General Synod: pattern of future meetings

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01 March 2019

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THE General Synod’s next meeting dates, from 2021 to 2023, were proposed by Canon Sue Booys (Oxford), chair of the Business Committee, which had, she said, been mindful of people who were occupied during the week, especially among the laity, and so proposed that the February sessions in 2021 and 2023 would run from Friday to Tuesday, over the weekend, as the July sessions in York always did.

“Not all of you have warmed to our suggestions,” she admitted, but encouraged the Synod to be “generous to those who might genuinely find it easier to be here if we do not prove too attached to our habits”.

Although every effort had been made to avoid clashing with the February half-term holidays, it was not possible for everyone and for so far ahead. “Synod, I invite you not to like these arrangements, but to pass them in the optimistic hope that . . . by offering some different possibilities we will offer the best encouragement to a new generation in our Church to stand for Synod with enthusiasm to lead us into the next 100 years.”

Canon David Banting (Chelmsford) spoke to cheer-lead for the contingency sessions marked out for November, but rarely used, to be implemented regularly. The Synod needed that extra time for listening more and deciding things better. “Synod used to meet three times a year but now the issues are so serious, complex, and emotional that we seem constantly to run out of time. It seems to me the two-times-a-year experiment is not working.”

He listed issues that, he felt, had not received enough time for discussion and “doing theology and doing Bible”.

Mark Russell (Sheffield) pleaded with the Synod to back the hard work put into proposing new dates. Current arrangements suited those who were retired or from professional backgrounds, but those from more working-class parts of the country could not take seven days of annual leave each year for the Synod. “If we want their voices heard, we need to change how we meet and when we meet,” he said. “We need people who are younger and from different backgrounds. We need to hear their voices.”

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) endorsed Canon Banting’s request for November meetings, and then also spoke to his two amendments, to restore the proposed weekend sittings in 2021 and 2023 to more traditional Monday-to-Friday dates. It would be impossible to find a solution with which everyone was happy, but having the Synod meet twice on a Sunday “seems to make no sense at all”, as many members would have obligations elsewhere. As a father with a young family, he would also not appreciate having to give up another weekend. Lay people in employment were being asked to give up only four days of annual leave, which was not onerous, he suggested.

Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford) then spoke to his amendment to extend the February dates to be reserved for 2023, including Monday and Tuesday of the following week. The Synod should avoid the risk of taking “unnecessary decisions too soon”: his proposal would allow the new Synod to be elected in 2020 to decide for itself how to conduct its February meetings.

Mr Lamming moved his first amendment on 2021, which Canon Booys resisted.

Emma Forward (Exeter) supported the amendments. In full-time secular employment, she found half-terms preferable to weekends. It could not be assumed all lay people would prefer weekend meetings; but, in reality, it was only an additional two Saturdays per quinquennium, which was not going to make a significant difference, she suggested.

Zahida Mallard (Leeds), speaking as a lay, BAME woman from the north, supported the amendments: “I’m one of those marginalised people Mark may have mentioned, [but] Saturdays are important to me. They are my only day off.”

The Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford) also argued against meeting on more weekends. Ordinary parish priests found it hard to find cover for Sundays, so more weekend meetings would mean that the House of Clergy became dominated by diocesan staff who did not have Sunday-service responsibilities.

Lucy Gorman (York) viewed weekend meetings as less important in encouraging a younger membership than advertising diocesan bursaries for lost earnings. She did not want to use her annual leave for the Synod, and so took unpaid leave for which the diocese reimbursed her.

Mr Lamming’s first amendment was lost by 186 to 129, with 23 recorded abstentions; and his second amendment, concerning 2023, fell.

Prebendary Cawdell’s amendment was accepted by Canon Booys as giving the Synod an opportunity to experience a York-style weekend group of sessions in London.

Prebendary Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells) said that a “battle for the soul of the Synod” was under way. Those who would not be around after 2020 were trying to say what the Synod should be like for those would be elected. “The dating thing doesn’t matter terribly, but [the Synod] has to decide if it wants to be a big body of old people who sit and talk for ever, or a younger and slimmer body.”

Clive Scowen (London), a member of the Business Committee, said that it wanted to impose weekend sittings for every February session, but had instead sought to find a compromise “in a very Anglican way which might tempt a few more younger, working and marginalised people to stand”. Prebendary Cawdell’s amendment would not give any assurance to potential candidates for the Synod when standing in 2020, and should be resisted, he said.

