Tuesday, 10 July 2007
Tuesday morning had some important, though rather tedious looking business: Archbishops' Council budget, and Final Approval of the Marriage Measure (the freeing up of who/where is "on track to be law by the early summer next year" said Dean Nairn-Briggs).
Incidentally, this General Synod page has links to all the documents related to this synod - and also to the notes of 'business done' at each session, and audio clip links of the debates. In time, the full text will also be available (à la Hansard).
So what reflections on July's General Synod?
Well, global eyes were on the Synod this year, with concerns that the Anglican Communion was in danger of splitting. Groups from the more conservative end such as Anglican Mainstream, and the more progressive or liberal end such as Changing Attitude, held quite a number of fringe meetings, and most groups had a few guests present for synod members to meet and chat to.
Many reports are available in the press (for example, lots of links via Thinking Anglicans). I was interested that Ruth Gledhill in her behind the front page Times blog of the happenings seemed to conclude that not much happened here and synod appeared to have become a bit mediocre. Well I suppose if you are waiting to report the big split, then a large deal of consensus might not make as exciting copy.
But for the CofE, and for the Communion, I suspect the fact that there was not so much fire or ginger in these particular debates, shows less a willingness to flame opponents, and more of an attitude of maturity and koinonia than we are used to hearing from synod members, and the from the constituencies some of them represent.
Once again, people I spoke to, said they had come intending to vote one way, but hearing people's reasoning in debate, were challenged to look afresh, and then vote consensually.
Ironically, one of the other pieces of synod business this time may mitigate against that, and give the divides and schisms that Ruth and the journalists were looking for. From next February, it is expected that synod will be voting electronically. This means that in future, where some synod members are currently aware of the debated issues, but undecided on how to vote, seeing others hands go up can help move one way - or indeed sometimes the opposite! With electronic voting, unless there is some sort of live on-screen swingometer, members will have no idea how others have voted (until the log of votes is published!).
I am keen on the way that having electronic voting will speed things up; but I am not sure that it will necessarily really give a better idea of 'what synod members really think'. The Bible study at the beginning of synod, on 1 Corinthians, helped ground synod members on images of 'body' and 'family'. Perhaps, surprisingly, synod appears to have been moved to be and act a bit more as the Pauline passages indicated. Perhaps, unexpectedly, the Spirit of God moved, and synod with it.
Monday, 9 July 2007
I had been in ministry about 15 years before I even heard about any Preferment List (known in some places as the Slope List, after the rather odious and ambitious fictional clergyman in Trollope's Barset Novels).
The CofE, with 40-odd dioceses/diocesan bishops, has a very flat hierarchical structure. OK there are also Archdeacons; Deans of cathedrals; residentiary canons etc. but effectively, numerically (considering the 10,000 members of the CofE clergy) there are not many promotion prospects for most clergy.
There are subtleties of ranks, including: curate, team vicar, incumbent vicar or rector, team rector, rural dean, honorary canon, etc - though most would deny that 'rank' is the appropriate term to use anyway.
There was a time when those with 'preferment' had significantly larger stipends than parochial clergy - but that is really not the case anymore. An archdeacon only gets 1.1 times the stipend of the average priest. [edit: an Adn I know corrects me and says they actually receive a whole 1.3x average stipend, not 1.1 - form that ambition queue right here!] Considering the additional hard work, thin support, and general hassle that archdeacons frequently receive, 'promotion' in the church is not all glory.
There was mention in the Report of a 'pipeline' to try and help spot potential leaders in the church, and to train them for appropriate future senior roles. Of course adding people to lists, or putting them in 'pipelines' all raises expectations; and that can lead to complications - and indeed disappointments: or dis-appointments as one speaker put it.
One of the marvels of the CofE is that time and again there are people of great talent and munificent gifts amongst the ranks of its leaders at parish and national level. At times one persons gifts may best be called and used somewhere else - but gift to the church none the less.
My wife is a teacher in a school for children with multiple learning difficulties, a small class where all the children are wheelchair users.
As she looked through the agenda for this July's synod, this item was the one she picked up on.
It is a bit difficult sometimes, with 'motherhood and apple pie' motions, to really engage with them. There were some moving and powerful speeches.
It reminded me of a friend, who if I remember correctly, went to university here at York. Well many do, so no surprise there. Except Alyn was born with cerebral palsy. In fact he was the star of billboard posters in the early 80s, sitting in his wheelchair, mortar board on head and degree in hand, with the slogan underneath 'They said Alyn wasn't worth educating..."
After his degree, Alyn wished to work for the church, and became a freelance missioner. I saw him in action many times, and he came on a mission to my own parish as a curate.
A number of years ago, he expressed a call to priesthood. He was initially turned down. He was told that as a wheelchair user, and with the shakes and twitches that sometimes come with CP, that as he would not be able to hold a chalice at the altar, he would not be able to be a priest.
My understanding is that important as it is to have a priest at the table, actually what God does in the eucharistic prayer is probably more important than what the priest does.
Now, many years later, Alyn has been ordained. He has given me fresh insights into call and ordination that I would never have had without him being priested. Brilliant.
The ABY's Presidential address is online.
"Fear not, do not be afraid", a recurring theme of the Bible was the ABY's opening theme.
"The church should take risks for the gospel ... have courage doing God-like actions." ... The language of fear has become the language of international relations.'
He quoted Leonard Cohen's song, Anthem,
“Ring the bellsIdentifying where the church's individual and corporate brokenness allows God's Light and Life to come in.
That still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
No speech from the ABY would complete without his insightful levity:
You will have heard of the story when a Lion, a Gorilla and a Chicken were discussing fear.
The gorilla said 'When I beat my chest all animals are afraid'
The Lion boasted 'When I roar, animals and humans for miles around are very very scared'
'That's nothing' said the chicken.
