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General Synod digest: Clergy well-being covenant affirmed as an Act of Synod

21 February 2020

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


A MOTION to formally affirm and proclaim the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing as an Act of Synod was carried by a simple majority of the General Synod on Monday.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) said that Acts of Synod were rare beasts: there had been only one in 1993, con­cerning episcopal ministry. He did not want clergy well-being, essential to safeguarding, to be “lost in the jungle”, but, rather, embedded in church life. “An Act is the perfect vehicle.” He hoped that every chap­laincy, church, and synod could use, promote, and debate the resources.

Answering a query from the Dean of Chelmsford, the Very Revd Nich­olas Henshall, Canon Butler ex­­plained that the Act was a simple statement of commitment to one another “that our clergy are better equipped and trained to care for themselves, congregations and par­ishes are more aware of the pres­sures of clergy and what they can do to help, and that dioceses provide the right questions and provide the right resources”.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (London), ex­­pressed concern about church of­­ficers and employees, given the amount of legal cases at employment tribunals. “We need to say that we probably can’t get it all right straight away.” He was not sure that an Act based on the Armed Forces covenant was fit for purpose, but said that it had come so far that the Synod should try to make it work, anyway.

The Revd Lisa Battye (Man­chester), a member of the working group, asked for a complete review of, not a “tinkering” with, the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM). The Measure had caused a great deal of suffering to clergy, she said.

Research suggested that occupa­tional stress was reduced with clar­ity, including about expectations and feedback, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said. It was therefore unsurprising that clergy suf­­­­fered, given the lack of boun­daries and line management, and the variety of posts. While she supported the covenant, she wondered whether it was time to review common ten­ure entirely.

April Alexander (Southwark) said that she had observed at first-hand the bullying of a new incumbent. As a churchwarden, she herself had suf­fered low-level to very serious bully­ing by the same people. A couple had suggested that Ms Alexander had attempted to introduce their child to a known paedophile at a church event. “That it was nonsense was easily and quickly established, but the allega­tions against me are proving difficult to recover from.” Clergy well-being would be achieved only if lay people could also be dis­ciplined.

Elizabeth Paver (Sheffield) was pleased that clergy households were being recognised. She spoke of a widow who had felt “cast aside” after her husband died in office.

The Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) welcomed the Act, but asked the Synod not to “rush forward” without considering the Sheldon report. An attempt to postpone a final vote was defeated by a simple majority.

The motion was then carried.

The Archbishop ratified and con­firmed the Act for the Province of Canter­bury, read out to the General Synod by a legal officer. It will now be sent to dio­­cesan synods.

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