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Saturday, 11 July 2009

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

1 comment:

Justin Brett said...

I have vented my grumpiness on my own blog, as I wasn't feeling objective enough to post here! If you want to share the grump, it's at http://dodgyliberal.blogspot.com/2009/07/on-being-grumpy-in-synod.html