'All I have to do is sneeze and the whole world is terrified'
At the moment, the Church is in danger of being paralysed by fear of schism in the Anglican Communion; by much painful disagreement over the controverted issue of ordaining people in same sex relationships, and the blessing of such relationships.
And in our fear, too, Christ can easily be pushed out of the way as we try to show others that we are right and that they are wrong. Then, grace, compassion and love go out of the window.
Although the best leaders of the Hebrews were sent to spy out the Promised Land, and came back with wonderful stories about it, only Caleb and Joshua were without fear of moving into the land. They "focused on God, not on the size of the problems... We need to be people ready to go, ready to lead. We go, we stay, we don't just visit..."
Fear of doing what God seems to be calling people to is not a new thing.
In the story(of the feeding of the 5,000, Matthew 14), the response of the disciples to the hungry multitude was:Fear can paralyse - but dealing with issues, even when fear overwhelms us, needs to be put into context.
- there isn’t anywhere to buy bread
- there isn’t any money to buy bread with
- the numbers are so huge that it’s clearly foolish to try
It was all foolish. But it was God at work! And from this story four things stand out:
- We must be willing to offer to God that which is ridiculously small. What we need is not great faith, but faith in a great God.
- We must be thankful even for small things
- In this miracle of God’s generosity, the miracle went on and on and on until all were fed. We must be faithful in prayer and patience as we wait for God’s response and, like the disciples in the story, work hard at sharing out the miracle of God’s grace.
- Fourthly we must learn to trust God and leave our concerns and cares in his hands. In all our perplexities, Christ is with us as Romans 8 reminds us.
This means facing up to crises, when they occur, with honesty and realism, not minimising the problem but not supersizing it either, keeping it in Godly proportion.
The Lord says to us all: “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.”A careful encouragement, with supporting evidence, to Synod, to churches and to individuals.
So, my brothers and sisters, let us not be afraid.
But rather, Put out into the deep.
Sunday, 8 July 2007
Living God's Covenant is the name of the second report of the Joint Implementation Commission published by the Methodist Publishing House, as part of the ongoing implementation of the Methodist/Anglican Covenant. It gave the opportunity for synod to discuss areas such as bishops, episcopal ordination, and Holy Communion/Eucharist. How have things been developing as Local Ecumenical Partnership churches , and other less formal networks have gained experience?
The ABY made a useful comment towards the end of the (wider) debate, as some of the stickier aspects rise to the surface. He urged us that we should be 'Loving God's Covenant'. As some of the Methodist and Anglican participants of our Synod debate 'go west young man' to Blackpool to the Methodist Conference taking place at the same time as this synod, they will hopefully be able to move the debate on some stages further.
So, after vigorous debate on quite a number of amendments to the motion on the Anglican Covenant, Synod actually rejected all of them, and came back to the original motion. Engaging positively in the process of the forming of the covenant was underlined.
There had been suggestions of Synod meeting in for the additional planned (but usually dispensed with) meeting in November to ratify the final text, rather than just the draft currently before synod; or delay the delivery of the CofE response until after the February meeting of synod - but was decided that we already have people at the table in the design group, and that the process is likely not to be completed in the immediate future anyway.
Some give the impression of a feeling of fudge, or various constituencies giving in. I was rather more favourably moved by the comments from people who said their minds were changed by the debate as it went on. It ended with a resounding endorsement.
At least we will now know what Anglicans are...
The Most Reverend Drexel Gomez, (chair of the Anglican Covenant Design Group) was invited to address the General Synod on the processes involved in setting up an Anglican Covenant. This is the debate that has been flagged as being 'the key one' for this synod.
Perhaps they were right, for as Archbishop Gomez rose to speak, a huge clap of thunder shook the building. As the Bishop of Chichester rose to speak to the motion, the storms outside sought to drown his speech - but did not quite manage to.
What is this about? Well it is about being Anglican. There are some parts of the Communion that are not sure that others are indeed Anglicans. But how can anyone be sure without some definitive definition - perhaps here called covenant that Anglicans can appeal to or subscribe to?
The problem at this point is that Synod is debating the principles of a covenant, without a definitive text. Which way will it go? Will it be thrown out by Synod as a process - or tightened up - need to come back in a more finished form, to be properly debated... Let's wait to see.
Saturday, 7 July 2007
Transforming Worship is the title of the report by Liturgical Commission. It lists many areas of good practise, and encourages churches and dioceses to create worship of the highest quality. Liturgy we were informed in the debate after the presentation, liturgy was not a sub-set of worship, but rather worship is a sub-set of liturgy, as life is a working out of liturgy.
On Saturday afternoon in Synod, we were time-tabled to debate 'Possible Military Action in Iran' (GS Misc 855a & GS Misc 855b). Political debates are often delicate, and church issues can be misconstrued in reporting sometimes, so I was encouraged that here was an attempt to deal with a world issue that was so potentially volatile.
The pensions industries nationally have had a hard time over recent years. Many schemes for national organisations and businesses have had to be completely re-aligned because of the costs of running them, and the CofE is in exactly the same situation.
- Clergy have been promised in the past that 'they would be looked after in retirement'
- Pension schemes are moving towards putting between 40-50% of stipend into pensions
- Parishes cannot continue to give such accelerated increases in giving for ever
People sometimes find it hard to understand the regulations that allow which people may be married in which parish, whether it be under the reading of Banns, Bishop's Common License, Archbishop's Special License, Superintendent Registrar's Certificate, and so on.
Young people who grew up in a parish; or parents who still live there, sometimes find the rules appear arcane, discriminatory, sometimes rejecting, even if their origins might previously have made sense.
New proposals are that people with a demonstrable pastoral connection with a parish should now be able to do so, even if they do not (any longer) live there.
We were informed that today, 7 July 2007, 7-7-7, is a very auspicious date for getting married. Apparently there is a real rush on in the wedding parlours of Las Vegas.
