most significant debates and votes of this session of Synod are now known. A huge number (348) for and but a single vote against. But for - or against - what?

Since 1992, the CofE has been joined in the priestly ministry by some 2000 women. Even though there has been widespread rejoicing about this, it has come at not a little pain in some other parts of the church, both evangelical and catholic. These areas of the church maintain the ordination of women to the episcopate is a huge step - and perhaps a step too far. If the CofE makes this move, can those (both male and female, lay and ordained) still feel they can remain within the church that has nurtured them?

It is possible that the answer may ultimately be no, from some catholics, or some evangelicals, or both. But IF there is to be a possibility of them staying within the church, provision will rightly have to be made for them. Yet, if that provision comes in such a way that it so clips the wings of the Episcopal ministry of a woman in the church, then it cannot be.

So, a tight-rope is being walked here. Today’s debate was to explore the possibilities of future enabling measures.

There are 3 suggested ways forward: A ‘single clause measure’ (we are having women bishops, and bad luck if you don’t like it, and sorry if you are leaving); A Third Province (Canterbury Province, York Province, and perhaps another, maybe non-geographical* Province); or T.E.A.

Transferred Episcopal Arrangement - TEA for short - the key recommendation from the Guildford group, suggests that parishes, clergy and individuals who cannot accept the authority of a woman bishop have adequate provision made for them. This, so far, is the one way forward that seems to be able to include not only all those around the centre of the church’s theology and ecclesiology, but the conservative catholics, and conservative evangelicals too.

Many ‘huddles’ were evident in the hours before this debate. Plotting and intrigue abounded! A long list of amendments was put forward. I am not clued in enough to all the groupings at Synod yet to work out who is in with who, or what. The quality of debate, by and large, was excellent. One or two folk tried to sneak around the formal process - popping in a main motion speech during what should have been a debate just specifically on an amendment - but good chairing kept that to a minimum.

One of the most moving speeches was from one brother with one view, about how this issue ultimately could fracture filial relationships - possibly permanently - with the other brother. This family story, as the speaker suggested, stood perhaps as an ‘icon’, a vignette, a microcosm of what this large Anglican family was also dealing with. Many in Synod know one, or other, or both brothers well. Sobering; emotional; powerful.

It became clear, though, that many felt the best way forward for now is to go with the Archbishop’s motion, un-amended. At the end of three and a half hours debate, the chamber was all but unanimous in its support. July’s Synod will have the additional background material, the ‘ha’penny worth of tar’ to make sure this ship is not spoiled.

Alastair GS101

* (the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand operates a Province system a little like this, with three layers, three acetate sheets over a land-map, for each of three Tikangas; one for the Maori Anglican church, one for the Pakeha, or white settler church; one for the Polynesia, or Fiji, Tonga, Samoa etc part of the church. This model, working for nearly 20 years, has much to commend it - but it is not without significant, and some might argue fatal, flaws. Oh, I feel a maiden speech coming on! I must stop.)

Wednesday, 8 February 2006

Is it just words? Human Genome & Slavery - (4) 8Feb2006

It is sometimes hard to gauge a Synod debate from the advance papers. Who could have guessed that the subject of the Human Genome could ferret out so many fluent and knowledgeable members with direct & indirect expertise in such a rarefied field? So much so, in this case, that Synod felt we could do with a little more information and supporting evidence before making substantive comment. Consequently, this important scientific area with huge ethical, financial & personal issues will come back again…

Another debate that was passionate and personal was on the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in 2007. A number of maiden speeches were presented (many belying the speakers’ Synodical inexperience, due to their high standard of presentation and grasp of intricate issues).

Sorry ‘- seems to be the hardest word…’.

Or sometimes it appears to be used as the easy get-out.

But to many, to make such an apology, as one speaker said, was urgent & important; and ++R pointed out that rather than being unnecessary and cheap to just say sorry, sometimes it was very necessary, and also costly. Synod agreed, and voted accordingly. And by the way it hit the headlines, even if not all positiviely, it has clearly touched a nerve. I think rightly.

Alastair GS101

Signing the times - (3) 8Feb2006

This Synod has for the first time welcomed 3 members of the Deaf church amongst their members. In the debate on Reader ministry, Synod received its first (ever?) signed speech. For those of us yet not fully conversant in British Sign Language, (on this occasion, with a Synodical ecclesiastical regional accent) translators were on hand (!) to provide an interpretation that we could more fully ‘hear’.

