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Absent children will be a focus at next month’s General Synod

24 January 2020

istock: posed by a model

THE Church of England’s struggle to reach children and people living in the country’s most deprived areas will be among the topics discussed by the General Synod in Westminster next month.

Background papers published in advance of the sessions — which will start at 2.30 on Monday 10 February and finish at 1 p.m. on Thursday 14 February — contain a series of challenging statistics, against a backdrop of continuing numerical decline. Individual church returns suggest that 38 per cent have no children (aged 0 to 16), and that two-thirds (68 per cent) have five or fewer.

Decline in this age group is much faster than among older churchgoers: the number of under-16s reported in figures for Average Sunday Attendance has decreased by 20 per cent over the past five years, compared with a 12-per-cent decline in adult attendance. Young people are also concentrated in a few churches: 44 per cent of all of 0-to-16-year-olds are to be found in 6.4 per cent of churches and parishes.

A detailed statistical report has been prepared by the Church’s evangelism and discipleship team, in partnership with statistics staff. A background paper states that this is “not an issue that can be quickly fixed, and will need the Church to keep this vision for growth in numbers of young people for many years”.

Synod members will vote on a motion encouraging dioceses to “explore new ways to grow new church communities with young people as a primary missional focus”.

A motion from the diocese of Leeds calls on the Archbishops’ Council to commission a study that explores “the reasons why, in contrast to Jesus, the Church of England is generally less effective in communicating with, and attracting people from, more disadvantaged communities; and ways of addressing and reversing this situation” (Leader comment, 24 January).

A background note reports that 0.7 per cent of people on estates attend church compared with an average of 1.7 per cent nationally. The decline in attendance is nearly four times faster on the estates than the rest of the country. There is a “serious threat to the future of the C of E’s presence in many large and poor urban and rural areas,” the note warns.

Several private member’s motions will be heard. The Rector of St Peter’s, Southwark, the Revd Andrew Moughtin-Mumby, will bring one that draws attention to the experiences of the Windrush generation (Features, 22 June 2018), asking the Synod to “lament, on behalf of Christ’s Church, the conscious and unconscious racism experienced by countless Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) Anglicans in 1948 and subsequent years, when seeking to find a spiritual home in their local Church of England parish churches, the memory of which is still painful to committed Anglicans who, in spite of this racism from clergy and others, have remained faithful to the Church of England and their Anglican heritage”.

It will seek to commit the Synod to “resolve to continue, with great effort and urgency, to stamp out all forms of conscious or unconscious racism, and to commit the Church of England to increase the participation and representation of lay and ordained BAME Anglicans throughout church life.”

Addressing journalists at a press briefing on Friday, Mr Moughtin-Mumby said that he had become “more and more angry that we don’t hear from our Church standing in solidarity with victims of racism”. His background paper includes the story of Doreen Browne, a member of his congregation, whose mother was barred from even entering the church after arriving from Barbados.

The under-representation of BAME people in lay and ordained leadership must be named as institutional racism, he said. “We have not managed to create a place where everybody can flourish.”

Mr Carl Fender, a barrister from Lincoln diocese, will move a motion calling on the Government to “explore ways of alleviating” the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups (News, 7 March 2012).

His paper states: “There is now a significant body of very respectable opinion which believes that the legal-aid system brought into force in 2013 no longer provides access to justice for significant numbers of people within our communities”.

An accompanying report from the secretary-general, William Nye, cautions that, “the reports cited in the motion do not reflect the latest data or reforms, or the ongoing review into LASPO. As such their findings and recommendations ought to be treated with some caution as the basis for engagement on this issue.”

Another private member’s motion comes from Sam Margrave (Coventry). It calls upon the Archbishops’ Council to establish a task force to “tackle the issues relating to and, where possible, end ‘pauper funerals’”, and to work with others to find ways to “deliver a more compassionate send off for the departed and to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of those left behind”.

A paper from Mr Margrave calls on the Church to consider the plight of those suffering from “funeral poverty”, including “those who wrongly — due to fear, shame or anxiety — avoid a public-health funeral but instead take out a loan they cannot afford”. It refers to an ITV poll suggesting that there was a 70-per-cent increase in the number of paupers’ funerals between 2015 and 2018.

Two pieces of legislation — the Cathedrals Measure (Synod, 12 July 2019) and the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure (Synod, 12 July 2019) — have reached revision stage. The Synod will also debate the Channel Islands Measure, which provides for the transfer of the Channel Islands from the diocese of Winchester to the diocese of Salisbury.

The transfer was recommended by a Commission last year (News, 11 October 2019), established by the Archbishop of Canterbury in June 2018, after the centuries-old connection between the Channel Islands and the see of Winchester broke down over the handling of a safeguarding complaint, in 2008, by the then Dean of Jersey, the Very Revd Bob Key.

Synod members will receive another update on the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project (News, 12 July 2019). A final draft of a LLF book is expected to be approved by the House of Bishops in March. A report from the “enabling officer”, Dr Eeva John, says that the Bishops have been “discovering what binds them together as well as learning more deeply about what lies underneath their disagreements”.

An online library will also be launched, with papers providing “in-depth insights into identity, sexuality, and marriage from different theological perspectives, as well as from the perspectives of different disciplines”.

Synod members will be asked to endorse the response of the Archbishops’ Council to the recommendations of the investigation report produced by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) last year (News, 10 May 2019)

The motion presents an important set of recommendations not previously considered by the Synod, and seeks its endorsement of the Archbishops’ Council’s response. The recommendations include a requirement that all individuals must complete a DBS check and compulsory safeguarding training, or be banned from holding voluntary offices within the Church.

A press release about the Synod sessions focused on a motion, to be moved by the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, which calls upon the Church to “work to achieve year-on-year reductions in emissions to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 at the latest”. The deadline is in line with that set by the Climate Coalition, whose members include Christian Aid and Tearfund. The Extinction Rebellion target of 2025 is described as a pace that “does not appear practically possible”.

The previous target was to reduce CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. A background paper observes: “The Church has not moved at the pace many would wish on this issue,” and that “we need to move faster.” Among the expected changes are a move away from gas and oil to electric heating powered by green electricity, and “focusing more on heating people rather than heating spaces”.

Bishop Holtam told a meeting of the press on Friday: “Some dioceses would like us to go faster. . . [But] we’ve got to travel together as a Church, and set realistic targets that will be achievable.”

On Friday, Christian Aid suggested that the Church should go further. Its director of policy and public affairs, Patrick Watt, said that it was “a good time to announce the Church will commit not just its buildings, but its entire operation, including investments and landholdings, will go net zero, with a focus on avoiding emissions, by at least 2045.”

Synod papers also note that the Implementation and Dialogue Group of the House of Bishops, set up to explore the practical outworking of the settlement that accompanied the Women Bishops Measure (News, 9 February 2018), would “like to engage further with General Synod on what has been done to educate and inform the clergy and laity on the House of Bishops Declaration and the Five Guiding Principles before finalising their report.”

The Group will host a fringe meeting.

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