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Monday, 13 July 2009

Early morning radio, and how many bishops?

One of our Chichester General Synod members is Gavin Ashenden (to be accurate he is a University's rep; not a Chichester one, but we lay a claim to him too.

In his spare time, Gavin also runs the Radio Sussex/Surrey Sunday morning programme, nicknamed 'Get up with Gav'. When he is running short of sensible material, Gavin has been known to trawl around anyone who owes him a favour - which on a couple of occasions has included me. I did a very brief bit for his show a few weeks ago, and I got a 4am text message request on Sunday morning. There was a gap in the shows schedule - could I help fill it...

Rev'd Dr Canon Gavin Ashenden, at 5:30am

Over breakfast, I managed to trace another Chichester synod member, Lorna Ashworth to join me for the live link up (one earpiece each, chatting on mobile phone live with Gavin).

Lorna spoke a bit about her Private Members Motion is support of the ACNA, and Gavin asked me a bit about the synod motion from Bradford Diocese asking to reduce numbers of senior posts - especially bishops. Having been a member of the Chichester Bishop's Council for some time, and seen the work of bishops and archdeacons through the lens of being a General Synod member, I know the tremendous calls on their time and energy. I understand the expenses currently incurred by senior staff make them look 'expensive' but cutting their number will not help significantly. The discussion with Gavin provoked me to think of contributing to the debate.

"When was the last time you saw your bishop?" was the opening line of my speech, picked up by some of the press. My own speech was not nearly as erudite or historical as that by the Archimandrite Ephraim Lash - one of the ecumenical observers at synod from the orthodox church, who suggested that what was needed was the orthodox tradition of a bishop in every village! (The Church Commissioners blanched at the thought!)

It's not that we bishops, or other senior staff don't want to be in the parishes; they are too stretched to be so. So we need more of them. Not as they currently are, but in a different way. Already in some provinces the role of Archdeacon has been absorbed into the role of the Rural Dean.

Not long ago it was unheard of to have NSM clergy in charge of a parish, but now it is relatively common. How about NSM bishops? Yes, well it needs a bit more thinking through than just that, but we  need to find ways of doing things a bit differently - and that was some of my 'heads-up' suggestions. Some folk seemed to warm to the idea.

... I may be able to add audio in to this post later...

Alastair Cutting GS101

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Opening Doors - especially to those with Learning Difficulties

I have always loved watching the signing for the deaf at Synod, and have posted on this elsewhere. Sunday afternoon has a debate on those at church with Learning Disabilities, and the the things that affect them, following a report called Opening Doors.

My wife trained as a teacher of those with learning difficulties, and still teaches them. I love the phrase 'Special Education', however pejorative it is sometimes misunderstood to be. These are special people. Before university, I worked on one of the large 'mental institutions' (as they were then called) set outside London - one that was so secure, that it was used as the film-set for the 70s sitcom 'Porridge'... How glad I am that many of those people are no longer 'imprisoned' but free to be in the community.

Churches, in my experience, 'collect' 'interesting' people. People with various learning difficulties have been members of every church I can remember have had 'special' members of the congregation. We have at least 3 'care in the community homes in our parish.' Should I have spoken today, I would have talked of:
  • Neil, who knows all the cricket scores form yesterday's matches, and can recite massive lists of kings of England, or programmes on the tv tonight, or the order of saints days of the year;
  • Mark who comes faithfully each Sunday for our service, and sings and joins in with responses loudly, even if he cannot read the words for them. One day when we used an old chorus, Mark knew every word by heart. He asked me recently "My dad's gone to be with Jesus. But he's not died has he?"
  • Ewan and Carol come to our Wednesday service each week. Ewan is dying to be thurifer for us - even though it is not our tradition, especially on Wednesdays. 
I love these characters, they add much unexpected colour to our services (I have changed their names, but our congregation will know who they are!). Each has faith in their way, and in the words of the DVD that came with this report, help teach us to pray. Several speakers have said: "We have much to learn from people with learning disabilities". May we indeed have Opening Doors to these members of our communities. A report warmly received.

Alastair Cutting GS101

Saturday, 11 July 2009

July Synod Friday's business

Belatedly, as initial attempts to get online proved difficult...

Justin has already added a post, and Thinking Anglicans already has a write-up on Friday.

Links to all the papers for July's Synod are here.

Live feed from debates (via Premier Radio) are here.

The agenda on Friday, as usual started with the presentation of the Business Committee's report. They put the Synod agenda together, finalising what is on the agenda, and how debates are to be tackled. This July they got a rough ride as they decided to finish synod early, on the Monday evening. Some synod members felt not a wide enough consultation had taken place warning of that, and the many people had already booked train tickets etc and couldn't then cancel. There were a number of other issues about what was, or was not on the agenda. A grumpy start to Synod.

Then there was a presentation of a report from the National Stewardship Committee. Presented in a very lively way by one of Synod's elder statesmen. I am all for young members of Synod; but not at the exclusion of this sort of wisdom. We didn't quite finish the debate, and had to return to it later...

The final part of Friday's work was Questions. This synod, questions put by members were only to be for written answer, unless a verbal answer was particularly requested. This is, in my opinion, a crass move of synod, which most members circumvented, by asking for a verbal reply anyway.

The list of questions, and answers, does not yet appear to be online, but Simon Sarmiento 'Twittered' most of them.

In fact, the Twitter-ing that started at the February Synod has continued in a lively vein in York in July, and the live stream is available here.

Alastair Cutting GS101

Synodical Government

At the start of July's General Synod, there have been one or two questions around synods, synodical government and the processes of how the church structures work.

