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General Synod digest: We’re learning from crisis, says Archbishop of York

04 December 2020
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The Archbishop of York introduces a report from the Archbishops’ Council, Responses to Covid-19

The Archbishop of York introduces a report from the Archbishops’ Council, Responses to Covid-19

ON MONDAY afternoon, the General Synod debated a report from the Archbishops’ Council, Responses to Covid-19, and carried an amended motion to: care for the bereaved and suffering, including disabled people; thank the NHS; lobby to eradicate social inequalities; preserve the foreign aid budget; and support the part played by churches in maintaining mental and spiritual health.

Introducing the debate, the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, said that several lessons had been learned throughout the pandemic.

First, that “the NHS is deeply loved. We have also learned that it is the ideas behind the health service that are important and precious.” These ideas were not self-evidently true, he said, and were derived from the Christian faith.

youtube/church of englandApril Alexander (Southwark) moves her amendment

Second, the pandemic had revealed terrible inequalities. “The mortality rates from Covid-19, from the most deprived areas in the country, are more than double those in the least deprived. . . This is scandalous.” He therefore welcomed the forthcoming amendments, which spoke to this.

“Inequalities of wealth and opportunity, poor housing, poor nutrition, prejudice, xenophobia — they are a scourge and a disgrace,” he said. “The Church must point out these wrongs and provide a narrative of hope.” A more “joined-up” Government was needed in Westminster and within the UK to address this. The pandemic had also revealed, and was still revealing, a “spiritual and religious illiteracy” and “spiritual longing” that the Church needed to speak into.

Archbishop Cottrell said that parishes and churches had responded in incredible ways, including the creation of an online presence. “Whatever our future holds, we must continue to express our life in this digital landscape,” he urged. Theological perspective was needed on this, but, “these are nice problems to have. They are problems of growth.”

Third, he said, “We have rediscovered the vital link between worship, spirituality, pastoral care, and evangelism. These should never have been separated.” The Church had had to learn a new independence; in this second lockdown, Church leaders had had to “push back to the Government to demonstrate that we, too, are an essential service”; that worship was not an “optional add-on”, but “iron rations for the Christian journey and the service we offer”.

Moving his motion, he again thanked the NHS and key workers, including clergy; asked the Government how the pandemic and the restrictions had truly affected the minorities and disadvantaged; and celebrated the part that the Church had played in serving the nation, including questioning the decision to curtail worship.

“We are able to do what we do because we are people who know and worship God. . . The deeper ailments in society that Covid-19 has revealed need an injection of hope, and that, brothers and sisters, is our main department.”

The Revd Julian Hollywell (Derby) endorsed the report and motion. Lament was powerful at the moment, he said. The Church “must not lose sight” of the benefits that online worship had brought for disabled people, for whom barriers had been removed overnight. Covid-19 had been a levelling experience for the four city churches that he was responsible for. He urged the Church to recognise the potential for mission which Archbishop Cottrell had referred to.

Alison Coulter (Winchester) said that, while she missed her church community and regular worship, she was cautious that by making a “special case” to allow worship, the Church might be viewed as “not standing in solidarity with minorities and those who are shielding”, or not prioritising the protection of the vulnerable.

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), who is a member of the London Recovery Board for Covid-19, said that the voice of faith had been strong on mission in communities and disproportionalities. The Church had a massive contribution to make. This had been welcomed in London and elsewhere, he said. Faith leaders were now actively being asked by government organisations to contribute on social issues. Archdeacon Miller called for a faith and belief representative to harness this influence. He welcomed the announcement that places of worship would be reopening.

Moving her amendment, April Alexander (Southwark), said that the Government should be reminded of the mistakes that had been made during the recession in 2008. Huge amounts of money had been piled into the economy; some had benefited hugely, others had not, she said. People who already had houses benefited from the rise in house prices, while rent increased, she said. Income increases were disproportionately arranged.

Responding, Archbishop Cottrell was sympathetic, but encouraged the Synod to resist the amendment because it dealt with the pandemic when it arrived rather than the current response.

Christopher Pye (Liverpool) said that in 2007 the country had paid off its debt from the Second World War. The Covid-19 debt should be considered as a war situation and the poor should be looked after in the same way.

Shayne Ardron (Leicester) supported the amendment because it appreciated what businesses were doing to help, and the challenges that they had. The Church had been brilliant, but an awareness of others was needed, she said.

The amendment was lost.

Moving his amendment, Canon Tim Goode (Southwark) said that the Archbishops had expressed clear concern regarding the impact of the pandemic on disabled people, the elderly, and people living with chronic health conditions; but that leaving these groups out of the motion suggested that they did not matter as much, or had been forgotten. “Let’s make explicit what I know is implicit.”

