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General Synod digest: Channel Islands transfer approved

21 February 2020

Madeleine Davies, Hattie Williams, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in London


Lord Chartres chaired the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on the Relationship of the Channel Islands to the Wider Church of England

Lord Chartres chaired the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on the Relationship of the Channel Islands to the Wider Church of England

THE Draft Channel Islands Measure, expedited through the General Synod in one group of sessions, was given final approval on Thursday of last week.

Presenting his report on the future relationship of the Church of England and the Channel Islands, the former Bishop of London, Lord Chartres, spoke of the deep, historical, and structured relationship between the Channel Islands and the C of E, and of the distinctive legal and cultural traditions of the Islands. This would also end the “Espicopal limbo” of the past six years, he said.

He was grateful for the pastoral care of the former Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, but said that ad-hoc preparations needed to be filled in. “Now is the time to grasp the metal.”

Progress had already been made with most issues, he said, and there was a “readiness” to learn lessons, including respecting the role of the diocesan bishop and recognising the pastoral context within the deaneries and their legislative autonomy.

Lord Chartres pointed to the recommendations in the report including safeguarding clergy discipline in the Island deaneries. There were also discussions “at an advanced stage” to produce a memorandum of understanding in an “unambiguous way” about the relationship between the Islands and the C of E, Dean, and Bishop. He concluded: “It is necessary to make this modest but significant step, so that we can all benefit from a renewed partnership in the gospel.”

Draft Channel Islands Measure. Moving his motion for the first time, the Bishop to the Armed Forces and Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, who is chair of the steering committee of the draft measure, asked the Synod to raise their hands if they had ever lived in the Channel Islands: few did so. The measure was brief and focused, he said. It asked that two island deaneries be attached to the diocese of Salisbury, and to simplify this process.

“I am pleased to state and confirm that this measure comes with the full support of the deaneries, Salisbury diocesan synod, and Archbishops’ Council.” He continued: “I do not believe that now is the time to look back: I encourage us to embrace the future of the Church’s relationship with the Island.”

He urged the Synod not to prolong the proposal. “The painful and complicated events of 2016 have overshadowed the work of the Church in the Islands. . . It is time to enable all to move on and allow for long-term arrangements, so that decisions could be made for the future of mission on the Islands.” Legislation on women bishops, safeguarding, and discipline would be considered by the deaneries. He commended the measure: “This is the best and fastest way forward.”

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, was touched that Bishop Thornton had sat with him to discuss this measure. “This is not a case of choosing your own Bishop. It is about how you belong to the C of E, the body of Christ. We have begun to rebuild that relationship.”

He had visited the Islands on the feast of the Epiphany. There were informal relationships, he said, and everyone he met “spoke with thanksgiving” of the historical relationship with Winchester and were grateful for the transitional arrangement with Canterbury; but it was clear that there was no going back. In 1818, a visit for confirmation was undertaken by the Bishop of Salisbury who confirmed more than 4000 people. The parents were so moved that they, too, were confirmed. “I very much look forward to our visit,” he joked. The measure was about how the Islands were part of the C of E. He strongly supported and welcomed the proposal.

Opposing the motion, Preb. Simon Cawdell (Hereford), talked about the “creeping monster” of the responsibilities that come with the office of bishop. The measure “abandoned key principles of theology and faith” and represented “bad ecclesiology and theology”, he said. “It is bad because of the genesis of the dispute. This is not a good place from which to create a measure.” The report suggested that there were people who sought reconciliation. To pass those deaneries on to another diocese without resolution would mean that this might happen again if future disputes arose. “If the Welsh parishes fall out, do we hand them out to another diocese?” The measure was also administratively difficult, he suggested. “There must be a better way.”

Speaking on behalf of Winchester diocese, the Ven. Peter Rouch (Winchester), urged the Synod to support the measure. Many Synod members would have lived with broken relationships of various forms, he said. Reconciliation was the work of Christ. “There is prayer, there is conversation, but there are also important structural steps that reposition people and places so that encounters that were difficult in the past may be re-encountered.” This is what the measure offered, he said.

In his maiden speech, Ian Le Marquand (Winchester, Channel Islands), a former judge in Jersey, thanked past bishops in the diocese of Winchester for their support, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the former Bishop of Dover for helping the Islands through the transitions. “We are looking forward in confidence with a new relationship in fellowship with the C of E,” he said. “But, to understand Jersey, you must understand that we are not part of the UK, we have our own institutions, secular laws, and canon law.” The Islands had never been part of an English diocese, he said, but he supported the measure.

Opposing the measure, Clive Scowen (London) agreed with Mr Cawdell. “We should not institutionalise division and individual breakdown, which this measure does.” There should be no limit to the reconciliation of God.

Alison Coulter (Winchester), lay chair of Winchester diocesan Synod, expressed regret at not being able to reconcile the situation, but said that now was the time to move on. She agreed that there was no way back. “We need to be pragmatic for the sake of mission.”