There had been some murmurings from a few members of this new Synod querying why the deaf church was being supported in this way, over other groups potentially also needing support. As one who might have reason to pursue that line of argument - but does not - a blind member of Synod, comments that there are more financial considerations to supporting the deaf community, particularly with the need for provision of interpreters etc.

Much material is now provided, and can be manipulated, in electronic format these days, making for less isolated, and better-informed members, whatever their ability level.

Many people who have trained in some of the (urgh…) ‘caring professions’ will have had the opportunity perhaps to try, using blindfolds or scratched glasses, ear plugs, leg splints and heavy weights around wrists and ankles - if only for an hour or two - to share something of others experiences.

Just occasionally, sharing an experience like that - even briefly - can radically alter a mind-set. In a small way, ‘seeing’ that speech, and hearing it interpreted, gave Synod members that ‘boot-on-the-other-foot’ encounter.

I don’t expect we will hear murmurings from any members about provision for our deaf colleagues again.

Alastair GS101

Children at the Communion rail - (2) 8Feb2006

What is the admission rite to the Eucharist? The normative pattern in the CofE has been, and should remain (we were told) Baptism>Confirmation>Communion.

Are we simply copying our Roman Catholic friends by heading towards ‘First Communion’ at about the age of 7?

Or should we, as our Orthodox friends would do, admit children to communion right from the moment of their baptism onwards? (Once, wandering through a Greek Orthodox Church whilst waiting for a plane in Cyprus, I was seriously un-nerved to stumble across a baptism service that included giving the still-wet baby communion wine as part of the same liturgy. It came as a powerful and influential shock, to one bought up within a family where adult baptism after conversion and public testimony was the norm. It still - perhaps now more than before - colours my view…)

A vigorous debate ensued at Synod. We cannot turn the clock back, and start to refuse those already communicating. Many clearly would not want us to.

Some are sceptical, feeling we are rushing it, and caution a slow introduction. Yet others feel they started debating this issue when they were parents of young children; and at last now they are able to do something about it - just in time for the grandchildren.

Things Jesus didn’t say No. 37b:
Let the little children (that is those over the age of 7, thoroughly prepared, correctly initiated, properly penitent, and fully cogniscant - even if the adults around them aren’t; then, and only then, let the little children) come to me.

Alastair GS101

Join/help/fix the Synod Blog - (1) 8Feb2006

This so far is a very random series of jottings from a single member of Synod.

Yes, ‘Comments’ are on, so people can - er - comment; but if you would like to join the blog please email me at amcutting (at) gmail (.) com, and I will see to trying to add you. Unfortunately, there is no wireless access in the chamber (yet...) so logging on, and keeping a breast of emails, is a chore, so please be patient with me...

And the format for the blog on this page is also a bit rough and ready... I just got it up in a hurry to try it out. Again, helpful comments welcomed.

Alastair GS101

Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Seeds in Holy Ground, and the how much water to water them - (3) 7Feb2006

OK, a linking of two agenda items with all the eloquence of an over-enthusiastic hospital radio DJ; but three important reports & debates helped lift Synod’s eyes a bit higher than it’s collective navel, as some of the Synod debates might appear to.

First the excellently presented report on Rural Churches (do have a look at GS Misc 803 if you can find it - it appears not to be inline yet [edit: possibly because Church House Publishing are selling; order here], but another link is via GS1603; filled with lively stories, it is much more than a glossy advert. ‘All Synod reports should be like this in future’ one member encouraged: if only they could manage to do so with the Pastoral Measure, quips back the presenting bishop). The chamber was graced by the presence of folk from Westminster’s ‘other place’, and a very clear message was passed through the Synod to the Government at National, regional & local level.

Not much on farming in this report, one bishop noted - but we were reminded that the previous three Synod debates on the countryside were very farming oriented, and this one was picking up on other areas of life in the countryside, and especially where the church is the foundation, and key sustaining structure in many rural communities.

The report on Anglican & Baptist conversations, ‘Pushing the boundaries of unity’ (GS Misc 801) actually took quite a fresh look at discussions between these two denominations. Historically there is much traffic between members of these two churches, as both many of the contributors to the debate, and this correspondent, can testify to. Fortunately it was about much more than ‘how much water, and when’.

