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
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
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
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
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
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