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General Synod digest: Clerical credentials to be on one list

04 December 2020
youtube/church of england

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, introduces the debate on the National Ministry (Clergy) Regulations 2020 for the establishment of a national clergy register

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, introduces the debate on the National Ministry (Clergy) Regulations 2020 for the establishment of a...

ON WEDNESDAY afternoon, the General Synod considered, amended, and approved the National Ministry (Clergy) Regulations 2020 for the establishment of a national clergy register (News, 29 June 2018).

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, said that there had been a call for this for 400 years, without success. “Rugged independence” had added weight to the brakes over the years. The register would allow accurate, complete, and up-to-date information on all clergy who were authorised to minister, with public access through a search facility. Even basic research without such a register had been onerous: many had used back copies of the Church Times.

The new register would provide a single list of all clergy, including non-stipendiary (self-supporting) ministers, chaplains, and those with permission to officiate (PTO). It would be delivered through a new computerised system and linked to the website A Church Near You. The move was prompted by and was a practical outworking of the Gibb report on Peter Ball (News, 10 May 2019). It would have legal recognition.

Prebendary Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells) said that it had been hard to check clergy who had PTO before; so the register was good news. Networks had become increasingly important, and there had been no way of checking when, for example, families asked clergy from outside their parish to officiate at a funeral. “There is no way of checking legitimacy in the world of networks.” This could be a first step towards digitising “wads of paper”.

The Revd Barry Hill (Leicester) agreed that this was an excellent, “no-brainer” motion. Where there was a team or collaborative ministry, it had been hard to find out who took the lead, and he asked for that be taken into account.

Caroline Herbert (Norwich) welcomed this as part of a simpler Church. She asked how it would be published and promoted externally so that para-Church organisations and large conferences could check clergy in good standing.

The motion to consider the regulations was carried.

An amendment, moved by the Ven. Andrew Brown (Sodor & Man), to extend the register to the Isle of Man was carried.

A second amendment, moved by the Revd Christopher Smith (London), was debated. He proposed to make the archbishop of the relevant province responsible for registering bishops rather than the bishops’ registering each other.

The Revd Stephen Trott (Peterborough) was in favour of the principle, but for safeguarding purposes wanted assurance that the register would not be used as a short cut for checking with the diocese on a visiting minister.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), supported Fr Smith’s amendment. “We should never put in a register a suggestion that bishops could be policing themselves. . . We are looking for more collegiality and less deference among bishops.”

David Kemp (Canterbury) did not want one rule for bishops and another for everyone else. The culture of clericalism had figured in the safeguarding debate and must be resisted wherever it was found, he said. He noted that there were no front seats for bishops in this online Synod — why should there be, when Synod met face to face, he asked. He supported the amendment.

The Revd Mike Smith (Oxford) supported the amendment, which would mean that no bishops held their own personal file.

The amendment was carried.

Clive Scowen (London) moved a third amendment to name a default registrar in situations where no registration was possible due to a vacancy or other inability. This would bring clarity, he said.

The amendment was carried.

A fourth amendment, moved by the Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn), corrected the omission from the register of clerics who held office as freehold rather than under common tenure.

The amendment was carried.

A fifth amendment, moved by the Dean of Guernsey, the Very Revd Tim Barker (Southern Deans), to extend the register to the Channel Islands was carried.

Dr Michael Todd (Truro) asked why only the clergy were being registered. He considered the regulations a “phased introduction” to creating a national ministry register.

The Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford) was “a heavy user of Crockford”. More clergy were choosing not to have a public entry there, or a wish to be publicly known. He referred to the hate mail received by Jayne Ozanne, and suggested that registering all ministers, lay and ordained, was a formational issue.

Mary Durlacher (Chelmsford) asked how the register would be kept up to date.

Supporting the register, the Revd Tiffer Robinson (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that deception was hard to prove without valid orders.

John Wilson (Lichfield) suggested that bodies such as the Passport Agency could check against the register.


Click here for more reports from the November General Synod, held via Zoom last week

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