Same Sex Marriage and the House of Bishops

February 16, 2014 § 12 Comments

This is a bit of thinking out loud, to help me work out why I find the statement by the House of Bishops on Same Sex Marriage difficult. Do help me out…

In my role as Precentor at York Minster it was my job to organise consecrations: the ordination of bishops. One of the descriptions of bishops which always stood out in the service was this:

With the Shepherd’s love, they are to be merciful, but with firmness; to minister discipline, but with compassion.

The House of Bishops has just issued a Pastoral Statement on Same Sex Marriage. This wasn’t on a whim: same sex marriage becomes law in England next month. Across England there will soon be couples who are legally married, in a way which the historic doctrine and practice of the Church of England does not recognise.

There has been a progression of ‘official’ Church of England pronouncements on this.

Broadly speaking:

  • The Biblical case is not so clear cut as it may seem, but the current accepted doctrine of the Church of England affirms that a physical relationship outside marriage between a man and a woman falls short of God’s ideal.
  • However, nothing we do or say about this should be used in any way to attack people with a homosexual orientation.
  • No one should be excluded from the church or denied the sacraments of baptism or communion because of this.
  • Faithfulness in relationship, and faithfulness in working out Christian discipleship are clearly a good thing.
  • Where people in a same sex relationship wish to affirm that by making a formal commitment to each other, that wish should be recognised, but not publicly and formally ‘blessed’.
  • Things are different for clergy, and those in a licensed relationship with the Bishop, as their public ministry is part of the affirmation of the doctrines of the church as the Church of England has received them.

The current guidelines nudge things a little more in the direction of recognising that there may be some kind of act of prayer as an appropriate pastoral response to a same sex marriage, though this should not be a ‘blessing’, nor, probably, a public act of worship. I guess that our ‘facilitated conversations’ around the Pilling Report will help us get more clarity on this.

But here’s my problem. Right at the end of the Appendix to the Pastoral Statement, the House of Bishops make it very clear that, whatever the tradition of ‘conscientious dissent’, and whatever desire they have not to draw lines too firmly, anyone currently in holy orders and under the authority of a bishop could find themselves under ‘discipline’ – a word they use in para 28 – if they marry under the provision of the new act. In using the word ‘conduct’ in para 27 the House points to the use of a charge of ‘conduct unbecoming a clerk in holy orders’ being a possibility here.

On Wednesday, at General Synod, we had a presentation about the Pilling Report. I came away hopeful that the process over the next two years would bring some kind of nuanced and generous settlement of these things. The answer to a question from a prominent cleric, who announced himself to be gay and not called to celibacy gave me some hope that such faithful expressions of same sex human love within a commitment to Christ might one day be given a surer footing in the Church of England than they are now. We spoke of ‘good disagreement’.

Two days later the House has given the clear impression that clergy who intend to marry under the provisions of the new act might find themselves subject to discipline. The House’s statement makes this so public that, it seems to me, an individual bishop will now have to give clear reasons why he is not going to allow formal proceedings to happen, should he be so challenged.

I think the House probably had no choice than to restate historic Christian beliefs about marriage. They overstate the case about this being the first time church and state have diverged over marriage: in the 1800s debates happened over the marriage of a man to his deceased wife’s sister, and more recently over remarriage after divorce. In both cases secular law was in advance of church rules. And it was only in the last 20 years or so that people who were divorced and remarried could be ordained. But marriage between people of the same sex is, of course, quite a departure from what we have inherited.

However I do think the House did have a choice about what they were to say about the treatment of clergy, and ordinands. Given that we are to have facilitated conversations about the wider area of same sex attraction, the House could have said something along the lines of:

The existing doctrine of the church is that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Any cleric seeking to marry under the provisions of the new act must be clear that they are going against this.

They must do so having informed their bishop, and discussed it with him.

Pending the outcome of the facilitated conversations process which has been commended by Synod, we will not, at this stage take disciplinary action against serving clergy who choose to marry under the provisions of the Act. (A ‘moratorium’)

That would have been the House as a whole stating a case ‘firmly’, but then acting with ‘compassion’, and allowing the whole Church of England to come to a mind, as much as that is possible, before stating a final position on clergy and same sex marriage. What they have done is to express the firmness of discipline, and left it to each individual bishop to work out the mercy and compassion on a case by case basis. That’s going to be a whole lot of difficult situations, which I think they could have avoided.

I tweeted that I was ‘naffed off’. It was not with the House per se, but with a situation which left them no choice but to say something, and the logical process which led them to be so declarative at the end. I want to be as compassionate as possible about the Bishops’ situation here. But I don’t think it would have been too much for them to stay their hand, just a little, while we all wrestle with this and seek to come to a position which will enable us to speak of the love of God to a society which is moving very quickly indeed.

As I said, these are my first thoughts. Thanks for being a public sphere to try them out.

Synod Feb 2014

February 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Morning all.

Synod started yesterday. We had a moving debate yesterday about Gender Based Violence, and committed ourselves to work in every way possible against it, and a presentation about Ethical Investment. We have lots of investments, and lead the way in ensuring these are used ethically – it’s a fast changing world, and the presentation was an inspiring mix of finance and theology.

Questions included lots about where the Bishop of Bath and Wells will live. Normally it’s good for the church to divest itself of grand palaces, but the Church Commissioners’ decision to move the Bishop’s accommadation elsewhere has been very controversial. Sometimes inhabiting a prominent and grand place can be an act of mission.

Anyway, we’re now spending a day on the legislation to enable women to be bishops. It’s really complicated, and probably not very interesting…but there is the odd banana skin, and we’ll need to be careful. Here we go.

We’re debating the Declaration from the House of Bishops – how the provision for those for and against Women Bishops will work in practice. So far even those who can’t recognise a woman as a bishop are saying that this package can work.

Conservative Evangelicals have problems with women in authority, and the Bishops wrote a paragraph separating legal and sacramental authority – but didn’t include it in the Declaration. One or two speeches have asked for it to be included – or at least made available.

Otherwise no banana skins.

We’re about to vote on the Declaration, and have approved it overwhelmingly.

That was the ‘code of practice’ if you like. Now we do the legislation, clause by clause. We are revising it rather than finally approving…so it’s detail.

