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Thursday, 14 February 2008

Join the Synod Blog

Members of General Synod are very welcome to join this blog.

Anyone can comment of course, without joining - but joining allows you to create your own postings. Not a member of Synod but still interested in posting? Contact me.

If you would like to join, email:
synod - at - mac - dot - com
If your request gets 'spammed out' contact me via my email address in Synod members booklet.

Alastair, GS101

The Valentine Bishop

So, Valentine’s Day. Which , if any, of the several bishop’s of old should be identified as the ‘love associated’ bishop, is not completely clear.

Two (otherwise unassociated!) General Synod members with Valentine balloons.

Soon after his election as Bishop of St Albans, as a teenager I remember John Taylor introducing himself at the Greenbelt Festival as ‘the Valentine Bishop’, his Diocese including as it does the Counties of Herts & Beds.

I promised a tenuous Valentine’s/Watford link: it is that John Taylor was also a youngster from St Luke’s in Watford, the church that later fostered my own vocation to the ministry. In fact, the church had sponsored so many over the years, they used to have a board at the back of the church with the names of all those that had gone on to serve God’s church is one way or another. I hope by now they have filled it up and started on another board…

Alastair GS101
Prox It

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Accommodation for Synod

St. Edward's House on the right; Church House on the left;
Dean's Yard Westminster through the arch

Daily Services at St. Edward's House

The stained-glass panel with the eagle emblem of
St. John the Evangelist in the Refectory

Members of General Synod have a suggested living allowance for London sittings of the Synod, which will cover modest accommodation in the heart of the capital. An ex-Chichester General Synod member had informed me of one of the best kept secrets as far as local B&B was concerned. St. Edward's House, the London base of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (also known as the Cowley Fathers). This particularly appealed, as 'a church I know' is dedicated to St. John the Evangelist too.

St. Edward's House couldn't be closer to Church House Westminster, the London base of General Synod (just the width of Tufton Street), and couldn't be much more simple. Always rather frugal, (breakfast - cereal & toast - is always silent), they are even more so during the season of Lent, and it appears the February General Synod seems to rather regularly fall in the middle Lent. And about as inexpensive as any church accountant, or Common Fund or Parish Share paying parishioner could hope for.

But they are also a house of prayer, and over a number of years have had a number of key folks from that other 'House' in Westminster as members of the Society, regularly attending, praying, and being prayed for, in the chapel at St. Edward's House, as the list of daily service times shows.

Members of the community in London are now very few, (there are others elsewhere), but their work remains important. God bless them.

Alastair, GS101

Anglican Communion Covenant

What is a ‘covenant’?
It can mean different things in different contexts. One of the most frequently used images of covenant is that of a marriage. Being committed to each other ‘for better for worse… till death us do part’ is a powerful symbol. At a time that the Anglican Communion is supposedly on the verge of fracture, the idea of a Covenant for, or between, Anglican church Provinces has been raised.

This is (relatively) new, and is being formed under the auspices of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and chaired by Archbishop Drexel Gomez.

However, in its ‘Second Draft’ stage, published just before Synod’s meeting, it has raised issues about how to deal with provinces of the Communion who do not feel able to be part of the Covenant, because of the principles or restrictions it may put on them. Or how does one deal with a province that steps ‘out of line’ - wherever that line has been drawn?

Several Synod members started to question whether ‘covenant’ was the right word to use in this context, especially if it becomes exclusive or punitive. Yet there are many nuanced Biblical images of covenant, from God’s Covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses, through even Jonah, and of course the whole New Covenant introduced through Jesus in the New Testament.
A number of Synod members were unsure about Covenant in principle, and this one in particular. Several, even bishops, spoke of a ‘gloomy atmosphere’ around the progress of the Covenant - and yet a number of others see it as giving a clear sense of purpose, mission, and direction to why these provinces would seek to be gathered together in Communion. A huge majority voted to take note of this next draft of the Covenant; conscious that they were not ratifying this particular version.

During this session, I was sitting next to Peter Ould, who blogged this debate here; whilst Dave Walker was doodling over the other side of the chamber. This is his cartoon; Peter Ould and I were sitting just above the words Public Gallery:

Alastair GS101
Prox It

Childrens Eucharistic Prayers

Before each set of General Synod sessions, I usually circulate information about the up-coming agenda amongst those of my contacts who may be interested. A Children’s Eucharistic Prayer was one item that attracted my attention, and I highlighted it in the forthcoming business.

In my accompanying paragraph, I wrote something like: “There will be a debate on the introduction of Children’s Eucharistic Prayers - Sydney Diocese, keep up”. This was supposed to be a slightly tongue-in-cheek jest, based on the fact that the Diocese of Sydney has been pushing for some time over the area of introducing Lay Presidency at the Eucharist, and here was the CofE thinking one stage more radical!

