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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Möbius Strips - Synod in One Dimension

The synchronicity of a conversation in the parish last week and an aside in the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon at the start of Tuesday's synod business both included comments on Möbius strips.

Image from WikiCommons

There is something curious about the Möbius strip is that it only has one side and one edge. Try following the side/edge with your finger...

Some might (cruelly) suggest it is quite an apt metaphor for the General Synod - one dimensional. But I think that misses a myriad of aspects hidden by such one-liners.

Today, synod had a presentation on The Wedding Project - it just demonstrated how not only can synod do stuff well (it was superbly presented, with two presenters, photos, videos, vox pop clips, laughs, a few 'ouch' moments), but also covers material that is as important to people outside church doors, as inside them. "England wants more Vicars" was a notable quote.

It may have only one edge, or side, but of course a Möbius strip is actually a very tactile and three dimensional object. Synod sometimes surprises us like that too; something of the mysterious, three-dimensional nature of God works his way into even the synodical processes. If someone tries to tell you the synod and it's work is shallow and pointless - one dimensional - then remember the Möbius strip.

Alastair Cutting Chichester 96

Monday, 7 February 2011

What The House Of Laity Did First...

Synod officially started at 3.00pm today. However, immediately before that meeting there was a meeting of the House of Laity by itself. These don't happen at every session - most business is conducted by Synod as a whole. (The House of Bishops is different - they do meet regularly outside Synod - but that's for expansion elsewhere, perhaps.) This afternoon the House of Laity was invited to co-opt Dr Priscilla Chadwick as a member of the House so that she could be re-appointed as Chair of the Dioceses Commission. The short version of what happened is that we declined to make such a co-option.

The longer version is a bit more nuanced. The powers that be have managed to get themselves in a muddle. As the Dioceses Commission is set up, a certain number of its members have also to be members of General Synod, and its Chair has to be selected from among those members. Furthermore the Chair of the Commission is not allowed also to be a member of various other Synod-related bodies. The idea seems to be that the Chair should be someone who has been in some way elected by the wider Church, and also that they should not be someone who is already obviously part of the establishment. So far so good, you might think. Unfortunately, it turned out that none of those from Synod who ended up on the Commission were deemed by the powers that be to be suitable for the post of Chair, and instead Dr Chadwick was suggested for the job. Consequently, in 2008, the House of Laity was asked to co-opt Dr Chadwick so that she could chair what was then the new Commission. Reluctantly, we agreed.

Given that we were told that the first co-option was quite essential because Dr. Chadwick was the only person for the job, it came as something of a surprise that we were now asked to make exactly the same co-option. After all, this time Dr. Chadwick could have stood for Synod. She didn't. The point was made in the debate that actually there was a good argument for the Chair of the Commission not to be an elected member from a particular diocese on grounds of impartiality. While this was a sound point, it doesn't alter the fact that a set of procedures exist for the appointment of the members and Chair of the Dioceses Commission, and that the central bureaucracy has attempted to circumvent them because they were not delivering the result that the bureaucracy required. This isn't the right way of doing things, and this time we were not sufficiently convinced by the arguments from expediency to put aside what little democratic legitimacy we possess and roll over when required by the secretariat.

In all of this, the person I feel sorry for is Dr. Chadwick. For what it's worth, I think she has done a good job, and I have been very impressed with what the Commission has so far achieved. As I understand it she was asked to continue in her post, she didn't put herself forward. Perhaps those who did the asking might reflect whether they have really done her or the Church any sort of service in making that request in the way in which they made it. Perhaps they might further reflect on the suggestion that if your procedures are not delivering the results you desire, then the procedures themselves need to be changed. If you attempt simply to circumvent the rules you currently have then the only conclusion to which onlookers might come is that those rules didn't really count for anything in the first place. And surely that can't be true...

(Chichester 289)

Synod Papers & Live audio feed

General Synod agendas and papers are here;
and there is also a live audio feed via Premier accessible here.

Alastair Cutting Chichester 96

So, what IS on Synod's agenda?

Here is synod meeting again in London. The November 2010 session was the usual, brief, inauguration session at the start of a new synod. Once we get to the February session, that's when the real work gets going.

Or does it? People have been commenting already that the agenda for this session seems thin. Although the whole week was set aside initially, the synod is actually only meeting from Monday until Wednesday evening. This is a quick glance as to why it might appear reduced; and what some of the more significant items are actually still are. Papers, as usual are available on the General Synod pages of the all new Church of England website (which is apparently no longer a sub-domain of the anglican.org - probably worth a blog post in it's own right at some point...).

Firstly, as it is a new synod, not all new posts have been fixed. Synod business is organised by the Business Committee - but that is only just in the process of being elected for the quinquennium. Many other important boards and councils have changed membership too, and this has affected pulling together some of the preparations for this synod.

Secondly, synod has sent out to the dioceses for debate 2 major pieces of work - Women Bishops, and the Anglican Communion Covenant. As we await these items to come back to synod for the final stages of the legislation, synod gets a chance to catch it's breath.

Monday's business starts with a presentation by The Right Honourable Andrew Mitchell MP, Secretary of State for International Development. It is a number of years since synod was addressed by a member of the government - and a great department for us to be hearing from. The press were asking before Andrew Mitchell's speech for a copy of what he was going to say. They couldn't have one, as he stood to speak passionately, with only the sparsest of notes, of recent visits to East Africa, and seeing the vital work being done by faith communities and others on the ground.

Other key items coming up include the the debate on the way ahead for the next quinquennium; as well as the motion asking for initiation - baptism etc - liturgies that are more in language that those unfamiliar with church jargon can better grasp. Not to dumb down our theology, but to make it more accessible. More later...

Alastair Cutting Chichester 96