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‘Very unusual’ steps taken in lead-up to Synod

21 June 2013

Discussions in small groups and an informal plenary will be held behind closed doors, says Gavin Drake

The General Synod meeting in York next month will have something of a morning-after-the-night-before feel to it.

It will be the first group of sessions since last November's narrow vote to reject the Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure ( News, 23 November); and the first since Dr Philip Giddings survived the subsequent no-confidence vote on his chairmanship of the House of Laity at an extraordinary meeting of the House ( News, 18 January).

With this in mind, the Business Committee has taken the "very unusual" step of devoting most of the Saturday to facilitated discussions, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury's new Director for Reconciliation, Dr David Porter; along with a plenary session, the format of which "is still being creatively worked on even as we speak", the Secretary General, William Fittall, said last Friday. Both will be held behind closed doors.

Mr Fittall played down suggestions that the discussions were secret, saying that the "entirely unminuted and entirely informal" discussions were about "preparation, conversation, and exploration". He said that the discussions were "not like the wartime Parliament, when Parliament went into secret session".

The Synod's Chief Legal Adviser, Stephen Slack, said: "This will not be a sitting of the Synod, but its members will be engaging in conversations."

The start of Synod business on Friday will introduce a number of new faces, beginning with the Bishop of Skálholt, in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, the Rt Revd Kristján Valur Ingólfsson, who will deliver ecumenical greetings.

The new Prolocutor of the Convocation of York, who is the Archdeacon of Rochdale, the Ven. Cherry Vann, will be introduced, after the by-election caused by the consecration of Canon Glyn Webster as Bishop of Beverley.

And the Synod will be asked to confirm the appointments of Dr Jacqui Philips as Clerk to the Synod; Margaret Swinson, who will chair the Appointments Committee; John Spence as a member of the Archbishops' Council; and Dr Jonathan Spencer as chairman of the Pensions Board.

Archbishop Welby will attend his first Synod as Archbishop of Canterbury and deliver his first presidential address; before Synod members have the opportunity to hear answers to their questions.

The official business on Saturday, after the facilitated discussions, is a take-note debate on a report detailing progress on meeting the challenges for the Quinquennium, after a report by the Archbishops' Council and House of Bishops delivered in January 2011.

On Sunday, after Synod members attend the sung eucharist in York Minster, the Synod will move to legislation, with a debate and approval vote on new Draft Faculty Jurisdiction Rules. The new rules will replace three existing statutory instruments: the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2000, the Faculty Jurisdiction (Injunctions and Restoration Orders) Rules 1992, and the Faculty Jurisdiction (Care of Places of Worship) Rules 2000.

The new rules contain simplified procedures and changes to take account of recent case law, including statutory provision for the common-law right of chancellors to dispense with public notices in particular cases, such as where security might be an issue; or to grant an interim faculty.

The Draft Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure, described by Mr Slack as the "longest and most substantial ever", returns to the Synod for its revision stage.

Synod members will have a chance to address safeguarding in the Church, with a motion prepared by the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, in response to the reports by the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commissaries on Chichester diocese.

Bishop Butler will ask the Synod to endorse the "unreserved apology" given by the Archbishops for the C of E's "failure . . . to protect children, young people, and adults from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by its clergy and others; and for the failure to listen properly to those so abused".

The motion also calls for new legislation to be approved "in the lifetime of this Synod", and for new safeguarding arrangements to be pursued "as a matter of urgency".

On Sunday evening, the Synod will debate a motion on welfare reform and the Church, proposed by the Mission and Public Affairs Council. The motion decries the "misleading characterisation of all welfare recipients as 'scroungers'", and affirms "the need for a renewed settlement between the State, the Churches and civil society".

On Monday morning, the formal deliberations on women bishops begin. The Synod will be asked to "reaffirm its commitment to admitting women to the episcopate asa matter of urgency". A motion proposed by the House of Bishops asks the Synod to commit itself to the Bishops' preferred option of the simplest possible legislation (see here for more details); and asks for draft legislation along those lines to be prepared for first consideration in November.

The Bishops' preferred option contains a requirement for provision for opponents to be included either within a declaration by the House of Bishops or by an Act of Synod. Mr Fittall explained that there was no difference in the legal effect of these; but "an Act of Synod has ownership by the whole Synod and could only be changed by the whole Synod, whereas a declaration from the House is what the House of Bishops at any particular time decides to do.

"The Bishops are proceeding on the basis that they will produce a declaration unless the Synod says 'We'd rather take it over.'"

The draft scheme to dissolve the dioceses of Bradford, Ripon & Leeds, and Wakefield and replace them with a new diocese, to be known as the diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales ( News, 8 March), will be debated on the Monday afternoon.

This is the first scheme to come to the Synod from the Dioceses Commission, and its passage cannot be taken for granted. The diocesan synods of Bradford and Ripon & Leeds endorsed the proposals; but the Wakefield diocesan synod rejected the scheme. This means that it comes to the General Synod only because the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, has given permission for it do so.

In a statement, Dr Sentamu says: "It does not follow from my decision that the draft scheme will be made. But it does mean that, rather than the process coming to an end at this point, the General Synod will be able to form its own view of the merits of the draft scheme, and hear and assess arguments that will no doubt be put to it from a range of different perspectives."

If the Synod approves the scheme, it will be asked to approve a resolution setting up a transitional vacancy-in-see committee to select the first Bishop of Leeds. An Order in Council would be the next step; and then different parts of the scheme would come into effect at different times, in a process of transition.

Further items of legislative business include changes to the elections for members of the House of Clergy, including revisions to the universities constituency, and to remove the statutory proportions between the number of representatives from York and Canterbury.

The Synod will also be asked to request legislative proposals from the Business Committee for the setting up of an electoral college to elect members of the House of Laity - taking this responsibility away from lay deanery-synod members, on whom it currently falls. Further proposals are for nominations to the General Synod to be undertaken by email by 2015; and for elections to be held online by 2020.

The Synod will debate the annual reports of the Archbishops' Council and the Church Commissioners, and will be asked to authorise the Archbishops' Council's spending plans for 2014.

The full agenda can be read here.

Women bishops: Hand-to-hand, or hand in hand?
Women bishops: New attempt at concensus
Women bishops: All for one (almost)
Women bishops: This is the best option on offer
Women bishops: Not the way to trust

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