Interview: Pete Spiers, member of the General Synod’s House of Clergy

by
06 February 2008

I am one of those sad people who enjoy Synod. I have always been interested in politics and the way things work. When I was at Durham, I was very involved with the Students’ Union. I studied Latin, but enjoyed the social life more than my studies. I was flattered to be asked to stand in 1995, but did not get elected then.

Some of us who joined in 2000 started an informal group to make Synod more accessible. Our first impresson was: “What planet is this?” It can take itself too seriously. During last summer’s Synod meeting, I booked a room to watch the World Cup Final.

One of the problems with Synod is its image, not to mention the amount of time it takes up — which is why it can be difficult to attract young people, particularly lay people who have to take time off work. This year it clashes with half-term in some areas of the country, which isn’t great if you’ve got a family. The York sessions are also not ideal, as they are over a weekend: a lot of us have to have very understanding partners.

Getting away from the parish and getting a bigger perspective can be really helpful for clergy. Networking and meeting people, which I love, always produces new ideas.

I think Synod is guilty of letting people speak too much and listen too little. There are always some really good speeches, but some procedural wranglings where, to be frank, you think: “Get a life.” I think there is still a problem with the way each extreme of the argument has to be heard, whatever minority they are in, but the vote generally covers the middle ground, which is a good thing. This can be very time-consuming.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, preaching at the eucharist, is always a highlight; and I remember Bishop Tom Wright speaking on the Anglican Covenant, and answering questions in debate with consummate ease. There are also some really good moments of laughter, which always lighten proceedings.

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I don’t think the current situation that clergy find themselves in is working. Many are under immense pressure. This is why I am so interested in the whole debate on terms and conditions of service, which will be looked at this session. I don’t think it should be feared, but welcomed, as clergy need a lot more support, and a culture needs to be created to do this. Of course, this is dependent on archdeacons’ and bishops’ leading the way, and they too need more back-up so they can do less, but do it better. But there have got to be changes.

I did a report on how it would affect Liverpool diocese. What came out was that there needs to be more acknowledgement and support for clergy dealing with more than one parish. We are trained to run one; yet many priests have to deal with more. There are many stresses and strains attached to this.

I have recently been elected a central member of the Crown Nominations Commission, the group that chooses diocesan bishops. There is discussion at the moment about the level of government involvement. Conventionally, the Prime Minister has been given two names in order, and he or she can then choose. Gordon Brown has intimated that he will always take the first name. Of course, too much distancing would have that whiff of disestablishment.

I was born and bred in Liverpool, and am very proud of the city: we are currently Europe’s capital of culture. Our church is St Luke’s, Great Crosby. My wife, Annie, organised “The Shaping of Liverpool”, the history of Liverpool from a Christian perspective, as one of the first events of the year. In Another Place is a group of 16 churches who put on high-quality events aimed at those outside the church, inspired by Antony Gormley’s iron men [Another Place] on Crosby beach.

I was born Thalidomide. I do not think of myself as disabled. Recently, there was a debate in Synod about clergy with disabilities. I made the point that all of us have a disability of some sort, but we should look at the ability.

If you ask me what I’m currently reading, it’s the 42nd report on the Standing Orders. I don’t have a lot of time to read, but have always enjoyed books by Philip Yancey, John Stott, and David Watson. I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on holiday, after the family had all read it first.

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Family life is very important to me. Annie and I have four children. My mother lives quite near by. Sadly, my dad died last year.

As a child, I wanted to play football upfront for Liverpool FC, my team. I also thought about being a policeman.

The biggest choice I have made in life was becoming a Christian, when I was at Durham. My biggest regret is not keeping up with sport. It was partly a disability thing, and partly lack of time.

I would like to be remembered for who I am, not what I did; having a sense of fun.

Annie would say I get cross when trying to deal with six conversations at a time at meals. She is used to it, as her family talk more. But I do get angry when people can’t see the wood for the trees: you have always got to try and see the big picture.

My dad [the Ven. Graeme Spiers] was a great influence in my life: he was dependable and hard-working.

I always remember a sermon about 20 years ago at Spring Harvest, when Clive Calver challenged people about were they living where God wanted them to. I thought it was very courageous, as, in a way, he was challenging people to live in the inner city, which could make people feel uncomfortable.

In the Bible, I really warm to the character and story of Esther. In other parts of the Old Testament, I also like Jeremiah, and Nehemiah, who was a builder and strategic thinker. I also think there are some memorable verses in Philippians about Paul’s passion for the Church. I don’t like Leviticus.

I am probably happiest whenever Liverpool win. I’ll never forget when they won the Champions League in Istanbul. I know we were teased about Havant (non-league) the other week in the FA Cup, when they got two goals against us; but we still won. The atmosphere on the Kop was amazing, and everyone stayed to applaud them.

I love Traidcraft Christmas puddings. We order them online each Christmas, and give them as presents.

I am very much a sea person. For holidays, we have a place in Anglesey. My dad was a naval guy; so I think it is in the blood. But I do like climbing the odd mountain and getting those views.

I could say the Kop is my favourite retreat; but spiritually it can be any time I get away from things.

I would like to get locked in a church with Bono from U2. We saw them in concert, and they were amazing. He is a fascinating guy, and I would really like to talk to him about all sorts of things.

Canon Pete Spiers was talking to Rachel Harden.

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