Women bishops issue may dominate Synod

by
18 June 2008

by Glyn Paflin

THE General Synod’s secretary general, William Fittall, has told reporters to expect “quite a lot of tension and anxiety” at the Synod’s next meeting (4 to 8 July).

The outcome of the debates on women bishops was “genuinely hard to call”, Mr Fittall said during a media briefing on the agenda (News, 13 June) in Church House, Westminster.

Mr Fittall said that, while simple majorities on motions and amendments were all that was necessary at this “pre-legislative” stage, two-thirds majorities in all Houses would be required later for any legislation. So voting figures on motions and amendments would be watched carefully, and were likely to “prompt people to consider their estimates about their own futures”.

In response to complaints in the church press (News, 6 June; Letters, 13 June) from a Winchester lay representative, Paul Eddy, after his private member’s motion on the evangelisation of Muslims did not, as he and others had expected, appear on next month’s agenda, Mr Fittall said: “There has been no malarkey.”

Mr Eddy wanted to know who set the agenda for the Synod, and, Mr Fittall said, it was the Synod’s business committee, but “not in a vacuum”: it had to respond to many demands for the Synod’s time.

Mr Eddy’s motion was one of two business items handled differently from possibilities mooted in early discussions. In both cases, this was “for reasons entirely to do with that business”. The Church Buildings Division had at first thought of producing a motion subsuming the private member’s motion on church tourism from Roy Thompson (York), which had the most signatures; but the Division had decided it was not the moment after all. The Mission and Public Affairs Council had asked for a debate on climate security. The business committee had decided that this would be a sensible thing to add. Half of recent Synod meetings had debated two private member’s motions; half had debated one or none. If the signatures stayed as they were, Mr Eddy’s motion would be debated in February, Mr Fittall predicted.

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Speaking about the draft budget and apportionment, Mr Fittall said that the dioceses were to have been asked for a nine-per-cent increase in their payments to the national Church in 2009; but instead this had been mitigated, by drawing on other resources, to six-and-a-half per cent in 2009, with a probable extra five or six per cent in 2010. This was “good news”, he said, because the “considerable challenge” was due to the record numbers — more than 1500 — in training for ordination.

The Church Commissioners had continued to do “spectacularly well”, Mr Fittall said, but the difficulties in the markets would need to be faced when the Synod received their annual report.

Another report on parochial fees is being debated by the Synod, after the February debate when members asked for more time on the review group’s report Four Funerals and a Wedding, before they had to consider draft legislation from the Archbishops’ Council — an exercise described as “rationalisation”.

Two motions from diocesan synods — Guildford’s on Anglican governance, and a St Albans motion on faith, work, and economic life — were being taken at these sessions, Mr Fittall said. The Synod will be addressed by Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, and debate a briefing paper and following motion on the Cyprus Agreed Statement of the Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue. David Williams, Clerk to the Synod, said that this was the final report in a series of three, and that there had been a greater “meeting of minds” here than there had been at the time of the Athens Statement.

The quinquennial report of the joint implementation commission for the Anglican-Methodist Covenant will also be debated. Mr Williams said that it touched on various areas, including the Methodist practice of occasional lay presidency at the eucharist.

Stephen Slack, the General Synod’s chief legal adviser, said that the amount of legislation at the next meeting was unprecedented in recent years. It related to common tenure for the clergy; the Church Commissioners’ powers with regard to spend capital on pensions; Crown appointments, in the light of the Pilling review and the Green Paper The Governance of Britain; and payments for 2009-12 to the Churches Conservation Trust.

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