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General Synod: Measure returns for final drafting

12 July 2019

Madeleine Davies, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in York

THE Draft Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure returned to the Synod for final drafting, together with Draft Amending Canon No. 41.

The Archdeacon of Knowsley and Sefton, the Ven. Pete Spiers (Liverpool), said that the Steering Committee was proposing some special amendments, although he wouldn’t be addressing them at this point. He moved that the Synod take note of the report.

Christina Baron (Bath & Wells), who said that she was speaking on behalf of a Luddite tendency, commented: “Sometimes technology becomes obsolete.” If only electronic registers were made, in the future people might not be able to access them. She gave examples of technology that was now obsolete, including the BBC Microcomputer.

Archdeacon Spiers said that written records did not always comply either, and that there would be an option for parishes to keep records however they decided.

The Synod took note of the report.

Archdeacon Spiers moved the amendments to the Draft Measure. He said that Clause 6 referred to building proposals on cathedral grounds, which gave people recourse to challenge building on the remains of a relative. The Prolocutor of the Province of Canterbury had questioned whether the definition of “spouse” would include same-sex spouses as under civil law. He said that this could harm the Church in the future. There had been a conversation with Prebendary Simon Cawdell about this at the steering committee. The Synod would now be given the chance to vote on whether the definition of spouse in this case would include a same-sex partner.

Clive Scowen (London) opposed the amendment, not because he objected to the idea, he said, but because the language would go against the Church’s teaching. Saying that “spouse”, even if this context, could be same-sex would go against the Church’s teaching that marriage was between a man and a woman, and he was concerned that there would be implications for Canon 30.

He suggested that a separate category of relatives be added rather than change the definition of a spouse. He suggested that the House of Bishops come to the rescue, and insert a better form of words.

Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford) said that the joy of Synod debates was having to respond rapidly to disagreement. While he warmed to the idea that the House of Bishops could rescue it, he suggested that the amendment be put through in principle and then altered by the Bishops at a later date.

He did not think that this would imply a change to the marriage canon. The Disused Burial Grounds Act of 1885 was built on tolerance, because people of all faiths and none could be buried there, and these spaces could become public land. There was a danger of a “scandal that discredited the Church”, and that the Synod should pass these amendments without fear.

Debbie Buggs (London) said that the Synod had agreement on what it wanted to achieve in principle; and it did pose an issue for those with a conservative view of marriage. The Church could do better on this, she said, and the House of Bishops and the steering committee should come up with a better form of words.

Sir Tony Baldry (Oxford) argued that a Second Church Estates Commissioner might be forced to take questions in the House of Commons on why a particular person couldn’t put an objection in. The views of Parliament had changed vastly in the past 30 years, and would change even further in the next 15 years, and so this amendment should be carried.

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), said that a proper pastoral response was needed to pastoral need, and that consistency was needed. He would be voting against in the hope that the House of Bishops would be nudged in the right direction. The Synod needed to look closely at the details.

Sam Margrave (Oxford) said that voting against this could cause deep pain and hurt to people, and voting for it could give the wrong impression of church teaching. He urged that the motion be deferred.

The Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford) said that the Church had got itself into this situation because of the 2013 Act on same-sex marriage, which had been partly drafted by the Secretary-General at the time.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) apologised for getting the Synod into this mess. He said that he would be wary of asking the House of Bishops to look at this if there were unforeseen problems further down the road. He said that the “finest legal minds in Church House” had already decided that this amendment would have no impact on the Church’s marriage canon.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) responded to the idea that this issue be deferred, and moved and adjourned until Monday morning so that the wording could be looked at again.

Archdeacon Spiers resisted an adjournment, because, he said, nothing would change in the mean time. It was up to the House of Bishops to make an amendment tonight. “We can decide now; so let’s decide now.”

The procedural move was lost.

The special amendment was carried overwhelmingly.

Archdeacon Spiers then moved an amendment for a new clause related to the Church of England Pension Measure 2018, and which linked Section 11 and Section 10. He said that it had emerged out of conversations between the Pensions Board and the pensions regulator.

It was carried overwhelmingly.

The Draft Measure and Draft Amending Canon were commended to the House of Bishops.

When the business returned for final approval, Archdeacon Spiers introduced the debate. Clause 1 of the Draft Measure addressed religious communities, allowing the religious to be ordained and licensed to serve as deacons and priests. Clause 2 implemented the recommendation from Dame Moira Gibb’s review of the Peter Ball case by creating for the first time a single national register of every minister with permission to officiate. This register would include lay people with authority to exercise ministry, and a form of the list with personal contact information redacted will be published and accessible free of charge.

Other clauses addressed allowing clerics to officiate at funerals at the request of the deceased person, legal fees in the ecclesiastical courts, the Cathedrals Fabric Commission, appointing inspecting architects, and building on disused burial grounds. Also mentioned was the membership of diocesan advisory committees and the replacement of terms in the Synod’s constitution which are regarded as “outdated”, including the titles of Prolocutor and Pro-Prolocutor (which are to be replaced by Chair and Vice-Chair).

The Archdeacon of Totnes, the Ven. Douglas Dettmer (Exeter), said that he enthusiastically endorsed the Measure, but had concerns about the first section on the licensing of members of religious communities. It would, he said, be inappropriate for ordained members of religious communities to fall under the Common Tenure scheme, as they should be overseen not by the diocesan bishop, but by their superior in the community. “It would compromise the relative freedom of religious houses from the tentacles of diocesan structures,” he said. It would not be hard for the Archbishops’ Council to amend the terms-of-service regulations to prevent this unintended consequence.

Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford) also warmly commended the Measure and asked whether the register of ministers would be kept up to date enough that simply checking it would discharge the safeguarding duties of incumbents when they invited outside speakers to their parishes. Could photos of the individuals also be added to the list to prevent problems of impersonation?

Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham) said it had been many years since he first proposed a national register of ministers, and had been often told that it would be too expensive and difficult. The new list would mirror what had long existed for doctors, for instance, and give parishioners confidence. “It is essential for good governance,” provided it was updated rapidly from day to day.

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, emphasised the positive perspective the Measure now offered for religious communities, for both types of community. It allows them to be ordained, licensed, and deployed as a member of a religious community.

The Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker (Southern Suffragans), asked about the consequences of the national list to those from other Provinces, especially the Church in Wales.

Mr Lamming welcomed the provision for a national register of ministers. He asked what the timescale would be.

Responding, Archdeacon Spiers said that clergy from other Provinces had to have the permission of their Archbishop and the diocesan bishop before being added to the register.

The Measure was given final approval in a vote by Houses: Bishops 20 nem. con; Clergy 91 nem. con.; Laity 110 nem. con. with 1 recorded abstention.

The Synod then moved on to the final-approval stage of Amending Canon No. 41.

Archdeacon Spiers took the Synod through the clauses, which included an allowance for record books to be kept in electronic forms. There would also be gender neutral-terms.

The motion was carried in a vote by Houses: Bishops 22 nem. con.; Clergy 94 nem. con.; Laity 114-2., and the Synod voted to adopt the petition for Royal Assent.

Read full coverage of the General Synod here

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