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Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Synod costs HOW much? - a final reflection on the Feb2007 Synod

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.

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.
  • 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.
Time and again a specific expert rises up from amongst the elected members - which for me is a significant God-incidence.

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.
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.

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.

Alastair GS101

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Wot No ? (add your query here) ? - (d) 1Mar2007

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)
A daily summary, and audio links for the Feb 2007 debates are available here.

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.

Alastair GS101

Media Via Media? - (c) 1 Mar2007

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
So, I am all for encouraging what is good in the media, that God's light may indeed shine through.

Alastair GS101

Crime & Time - (b) 1Mar2007

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.

Alastair GS101

"Like Dairy with a Lithp" - (a) 1Mar2007

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...

Alastair GS101

++Sentamu's gift of daffodils for ++Rowan!