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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Reformation of Synod?

@TheChurchMouse asked me to do a guest post for the inauguration of the new General Synod, and it was published a couple of hours before the inauguration service in Westminster Abbey.

Dame Mary Tanner: photo by David Michael Morris

However, as Dame Mary Tanner started preaching, I started to wonder if she had been looking over my shoulder (and - should she have even noticed my post - she may have wondered if I had got hold of an illicit copy of her sermon script in advance - full copy legitimately available here now). Have a look...

She started by highlighting what an inspired solution Synodical government has been:
Synodical government was a visionary initiative. It established definitively the voice of the laity in the governance of our Church, providing a place where laity and clergy, together with the bishops, meet to discern, to express consensus and to legislate.

She then went on to recognise that synod itself is now in need of reformation:
we know that our synodical system is – and probably always will be, like the institution of the Church itself – in need of reform and renewal. English parliamentary processes can have a negative effect, tending to polarisation, parties divided against one another, a culture of winners and losers. Thank goodness the call to the Synod – ‘decide’ – now replaces the former absurd practice of a bewigged lawyer crying ‘divide’ – just when the Synod was testing for consensus, testing for the mind of Christ.

- It was almost word-for-word what I had also written. I was encouraged to think that she, and others, share some of the thoughts I have been thinking too. And you cannot get more up-front than the sermon at the inauguration of Synod.

Mary Tanner starts by looking at the Jerusalem Council as her prime Biblical model for inspiration. It led her on - amongst many other things, to suggest:
Synod structures and procedures may need reforming. But perhaps what is most needed is for each of us to look at ourselves. We need to get hold at a deeper level of how costly listening can be. It is by listening with creative imaginations, not afraid of silence, that we form a space in which the Holy Spirit can lead us beyond polarisation to the place where we know that we need one another...

Towards the end of her sermon, Dame Mary said:
The most important thing you do is not the production of Measures, Acts of Synod, or Codes of Practice, important as these are, but the gathering together around the Lord’s Table to receive food for the synodical journeying.
Strive always to listen to one another with charity and generosity, and listen deep in the silence to the one who walks with you on the way, so that you too may say, like those at the Council of Jerusalem, ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’.

So, there is Mary Tanner’s challenge to this 9th General Synod. In his introductory welcome to the Queen, and just before she also spoke to Synod, ++Rowan Williams observed that this was the first Synod that there were no longer any remaining members of the earlier Church Assembly present. Except for her majesty, that is - who has seen Synods, and Archbishops of Canterbury come, and go. The Queen’s speech also included words helping Synod look forward:
The opening of a new Synod is a moment when we can all give thanks for the witness of those who have gone before, and pray for wisdom as you seek to balance change and continuity in the decisions that lie ahead of you.  ...
The new Synod will have many issues to resolve to ensure that the Church of England remains equipped for the effective pursuit of its mission and ministry. Some will, no doubt, involve difficult, even painful, choices. But Christian history suggests that times of growth and spiritual vigour have often coincided with periods of challenge and testing.  What matters is holding firmly to the need to communicate the gospel with joy and conviction in our society.

I have already outlined some of the areas and ways I think we could see Synod start to move - I am hoping to see some of these begin to take shape, so that we may all the better fulfil the role that the Queen has reminded us is the calling of Synod.

Alastair Cutting 96 Chichester

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

To Covenant, or not to Covenant?

Wednesday morning’s headlining agenda item is on whether the Church of England should join in with the Anglican Communion Covenant.

Well, who wouldn’t want to be a part of the Anglican Communion? (Only Anglicans of course need bother to answer that question...). Yet, there are some who clearly think the Covenant is not a good thing. Why, and how to vote at this stage?

As the Anglican church spread across the globe, different provinces of the communion started to develop, to make better sense of governing the church more locally (did you know that New Zealand and Australia were both originally included in the diocese of Calcutta, in India!)

So there are many different Anglican provinces, all gathered under the banner of the Anglican Communion. However, what happens when one province does something that other provinces find is un-Anglican, is an innovation that it impairs communion? Like, perhaps, ordaining a bishop in an active gay relationship? Other brands/examples are also available...

Some provinces then asked that there be some mechanism whereby different provinces can: sign up to be a something to be a part of the Anglican Communion. That something to sign up to, is the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant.

However, within the covenant, there are some ‘if this; then there may be a consequence that...’ situations. It is this part of the covenant that some are objecting to, as they feel the Covenant is perhaps being formed in to a stick to beat naughty provinces with. That, some consider is also un-Anglican.

Just as there is a Say No to the Covenant lobby, who feel it is restrictive and inhibiting; there are also other provinces who I understand feel that the lines drawn and sanctions outlined are not strong enough. Some want it less restrictive - some want it more so. That in itself implies the Covenant may have something of the ‘middle way’ about it.

So how to vote on it? Well, it is clear a number of other provinces are watching what the Church of England does about the Covenant before showing their own hand. We should not consider that the CofE is ‘equal, but more equal’ than others. It seems clear though, that without the CofE signing up to the Covenant, it is difficult to see what its purpose might be.

