Scottish Synod focuses on mission

by
16 June 2010

Margaret Duggan reports from the annual meeting of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church

AN UNUSUALLY full agenda faced the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) when it met in Edinburgh from Thursday to Saturday last week. Much of it was under the heading of mission and ministry, and reflected the growing confidence in the Church’s place in Scottish society which the new Primus has called for. But wary feelings re­main. The Synod is not at all certain about welcoming the Anglican Covenant, and there is continuing debate about ecological demands.

Anglican Covenant

THE Covenant was the first substantial item on the agenda. The Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, said that the question could not be simply a matter of accepting or rejecting it because “interdependence and co-responsibility are the essence of Anglicanism.”

Canon Michael Fuller of the Theological Institute said that several of the points in the SEC’s former paper to the Covenant Drafting Committee had been incorporated into the St Andrew’s Draft. He hoped that the proposal to hand it to the Faith and Order Board for advice would not cause Synod members to “feel that they are in any ways washing their hands of responsibility” for engaging with it.

Canon Robert Harley (St Andrews) was open to “giving the Anglican Covenant a try”. The SEC could sign up with it, but “if we don’t like it, we can withdraw.”

Colin Sibley (St Andrews) hoped that they were not “sleepwalking into a decision”. The cure for the present strains in the Communion could prove more destructive than the problem.

Both Michael Partridge (St Andrews) and the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, expressed misgivings as the short debate was brought to an end, and the Primus assured the Synod that there was no timescale for agreeing the Covenant, and there could still be real discussion.

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Communications

CHURCH communications were becoming increasingly diverse, said the Convener of the Information and Communication Board, Provost Holdsworth. The quarterly magazine, Inspires, had a new online version, and there were also other websites and social media such as Twitter. The question was whether they were getting the right balance. There were still people who did not use the internet; so printed communications would remain for the foreseeable future.

Christine McIntosh (Argyll) praised the new “fatter” Inspires as “brilliant”, but complained about some of its “convoluted syntax”.

The Bishop of Edinburgh, the Rt Revd Brian Smith, was very grateful to whoever was responsible for putting the daily service online, “enabling you to say your prayers wherever you are”. Brendan Grimley (St Andrews) warned that when “funding comes up for grabs”, some of the communications work would be in danger.

Provost Holdsworth agreed that “communications don’t come cheap”.

Provost Holdsworth agreed that “communications don’t come cheap”.

Gender equality

IN A report on the gender audit she had carried out at the request of the Synod, Dr Elaine Cameron said that nearly 90 per cent of SEC congregations had completed returns that showed a general male: female ratio of 35:65 for communicants, and 38:62 for adherents. Clergy and treasurers remained predominantly male; and secretaries and child-protection officers predominantly female. She said that there was a need for greater equality between the sexes as a matter of justice. “God calls us to work together in partnership.”

Men and women used the different sides of their brains differently, said Nancy Adams (Edinburgh), and a truly holistic approach was needed. The Revd Maurice Houston (Edinburgh) believed that some of the changes needed were in the language of the liturgy.

This moved the debate into one on inclusive language, until the Revd Shona Lillie (Glasgow) said that she had returned to Scotland after some years, and had been shocked to find women so oppressed in the Church. People were still not expecting to see them in positions of authority. Kate Sainsbury (St Andrews) put in a plea for equality for disabled people, and Catriona Beel (Argyll & The Isles) urged that the Church needed to change its mindset from the bottom up, and equality should be on the agenda of diocesan synods.

Provost Holdsworth asked that the Standing Committee should give the Church a steer on inclusive language. The convener of the Standing Committee, Professor Patricia Peattie, said that the committee would set up a group to recommend ways in which it could be debated, and would report next year.

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Canon John Lindsay (Edinburgh) felt that the Synod had been “bounced” into a situation where the main issue of gender equality had been sidetracked into inclusive language in the liturgy, and the tail was wagging the dog.

Mission and ministry

THE Primus introduced a report, Moving Towards a Whole Church Mission and Ministry Policy, saying that there was a need to consider what kind of ministry was needed, and how it was going to be sustained where the financial resources were not adequate. The convener of the Home Mission Committee, Canon Fay Lamont, insisted that “we must hone our skills for a growing Church, not one that is managing decline.”

The Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney, Dr Robert Gillies, noted that several similar documents had been rolled out over the years, had been tried and tested, and had been either abandoned or left to fail.

