Synod to debate Mary, and divorced bishops

by
20 January 2011

Margaret Duggan previews the agenda for a short group of sessions in London next month

THE General Synod’s next meeting will be “short and focused”, the secretary general, William Fittall, told the press earlier this week.

It will be the first since the new Synod’s short inaugural group of sessions last November, and will take place in Church House, Westminster, from mid-afternoon on Monday 7 February until mid-afternoon the following Wednesday. Items on the agenda include an address by the Secretary of State for International Development, a report on plans and challenges for the Church of England over the next five years, and a debate on the Anglican-Roman Catholic report concerning the Virgin Mary.

There would be two new faces among the four key positions in the Synod, Mr Fittall said: the Archdeacon of Lewisham, the Ven. Christine Hardman (Southwark), had been elected Prolocutor of the Convocation of Canterbury, and Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) had been elected Vice-Chairman of the House of Laity. Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford) had moved from Vice-Chairman to Chairman of the Laity, and Canon Glyn Webster (York) had been returned as Prolocutor of the Convocation of York.

Anyone who tried to conclude from these elections that the Synod was becoming more bland and conservative would be hard-pressed to do so, Mr Fittall said.

He went on to say that two topics that had recently been absorbing so much of the Synod’s time — women in the episcopate, and the Anglican Covenant — would, with one minor exception, not be featuring in this group of sessions, as both issues were currently out for discussion in the dioceses. It had been 15 years since the General Synod had sent formal business to the dioceses but, “like buses, two have come along at once.”

The one exception was to do with the Covenant. In November, a following motion by John Ward (London) had not been moved because of a shortage of time. Technically, the Business Committee could have let it lapse, Mr Fittall said, but it had concluded that the mind of the Synod should be tested on whether approval of the Act of Synod adopting the Anglican Communion Covenant should require the assent of a two-thirds majority in each House. He did not think the debate would take long, but it would be significant. Though he did not spell it out, such a requirement would put a greater hurdle in the way of its adoption than would simple majorities.

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The first substantial item on the agenda on the Monday afternoon will be an address to the Synod by the Secretary of State for Inter­national Development, Andrew Mitchell. He will be the first minister of the new Government to address the Synod, and the third minister in his position to speak to the Synod on aspects of international development: the first had been Clare Short in 1998, followed by Hilary Benn in 2004.

This will be followed by the routine report from the Business Committee, which gives members the opportunity to comment on the agenda or criticise its omissions. Then will follow the debate on Mr Ward’s requirement for special majorities on final approval adopting the Anglican Communion Covenant.

The day will finish with Questions. Refer­ring to the three former Anglican bishops who had been ordained priests in the Roman Catholic Church the previous day, and the RC press conference that was being held at the same time as this briefing to announce that Fr Keith Newton was to be the Ordinary of the Ordinariate, Mr Fittall said that nothing about the Ordinariate was on the agenda, but he would be surprised if no questions were asked about it.

Tuesday morning will begin with a eucharist for the whole Synod in the Assembly Hall of Church House. The Synod then turns its mind to clergy discipline. The 2003 Measure had been working well, said the Chief Legal Adviser to the Synod, Stephen Slack; but a motion from London diocesan synod in 2009 had called for a report on it, and the conclusion was that a few minor amendments were needed, including prompter action in matters of child protection, and discipline against clergy for any teaching that contra­vened the Church of England racial policy.

Mr Slack drew attention to a paper con­taining a theological statement put out by the House of Bishops, Affirming our Common Humanity, which spells out that policy against discrimination on racial or any other grounds. This Amending Measure, together with its Amending Code of Practice, would be before the Synod for first consideration.

The morning session will end with a presentation by the Ethical Investment Advisory Group, which advises the Church’s main investing bodies, the Church Commissioners, the Pensions Board, and the Central Board of Finance. John Reynolds, the chairman of the group, and Professor Richard Burridge will give a report on its approach to ethical investment, including its new policy on investing in defence and alcohol.

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After lunch, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, will give a presidential address, followed by a debate on a report from the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council, Into the New Quinquennium. Its three themes are ways in which the national Church can contribute to the common good; facilitating the Church’s growth; and “re-imagining the Church’s ministry”. It covers many issues, from countering attempts to marginalise Christianity to making greater use of church buildings, and the quality of the clergy and lay ministry.

Mr Fittall drew attention to statistics quoted in the report and showing that the number of ordinands under the age of 30 recommended for training has increased from only 71 in 2002 and 2004 to 145 in 2010.

