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Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Civil (and less-civil?) Partnerships - (c) 28Feb2007

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?
Primatially led and Episcopally governed, more like...
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.

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?

Alastair GS101

Electronic Voting; In All 5 Houses? - (b) 28Feb2007

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...
I suspect Parliament will be happy for Synod to iron out any difficulties, and will promptly copy.

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...

Alastair GS101

Edit: A photo of one of the votes of the whole Synod, just before members file out of the 'Ayes' and 'Noes' doors

On Making People Feel Included. Or Not. - (a) 28Feb2007

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...)

Alastair GS101

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Love and Marriage, the Rollercoaster - (d) 27Feb2007

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...

Alastair GS101

Terms of Service - (c)27Feb2007

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.

Alastair GS101

Hear, hear - (b) 27Feb2007

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.

Alastair GS101

Pensions - (a) 27Feb2007

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.

Feb 2007 General Synod pics

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

Trident - (c) 26Feb2007

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.

Alastair GS101

Synod's Business - (b) 26Feb2007

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:

Wrecking Amendments
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.

The Chamber
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.

Alastair GS101

New Chamber, Same Old Synod (And Voting...) - (a) 26Feb2007

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.

Alastair GS101

Presidential address: An Obstinate Will - 26Feb2007

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

York General Synod - Tues11Jul2006


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.

York General Synod - Mon10Jul2006


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.

York General Synod - Sun9Jul2006


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.

York General Synod - Sat8Jul2006


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.

York General Synod - Fri7Jul2006

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.

OK, so that didn't work...

... 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.