Lay presidency is about allowing the people of God, the laos, to lead - or preside - at the Eucharist.

Within the Anglican (and indeed Roman Catholic and Orthodox tradition) the presidency of the Eucharist or Holy Communion service is reserved to the orders of priests (and bishops). With these people, the church has recognised something of God at work in them, and they have been chosen and had a theological training, in part, to prepare them for this duty and service.

Even understanding that to be the case with CofE position, one team of church folks near me actually picked up the idea, of children not only being involved within existing liturgies, but to some extent, helping officiate at them. They were excited at the idea of children taking a lead within Eucharistic services; and were subsequently considerably disappointed that this was not really what the motion being debated was suggesting.

However, none of that prevented a robust and interesting debate on a possible Eucharistic prayer for use with children. A deaf member of Synod signed a speech asking for consideration of those sometimes excluded from liturgies; and another member asked for liturgies with fewer words and more images. In the end Synod asked the House of Bishops to commission not just one, but Eucharistic “prayers” for use with children.

These will now circulate around both the Liturgical Commission, and the House of Bishops, for a while, and then eventually return to Synod for formal authorization. I’m only sorry we have not had any before now…

Alastair GS101

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


Synod humourists earlier in the day were ‘laying bets’ on the outcome of the previous agenda item, the Clergy Terms of Service regulations, as the issue with vicarages had been flagged as potentially bringing the whole measure down. Would it float or would it sink? Deal or no deal??

In fact Synod members were very conscious of the ways that not just casinos, but gambling itself, has a pernicious effect on many in our society, and that is no joking matter. Although entitled ‘Casinos’, the debate picked up on many other areas of gambling, and especially the recent rapid growth in internet gambling.

At least one bishop in debate said he had changed his mind - from being ‘pro’ a Super Casino* in his patch, for the large expected increase in income and employment opportunities, but was now firmly against.

The debate also raised the difficulties surrounding the National Lottery; and how regrettable it is that now there are so few grants available to the church from the Government, except via the Heritage Lottery Fund, and how distasteful that is to a church in principle dubious of gambling.

Alastair GS101

*The proposal for having a Super Casino, previously announced as to be in Manchester, was withdrawn by the Government the week before Synod.

Electronic Voting

These pictures were taken during the first ever electronic vote taken at General Synod.

OK, so how does it work?

We had to have instructions on the first day of Synod, during the Business Committee report. The chair of the Business Committee took us through some spoof motions to try out the new gadgetry.

Each Synod member has a voting handset; and a personal ‘chip’ card. This unique combination identifies each individual voter - but there is still one final stage before votes can be made - a ‘pin’ number, flashed briefly on a screen, needs to be entered into the handset before any vote can be made. This involves much audible ‘clicking’ from synod members around they chamber. (The second photo above shows the screen - just - with the very first random pin number, 1882, in the Clergy Terms of Service/Common Tenure debate.)

A practise vote was set up on Monday - a ‘vote of the whole house’ that ‘This synod ask the Business Committee to acknowledge Valentine's Day was passed by a significant majority of the whole Synod.

However a following motion, a ‘vote by houses’, that ‘Valentine's Day be celebrated by each bishop buying chocolates for their diocesan representatives at Synod’, was passed by both of the lower houses, but the House of Bishops voted it down. Because ‘votes by houses’ require a majority in each house to be passed, it meant that bishops were let off the hook from buying their diocesan representatives chocolate for Valentine's Day. But, woe betide any bishops who do not…!

These voting handsets also have another useful function. During long debates (that may not grab the interest of all members) some synod representatives nip off to visit the loo, or get a cup of coffee. This can mean a drop in the number of members in the chamber. Yet there needs to be a quorum of members, in each house, for Synod’s business to be conducted. Sometimes a member will ask, as a Point of Order, whether we are quorate in all houses; and then a count needs to be taken. This used to be a laborious process. With the voting handsets, it is instantly clear precisely how many from each house are present in the chamber. (And presumably, who is not…!)

Alastair GS101

Prudence; Daily

There is a member of Synod deliciously named Prudence Dailey; eloquent & elegant, even when at times I’m not fully in agreement with her point in debate.

In a parallel world, I am sure Prudence Daily would have been married to Chancellor Brown of the Exchequer.

Alastair GS101

On Freehold and Common Tenure

I have been a freeholder for 12 years. This means I am incumbent of a parish and have ‘freehold’ rights to the church and vicarage of my benefice, whilst I hold the office as vicar there. 