Short debates on the appointments to the chair of the Business Committee and of a new Clerk to the Synod, after the retirement of the Revd David Williams in March, will be followed by a presentation on the Arch­bishops’ Council’s Wedding Project. It started with pilot projects in the dioceses of Bradford and Oxford, and is reaching more dioceses. Its aim is to encourage church weddings. First evaluations, the report says, suggest that “clergy are more confident in this ministry,” and wedding bookings in those areas are up by as much as 43 per cent.

The day will end with an Archbishops’ Council report on Parochial Fees Policy, which, contrary to some press reports, Mr Fittall said, was not recommending a doubling of the cost of weddings. The system of church fees had been set 50 years ago, and had been tinkered with every year since then. It was not always clear, and there were parishes that worked the system, loading extras on to wedding costs that should be included in the basic fee. A new and clearer structure was proposed, which might mean small increases in some areas, and possible decreases in others.

Wednesday morning starts with a take-note debate on marriage after divorce and the ordained ministry. It is already accepted that deacons and priests can be ordained in some circumstances even though they are divorced, or married to a divorced person, with a former spouse still living. At the present time, Mr Fittall said, about 12 per cent of ordinands fell into this category. But clarification was needed in the case of bishops. Divorce was not an insuperable obstacle in principle, but that was not necessarily so in some dioceses.

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A diocesan-synod motion from Liverpool will ask for additional forms for parts of Common Worship baptism, in more accessible language. Especially criticised is the “wordy” Prayer over the Water. They were not asking for a total rewrite, Mr Williams said, but for some user-friendly modifications for using when non-churchgoers were involved.

Finally, before lunch, there will be a presentation on the ARCIC report Mary: Grace and hope in Christ, given by the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, and the RC Auxiliary Bishop in Westminster, the Rt Revd George Stack. After lunch, a debate will follow on the theology, how far Anglicans and Roman Catholics can share a common faith concerning Mary, and the authority and status of the two RC dogmas of the immaculate conception of Mary, promul­gated in 1854, and her assumption, promulgated as recently as 1950. The motion also encourages Anglicans to study the report wherever possible with their RC neighbours.

Before the Synod is prorogued in mid-afternoon, there will be farewells to the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, and to the Revd David Williams, who has been Clerk to the General Synod for the past 11 years, a post created to relieve pressure on the Secretary General.

Mr Williams, who was recently ordained, said that he would be giving more time to parish ministry, and from August “watching the Synod with detached interest from four country villages”.

Synod Agenda - links to papers

GS 1812 Full Synod Agenda

Papers for the Synod, listed in item order as they appear in the agenda.

Agenda Item 4
GS 1817 Business Committee Report

Agenda item 10
GS 1815 Challenges for the New Quinquennium

Agenda item 15
GS Misc 960  House of Bishops statement on marriage after divorce and the ordained ministry

Agenda item 16
GS 1816A Common Worship Baptism Provision (Liverpool DSM)
GS 1816B Common Worship Baptism Provision (Note from the Secretary General)

Agenda items 17 & 18
GS 1818 Briefing paper by FOAG on ARCIC II - Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ
GS Misc 872 FOAG Essays on ARCIC II - Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ

Other Synod background papers
GS Misc 970 Dioceses Commission: Guide to the Review Report No 2
GS Misc 971 Anglican Communion Covenant: Reference to Diocesan Synods
GS Misc 972: Affirming Our Common Humanity

Synod Agenda - links to papers

GS 1812 Full Synod Agenda

Papers for the Synod, listed in item order as they appear in the agenda.

Agenda Item 4
GS 1817 Business Committee Report

Agenda item 10
GS 1815 Challenges for the New Quinquennium

Agenda item 15
GS Misc 960  House of Bishops statement on marriage after divorce and the ordained ministry

Agenda item 16
GS 1816A Common Worship Baptism Provision (Liverpool DSM)
GS 1816B Common Worship Baptism Provision (Note from the Secretary General)

Agenda items 17 & 18
GS 1818 Briefing paper by FOAG on ARCIC II - Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ
GS Misc 872 FOAG Essays on ARCIC II - Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ

Other Synod background papers
GS Misc 970 Dioceses Commission: Guide to the Review Report No 2
GS Misc 971 Anglican Communion Covenant: Reference to Diocesan Synods
GS Misc 972: Affirming Our Common Humanity

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