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Women bishops not the only debate at Synod

01 November 2013


Not all about this: General Synod members vote during the women bishops debate at Church House, Westminster, in November, last year 

Not all about this: General Synod members vote during the women bishops debate at Church House, Westminster, in November, last year 

THE General Synod will meet in Church House, Westminster, from lunchtime on Monday 18 November until 5.30 p.m. on Wednesday 20 November, and most of Wednesday will be given to the women-bishops debate. But there will be other matters; and, at the media briefing last Friday, the new Clerk to the Synod, Dr Jacqui Philips, briefly ran through the whole agenda.

The Monday afternoon will start with an act of worship and the usual report on the progress of various Measures and statutory instruments; there will then be a short presentation by the Archbishop of Canterbury, although the subject of this has yet to be finalised.

The Synod will then consider the Business Committee report, introduced by its new chair, Canon Sue Booys (Oxford). It includes an account of the committee's meeting with Archbishop Welby, who spoke about the impressions of his first Synod meeting as president in July. Together, they discussed how Synod debates might become more spontaneous, and involve genuine listening. The committee is to consider these ideas further at its December and March meetings.

A debate will then follow on intentional evangelism, introduced by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu. This is one of the "challenges for the Quinquennium", and the intention is to set up an Archbishops' Task Group on Evangelism with a new call to prayer, and to urge "every diocesan and deanery synod and PCC to spend the bulk of one meeting annually, and some part of every meeting, focusing on sharing experiences and initiatives for making new disciples".

The Synod will then consider various details of legislative business to do with a variety of such matters as church property and the responsibility of PCCs, planting trees in churchyards, and the powers of archdeacons. At some point in the agenda, there will also be consideration of transitional arrangements for the representation in the Synod of the new diocese of Leeds, which amalgamates the three dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield.

The Synod will then move on to an hour and a half of questions. Shortly before the end of the evening session at 7 p.m., there will be a ten-minute presentation about women in the episcopate, followed by evening worship.

After morning worship, members will spend the first half of Tuesday morning in small discussion groups, on women bishops. It is the first time such group work has been tried at the Westminster sessions, and the Business Committee admits that it is something of an experiment. The rest of the morning is given to a continuation of the legislative business.

After lunch, Dr Sentamu will give a presidential address on education, and this will be followed by a debate on a report from the Board of Education: The Church School of the Future. It will be introduced by the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, and the Synod will be asked to affirm the importance of the C of E's engagement with schools, to review its support for them, and to invite dioceses to promote the widest use of the new Christianity Project materials.

The Ministry Council is also to be asked to consider how the training of both lay and ordained ministers can include more school-related experience. More legislative business is followed by a report from the Standing Orders Committee, until, not later than 5.45 p.m., the Synod will debate a motion brought by the London diocesan synod asking for a review of the workings of the General Synod.

It will be introduced by Anirban Roy, and members will be asked to consider the frequency and lengths of the Synod sessions, the ways in which decisions are made, and whether the current framework and representative structures are fit for their purpose. The perennial questions will be raised about whether the length and timing of meetings allows for a really representative membership, and whether the close dependence on a parliamentary model is still relevant.

"Questions about the role of the Synod and how it operates are not wholly separable from questions about how the Church of England runs more generally," Dr Philips writes in a background note. "It will be important therefore to be clear whether the main focus should be on the need for and operation of the various levels of the synodical system, or whether a wider exercise is wanted, looking at organisational and governance issues in the Church more generally.

The eucharist will be celebrated in the Assembly Hall at the start of business on Wednesday morning. Then the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, who has chaired the Steering Committee, will ask the Synod to welcome the package of new proposals for women in the episcopate.

The debate on women bishops could well spread into the afternoon. Should there be time left on the agenda, a debate, cut short last July, on the electorate for the House of Laity, will be resumed. Not later than 5.15 p.m., farewells will be said to members including the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, and the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer. The General Synod will then be prorogued.

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