First clause enables women to be bishops. Lindsey Newcombe, lay chair of Forward in Faith, speaks movingly to affirm the process and to commit herself to the future of the church – and to say that, of course, she has to vote against this clause. Not to derail anything, but in all conscience.

We approve it overwhelmingly.

Now to Clause 2 – which removes the office of bishop from the Equalities Act. Simon Taylor was going to ask to amend this ‘blunt instrument’ and sharpen it, but being advised it would delay things he has withdrawn it.

We approve Clause 2 overwhelmingly.

And we’ve approved all the others, after a quick further skirmish about the Equalities Act.

Now we are looking at the Amending Canon, which makes the required changes to our Canons. We’ve also approved them overwhelmingly.
For 304, against 33, abstained 45.

Now we debate rescinding the Act of Synod (which provided the legal framework for provision for the opponents of women priests). Our new package should make it redundant.

We are reminded that the Act of Synod sounds like the law, but isn’t! Rescinding it will not make the Bishoprics of Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough redundant – though it does remove the office of Provincial Episcopal Visitor.

Interestingly we have to pass an Act of Synod in order to rescind ‘The’ Act of Synod.

This is an important moment – some would say The Act of Synod kept people in the C of E. Others found it discriminatory and hurtful. Most seem to feel that the new arrangements do it better.

We have approved to rescind it…and it will be referred to the Dioceses.

Lunch!!

General Synod Wednesday – what you’ve been waiting for.

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Good morning all. We have, of course, discussed all sorts of things so far – intentional evangelism, church buildings, church schools, poverty. how we do our business better, and so on. But this is the debate people will be looking at.

I’m cheered by a few things – the irrelevant one being that Hull got the ‘City of Culture 2017′ nod this morning. If Hull can be a City of Culture, then all sorts can happen. Specifically, it looks like the stuff being offered to us today can ‘fly’ – a ‘single clause’ measure – women and men can be bishops – and a good set of provisions ‘for the whole church’, as the Bishop of Rochester told us on Monday. Our work in groups yesterday bore this out. It looks like many those who cannot conscientiously vote for this legislation will be able to abstain with honour.

You can follow the debate online – check out the C of E website, and on Twitter, so look at @CofEGenSyn.

We’re off. Most people want to speak in favour (woo hoo!), and we’ve been urged not to be repetitious. And there are no amendments proposed…even better news.

The Bishop of Rochester outlines the matter – much of what we will talk about will be about process, and he invites us to think of the ‘ombudsman’ as a model, but not to use that language. We will talk of an ‘independent reviewer’ who will be used to settle disputes between parishes and dioceses and their Bishops. He mentions one of the substantive issues: the oath of canonical obedience made by clergy and others to the diocesan bishop, and he says that the questions have been heard.

Richard Mantle speaks first – a maiden speech. He’s a Lay Guardian of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, and is a ‘catholic anglican. He intends to support the proposals (I wasn’t expecting that!) – whilst being wary of any document which promises ‘peace in our time. He speaks of the essential nature of trust, and a commitment for traditionalists to thrive. Women who are bishops must hold their office with the same jurisdication as men, and so must those male bishops who don’t ordain women. There must be commitments that such men will hold office in the House of Bishops. I’m really cheered by that – a traditionalist saying ‘we can do this’ (my words).

Simon Killwick, Chair of the Catholic Group, says how much better these proposals are – more preferable than a Code of Practice and individual diocesan arrangements. He likes the Independent Reviewer. ‘Significant improvements’, based on the clearly laid out principles which guide the process. ‘For us trust will be greatly helped if arrangements can be published for the future consecration of traditionalist bishops’. Again – a positive feel.

Rod Thomas, a conservative evangelical and leader of Reform now. He again speaks of some encouragements, but as a member of the Steering Committee he still has some problems. He’s worried about jurisdiction – it still bothers him that a delegated bishop for his constituency might be delegated by a woman (the ‘male headship’ problem), and some clarification about spiritual and temporal authority would be welcome. He will vote in favour today, even if he won’t vote in favour at final approval. He confidently expects it to go through. Warm applause.

These three speeches are a massively big deal. Three people who would be figurehead opponents who have all spoken positively. The world outside should be cheering like stink.

Christina Rees (WATCH) also positive, and pays tribute to the process. David Houlding (a traditionalist) is massively enthusiastic. We are all provided for. The ecumenical avenues are left open with the wider part of catholic christendom – part of our polity will be recognisable to the great catholic and orthodox communions, and the sacraments are preserved. ‘The battle is over. Let’s get on with the mission’. Massive applause.

Anne Martin is positive, but is worried that our consensus might be fragile. Let’s strengthen it. Bishop of Southwark: ‘if Christina Rees and David Houlding are happy, then I am happy’. In a lovely slip of the tongue he talks about ‘concentrated bishops’ rather than consecrated ones. His diocese is ‘happily fractious’ and emphasises the essence of trust. ‘Bishops will have to demonstrate that they are totally committed to this way of doing business’. In using the five principles the House of Bishops has already made its position clear.

Amanda Fairclough from Liverpool  would have preferred an even simpler Measure. but urges us not to tinker. This is fine – let’s do it. Now David Banting – a conservative evangelical, who will vote no, as he will vote no at final approval. He is confident that this measure will allow his integrity to flourish, and our new ways of working will mean this position is honoured. He had dreamed a dream of a new way of bishops being bishops. He thanks God for a new atmosphere, but stands where he stands, and feels, charitably that this is ‘inappropriate’. He worries that there will never be a ‘conservative evangelical’ bishop. He will seek to work within the church whatever the outcome will be, and hopes that a proposal to have suffragan sees shared by a number of dioceses will go forward.

Another speaker says that we should all be bound by what we do, and not chip away at it later. Paul Benfield, who abstained in the Steering Committee vote, says that he might have voted no, but did not. This package can work, and he urges us to continue with it. He will now vote for.

Anne Foreman committed herself to worship with different traditions, and found welcome and challenge in all. It convinced her that we can move forward together. Charles Read is nervous about ‘ring fencing’ a place in the College of Bishops just for someone of a conservative evangelical position (and he comes from an evangelical background). We don’t appoint bishops on the basis of one position alone. And such a bishop could change his mind!

