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Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Missed Synod? - Watch again...

Last week's General Synod is due to be televised on BBC Parliament on Friday 20 February 2009, starting at 9am with Cardinal Cormac's address to Synod, and Archbishop Rowan's address at 11am. Several sections are to be repeated

Find the details of programming here.

Alastair Cutting GS101

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Some Synod-Related Stuff

I have generally tried (and usually failed) to keep my posts here as objective as possible - at least when they are reporting Synod business. However, you might possibly be interested in two pieces from my other (new) blog which is intended to be a little bit less objective. The first of them is on the Covenant Process - where are we and how did we get here sort of thing - the second is a few further thoughts on the BNP Debate.

My intention from now on is to try to do Synod reporting on this blog and provide subjective comment on the other blog - along with whatever other things occur to me in the gaps between Synods...

One final comment - it has been fascinating to see the growth of internet use over these last three years at Synod. Twitter has been a particular revelation this time round. Alan Wilson is a great fan (and fast on his way to becoming a Twitter guru) and I'm sure there must be others out there. If anyone comes up with any good ideas about how to use all this new media - in particular Twitter and Facebook - in the context of General Synod then I would be delighted to hear them. I suspect Alan would be too - he has mentioned a social media day in Oxford on 1st April. Anyway - see you all around (in a cyberspace sort of way) in July if not before.

Justin
(GS 373)

Friday, 13 February 2009

Asylum & Sanctuary

 Tinsley House Detention Centre, Gatwick Airport;
close to my own parish

One of synod's brilliant women clergy, Ruth Worsley, introduced a motion on asylum seekers on Friday morning. What at first glance might be considered a rather predictable synod sort of motion was actually inspired by some very valuable and practical work in Nottingham dealing with asylum seekers.

In preparation for the debate, Westminster Abbey had those seeking asylum, and today's synod debate, as the focus for the early morning Eucharist. After communion, synod members were able to meet some London based asylum seekers, and informally chat to them over breakfast in Cheyneygate.

Cheyneygates, as part of the original abbots accommodation in the abbey, and a place of sanctuary, seemed an entirely appropriate place to be meeting those currently seeking sanctuary.

I chatted with Duncan, an asylum seeker from XXXXXXX in Africa. Scars are evident on his head and face. He has been separated from his wife and three children for about 7 years, and though now he has regular phone calls with them, it was not always so, being out of contact for over 2 years at one point. He was part of a political oposition in a country where such 'legal' opposition is crushed by the party that has been in power for over 20 years.

One synod contributor felt that this country's system for asylum seekers could have been created by King Herod after reading Kafka. Another, seeking to allow a couple of Christian asylum seekers to marry, yet prevented currently by the need for banns to be read in another close diocese, is considering a little civil dissobedience to allow Christian marriage to more properly procede.

Although living close to Gatwick, and having visited on a few occasions, I am not personally very actively involved at the detention centre there, as they have a very effective chaplaincy already, and a good Welfare Group.

The motion, strengthened (unusually) by ammendments, was passed almost unanimously, 242 for,  1 against,  1 abstention. A powerful and worthwhile debate.

Alastair Cutting GS101

Thursday, 12 February 2009

In Praise of the Tom Wright Sound-Bite

Bishops have a reputation for being delightful, but sometimes perhaps a little dull - one might have the picture of the episcopal gentleman of Synod settling with gravitas (and the aid of a good lunch) into their chairs ready for the afternoon session. Dull, however, is not an adjective that one could apply to Tom Wright. He is an academic theologian of renown, and of course Bishop of Durham. He is also a master of the synodical sound-bite. Here are some gems from today:

"How do we tell which differences make a difference?"

"Lay Presidency in Sydney and Gay Presidency in New Hampshire"

"The very rich are doing for the very rich what they are not doing for the very poor"

"We need an economy that puts the needs of the poor first. We need Jeremiah-type repentence."


Justin
(GS 373)

Hope for Zimbabwe

Archbishop John Sentamu of York, in an iconic tv moment, cut up his 'dog-collar' in an interview with Andrew Marr in December 2007, in a protest against Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe.



Archbishop Sentamu has not worn a clerical collar since, and says he will only do so once Mugabe has gone.

In an unrelated Synod debate on the UK's Financial Crisis and Recession, Sentamu was introducing the item, still without collar.


I had wondered though, after yesterdays swearing in of Morgan Tsvangirai at last as Zimbabwean Prime Minister, if there might be perhaps a half a collar evident. But no. But then neither has the president left.

