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‘The challenge: to create a safe space’

15 January 2016

The results of elections to General Synod positions, including the chairs of Houses, were announced last week. Some of the newly elected spoke to Madeleine Davies 

All set for the quinquennium: Canon Simon Butler

All set for the quinquennium: Canon Simon Butler

Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury
Canon Simon Butler (Southwark)

AT A time when we are discussing the vexed issue of human sexuality, I felt it was very important that there be someone to speak with an openly gay voice, in an eirenic way, about the perspective of LGBT members of the Church.

I am a believer in the Renewal and Reform process. But we are too focused on keeping the show on the road, and not enough on what discipleship might look like, on making the gospel known to the nation in terms of what Jesus talks about — hospitality, welcome, prayer, justice, and mercy.

One of my roles is to ensure that clergy have the resources to support us in what will be a demanding change of priorities for us. That may mean us giving up some of our much cherished rights and freedoms for the sake of a more radical and outward-facing agenda.

I took part in the Shared Conversations, and thought it was superb — a good model for working on difficult issues. Whether we can do that in Synod is the question that everyone is asking, given the politicisation at that level, and the agendas that many people bring to the Synod. The big challenge will be to create a safe space.

This Synod feels different: more positive. Whether we can sustain that is a matter that I shall be praying that David Porter and his team will help us to do. If anyone can, they can. I would like to see a Synod caught up in the renewal agenda, and that we see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ rather than members of particular tribes. I am a sort of post-modern Evangelical, liberal, Charismatic Catholic. Put me down as C of E.


Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of York
The Archdeacon of Rochdale, the Ven. Cherry Vann (Manchester)

REFORM and Renewal will undoubtedly change the nature of the Church. There is no doubt that something significant has to be done, and since Archbishop Justin has been at the helm there has been a tremendous injection of energy. That is essential, because of numerical decline and the declining number of stipendiary clergy. This is an opportunity, not something to be particularly despondent about. But those people raising questions need to be taken seriously.

Sexuality is a phenomenally difficult and sensitive area. There is no doubt that there may be some at either end of the spectrum who feel they have to leave as a result. But we start by recognising what we have in common, praying together, and trying to find a way forward that honours all of us.

We have to acknowledge that gay people have been very hurt and isolated and rejected, and there is no reaon or excuse within the Church to treat people badly. We have to learn to recognise each other as children of God, equally loved and equally saved.

Synod really is not set up for very good listening. It tends to be a debating chamber where people are keen to say and air their views, and we end up forming groups of allies that can then get into almost a war mentality. The process in the women-bishops debate enabled us to move forward in the end, but it took 20 years.

It is going to take a long time to come to any kind of resolution [on sexuality], and, if we try to push it through too quickly, we will not honour the process. I hope in five years’ time that we will see the fruits of Reform and Renewal: more vibrant, less bureaucratic churches, and more vocations, particularly among young and BME [black and minority ethnic] people. There is a lot to be excited and hopeful about.

Chair of the House of Laity
Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham)

A LOT of new people have joined Synod, and I have been very struck by younger people [who are] able and interesting and full of ideas. We need to nurture them. Through Reform and Renewal we are setting in place a series of processes which, I hope, expect, and believe, will equip the Church for the next decade; but I am very concerned not to block out voices that are asking these questions. [With regard to growth] we are talking about a whole range of different contexts, but with one narrative. In some areas, numbers are dropping, but there may still be spiritual depth.

We are quite a clerical Church, and I am particularly clear and keen that lay leadership is developed, including within governance structures. We need to hear from those who help us to look at things theologically.

In my 30 years as a GP, I have seen that there is healing as a cure, and as a way of finding a way to live better. There is also wholeness and the understanding that God can be present to you in all sorts of situations for good.

I go into the discussions about sexuality with a fairly traditional view. Historically, I would be naturally more conservative, traditional. But I have many friends who hold all views in this area. I am trying to read more about it, trying to understand better. I hope we begin to see people as in knowing their first names, and why they hold their views, and we ask questions like “How can I understand this better?”

I want to say how much good the Church does. There is a danger of drawing on negatives. Think how many lay people are involved in serving the Church and the community they live in.


Vice-Chair of the House of Laity
Elizabeth Paver (Sheffield)

I HAVE already done 25 years, and feel that Synod needs new blood and youth, but also historic memory, after going through some difficult times. I hope that Synod might learn, and that we can come to our decisions perhaps a little more speedily.

The tone has certainly changed. I think and hope and trust and pray that the new Synod will look at people as their Christian brothers and sisters foremost,and then we go on to have our differences.

General Synod is a fascinating body of people. It never fails to amaze me — the experience, expertise, and talent of the people whom God calls to be that body. It can only work if we know that we all pray together, worship together, and have that fundamental faith that holds us together. Then we should be able to discuss any topic without anyone feeling marginalised.

No one can deny that, numerically, the Church has declined. I firmly believe that you can have new expressions of every part of the Church. We are here to do the work of God, for mission, to make the name of Jesus known in our communities. I have had my own fears that we can become too secular in our approach, and forget that we can do this only through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I was part of the Shared Conversations. You met people and heard life stories you would have never heard before, and tried to empathise with other perspectives. As vice-chair on the Anglican Consultative Council, I have wrestled with the issue of human sexuality across the continents, and it is a very, very difficult situation; but we must not harden our hearts to try to understand someone else’s position.

Being from the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church, I have consistently voted against the ordination of women, and felt personally the difficulty of being seen to be out of step with the Church; but that has not stopped me wanting to be present in the Church, and feeling that God has still called me to be there, even if I am in a minority.

In the next five years, I hope that congregations will grow, but for the right reasons: because people have come to know our Lord Jesus.

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