Financial crisis and ARCIC report feature on Synod agenda

by
21 January 2009

Margaret Duggan looks forward to a busy week for Synod members

Prayerful: the General Synod meeting at Church House, Westminster, last February RICHARD WATT

Prayerful: the General Synod meeting at Church House, Westminster, last February RICHARD WATT

IT WILL be a “bottom-up” General Synod meeting in February, William Fittall, the secretary general, said at Monday’s briefing for the press.

The agenda contains an unpre­cedented eight motions from the grass roots of the Church: five from the dioceses (two of which are jointly from two dioceses), and three from private members. They are varied, and some are likely to be contentious. The meeting is to start on the after­noon of Monday 9 February, and last until the Friday lunchtime.

Other debates will include whether to take moves towards the ordination of women as bishops a step further and put draft legislation to the detailed consideration of a revision committee; two considera­tions of the present financial crisis; and a further consideration of the draft Anglican Covenant.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of West­minster, will be invited to address the Synod on the first evening; and the Archbishop of Canterbury will give a presidential address reflecting on the Lambeth Conference on Tuesday afternoon.

AFTER the preliminary opening business on Monday afternoon at 3 p.m., the emphasis will be on Anglican-Roman Catholic relations. Dr Williams will speak about the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), and invite Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor to address the Synod.

This will be followed by a debate on the ARCIC agreed statement Church as Communion, first pub­lished in 1991 when the Cardinal was co-chairman (with Bishop Mark Santer) of ARCIC.

That will provide an opportunity, said David Williams, Clerk to the Synod, for a general debate on the work of the Commission, and a foundation for debates on two further ARCIC reports, Life in Christ and Mary: Grace and Hope, in future sessions. It should end by 5.30 p.m., when the Synod turns to the usual long list of Questions from mem­bers.

On the Tuesday morning, the Synod will be given a presentation on the five-yearly review of its boards and councils, and other bodies answerable to it. Five years ago, it was a “tidying-up” process, when the Church was facing financial difficul­ties over its high pension costs, and there were some redundancies. This time, Mr Fittall said, it would be a radical review of the structures and whether the constituent bodies were the right ones needed.

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The review working party, chaired by Dr Christina Baxter, would be “putting forward some substantial proposals”. The Synod will be able to submit comments before the end of April, and there will then be a take-note debate on the issues in July.

Legislative business follows, with a final-approval debate on the draft amending canon — now amended by the House of Bishops — designed to loosen the requirement for Anglican communion services at the great festivals where a C of E congregation is part of a local ecumenical project; together with minor amendments for other legislation, and the first con­sideration of an Ecclesiastical Fees Measure, putting into effect the framework for fees agreed at last July’s Synod.

After lunch on the Tuesday, the Archbishop of Canterbury will give his presidential address, in which he will reflect on last summer’s Lambeth Conference. Then comes the first of the private member’s motions, when Vasantha Gnanadoss (Southwark) will ask the House of Bishops for a policy, comparable to that adopted by the Association of Chief Police Officers, that no clergy, ordinands or lay per­sons employed by the church should be a member of an organisa­tion such as the British National Party, which contradicts the general duty to promote race equality.

This could be a sensitive debate, Mr Fittall said. There would be a certain conflict with the recent Clergy Discipline Measure, which had made it clear, as a matter of principle, that no cleric should be disciplined for membership of a particular political party. Although the Synod would sympathise with the intentions behind Miss Gnanadoss’s motion, it could be a difficult path to go down.

The first agenda item on the inter­national financial crisis and the recession will be a dialogue between Lord (Brian) Griffiths of Fforestfach, former vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International, a dir­ector of Times Newspapers, a former director of the Bank of England, and head of Margaret Thatcher’s Policy Unit; and Bishop Peter Selby, former Bishop of Wor­cester, and member of the Church Commissioners’ Assets Com­mittee. Andreas Whittam Smith, First Church Estates Commissioner, will preside.

This, Mr Fittall said, is intended as an opportunity to tease out how the present crisis has come about. Ques­tions will be taken from the floor.

The day will end with a diocesan-synod motion from Chester arising, in part, from the incident of the airl­ine employee refused permission to wear a Christian symbol (a cross) while at work. The motion asks for a clearer understanding of the Chris­tian faith in society and the claims of the Church to take its place in society.

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The Wednesday morning begins with a celebration of the eucharist in the Assembly Hall, followed by a “first consideration” of the draft legislation for the ordination of women as bishops. The Synod must decided whether to send the draft to a revision committee to be scrutin­ised in detail. That would enable it, Mr Fittall said, to come back to the Synod for revision in February 2010. It would then have to be submitted to the diocesan synods, and the final-approval debate would be likely to be in 2012.

If it then got the required two-thirds majority in each House of the Synod, it would still have to go through Parliament. It would there­fore be unlikely to be possible to ap­point a woman bishop before 2014.

On the Wednesday afternoon, the Synod is to debate two private mem­ber’s motions, and one from a diocesan synod.

Martin Dales (York) is concerned about the “massive rises” in water bills for churches, and wants the Government to remind OFWAT to make sure that the water companies do not treat churches (which make use of relatively little water, and often drain it into soakaways) as busi­nesses. That is not likely to be contro­versial.

The same cannot be said of Paul Eddy’s on the uniqueness of Christ in multifaith Britain. “A lot de­pends on the tone of the debate,” Mr Fittall said. “People will be sensitive to the claims of other faiths, and it could be emotive.”

After a short debate on standing orders, deferred from last July, when it was squeezed out of the agenda, there is a motion from Newcastle and Winchester, which, in celebrating the centenary of the reformer Josephine Butler, raises the “continuing evil of human trafficking”, calling on both Church and Government to end it and rescue those trapped in it, and particularly to ensure that effective measures against it are in place before the 2012 Olympics.

On the Thursday morning, the Bishop of Rochester will introduce a take-note debate on the Anglican Covenant, in particular considering the St Andrew’s Draft and whether there are “any elements which would need extensive change in order to make the process of synodical adoption viable”. Even if the draft is agreed, Mr Fittall said, ratifying will be a very complicated process, taking up to two years.

He added that a companion syn­odical document to the Bishops’ report on the Covenant, Dr Colin Pod­more’s The Governance of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, which sets down and clarifies the functions of the Synod, the Archbishops’ Council, the House of Bishops, and the Lambeth Confer­ence, made “an interesting read and debunks some ancient notions like ‘the Church of England is episcopally led and synodically governed’”, and that the Primates’ Meeting was in­vented by Archbishop Coggan when, in fact, it has a much longer history.

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More detailed legislative business follows the debate, including an amendment to the Church’s pension scheme which defines those who are not eligible to pay into it.

The debate on the implications of the financial crisis is introduced in the afternoon by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu. The Synod will consider the Church’s response to the crisis and how it can help com­munities as unemployment rises. It is not intended that it should discuss the Church’s own finances.

It will be followed by a take-note debate introduced by the Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd David James, on a report on interfaith presence and engagement, a more reflective look at some of the issues raised by Mr Eddy’s motion. The Thursday finishes with a diocesan-synod mo­tion from Leicester on Church of England retreat houses, concerned about the future of some of them, and encouraging their use.

The Friday starts with another dio­cesan motion from Southwell & Nottingham, urging more compas­sion for asylum-seekers, the right to work, an amnesty for the so-called “legacy cases”, and a solution to the plight of destitute “refused” asylum-seekers.

The last debate of the session is a motion from the Worcester diocesan synod on climate change and church property. It asks for amendments to relevant church legislation so that church land can be disposed of in a way that gives weight to environ­mental as well as purely financial considerations.

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