Alastair Cutting GS101

A jar, an empty cupboard, and kissing the hand of the Queen


Synod spent some time exploring 'Legislative business' - on Suffragan sees and other ecclesiastical offices (appointing some bishops and others...).

Recent changes in how senior CofE appointments are made - and No 10 and the Crown's involvement in them - were being discussed. Apparently, during some vacancies, in effect the Crown gains some rights, only returned to bishops when they make their oaths of allegiance to the monarch - and, we were led to believe, kiss the hand of the Queen.

As the Crown no longer wants to claim the 'jar' during a vacancy, as Pete Hobson put it, the 'empty cupboard' is no longer really needed. Except that, without the legal framework of the cupboard that could otherwise be disposed of, there would be no meeting of the newly appointed bishops with the Supreme Governor of the CofE. Indeed, the whole framework of the established nature of the church might be at risk, apparently. Christina Baxter, who has spoken of disestablishement before, wondered if this was the only reason for keeping this bit of legislation, this empty cupboard.

The bishop of Guildford brought some interesting light to these peculiar proceedings. Indeed just last week he had been at the formal swearing of oaths of two new bishops. During this, the Queen takes the hand of the new bishop, and the 'Clerk of the Closet' holds a copy of the scriptures, which is what the new bishop kisses.

For the Queen to be fully aware of who the new bishops in her church are, and that new bishops have their primary focus on the scriptures - however quaintly demonstrated - both sound good principles to me; even if it is strange to keep an otherwise empty cupboard...

Alastair Cutting GS101

A bunch of Twits

Do you find all the reporting from Synod just too much?


If you want to follow Synod Reporting Lite, then Peter Ould spotted the text-message-long reporting available via Twitter.

Follow it here.

Alastair Cutting GS101

Reflecting on Women Bishops, and being ‘in communion’

So the next step towards women bishops has been taken, keeping the CofE ‘on track for consecrating women bishops in 2014’ as Robert Piggot put it on the BBC. He also reported that this was making it more likely that some conservatives would leave the church.

The trouble is people are going to leave, whatever the Synod decides to do - or even decides not to do. Because doing nothing is not a workable option in a church whose synod has said there are no theological objections to he ordination of women, as traditionalists keep on hoping; and consecrating women bishops will almost definitely exclude some from the church too.

This slowly-slowly, gently, ‘period of reception’, let’s aim not to cause division, try not to hurt others feelings: is a very Anglican way of doing things, and is perhaps making the current process so much more difficult now. When the church of Rome decides to make a change, it is simply pronounced, and is enacted immediately. That day. Sorted. We
in the CofE try to be so much more accommodating, consensual. Synodical.

Take the ‘period of reception’. Traditionalists say we have not had long enough for that yet. That’s fair enough - but how long is long enough? It will be 15 years this year since women were ordained priest in the CofE. In informal conversations with some traditionalist colleagues, when I have ask them about how long the period of reception should be, the answer appears pretty close to a mathematical definition of infinity. Or some say until the Roman Catholic church accepts women in ministry. (In a slightly cynical moment, I wondered if some might then flee from such liberal catholicism to the Orthodox church.)

A ‘Fresh Expression’ of bishops was what the bishop of Dover, Stephen Venner, intimated as a possible way forward in yesterday’s debate. Some sort of alternative dioceses perhaps? Back in the July synod, in the first day long debate, I spoke of the church in Aotearoa New Zealand, and it’s three ‘Tikangas’, or ‘cultural streams’. Three layers of church laid over the map of the country, for the Maori, Pakeha (white settler), and Pasefika (the Diocese of Polynesia) churches. All sharing the same multi-lingual Prayer Book, canons, General Synod, and orders; but with different theological colleges, and little active interaction at anything other than national level. I suggested that this might be a way forward - but that it was far from a panacea. How much are they all really part of the one church? What of being in communion? Really in communion?


At the time, I thought it had little more to offer us in the CofE other than being interesting construct, but an unlikely pointer towards any solutions for us. I have begun to think otherwise. I have already submitted a short summary of the pattern and structures of the NZ church to the Manchester Group, and in the light of Bishop Nigel McCulloch’s conjecture that ‘every thing is now up for grabs’ in the next stage of drafting the legislation, I will probably submit something a little more substantial.