We were reminded that even Anglican practise can be very diverse; and at least one contributor suggesting sprinkling of babies followed by adult immersion services, went further than even most Baptists now do, concluding that only one baptism is needed.

It was good to have a number of the key Baptist contributors to, and supporters of the report in the chamber; and they received the clear assurance of Synod’s desire that these conversations remain not only ongoing at the national level, but be commended to active discussion at the local level too, in both denominations. Are we closer to getting in to the baptistery with the Baptists than we are to gathering around the communion table with Roman Catholics?

The final debate of the afternoon picked up on ‘Mutual Expectations: The Church of England and Church Colleges/Universities’ (GS 1601). Interesting to see the change in perception, that many of these colleges no longer feel as on the edge as they did some years ago. The Church schools are well known nationally, the Church colleges by and large are not. And now, as there are other colleges re-branded as universities, and not to demean them in any way, there are even Church Universities too.

One member encouraged the Report writers to go further than just dwell on the warmth of ethos and values, asking that it be ‘hotted up’, especially in areas of truth, in the name of the one who is Truth. How are priorities in higher education to be given the same Christian basis that schools have. Distinctiveness is a theme - and we were reminded we did not need to be different to be distinctive.

This report, as the two before it, were warmly welcomed by the Synod, and commended. Important issues sometimes do not have the glitz or cachet that other agenda items appear to have; but this in no way diminishes their significance. I haven’t the writing skills to satisfactorily showcase all these issues: but how good it is for the Church, that the Synod that represents it, is thoroughly informed, widely respected, and so effectively and professionally served by Synod members in its support for the church’s work and mission.

Alastair GS101

A second nibble at the cherry - (2) 7Feb2006

So, a two and a half hour ‘take note’ debate on Women in the Episcopate. Light relief from the chair of the Guildford report, as TEA (Transferred Episcopal Arrangement) was apparently not the only option for shorthand titles today, but Women In a New Episcopate (WINE - ho, ho) offered another more inviting mnemonic altogether - but sadly it did not make it past the draft stage.

The debate had over 50 advance representations to speak, (tight chairing, and generosity from speakers meant about 35 spoke) and many new on this Synod managed to get a maiden speech in. The subjects introduced, or angles argued, varied enormously, as one might expect.

Several spoke passionately in favour of the introduction of legislation now…; some would be prepared to support women bishops as a right choice if women priests had been a right choice - but perhaps it was not, so now we could not and should not…; some requested we celebrate afresh women’s ministry, both now with women priests, but especially at the ordination/consecration of the first woman bishop.

A few made what felt like rather tired repetitive arguments rooted supposedly in tradition, as though that were a reason to fix in amber a snapshot of one time in the church’s history. That isn’t going to happen. Standing still is not an option.

But there were some other new slants. Like the comment that we sometimes promote some women beyond where they wish to be, in ministry. Not all want to be ordained priest, or are looking for preferment. Some have no real desire to be preachers and teachers, and would be happy to fit in with some of the interpretations of Pauline guidance on women teaching (or not) in the wider congregation, taking service and the diaconate seriously.

I suspect that is also true of not a few men in our churches - being promoted beyond their levels of comfort, capability, or competence.

But all that is not a reason not to think how women bishops can be integrated into our church. It has already happened a number of Anglican provinces; and will at some stage come here. I would rather our church planned and prepared for this sensibly - but I do not know that will be possible. A number of members spoke of the messiness of the arrangements - but not by way of criticism, but rather excitement and a willingness to embrace it. That, in a strange way, appeals. I like a God who walks with us in our messiness, and indeed helps lead us out of it.

Alastair GS101

Singing in tune - (1) 7Feb2006

Gathered around the family table, whether that is the local family, at home, or the gathered family of the church around the Communion table, families are interesting. Diverse, varied, assorted; sometimes squabbling, sometimes loving, sometimes romantic, sometimes … but usually both of these families fall silent as we eat!

I was struck by the clergywoman assisting the Archbishop presiding at communion; though and experienced priest in a senior position, she wore a stole as a deacon. Just a Synod game? Purely a liturgical diaconate, the robes of one role hiding the ontology of another? Perhaps; but I think perhaps there was something else being signified here. Not just woman taking a subservient role; but rather reminding all gathered at the service of our call to be servants of the living God.

It reminded me of my ordaining bishop, who in all his letters to clergy in the diocese used to start “Dear fellow deacons & priests”. His elevation (!) to the episcopate did not relieve him of a servant role in the church.

