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Synod will also debate youth and wages

02 November 2012

Margaret Duggan sets out the agenda

THE final debate that would decide whether to ordain women as bishops would be the most significant one that had taken place in the General Synod during his ten years as Secretary General, William Fittall said, at a press briefing in Church House last Friday. The Synod will meet in Church House, Westminster, from Monday to Wednesday, 19-21 November; and the Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure will be the principal piece of business.

The debate will take place on the Tuesday morning after a service of holy communion in the Assembly Hall, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury will preside and preach. This will be the final vote; for no further adjournment is possible, Mr Fittall said. The debates on the draft Amending Canon and the draft Petition for Royal Assent will take place in the afternoon. No other business is scheduled for that day.

The Synod will begin on Monday afternoon with an act of worship, followed by the usual formalities and the report from the Business Committee, which allows members to debate and comment on the agenda. There will then be a presentation about the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is currently taking place in New Zealand. It will include reflections on the life of the Communion, and on the process in the other Churches of the Communion with regard to the Anglican Covenant.

It will be followed by a debate on the response of the dioceses to the proposed Act of Synod adopting the Covenant. As the majority of dioceses voted against its adoption by 26 to 18, it cannot be presented for final approval.

The Clerk to the Synod, Dr Colin Podmore, said that the voting had been closer than these figures suggested. There was a majority in favour in the House of Bishops; while in the province of Canterbury, the majority of the clergy were against the Covenant, while the laity were narrowly in favour. In York, both Houses were narrowly in favour. But the voting in individual dioceses varied widely.

Nevertheless, the report before the Synod says that there is "nothing in the Synod's Constitution or Standing Orders that would preclude the process being started over again, whether in the lifetime of this Synod or subsequently". Some concern had been expressed, Dr Podmore said, that the refusal to accept the Covenant might be seen as a rejection of the Anglican Communion, but that was not the case. Several of those who would not endorse the Covenant had gone on to express their loyalty to the worldwide Communion, and their desire to strengthen it.

At the end of that afternoon, two hours will be allotted for Questions, in the hope that most of them will be able to receive an oral answer.

All of Tuesday is taken up with the issue of women bishops. Should the vote be taken and the legislation dispatched before the end of the afternoon, it is doubtful whether the Synod would have the emotional energy for any other business.

Should there be a "no" vote, it would be possible for the legislation to be brought back in another form, but that would take "at least five years", Mr Fittall said.

On Wednesday morning, the Synod will turn its attention to a request from the diocese of Southwell & Nottingham that children who have been admitted to holy communion without being confirmed should be allowed to distribute the Holy Sacrament.

The motion points out that the sacrament may be distributed by any authorised regular communicant, and that includes children admitted to holy communion under the Admission of Baptised Children to Holy Communion Regulations 2006. It would require the agreement and authorisation by the bishop and incumbent, and the agreement of the PCC and/or the head teacher of the school where it might take place.

The diocese's argument is that, as equal members of the Church, "children should be given every opportunity to serve the whole Church, and demonstrate that all are welcome and all are cherished in God's family". Dr Podmore was asked what would be the alcoholic content of the wine that children were likely to be distributing to other children. He said that it would be very low-proof, and a small sip was not considered to cause any problem.

That debate will be followed by a private member's motion brought by John Freeman (Chester) on the Living Wage. He wants the Synod to affirm the Christian values of the concept of a living wage, which should be enough to sustain the essentials of life without people's having to do several jobs or work excessively long hours. That rate is currently calculated to be £8.30 an hour in London, and £7.20 elsewhere, rather than the statutory flat rate of £6.19 for all over-21-year-olds, regardless of where they live. He also wants the Synod to encourage all Church of England institutions to pay the Living Wage (Comment, page 12).

Shortly before breaking for lunch, the Synod will be asked to agree the dates for its meetings in 2013. The proposal is that it will not meet as usual in February, but in July and November instead. Dr Podmore explained that there would not be enough urgent business to merit ameeting in February, but by July and November, time would be needed for considering the Code of Practice that would follow the women-bishops legislation (assuming that it was passed). The regular February and July meetings would resume in 2014.

After lunch on Wednesday, there will be a number of farewells to Synod members (other than the Archbishop of Canterbury) who are making their final appearance in the Synod. This will be followed by a debate on youth unemployment, based on a report by the Mission and Public Affairs Council. It will consider the plight of the 1.4 million young people aged 16 to 24 who are not in employment, education, or training.

It will encourage parishes and church groups to listen to the voices of young people, both locally and through documents such as I Am One in a Million, the Council's report. It also aims to encourage "the multiplication of church and community initiatives which can provide training and other support to assist people into work, and help them manage the experience of unemployment without despair".

Finally, at the end of the afternoon, the Synod will say farewell to Dr Williams, and also to Mrs Williams. The Synod will formally record its "deep gratitude for the Archbishop of Canterbury's outstanding ministry to the Church and Nation, and offer him and Mrs Williams the very best wishes for the future". There will be many warm speeches, and almost certainly a prolonged standing ovation.


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