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Cautious welcome for changes to future ministry



Show of hands: Synod members indicate their preferences

Show of hands: Synod members indicate their preferences

THE Synod has broadly welcomed proposals in the two reports Resourcing the Future and Resourcing Ministerial Education, but will wish to give decisions by the Archbishops' Council and House of Bishops more detailed scrutiny before their implementation.

Introducing the debate, John Spence, who chairs the Archbishops' Council's Finance Committee, reiterated the urgency of the issue as evidenced by historic trends, but also emphasised that "every urgent issue gives opportunity, and we are on the side now of having a response which is truly exciting. Never let excitement be smothered by the duvet of urgency."

The objectives were the successful achievement of good growth rather than orderly management of decline; more flexibility for dioceses; the safeguarding of "those issues for which there can be no negotiation", i.e. the focus on the poor, and the excellence of ministerial education.

The Synod needed to agree the governing objective. He agreed on the need for careful planning. Both the Bishop of Sheffield and he had agreed to accept the amendment from Christopher Hobbs that all future decisions must receive due scrutiny.

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, described visits to some of the most deprived parishes in the country: Maltby and Thurcroft. Although he was confident that incumbents would not be impossible to find for the vacancies here, he warned that this would not be the case in the next ten years, given clergy numbers: "They need priests, but will not find them on the current trajectory."

Currently, it took seven to eight years to go from exploring vocation to incumbency. "The need is well past urgent to grow vocations and improve training and invest in CMD." There was a need to connect the needs of dioceses with the training available.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) said that this was a great first step, but wanted to place an early marker on the place of laity in the process and outcomes. He expressed disquiet over the make-up of steering groups or task groups.

The Revd Amanda Fairclough (Liverpool) spoke from her "NSM soapbox". She would like to see more self-supporting ministers nurtured in their 30s and 40s, when it might not be necessary to "put them through the wringer of another degree". They would be able to deploy skills from the secular world.

There could also be improvements to house-for-duty ministry. There was a need to be "more imaginative and less prescriptive".

The Revd Tony Redman (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) expressed disappointment about the lack of consultation with diocesan directors of ordinands and training facilities, who wanted to add "creative insights", and the focus on stipendiary ministry. Some problems with ministerial education not mentioned in the report were the lack of contextual experience during training, and the lack of a theology of church buildings.

The Revd Dr Philip Plyming (Guildford) welcomed the honesty in the reports. "Over the last six years, Synod has been in denial about the challenges facing us. . ." He also welcomed the vision for the future, which was "unashamedly focused on the mission God has called us to".

In defence of the focus on stipendiary ministry, he said: "Unless we have more leaders of churches and parish priests, we will not be able to maintain our presence in every community."

Speaking to his amendment, Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities, York) expressed serious concern about the lack of "theological undergirding". Missing was a theological analysis of "Why are so many people not coming to church?" Without this, the "myths of the age creep into the Church." Here this included the "big myth of the self-sufficient autonomous self", present in the approach outlined in the report. It was imperative that those in training institutions be consulted.

Canon Jane Charman (Salisbury) said that her amendment allowed for "wider clarification of the proposals without losing forward momentum". The Synod needed more information in order to "easily exercise its responsibility to scrutinise this report".

Samuel Margrave (Coventry), speaking to his amendment, questioned whether the proposal passed the "Ronseal ['does what it says on the tin'] test": it said it had a bias to the poor, but would it, in practice? "My concern is, while the report speaks of a bias to the poor, it fails to ensure the resources needed for this ministry."

The Revd Christopher Hobbs (London), speaking to his amendment, highlighted that the money for ministerial education did not come from the task groups or Ministry Division or bishops, but from parishes. Unless his amendment was passed, clergy or laity would not have a proper say over the changing of the system.

The Church of England was a synodical Church, but had only just been made aware of the task group, which the Synod had had no say in appointing.