Susie Leafe (conservative evangelical, and works for Reform) cannot support this, and cannot accept a woman as chief pastor. Even acceptable provision of another bishop would be directed by a woman. This will alienate many churches which are growing and are sending many young men into the ministry.  Jurisdiction remains a problem – it’s all about who is the ‘ordinary’ – the lead authority – for parishes who cannot accept a woman’s leadership. This question has not been on the table, and should be.  She was on the Steering Committee, and didn’t vote against, and cannot support it. She didn’t say whether she would vote against now. (JF comment: most people would vote against if this provision of different ‘ordinaries’ was offered!!)

Rachel Treweek, Archdeacon of Hackney, is strongly in favour, and is reluctant to turn up the volume on one particular aspect. But…further converstaions about the role of PCCs and Bishops and their facilitatd conversations on this issue. Keep the principles of transparency and reciprocity at the forefront of these conversations on the ground. Make sure that the whole worshipping community knows, not just the PCC – some kind of public notification would be good. And PCCs would be helped by some simple and non partisan informative material, perhaps on the C of E website. Vote Yes!!

Christine Hardman, Prolocutor of Canterbury, didn’t think the process would work. It has. It was not comfortable, but there was ‘sincere, courageous and dangerous engagement’, and this will need to continue through the church. ‘Isn’t God good?’

JF: It almost feels like we should vote now, unless there are some substantive points on the process.

Jamie Harrison (also on the Steering Committee) talks about the Independent Reviewer, reflecting his medical experience.   He guards agains the process being a fully legal one – it can be too time consuming and too expensive.  Trust the ‘joined up’ process. ‘Trust me, I know it’s going to work, I’m a Doctor’.

Elaine Storkey talks about law and grace, and her experience of the World Council of Churches discussions last month on gender and leadership. The underlying theology is of men and women together in Christ. She values the grace which has been heard so far this morning. We can ‘walk together’.

Tim Hind invites the House of Bishops to be proactive with the Independent Reviewer, rather than waiting for a conflict to arise.  Hannah Cleugh, Chaplain of Castle (Univ College Durham – huzzah), welcomes the package, which works together. It ‘holds together in tension’, in the best anglican tradition.

The Archbishop of York says that that he and ++Justin agree that there should be a conservative evangelical representation in the House of Bishops. This is difficult to quantify – as con evos disagree on headship (my words not his!). He will get him and Justin also to declare their hand on the nature of consecrations, and will work further on the nature of the Independent Reviewer. He commends a person of the stature of a very senior judge.

Deborah McIsaac guards against the Independent Reviewer being an advisor – they are a safeguard and a backstop.

Gavin Collins stresses that we can’t pick and choose our bishops. All parishes will need to work together their Dicoesan bishop, and model mutual relationship.

The debate is now helpfully on how the process will work, how it relates to the Equalities Act and how the Independent Reviewer will act. This healthy, and shows that the substantive point is won. I think.

Rosie Harper looks at this from the outside in, and the sheer wierdness of a group arguing about discrimination in the C21st. ‘We need to stop being wierd’. Stop describing ourselves by what we don’t do.

Moving speech by Mary Nagel (Forward in Faith), whose daughter declared a vocation to the ordained ministry. They are walking together, and we can too. Wow.

We are going to vote soon – a good news story for the 1.00 News.

The Bishop of Rochester warns against complacency, and says his champagne is on the journey from rack to fridge. We will go forward when we ‘outdo one another in showing honour’.

The vote was

Yes:  378

No: 8

Abs: 25

Jolly dee. That is really quite remarkable.

General Synod July 2013 – Jeremy’s Report

July 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

This is the Report I’ve done for the York Diocese. The simplest way to find out the ‘bare bones’ of what General Synod did is to look at the summaries of business done on the Church of England website: www.churchofengland.org – look for ‘News’ and ‘Top News Releases’, and each day’s decisions are there.

The great feature of this group of sessions was the way we prepared for the Women Bishops debate by working in small groups. We had recognised that different groupings in the Church of England, and different views on women in ministry, were unlikely to agree on a way forward based on legislation and ‘parliamentary’ debating alone. So a ‘reconciliation’ process was set up, and ‘facilitated conversations’ took place earlier this year among the different groups and organisations, and reported to the House of Bishops. Synod did the same kind of thing. Small groups, each with an external facilitator, were helped to speak openly about the issues and their impact, and to comment on the possible ways forward the House of Bishops had proposed. The whole process (including a drama which we could all join in) was unlike anything I’ve experienced at Synod before. Reports from the groups were varied, but the general feel was that it had been hugely valuable.

That prepared us for Monday’s debate. The House of Bishops had offered us a way forward based on minimum legislation and maximum trust. It was clear in the debate that a significant minority still wanted security through legal provisions, but we voted to set up a Steering Committee with a steer on the side of a small amount of law and a large amount of agreed processes and codes. What was fascinating was the proposal that the Steering Committee should be larger than normal, and that it should use the ‘facilitated conversation’ process to come up with a unanimous proposal which would be revised not by a further committee but by the whole Synod. The committee, of 15, is being appointed as I type. The next Synod in November will take the process on.

What else did we do? Synod gets going with Questions, some of which flagged up people’s problems with a report issued by the Faith and Order Commission about Marriage. On Saturday evening the Archbishops’ Council reported on the state of play on its three themes for the period 2010 – 2015: contributing to the common good; growing the church; transforning ministry. Synod affirmed the progress made, but added a call to the House of Bishops to report in 2 years with a strategy for evangelism as well.

On Sunday afternoon we went into serious legislative detail. We approved changed to the way the Faculty system will work (the church’s ‘planning permission’) – essentially making the process less administratively complex and speeding it up where possible. And we tweaked a number of bits of law which will help the church and PCC’s do their work. Some of that was legal housekeeping, but that’s what Synod does, and good laws help us all.

Later in the afternoon we considered Safeguarding, in the light of a recent investigation into the Diocese of Chichester. It was a sombre session, preceded by a statement from survivors of abuse. We agreed to redouble our efforts, systems and processes to ensure that churches were safe for all, and to review those processes and laws to enable dioceses and parishes to act openly, pastorally and justly for all. We’ll hear more about specific changes nationally to safeguarding requirements.