Getting married, even with the CofE's regulations, is (relatively) easy. It is staying married, that remains much harder. In line with this, making some sort of marriage preparation mandatory, was one of the potential amendments put forward in debate. Though this was not finally included, clearly couples need as much support in married life as they can get - and I trust that, where it is offered, any preparation classes will be eagerly taken up - however weird the thought of an evening discussing married life might appear! Then perhaps marriage may not appear to be so much of a gamble.
Friday, 6 July 2007
Synod often has a keynote speech from a visitor, and today's is from Sir Albert Aynsley-Green of the Children' Society. He is also the first Children's Commissioner for England - and excited about his work and enthusiastic about his interaction with children and young people.
Their most recent work is the 11 Million project. Their website says:
You are 1 in 11 million children and young people in England, and you have a right to be heard! 11 MILLION, led by the Children's Commissioner, wants adults in charge to listen to what you've got to say. We want your rights to be respected.Much of the church's work is with children and young people, and we are encouraged by the many places and ways in which our ambitions for children overlap.
It was almost as if Sir Al was encouraging Synod to join with the statement, less as a statement, and more as a command; Children: Have more fun!
So, setting off at a not too early 8.42am made a straightforward start to the 250 mile journey north to York for the July 2007 session of the General Synod. This time by train. I nodded in deference to my title parish of Woodlands just north of Doncaster, and had more than average time to do so as the train slowed past the bad flooding, some still visible, near Toll Bar.
Door to door in about 4 hours is really good. And by train, I could feel virtuous with many other Synod members over keeping the carbon footprint to a minimum too.
However, as I queued to get my wifi password (hooray! I didn't get one at all, and couldn't easily blog, last July :o( ) one of my colleagues, confined to a wheelchair, discovered that they not only had difficulty in getting *disabled* access to accommodation rooms, but the lift to the Synod chamber was not working, and indeed would not be able to work, for the whole of this year's Synod. Getting all that way to Synod - but never quite arriving.
I trust they will get access to the Synod in some way. And I hope that the CofE will not similarly find it has made it's way to York's Synod, never quite to arrive...
Tuesday, 6 March 2007
As an aside:
in an email list this week, the question of "how much General Synod costs" came up. A wise colleague was able to answer the specifics of the question with:
Looking at the Archbishops' Council budget for 2007 GS1632 (Vote 2) the following appears under Central Secretariat, which covers at lot more than simply General Synod. Assuming that the equivalent of 5 FTE staff are engaged on GS duties most of the time (others may be able to refine this guesstimate) the staff and admin costs are likely to be of the order of £350,000. The forecast of cost increases for 2008-2010 shows Vote 2 (ie all AC functions) likely to rise at 3% pa, lower than the other votes for things like ordination training, CHARM, external grants etc.The question got me thinking though, because (though I am sure not in this case) often when people ask questions like 'How much does General Synod cost?' what is really behind the question is 'Isn't there a huge, bulky, administrative dinosaur here, that if culled, would quickly solve most of our current financial concerns in the CofE?'
So I threw together an alternative answer to the presenting financial question, largely based on last week's Synod experience. For what it is worth, I answered:
As proctor for the southern convocation, (ie as an elected member in the Province of Canterbury) I acknowledge the significant cost to gather General Synod together.Well, you would, wouldn't you? Support Synod that is, as a member of it? I suppose I do lay myself open to that criticism. But for the sorts of reasons I have just outlined, I think it is actually fairly well run, in as efficient manner as could be. I supported the idea of Synod before becoming a member of it, and I would hope that, with the appropriate checks and balances in place, I would continue to support such a vehicle to help govern the CofE at this stage in its Christian pilgrimage.
I wonder if I could put another perspective, before we get completely caught up in how huge the costs are. Firstly, We need some sort of national gathering for this national church. Synod was recently reduced by quite a significant proportion in size, and there are now less than 500 members. Synod schedules three meets a year; but works hard to make sure that only two meetings take place, if at all
possible. Last week, although Monday-Friday was set aside for business originally, in fact we finished by the Thursday evening, saving a fourth over-night cost - 25%.
Many Synod members do as much as possible to share travel costs; and many stay as cheap as possible London accommodation. I had the lousiest pillow in years; but the little monastery I was in was only £40/night - which for Westminster is extremely frugal, and cheaper than most B&Bs around, for example, Gatwick.
I have constantly been astonished at the knowledge and quality of the Synod members.
Time and again a specific expert rises up from amongst the elected members - which for me is a significant God-incidence.
- On the day last week when the morning radio news mentioned victim statements being read in court; within an hour, in the prison debate, a Synod member mentioned the catharsis of her own victim statement being read out, after her child had been murdered.
- In the Trident debate, where many were against replacing it, it was incredibly moving to have someone with significant expertise on the nuclear powered and armed submarines give a very different personal perspective to most Synod members (almost 'I wish I could tell you more, but I can't: if I did, then I would have to kill you...').
- Or having a previous chair of Film Classification Board in the Media debate.
I think we do need something like a national Synod; and this one does its best to operate in a sensible manner. A number from my Deanery came up to have a look at Synod at work last week. They were impressed at the quality and depth of the debate. If only your question had come a fortnight ago, I could have let you know how to get in too, so that the background to your question could be as best
informed as possible.
- Better still, stand for election yourself next time. That is absolutely a core reason I did, to make sure I could help in the monitoring of Synod, from within, helping to call it to account to the people in the parishes. Yet, when I first sat in on debates, I discovered many members were very good at keeping Synod very firmly attached to its grass roots.
So, postings on this blog will probably take a break through until July's Synod in York once more. (That is, if we actually get wifi access this year... please...)
A daily summary, and audio links for the Feb 2007 debates are available here. Future Synod dates can be found here, and in time agendas should appear hereabouts, and are likely to include these areas.
Thursday, 1 March 2007
OK, what about some of the others?
I have not been able to give exhaustive cover of all debates - mainly as they were exhausting. Strange how sitting around just listening to (admittedly rather intense) debates can be so tiring.
