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Mission and pastoral legislation given going over at Synod

15 July 2016

THE Synod revised the Draft Mission and Pastoral etc. (Amendment) Measure on Saturday morning.

This was a draft Measure to amend and simplify certain provisions of the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011, the Endowments and Glebe Measure 1976 and the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986; to make minor clarificatory amendments; and for connected purposes.

Introducing the debate, Geoffrey Tattersall (Manchester) said that it had attracted a significant amount of correspondence and revision since its last debate in the Synod. Changes had been made. Among the more contentious, they concerned compensation paid to clergy who lost their jobs as a result of pastoral reorganisation: this would now be 12 months’ stipend and housing rather than six, as had previously been suggested.

The revision committee considered including a clause to claw back some of this compensation if the dispossessed priest found another post within 12 months, but decided against this.

Dr John Appleby (Newcastle) said that he welcomed most of the draft Measure but questioned why a bishop who was proposing to change or dissolve an archdeaconry had to consult only the mission and pastoral committee, and not also the diocesan synod.

The Archdeacon of Bournemouth, the Ven. Dr Peter Rouch (Winchester), had queries about Bishop’s Mission Orders (BMOs). As drafted, the Measure allows a BMO congregation to become a permanent part of the Church of England which didn’t have a charitable structure with an Anglican identity built in.

Furthermore, currently lay members of a BMO congregation struggled to achieve representation at the Synod, as they were not part of a parish’s electoral roll. “We have seen the effect of excluding people from synodical governance and decision-making,” he said. “I believe this to be bad theology, bad ecclesiology, bad politics, and bad faith towards those taking adventurous steps in mission. They deserve a voice here.”

Brian Wilson (Southwark) asked whether legislation that had been amended could be laid out in the order paper with clauses struck through and additions added in line so that members could clearly see what was being proposed.

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), joined Dr Rouch’s call for those in BMOs to have representation in Synod. That said, not all BMOs would seek that so the legislation should be flexible.

The Revd Barry Hill (Leicester) spoke to echo the points made by the Archdeacons of Bournemouth and London. The “general trajectory” of the legislation was positive, especially when it came to lay leadership. “Don’t allow an over-clericalisation, which has permeated parish ministry, to flow into fresh expressions.”

The Synod took note of the revision committee’s report, and moved on to revise the clauses in groups.

Clive Scowen (London) put forward his amendment to give more substance to team vicars’ posts by allowing them to call meetings without the presence or permission of the team rector. “It is not unknown for team rectors to treat vicars as if they were curates,” he said. They should be seen as “contributing members to a team of equals” and not ignored.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Peter Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), resisted the amendment. “We are in a very different climate today,” he said. “In the past, much time has been spent on regulation.” The purpose of the simplification process was to resist an attempt to control day-to-day clergy relationships. Clarity on these relationships was good, but regulation was no longer the right way of doing it, he said. Forcing forcing the convening of meetings was not the way forward.

The Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) agreed with the Bishop in strongly resisting the amendment. “If the team ministry gets to a point when you’re meeting without the team rector you are in a very sad place,” he said. “Mutiny is happening.”

There many different people working in team ministries, and not all were clergy, the Revd Amanda Fairclough (Liverpool) said. Putting a prescriptive clause in the Measure could be “very unhelpful” in recognising the gifts of the whole team. “If they can’t work together without this legislation, then there is a greater problem than can be solved by an amendment.”

Having served as a lay member of a team ministry for 30 years, Lucy Docherty (Portsmouth) resisted the amendment and asked whether the Code of Practice alluded to by the Bishop will be discussed. Legalising a relationship was not a good idea, she said.

The amendment was lost.

The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) put forward his amendment to remove a clause to allow abolition of the team vicar simply through a pastoral order from the bishop. If the Measure was approved unamended, then the bishop could undertake significant pastoral reorganisation without any check of his power. Patrons should be given the right to appeal. A team vicar had incumbent status, and the post should be abolished through a pastoral order alone.

Bishop Broadbent also resisted this amendment, too. The vacant post could be increased or decreased. The shape of team ministry had changed, he said. He wanted to reassure people that a conversation would happen before a post was lost. “It’s about simplifying the process once you have consensus and consent about the shape of the team.”

Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford) expressed concern that the decision whether to remove a post might be influenced by whether it had a house attached to it. “I am not suggesting there is a raft of bishops looking to get hold of our houses,” he said, but the amendment would act as a “safety valve” and might “decrease levels of potential suspicion”.