In the evening we considered what the church’s response should be to the huge changes made to welfare reform in this nation. Our final motion was strengthened in the debate to include a ‘bias to the poor’ and a reference to the difficulties in a system of universal benefit. We agreed to strengthen both the work of the grass roots and those working with politicians and the state to ensure fair treatment of the vulnerable. Our debate was not party political, and seemed to me to be an excellent example of how to reflect and act in a complex world.

After Women Bishops, on Monday afternoon we created a new Diocese. The Diocese of Leeds – West Yorkshire and the Dales will replace the dioceses of Bradford, Wakefield, and Ripon and Leeds. There was overwhelming support for the work of the Dioceses Commission, reshaping structures to relate to the contemporary world. This was despite the opposition of the Diocese of Wakefield. The legalities of all this will be complex, but in February the old dioceses will disappear, and a new diocese, with a Bishop of Leeds and area bishops of Bradford, Huddersfield, Ripon and Wakefield will be formed, with three cathedrals and possibly a pro-Cathedral.

Later on Monday we approved the Archbishop’s Council’s Budget, and received the Church Commissioners Annual Report. On Tuesday we were addressed by Bishop Angaelos, who is an ecumenical observer at the Synod and a Bishop in this country for the Coptic Church in Egypt. He talked of the difficulties in his nation, and his hope in the Gospel for the country which was blessed by the presence of the Holy Family. That rather put into context our ‘internal’ discussions arising from the Elections Review Group about who can vote for Synod members and how they do it.

Having discussed matters around the representation of university staff, the imbalance of representation from the Province of York and the Province of Canterbury, the number of Bishops on the Synod and how we enable more young people and more people from Black and Minority Ethnic communities to be on Synod, more work will be done and brought back to us. The debate about how the House of Laity is elected (by Deanery Synod reps? By a special ‘Electoral College’? By all lay members of PCCs?), and how electronic methods can be used … was adjourned.

We said farewell to the Bishops of Exeter, Liverpool, Hereford and Gibraltar in Europe, noting that Bishop James Jones is not retiring to the York Diocese so much as being re-tired. We rejoiced in the vitality of the Archbishop of York, and welcomed the active presence of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, who always seemed to be smiling, occasionally tweeted, and seemed to be everywhere.

It was a hot weekend! The use of facilitated discussions was a great feature, and may well affect the way we do our work in future. York was welcoming as ever, despite the sad incident at the Minster. After the gloom of November 2012, there were seeds of hope in July 2013.

Jeremy Fletcher
York 239

New Diocese, New Mission, New Cathedrals?

July 9, 2013 § 1 Comment

Yesterday General Synod decided to create a new diocese. After a long process, the proposals to dissolve the dioceses of Wakefield, Ripon and Leeds, and Bradford, and to create a new Diocese of Leeds (West Yorkshire and the Dales) were approved overwhelmingly. Though I have never served in any of them, I’ve done lots in them, and grew up in Bradford, my sponsoring diocese.

I warmed to the obvious mission emphasis in the proposals. Structures don’t do mission for us, but they can hinder it, and this reshaping will allow deaneries, archdeaconries and episcopal areas in the new diocese to relate more easily to the demographics of the conurbations and the Dales.

I’d like to add a small voice into the debate about what happens to the three cathedrals of the former dioceses. There was understandable concern that one new diocese would need just the one cathedral, and that two of them would therefore lose their status (and the funding they received from the Church Commissioners). Not so, and the fear expressed by the three cathedrals that removing their status would ‘disable their local mission’ has been somewhat allayed. They remain free to pursue their ‘engagement with civil society and with those who are not regular churchgoers’ (both quotations from a background paper – GC 1049B).

The new Diocese of Leeds will have a Diocesan Bishop of Leeds, and Area Bishops of Bradford, Huddersfield, Wakefield and Ripon. It will have three cathedrals – seats of the Bishop’s ministry – in Ripon, Wakefield and Bradford. There is provision for Leeds Minster becoming a ‘pro-cathedral’ if desired. Four of the five areas will therefore have a cathedral or pro cathedral as expressions of episcopal ministry and mission, but Huddersfield won’t. The report talks about the difficulty of deciding on the relative importance of Dewsbury Minster, Halifax Minster and Huddersfield Parish Church, and decides that not having a central church here reveals the diversity of the diocese.

Here’s the thing. I’ve worked in a cathedral, and am now in a massive Minster church, and have been reflecting on the similarities and differences of their ministries. I don’t think that the reasons cathedrals are a success story in mission terms (35% growth in recent years) is because they have complex constitutions and legal structures, Chapters, Colleges of Canons and Councils and orders of precedence. Cathedrals have grown because they have a clear mission, a recognition that their ministry is regional and their mission is to the structures of society, and because the wider church recognises this, gives them money and requires them to have at least three experienced clergy there full time.

All of this can be true of ‘greater’ churches at the heart of their area. Beverley Minster cannot help but engage with the East Riding, just as Holy Trinity Hull does in its city. The Bishops of the Diocese of York, specifically the Bishop of Hull, use us and other larger churches to express that regional mission. Most of the things I did at York in welcoming the region to worship (the Legal Service, Remembrance, civic services, military commemorations, charity services and so on) happen at Beverley. You don’t need a cathedral constitution to do that.

But you do need a vision, resources, and the staffing. A new diocese could have a new vision for those churches of its region which naturally have a ministry beyond the parochial and which can express the mission of the diocese focussed in the ministry of the bishops. It could give them titles – ‘Minster’ – which  express this ministry, and ensure that the lead cleric is recognised as also embodying it. ‘Provost’ was what the lead cleric at Beverley was called until the Reformation. Crucially, it could ensure that such staffing was in place that worship, pastoral, mission, social and educational needs were met.

I have a nightmare that the joint working of the three current cathedrals in relation to each other and to their diocesan and area bishops will be so complex constitutionally that the mission of each disappears into the mire of the re-written statutes. One cathedral, with ‘greater’ Minster churches adequately staffed and with much lighter governance could be a superb and flexible mission resource, as long as the current high regard in which they are held is translated into regard for their ‘Minster’ status.