"This is important: don't rush it. It may be that our system of training has to change even more significantly, so that we get more church-planters and evangelists and apologists, and would welcome Church Commissioners' funding for that. It may be that we need fewer residential colleges, but we need more consultation with training institutions, more robust research, and more time for Synod to operate." The process was "not right".

The Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani (Peterborough),diocesan curates' training co-ordinator, said that the Church should be cautious before shortening curacies or fast-tracking ordination training. The wisdom necessary to be an incumbent took time to take root and could not be rushed.

The Revd Charles Razzall (Chester) said that a long-term strategy was needed to put the poor at the heart of the life of the Church. They also needed to plan for those dioceses that would be winners and losers in any redistribution of money.

Samuel Follett (St Albans), a 24- year-old ordinand, said that streamlining the vocations process was a good idea, as its length deterred some candidates; but this had to be done without lowering the quality of ordinands. "We need to find ways that are quicker and simpler, but just as rigorous." He also warned against residential training filling ordinands' time with study and not leaving space for practical ministry.

Fr Seville withdrew his amendment.

Canon Charman moved her amendment.

Dr Croft urged the Synod to resist the amendment, as they could not do this level of consultation by the July group of sessions.

Dr Elaine Storkey (Ely) said that the Synod was rushing far too fast with these proposals. "We desperately need more theology and research on this." She mentioned social media, the democratisation of knowledge, demographic change, fragmentation of work, and other issues.

The chairman of the House of Laity, Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford), said that July was far too early to do everything that needed to be done. He urged the Synod to accept Mr Hobbs's amendment, "which will give most space for these questions to be addressed before we move to implementation".

The Revd John Cook (Oxford) said that there were some significant knock-on effects, if the level of the standard grant was not set correctly, which could even lead to residential training becoming non-viable.

Canon Charman's amendment was lost.

The Margraveamendment was moved. Mr Spencesaid that he had a degree of sympathy with Mr Margrave's point, but insisted that the poor would be better served by these changes, as half of funds would be ring-fenced to be used in deprived communities. So he asked the Synod to resist the amendment.

Canon Simon Killwick (Manchester) was in favour of the amendment, but questioned whether it truly had a strong bias to the poor. "On the face of it, 50 per cent is not a bias at all, let alone a strong bias," he said.

Canon Graeme Buttery (Durham) said that anything that did not "identify the poor as equal players are not doing the right job". Mr Margrave's amendment was not perfect, he said, but it was a start. "We desperately need them to teach us their lessons on how we thrive on what we consider inadequate."

The amendment was clearly lost.

Mr Spence welcomed Mr Hobbs's amendment. Further consultation would take place, and the Synod would "not be ambushed with proposals in July".

The amendment was carried without further debate.

Philip Blinkhorn (Manchester), who chairs the diocesan board of finance, spoke of the support his diocese had received for ministry in rural areas, and the work it had funded. "Our friends from Church House have been challenging," he said, but their questioning had led to "better planning and work in the task groups we have set up." He called for "something like the Sheffield formula" to continue to enable dioceses to plan three or four years in advance rather than work on zero-sum budgeting.

Concluding the debate, Dr Croft, having received permission to speak twice in the debate, said that more theological work was being done with bishops, theological educators, and theologians.

He did not think that the risk to theological training institutions was as great as had been suggested. They were not proposing the abolition of maintenance grants for married ordinands, but the pooling of such grants.

Mr Spence apologised for having been seen as working "in the dark" up until now; but they could not have worked as fast as they had if they had consulted widely.

The motion was clearly carried.

It said: That this Synod, welcoming the objective set out in paragraph 4 of GS1978 of investment focused on dioceses' strategic plans for growth, and with a strong bias to the poor, and the vision set out in paragraph 8 of GS1979, invite the Archbishops' Council and the House of Bishops to reach early decisions on the specific recommendations in the two reports once the current consultation period with dioceses, theological training institutions and others is concluded; and bring those decisions back to Synod for more detailed scrutiny before implementation.

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