But as Jacob, one of the General Synod representatives from our diocese keeps reminding me, it is not ‘Freehold’ as is generally understood in our society. For example, if I stick up a ‘For Sale’ sign up outside either my church, or even vicarage, the ‘authorities’ will be down on me like a ton of Victorian bricks.

More of an issue, for some more than 40% of my church colleagues though, is that they do not have freehold, nor indeed any other formal security of tenure in their positions. European legislation, chasing the Government, says clergy need to have proper employment rights now. So something needs to change. A whole raft of legislation and regulations are therefore coming in to re-apply a new sort of freehold for the 21st Century. Clergy Terms of Service, Ministerial Development, Clergy Discipline, Guidelines for Professional Conduct of the clergy, Capability Procedures, and Common Tenure have variously been coming through Synod over recent years.

Holding offices is something that clergy hold in common. So the term Common Tenure has been chosen to represent this new-style of office. However, as Jacob once again reminds me, from his experience in the real world or real estate, Common Tenure is another word that the church has chosen, like Freehold, with one meaning in the church, and a slightly different one outside. Perhaps we should have chosen different terminology. But actually it does, succinctly, say what we generally want it to mean.

There is a significant issue about parsonages, which caused much heat in the debate. There were many concerns over who would ‘own’ the vicarages and rectories of the Church of England under Common Tenure, and whether or not they become an asset of the diocese, the incumbent, the parish. Up to now they have been part of what is known as property of Corporation Sole. Don’t understand that, well nor did many Synod members before the debate - ask a friendly lawyer. However, if parsonages are moved in some way to the diocese, this might mean, if a diocese gets in to financial difficulties, some parsonage properties could be sold. How best to protect against this? There is quite a lot of worry here about whether we can trust those with the appropriate authority, to do with parsonages what is best for the church as a whole. In the end Synod opted for taking out the item on parsonages completely.

I’m for Common Tenure. I think a level playing field of employment and security is vital for all clergy, and there should not be a minority of folks without proper employment protection. This means that some, like me, will eventually be invited to relinquish our Freehold for what some probably mistakenly consider the lesser protection of Common Tenure. I don’t think it is just through altruism and ostentatious self-sacrifice, that I support Common Tenure, and will hand in my Freehold. I am not sure that Freehold as is really offers those of us who old it quite the sort of security it purports to do; and indeed there are a number of things that we would be ineligible for, unless we come under Common Tenure. So, bring it on.

Alastair GS101

Singing in Tongues

Worship this morning had a bit of a European flavour. Great also to have some of our Ecumenical representatives involved in leading readings and prayers. Then we leapt in to singing Joachim Neander’s great Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation. That was until we got to verse 2, which on our service sheets was printed in German - and verse three in French! Clearly a Pentecostal appointment had fallen upon the Synod, as Singing in Tongues was heard around the chamber!

Alastair GS101

Monday, 11 February 2008

Dow Bros., and the influence of Watford

At a previous Synod session, I blogged on two brothers in Synod, caught on opposite sides of a great debate: the brothers Hind - John & Tim - one a member of the House of Bishops (Chichester), the other a member of the House of Laity (for Bath & Wells Diocese).

The new pair of brothers at Synod are the brothers Dow - Graham & Andrew. Again one is a member of the HoB (Carlisle) where Bishop Graham has been a member of Synod for a considerable time - but Andrew was welcomed as newly elected member of the House of Clergy (for the Gloucester Diocese).

Andrew was once curate at the church that sponsored my vocation to ordained ministry in my teenage years - St Luke’s, Watford. Indeed whilst he was there he became a national television celebrity - OK it was on Blue Peter, where he demonstrated great skill in creating the sounds of trains using no more or less than his mouth and a standard microphone - but still world famous amongst schoolboys. His skill in reproducing the appropriate railway sounds was incredibly impressive - especially in mimicking electric and diesel trains - and well merited his Blue Peter Badge. However for this particular teenager, having grown up amongst India’s majestic steam trains, it all sounded a bit modern, and not really like ‘proper’ trains at all.

Reminiscing of Watford days, I was reminded again of the Hind Bros., as they too both had Watford connections, both having grown up there, and being Old Fullerians; though they both left the school a while before I ever started there.

Wait for another - tenuous - Watford connection on Thursday’s Valentine blog… I wonder what other Synod members have such filial connections?

Alastair GS101

Update: One of the pairs of brothers told me I was wrong, and that actually there are now 4 pairs of brothers in Synod (the other two pairs being of the families Stephens, and Lloyd) three of the four pairs with a bishop as one of the filial pairs.

Now, how about sisters then? Any brother/sister, or sister/sister pairs at Synod? I expect it will be a while before any of the sisters are members of the House of Bishops though.

