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Synodical review

THE General Synod decided not to set up a review of its own workings.

Moving a diocesan-synod motion calling for the review, Anirban Roy (London) quoted a statement by a group of survivors of clerical abuse which had been read out at last July's meeting in York, during a debate about safeguarding issues.

"It is an indication of where the Church of England is, in hearing the voices of those who have been caused irreparable harm within the Church, that survivors are not allowed to speak for themselves."

He pointed out that 360 people voted in the safeguarding debate, while 425 voted in the debate on women in the episcopate: "One in seven of those in this room think that safeguarding is less important than women in the episcopate."

He called for a change in the way that the Synod did business, and "a way to lose our parliamentary model". The Synod was not representative of society, he said.

Emma Forward (Exeter) said that she would turn 30 in 2014, her ninth year of being on the Synod. In eight of those years, she had been the youngest woman on the Synod The vast majority of young people were in full-time work or education, and might not have flexibility about taking leave. This excluded them from serving on committees. They might not remain within one diocese for the duration of a Synod, or have the means to travel to diocesan and deanery synod; and might have a young family.

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, cited statistics that suggested that "being on Synod is not of much interest." The Synod needed to catch up with parishes and deaneries, which had "got the message some time ago that we need to be a mission-shaped Church".

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) expressed worry that the Synod might come up with a procedure to "sanitise and mask" its divisions, but "that would not be honest." One feature of the Synod was that "the Establishment does not always get its own way." In contrast, in diocesan synods, there was often "fairly bland" discussion.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) said that he was cautiously in favour of Mr Roy's motion, but urged the Synod to consider carefully what it was seeking to achieve. "We don't want to waste too much time fixing problems we have now, only to find the problems underneath have changed in a few months' time."

The Revd Steven Saxby (Chelmsford) said that he wanted to abolish the General Synod completely. "People ask me what it is like, and I say 'It's awful.'" He wished that the Synod were more relational, theological, and inspirational.

Samuel Margrave (Coventry) raised the issue of the cost of reform. "This report does Synod and the Church down. There are lots of positive relationships here, and Synod really isn't that complicated."

Canon Matthew Baynes (Worcester) spoke to an amendment seeking to "identify and introduce accountabilities to ensure that a properly balanced and appropriate understanding and representation of the needs and opinions of the whole Church is reflected in Synod's deliberations and decisions".

Prebendary David Houlding (London) recalled a tip from his mentor, who told him: "If you live by the Synod, you will die by the Synod." The parliamentary model was no longer fit for purpose. Canon Sue Booys (Oxford) said: "Are we broken, or do we need the attention of an engineer with a good can of oil?" The Business Committee had met Archbishop Welby and the panel of chairs, and were "rediscovering a proper use of the tools we already have".

Canon Suzanne Sheriff (York) was concerned about the lack of regional accents. "Synod seems like a very London way of doing things." The Revd Dr Philip Plyming (Guildford) thought that the Synod was not broken, but needed reform; but not through the creation of a costly committee.

Gerald O'Brien (Rochester) said that the Synod was in "cloud-cuckoo-land" if it thought that it was not representative of the wider Church. "The problem is that this Synod is too representative of the Church of England." he said. The amendment proposed by Canon Baynes was lost.

Prebendary Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells) disagreed strongly with the suggestion that the Synod operated a parliamentary model. Unlike the House of Commons, "We sit in circles and smile at each other."

Canon Simon Killwick (Manchester) argued that setting up a "complex parliamentary-style review", which would take years, was "the wrong way of achieving action".

Canon Peter Spiers (Liverpool) said that, 15 years ago, he would have supported the motion. He had helped set up a User-Friendly Synod Group in 2000, which had achieved changes, including the introduction of electronic voting. "If we change our values, then Synod will change."

The motion "That this Synod request the Archbishops' Council and the Business Committee to set in motion a review of the workings of the Synod and to propose alternatives to the parliamentary model currently used" was lost.

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