So sorry if I have not adequately covered something you wanted to hear more of:
- progress of measures and statutory instruments...
- the next draft of the Dioceses, Pastoral & Mission Measure
- what a Draft Amending Canon might be, (and how draughts might be excluded, or canons fired; tee hee)
- the next stage of FX - Fresh Expressions of church (actually a fave of mine)
- the Transferring of various Funds
- 200 years of education in CofE schools
- how the Bishops move, as a house (- probably a subject for a whole post next time)
Also, there are many press reports, or other interested group commentaries available - many from the links at the right of this blog. Do try clicking them.
How items get on the General Synod Agenda: Part 17
(Actually I haven't listed 16 other before, but...) one way is for a parish motion to be raised through the Deanery Synod, to the Diocesan Synod, and then sent on up to the General Synod. Today's motion was a good example of that. And also of some of the draw-backs.
Sometimes someone has a good idea in a parish, but they may not always be the best at crafting a motion, and so there is a chance that as the motion then makes progress through the stages, it can be honed in to shape. Hopefully. Or occasionally, a motion may be dumbed down, or changed quite radically, on it's journey.
One of the other randomising factors, is that it is rare that the original parish motion is made by a General Synod member, so on its journey up, it has to be 'fronted' by someone else.
This original motion came, I understand, from a retired priest in a parish, so by the time it got to General Synod, it was one of Synod's youngest clergy members, still in his 20s, that drew the short straw to present it.
Actually, for a motion all to do with the Media Standards, getting a youngster from the media generation to present it was inspired - and as someone else in the Synod rightly said about Richard "Didn't 'e do well!"
The Church often appears carping about the Media, and the original motion here, did come over as a bit negative, and possibly blaming. But it was asking that research be done about the effects of the media.
Once again, the House of Bishops had had their fingers on a motion first - and I think with many god points here. The lead was given by the Bishop of Manchester, whose brief normally includes broadcasting and the media anyway.
The original motion asked for Government to instigate an enquiry - but that was probably not the right body to be petitioning anyway. Again, having people in Synod like the previous president of the British Board of Film Classification, and a number of professional broadcasters, adds enormously to the quality of debate.
A number of further amendments were added, making I feel quite a helpful motion. One or two commented that they felt the motion had lost a lot of its bite, and wasn't making a clear enough point to media content producers.
But as quite a media watcher myself, and one of those who had attended the 'meet the press' - well tv producers really - fringe meeting the day before, I am certainly of the opinion that
- it is not possible to reign in the media in this YouTube and internet generation anyway
- it is more helpful to try to affect change by positive involvement from within
- many media content producers have added many positive moral dimensions recently
- statistically, hours 'religious programming' is not falling significantly
- the quality & content of religious programming is currently better than it has been for years
At the London Synods, in an aim to keep costs to the wider church as economical as possible, I often lodge at a small monastery near to Church House, which is close, about a third of the price elsewhere, and - er- quiet.
It is our practise to keep the Greater Silence until after breakfast each day....is the usual rule. Augmented by the cheery message written on the white-board greeting us this time that:
Synod Members will know that as it is Lent, we will be keeping silence throughout the monastery.So listening to the radio in the mornings feels a little bit naughty. And this mornings news had something about Victim Statements being read out in court. A number of people, whose family members had been murdered, had been allowed the chance to have a written statement read out - after the verdict, and before sentence was passed, spoke movingly of how helpful this had been. The right-ness of this practise was being explored in the radio broadcast.
Well hardly an hour later, in the chamber of the Synod, a mother was again powerfully giving testimony of the effect it had had on her family to be able to have a witness statement read out at the trial after the murder of her own son.
One could not have choreographed the two more closely, if it ad even been possible to think about planning it.
The motion being debated was about the prison side of our criminal justice system; and a presentation was made by the Director General of the Prison Service. The motion, added to, and amended, was primarily trying to seek to make the best use of the prison system for those within it, and to try and find alternative ways of dealing with offenders, rather than simply incarcerating them. Again a high-quality debate, with a number of significant speeches from people with considerable professional expertise.
Chichester Diocese members of Synod were invited to help with the Morning Prayers on St. David's Day. Kevin, our blind member of Synod, was going to be reading from Jeremiah, and with his mane of hair and resplendent beard, he looked every bit the patriarch/prophet whose Biblical book Kevin was reading from a Braille script from.
I had been invited to help with some of the prayers. Getting St David in there was clearly going to be important. Now pronunciation in other languages, I am not really quite so hot on. A bit of French, or possibly some South Indian Telugu, or even a bit of Aotearoa/New Zealand Maori I might manage. But Welsh, no way.
Fortunately, just before the start of the service, there was an Archbishop to hand, from whom to plead advice on the pronunciation of the Welsh version of St David: Dewi Sant.
The reply was: Deh-wee. I made a mental note, writing it down phonetically, still a bit worried I may get it clumsily wrong. And then the archbishop turned back, and with a twinkle and a smile added - "Like 'dairy', but with a lisp...!". That helped - and I suspect both you and I will remember that one now.
At the end of prayers, the Archbishop of York got a round of applause from the synod for presenting the Archbishop of Canterbury with a bunch of daffodils, placed on the front table. Brilliant. Though if I understand it correctly, actually a bunch of leeks would have been more appropriate to remember the saint by; though the table might have reeked a bit more...
++Sentamu's gift of daffodils for ++Rowan!
Wednesday, 28 February 2007
The second debate at Synod, on Wednesday afternoon, was on Civil Partnerships.
Again, this debate - as originally set out - had a fairly strong perceived agenda. Asking that there be clarity around the area of the Bishops' guidelines on Civil Partnerships especially, as the proposer's background notes pointed out:
... a survey which claims to indicate that the Guidelines have been universally ignored. No discipline appears to have been exercised.Once again, the House of Bishops brought an amendment; once again it was perceived to emasculate the original motion. Interestingly, generally, those more offended by the Bishops' intervention in the first motion were less concerned about it in this motion - or vice versa.