The Archdeacon of Gloucester, the Ven. Jackie Searle (Gloucester), resisted the amendment, “because we are seeking to become lighter more flexible organisation”.

Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) emphasied that team vicars’ houses “do not belong to clergy as a right but to the diocese as a whole, and if we do have to sell to redeploy the clergy or serve the diocese better. that is a good thing. We do not have rights to our houses. They should be where people need them to be.”

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) said that there were “consequences that have not yet been explored”. He feared that the change “cuts out the capability to add to ministry flexibility”.

Andrew Gray (Norwich) was reminded of A. N. Wilson’s description of “Whipplepool’s Britain” referring to a man who thought “rationalisation and simplification and modernisation went hand in hand”. This was typified by Dr Beeching, Mr Gray said. “The gutting of railways and cities happened because power went unchecked.”

While he felt that “no one has a Machiavellian scheme to start culling clergy,” he was wary of a “subtext that legislation is some worthless ephemera for a bygone era, getting in the way of agile organisation. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

He argued: “We have legislation for a very good reason. It is there to fall back on when we need it, and to ensure due legal process, which must involve checks and balances.” Although no current bishops had a plan to “cull clergy”, he warned that “it only takes one to do so.” He could give “several examples of where the C of E has acted very badly, without due checks and balances”, including “plans to cull clergy” in the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, under the previous Bishop. In Thetford, a church building had been sold for £1 to a builder who then sold it, stripped, which “did not go down to well with local people”.

A situation where a team clergy post could be removed without checks and balances was “open to abuse” and “gives the impression the Church is trying to centralise power without checks and balances. Far from removing suspicion, it ends up increasing it.” He had sensed “lots of anger and suspicion” during the questions about Bishop Bell, owing to the “sense there has been no transparency”.

The Revd Eleanor Robertshaw (Sheffeld) opposed the amendment. Leaving a long-vacant post in existence created an expectation among parishioners which would not be fulfilled.

The Bishop for the Forces, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, addressing Mr Gray’s point, emphasised that there had been no plan to “cull without due process” in St Edmundsbury & Ipswich when he had been the Bishop. “Perhaps facts could be checked.”

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, argued that the clause allowed for flexibility, including an increase. “Money will always restrain the sum of our ministry. We have cut to the bone and have reached the stage at which we are trying to revise how we do ministry. Let’s be more realistic.”

Given declining numbers addressed by Renewal and Reform and the lack of money, “why worry about a clause like this?” The Acts of the Apostles showed that they “experimented. . . A Church on the move: not even the gates of hell can prevail against it.” Jesus had come not to start a new religion of the Church of England, but to bring life.

“We should be people of the Spirit. . . The Holy Spirit is the one who makes the body live, and the law can stand and help and guide us; but if you put your trust in the law, it is as if Jesus never died and rose again.” He resisted the idea that “the better the law, the better the behaviour.” He asked: “Could we get a little bit of Jesus in all of this?”

Caroline Herbert (Norwich) spoke as a member of a mission and pastoral committee in her diocese. There was, she said, a duty on bishops to consult these committees.

Dr Sam Robinson (Exeter) supported the amendment and spoke of the relationship with “elites” exposed by the EU referendum result. “There is a tendency, if the amendment is not carried, for the most important people of our churches — not the members of General Synod, or bishops, but the people who sit in the pews — and of their concerns not taken into consideration.”

The old saying of “hasten slowly” was “still very relevant in this day and age. . . Otherwise you go off the cliff face.”

The Revd Sally Gaze (Norwich) agreed with the need to be able to make changes but was “getting the impression that there are not sufficient checks and balances by merely having a Bishop’s Pastoral Order”.

The Benfield amendment was lost by 190 to 140, with 11 recorded abstentions.

Mr Scowen moved his amendment. Clause 7 gave bishops extensive new powers, he said, and it was currently left to them to decide whom they should consult, other than the mission and pastoral committee. He, instead, was proposing that bishops be required to consult anyone who was directly affected by the order. “Surely, the least we can do in removing that burden is to ensure that everybody who is going to be affected gets an opportunity to have their say and to make known to the bishop what their view is,” he said.

Bishop Broadbent said that this debate was in fact a proxy debate about trust and whether “our Church works well.” While he believed that Mr Scowen was trying to be helpful with his amendment, he would resist it, as there was already a general legal obligation for bishops to act reasonably, which sufficed to ensure that they consult all relevant people.

The amendment lapsed for lack of support.

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