Synod thoughts from afar

October 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

So I’m back on General Synod. I’ve been on before, and I do have an idea of what I’m letting myself in for. Thoughts? A bit of trepidation, but I’m actually looking forward to it. That surprises some people. Sometimes the Synod can tie itself in knots in the depths of some complex legislation, and sometimes it seems that we are talking about a particularly sophisticated piece of deckchair realignment when there’s really a big iceberg to avoid.

But…the legislation keeps our church well ordered, and does make a massive difference on occasions. As an example, the change to marriage law has allowed people with a living connection to a parish church but who don’t live there any more to get married there much more easily than before. It’s made quite a difference to us at Beverley Minster, and lots of couples this year have been grateful for it. That legislation was being talked about the first time I was on Synod, so it can take quite a time. And I can remember all sorts of debates – about Fair Trade, Youth Justice, Fresh Expressions, Climate Change, the Media – where we have touched on deep and essential things for our world.

So what will the next five years be like? We will have to address all the usual complexities of an institution like the Church of England, and first up is something about the conditions of service of the clergy. I hope we’ll ensure we have some serious debates about the environment, about mission, about deployment of our resources, about justice and the ‘Big Society’ (and if the church isn’t a big society I don’t know what is). But the matter which will matter to the media will be Women Bishops.

My first hope for this debate is that we conduct it in a way which will reveal above all that we are Christians and we should love and serve each other, especially when we disagree. Last July’s marathon was almost always conducted in a profoundly respectful way, only let down by stuff on the fringes. It doesn’t help when a Bishop calls the action of the Synod “fascist”, and there is unhelpful stuff on the other side too.

The Church of England accepted years ago that there would be women bishops, and the argument now is about how, not whether. The sharp point of disagreement is whether those who could not be under the ministry of a woman bishop should have an alternative provided by law or by a code of practice. It sounds like a finicky thing, but is at the heart of whether we are a church which depends on law or grace. I’d prefer a code of practice, so that a woman bishop would choose to make provision for opponents. Many of those opponents want the woman bishop to be constrained by law to make that provision.

Some reports about the new Synod are suggesting that there enough opponents of women bishops have been elected to vote down all the legislation. That would be a ‘nuclear option’. I really hope that we’ll be able to vote in women bishops in a way which allows those who oppose them to be able to stay in the Church of England. I hope that the Synod can demonstrate a way of disagreeing within an atmosphere of love and respect. I can say what I would prefer to happen (grace, not law; code, not statute), but if a decent law could be drafted which preserved all the rights of a woman to be a bishop while honouring those who can’t accept her, then I might be able to vote that way.

The most important thing a Synod member does is to listen and to vote. The Spirit does work through complex legislative processes – if not then I wouldn’t be there. It will be an interesting five years, and I trust we will do the most important thing: shape the Church to bring the Kingdom of God near to our neighbours, our society and the whole world.

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