Though some were just annoyed (as previously mentioned) at the Bishops' interventions at all. Mutterings were heard around Synod about:
The Church of England: Episcopally led and Synodically governed?For what it's worth, I was actually grateful for the House of Bishop's amendments on both occasions, as I am not at all sure I felt at ease about voting for either original motion, with their background papers, and dare I say baggage; but felt much happier about supporting something more moderate on each occasion.
Primatially led and Episcopally governed, more like...
Synod, however was not going to led the bishops just get away with it though, and for the second time in the day, a raft of amendments from the floor were presented, and debated.
Strangely, the bishops' own amendment was later further emasculated, I think, in what some considered a strange alliance between conservatives and liberals in the synod - for very different reasons! - voting out several paragraphs the bishops wanted in.
This debate was a little déjà vue, with many of the same speakers from this morning's debate being called again, and giving very similar speeches. Indeed one speaker was called very early, twice, and introduced as a maiden speech on each occasion... Methinks the cream wedding dress was definitely in order second time around.
By the end of the debate, I think synod was tired, and just wanted it over. No more. Let's just get on and vote on something. The final vote, slimmed down, was of course passed by a significant majority; but it did feel like the second debate suffered from being around the same basic subject on the same day.
It could have been (didn't I just say this?) much, much worse. Again. But wasn't.
And ironically, in a number of fringe meetings, I think some real progress on listening, and more, dialogue, was really going on.
Can we please talk about something else now?
In between two motions on sex, or at least homosexuality, Synod had to think a bit about new technologies. The new Synod chamber, once refurbished, we were told, would have the facility to speed up voting, by having electronic voting.
I suppose I guessed that would be some sort of ‘Who wants To Be A Millionaire’ style box attached to the back of the seat in front or whatever. Stupidly, I had forgotten that the seats are no longer fixed, and that any electronic voting system would need to be hand-held, portable and wireless. And with a microphone attached, for the making of speeches in the chamber.
Suddenly, a whole new range of possibilities becomes apparent. Could members now vote from the gallery? (- currently forbidden under Standing Orders, but actually where a number of members - especially dare I mention, bloggers, sit; but currently cannot vote, unless there is enough warning the vote is coming up, and a handful of members dash down the stairs to the chamber!) What if the hand held unit is taken out of the chamber? Can votes be still made? Will there be a pin-number to tie it to a particular vote? Can my voting pattern be tracked, or made public? Could somebody else get hold of my unit, and surreptitiously vote on my behalf? Or could somehow some external block-vote be made, completely altering Synod’s mind on an issue. That would be disastrous. (Unless of course it was towards the direction I particularly wanted. - Actually that is not even funny. Security is vital here.)
There will be a few things that need ironing out. It is perhaps all too easy to make snap decisions on voting. Actually, voting by a show of hands can be very helpful, as some Synod members who may not be experts in a particular subject being voted on, can more easily get the feel from more experienced colleagues.
It will also speed up the laborious ‘vote by houses’, or even a ‘vote of the full house’ procedures considerably. Synod could get more done, I suspect. There is also the possibility of being able to show voting stats graphically immediately as votes are made. It could be a whole new way of 'doing' synod.
But I think there may well be something else going on here. I suspect it is likely to have far reaching consequences too. In that other 'House' across the road, on the banks of the Thames, I am sure there will be those watching to see how Synod copes with electronic voting. After all, these two national institutions have much they in common...
Parliament & the National Church have:
- shared buildings a number of times
- shared debating patterns & styles of government
- shared voting methods
- shared Head (of State and Church)
- some shared membership (at least 1 MP, a number of Lords Spiritual...)
- add your own here...
So then it won't be electronic voting just in the Houses of Laity, Clergy, and Bishops; but probably the Houses of Commons and Peers too...
Edit: A photo of one of the votes of the whole Synod, just before members file out of the 'Ayes' and 'Noes' doors
So. The long expected debates on Lesbian & Gay Christians, and Civil Partnerships, at General Synod.
Firstly, the Bishops had been a bit sneaky on both of these. I think probably rightly. I think they were probably trying to pre-empted a much worse set of discussions - even if they wound up many in Synod by their (we are not allowed to call them 'wrecking') amendments, morning and afternoon.
Almost immediately we were in to Synod politics. A move for 'Next Business'. To kill the debate? Possibly, but the speaker actually gave quite eloquent reasons as to why this discussion now might not be the best timing (with Tanzania just last week; and press headlines of a "Church obsessed with sex", he may well have had a point). But Next Business-ing it would have meant that it could not come back to Synod within the 5 years of this quinquennium. That lost.
And was almost immediately replaced with a move to 'Adjourn' the debate (not as devastating a consequence as Next Business). Again that lost. So for a moment it looked like there may be have been no debate at all, but it did then get started.
For those who had been in any doubt before as to whether this motion might shift the base of the theological position of the CofE, there was now quite a lot of clarity. That was indeed the thrust of those supporting the motion. And many in Synod felt that was already long over-due.
There were also a number of very spirited rejoinders from those seeking to maintain the historic position. What was encouraging from - most of - these was a fairly genuine warmth, and a desire to see progress on from just listening, to engaging dialogue, and even in some ways working together.
The lead Bishop (both very cleverly chosen, I thought) introduced his amendment to the motion. Some felt that this significantly reduced the effectiveness of the original motion, but soon there was an additional amendment, which cleverly managed to bring much more sensitivity to the gay aspect of the motion, whilst not alienating so many of the conservatives or traditionalists.
There were many eloquent, passionate, and wide-ranging speeches. And not too much rubbishing of other peoples theology and Biblical interpretation.
The amended amended (not a repeated word!) motion was then put. (It is always hard for the original proposer of a motion that, now amended, bears little relation to what you thought you had proposed. I myself got caught out with that in another synod in another place - having to ask people to vote in favour for something I was no longer sure I supported.)