Then there was the music. Synod is an eclectic sort of a body. During the administration of communion, a ‘scratch choir’ gathered from amongst the members sang. It started - well it was rather ropey and wobbly, really. And it wasn’t even in English. It appeared almost a portentous metaphor for the main debate to follow this service of communion. Out of tune, not together, and spoken in words few could understand.

However I was wrong: as they got going, they started to meld together, in time, in harmony, and by the second verse, even in English. Perhaps the music, and the communion, was more positively prophetic than I had given credit for…

Alastair GS101

Monday, 6 February 2006

Three bites - the first nibble - (4) 6Feb2006

We are promised ‘three bites’ at the cherry of this Synod’s meeting. There is much else of importance other than debating Women Bishops at this group of sessions. (I fear many of the key agenda items may not get much of a mention outside the synod itself - rural affairs, hospital chaplaincy, human genome, anniversary of the abolition of slavery, carbon emissions, conversations with the Baptists, the upkeep of historic buildings, and a number of others come to mind… Don’t ever be fooled into thinking Synod members are just meeting for a ‘jolly’…)

At three points though, Women in the Episcopacy appears (differently) in the proceedings. We later look at the ‘Guildford’ report, over a very vicarage garden party cup of TEA :o) - and then also look at possible legislative ways forward. Today it was (after a skirmish about whether it should be a presentation or a debate) hearing the responses from the other denominations. Useful background information (GS Misc 807) had been provided, and there were contributions from the Roman Catholic, Methodist and United Reformed representatives; though sadly none from either other denominations, nor indeed from other parts of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Some responses were predictable. The Roman Catholic representative was able to add little to the ‘what is written, is written’ response of the Catholic Bishops’ conference. The Methodists pertinently asked, as one of their current reports does - what sort of Bishops? Several mentioned, in local ecumenical meetings, having to hold the CofE together because of its own internal factions. That was painful to hear, as it is all too close to reality.

And one speaker reminded us that, interesting as it was to comment on the CofE position on the consecration of Women Bishops, actually it was the relationship of these churches with the Anglican Communion as a whole that was the issue - and din at quite a number of Provinces in the Anglican Communion already have Women Bishops? So that’s the li’l old CofE popped back in its place then!

Alastair GS101

The Placing of Questions - (3) 6Feb2006

Towards the beginning of each meeting of Synod, the Business Committee reports. So? Well it is the Business Cttee that discusses, prepares and sets the Agenda for Synod. The 24 pages of Agenda items are updated in the weeks before Synod meets, and indeed order papers with additional information or changes are often on the seats in the Chamber at the start of each session. The Business Cttee’s Report is a sort of commentary, and justification, of what is on the Agenda, and why it is there.

Their report is one of the first items that comes up on the Agenda, and after it is introduced, it is open for discussion. The Business Cttee are on a hiding to nothing really. Take over 450 eager and eloquent elected and appointed members of Synod, each arriving with diocesan and personal axes to grind, with their own priorities and interests, and no wonder the Agenda is then shredded.

A key point this time was the placing of Questions. Now Synod questions are not just a couple of queries, causally asked. They are written questions - some 79 submitted in advance for this session. All receive answers, some written, some verbal, and if times does not permit all to be addressed live, some are presented in writing after the Synod.

‘In another place’ not far from here in Westminster, Questions - PMQ, is I believe the shorthand - are in the middle of the week, and at the start of the working day. Questions for this Synod are at the very end of the last day. Murmurings and mutterings begin to circulate in the chamber.

Two or three members raised the issue. Perhaps hearing answers to these questions nearer the beginning of Synod may well inform debates taking place over the coming days? it is suggested. Supplementary questions, following on from the written submitted ones, can elicit significant insights and progress in various areas of national church life. One particularly eloquent speech suggesting a particular way of re-jigging the Agenda got an extended applause - really extended. The chair of the session started to look distinctly peaky. Would the chair of the business cttee buckle under the onslaught?

Not a bit of it! We were informed that for many and numerous reasons, the placing of questions in this part of the Agenda had been carefully considered, and was in the best position for this meeting of Synod. People were starting to ask for the business cttee to set the agenda when they as individual members were available - we were informed - and that could not be a sensible way forward.

