Synod to debate state of the nation

30 June 2017

SAM ATKINS

Discussion: the Archbishop of Canterbury at the General Synod in York, last year

Discussion: the Archbishop of Canterbury at the General Synod in York, last year

A DEBATE on the state of the nation has been added to the General Synod’s agenda for next month by the Archbishops, using their presidential powers, in the wake of the General Election.

The item is entitled “After the General Election, a still small voice of calm”, and will be taken near the beginning of the group of sessions after the debate on the agenda, at the University of York next Friday. The motion states that this month’s election (News, 16 June), which led to a hung Parliament, has “left many questions unanswered about the shape and priorities of our government at a critical time in the nation’s history”.

Its concerns are echoed in an article for the Mail on Sunday by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who writes that a hung Parliament produces “an understandable temptation for every difference to become a vote of confidence”.

The motion echoes pastoral letters issued by the House of Bishops during recent General Elections. It commits the Synod to praying for parliamentarians, “that they will prioritise the common good of all people in everything they do, especially in negotiations between parties to secure support for a legislative programme”. It also calls on “Christians everywhere” to “maintain pressure on politicians of all parties to put the cohesion of the nation and its communities at the heart of their programmes”.

It commits the Synod to praying for “courage”, both for political leaders, “as they face the constraints and opportunities of uncertainty and weakness”, and for the people “as they too face unprecedented questions about the future”.

It commends the work of churches “serving the poor and vulnerable, at home and worldwide, as an example of the priorities which we hope to see in the programmes of government”, and commits the Church of England “to maintaining strong and generous international relations, through our dioceses, the Anglican Communion and ecumenical links, as relationships within the United Kingdom, across Europe and worldwide face new tensions and challenges”.

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It celebrates “the increased turnout and call upon all parties to build on this by addressing the causes of voter apathy and non-participation”.

At a press briefing last week, the Synod’s secretary general, William Nye, said that the debate would be “an opportunity to reflect on what the Church can offer into this period of uncertainty”. He referred to North Kensington — the site of the Grenfell Tower — and London and Manchester, both the scenes of recent deadly attacks (News, 23 June, 9 June, 2 June).

Having debated the report of the Audit Committee and had a presentation on the Church Commissioners’ annual report, followed by Questions, on Friday, the next morning the Synod will receive a presentation from the House of Bishops setting out proposals for two new strands of work on sexuality: a pastoral advisory group and a teaching document. There will be a time for questions about this.

This will be followed by a report on the Presence and Engagement programme, with a following motion from the Mission and Public Affairs Council commending and supporting its work in parishes with a significant presence of other faith communities. The Synod will then take legislation business.

On Saturday afternoon, there will be a presentation and then workshops on “forms of national support for local churches”, including the Thy Kingdom Come prayer initiative, digital evangelism, and “inclusion and outreach to the marginalised”.

The first of several private member’s motions is likely to be taken next: Jayne Ozanne’s on conversion therapy. This calls on the Archbishops’ Council to sign a statement, already signed by various professional bodies, which rejects forms of therapy intended to change or suppress sexual orientation.

On Sunday morning, the General Synod will attend the sung eucharist in York Minster. In the afternoon, it will take a motion from the diocese of Blackburn on welcoming transgender people and asking the Bishops to consider commending liturgical materials to mark gender transition.

It will then go on to receive a presentation about the interim report on the review of the Crown Nominations Commission, with an opportunity for questions.

Next on the agenda is a report from the House of Clergy. The Synod will be asked to welcome and support a proposal to establish a Covenant for Clergy Wellbeing, and set up a working group. It is then expected that the Synod will take the Revd Tiffer Robinson’s private member’s motion on the schools admission code, which concerns places for the children of clergy and church workers who are obliged to live in tied accommodation.

On Monday morning, the Synod will take a Birmingham diocesan-synod motion on the cost of applying for citizenship, followed by a report on the work of the elections review group, which has been considering whether deanery synods are the right electorate for the Synod’s House of Laity. The Synod will then continue with legislative business. In the afternoon, it will receive a presentation on the annual report of the Archbishops’ Council, and be asked to approve the budget and apportionment; and then may take any remaining legislative before farewells and prorogation.

Among the legislation under consideration is further work on simplification, a strand of the Renewal and Reform programme, including amendments to the Legislative Reform Measure. The Business Committee’s report reveals that the Archbishops’ Council has requested that it be “more radical” in its ongoing work on “Changing the Culture of General Synod”. A draft Code of Conduct, to be discussed at a fringe meeting, includes the advice: “If you wouldn’t say it to their face, please do not say it on social media.”

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