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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...

(GS 373)

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