However, it was passed, and by a big majority.
Some felt that it was 'not much progress'. But then for some others it was several stages further than they might have originally wanted too go. It has been described as "could have been worse" by quite a few. And apart from the mealy-mouthed tenor of such a comment, I think actually, it could, indeed, have been much much worse for either one 'side' or another. In the end a long and intense debate seemed to get to reach quite a significant place. I, for one, was relieved it was not much, much worse.
(problems connecting in the chamber again earlier... got posted eventually...)
Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Synod does have a rather dramatic way of swaying people backwards and forwards sometimes.
One of the most important aspects of this measure was to open up access for people wanting to seek God's blessing on their marriages in church - though currently they may not be allowed to.
So, initial draft guidelines seemed to imply that as long as one had grandparents who had at one stage lived in the parish, that was connection enough. All of a sudden, clergy of pretty churches began to be concerned they would now become little more than wedding machines.
So what way forward? Restrict it down again (which in fact the later draft regulations now suggest...) or rather open it up further - possibly completely remove residentiary or other qualifying connections.
So although in July there was quite a lot of opposition to a complete free-for-all in July's synod, this February synod has loudly applauded those seeking to remove restrictions (now that they had seen them written down).
The 'take note' vote was passed - but a lot of hands went up in opposition...
It moved straight to a discussion of the Draft Measure, clause by clause, but...
There was a sense of unease in the chamber, and after a member spoke of a sense of the change in feel of the synod since July - describing it as feeling like synod was o a roller coaster going somewhere they did not want to go, and wondering how best to get off.
Some may see this as a synod that is swayed by the inconsequential feelings of the moment; others will find this a sign of hope - a synod that is able to see it might have headed the wrong way, and be brave enough to try to radically change it's mind!
A long pause in synod, a major huddle of lawyers, and inspection of procedures followed...
After a promise from the revision committee that it would return for a further stage of revision, the debate on amendments carried on - synod needed to have that promise of a potential to change before they would proceed.
So back to revision with this one then! That will mean at least another summer with clergy having to cope with the most unsatisfactory current regulations, before new procedures come in...
Government has required the CofE to look at Terms of Service for clergy. Many clergy have 'freehold' - but many do not. This is particularly so for new clergy, and for members of team ministries and those others with license as priest-in-charge, ie those who are not 'beneficed clergy', clergy holding a benefice. Under current legislation that means that some clergy, at the end of a fixed term of office, with no security of tenure, may be found in a tribunal to have been inappropriately dismissed - but no recourse to redress, as they are not employees. Plenty of responsibility; but with very few rights.
Some feel that freehold should be guarded at all costs - but it is clear that freehold has actually slowly been eaten away at over the years, and it does not necessarily mean what one might expect it to mean. For example, although I have the freehold, as soon as I stick up a For Sale sign up outside my vicarage, I expect the full weight of the diocesan structures to fall upon me like the proverbial ton of bricks the vicarage is constructed from. So, freehold - but not as we know it.
What is proposed is a move towards Common Tenure. However, again, from a lawyer's or surveyor's perspective, not as we know it. It appears the church has stolen a phrase in use elsewhere, and re-interpreted it for its own use. Sometimes this is good thing... sometimes it just serves to confuse. Hey ho.
Freeholders can, on occasions of stubbornness, clog the wider church's ministry in particular places. This is 'not a good thing' generally. However, the rights of the office-holder (rather than the employee) without freehold, do clearly need to be strengthened, but in a way that allows for duties to be effectively monitored, and with a realistic sense of accountability.
Common Tenure is, it is argued, actually at least as strong as freehold. That, and its universal application, I welcome. There are issues about property though - particularly parsonages (as vicarages and rectories are collectively called). Who will know 'own' these?
Current suggestions are that a new sort of Diocesan Parsonages Board, independent of the Diocesan Finances, is set up to hold these in trust for each individual parish. As this legislation moves forward, I suspect this is one of the areas that will be pored over in much more detail at the next revision stage of the legislation.
It has now been sent on to the Revision Committee, where a few small issues may be further teased out, but the substantial direction of the legislation is now set.
There is a link on the CofE news page directly to the decisions Synod is taking - almost as they are done. An audio feed is also available (hear, hear - geddit?) from the news page link or the General Synod link.
I know few clergy who care much about pensions. At least not in the early years of ministry.
But towards the end of their service, these occupiers of tied cottages (even if some are like small mansions, with leaky roofs and windows) find themselves conscious of the need for care for them selves in retirement.
Clergy are frequently reminded that their housing is considered a sort of benefit in kind, and given a monetary value, making the sometimes rather meagre stipend appear much more generous. However, when it comes to retiring, even those clergy receiving the full 2/3 of final stipend as their pension, get only 2/3 of the paid stipend, not the 2/3 of the larger 'benefit in kind' figure. Many clergy find providing for their own housing - often starting a mortgage at the age of 65+ - hard to do. Especially those who, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, were told that they should sell their houses on coming into the ministry as the church would support them appropriately in retirement. I was amongst those, who, without better advise at that point, sold my house.
However, we are aware as a national church that what we might want to provide for our clergy, and what we can realistically expect churches to pay, need to be taken in balance. The motion before synod was finally passed un-amended.
The new chamber in the refurbished Church House
All the seating is now on the flat; and seats are moveable
The Archbishop of York during Questions
There are now 3 desks for contributors to debates. Each is 'mic'ed; but rumour has it that when we go 'electronic voting' the said gadgets will have individual member mics in them. In this photo, John Ashwin of Chichester is speaking.
Monday, 26 February 2007
Synod is a fascinating place. Introduce a debate on replacing Trident, with a motion that implies that the Government really should not go down the route of replacing it, with a whole lot of McCarthy 'pinkos', and even bishops and archbishops clearly opposed to neuclear warfare
- and then you get...