As things stand, I cannot see how complementary bishops will suit either those seeking, or rejecting, women in the episcopate. We need something different; and these ‘layers’ of church - rather than separate provinces - has every chance of being as realistic a way forward as most of the other possibilities.

However, I suspect that if there is a mistrust in an individual's orders, it is hard to be in communion with them. And not being in communion, it would seem to me, means fundamentally being in different churches already. Perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury, along with the other three ‘Instruments of Communion’, may remain the focus for unity and being in (the Anglican) communion. Until the Archbishop of Canterbury is a woman, that is...

Alastair Cutting GS101

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Evangelism and Justice

Wednesday afternoon's debates involved a Private Member's motion, and a Diocesan Synod motion (actually basically the same motion from two Diocesan synods - Newcastle and Winchester).

Paul Eddy's motion was to ask the bishops to report to the Synod their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in our multi-faith society, with examples and commendations.

There were a number of potential amendments, and in advance, some considerable concern about how this debate may go - would it be to inflammatory? Or would it be moved on - or wrecked - before the dabate got going? In the event, a positive debate was had. Even our very own Justin Brett, confessing himself to be the wooliest of liberals, contributed, reminding that even (especially??) liberals also need guidance! It was great too see in the public gallery at least one (guessing from their dress) Muslim observer. There was a moving anonymous speech from a someone who's life had been threatened because they had converted from Islam to Christianity. Many contributors spoke of sharing the good news of the Gospel, sharing stories of Jesus. Amendments seeking significant change in the motion were lost, and with a small addition, the motion significantly passed. Good to see that the General Synod still sees the centrality and uniqueness of Christ as important...

The later debate was on the Human Trafficking. Interesting that two dioceses had come up with similar motions on this issue, and they made a joint presentation before the debate on the motion got going. Bishop Pete Broadbent encouraged synod to be informed through the StopTheTraffik organisation:


This wasn't simply a motherhood and applepie debate that none could vote against, but a cry from the heart. It was unanimously passed.

The twin strands of Mission and Social justice, both coming up from the grass-roots, is one of the good things about Synod.

Peter Ould has much more fine detail on his blog, as does Ruth Gledhill on hers.

Alastair Cutting GS101

Join in the chorus... (Minister)

Martin Dales, in the 'Church Water bills' debate just led the assembled Synod in singing:

"The rains came down and the tax went up...
and the charities in the land fell flat."
(Ruth Gledhill was the first to get the choir online...!)


There are serious problems for churches and other chartities who have surface water run-off being charged at commercial rates.

They are singing again, in the hope that the 'House' across the road hears...

Update...
I have commented before on how there is often an expert within synod on virtually any debate. Today, it was the turn of a churchwarden from Southwark diocese, who in his work-life happens to be chair of OFWAT, Philip Fletcher. He accepts Synod will probably vote through this motion, but had some useful observations, especially encouraging synod not to pass the amendment.

I also ought to add the link to the important background information in the Don't Drain Us site.

Alastair Cutting GS101

Women Bishops - what happens next?

Today's debate is asking that the draft measure, and the amending canon, in relation to women bishops go forward to the next stage: the revision committee. That is where the various pro- or anti- arguments may be put (again...).

There are to be no amendments to the simple motion being debated; so I am unable to acquiesce to petitions I have received asking me to vote for or against various parts (for example the Code of Practice).

There were not many new suggestions within the debate; although I think I want to hear a little more of what the bishop of Dover was beginning to suggest.

It has often been said that the Church of England is one church, with two 'integrities' in regard to ordained women's ministry. However, if on the one hand some cannot accept the ministry of women priests or the authority of women bishops legally and properly ordained; and on the other hand some seek women's ministry at every level; it would appear we have no longer one, but two - or probably more - 'Churches' of England.

This has been the case before (with a few variations of 'continuing CofE' churches), and may possibly happen again. Or some will perhaps feel they can no longer call this church home, and seek shelter elsewhere completely. Let's pray that does not happen; or at least not soon. First let us see what the revision committee brings back to Synod, in the hope that it is the gentlest and most inclusive, yet real, way forward possible.

Revision starts soon, with a large hall having been booked for those meetings, to allow observers to be present...


Alastair Cutting GS 101

Women Bishops: Blogging It Live

Useful links: You might want to look at any or either of the Order Paper, the Report from the Drafting Group, the Draft Measure, the Draft Amending Canon, the Illustrative Code of Practice or the Explanatory Memorandum.