The Measure which will make the new Diocese is wisely light on what it says about how the cathedrals will work. But the background material says that cathedral ministry should be renewed at some time in the future.

An offering then from me. A church which expresses the ministry of a diocese, focussed in the Bishop’s mission, does not have to have the panoply of a cathedral’s constitution and statutes. But it does need a recognition by the diocese that it is a church of regional influence, and needs to have staffing which enables that influence to bear fruit. It needs the status that titles can bring, and it needs the support of the parishes and deaneries around it. Elements of that work here. I’m looking forward to seeing how a new diocese might find a new way of expressing its local, regional and diocesan life. Exciting times.

General Synod Tuesday

July 9, 2013 § 1 Comment

Morning all.

Our business today is, in one sense, inward looking. We are reviewing the composition of the Synod – who can be a member and how many come from each diocese and other constituencies. But…this relates to our mission and presence in the nation. We’re thinking about how General Synod hears the voice of younger people, minority ethnic groupings, and university teachers, and also wondering about how the voice of the Province of York can properly be heard.

We’ve just taken note of a report about this (GS 1901), and it will now go to a Revision Committee. Now we’re looking at the representation of university staff – a very complex constituency, if a small one. Those who are ordained and who teach in universities bring a special expertise to our life, but working out how they can be elected has always been a bother.

We have just agreed to encourage the Revision Committee to bring clearly researched proposals for either abolition of the Universities constituency, or reform of it. So it will come back in due course.

It you’re really keen you’ll carry on reading the next bit…we are doing the detailed legal work which will provide the mechanisms to change who can be elected to Synod. They are ‘Amending Canons’ – changing the law. What’s fun about this is that you have to vote for the setting up of the legal process, even if later you want to vote against the specific matter it has just allowed. I’m sure we’ll vote to send these instruments to the Revision Committee – and will nip out for a drink!

11.50. Back in – we did indeed send the legal instruments to a Revision Committee, with points about representation on the north, the universities, and the effect of the new Diocese of Leeds duly noted.

Now we’re on to how we define who can vote for non ordained members of Synod (the Laity), and whether we can use electronic means to vote and be nominated for election. The laity one is interesting. At the moment only members of Deanery Synods can vote for lay members, and that electorate might not be truly representative of ‘the people in the pews’. The choice would be either to allow every member of an electoral roll to have a vote, or to set up a special ‘electoral college’ where people stand specifically and simply to be the people who vote for General Synod.

Universal suffrage would be complex and expensive. An electoral college would allow more people than could commit themselves to a Deanery Synod for a 3 year term. That argument seens stronger to me than one which says that ‘not all Deaneries are the same and some are not very active or capable’ (my paraphrase of the argument). But Pam Bishop from Southwell and Nottingham is arguing for the ‘community’ aspect of the engagement which Deanery Synods have.

Philip French (Rochester) presses for universal suffrage, use of technology,  and more speed. Voting online would enable more people to be involved in the whole process.

Christine Hardman (Southwark) points out that electoral roll membership does not always guarantee active church membership. She argues for a ‘college’ made up of all the lay members of the PCC, including the churchwardens. Warm applause.

Adrian Greenwood invites us to get on with the electronic stuff and to think carefully about the electorate ofthe House of Laity. Electoral roll membership is way too complex, and reinvigorated Deaneries may well be an assistance here.

And… we’re going to adjourn, to bring the business back in November.

That’s it. We’ll now say farewell to Bishop James Jones, Bishop Geoffrey Rowell and Bishop Anthony Priddis (I think).

General Synod Monday Afternoon

July 8, 2013 § 2 Comments

Afternoon all. New blog for the afternoon, but it’s as if we have not had lunch and are just carrying on from 1.05.

Clive Mansell has moved his amendment about ‘preventing legal challenge’ under equalities legislation. Bishop Nigel is not sure that there is an easy answer to the problem, and puts himself in Synod’s hands. Clive Scowen agrees that you can’t prevent legal challenge, but you can provide good safeguards. We should at least ask to try. Mark Steadman is happy to trust the current working of the law under the Equalities act. Tony Baldry (MP) is not happy to go back for fresh laws, amending equalities legislation. Parliament would not wear it.

He also says that he can hold the line in Parliament for a couple more years, but no more. We vote on it electronically…For 200, against 210, 15 abstentions. Amendment lost.

Now to Keith Malcouronne, whose amendment is about using the ‘facilitated conversations’  process thoughout what comes. Bishop Nigel is happy to accept it. Chris Sugden very happy to support it too. ‘We’ve set our hands to the plough. Let’s not look back’. Dagmar Winter cautions about expecting too much – it does have limitations. ‘I agree with Pete, kind of’. (Pete Broadbent has invited the steering committee which will take this forward to engage in the process using the ‘facilitated conversations process). We agree to do this.

We now debate the motion as a whole, as amended by Dover and Malcouronne (Option 1, with a monitoring process and using ‘facilitated discussion’).

Archbishop of Canterbury speaking. Too much detail invites complicated litigation. If his speech gets blogged then read it – demolishes a legislative solution in two sentences. He supports Pete Broadbent’s proposed process. Please set a clear general direction, while leaving space for development. Discuss the 5 principles the Bishops established, agree them and make them a kind of ring fence. The resolution, the principles and Peter Broadbent’s scheme are the best way forward.

Tim Allen recognises that getting the amended Option One through, especially through the laity, will not be easy. If we couldn’t do that in November, with legislation, how can we do it now? Peter Broadbent’s process might just do it. If we don’t do it by July 2015 it will have a significant effect on elections to the new Synod. Best to do this now. We will guarantee a broadly based new Synod in 2015 if we do our work quickly and well now.

The Bishop in Europe raises the ecumenical dimension, and asks from, eg WATCH, a statement of its ecclesiology in relation to the other denominations (I reflect that it would be good to have one of those from Rome about us…)

Jane Charman hopes that we will unite around Option 1. But ‘what if we can’t?’ If we fail we will have to recognise that we have gone as far as we can. Best to be dissolved as a Synod. She is confident that people trust the House of Bishops – though some of the people around me find that amusing.

Rebecca Swire (a deacon – the one woman minister who voted against last November) doesn’t find that any of the options or amendments are quite right. But we have the vision to find an outcome, and this is possible.