Three speakers, nay, members, with extensive military experience. Not just one, but three, including a brigadier no less. One even with knowledge of the specific type of atomic submarine in question. "These are not like cars, that you just turn the key and the engine starts up and off you go. These ships take much time and preparation to start up, and then need to move to position to be operational. Not so much like 24hrs to firing; more like 24 days". He had also said something along the lines of: 'I am bound by the official secrets act not to tell you all I know on this' - almost: I could tell, but then I would have to kill you.
But seriously, for Synod to be able to turn out from amongst its members, for every contentious debate I have been to, those that can speak from real knowledge and experience, is brilliant. This means that Synod has a real opportunity to consider issues that many members may be against, but have full access to the sort of information it needs before final conclusions are reached. Synod can be a truly impressive place, even - possibly, hopefully especially - when Synod is not in full agreement with itself on difficult issues.
At the start of each Synod, the Business Committee has to report. It decides the order and the content of the agenda, and Synod members often like to ask the justification for discussing what we are, when we are, and how we are.
Highlights of Prebendery Kay Garlick's launch into Synod proper included:
These are ammendments to Motions, which substantially re-direct the original point of the motion. There had been suspiscion by many, that the two Private Member Motions on homosexuality to be debated on Wednesday, were subject to effectively wrecking ammendments by the House of Bishops. The Business Committee said that in their opnion the ammendments put by the bishops were not wrecking as such.
Even though both start by saying "After 'This Synod...'; replace with..."
It is no time at all (ok; 2004) since Synod questioners were granted the grace of being given, an hour before the question was formally put, the written form of the answer they could expect. It was now felt that this had changed the lively and spontaneous nature of questions, with subsequent supplementary questions being rather more planned also; and the Business Cttee has been regretting that, and seeks to go back to no notice of answers being given.
Thet were also thinking that thery may restrict the number of questions that were given 'live' answers, the rest just getting written answers. But who decides which are answered verbally!? A member from Liverpool came up with a fantastic solution. Two machines, one named Cantuar, and the other Ebor, with numbered coloured balls in them, spontaneously give the numbers of the questions to be answered live. Just brilliant.
Since the 'upgrade', one of the key things is that the fixed tiered benches are gone, and the chairs are removable. Echos in some parishes of 'to pew, or not to pew'. I think the seats do have more leg-room, and are better padded for the comfort of members. But losing the raking of the seating is a major loss. Now we can only see the backs of the heads in front of us. One member noted 'I used to be able to see 200 people in this chamber; now I can only see 20'. I'm not sure that the Corporation of Church House will be too chuffed to hear this. But it may be that being able tio have a flat floor, and clear the chamber completely, makes for a much more flexible room, even if it is at the cost of a slightly more comfortable, eye-contactable, debating style.
Well, a year has passed since the last CofE General Synod held in London, and since that time, Church House in Westminster has been formally 'closed', and much re-furbished, with many new offices for staff now shoe-horned into the building. This means that the Church Comissioners staff, and other Church House staff, are all now gathered under one roof. This allows '1 Millbank' to be used for other purposes, and the funds that generated to be redirected towards the Church's mission, which sounds good to me.
I have a few photos of the chamber which I wilapparentlyortly; though I was stopped from taking some others - aparently Synod members are not allowed to take photos from the Press area - which sounds a little bizare. I suppose one shouldn't complain, as at least we do have wifi access this time, and so blogging this synod is back as a possibility.
I have comments later about the 'new' chamber in practise; but one of the surprises is that though we are in the renewed chamber, electronic voting has not yet arrived. There is to be a discussion about the introduction of electronic voting during a lunch-time break in debates on homosexuality on Wednesday.
But for today's debates, we have still been voting in the good old fashioned way, with even a division of the whole Synod for a close count on an amendment to the 'Trident' debate.
In his Presidential address, part of which reflected on last week's meeting of the Primates in East Africa (the concept alone raises a titter, and irreverent images of monkeys tea partys - all very un-pc concepts these days) the Archbishop of Canterbury helped Synod to look at some of the issues Primates of the Provinces had been exploring over the previous fortnight. Many have already commented and blogged on this (for a starting point, have a look at ThinkingAnglicans).
The full text of the Archbishop's Address is here.
I was particularly struck by this small paragraph:
"Yet – to speak personally for a moment – the persistence of the Communion as an organically international and intercultural unity whose aim is to glorify Jesus Christ and to work for his Kingdom is for me and others just as much a matter of deep personal and theological conviction as any other principle. About this, I am entirely prepared to say ‘Here I stand and I cannot do otherwise’. And I believe the Primates have said the same."
Tuesday, 13 February 2007
The last two items of business related to Prisons and Marriages (unconnected items!)
The prison issue related to the withdrawal of a pastoral support course in Dartmoor prison and the concern that there was more widespread lack of Christian input into the rehabilitation of Offenders. The Bishop of Worcester sought to reassure Synod that the reports were inaccurate and that there are a lot of other courses for prisoners with a Christian input.
Mrs Joanna Monckton (Lichfield) introduced a Private Member’s Motion on the Married Couple’s Tax Allowance stating that government legislation had penalised married people and served to undermine marriage itself. An amended motion was passed asking both church and government to give priority to supporting family life and for the latter to remove ‘the considerable financial penalties placed on marriage by the tax and benefit system’.
After 28½ hours of debate over four days plus attendance at fringe meeting we departed for home.
The morning was taken up with a debate on the process following the acceptance on Saturday that Synod affirmed the majority view of the House of Bishops regarding the consecration of Women to the Episcopate. The motion before synod asked for further theological refection in dioceses, deaneries and parishes and the setting up of a drafting committee to explore how this could be achieved at the same time making provisions for those that are opposed.
Synod made two amendments the motion. The first to include reference to the Lambeth Conference resolution of 1988 which affirms that proponents and opponents would be treated as loyal Anglicans and secondly to Canon A4 which states a Bishop is a Bishop without reference to gender. The drafting committee have an impossible task and are unlikely to report back to Synod before February 2008.
