THE Queen will inaugurate the tenth General Synod on 24 November. The tasks awaiting the newly elected body include further work on the strategy to reverse the Church’s numerical decline, and exploring the “highly contentious issue of human sexuality”.
Introducing the agenda for the first group of sessions, 24-25 November, the outgoing General Secretary, William Fittall, said that it would not provide many clues to the strength of the “groupings” on the 468-member body. It includes a debate on the “migrant crisis” and discussion of the Archbishops’ Reform and Renewal Programme.
The latter was one of two “obviously big issues” that would loom large over the next five years, he said, as well as the “highly contentious issue of human sexuality”.
The shared conversations on sexuality are due to conclude next year, and much of the next meeting of the Synod, in York in July, would be devoted to “private engagement” on the matter.
There was a “clear expectation of some opportunity, then, to test the mind of Synod. When and how that will happen, I cannot say. It is still a mystery and not a secret.” It was, however, “important to recognise that the role of the Bishops as leaders in matters of doctrine and liturgy will be particularly important in the process”.
A presentation on Reform and Renewal and an opportunity for questions is scheduled to take place on the first day, led by John Spence, who chairs the Finance Committee of the Archbishops’ Council. Among the Bishops reporting will be the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, who will update the Synod on the “nurturing and discerning future leaders” workstream. Programmes have already taken place, including a business programme for deans at Judge Business School in Cambridge, and a “more intense” one is planned for next year. It will include “a positive action programme for clergy from black and minority ethnic backgrounds”.
There will also be a presentation from Matthew Frost, a new member of the Archbishops’ Council. A former chief executive of Tearfund, he will introduce a new working group on lay leadership.
On the Wednesday, there will be report from the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, on the report of the Church Buildings Review Group. This speaks of the need for a more flexible legal framework governing the use of church buildings. It also explores the potential of “Festival Churches”. It did not recommend a “retreat from rural England”, Mr Fittall said. “There is nothing that suggests a programme of mass closure of churches. That would be wrong. We still aspire to be a Church that offers a Christian presence in every community, but Christian presence is about more than buildings.”
The same day, there will be a debate on the migrant crisis. The motion, from the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, had not yet been finalised, owing to the rapidly changing context, Mr Fittall said. It would refer to the scale of the crisis and acknowledge the efforts of both the Government and other actors, he said. It might refer to “sensitive areas”, including the numbers resettled in the UK, and “how to signal that solidarity with and concern for displaced Christians . . . while being clear that we are committed to responding to the needs of all, without reference to creed or colour. Obviously there is a bit of tension there.”
There will also be a debate on research conduced by the Church, in partnership with the Evangelical Alliance and HOPE, into public perceptions of Jesus, Christians and evangelism in England (News, 25 September). The research indicated a “wide degree of polarisation”, Mr Fittall suggested, given the finding that 43 per cent of respondents believed in the resurrection, but 40 per cent did not believe that Jesus was a real person who actually lived.
The Queen will attend the opening service at Westminster Abbey on 24 November. The preacher will be the Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa OFM. The Queen will then inaugurate the Synod at Church House.
Statistics show that this Synod will be the first in which more than half of the elected members of the House of Laity are women. It will also be the first in which there will be women in all three Houses. Overall, 37 per cent of members are women, up from 32 per cent in 2010 and 28 per cent in 2005.
There has been a high turnover. In total, 46 per cent of members are new. The youngest member will be Rhian Ainscough, 19, representing Leicester. The oldest, David Ashton, 72, has served continuously since 1972. Mr Fittall refused to speculate on the representation of particular groupings, venturing only that “time will tell.” But people would pay “close attention” to who stood for election to the chair of the House of Laity and as Prolocutors for the Canterbury and York Provinces. Results will be known just before Christmas.