THE next formal meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England, due to take place on the last weekend in February, has been postponed until April, owing to the current lockdown. There will, however, be an informal meeting held remotely on Saturday 27 February.
A full timetable for the original February sessions, usually held in Church House, Westminster, had been published before the current lockdown. It included measures and debates on safeguarding, Vision and Strategy, International Religious Freedom, and a report from the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing.
An announcement from Church House on Wednesday morning said of the one-day informal session in February: “Members will discuss questions including the future shape of the Church in the wake of Covid-19, independent oversight of safeguarding, and proposals by a Commission of the Church of England towards addressing the Housing Crisis.”
A formal session has been planned over two days at the end of April, after Easter, by which time the full lockdown is more likely to have been lifted. This would allow the Synod chairs and staff to legally travel or gather together in Church House to manage formal proceedings, as was the case in November (News, 13 November 2020).
The decision to delay was taken by the officers of Synod: the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the clergy Prolocutors of Canterbury and York, and the chair and vice-chair of the House of Laity, with the support of the chair of the Synod Business Committee, Canon Sue Booys.
The announcement explained: “It was taken in order to follow the Government’s call for people to stay at home to limit the spread of the coronavirus.”
The Synod would have the opportunity later in the year to “engage in detail” with the recently published resources on human identity, sexuality, relationships, and marriage, Living in Love and Faith, it said. This will presumably be in July, when the full Synod is more likely to be able to meet in person. The summer sessions are usually held residentially at the University of York, although last year the business was postponed to November, and the sessions were held in Church House, Westminster.
The Prolocutor of Canterbury, Canon Simon Butler, said: “Clearly the Covid-19 situation needs to improve before we can ask staff and chairs of Synod to gather together or travel anywhere safely. What matters most is that we do the essential business we need to in the coming months and we all can hope that this will be much safer after Easter.”
The Chair of the House of Laity, Dr Jamie Harrison, said: “Deciding to change the focus of what we can achieve through a virtual Synod has not been easy. However, as a medical doctor, I am acutely aware of the need to keep us all safe, not least when I think about our excellent Synod staff and chairs.”
Canon Booys said: “The February meeting will be focusing on looking ahead to the aftermath of the pandemic and how the Church can help our communities recover. I look forward to a formal session at the end of April when we can address some key remaining legislative business prior to July.”
The House of Bishops, which met remotely on Tuesday, discussed the “seriousness” of the Covid-19 crisis, as well as the future manner of celebrating holy communion, given that half of all the churches are now closed and many of them are holding services online.
A note published on Wednesday said: “The House affirmed it would be premature to make decisions on the eucharist in a digital medium and the administration and reception of Holy Communion, particularly in a time of national pandemic and resolved to undertake further theological and liturgical study and discussion on these issues over the coming months.”