Baroness Kathleen Richardson presented the report Faithful Cities: A call for celebration, vision and justice (about ‘enriching urban life’) from the ecumenical Commission on Urban Life. Synod welcomed its emphasis on the role of faith communities in encouraging social cohesion, on its drawing attention to the inequalities regarding health, education, housing and income, and for its plea for a renewal of church commitment to urban ministry and mission. Endorsing the report Synod underlined the importance of the transforming power of the Gospel in individual and society’s lives which is the unique contribution of the churches.
In the evening David McLean gave an update from the Clergy Terms and Conditions of Service Implementation group on the move towards Common Tenure and the safeguards around capability procedures, tribunals, property rights etc.
Archbishop Rowan preached the sermon at York Minister based on the text about Jesus sending the disciples out with nothing, no food, no money, not even a change of clothing. This was to demonstrate that we need to have nothing but the power of God in our lives.
In the afternoon Synod received reports on Clergy Pensions and the Church Commissioners. Information was given in February that pension contributions from parishes would need to increase in the light of factors common to most other pension providers. The Pensions Task Group presented Synod with three options to consider. Their favoured option was that parish contributions, which would increase anyway in Jan 2007 from 33% to 39% of stipend (£7,307 pa per clergy person), should be retained at this level, that the required years of service be increased from 37 to 40 and pension rises limited to RPI and not stipend rates. Further work is to be done and Synod will hear again in 2007. The First Church Estates Commissioner, Mr Andreas Whittam Smith, presented their report for 2005. Synod was pleased with the wise stewardship of the resources of the Church Commissioners but asked for ways to be found for greater consultation regarding investments when the reputation of the church might be involved.
Synod supported a motion on Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Southwark Diocese asking the Mission and Public Affairs Council to find ways of encouraging the church to take specific action to back the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to reduce emissions from the 1990 level by 60% by 2050.
Saturday was dominated by two subjects: - the consecration of women to the episcopate, and the legislative agenda of the Church of England.
The Archbishop of York speaking on behalf of the majority of the House of Bishops invited Synod explicitly ‘to reach a view about whether admitting women to the episcopate in the church of England would be theologically justified’ And whether it would ‘welcome and affirm’ such a view. From the debate one sensed that for many, the theology behind this issue had been debated over several decades and that many of the current objections from ecumenical partners were flawed. Voting was by houses and although the motion was passed in all houses it just failed to achieve a two thirds majority in the House of Laity by 3 votes, a requirement later on in the process on this issue.
The rest of the day was spent the Diocese, Pastoral and Mission Measure. This is designed to provide in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury ‘a principles and careful loosening of structures’ to improve the Church’s ability to respond to mission opportunities. The Measure includes new provision for diocesan re-organisation and more flexible procedures for pastoral re-organisation and the closure of churches no longer required for worship. Of particular interest was its provision of a legal framework, with minimum bureaucracy, for mission initiatives. The Synod recognised its considerable implications and opportunities for parishes, patrons and cooperation with other churches.
The draft Church of England Marriage Measure, designed to extend the range of places where people can be married in the Church of England, was well received by Synod and was sent to its revision stage. Whereas Synod had previously agreed that people could get married in a church where they had a ‘demonstrable connection’, they agreed that this should be changed to a ‘qualifying connection’. This would include their, or their relative’s, past residence in the parish or their past involvement in the church. There were expressions of concern about possible excessive demands on ‘pretty’ churches, but also ones of delight about opportunities for parishes to work together and of the relaxing of the current inflexible rules. The preliminaries of banns, common licence or special licence would be retained.
General Synod July Sessions 2006
What follows is not a verbatim report of the meeting of General Synod but an outline to keep people informed of what Synod is getting up to. A full outline of all motions can be found in the Agenda for the February Group of Sessions (GS1612); that and all Synod papers quoted are available from Church House Bookshop or at this link.
Most of the day was spent travelling to York with sessions starting mid afternoon. The debate on the paper relating to Further Education Chaplaincy Pushing Further: From Strategy to Action enabled a lot of personal stories to emerge of the value of chaplaincy services, especially at a time of crises. 43% of young people aged 16-19 years are learners in FE colleges as well as 4.6 million adults. The paper encouraged the church to double the number of posts and the addition of central & regional support through 7 tasks. These tasks were likely to be challenging in today’s financial climate.
The Presidential Address by the Archbishop of York exhorted the synod, at a time of controversy, to heed St Paul’s words, ‘let your gracious magnanimity be manifest to all’ (Phil 4:5), adding that ‘a graciously-magnanimous church has a responsibility to affirm moral standards’.
The Archbishop of Canterbury made a statement following the recent decisions by the Episcopal Church in the USA not to fully respond to the request in the Windsor report in the matter of sexual ethics. The Archbishop made a carefully worded statement on the importance of unity even in the face of strongly divergent opinion. He said, ‘It is a question of how we work out, faithfully, attentively, obediently what we need to do and say in order to remain within sight and sound of each other in the fellowship to which Christ has called us’. However he foresaw ‘a situation in which there may be more divisions than at present’. He further explained the idea of possible ‘constituent’ and ‘associate’ members of the Communion. The situation is being monitored in preparation for the Primates’ meeting in February 2007.
... so apologies for that.
We were not able to have wifi access at York after all, and due to a modem fault, I was not able to get online and post anything.
Particularly as I had asked for wifi access in advance and was told that we would have it. And 'a bishop I know' was busy using his laptop on the York wifi in the chamber, so a little lack of parity going on there methinks... But enough said.
I did have notes at the time, but I'm afraid that they got - um - well you remember "the dog ate my homework sir"?
However, one of my colleagues did much better in the note-taking department, and I have their permission to place their notes from July's York General Synod online instead. So the following few blogs notes relate back to then, and sort of keep the thread running - if belatedly - before the new sitting of Synod starts the week after next.
The following 5 blogs are posted my me on behalf of M.