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Minds aren’t closed, Synod is assured

Task-group reports


An exercise in patience

An exercise in patience

A PRESENTATION about the group work and debates on Wednesday was given on Tuesday afternoon.

The finance director, John Spence (Archbishops' Council),said that he was aware that the Synod members might feel that they were dealing with remote, closed minds, and settled papers. Some decisions had already been made; but that would not preclude engagement with the Synod.

He said that the task groups had begun with research, which had led members of staff to project that between 2007 and 2057 church attendance would fall from 1.2 million to something like 200,000 to 300,000. "In less than ten years, we could see a threat to the presence of church in communities across rural England."

Mr Spence said that he had visited every diocese in 2014. "The dioceses told us they expected the numbers of clergy to be maintained around current levels. And they expected to need more lay leaders than they had in the past."

The discipleship report had already begun separately, and the Green report on leadership had come about from a discussion in the House of Bishops. Resourcing the Future had followed the research in the dioceses, and the simplification task group had been sparked by the dioceses' complaining about things that were getting in the way of growth. Another group had been launched to "optimise" the national church institutions.

"Finally, out of all this comes an application to the Church Commissioners for the potential of a significant but one-off piece of funding," he said. "It will become clear that if we are to have an impact in the short and medium term we will not be able to do it from within the pockets that are currently available to us."

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, said that research showed that dioceses aspired to have similar numbers of stipendiaries in 2012 ten years later. But the reality was, according to the best projections, that there would be a gap of at least 1700 between aspiration and reality. Retirement was stripping numbers, and the Church was already struggling to find sufficient ministers to lead churches in some of most deprived areas. There was an ambition to grow vocations by 50 per cent per annum every year from 2020 onwards. This would not be enough to bridge that gap, but enough to make a radical difference.

The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, speaking about the Green report, said that he wished that the communication had been better. It had been written to gain access to funding for a step change in support of future leaders to engage with the opportunities of context.

Diocesan bishops were identifying people who would benefit from being in a learning community. It was essential that the Church did not abdicate responsibility for those it called into positions of authority. It was determined to serve a more diverse group of people in ministry.

The shorthand of "MBA" had been used for a course at Cambridge which was "entirely customised". Deans were running a heritage business, seeking to turn visitors into pilgrims, and were facing the same pressures as leaders of small and medium-sized enterprises. The courses were "rooted in the spirituality and theology of the Church", and he had had "no truck with those who wanted to tell us what vision and values should be. . . We believe being spiritual and strategic go together."

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), said that the simplification group's work was to enable the evangelisation of England. He criticised measures that catered for the absolute worst-case scenarios. "Good legislation enables mission and is simply put together."

The First Church Estates Commissioner, Andreas Whittam Smith, said: "We know what the crisis is that confronts us. It's an existential crisis. There's a doomsday machine at work which means our membership falls as young people fail to replace members who come to the end of their lives." He said that funding the big push that the task groups sought would mean "breaking the famous inter-generational rule", which was to ensure that the Commissioners' successors always had the same amount of funds to distribute. "But if it is a crisis, I'm afraid it's a rule we have to consider breaking."

Dr Croft said that his report on discipleship recommended: a new theological conversation; the commendation of the Ten Marks of a diocese that is Developing Disciples; and a revision of the Catechism. He believed and hoped that all three were "significant and helpful".

A question-and-answer session followed.

Tim Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) asked why the Green report was not to be debated in the Synod.

Bishop Conway said that the fact that it was being discussed in the Synod was a change in itself. Until this, the preferment list and development of the clergy had been entirely in the hands of the bishops. Also, the money being proposed was not money from the Synod. "Of course, people have a right to be engaged, but that is why this is not a thing to be voting on in General Synod, since this is the particular responsibility of bishops with archbishops."

Vasantha Gnanadoss (Southwark) argued that poorer churches were doing "very important work in the community". Would this be taken into consideration when organising funding? The Revd Charles Razzall (Chester) asked how strong a bias to poor there would be.

Mr Spence said that half of funds would be linked to deprivation; the other for growth, subject to bidding.

Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford) said many of the ideas were not new. "How are we going to ensure that we actually take on board this programme? It needs a spiritual revolution and the work of the Holy Spirit."

Canon Pete Spiers (Liverpool) asked whether lay members might be able to celebrate holy communion.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), asked members who wanted to argue for this particular change again to "give it a rest".

During Synod Questions, after several critical questions about the Green report's not being debated, Canon Jane Charman (Salisbury) asked about the appointments process for the task groups, noting that 80 per cent of the membership was male. She referred to guidelines and Standing Orders. The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the Archbishops had appointed the members, and the balance "in most contexts isn't good enough. . . I apologise for the failure."

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