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…

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