Paula Gooder speaks – she was pictured in the press in tears after the November debate. ‘We must never dothat to each other again’. This way of doing things is a new way forward. What we are doing is puting boxes in place, with nothing official yet to put in them. Let’s be good to each other.

BIshop of Rochester says we will be able to set up the Broadbent process by voting for Option one as amended.  Let’s vote with conviction.

And we’re about to vote…oops – no we’re not. Bishop Nigel to reply. He reminds us that Option One is not a single clause measure. It requires provision…just places that provision in a different form to the law. He has listened to all the amendments, especially the one about legal protection, which he will look at again. People also want to talk further about the five principles the Bishops established.

He was sorry to read predictions that we would fight even more. Let’s offer hope of reconciliation among ourselves and beyond ourselves. We vote…after some points of order. We’ll vote as a whole Synod – not in houses.

In favour: 319

Against: 84

Abstentions: 22

So – passed strongly. Over to the establishment of a steering committee to shape the next bit of the process.

We’ve been given 15 mins off. I’ll do the Dioceses stuff on a separate blog. Thanks for listening!

General Synod – Monday

July 8, 2013 § 4 Comments

Welcome all. This is Monday morning’s blog. Look here for Monday afternoon!!

As promised, my take on what happens through Monday. It’s Women Bishops this morning, after worship. There are some 9 amendments tabled to the Bishops’ motion. The Bishops have said, in short, that we should get going on this without delay, and that legislation based on the simplest pattern – their Otion One – should be what’s drawn up. A quick look at the amendments reveals that they all want to add further legislative weight to provision for people unable to receive the ministry of a woman Bishop.

The key will be whether the impetus towards trust and grace which was in evidence on Saturday will be carried forward. We will need an ‘opponent’ to say they can live with this, I think.

To prayers. See you later.

Here we go. Not even started before Andrea Williams (Chichester) has moved to adjourn the debate until tomorrow. She wants Bishops who are in the Lords to be in the Lords today for the marriage bill. So not a wrecking thing, but another point all together. She is told that there are Bishops in the Lords today, and the marriage bill is at the report stage, so numbers of Bishops not vital there today.

And off we properly go. Our chairman, Geoffrey Tattersall, invites us to listen to each other and not talk at each other. He reminds us that this is a beginning, and we are giving a new Steering Committee a ‘steer’ – there will be ample chance to revise legislation as the process unfolds.

Bishop of Eds and Ips gets us started. He thanks the working group which produced most of the report we’re debating. He affirms the process of ‘facilitated conversations’ which they went through, and which we did on Saturday. He recognises that, after November, we are more polarised than we were. But the argument now is about ‘means, not ends’. All are agreed that women will be bishops. It is the ‘how’ which is key. Hence their 5 principles (fully equal ministry; everybody to acknowledge the decision; only part of the wider schurch approach to this; opponents to be able to flourish; provision for opponents not to be time limited so as to enable mutual flourishing).

He indicates that two amendments have his blessing: to continue to use the ‘facilitated discussion’ process, and to have a mandatory grievance procedure in which all bishops will have to participate. He moves Option 1, with these intentions.

10.15. Bishop of Lincoln: Option 1 is not ‘fluffy’. It will enable grace, and with a Bishops’ declaration and mandatory procedures will give the C of E all the stucture and protection it needs.

Rod Thomas (from Reform) says he speaks for the majority of evangelicals who voted against. He says he and they don’t want to block the way to women bishops. He valued the facilitated discussions. He understood and was able to communicate the different sensitivities involved, and was happy to contemplate simpler legislation, and understood that there would be different instruments to offer protection for sensitivities. But none of those instruments are there in the House of Bishops paper. There is too little for people like him. He asks for one of the other options.

Karen Hutchinson, a former matrimonial lawyer, talks about pre-nuptual agreements, which are really planning for failure. She is uncomfortable with an over reliance on protective legislation. We should put our energy into building relationships strong enough for the journey ahead.

Wealands Bell (Lichfield). He worries about trust. It is as if the proposal says ‘I’m going to take away the promise I made to you yesterday so that you can trust me more tomorrow.’ We find law a help in all sorts of areas of our life. Much of the passion about opposition to women priests is about grief about the schism of the church – our relationships with Rome etc – and here law would safeguard grief, not enshrine misogyny. We need more law. Passionately said – especially as he is not of that mind himself.

Pete Broadbent has a ‘cunning plan’ (which he tried out on people last night). Have an enlarged Steering Committee – made up of pressure groups and those of no allegiance. It should have a ‘facilitated discussion’ and come up with something which the whole group can put its name to. No provision for a minority report. All or nothing.  Forgo the use of a Revision Committee – that’s where it failed last time. Come straight to a Revision Stage in full Synod. That would make the moral authority of what comes to Synod much more powerful – all groupings would have had their say already. Warm and prolonged applause.

Following speeches something of a lull. Importance of trust, and positive language. And a desire to have an option 4.

Various speakers – on different ‘sides’ – keen to say ‘I agree with Pete’. So the method – get an enlarged Steering Committee and get it to agree without dissension, then enact what it says – is getting good support. We’re now going to have speeches on each of the 9 amendments.

Paul Benfield speaking to his amendment: that provision for ‘opponents’ should be made by Measure or regulations made under canon. Not quite Option 4. He runs out of time but we get the point.

Philip Giddings (Chair of the House of Laity) speaking carefully about listening to each other. He likes the facilitated discussions, and the mandatory grievance procedure.

Tom Sutcliffe speaking about his amendment to continue the deployment of alternative episcopal oversight, administered by the two Archbishops. I don’t think this will get anywhere, but he is also inclined to agree with Pete.

Rebecca Swinson – the youngest member of Archbishops’ Council – likes this motion because she won’t have to keep explaining what we’re up to in the pub. Option One can be talked about ‘out there’. Women priests have been part of her reality for all her life. She doesn’t want her children to have to hear the phrase ‘women bishops’.

Peter Collard wants to keep the bulk of the arrangements we already have – the 1993 Measure, covering priestly ministry in parishes. He does not want parishes to ask for alternative episcopal oversight (Resolution C) – and will ask the Archbishops to think further on this. Lukewarm applause, and general sense around me that they’d not quite understood what he was on about.

