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Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Photos around Synod, and York - (b) 6-10July2007

The Central Hall of York University, across the lake

Looking past the Central Hall to the science block

General Synod members grabbing a break from the debates

Inside the Central Hall during a presentation

Looking along York city walls from the station towards the Minster

Lendal Bridge, over the River Ouse

A shool party in the Quire of the Minster

The congregation after the Sunday 8 July morning service that Synod attended

The ceiling of the Chapter House, York Minster

All photos Alastair GS101
Prox It

Wrapping up synod - (a) 10July2007

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.

Alastair GS101

Monday, 9 July 2007

Talent & Calling, and the pipeline - (d) 9July2007

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.

Alastair GS101

Ability and Disability issues amongst the clergy - (c) 9July2007

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.

Alastair GS101

Fear not; be not afraid - (a) 9July2007

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 bells
That still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
Identifying where the church's individual and corporate brokenness allows God's Light and Life to come 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:
- 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.
Fear can paralyse - but dealing with issues, even when fear overwhelms us, needs to be put into context.
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.”

So, my brothers and sisters, let us not be afraid.

But rather, Put out into the deep.
A careful encouragement, with supporting evidence, to Synod, to churches and to individuals.

No fear.

Alastair GS101

Sunday, 8 July 2007

More on the (Methodist) Covenant - (c) 8July2007

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.

Alastair GS101

More on the (Anglican) Covenant - (b) 8July2007

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...

Alastair GS101

The Communion Service - (a) 8July2007

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.

Alastair GS101

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Fantasy Land - (d) 7July2007

All Age Worship in Nativity Service

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.

It has some excellent points and recommendations, links and ideas within it. However, the motion put to synod at the end of the dabate included asking all the 29 worthy recommendations to be required to be implemented in dioceses and parishes. A spirited discussion ensued as to whether we need to constantly ask ourselves to do things in reports presented to Synod in this way. 'Stale expressions of being Synod', it was suggested; fantasy land to assume dioceses would do them all. Mandating the recommendations was voted down - but it is still worth chewing over tasty and nourishing morsels within it...

Alastair GS101

On debating difficult issues - (c) 7July2007

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.

However, soon after the debate was introduced by an excellent and sensitive speech, someone from the floor asked to 'move next business'. It was done so by a synod member who had contact with the church in Iran, and wanted to make sure that sensitivities were not damaged just before a new bishop started ministry in that part of the world.
The motion as put was actually trying to prevent possible military action - a concept that few in Iran would have objection too.
The presenter of the motion maintained that synod should be mature enough to have such a debate, with tempered and measured language, and sensitivity to views other than those of members of the synod. There was also an issue with the quashing of a Private Members Motion that had risen by popular demand as subject for debate - how appropriate is it to prevent such an issue being debated?
A vote was taken as to whether the 'next business' should be moved to. A show of hands was too close to call - a count of the full house denied by a very small majority the issue being debated.
I trust that friends of all faiths in Iran will know that this does not mean that the General Synod of the CofE does not support them; far from it. It was through not wishing to offend any that the debate was withdrawn.
Personally, I wish we could have said something that was a bit mire positive, rather than just not saying anything negative.
Alastair GS101

Old priests don't die... - (b) 7July2007

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.

Where it is perhaps more complicated for clergy is that they have to live in tied accommodation for the whole of their working life, and then for many, enter the housing market on retirement. Some clergy were even encouraged to sell houses a number of years ago, to help pay for training. A scheme currently available for clergy allows approximately £100k on a sort of loan, to buy somewhere - and it is acknowledged that there are few places in the country where it might even be possible to buy a reasonable house for that sort of sum.
So who pays for the clergy pensions? It is complicated, but by and large, the people in the parishes do. And here is the rub: 
  • 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
Many referred to not wishing to 'rob Peter to pay Paul'. Some of the current plans are to restrict what clergy pensions might be, so that costs are not excessive. A Synod report a number of years ago on pensions was called Generosity and Sacrifice. It would appear that parishes and clergy both need to make sacrifices, and both need to be generous. There are no easy solutions to the pensions conundrum, but after thorough discussion, nay agonising, Synod feels it is making the best decision, for now.
Alastair GS101

I'm getting married... - (a) 7July2007

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.

Alastair GS101

Friday, 6 July 2007

Children have more fun - (b) 6July2007

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!

Alastair GS101

Getting to Synod ?- (a) 6July2007

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...

Alasatir GS101