Power Phrase

After the first day’s Synod session, veteran radio broadcaster Trevor Barnes was looking for quotes. Initially he was standing in the wrong place to get sensible comments - a queue for food, with hungry synod members that had too low a blood-sugar level to give relevant comments. Too deep in discussion to notice him advancing, Alan, Rhiannon & I were hi-jacked by by the hopeful reporter with too much empty ‘tape’ on what stand for the modern-day Uher.

We had a brief discussion, off mic, about what the Archbishop had said or not said. Had the Archbishop said enough to settle the minds of synod members were asked? Most felt yes indeed, he had huge support from Synod, as the long standing ovation made clear. But had he communicated clearly to those outside? Possibly not. Alan said that such a complex issue could not be compressed into a sound-bite.

Yet a sound-bite was exactly what the media, and what the ordinary public needed, countered the journalist. Well if not a sound-bite, at least a Power Phrase. 

Now that’s great, I thought to myself. A Power Phrase. Something that summed up what the Archbishop was saying, but not reducing it to just a catchphrase, rather a Power Phrase. It sounds awesome. It sounds prophetic. It seemed very fitting to the gravitas and intellect of the theologian that is the archbishop.

Only then did it become clear that I had miss-heard. It was not Power Phrase at all. Trevor had said a “paraphrase” of what the archbishop had said was what was needed. I was really rather deflated. And it must have been my mis-hearing, rather than Trevor’s excellent diction. Paraphrase was not nearly so impressive.

I rather wish it had been Power Phrase instead though…

Alastair GS101 

Rowan Williams Presidential Address

Press & TV awaiting the start of Synod

The prevailing attitude …was one of heavy disagreement with a number of things which the [speaker] had not said.” Quipped the Archbishop of Canterbury, quoting Ronald Knox, and raising a significant snigger of agreement around Church House.

This was after a long - very long, sustained, and loud - standing ovation, as the archbishop walked in. Did synod members have concerns over the previous week’s ‘Sharia controversy’? - yes. Did the Archbishop still have the support of Synod? - indubitably. Three times, or four, the archbishop tried to stop the applause, and move on to business, and failed. Synod’s point was clearly made.

++ Rowan Williams moved straight in with an aspect of penitence, as portrayed in the Psalms, appropriate in this Lenten season - Who can tell how oft he offendeth? Cleanse Thou me from my secret faults. (Ps 19:4)

The archbishop is a regular visitor to the minority Christian peoples in majority Muslim countries; and a friend and colleague of senior Muslim leaders in our country. His speech was made to the country’s senior lawyers, gathered in the Royal Courts of Justice. His comments, trimmed to sound-bite length, may have raised concerns in the media - but the thought that he was unprepared, or unaware of the issues he was speaking about, appear shallow.

In some respects, it was a pity that the previous week’s furore had distracted from what was otherwise to be a significant intervention by the Archbishop on the political and ecclesiastical situation in Zimbabwe. We were privileged to have Bishop Sebastian Bakare, now chief Anglican pastor in Harare, as guest of the Synod, and present in the visitors gallery; he was warmly welcomed. With his appointment, the local church was now “recovering the moral initiative” as Dr Williams put it, lost under the previous administration of Bishop Kuonga. In passing, we were also informed of Archbishop Sentamu’s urgent invitation to go to Kenya to assist with mediation and peacekeeping there - indeed ++Sentamu was still traveling back from Kenya, hoping to be with Synod by Tuesday. Here were living examples of the importance of the worldwide Anglican Communion - and with that, comments on Lambeth 08.

My deepest hope and prayer for Lambeth is that it will be a decisively counter-cultural event” concluded the Archbishop. Hope and pray so too - but counter-cultural sometimes invites misunderstanding from those with in a predominant secular culture. Or even those who find the Lambeth Conference this year counter-cultural to the prevailing church culture… I expect the Archbishop will find himself steering this ship of faith through rather choppy waters.

Alastair GS101

Saturday, 2 February 2008

February 08 General Synod

This February's General Synod starts on Monday 11 February, at Church House in London's Westminster.

The agenda and background papers are available for download on the here.

Some of the items to covered include the promulgation of a major piece on how dioceses and parishes work (here); another major piece on the Clergy Terms of Service (see 1, 2 and 3); Eucharistic prayers for Children (1 & 2); a report on the Anglican Communion Covenant (1, 2, 3); something on Crown Appointments(1, 2); and building on Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue (here); and a bit on casinos (1, 2) and Bibles in churches (1, 2).

I hope to be blogging again from the Monday evening, as long as I can get online.

Alastair GS101