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November General Synod to meet for urgent ‘time-critical’ business

13 November 2020

Pat Ashworth surveys the agenda and lessons learnt online in July

The Secretary-General of the General Synod, William Nye, responds to a question during an informal meeting of the Synod, held via Zoom, in July

The Secretary-General of the General Synod, William Nye, responds to a question during an informal meeting of the Synod, held via Zoom, in July

THE General Synod has only the most urgent and time-critical business on the agenda for 23-25 November, to keep the meeting to a manageable level. There will be no diocesan or private members’ motions, and no sessions will exceed two hours.

Feedback on the July meeting, the first to be held via Zoom, highlighted some discomfort with the process in a perceived dominance of speaking time by certain members, the pace of chairing, and the need for more screen breaks. But the medium found favour with representatives of Deaf Anglicans Together, who appreciated the subtitled videos and the ease of being able to follow the live proceedings with the BSL interpreter (Sketch,17 July).

The Archbishops’ joint presidential address on the Monday afternoon will include “a celebration of the role of churches in building mental and spiritual resilience to face the crisis”, and an affirmation of “the role of worship and the sacraments as the source of Christian service and discipleship”. It will include a reference to the newly published Living in Love and Faith report, and an opportunity for questions. Thirty minutes’ discussion follows in break-out groups.

The most urgent business is deemed to be the hour’s debate on the response to Covid-19, when members will be invited to debate a motion calling on the Government “immediately to review the decision to curtail public worship during lockdown”. Question Time (90 minutes) will conclude the day’s business.

The Tuesday will be a full day. The Synod will have the first opportunity to respond to — although not formally approve — the Vision and Strategy process, which will set out strategic priorities for the next ten years (News, 29 May, 17 July). This will be led by the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, and the Director of Evangelism and Discipleship, Canon Dave Male.

”For any institution undertaking a process of examining what is important to it, and acknowledging what needs to change, is rarely an easy process,” they say. “For the Church of England, as a complex and multifaceted institution, it was clear that we needed an interactive and consultative methodology rather than the usual committee structure.”

The process will have “a co-ordinated and joined-up approach”, and the work “will be unveiled not in lengthy papers but in a diagram”. Mindful of the need to honour initiatives and commitments already made, they suggest that achieving something that can be owned by the whole Church is a “tall order”.

“We were determined that the Vision and Strategy process recalled us to the heart of our Christian vocation as followers of Jesus Christ; understood both the history and complexity of our Church; and would help energise, shape and inspire the Church in every place, be it diocese, parish, church plant, school or chaplaincy. . .

“We have set about our work prayerfully and collaboratively, involving hundreds of people, representing many parts of the Church of England. There has been a particular emphasis on younger and more diverse voices, the very people who are often not included in this sort of process.”

Also on the agenda for the Tuesday morning is the final drafting and final approval of the Cathedrals Measure, which makes provision for the governance, management, property, and financial affairs of cathedrals, and sets out the responsibilities and functions of all offices. It is a Measure that runs to more than 40 pages.

Two hours of Tuesday afternoon are given to the 2021 Archbishops’ Council Budget and apportionment. The Covid-19 context is acknowledged to have brought “significant financial stress to the church economy, highlighting pre-existing issues relating to the affordability of the Council as presently structured and funded”.

The Council has set a budget that includes savings of £524,000 from the operating budget. These are described as “tactical savings, including pay restraint, reduced travel and accommodation costs and some modest restructuring plans, rather than more fundamental changes which could risk cutting across the strategic direction anticipated from the Emerging Church work streams”. Vision and Strategy is part of that stream.

This budget set earlier in the year has been revised. It envisaged that the diocesan apportionment would be held at £33 million for the second year running. The Council subsequently agreed that the £524,000 savings should be used to reduce it to £32.5 million for 2021: a reduction in the total apportionment for each diocese of 1.6 per cent.

The Council notes that the reduction is possible owing to its planning to use £2 million of accumulated reserves in 2021, “and the willingness of other funding partners to maintain, and in some cases increase, their support of the Council’s work. The Council is grateful for the support all its funding partners for their continued support.

“It should be noted that we cannot continue drawing on reserves indefinitely and that other funding streams are put at risk by the impact of the Covid-19 crisis. This means the Transforming Effectiveness work stream must be progressed urgently and objectively and with potential painful thoroughness if we are to be able to present an affordable budget for 2022.”

The 2021 operating budget includes £1.7-million of work on Digital Church, noting the acceleration of both local and national activity since the pandemic began. “The National team has been working collaboratively across the national church institutions to deliver compelling Christian content,” the Council reports.

It reports a series of improvements and new resources on the website achurchnearyou.com to support churches and people exploring faith. As a result, it says, the site has received more than 44 million page-views so far. National weekly online services from all the traditions are reported to have been watched three million times, “with a good mix of ages and both regular churchgoers and those who would have never been before” (News, 16 October).

There has been a substantial increase in social-media engagement: 86 million views — a 92 per cent increase on 2019; and 4900 people have joined in training webinars — nearly five times the number in 2019. Work is reported to be “well under way” on the Church’s Advent and Christmas campaign, Comfort and Joy, and planning has started on Lent 2021 (News, 9 October).

First consideration is to be given on the Tuesday to the Measure amending the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016. Safeguarding is the focus on the Wednesday, the final day, with a two-hour presentation and debate in response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s (IICSA’s) Final Investigation Report on the Anglican Church (News, 9 October).

The wording of the motion, which mirrors the response of the House of Bishops in October, is: “This Synod fully accepts the IICSA report, sincerely apologises to victims and survivors for the harm done by the church and endorses and commits itself to urgently implementing the six recommendations as set out below.”

The Measure extends the current list of “relevant persons” with responsibility for safeguarding beyond the clergy, licensed laypersons, churchwardens, and PCCs, to diocesan bodies such as diocesan boards of education and finance, bodies carrying out mission initiatives, staff of the Archbishops’ Council with safeguarding responsibilities, and those with safeguarding responsibilities in dioceses, parishes, and mission initiatives. The Draft Cathedrals Measure will add cathedral chapters to this list.

The Synod is advised: “Our collective response to the report must include an apology for the wrong done and the harm suffered to all those who have experienced abuse and re-abuse through the Church. Any response also needs to be sensitive to and mindful of the views of the victims and survivors.

“As the report notes, senior leaders have demonstrated a determination to make necessary changes to keep children safe but, to be effective, this determination needs to be translated into action, including significant culture change.”

Final legislative business on the Wednesday includes final drafting and final approval of the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure and the bringing of regulations to set up a national ministry register. This is a consequence of the independent Peter Ball review, An Abuse of Faith, in 2017 (News, 30 June 2017), which recommended that there should be an up-to-date and publicly accessible record of clergy with permission to officiate (PTO).

The concerns highlighted in that report extended beyond PTO, and the register — the responsibility of the Archbishops’ Council — is intended to cover all forms of authorisation for ministry. The regulations include requirements to provide information within 24 hours where an authority to exercise ministry has been terminated, and also makes provision for cases of suspension.

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