The fact that we don't have a whole series of amendments means that there is unlikely to be very much concrete to report in real time. I plan (if I can find a place in the Chamber with a power supply and wifi signal) to update this blog entry with whatever I find subjectively interesting as the debate goes on - as well as a report on any major upsets! So, refreshing this page regularly should give you an idea of the progress of the debate.

I also plan to use Twitter to send very brief notes of anything interesting that is said, although that too depends upon circumstances. I don't want to have to do it from my mobile as I am the world's slowest texter...

So, it begins with +Manchester speaking for up to 15 minutes to introduce the motion. There will follow two 7 minute speeches from the different perspectives. Then we move to the normal time limits.

The Chairman has said that more than 80 people put in to speak, so it's going to mean disappointment for several...

Highlights of +Manchester's speech.
1. Note that this is a new stage in the process. The fact that amendments were defeated in July is not an obstacle to proposing them again. "It's open season once again and everything is renewable."

The aim is to have a Revision in full Synod next Feb. - it will take that long for the Revision Committee to get through the submissions they will receive.

The two long introductory speeches from Christina Rees (Chair of WATCH) and +Beverley - one of the PEVs

Christina described the draft measure as a 'jigsaw put together with a hammer - pieces don't quite fit properly'. She is particularly concerned about the specially nominated suffragan sees and how their holders might relate to the House of Bishops as a whole.
She is also worried about what conclusion to draw from the aspects of the provisions that in her view perpetuate an idea of women as in some way a 'flawed creation'.

+Beverley thinks that the legislation does not do the job. It doesn't enable people to stay if conscientiously opposed. Jurisdiction remains the problem - his theology demands that he remains in full communion with the diocesan bishop - that he is able to regard him as father in God. On a Code of Practice - he was convinced that it will be chipped away once Act of Synod is rescinded. He urged those sympathetic to him to support him in rejecting the legislation at this point.

The Archbishop of Canterbury thinks we want to vote for something manifestly good news for all of us. Are the proposals now good news for anyone? Is the Revision process going to give us the space to work out continued problems? If it isn't good news for everyone in the end, there is something missing. He is guardedly optimistic, but reminded people that he abstained in July because he was not convinced that the motion then was good news for all of us.

Very good speech from +Norwich. He doesn't like it - he thinks the legislation will create a damaged episcopate and he can't see what could be done in revision to make it better. It all seems to be about avoiding ministry. He will vote against the measure because he doesn't sense the leap of joy and feeling of anticipation that good news should bring. God will show us a better way in time.

Some other brief notes. +Bath and Wells very wisely suggests that we really ought to be thinking more about wider issues of gender - in particular whether we still need to be thinking simply in terms of issues of power. Edward Keen, one of the Synod Youth Reps wants us to reject the legislation now as it doesn't make enough provision. Rod Thomas - an evangelical opponent - suggests that we should vote against for three reasons. The first so that proponents too can experience defeat, secondly to send a message to the Revision Committee, and thirdly to show those who think the way he does that the rest of us still care...

A random thought. It is looking quite balanced at the moment - voices in favour and against as always - but I would very much like to know how many of those 80+ requests to speak were in favour of the motion and how many against. It's not just the usual suspects standing up, and even though we are hearing some of the same stuff as ever, there is a different feeling this time around. Can't put my finger on it exactly, but I am not entirely convinced just now that this is going to go through.

+Dover. Three points: 1. Code of Practice represents the majority deciding what they think should satisfy the concerns of a minority. 2. The Code of Practice is not liked by anybody. 3. Current legislation demands that at the start of a bishop's ministry he or she has to delegate some of their powers. He would like to see a 'Fresh Expression of Bishop..."

Archbishop of York endorses comments about Revision Committee being able to do anything. But he also doesn't like the Code of Practice. I think what he's asking us to do is pass it this time, and then try to get the Statutory provisions back afterwards - not that he said it directly.

The summary so far is something like this. Nobody likes what is currently on the table. Some people don't like it so they want to kick it out now. Some people don't like it but they think they might be able to live with it. Some people think that we can use the Revision Committee to do it all over again so that we come up with something else. This is all a bit mad.

+Manchester now summing up.

Moment of truth. For:281 Against:114 Abstained:13

So that's the Draft Measure through - we now have formally to dispatch the Amending Canon in the same way. It's interesting that there was such a majority - we are at 2/3 of the whole Synod, which I hadn't expected. It's also interesting that we did not have a vote by Houses.

