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‘Our future turns on a single vote’

27 June 2014


Historic: Jane Hedges was installed as the first female Dean of Norwich, at Norwich Cathedral, on Saturday

Historic: Jane Hedges was installed as the first female Dean of Norwich, at Norwich Cathedral, on Saturday

THE next General Synod meeting in York, from 11 to 15 July, is the most important, at least on women's ordination, for 20 years, the Synod's secretary general, William Fittall, told the media at a briefing in Church House last Friday. "Not since 11 November 1992 has the future of the Church of England turned so sharply on a single vote," he said.

Women bishops was the subject shaping the agenda for this group of sessions at the University of York; and 14 July 2014 would complete a very long process, he said. A new document from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York reported what had been decided at the House of Bishops in May regarding arrangements for consecration, and the need for a headship bishop.

He declined to speculate about what would happen if the draft legislation failed to receive final approval, but said that, if it did, the earliest that the canon could be promulged, and thus become law, would be at the General Synod meeting provisionally scheduled for 17 November. If it happened then, the Crown Nominations Commission would then be free to consider women for nomination to diocesan bishoprics.

The process for nomination to Southwell & Nottingham would not be concluded until after that date, and there were already other vacancies - such as the sees of Gloucester, Newcastle, and Oxford - that would not be considered until after that date. But, in answer to a reporter's question whether vacancies were being held open, he said: "No stockpiling is going on at the moment." (Suffragan appointments would continue to lie in the hands of diocesan bishops, after consultation, names going to the Prime Minister via the Archbishop of the province.)

The Synod meeting begins on the Friday afternoon with introductions, and the welcoming of Anglican and ecumenical guests, including Dr Irmgard Schwaetzer, president of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), who will greet the Synod at the invitation of the two Archbishops, mindful of the coming centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

After the usual reports on the progress of measures and statutory instruments, and on the agenda, the Synod will be asked to make appointments to the Archbishops' Council of Mary Chapman, Philip Fletcher, and the Revd Dr Rosalyn Murphy.

The Synod will then move on to the women-bishops business: the Business Committee's report on the Article 8 reference to the dioceses, the final drafting, of the Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure and Draft Amending Canon no. 33. It will also debate the first consideration of the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure and the associated Amending Canon No. 34, which give effect to proposals developed in response to the reports of the Chichester commissaries and ap-proved by the Synod in February.

The aim is to make it easier to make complaints in respect of cases of historic abuse, reduce the potential for abuse, carry out risk assessments, and disqualify churchwardens and other others. It also requires clergy and officials to have "due regard" to safeguarding policies. Representatives of survivor groups will be welcomed in the gallery, and they will be holding a fringe meeting for Synod members in the evening.

Draft Amending Canon No. 35 will also receive first consideration. This originated in a Southwell & Nottingham diocesan motion, and is about relaxing the current position on who can administer (distribute) holy communion. This was legislation that suggested the possible shape of things to come, the Legal Adviser, Stephen Slack, told reporters: a move towards simpler Measures that left detail to be settled by Regulations made in the Synod.

After worship and dinner, the Synod will have its usual session of Questions answered from the platform.

On Saturday, the Bishops will consider the draft women-bishops legislation under Article 7 of the Synod's Constitution. The morning's business in full Synod begins with the Archbishop of York's presidential address. Amendments to standing orders can be taken next, but these will be debated only if due notice is given or amendments have to be taken.

Further legislative business, to be taken on Saturday morning, includes the enactment of Amending Canon No. 31; the revision and remaining stages of the Draft Church of England (Pensions) (Amendment) Measure; "fairly modest" changes to synodical elections, first debated last July; the revision of the Draft Care of Churches and Ecclesias-tical Jurisdiction (Amendment) Measure, part of the simplification of the faculty system; the Payments to the Churches Conservation Trust Order; legal officers' fees; and the revision of the Draft Church of England (Ecclesiastical Property) Measure, relaxing arrangements for PCCs and parish trusts in relation to property.

The first item on the agenda after lunch is a presentation by the well-known American pastor and activist the Revd Jim Wallis, a keynote speaker personally invited by Dr Sentamu to address the Synod on "The (Un)common Good" as part of the Synod's work on the quinquennial theme of the common good. This will be followed by group work. Synod members will then return after 5 p.m. to debate a motion on the subject from the Mission and Public Affairs Council.

After worship and dinner, the Synod will take a private member's motion from the Revd Christopher Hobbs seeking to relax the requirements of Canon B8 on the vesture of the ministers during the time of divine service.

On Sunday morning, the Synod will join the congregation of York Minster for the sung eucharist at 10 a.m. In the afternoon, it will receive a presentation on the Archbishops' Council's annual report, unless the Convocations and/or House of Laity claim an Article 7 reference of the draft women-bishops legislation, in which case the full Synod will not resume until 4 p.m., and the presentation will be deferred to Tuesday morning.

The Synod will then give first consideration to the drafts of the additional baptismal texts in accessible language, which finished their six-month trial period in parishes at Easter, and have since been discussed by the House of Bishops. The texts now provide for simple baptismal promises, including "I turn away from sin," "I reject evil," "I turn to Christ," and "I give my life to him." After the signing with the cross, the congregation joins in saying, "Stand bravely with him [Christ]. Fight against the power of evil, and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life."

There are two short alternative forms of prayer over the baptismal water: one is an explicit blessing of it, while the other says: "Now send your Spirit, that those who are washed in this water may share Christ's death and resurrection, and find true freedom as your children, risen with Christ for ever." The words at "the commission" are not prescribed, only the subjects to be raised.

Although its official launch is not till 1 October, there will then be a presentation about the Churches' Mutual Credit Union by its president, Canon Antony MacRow-Wood, and CEO designate, Hilary Sams, followed by evening worship.

After dinner, the Synod will take financial business, including the Archbishops' Council's budget, the proposed apportionment of the Councils' costs to the dioceses for 2015, and the Church Commissioners' annual report.

On Monday, after morning worship, there will be a presentation by the new Bishop to the Forces, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, on the Armed Forces Covenant and Commun-ity Covenants, based on a report fom the Mission and Public Affairs Council, together with a motion from Philip Fletcher, who chairsit, inviting community bodies, churches, and others to join the initiative that offers pastoral care to members of the armed forces and their community.

Then the long-awaited final-approval debates on the women-bishops legislation follow no later than 11.15, together with the debate on final approval, affirmation, and proclamation of the Draft Act of Synod Rescinding the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993. This batch of business has been timetabled potentially to continue into the afternoon until 6.15, because at this final-approval stage any Synod member who wishes to speak may do so, though the time-limit on individual speeches can be reduced from the chair.

The Synod will then take a motion from Guildford diocesan synod concerning the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015, drawing attention to its declaration that the English Church and all the citizens shall be free, encouraging celebrations of the anniversary, and making links between the Bishops' part in the formulation and implementation of the Charter, and "the continued engagement of the Church in transforming community at national, regional and local level" - mentioning foodbanks and other practical expressions of this.

After evening worship and dinner, the Synod will then receive presentations about the CHARM rental scheme for the retired clergy, and the Audit Committee's annual report.

On Tuesday morning, legislative business resumes, and there may be an opportunity to take a diocesan-synod motion from Bradford (now part of West Yorkshire & the Dales) asking the Mission and Public Affairs Council to do some work on the spare-room subsidy, sometimes referred to as the "bedroom tax", and its impact.

The last item is farewells.

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