Responding, Archbishop Cottrell apologised that disabled people had not been included in the motion, and welcomed the amendment, which, he said, would strengthen it.

Sam Margrave (Coventry) thanked the Archbishop for his support. It was a “disgrace” that disabled people had been left out of the motion, he said; disabled people had felt the impact of the pandemic more than any other group. A social model of disability was needed.

youtube/church of englandMartin Kingston (Gloucester) speaks during the debate

The amendment was carried.

Moving his second amendment, Canon Goode sought to underpin the motion theologically. The theology that people were made in the image of God had been “diluted or ignored” with regard to disabled people, he said, who had had difficulty securing PPE, information, and medicines during the pandemic, and who had had DNR [“Do not resuscitate”] orders placed against their will. He described this as a “worrying slide into eugenics”. Two-thirds of people who had died of Covid-19 were disabled, he said.

Archbishop Cottrell supported the amendment.

Supporting the amendment, Rebecca Chapman (Southwark) said that rules rushed through by the Government had taken away the duty of care that local councils had had to disabled people. Families had been left without support; therapies had been removed. The dignity of disabled people must never be forgotten or compromised, she said.

The amendment was carried.

Archbishop Cottrell moved a further amendment from the Archbishops, calling on the Government to preserve its foreign aid budget at 0.7 GDP (News, 20 November). “We won’t eradicate Covid-19 anywhere unless we eradicate everywhere; therefore, our commitment to foreign aid has never been more important.”

youtube/church of englandThe First Church Estates Commissioner, Loretta Minghella, speaks in the debate on the importance of the UK’s foreign aid

The First Church Estates Commissioner, Loretta Minghella, said that the UK’s commitment to foreign aid was a “badge of honour”, and that it was the “right and smart thing” for the Government to uphold this. She had seen at first hand the positive impact of foreign aid during her seven years as chief executive of Christian Aid. It had been a “circle of virtue, justice, and righteousness” when it had been first agreed; it had also been a question of trust to secure cross-party commitment to the legislation. “Surely, we should keep our word to the nation,” she said.’

John Wilson (Lichfield) did not support the amendment. The UK debt had to be reduced for the sake of “our children and grandchildren”, he said. “We need to sort out our own house first.”

The amendment was carried.

A point of order from Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford) called for the text of the motion to be divided now that the Prime Minister had confirmed that worship would resume in all tiers. The chairman said that he did not intend to do that.

Responding to the whole motion, Martin Kingston (Gloucester) thanked the Archbishop for his message of hope and encouragement. The Church had good news to share; churches were moving into action to support all communities all over the country, he said. “We are moving out to our communities in ways we have not before.” The Church had become a Church without walls, he said.

Responding to the whole debate, the Archbishop of Canterbury agreed with many of the points that had been made, and with the two amendments from Canon Goode. He noted Ms Minghella’s points and experience, and disagreed with Mr Wilson, saying that “virtue tomorrow was always virtue tomorrow and not virtue today”. He agreed with Mr Kingston that the Church was a Church without walls.

The motion as amended was carried by 349 to five, with nine recorded abstentions. It read:

 

That this Synod, recognising the profound challenge to life and wellbeing posed by the Covid-19 pandemic:

(a) call upon the whole church to hold in prayer all those ill, bereaved, unemployed or suffering mentally as a result of the virus, to pray for Her Majesty’s Government and all who hold responsibility for navigating the intractable dilemmas that Covid-19 poses;

(b) give thanks for the continuing selfless service of NHS and social care staff, scientists, and key workers in every sector, encouraging all to follow their example by affirming the common good over sectional interests;

(c) request the church’s representatives, in conversations with Her Majesty’s Government, to press the case for reducing social inequalities, especially the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME people and children living in poverty, disabled people, elderly people and those living with chronic health conditions and to reflect concerns expressed by Synod in debate on this motion;

(d) express concern that the God given image, dignity and value of disabled and/or elderly people, including all those in residential care homes, are diminished when they are denied access to the same level of health care as the rest of the population.

(e) call on Her Majesty’s Government to preserve the United Kingdom’s foreign aid budget at 0.7% of GDP, sending a strong signal that the United Kingdom is a reliable partner for long-term economic, social, environmental and educational advancement across the globe.

(f) celebrate the role of churches in building mental and spiritual resilience to face the crisis and, affirming the role of worship and the sacraments as the source of Christian service and discipleship, call upon Her Majesty’s Government immediately to review the decision to curtail public worship during lockdown.

 

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

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