Short debate now on the Amending Canon - ssdm really (same stuff, different motion) except for one glimmer of relief fron John Freeman, suggesting that perhaps if episcopal oversight was exercised by the whole House of Bishops corporately then it might solve our problems...

So now the vote on the Amending Canon. For:309 Against:79 Abstentions:14

Justin
(GS 373)

Women Bishops: Introduction to the Debate

Here we are then. Another Synod, another Women Bishops Debate. First question - how does this one differ from the last few? The big difference this time is that we are now talking specifically about legislation - about how we change the rules. The previous debate - in York last July - was all about first whether we wanted to be presented with draft legislation, and if we did then what form we wanted that legislation to take. Now we have a first look at the draft legislation and a chance to discuss it.

Second question - what are the possible outcomes of this debate? Let's start with what won't happen. If we pass this motion then we will not have decided that there will be women bishops in the C. of E.; we will simply have gone one step further towards that point. Secondly, we can't change the draft that we are discussing. We are deciding whether or not we want to send it for revision in Committee. Actual revision will be done by the Revision Committee (yet to be appointed) and in Synod at a later stage. The only outcomes possible is a yes or no decision about going on to the next stage.

So what is the point of the debate, and what might we learn from it? First, it's another check to see if we want to go ahead. The motion could be lost, and if it is then there will be no more progress on women bishops for at least the remaining two years of this Synod. Secondly, it is a chance for everyone to see what the current state of opinion is about the proposed legislation. Various people will no doubt stand up and say the same thing all over again, but others will show that their opinions have changed, or offer suggestions as to how the legislation can be revised. There will also be a certain amount of straightforward politics - many members of Synod would probably like to be on the Revision Committee, and what people say in this debate and how they say it may well make a difference as to who is eventually chosen.

There is a final thing we might learn, too. Although there will probably be procedural motions of one kind or another, the only real vote will be the one at then end of the debate. Always at the back of the mind is the fact that when it comes to final approval - if the process gets that far - a majority of 2/3 in each House of Synod will be required. The vote today will be electronically recorded, and almost certainly by Houses. Thanks to electronic voting that means not only will we know how close each House to a 2/3 majority, but also exactly who is voting which way.

Justin
(GS 373)

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Anatomy of a Debate: Part 2

So, at 2.30pm the afternoon session begins. On our chairs we find Order Paper III, which explains (unsurprisingly) the order in which items will be voted upon. It is therefore our first indication of how the debate will progress. You can read the whole thing by following the link, but the bit that is relevant for our debate is reproduced below:

Ms Vasantha Gnanadoss (Southwark) to move:
11. 'That this Synod, noting that in 2004 the Association of Chief Police Officers adopted a policy whereby:
"no member of the Police Service, whether police officer or police staff, may be a member of an organization whose constitution, aims, objectives or pronouncements contradict the general duty to promote race equality" and "this specifically includes the British National Party",
request the House of Bishops to formulate and implement a comparable policy for the Church of England, to apply to clergy, ordinands, and such employed lay persons as have duties that require them to represent or speak on behalf of the Church.'

Mr Justin Brett (Oxford) to move as an amendment:
28. Leave out all the words after "That this Synod" and insert "affirm that membership of any organisation whose constitution, aims, objectives or pronouncements contradict the promotion of race equality is incompatible with the Apostolic Christian faith.".

If item 28. is lost:
The Ven Norman Russell (Archdeacon of Berkshire) (Oxford) to move as an amendment:
29. For the words "noting that in 2004" to 'British National Party" substitute "recognising that every human being is made in the image of God".
Leave out "comparable"; and
At the end insert ", which makes clear that racism has no place in the life of the Church.".

If item 28. is lost and whether or not item 29. is carried:
Mr Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) to move as an amendment:
30. Leave out "clergy, ordinands, and such employed lay persons as have duties that" and insert "persons whose duties".

So, despite the fact that mine was submitted last, it will be the first amendment to be voted upon. If it is passed, then the other two amendments become irrelevant. If it is not passed then the next to be voted on will be Norman Russell's. Whether or not that one is passed, Tim Hind's will then be put to the vote next, and after that we go back to the main motion, in whatever form it now stands. Before we continue, one point is worth making at this stage. You may or may not have noticed, but in this whole amendment process, at no point do we see anything other than the changed text in an amendment. In Norman's this is particularly important - if you look at the previous blog post you will see that it makes some very particular changes to the look and feel of the motion that are not easily seen from the Order Paper text.