This particular debate is not the General Synod’s final say on the Covenant. Rather, what is proposed today is that the Covenant is then be passed to the dioceses for debate, before coming back to the General Synod for final agreement after that. I have some questions and misgivings about the text; but I certainly want to include the dioceses within the debate. So I will certainly be voting for the motion at this stage.

Alastair Cutting 96 Chichester

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Dramas at Synod

Arriving as a newbie at Synod can be quite frightening. So many people, procedures; standing orders, and members standing to contend with.

As part of the induction for new members, a dramatised and light-hearted example of a synod debate, with full commentary, helped members to understand synodical processes. When I first joined synod 5 years ago, I found a similar presentation very helpful, and many new members I have spoken to found this one similarly so.

Actually, it was such a useful case-study in debating procedure, that I managed to procure a copy of the script, and the permission to publish it. It may well be an aid to Diocesan Synod members too, especially the Chairs of House of Laity and Clergy.

Here are a couple of snippets:

Margery Kempe: Margery Kempe, Norwich, 1438. Mr. Chair, I am delighted to move this motion in my name. The Joint Ecumenical commission for motherhood and apple pie has spent the last two years considering both motherhood and apple pie from a variety of angles, as detailed in GS 1592…

Narrator: You will have noticed that she correctly started her speech by addressing the Chair. All speeches should be addressed to the Chair: only the person in the Chair addresses the Synod directly. After the opening speech the debate will be opened up to members... [etc.]


Narrator: Let’s hear how the first speaker gets on.

Hilda of Whitby: Hilda of Whitby, Religious Communities, 680. There are two points I want to make. First, in GS 1592 paragraph 23…

Narrator: Now this is good start – short, sharp, focused and directly to the point.

HW: … I could say more, but as the amber light has come on, I would say in conclusion that my main points are these … [etc.]

Other participants include (!):
Thomas Aquinas, Julian of Norwich, Catherine Parr, Hieronymous Bosch & Richard Hooker

Download the full sketch here, or continue reading it below the fold:

Alastair Cutting 96 Chichester

Is Synod Fit For Purpose?

The Church Mouse invited me to write a guest post on his famous blog, and you can find it here: http://j.mp/ChMouse.

Mouse starts:
Synod reform: Guest Post from Synod Member Alastair Cutting

There are some who feel, and I am amongst them, that doing church business in this way may not be the best. The General Synod has served well since its introduction in the 1970s, but is it fit for purpose now?

On the inauguration of the new Synod, Mouse is delighted to kick off a conversation about how General Synod could be reformed with a guest post from General Synod number 96, Alastair Cutting.

Read more here.

Alastair Cutting 96 Chichester

All Aboard For The New Quinquennium!

So - here we are again. I'm writing this in my room at the monastery where I have stayed for London Synods for the last 5 years. It's 8.00am, and shortly I will head off to join the security queues to get into Westminster Abbey for the inaugural service of the 8th General Synod of the Church of England. Five years ago I was nervous and excited, and a bit daunted at the prospect of what I had found myself part of. Five years on, it's the same feelings all over again - but not entirely for the same reasons. The nerves are still there, but no longer because I don't know what to expect - instead it's because now I do know what might well be round the corner, and some of the choices that we are going to have to make are nerve-racking indeed. I'm excited, too - but again not so much because I don't know what's coming. Instead it's because I know that I will be meeting old friends once again and making new ones - and also, of course, because I find the process and business of the way organisations like Synod work endlessly fascinating.

But I'm also still daunted. Despite the fact that Synod seems (and, lets face it, often is) not particularly relevant to everyday life in the C. of E., there are times when what is said and done here can have far-reaching effects. There have been times over the last five years when I have been acutely aware that particular debates and decisions had the potential to do an enormous amount of damage to the way we relate to each other - both on a personal and an institutional level. It's the same again this time round. No doubt I will end up having more to say about Wednesday's big matter (the Covenant, that is) in places where I can be a little less objective than I feel I ought to be here - but it's enough to say for now that despite the lack of wider focus on it, Wednesday's debate is a very big deal.

So. The ship is about to sail. We are being launched in a couple of hours time by our Supreme Governor on another five year mission. I wonder where we will get to this time around...

Chichester 289

Monday, 22 November 2010

New Quinquennium

Members old and new of General Synod have been gathering for the start of this new session. Monday has mainly included background and preliminary work for new members, including a light-hearted practise debate and voting procedures. I have asked about the possibility of sharing the 'script', as it helps people understand the debating processes, and may be of use members of diocesan synods also.

Tomorrow starts with the Inauguration Service in Westminster Abbey at 10:40am, followed by the Queen's speech (and briefly one each by the two Archbishops) before lunch. The afternoon kicks of with the Presidential Address from Archbishop Rowan, and then a debate on the Big Society. Outline agenda is available here; and all other papers and agenda here.

New members of General Synod are reminded they may join and contribute to this blog by emailing synod @ mac.com with a request to do so.

Alastair Cutting 96 Chichester