Colin Sibley (St Andrews) believed that most of what the report recommended was being done already. Sari Salvesen (Edinburgh) said that, like Dr Gillies, she had a sense of déjà vu when she read it. The Revd Malcolm Round (Edinburgh) agreed, but his confidence was in the person — the Primus — who was leading the team, and he hoped he would be given total support.

Canon Alison Peden (St Andrews) said that good communications were vital to mission, and the Revd Tembu Rongong (Edinburgh) said it must all be ramped up by prayer. The Provost of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, the Very Revd Richard Kilgour, was dismayed that stewardship did not feature clearly. “It should be like a stick of rock: wherever you break it open, stewardship should appear.”

The Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness, the Rt Revd Mark Strange, put in a plea that if there were to be a conference on the subject, it should not be held in January or February, when his diocese was likely to be snowed up.

The Revd David Bunyan (Edinburgh) said that there was a danger that if something was “to be sorted from on high, it was OK for someone else to do it”. One of the challenges was to get more men in the congregations, and it was an area in which blogs, Facebook, and the cyberchurch would be useful.

The Revd Anne Haselhurst (St Andrews) talked of the importance of lay training. Gill Young (Glasgow) said that there needed to be more sharing of resources in dioceses. Clergy morale was often low. If buildings were leaking, it often left little energy for mission.

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The Revd Kimberly Bohan (St Andrews) believed that the resources available were too often used for sustaining old patterns of ministry. Canon Ian Ferguson (Aberdeen) said that the report did not answer the question “How?” Young people had been sidelined.

The Synod received the report.

Rural ministry

BISHOP STRANGE introduced a report on rural ministry. It was not about enabling small congregations to survive, but about ways of developing the Church and sharing resources.

“When people move into a new area, it is a great time to get them enrolled into the local church,” said the Revd Professor David Atkinson (Aberdeen). Rural people typically complained about most things, but actually there was huge optimism. Tourism was an important source of income, and pilgrimages could be developed, while IT and broadband were an important part of mission.

The ecumenical visitor from the Church of Scotland, the Revd Dr Donald McEwan, offered his congratulations that the one Church guaranteed to be open in rural areas was the Episcopal Church. “I wish my own denomination could be as open as you are.”

The Revd Dan Gafvert (Glasgow) said that pilgrims were more than just those walking pilgrimage paths. “Don’t lose the tourist.” But Colin Sibley (St Andrews) objected that pilgrimage should not be regarded as part of the tourist industry.

The Dean of Brechin, the Very Revd David Mumford, said that small schools, some with as few as six pupils, were crucial. He stressed the need for specialist training for incumbents moving to rural areas.

The environment

The last substantial debate, on Saturday morning, was introduced by the Revd Ian Barcroft. Since devolution, he said, it had been easier to concentrate on the Scottish Parliament rather than try to make the SEC’s voice heard in Westminster.

Andrew Mott spoke to two motions. The first was to affirm the responses needed for the sustainability of the environment, and the second was to ask for a statement of principles confirming the necessity for all congregations to protect the environment and reduce energy consumption. The Synod was then shown a digital presentation.

Canon Dominic Ind (St Andrews) said: “In my book, it is more important than interfaith dialogue.” For Professor Alan Werrity (St Andrews), the problem was so great that he believed there was a danger of “becoming like rabbits caught in the headlights”. The need was to set targets.

The Very Revd David Mumford said that climate change would have a heavy impact not only on Scotland but on the poor and the poorest. “The Church must not ignore the problems of the Bangladeshi farmer.”

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It was essential to stop opposition to nuclear power, wind farms, tidal power, and serious measures to reduce energy consumption. Action had to be taken at government level, and the Church should be undertaking lobbying and action.

The Revd Dr Andrew Barton (St Andrews) warned that if a church undertook an energy audit, as his own had done, it could cost £350, and have other financial implications.

Anthea Clarke (Glasgow) said a great many people did not want to think about the problem. It was important to get at the facts, and to be honest. “We don’t have to lobby, but we do have to be active.”

The Revd Dr Eamonn Rodgers (Glasgow) saw a seamless organic relationship between town and country. He was particularly concerned about the fatal effect of chemicals on bees. “If all the bees in the world disappeared, world food-production would fall by a third.”

Ms Bohan could not see how the proposals before the Synod could add to work already being done elsewhere.

The Synod finally voted to ask the Church in Society committee: “to prepare a statement of principles in 2010/11 confirming the necessity for all dioceses and congregations, as an expression of their faith in action, to encourage and protect a sustainable environment and to consider steps to reduce energy consumption; and that, once prepared, the statement of principles be offered to the College of Bishops for their endorsement”.

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