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Schools, riots, and gay marriage on the agenda

13 July 2012

THE draft women-bishops Measure was by no means the only item of business on the Synod's agenda during its meeting in York.

Last summer's riots, Fresh Expressions, and Christianity in public life were among the other issues debated by members in the University of York's Central Hall.

On Sunday afternoon, the Synod debated a report, Testing the Bridges ( News, 22 June), on the Church's response to the disturbances that broke out last summer ( News, 12 August).

The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Price, opening the debate, said: "The tragedy of our times is that we have a large population of young people who are desperate to escape from the constrained lives to which they seem to be condemned. Where hope has been killed off, and with no prospect of escape, is it surprising that their energies erupt in anti-social and violent actions?"

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) said that the aftermath of the riots had brought new opportunities for community work and mission. "The main lesson of the disturbances has been about resurrection, the God who brings good out of evil," he said.

The Synod also turned its mind to instances of the supposed marginalisation of Christians in society. The Revd Stephen Trott (Peterborough) moved a Private Member's Motion urging Christians to "manifest" their faith in public life.

Mr Trott said that there were "very determined attempts" to "drive the Church out of the public square". Christians were not, he suggested, permitted to "manifest our faith" or "live and work according to our conscience" for fear of being branded "discriminatory". He gave as an example the stripping of Christian symbols from hospital chapels.

Some Synod members expressed scepticism about the motion, among them the Archdeacon of Norwich, the Ven. Jan McFarlane, who said: "Looking to the structures to defend us, complaining that we're being side-lined, frankly isn't very attractive. It is unlikely to win us many supporters."

Nevertheless, the motion was carried convincingly, by 263 to 25, with 52 recorded abstentions.

The Church's response to the Government's consultation on gay marriage ( News, 15 June) came under close scrutiny during Questions on Friday evening. The Archbishop of Canterbury said that he was aware that many in the Church had been dismayed by the statement, but said that "it remains the case that we are as the Church of England bound by the law which governs us." The Government's consultation paper had been "deeply flawed" in regard to the legal position of the Church of England and of its clergy, and the "fundamental legal issues" raised by it would not go away.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, told the Synod, during a debate on church schools, that "for the long-term good of the Church of England, nothing is of greater importance than how we respond to the Chadwick report" ( News, 23 March).

The Bishop also warned that "the days of equivocation are over. . . Church schools are under suspicion or attack in many corners of society," from the House of Lords to the Accord Coalition. The response must not be defensive, "but confidently on the front foot". The "spiritual core" of schools must be in evidence.

During a debate on Fresh Expressions on Saturday evening, attention was drawn to the criticisms made of the movement in recent years. Nevertheless, the Synod endorsed Fresh Expressions congregations as "authentic manifestations of Anglican ecclesiology".

Farewells to Dr Williams were on the agenda, but were postponed until November, when the Synod will meet to vote on the draft women-bishops Measure. The Synod did say farewell, however, to the Synod's senior stenographer, Margaret Stevenson, who was retiring after 29 years' service.

The General Synod Church Times special report

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