THE NEXT General Synod meeting will take place in Church House, Westminster, from Monday 8 to Friday 12 February. It has a very full agenda, said the secretary general of the Archbishops’ Council, William Fittall, at the press briefing on Monday, because it will be “clearing the decks for the Synod at York in July” when the ordination of women bishops will next be debated.
Mr Fittall went on to “refute the myths” that were current in the press that the revision committee on women in the episcopate had been deliberately dragging its feet in order to miss the February sessions and therefore delay any decision, or that the committee had “misapplied itself”.
A large number of proposals had come to the committee, and it was having to examine each in turn, giving the proposers the chance to put their cases personally, and to consider all the legislation line by line.
Asked whether the recent offer from the Pope had further slowed the process down, Mr Fittall refused to commit himself, saying that the committee had had to look at “a lot of big ideas” as well as details. He did not think there was any reason to change the view that 2014 was likely to be the earliest date that a woman bishop could be appointed.
He said that the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, as chairman of the steering group, would give a statement to the Synod about the current situation.
As for the present concerns of the Anglican Communion, he said it would be surprising if there were no formal questions about the Pope’s initiative, or about the controversies in the Communion.
The Archbishop of Canterbury would be giving a presidential address on the Tuesday afternoon which would almost certainly include the tensions in the Angli-can Communion. On Wednesday afternoon, the Synod would debate a private member’s motion on the Church’s relationship with the emerging Anglican Church in North America.
The first afternoon of the Synod will be short. It will start with the usual preliminaries, followed by the Bishop of Manchester’s statement on women bishops. The report by the business committee allows Synod members to comment on the agenda and what is, or is not, on it; then Questions will take up the rest of the session.
Tuesday morning is given to legislative business, including two codes of practice for the new common tenure arrangements; final approval for a new framework for ecclesiastical fees; revision of the Mission and Pastoral Measure and the Care of Cathedrals Measure, and Codes of Practice under Section 8 of the Ecclesiastical Offices Measure.
After lunch on Tuesday, Dr Williams will give his presidential address. This will be followed by the first of three debates on clergy pensions. In the first, the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, will ask the Synod to endorse proposals to increase the retirement age for the clergy to 68, and increase the accrual period for future service to 43 years.
This will be followed by a further debate, opened by the Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Revd David Walker, on changes being proposed for clergy who retire owing to ill health. At the present time, however short a cleric’s length of service, his or her pension is made up to a 40 years’ accrual. This will be modified, though Mr Fittall insisted that provision would still be generous.
After the debates on pensions, the Synod will be asked to approve arrangements for elections to the General Synod that will take place later this year, so that a new Synod can be inaugurated next November.
The afternoon finishes with a debate on a mission-shaped Church and the encouragement of Fresh Expressions, while asking the Mission and Public Affairs Division and the statistical unit to “gather evidence on the spiritual and numerical growth of the mixed-economy Church in general, and Fresh Expressions of church in particular, and to bring further report or reports to the Synod in the next quinquennium”.
The morning starts with a celebration of holy communion in the Assembly Hall. The Synod goes on to debate a private member’s motion from Nigel Holmes (Carlisle), who used to work for the BBC, on television coverage of religious and ethical issues. He contends that there are “ever fewer programmes which celebrate faith in the way that natural history programmes rejoice in the living world”, and asks why those in key positions seem to see religion as a problem.
Last year, the BBC failed to mark Good Friday, and ITV did not even recognise Easter Day. Synod will be asked to “call upon the BBC and Ofcom to explain why British television, which was once exemplary in its coverage of religious and ethical issues, now marginalises the few such programmes which remain, and completely ignored the Christian significance of Good Friday 2009”.
The morning agenda finishes with the Synod’s taking note of some amendments to standing orders.
Wednesday afternoon begins with another private member’s motion, from Lorna Ashworth (Chichester) who wants the Synod to “express its desire to be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America”.
She feels that its members have been unfairly treated by the US Episcopal Church because of their adherence to traditional faith and practice. Mr Fittall, in a background note he has written for Synod members, says that if her motion is passed, “it would be initiating, not concluding, a process leading to its consideration of a formal resolution for the establishment of communion” with that Church.
The afternoon will continue with a presentation by a number of military chaplains, who are likely to talk about their work in Iraq and Afghanistan. This will be followed by a “take note” debate on additional Weekday Lectionary and amendments to Calendar, Lectionary, and Collects.
The day finishes with a diocesan synod motion from Chelmsford asking dioceses, deaneries, and parishes “to adopt some symbol of our confidence in the Bible for our nation (such as ‘The Year of the Bible’ recently in France), noting that the 400th anniversary in 2011 of the Authorised Version would be an obvious opportunity”.
On Thursday morning, the President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd David Gamble and Dr Richard Vautrey, will be invited to address the Synod. That will be followed by a presentation on Fresh Expressions, which, Mr Fittall said, is appropriate, as so many Fresh Expressions of church include joint enterprises with the Methodists.
Then comes another presentation by the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division on “realising the missionary potential of church buildings”. As a natural sequel, there is a diocesan motion from Ripon & Leeds (and the diocese of Lichfield has passed a similar one) calling for more government help on funding church repairs, and asking that it should fully fund the repair of Grade I buildings.
In the afternoon there is a “take note” debate on Going for Growth: Transformation for children, young people and the Church, a report produced by the Board of Education and the National Society.
Another private member’s motion from the Revd Mark Bratton (Coventry) returns to the subject of clergy pensions, this time likely to be a sensitive subject; for it asks for the pension scheme to be extended to the surviving civil partners of deceased clergy on the same basis as they are currently paid to surviving spouses.
Then, after the Mission and Pastoral Measure and Care of Cathedrals Measure come back for final drafting and final approval, there will be another private member’s motion from Thomas Benyon (Oxford) on violent computer games. He will be asking for changes to the classification system and more effective enforcement, to prevent the targeting of children and young people with unsuitable material.
The last morning will be given to two more diocesan-synod motions. The first is from Manchester, where there is concern about the perceived need to choose between the claims of science and belief in God. The motion will urge the bishops and all dioceses “robustly to promote a better public understanding of the compatibility of science and Christian belief”.
The last debate, from Coventry diocese, is on the status of deanery synods. Coventry wants the General Synod to consider the case for conferring incorporated status on them, and enabling them “to take a more executive role in promoting in the deanery the whole mission of the Church”.
After farewells to members who are leaving, the Synod will be prorogued in time for lunch.