Whilst the business committee may be right about that particular point, I bet that Questions do not appear at the very end of the Agenda at the York sitting of Synod in July! And I hope it will be a spark to the thinking and boost to the already very high standard in the quality of debating that the General Synod does.

Alastair GS101

On legislating by walking around - (2) 6Feb2006

The CofE has some marvellously quaint customs. It still (as indeed does Parliament...). Where knowing the numbers is critical - voters go between ‘tellers’ to count them. Yes, that’s right; the whole Synod, one-by-one, exiting through the relevant doors of the chamber, are tallied. Today’s first business was not as the full General Synod, but in (some might argue the more significant bodies) Convocations.

That is the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury. (Or apparently York...: but I don't mean to jest though, as not only was I ordained in the Northern Province, and served two very formative curacies there; I also had a daughter born there, eligible to play in the Yorkshire cricket team. If they only let girls play. And if only she played cricket. And if only they had not now opened up the playing of cricket for ‘God’s own County’s cricket team to almost anyone, or at least almost anyone who can help beat Lancashire: but there I digress from one quaint custom to another.)

So there we are, gathered in the Southern Convocation, with some legislative business to go through. Legislative is making the church law - but in this case, the CofE being ‘established’, it is making the Law of the Land. And in Convocation, voting takes place by voting in ‘houses’ - that is the upper house of clergy, or bishops as we otherwise know them; and the lower house of, er, clergy, voting separately. (There is also another ‘house’, of the not ordained-as-clergy-at-all, or sometimes known as the laity, or perhaps more accurately as the majority of the real church. They, wisely, meet separately so as not to be dragged into too many clericalised discussions. Actually even the lower house of clergy had a chance to dismiss the episcopate when they were done voting, and make some decisions all of our own. Perhaps the General Synod as a whole also ought to meet like that - and decide like that - more often.)

Out of courtesy, or obeisance, or a tradition steeped so long in time we can remember not why: voting in houses in convocation always allows bishops to go first. Now why is that? Is that for them to give us a good lead? Or for us to see which of them are being the naughty bishops, and stepping out on their own? Or to make them all stick together for the sake of the family in front of the kids? The family that prays together stays together? The CofE could certainly do with a good dose of that just now!

So “DECIDE” comes the command, and the lower house also votes. By walking out. Colleagues around me mutter about the waste of time; would a show of hands not do; could there not be some better way; in this day and age...

Well apparently there are better ways. This is the last Synod to take place in the Church House as is in Westminster. On Thursday the Synod - ended - walks out; and on Friday the builders walk in. And held in their hands as they walk in, comes electronic voting. It’s the way forward, don’t you know? Ask the Audience on Millionaire has been doing it for years. Instant results. Bar charts. The scores on the doors. I can see it now. It probably does make sense really.

However a little part of me will be sad. Sad that now even the Synod voting will be rushed through in an instant by an anonymous press of a button. Somehow getting up and walking to where you are going to place your vote - here I stand - being seen to be counted, will be gone when we once more return to the Westminster Synod Chamber. I am sure some version of ‘electronic tracking’ will also be available to legitimate those voting; and possibly to inspect how our votes were cast, should anyone (who? our upper house colleagues?) wish to check up on us.

But the queuing, the chatting to someone on the way, the thinking time, the exercise and leg-stretching, and the necessary and justifiable quaint-ness - will be gone.

Alastair GS101

‘New Quinquennium’: Love & Fear - (1) 6Feb2006

No great diarist - me. However, as a ‘Synod Virgin’ in this new Quinquennium (5-year-term) of the General Synod of the Church of England, I thought I would try jotting a few notes down. If it goes well, I may go back and transfer my written notes from the inaugural meetings back in Nov2005, and ‘pre-date’ them.

“Into the New Quinqennium” reads the title of one of the Synod Papers (GS1607); setting out some of the business Synod is likely to cover in the next 5 years. And it also includes Archbishop Rowan Williams’ (++R) Presidential Address.

In it, he quotes from Australian cartoonist and writer Michael Leunig (see here, and here) about how we deal with things. There are only two responses: to feelings, languages, activities, motives, procedures and frameworks. There are only two: Love and Fear (taken from A Common Prayer, Michael Leunig, 1990).

That fairly sums up my hopes, concerns, aspirations, and ambitions for this next quinqunnium. Using the language of the King James Version, in its work and play, may this Synod “Fear God”, the “God [who] is Love”.

Alastair