The Church of England is "Episcopally led, and synodically governed", it is said. That means bishops have a say, and synod has a say. Both, it would appear, feel that sometimes 'the other' hampers the way they would like to operate. The House of Bishops, often a very diverse gathering of individuals, can at times - like one of those great shoals of fish - suddenly all sweep and swoop as one. Majestic to behold. And a few moments later, scatter once more to their individual pursuits.

One of the questions sitting at the back of Synod's mind, and sometimes at the front, and even voiced a number of times this July... is 'What is Synod for?'.

Synod, though often described in the press as 'The Church's Parliament', is really other than just that. Yes, it has legal business to deal with (this morning synod voted to change laws from the 1500s!).

But what should synod be for, and how how should the established church carry out it's business? I have some experience of the Anglican church in Aotearoa/New Zealand, where their General Synod, drawing people from a wide area of the the south Pacific, meets only once every 2 years.

Of course meeting as infrequently as that (though possibly appealing to some of the CofE General Synod!) , and saving considerable sums of money, has the negative consequence that people actually meet others so rarely, and creating fellowship becomes more of an art. The networking that the CofE synods allow is more than just friends meeting friends at the expense of parishioners; it is part of how we work as the national church.

There remain though, some real concerns that Synod (and possibly the Archbishops' Council) currently aren't quite fit for purpose; and we need to find ways of working slightly differently. Many old grey heads around - where are the under 40s; some are asking (he writes, slightly worriedly at the far end of the 40s). We need to have some of the next generation of leaders engaging in the church's structures and processes. (That does not preclude the wisdom and vitality of some of our older synod members - one almost septuagenarian led a very lively and important presentation, with a number of brilliant interventions including an up-to-the-minute cricket score!)

Blogs and Twittering at synod have been regarded with some light-hearted interest but assumed peripheral; but I wonder if some of the use of new media and styles might be pointers towards other ways of communicating, and debating.

But if I remember, ++Rowan's opening address of this quinquennium of Synod (which was before this blog got going) reminded us that the root of the word synod means 'walking together'. Just as gathering around the Lord's Table, eating together, is a family-oriented model for church; so is the idea of walking together.

This July's Synod has started a bit grumpily. The Agenda debate gave the Business Committee a hard time, and a number of debates have been crotchety, and the 'group work' considered inadequate this year. A third of the way in, debates on the Archbishop's Council and its budget, and tomorrows debate on the Constitutions, all point to some movement about how we may best be synod; how we may best facilitate the mission and ministry of the church of God in England.

Alastair Cutting GS 101

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Friday, 10 July 2009

When is a Motion not a Motion...?

When it's been amended.

Last time round I described the sequence of a debate through amendments and so forth, in an attempt to unpack a little of the process that we go through in turning a motion on the agenda into a resolution passed by Synod. One particular tactic that I didn't say much about last time - although it's the one I tried to use myself - was the tactic of complete substitution - "Delete all the words after 'This Synod' and add..." Obviously, one reason why someone would put an amendment like this in is because they think that the proposed motion is just completely wrong and ought to say something entirely different, and there is an example of this in the proceedings this session: Philip Giddings (Oxford Diocese, Chair of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, Vice-Chair of the House of Laity) has put in a "Delete all and add..." amendment to the debate on the Review of Constitutions.

However, there is another reason why this sort of amendment turns up, and we have two examples this time round. One is the contingency business, the other is the motion below:

The Revd Dr John Hartley (Bradford) to move on behalf of the Bradford Diocesan Synod:
‘That this Synod request the Archbishops’ Council to formulate proposals for reductions in the numbers of episcopal and senior clergy posts, taking into account reductions for the number of stipendiary clergy since 1979; and submit a report with recommendations to the General Synod within three years.’

Unless there is a very good reason why they shouldn't be debated - and Southwark's motion to rescind the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod (Resolution C) is an example of this - motions from Diocesan Synods are always debated at General Synod, in the order in which they are received, and unlike Private Member's Motions they do not lapse at the end of each 5 year synodical period. However, this can result in some pretty forthright motions being put forward, and this is one of them. Clearly, a motion expressed in such bald terms would not necessarily be received with open arms by the hierarchy, but at the same time it would not be sensible for the powers that be to try openly to defeat such a motion. So what is the establishment to do? To the rescue comes our old friend "Delete all and add..." The tactic is to replace something potentially dangerous with something very much more anodyne - then everybody can support it, nobody in authority has to speak against it, and nothing much will happen as a result. This is how it is done:

Canon Dr Christina Baxter (Southwell & Nottingham) to move as an amendment:
Leave out all the words after 'That this Synod' and insert:
", welcoming
a) the recent establishment of the new Dioceses Commission;
b) the decision of the House of Bishops to decouple, from January 2001, national support for episcopal ministry from actual episcopal numbers; and
c) the intention of the Archbishops' Council to prepare for the new Synod in November 2010 a progress report on the delivery of changes to the present pattern of dioceses and of episcopal deployment."

In Synodical terms, Christina Baxter is a very major player. She is Chair of the House of Laity, a member of the Archbishops' Council, and involved in a great deal else besides. Obviously, a Bishop could not have put this forward, it really had to be a lay person. The fact that Christina has been chosen to do it gives some indication of how seriously this motion is being taken.

I have to say, I hope the motion goes through unamended - for two reasons. The first is that I don't like this kind of interference. Bradford Diocese wanted a particular motion to be debated, and they should get that debate, not the debate other people think they ought to have. The second reason is that there is something peculiar about a church that has fewer people in the pews, fewer priests, but more people exercising oversight.

You can find more information from Bradford about their motion at here and a response from the Dioceses Commission at here.

Justin (GS 373)