His amendment was carried by 177 to 130, with 30 recorded abstentions.

Diane Kutar (Chichester) said the demographics of the chamber needed to change, but dates were not the way to achieve this; and she received a prolonged round of applause. “In my experience, the younger people in my parish will give their time and effort and sometimes their money to things that actually make a difference and seem to change things.”

No set of dates would suit the more than 600 people involved in the Synod; so, if it wanted to attract new members, it needed to “demonstrate we are in this business to make a difference, not waste the last 30 minutes talking about dates”. This comment won even more sustained applause.

The Archdeacon of Southwark, the Ven. Jane Steen (Southwark), drew the Synod’s attention to a member of the Southwark delegation who had brought her three daughters to the public gallery.

The Revd Jennifer Gillies (Chester) said that changing dates would not change the demographics. Her two daughters in their twenties would never be able to join, because their work and studies meant that they were constantly moving from place to place and, therefore, never eligible for membership of a PCC or deanery or diocesan synod. “We actually need to go elsewhere and spend some serious time looking at how we get young people here and the process that leads up to it,” she said.

Canon Booys apologised for taking up so much time on this, but said that it was vital to consider how to encourage a younger cohort to get involved in the Synod.

The motion as amended was clearly carried. It read:
 

That this Synod meet on the following dates in 2021-2023:

2021 26 February-2 March, 9 July-13 July, 15 November-17 November;
2022 7 February-11 February, 8 July-12 July, 14 November-16 November; 2023 Monday 6 February to Tuesday 14 February, 7 July-11 July, 13 November-15 November.

 

Future debates.

THE chair of the Business Committee, Canon Sue Booys (Oxford), introduced the focus of this group of sessions on “the future” — in particular, debates on mission and evangelism. “If you’re as old as I am, you will recall the Decade of Evangelism,” she said. “So I have mixed feelings when someone describes this as a synod of evangelism. My prayer is that is not a talking-shop, but a springboard for mission and evangelism, wherever God has placed you.”

Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) said that many of the dozens of questions due to be asked later in the sessions about the transgender pastoral guidance were inaccurate and struck the wrong tone. “There is much fake news reported as fact. Many should have been ruled out of order, in their ability to cause hurt and harm to the trans community, or inaccuracy, or blatant transphobia and homophobia.” She asked whether the Business Committee would assess the “appropriateness of the tone of Synod questions” in future and ensure that they kept to the Synod’s code of conduct.

Canon Simon Taylor (Derby) asked if safeguarding could be a standing agenda item for the Synod, as it was for most PCCs and cathedral chapters. Good as the outward-facing debates on evangelism were, they “threaten to be undermined by the way we as a church approach safeguarding”, he said.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) noted that there were 120 questions to be asked and only 75 minutes to ask them in, and pleaded for Standing Orders to allow questions to be asked between groups of sessions. He also endorsed Dr Taylor’s call for safeguarding to be a standing item on every agenda.

The Prolocutor of the Convocation of Canterbury, Canon Simon Butler (Southwark), said that ever fewer members of Synod were engaging in legislative business, including serving on legislative committees. “It’s the one contribution only this Synod can make.” He encouraged the Business Committee to think “imaginatively” about how members could get more involved in “this vital work”.

Jane Patterson (Sheffield) asked why the “league tables” produced of speakers and contributors to last July’s group of sessions had not include the movers of amendments.

Canon Booys told Ms Ozanne that they had no means of assessing “appropriateness”, and it was unfair to ask the Synod’s lawyers to do that for them. She would examine the issue further. While she could see the value of a standing agenda item on safeguarding, she said, it could cause problems, too. The committee always responded to requests for putting safeguarding on the agenda anyway.

The Synod took note of the Business Committee’s report.

 

Questions.

MORE questions had been received at this group of sessions than at any in the past 15 years, the Synod was told.

Among them, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, was asked, as the Chair of the Liturgical Commission, whether the national Church intended to produce any liturgies or other resources to mark the UK’s exit from the EU. He replied that there were no such plans, as Common Worship contained texts that could easily be adapted for special circumstances, in particular the theme of unity in Common Worship: Times and Seasons. The political process was too fast-moving, in any case, to produce liturgical resources, and they could easily be seen as either partisan or bland. Instead, he said, the Church trusted its Archbishops to speak well in response to momentous national events, as they indeed did.


Click here to read about other General Synod debates and motions

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