ALTHOUGH much of the General Synod’s time at its Westminster meeting next month (6-9 February) will be given to the subject of women bishops, there are other matters of interest on the agenda, the press was told last Friday.
The Clerk to the Synod, Dr Colin Podmore, said that there was not only legislation, but also other business concerning the Church’s mission in the world.
The session will start on Monday afternoon, with a Loyal Address to the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, thanking her for her witness to the Christian faith, and assuring her of its commitment to maintaining a Christian presence in every community.
After routine business, there will be a debate on a private member’s motion brought by Sarah Finch (London) on assisted dying. The motion has been overtaken by the publication of the recent Commission’s report, but it will give the Synod the opportunity to discuss the subject. The day will end, as usual, with Questions.
On Tuesday morning, there will be three pieces of legislation. The first is a return of the draft Parochial Fees Measure. It will be in a different form from that refused by the General Synod last July on the grounds that the proposed standardised fees, including those for weddings and funerals, would not cover costs for many churches, and would be too high for some parishioners in others. The new draft adjusts several of the proposals in the light of the Synod debate, provides more flexibility, and excludes heating costs and vergers from the standard fees.
The draft amendment to the Clergy Discipline Measure is largely about technical changes, but it also makes it a matter of misconduct for clergy to be members of any organisation, such as the BNP, which is inconsistent with the Church’s convictions about racial equality. The Draft Diocese in Europe Measure seeks to treat the diocese more like those in the rest of the C of E, allowing it funds from central sources for mission within the diocese.
Most of the afternoon will be taken up with a presentation and consideration of the Code of Practice concerning women bishops.
At the end of the afternoon, there will be a presentation on the Anglican Alliance for Relief, Development and Advocacy, which grew out of the 2008 Lambeth Conference to co-ordinate the work of the Anglican Communion and various provincial relief and development agencies. The presentation will be by the director, Sally Keeble.
The Synod will adjourn early to attend a joint service with the United Reformed Church in Westminster Abbey on the 350th anniversary of what Dr Podmore described as “a major wound in Christian history” in England, when one fifth of the clergy left the Church of England to become Congregationalists and Baptists. The service will recognise the gradual growing together of Christians.
First thing on Wednesday morning, the Synod will deal with a motion from Chichester diocesan synod on amending canon law to enable the appointment of deacons as archdeacons. The Bishop of Chichester, Dr John Hind, argues that there is no intrinsic reason why deacons should not become archdeacons, as was the case in the Early Church, and still is in some Orthodox Churches. Should the motion be passed, and legislation follow, it would mean that women could hold senior clergy posts without being in priest’s orders, in a form that was acceptable to some of those opposed to women priests and women bishops.
The rest of Wednesday morning and afternoon is given to reflecting on the women-bishops Measure in a take-note debate, followed by a debate on the two diocesan-synod motions from Manchester and Southwark about the form of the legislation.
On Thursday morning, there will be a report from the revision committee on the Additional Eucharistic Prayers for use when a significant number of children are present. Then more about women bishops, before a presentation on phase two of the higher-education funding changes as they affect the training of ordinands.
Currently, Anglican ordinands receive their degrees and certificates from 19 different universities. It is proposed that, in partnership with other Churches, notably the Methodist, Baptist, and United Reformed Churches, there should be a common curriculum for ministerial training, including reader training, for a standard higher-education qualification, though some ordinands would continue to receive theological degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. Talks are going on with the Roman Catholic and other Churches that might join the scheme. Synod members will have the opportunity to ask questions.
Thursday afternoon opens with a private member’s motion from Professor Anthony Berry (Chester) asking for a Synod working group to prepare an official response to the Government’s proposals for the reform of the House of Lords. This also has been overtaken by events: a submission by the Archbishops to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Government’s Draft Bill and White Paper; but the item will give the Synod the opportunity to discuss the issue.
The session will end with a debate on Health Care and the Church’s Mission, a report from the Mission and Public Affairs Council, to discuss the proposed changes to the NHS, the continuation of chaplaincy provision within it, and to commend the Churches’ contribution to healing and wholeness.
After farewells are said to long-serving members, the General Synod will be prorogued.