Now we have the Order paper, and the Archbishop has given his Presidential Address, so it is time for the Bishop of Gloucester to take the chair. This is the point at which we get our second indication of how the debate is going to progress. I said above that the order paper determines the order of voting (although this can be changed by the Chairman of the debate) but it does not determine the order of debate. That is determined by the Chairman, and in this case the Chairman's first act is to lay out the following programme. The motion will be introduced, and moved, by its proposer. She will have up to 10 minutes. There will then follow a debate on the substantive motion. After some speeches, each person who has proposed an amendment will be asked to speak to his amendment but not to move it. There will then be further speeches focused upon the amendments, after which the amendments will be formally moved and voted upon. There will then be a further debate on the main motion - as amended or not - before it is put to the vote.

I suspect I might need to put my debaters anorak on for a moment. To speak to a motion or amendment means just that - to make a speech about it. To move something in debate has a very specific meaning - it opens the clause, motion, amendment or whatever up to debate, but it also means that discussion may only be about that particular item until it has been voted upon. Moreover, when an amendment to a motion is moved, the proposer of the original motion has an immediate right of reply before there is any other debate. So, the Chairman's ordering of business this afternoon effectively separates the proposer's speech for each amendment from the response to it, and also from the specific debate about it. It was at this point that I realised all three of us proposing amendments were going to be stitched up.

This was always going to be a frustrating debate - after all, you're not going to get anyone standing up and saying that they support the BNP in the middle of Synod, which means that it would focus upon what we do about the fact that we all think racism is wrong. Inevitably that is pickier and more messy. What actually happened was a procession of speeches mostly saying exactly the same thing - Something Must Be Done - with variations on the something. None of the amendment speeches was received with particular enthusiasm, and the speeches from the floor that followed were not really that engaged with the amendments. When it came to the process of formal movement and debate, mine fell after it was effectively killed of by the Archbishop of York. The Archbishop of Canterbury managed a similar hatchet-job on Norman's amendment, despite a last minute attempt to rescue it from the Vice-Chairman of the House of Laity.

I need to put the anorak back on for a minute, don't I. It is entirely at the Chairman's discretion who gets to speak in a debate. People fill in 'request to speak' forms, which sometimes help the Chairman decide who to call, but essentially it is his business how he balances the debate and whom he calls. However, there are some people whom he ignores at his peril... If either of the Archbishops, either of the Prolocutors (Chairs of the Houses of Clergy for Canterbury and York) or the Chair or Vice-Chair of the House of Laity stand to speak, it is expected that they will be called. Obviously, this can put them in a very good position to influence a debate. Philip Giddings, Lay Vice-Chair, is a particular master of this technique - popping up occasionally like the proverbial demon king. Sadly, it did not work this time.

Tim Hind's amendment was dispatched with slightly more debate, but it too fell - by one vote as it turned out - and we were back to the main motion. A few speeches later and it was all over. The motion was, of course, passed overwhelmingly, but it wasn't passed nem. con. I will put the actual figures in later - probably tomorrow - but 20 or so abstained and a dozen or so voted against. And now we move on to the next thing...

I might post a little more about this particular issue in due course, but I hope that this rather long pair of posts will have served a useful purpose. What I hope it will do is first reveal a little of the hidden mechanisms behind a debate. It also may well be interesting to compare what account I have left here with whatever appears in the media over the next day or so.

Justin
(GS 373)

Anatomy of a Debate: Part 1

This afternoon, the following Motion is appearing before Synod:

PRIVATE MEMBER’S MOTION:
MEMBERSHIP OF ORGANIZATIONS WHICH CONTRADICT THE
DUTY TO PROMOTE RACE EQUALITY (GS Misc 903A and B)

Ms Vasantha Gnanadoss (Southwark) to move:

11. ‘That this Synod, noting that in 2004 the Association of Chief Police Officers
adopted a policy whereby

“no member of the Police Service, whether police officer or police
staff, may be a member of an organization whose constitution, aims,
objectives or pronouncements contradict the general duty to promote
race equality” and “this specifically includes the British National
Party”,

request the House of Bishops to formulate and implement a comparable policy
for the Church of England, to apply to clergy, ordinands, and such employed
lay persons as have duties that require them to represent or speak on behalf of
the Church.’