Clive Mansell has two amendments. He feels option 2 (having an Act of Synod with proviion for ‘opponents’ already written before we approve the matter of women Bishops), and wants the Synod to have a go at it. His further amenment asks that protection against legal challenge under the equality act should be built in to any legislation. Sounds sensible to me.

11.15 Bishop of Dover speaks to his amendment, which has already been commended by many. There should be a monitoring body, and a requirement that Bishops abide by any agreed process. There would be an independent body, not a code of practice, with agreed membership, and with robust powers (so that if a Bishop ignored provision (s)he would be subject to discipline). This would be more robust than legislation.

Simon Cawdell speaking to his amendment, which inserts a phrase about enabling those unable on theological grounds to accept their ministry to flourish within the C of E.

11.30. We start on dealing with the emandments. Bishop Nigel (who was Paul Benfield’s training incumbent) resists his amendment, which he describes as ‘Option 4 with bells on’. But it needs to be tested, so we debate it. Adrian Vincent says that if there is robust legislation, then opponents will guarantee to let the whole thing pass. Groans in Synod indicate that few are convinced.

Rose Harper is opposed to this. Anything other than Option One is discrimination, and lets down oppressed women around the world. Others want robust legal provision so that there is something clear to measure a grievance process against. Rachel Treweek says Option One opens up trust. To vote for it is not to say no to provision – it just puts provision in its proper place.

About to vote on the amendment. We are to vote by houses.

Bshops: Yes   7  No 34

Clergy Yes  48     No 137 (4 abs)

Laity Yes  75       No 115 (4 abs)

Amendment lost.

There is a fear that we’ll be asked to vote by houses on each amendment. But standing orders can’t prevent that.

Tom Sutcliffe’s amendment is also resisted by Bishop Nigel, especially as it talks about ‘alternative’ episcopal oversight rather than extended oversight. Bishop of Ely says it takes us back rather than forward. I predict it will fall…and it does, overwhelmingly.

Now to Peter Collard’s – which Bishop Nigel calls Option 3 with additions. The old 1993 Measure is causing increasing pain and won’t help the new ways in which we want to work. Not a lot of people want to speak – I predict it will fall. Stephen Trott invokes the Good Friday Agreement process – there needs to be more on the table to help people go forward inconfidence together. Overwhelmingly lost.

Now to Clive Mansell’s, asking for Option 2, which enforces an Act of Synod, and a Synodical process (with 2/3 majorities required) to change it. This will be close, I think. Interesting speech by Philip Plyming, who voted against last November, but who is in principle in favour of women Bishops. Option 2 would allow him to vote yes this time. Chris Sugden says that you patronise a minority if you say ‘is this enough for you’, and you care for them when you say ‘what do you want’? Give the Steering Committee maximum steer by supporting Option 2.

This is tricky, as there are good reasons to support Option 2…which is only marginally more ‘legislative’ than the now strengthened Option 1. Janet Appleby (who had a key and honoured part in the attempts last November) now speaking. She’ll have weight, as she was part of the facilitated discussions.  She asks for a strengthened Option One, with room for trust and walking together.

About to vote. Again we’re voting by houses…I predict it will go through in one house – almost certainly the laity.

Vote:

Bishops Yes  10  No 28  (1 abs)

Clergy Yes  55  No 128 (8 abs)

Laity Yes 93  No 100 (4 abs)

I was wrong (just!!)

On to Simon Simon Cawdell’s amendment, which Bishop Nigel is unsure about, because it’s not entirely clear. Simon Butler says this is the amendment which enables the process Pete Broadbent invited us to take part in. Robert Cotton says it’s not! You can vote against this and still agree with Pete.

Sarah Goddard draws our attention to the voting in the House of Laity – well over a third are voting against Option 1 – don’t just send Option 1, because ultimately it will fail. Bishop of Dover points out that his amendment would drop if we passed this. To the vote: clearly lost.

Bishop of Dover’s amendment: David Ison wants clarity about ‘grievance’ and ‘mediation’, and asks for advocates rather than individuals to make complaints, and for a compulsory mediation process. Bishop of Dover agrees. My own opinion is that this is a really vital point if we are to trust this process. One speech is worried – could tie Option 1 in legal knots. ++Sentamu, who had been unsure, is persuaded – especially if it is about monitoring, mediation and reconciliation.  I’m sure we’ll pass it. And we do!

That’s it for the moment…we’ll come back after lunch.

July 2013 General Synod up to Monday

July 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

A look at the Synod Agenda this time reveals that today, Monday, has two major and contentious items: Women Bishops and a proposed reorganisation of dioceses in Yorkshire. I’ll be blogging them live , if you like that kind of thing.

But we’ve done quite a lot already. Most of Saturday was taken up with preparation for the Women Bishops debate. We had recognised that different groupings in the Church of England, and different views on women in ministry, were unlikely to agree on a way forward based on legislation and ‘parliamentary’ debating alone. So a ‘reconciliation’ process was set up, and ‘facilitated conversations’ took place earlier this year among the different groups and organisations, and reported to the House of Bishops.

Synod did the same kind of thing on Saturday. Small groups, each with an external facilitator, were helped to speak openly about the issues andtheir impact, and to comment on the possible ways forward the House of Bishops had proposed. Each group reported back to Canon David Porter (based at Coventry Cathedral’s Centre for Reconciliation), and he fed back to the Synod.

Part of this process involved drama, with professional actors playing out a scene in the ‘Synod Big Brother House’, trying to find a solution to the problem of women bishops. At any point members of the ‘audience’ could insert themselves into the scene and try to influence the action. The whole process has unlike anything I’ve experienced at Synod before. Reports from the groups were varied, but the general feel was that it had been hugely valuable. Lots of people said that the process (from 9 – 5) was not long enough, which was a testimony in itself.

What else have we done? Synod gets going with Questions, some of which flagged up people’s problems with a report issued by the Faith and Order Commission about Marriage. Many other questions are about detailed matters, some of which then emerge in later Synod debates.

On Saturday evening the Archbishops’ Council reported on the state of play on its three themes for the period 2010 – 2015: contibuting to the common good; growing the church; transforning ministry. Synod affirmed the progress made, but added a call to the House of Bishops to report in 2 years with a strategy for evangelism as well.

