Synod is to focus on new legislation

24 January 2014

GEOFF CRAWFORD

THE General Synod will meet again next month primarily to expedite the draft legislation on women bishops. Its short session will begin after lunch on Monday 10 February, and will occupy the following two days, almost all of the Tuesday being given to the complex draft legislation that could enable the consecration of the first woman any time from early next year.

At the press briefing in Church House last Friday, the Clerk to the Synod, Dr Jacqui Philips, ran quickly through the agenda, which starts at 2.30 pm on Monday with the usual formalities and the report by the Business Committee.

Besides dealing with the immediate business of the Synod in its report, the Committee is also, atthe instigation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, working on some possible reforms and "New Ways of Doing Synod". They are looking at how to "help ensure more respectful exchange of views and greater genuine interaction on difficult issues", and to "make the proceedings more accessible and relevant to the people in the dioceses".

That will be followed by a presentation by the Ethical Investment Advisory Group by the new chairman of the EIAG, James Featherby, and the the vice-chairman, the Revd Professor Richard Burridge. "Ethical investment issues are very topical at the moment," Dr Philips said. They will also be talking about how ethical investment works, and how the Church engages with companies.

The Synod will next turn to Gender-based Violence. The debate will be preceded by a short presentation byMandy Marshall and Peter Grant, who are co-directors of Restored Relationships, an international Christian alliance that works to transform relationships and to end violence against women.

The debatewill then be introduced by the chairman of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, Philip Fletcher. Synod will be asked to affirm the work already going on in dioceses, parishes, and church schools to raise awareness of the issue, and to care for those who have suffered from it; to encourage boys and men to stand against it; and to "support measures to bring perpetrators to account".

There will be a short act of worship at 5.15 p.m., followed by an hour and a half of Questions.

Tuesday morning starts with a service of holy communion in the Assembly Hall, before the Synod tackles the Draft Declaration on Women in the Episcopate. The debate will be introduced by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff. At the press briefing, the Secretary General of the Synod, William Fittall, gave a run-through of the story so far: how the simplified draft legislation had been received by the Synod last July with a majority of 378-8, and had been submitted to the full Synod for revision without going first to a revision committee.

In the debate during this coming Synod, all amendments submitted from the floor of the house will be debated without the usually required 40 members standing; and although this could conceivably lead to a filibuster, Mr Fittall said that such a possibility had been thoroughly discussed, and the risk thought unlikely. The ensuing legislative business will take up most of the rest of the day, but it was impossible to predict how long it might take.

Untimed on the agenda for the end of the day are a further five items of legislative business. There will be a first consideration of a draft Naming of Dioceses Measure, so that dioceses can be named after a city, a substantial town, or a geographical area such as the proposed new diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales. Also for first consideration is a technical Pensions Amendment Measure. That is followed by Parochial Fees, Legal Officers (Annual Fees) Order, and an amendment to the Church Representation Rules.

On Wednesday morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury will give a presidential address. The Synod will then debate Safeguarding: proposals for a legislative change in response to the report of the Archbishop's Chichester Visitation.

This debate, Dr Philips said, is to test the mind of the Synod on the proposed legislative changes to make it easier to suspend clergy where abuse has been alleged, or to bring complaints against them; and to enable bishops to compel clergy to undergo risk assessments. The intention is to introduce legislation on the issue next July, but this debate will give Synod the opportunity to consider the package of measures before then.

Any items of legislative business that were not completed on Tuesday afternoon will be slotted in before a debate of the Diocesan Synod Motion from Southwark on Environmental issues. It builds on a work already being done by the EIAG, and the motion calls on the Synod to take seriously Christian responsibility to care for the planet, and to ensure that the national investing bodies of the Church are aligned with its various reports and the Shrinking the Footprint campaign, and supports the establishment of a General Synod Working Group on the environment.

To end the Synod are two Private Member's Motions: one from Alison Ruoff (London) on the Girl Guides Promise, concerned that all Guides should be able to promise to love God when enrolled rather than expected to make a wholly secular promise; the other from the Revd Christopher Hobbs (London) calling on the Business Committee to introduce draft legislation to regularise the vesture of ministers - in other words, to make it legal (or not), where the bishop and church council agree, for clergy not to wear robes on specific occasions.

Mr Hobbs recognises that it already happens in some churches, and on different occasions, that clergy do not wear robes, and find them inappropriate, which, strictly speaking, is illegal. His "modest request", he says, is for legislation so that in certain situations robes would be optional.

Finally, not later than 4.15 p.m. on Wednesday, there will be a presentation on the Pilling Report on Human Sexuality, and the next steps to be taken. Sir Joseph Pilling will give the presentation, and there will be an opportunity for questions. It is hoped that this will clarify the way forward on whether the Church gives its blessing to gay couples in civil partnerships, and its attitude to homosexuality generally.

The Synod will then say farewell to the current Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, and will be formally prorogued.

 

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