As part of the process of preparation for Synod, members received two briefing papers. One was from Ms Gnanandos explaining the background to the motion and its purpose, the other was from the Secretary General outlining some responses to the motion. It is interesting, first of all, to put the two of them next to each other and do a little reading between the lines - especially with the second paper. William Fittall is a bit of a Sir Humphrey, and there is very little of what he says that is not in some form of code.

What happens next does so along two different paths. The first of these is outside Synod - the court of public opinion, if you like. In a case such as this there is usually some media interest. Some of it is actively sought by Synod Members - it is interesting how the same people seem to appear so regularly on the radio at this time of year, for example - some of it comes from the media themselves looking for a story. In this case it is almost certainly a bit of both. The fact that Sir Ian Blair is so publically involved suggests that some of the media attention has been specifically sought through press releases, and the usual suspects have been out and about on the airwaves this morning. It is also the case, though, that racism is always of interest to the Media, so no doubt some of the coverage is also generated by them. Obviously, the Synod does not exist in a bubble apart from the outside world (even if we behave that way sometimes) so this sort of media attention will feed back into the debate.

The second path for further developments is an internal one. What can you do with a motion before Synod? Well, obviously you can pass it or not, but the other thing you can do with it is amend it - or try to. Why might you want to amend a motion? A variety of reasons, I suppose. There are plenty of technical amendments - indeed these are a vital part of what Synod does. If you spot a mistake, or an unintended consequence in a piece of legislation then it needs amending. But what do you do if you really don't like a motion as it stands but you don't want to have to vote against it? Answer - you try to amend it so that it says something you can agree with. At the moment we have three amendments proposed to themotion above. This is what they look like.

First is Tim Hind's. Tim is an old hand on Synod, and his amendment is a very light touch change to the last part of the motion. Under his amendment the last paragraph of the motion would read " request the House of Bishops to formulate and implement a comparable policy for the Church of England, to apply to PERSONS WHOSE DUTIES require them to represent or speak on behalf of the Church." The effect of this seems to be to point out just how general any proposed code of conduct would have to be, and consequently how unlikely it would be to succeed in doing so.

Second is Ven. Norman Russell's. Norman is another experienced member of Synod. He is Chairman of the House of Clergy for Canterbury (or Prolocutor in Synod terms) and a member of Archbishops Council. Norman's amendment is rather more extensive. The effect of it would be a motion which read as follows:

'That this Synod, recognising that every human being is made in the image of God, request the House of Bishops to formulate and implement a policy
for the Church of England, to apply to clergy, ordinands, and such employed
lay persons as have duties that require them to represent or speak on behalf of
the Church which makes it clear that racism has no place in the life of the Church.’

As you can see, this is a very different animal to Ms Gnanadoss' original. There is no mention of the Met., and the bishops are given a very definite steer as to what their policy is supposed to show. It remains within the scope of the initial motion, but it has very different potential effects.

Thirdly, there is mine. This removes the wording of the original motion entirely and replaces it as follows: 'That this Synod affirm that membership of any organisation whose constitution, aims, objectives or pronouncements contradict the promotion of race equality is incompatible with the Apostolic Christian faith.' Of the three it is the most radical in terms of changes to the original motion - although Norman's is perhaps more forthright in terms of language. I have put it forward for two reasons. The first is that the original motion does not actually say anywhere explicitly that racism is wrong. The second is that I have understood Mr Fittall's carefully coded briefing to be saying that rules as proposed in the motion would be pretty much impossible to apply to Church members or enforce in any meaningful fashion. They will sound good, but have no useful function. And that, really, is my concern. Either racism is a grievous affront to the loving God who created all of us in his own image, or it isn't. If it is such a thing, then what are the guidelines from the House of Bishops for? I fear that the answer to this is so that we can avoid our own responsibilities in this matter and hide behind the rules. Racism is sinful, and those who promote it promote evil. As individual Christians and as a Church we need to shout this from the rooftops, not put it in a policy.

So - there you are. What I will try to do later today is describe how the debate itself goes. I realise that this has been rather a long post, but hopefully it gives you some insight into what actually happes behind the scenes before a debate - and also a glimpse of potentially how much difference a few members of synod acting in concert can make to a debate. Don't forget, we are your representatives. We will always act according to our own consciences (or try to, at least) but we are here to act on your behalf too!

Justin
(GS 373)

Monday, 9 February 2009

So what do you actually do at Synod, then?

I get asked this quite a lot. I usually reply that Synod is sort of like the Church of England Parliament, so I am a sort of Church of England MP. It occurs to me that this afternoon I might have been behaving according to type...

