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What happened at the General Synod in York?

15 July 2022
SAM ATKINS/Church Times

EMOTIONS, as well as the temperature, ran high during a range of debates this week at the General Synod, which was held at the University of York for the first time in three years (because of the pandemic).

It was also the first hybrid Synod meeting in York: several members contributed to the debates by means of Zoom. Attendance was high over the sunny weekend, with large voting figures. Newly elected members expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to meet and attend fringe events.

A series of early adjournments threw the proposed agenda out of kilter. On the first day, a debate on Ukraine was split owing to interruptions from climate protesters after the Synod adopted the net-zero Routemap. A motion proposing changes to the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) for the see of Canterbury was also decided over two days.

The outcomes of these debates were among the headlines from the Synod this week. Although almost 80 per cent of members present ended up voting for proposals to increase Anglican Communion representatives from one to five on the CNC for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury, there was disquiet during the long debate. The motion had missed “huge steps of process”, one speaker said.

Others were concerned about the effect on the diversity (in gender, views, and heritage) of the representation — an issue that was addressed in two amendments that were carried to ensured that both women and people of global-majority heritage were among the five Communion representatives.

A visitor, the Archbishop of the Congo, the Most Revd Titre Ande Georges, reminded the Church of its historical responsibilities as a member of the Communion, warning members not to serve their own interests only.

A motion from the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, on the Russian invasion of Ukraine was amended to reflect calls for justice as well as peace, and carried with just two opposing votes and two recorded abstentions out of 327 members present. In his final remarks, Bishop Baines reiterated that “nothing justifies what Putin has done,” but, to understand the conflict, it was also necessary to “look through the lens of Russia, and Putin in particular”.

Sam Atkins/Church TimesSam Atkins/Church Times

During the Sunday-morning sung eucharist in York Minster, the newly appointed Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Anthony Poggo (News, 17 June), urged the congregation to remember the suffering in Ukraine, Congo, and elsewhere. “Love knows no cultural, religious, tribal, or national boundary,” he said.

Empathy and inclusion were recurrent themes at the Synod. Before it agreed, on Sunday evening, to call on the Government to maintain the current law against assisted dying, members on different sides of the debate spoke about their own experiences of people who had faced terminal illness.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, spoke about his wife’s diagnosis with a terminal illness in 2014, and said that, had the law allowed, she might have opted for an assisted death. “The despair of the moment could well have become determinative, and what a tragedy that would have been.” The motion, which was carried overwhelmingly, urged the Government to improve the funding of palliative care.

A rousing speech from Canon Timothy Goode on Monday led to the unanimous approval of his motion calling on the Church to remove barriers to the full participation of disabled people. As with the assisted-dying motion, it prompted a debate that included many first-hand accounts of experiences. Sarah Tupling (Deaf Anglicans Together) said, through a BSL interpreter: “If we want to be simpler, humbler, and bolder, we need to start by being bolder rather than simpler, and move things forward in a much more progressive fashion.”

The catchphrase of the Archbishop of York’s Vision and Strategy, which he repeated in his presidential address on Friday, was frequently quoted throughout the sessions, though not always favourably.

Simplicity was hard to achieve in the ongoing efforts both to improve temporarily the soon-to-be-replaced Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), debated on Monday, and to agree on proposals for the new Clergy Conduct Measure (CCM), the last item to be debated on Tuesday. Both were concerned with improving the way in which complaints were dealt with.

News of further efforts at safeguarding improvements was presented in line with recommendations from the Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), on Saturday, and was well received by the Synod. Separately, on Monday, legislation was passed to give newly designated diocesan safeguarding officers more powers. The protection of children was also raised during a debate on age verification of online pornography sites, on Monday, ending with a call to the Government to fulfil its promise to enforce this with legislation.

There were also several debates touching on finance, including the review of Strategic Development Funding, the next triennium of central funding, the 2023 budget, and means of spreading the burden of stipends.

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