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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

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