Having arrived at Church House at about lunch time, I got taken out to lunch by a friendly journalist. (Actually, it was Giles Fraser who is also a member of Synod and Vicar of Putney as well as a columnist for The Guardian and The Church Times, and a regular on Thought For The Day.) After that there was just time for a cup of tea before Synod opened. We welcomed new members, then we had what is called the 'Progress of Statutory Instruments'. Lovely title. What it means is that the Archbishop of Canterbury tells us what synodical actions have become Law since the last session.

Then we had the report of the Business Committee about the Agenda. This is a chance for any member to stand up and say what they do or don't like about the Agenda, but they are not allowed to comment on the actual substance of any of the motions. The result of this is that speeches on the Agenda tend to fall into two groups. The majority are pretty technical - why has X been included but not Y, or shouldn't we have done Z first, or doesn't rule 73 a) iv) say we should have done it the other way round. That kind of thing. However, every now and then you get someone with an axe to grind... At this point, the skill of the Chairman comes to the fore. It was the Bishop of Dover this afternoon, a formidable gentleman, but he almost met his match. Most of the time debate in Synod is very gentle and extremely polite - not at all like the House of Commons, very much more like the House of Lords - but this afternoon we had direct confrontation. The Bishop came out on top, but there was a definite battle of wills going on, and we don't often see that at Synod - at least not so plainly.

Nevertheless, the Report was duly noted, and we moved on to welcome the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. It might be the first time that the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in this country has addressed general Synod - hopefully one or other of our readers might know the truth of this. The Cardinal spoke very movingly about his experience of ecumenical initiatives and about how the Catholic Church and the Church of England were working together. His speech was followed by a debate on the ARCIC II report 'Church as Communion.' At this point I adjourned to the Tea Room to plot and scheme.

The result of the plotting and scheming is an amendment to tomorrow's motion on BNP membership, of which more in a different post, but it did mean that I will have to leave Alastair to comment further on the ARCIC II debate. This is one of the slight frustrations about Synod - especially in London when we are only together for the times when Synod is in session rather than 24/7 as we are at York - that if one is to do anything other than simply listen to debates, it requires making choices about when you are in the Chamber and when you are out in the tea room or wherever, trying to find out what other people think and what they are doing. Still, this is my Parliament parallel. If you look at the televised debates from Westminster, you will see that the Chamber is very seldom full, yet most MPs are in Westminster most of the time. As much gets done in the corridors and around the tables in the tea room as gets done in the Chamber. Synod, essentially, is very similar. No doubt tomorrow afternoon will reveal whether or not this afternoon has been wisely spent...

Justin
(GS 373)

Open Synod

Justin has pointed out already below where you can get details of the Synod agenda.

This is just to add that one further way that you can enjoy Synod is of course to come and see it in action in person. Synod sessions are open to the public, who are welcome to sit in the gallery (as space allows - and it is rarely packed to capacity, though often well attended).

I, and I am sure Justin, or other Synod members that you know, would most likely be happy to meet you and sit with you there.

If you would like to contact me once Synod has started, the best method is by SMS text to 07736 676106.

Alastair Cutting GS101

Saturday, 7 February 2009

February Agenda and methods to enhance your Synodical Enjoyment.

It's that time again! All over the country, hardy Anglicans are digging out their snow shoes and getting ready to brave the blizzards as they prepare to set out for London on Monday for the start of General Synod. You can see an outline agenda here and you can find the full agenda and links to all the documents here.

If you want to enhance your enjoyment even further, there are several ways you can experience the joy of Synod in almost real time. Premier Radio are providing a live audio feed of debates here. You will need a broadband connection and Windows Media Player or something similar to listen in.

Also, in addition to as much on-the-spot blogging as we can manage, I, and possibly Alastair, will also be tweeting. No, I'm no more cuckoo than usual (sorry) - I'm talking about Twitter. If you want a brief explanation of what Twitter is, then try Bishop Alan's Blog. Incidentally, if you haven't come across Bishop Alan Wilson's blog before, you're missing a treat! My username on Twitter is justinbrett and Alastair's is AlCutting - and when you get bored of us you can always follow the exploits of Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross, and Eddie Izzard to name but a few.

And finally... There may be some difficult patches ahead for this Synod - several potentially divisive motions, for example, and no little uncertainty about how we progress on a number of fronts. All of us about to head for London would very much value your prayers over the coming week.

Justin (GS 373)