Anne Foreman (Exeter), a former member of the business committee that fast-tracked the measure, supported the “high hopes” and “fresh start” expressed in the debate, but urged the Synod to pay attention to what Mr Scowen and Mr Cawdell had said. A huge amount of work had gone into trying to effect reconciliation. “How does it appear to the person in the pew?” she asked. It appeared that it was necessary because reconciliation had not been possible. “It is another example of the Church protecting its senior leaders and the institution,” she said. But it did have the support of the people affected by it, so she would be supporting the motion.

Archbishop Welby thanked everyone who had been involved in the commission and the measure for their hard work. “Reconciliation is very seldom seen as institutional, it is relational,” he said. It was necessary to find new ways of relating in order to reconcile relationships, he said. “This is a case of grace over law.” The measure was a sign of reconciliation, not an impossibility of reconciliation.

The Dean of Guernsey, the Ven. Tim Barker, quoted from a letter from the Channel Island Deans in 2018 to the Archbishop pf Canterbury that looked forward to finding a resolution that brought mutual flourishing between the C of E and the Channel Islands. “It is our belief that this measure is the best way of providing that flourishing and growth and be part of the life of the C of E.”

Bishop Thornton agreed that reconciliation was not a one-off event, but a process. It was not bad theology or giving in. It was about making changes to reach reconciliation.


The motion was carried by a simple majority and proceeded to the revision stage, below.


Bishop Thornton moved the motion a second time.

David Robilliard (Winchester, Channel Islands), said that he had been on the Synod since the last century, and began his membership contemplating the peculiarities of the Channel Islands. He said that there was urgency to pass this, so it could go through parliaments in Westminster and on the Channel Islands. “Deferring consideration would achieve nothing.” The ministry on the island would continue to be compromised, he said. He thanked the Bishop of Winchester for the way he had accepted the report.

Ed Shaw (Bristol) said that he has been exiled from Jersey as a child, the “independent island of Jersey”. He said that he had enjoyed the benefits of the interdependence of the islands and the Church of England, as well as their independence. He urged the Synod to vote for the motion.

Martin Kingston (Gloucester) said that this would be one of the most sustainable bishop visitations — as you could only get to Sark by boat, and travel around it by bike. He said that one might even see a bishop bathing. Mr Kingston said that it would be encouraging for the island of Sark if someone took care of them, and gave an episcopal visit.

David Kemp (Canterbury) said that he was speaking as chair of the Canterbury safeguarding panel, as safeguarding was one of the factors in the breakdown of the relationship. Mr Kemp said that the relationship between Canterbury and the Channel Islands had flourished through trust. He did not believe that safeguarding could not flourish if Winchester and the Channel Islands were forced to continue their relationship.

Responding, Bishop Thornton said that he could not speak with the same eloquence, but that he echoed all the sentiments.


The motion was carried.

On Thursday, Bishop Thornton introduced he final approval debate for the Channel Islands measure. He urged members to remember in their prayers the people and parishes of the Islands. “We are all indeed sinners, and from here I can see quite a few miserable sinners in front of me,” he said. “We go on the journey of reconciliation, this is not about forgetting or ignoring that.” The Synod had done something new in passing the legislation so quickly, which should give confidence for the future, he suggested.

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, declaring himself a “miserable sinner”, welcomed the new Measure. “I wish the Channel Islands to flourish with all my heart,” he said. He had been praying weekly for the Islands and the mission of their churches. But it had not been an easy process, he said, holding together need for truth, change and good relationships in the midst of a complex safeguarding case going back to 2008.

Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) reminded the Synod she was a “Guernsey girl” and wholeheartedly endorsed the Measure. She reiterated how different the Islands were to the mainland, especially in how they “do church”. “There is something which is modelled in small communities which are self-sufficient which we can learn from.” She suggested that some Islanders were still nursing hurt over how they had been “let down” by the English during the Second World War. She urged the Synod to allow them to move forward and get on with mission.

The Dean of Guernsey, the Very Revd Tim Barker, said that he hoped that the Synod would give final approval with a “substantial majority”. The shift to Salisbury diocese had been unanimously welcomed by the Islands’ deanery synods, he reported. It was important to manage the transition well and having this Measure in place would give “confidence” to the planning. He paid tribute to the “good friends” that he had made in east Kent during the interim period when the Islands were under the care of the diocese of Canterbury.

Bishop Holtam spoke again of of Bishop Dakin’s “graciousness” throughout the process, which he said had been “exemplary”. Changes to the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) and safeguarding meant that relationships between bishops and clergy were more important than ever. Reconciliation was still being addressed, he emphasised, even though the Islands were being moved to a new diocese. He said that the earlier debates in the Synod would inform how the transition process was enacted. He encouraged a vote in favour of the Measure.


The Measure was given final approval by a counted vote of Houses: House of Bishops: 26 in favour, none against, no abstentions; House of Clergy: 94 in favour, one against, and two abstentions; House of Laity: 117 votes in favour, two against, and one abstention.

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