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Has the Synod shifted at all?

12 July 2013

NO ONE knew the power of stories better than our Lord. He often employed them instead of giving a direct answer to a pointed question ("'Who is my neighbour?' And Jesus answering said, 'A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. . .'"). The General Synod's resolve to improve the Church's record on safeguarding was strengthened immeasurably by its listening to the stories of victims. No longer is it possible to hold children and adults responsible in some way for making themselves vulnerable, or to dismiss the life-threatening harm that abuse can cause.

On the issue of women bishops, we hope that much of the time that Synod members spent in their small groups on Saturday was devoted to telling stories, so that all could understand the grounds upon which those on the other side of the debate had built their position. We were not able to attend the group meetings to find out, but we did hear the two stories told by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his presidential address on the Friday. He recounted the story of the director of ordinands who said he would have blocked a candidate's progress had he known his traditionalist views; and referred to "horrendous accounts" of the treatment of women priests. Stories humanise what might otherwise be abstract issues. They can also expose illogicalities and absurdities in a non-confrontational way.

If we were to devise an indication that the small groups had had an effect, beyond an unquantifiable lightening of the discourse, it would have looked something like what we saw in Monday's debate. At this stage, when nothing stands or falls by the votes, there was an increase in support for moves that shore up the traditionalist position. We should not expect to see any evidence of an equivalent softening among the traditionalists: the starting point of this debate was far from what they have been asking for, as was its end point. The demands on their charity might well come later in the process. For this reason, it would be premature to make any assumption about the final vote based on this week's record. The solid support for the Bishop of Dover's successful amendment, introducing a mandatory grievance procedure, was, none the less, instructive. Against what standard will grievances be judged? And how big a gap is there in the Synod's mind between "mandatory" and "legislative"?

For the present, however, the commitment to further facilitated conversations is to be welcomed. It would be good, at some point, to take as read the competing tales of hurts received, however severe, and move on to the stories that exist - we believe in greater number - of mutual respect, humility, patience, and a commitment to work together to reduce differences.

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