Small groups and a ‘big idea’ for Synod in York

by
22 June 2011

Margaret Duggan previews next month’s debates on wedding fees, finance, confirmation, and relations with the Free Churches

WHEN the General Synod met at the University of York on 8-12 July, it would be the first residential meeting of the Synod since it had been re-elected last November, the Secretary General, William Fittall, said at a press briefing on Monday.

To give members a chance to get to know each other, there would be more time than usual for group meetings and reflection, and, so far as he could see, little would prove con­ten­tious in the agenda. Speaking from his ex­peri­ence of 20 Synod meetings so far, he said that he had learned that it was impossible to pre­dict just how a group of sessions might turn out.

Next year would be different, he said, when the Synod would be “grappling with some of the most significant legislation for 20 years”. In the mean time, in July, there were high-profile matters not on the agenda which members were bound either to bring up or would talk about among themselves. First, there was the legislation on women bishops currently being discussed in the dioceses, and at least four dioceses had already reached their conclusion. The matter of the Anglican Covenant was likewise being discussed, and was running slightly behind time.

There were also the questions following on the Equality Act, whether the Church must re­consider its position on clergy in civil partner­ships, and the complicated legal positions on the appointment of divorced or openly homosexual bishops. Such subjects were bound to be in the background of the July meeting, but he emphasised that none of them was on its agenda.

The first session will begin late on the Friday afternoon, when one of the ecumenical guests, the Archbishop of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania, His Beatitude Anastasios, will address the Synod. Routine business about dates and appointments and the Constitution of the Legal Advisory Commission will then fill the early evening until Questions.

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Saturday begins with a Presidential Address from the Archbishop of Canterbury in which Dr Williams will speak on the theme of “sharing the good news” and church growth. In an unusual move, the Synod will spend the rest of the morning in small groups, each led by a bishop, reflecting on and discussing the theme.

The afternoon is full of legislative business, beginning with amendments to the 2008 Church of England Marriage Measure, widening the qualifications for couples to be married in a church other than their parish church. He hoped they would be approved on Saturday afternoon, so that the Amended Measure could be returned for Final Approval on the following Monday morning.

Payments to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2011 is before the Synod for approval, as is the Parochial Fees Order in which fees for weddings and funerals have been standardised throughout the Church. Though a basic wedding fee will now be £425, as opposed to £284, and a funeral fee will rise to £150 from £102, Mr Fittall emphasised that this was a matter of fairness and transparency. Some churches had been charging additional large sums for heating, administration, a verger, and other items that were now included in the basic fee.

Organist, choir, and bells — none of them essential — would still be extras. Compen­sation Rules for church “reorganisation schemes”, including dissolving existing dioceses or abolishing senior offices, will also be before the Synod for approval, as will amendments to the pensions scheme in the diocese of Sodor & Man.

The whole of Saturday evening will be given to a private member’s motion originally brought by the Revd Mark Ireland, formerly a member for Lichfield diocese. As he has now been elected to the Archbishops’ Council, the debate on Mission Action Planning in the Church of England will be introduced by the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler.

As usual, the whole Synod will attend the choral eucharist in York Minster on Sunday morning, and in the afternoon will first look at how the increased university and higher-education fees will affect the cost to the Church of ordination training. The Church spends £12 million a year on training clergy, with a further £4 million on maintenance of families, Mr Fittall said. The Government’s proposed increases will mean about a further £1.5 million, “which is a substantial sum, and it is not an option just to stump up the money”.

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The dioceses will have to help to some extent, but there is a need to create more bursaries, and another proposal will be that maintenance costs should be limited to those who can be ordained before the age of 50.

Following that, the Synod will debate the report on the Anglican-Methodist Covenant, which will be largely covering old ground except for one “big new idea” that, instead of partnerships’ always being local, it should be possible to extend Anglican-Methodist partnerships to wider areas, even whole dioceses.

There will then be a debate on a diocesan-synod motion from Bradford, asking for regulations to permit the admission of adults to communion even if they are not confirmed nor “ready and desirous” to be confirmed. The Sunday evening session after supper will look at the annual report of the Audit Committee, and the annual report of the Archbishops’ Council.

If all went well with the Draft Marriage (Amendment) Measure on Saturday, it will come to the Synod for final approval on Monday morning, as will any debate on other legislative matters left over from Saturday. Draft texts for some additional eucharistic prayers will be considered. Then Clive Scowen will move a diocesan-synod motion from London asking for a review of how the House of Laity in the General Synod and the laity in the diocesan synods are elected, and “whether the electorate should be some body of persons other than the lay members of deanery synods”.

In the afternoon, a report, Unfinished Business, from the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, will be the subject of a presentation reporting that, although there has been some improvement, there is still an under-representation of ethnic minorities in the Synod, among the clergy, and among the senior appointments in the Church.

At 4 p.m., the Synod returns to financial business and the Archbishops’ Council budget and proposals for apportionment (the proposed increase, Mr Fittall said, is 1.8 per cent), followed by a debate on Generous Love for All, a report from the Presence and Engage­ment Task Group, which welcomes the Government’s grant of £5 million to the New Neighbours project.

Added to the Parish Mission Fund, it has enabled grants to go to a very wide range of local mission projects such as “Life after Debt”, “Fun in the Park”, wedding fairs, and a wide range of children’s and youth projects.

Saturday evening returns to ecumenical concerns, this time with the United Reformed Church. For most people in the Church of England, Mr Fittall said, the year 1662 meant the Book of Common Prayer. But for others it was the year of the Great Ejection, when those who could not accept the new Prayer Book felt ejected from the Church and became the forerunners of, among others, the United Reformed Church. A report from the Council for Christian Unity on conversations between the two Churches suggests that now is the time for healing the past, that there should be a statement of mutual recognition, and that this might be marked by a joint service in West­minster Abbey during the February Synod meeting next year.

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The final morning on Tuesday begins with a presidential statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Christians in the Holy Land. There is then a brief presentation on the Church Commis­sioners’ annual report, and finally, a substantial debate on the Church and Education to mark the 200th anniversary of the National Society and church schools. It will “affirm the continued importance of Church of England schools being distinctively Christian institutions rooted in the life of the parishes”, and the need to enhance the effectiveness of religious education in state schools.

The General Synod will then be prorogued until February 2012.

The final morning on Tuesday begins with a presidential statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Christians in the Holy Land. There is then a brief presentation on the Church Commis­sioners’ annual report, and finally, a substantial debate on the Church and Education to mark the 200th anniversary of the National Society and church schools. It will “affirm the continued importance of Church of England schools being distinctively Christian institutions rooted in the life of the parishes”, and the need to enhance the effectiveness of religious education in state schools.

The General Synod will then be prorogued until February 2012.

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