On Sunday afternoon we went into serious legislative detail. We approved changed to the way the Faculty system will work (the church’s ‘planning permission’) – essentially making the process less administratively complex and speeding it up where possible. And we tweaked a number of bits of law which wil help the church and PCC’s do their work. Some of that was legal housekeeping, but that’s what Synod does, and good laws help us all.

Later in the afternoon we considered Safeguarding, in the light of a recent investigation into the Diocese of Chichester. It was a sombre session, preceded by a statement from survivors of abuse. We agreed to redouble our efforts, systems and processes to ensure that churches were safe for all, and to review those processes and laws to enable dioceses and parishes to act openly, pastorally and justly for all. We’ll hear more oabout specific changes nationally to safeguarding requirements.

In the evening we considered what the church’s response should be to the huge changes made to welfare reform in this nation. Our final motion was strengthened in the debate to include a ‘bias to the poor’ and a reference to the difficulties in a system of universal benefit. We agreed to strengthen both the work of the grass roots and those wrking with politicians and the state to ensure fair treatement of the vulnerable. Our debate was not party political, and seemed to me to be an excellent example of how to reflect and act in a complex world.

So let’s see what we can do with women bishops now…

Women Bishops – After Tuesday

November 21, 2012 § 29 Comments

I’ll make this personal. I get pre-Synod depression. A day or so before a group of sessions I would rather I was not going. This is mainly because I’ve left it too late to sort out all the other stuff before leaving for London or York. It was no different on Sunday. In the middle of it I started to wonder what I would do if the vote went against women bishops this time. Resignation from the Synod and concentration on the day job seemed the best option.

It’s early on Wednesday morning as I type. After the vote last night I didn’t talk to too many people, and only looked at social media a bit. We will all need to help each other this morning. But here’s where I am.

I have an Associate Vicar and two curates. All women. I am Rural Dean of Beverley, which has a majority of female incumbents and retired clergy. It is only a tiny minority of clergy who will become a bishop…and they need their head examining if they aspire to be one. I’ve worked in a bishop’s office. You don’t want to be one. But this vote pats ordained women on the head and says ‘there there. You’re good for some stuff and not others. Leave it to the men.’ I will affirm, and help, and pray, and mentor and serve and everything else. But, for some years to come there are places I can go that my female colleagues can’t, and that is very bad, and I can’t say any more. Feelings are feelings, but God I feel awful.

Archbishop Rowan said in the debate that if conscience demanded a ‘no’ vote then so be it. The measure was about how different consciences might be accommodated in the same church. I tweeted during the afternoon yesterday that the vote might be swung by people who were for women bishops but who didn’t feel the Measure helped those against. At least two people made such speeches. Well, anyone who voted that way bears a heavy responsibility.

Time after time yesterday bishops said that even if the ‘provisions’ were flawed they would and could be made to work. It is hard to see how a ‘no’ vote works in any shape or form, and those who voted ‘no’ even though they wanted ‘yes’ better have a fabulous solution to hand. Our votes will be made public. I look forward to hearing people’s justification – especially the laity who did not declare their allegiances when they were elected, and especially from those who were ‘for’ yet voted ‘no’. Expect the laity elections in 2015 to be hotly contested. We sleepwalked into this.

I tweeted yesterday that the great majority in the chamber would vote yes – it turned out to be 72%. Yet the speech count was 50-50. That was a superb example of the majority caring for the minority (I called it ‘grace in action’), and Archbishop Sentamu’s chairmanship was exemplary. But I wonder whether it made the ‘no’ arguments weightier for the waverers. There’s probably no other way to do it, but can you have too much balance?

What now? I can’t see much beyond this morning, but…

I’m not going to go on about the procedures and the numbers. I was one of the clergy who voted down ‘coordinate jurisdiction’ two years ago even though a majority was in favour. That’s how it works, and we all knew that the house of laity would be the key.

Many ‘traditionalists’ will be as devastated as me. There is no pleasure in this. But now the ball is in their court. Synod has listened and said: ‘Go on then. You had a point. Give us a solution that will work for the 72% who wanted this’. In doing so they must remember that every option they offered before was tried and found wanting. They need to tell us loud and clear what will really work for us, and tell us that it starts with trust not law. They need to recognise this morning’s devastation, put themselves in our shoes, and talk about what we need, not just about what they need. Synod has ‘preferred’ them. They now need to ‘prefer’ us.

Those who were ‘for’ but voted ‘no’ need urgently to tell us how the church is better for this, and what solutions they will offer. Synod has given them a key platform. They should use it well.

Those for women bishops will be tempted to say: ‘Stuff this. We tried like stink to accommodate traditionalists and look what happened. Let’s just go for a ‘single clause measure’. It is so attractive now to make no provision for those who cannot accept women’s ministry. I’m tempted myself. But… I’m still convinced that provision needs to be made. We who are shattered this morning must not lash out, but take counsel, be restored, regroup, work to make it better. And the majority in the church want it to be better together. That’s what we voted for.

I said this was personal. Last night I agreed with my pre-Synod self. Resignation from the Synod was an overwhelming option. This morning it remains, but there are other considerations. Diocesan bishops can’t resign from Synod, and they need support. More deeply there is this. As a student many of my friends found the option of forming a brand new church attractive, because the established ones weren’t getting it right. I experienced a strong call then to stay, and to ‘renew the institution’. I’ll have to ponder, and see whether staying on Synod is a good way to do this.

It might be that just getting my parish and deanery ministry right is the best way to make the Church of England work, since Synod has so comprehensively fouled things up. But feeling this bad about what has happened is beginning to fuel a determination not to feel this bad again, and to do everything I can to make it right as quickly as possible. Some people need to commit themselves now to the hard yards of prayer and committee work to come up with something better. I’m not clever enough to make any real difference. But I feel so bad this morning that a lot of me wants to make the commitment to support the people who are cleverer than me and who can do it – and to do that from the inside.

After Tuesday comes Wednesday. Devastation. Solidarity. Hope. A better future. We need each other. I think I’m staying.

Sorry. Thank you for listening.

PS: I spent June in Israel. There is bigger stuff going on in the world I know.

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