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General Synod digest: Episcopal dress and definition of a woman feature in questions

15 July 2022

Sam Atkins/Church Times


AT QUESTIONS, held over two sessions, the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked how the national Church could foster more mutual accountability for individual dioceses and bishops, when their actions affect the reputation of the Church of England in the eyes of the nation.

Although Archbishop Welby agreed that there was work to be done in this area by the House of Bishops, he rejected the characterisation by one questioner, Sam Margrave (Coventry), that the Church was “episcopally led and synodically governed”. “That is a myth. It has always been a myth,” he said. “To quote Lord Chartres, we are led by bishops in synod. And that is a very, very different thing indeed.” The question how to involve the Synod in accountability for bishops had been discussed “frequently, almost interminably”, by the House.

It fell to the Archbishop of York to handle a question and supplementary about episcopal dress. Debbie Buggs (London) asked whether the new “simpler, humbler, bolder” Vision and Strategy could be applied to what bishops wore, and whether there was any theological reason not to adopt a “less ostentatious style”. In response, Archbishop Cottrell joked that one of the main motivations for getting ordained was never having to choose what to wear each morning. He also defended episcopal dress: “What could be more simple than the cross of Christ? What could be more humble than a simple shepherd’s staff? And what could be bolder than a mitre?” he said, taking up each item in turn to applause from members.

The case of the late Fr Alan Griffin, who took his own life while being subjected to an inquiry over unsubstantiated allegations (News, 19 July 2021), was raised again by Alexander Berry (Leeds). He asked whether the House of Bishops would consider declaring the Church to be “institutionally homophobic”.

Responding, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said that this would have to wait until the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process had concluded.

In a supplementary, Mr Berry referred to the review of what had happened, published lastt week (News, 8 July), as evidence that the House should expedite considering the question of homophobia. Bishop Mullally said that everyone should hold Fr Griffin and those affected by his death in their prayers, and reiterated that there was “no place for homophobia” in the Church. It was a culture that had built up over a long period of time; so breaking it down could not happen overnight, she said, although LLF would begin to address it.

Among the written questions was one from Adam Kendry (Armed Forces) to the Faith and Order Commission, about what the Church of England’s definition of a woman was. In response, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said that there was no official definition, “which reflects the fact that until fairly recently definitions of this kind were thought to be self-evident”. But the LLF project was exploring the “complexities of gender identity”.

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