RACIAL justice tops the agenda for next month’s General Synod meeting, intended to have a primary focus on concern for the marginalised and excluded.
That broad theme incorporates a Durham diocesan motion on human trafficking, and a Lichfield motion on the persecuted Church, but it also encompasses a debate on extending the membership of the Crown Nominations Commission that will choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
The three-day Synod sessions, from 8 to 10 February, will be held in person at Church House, with many mitigations in place, but the Synod’s first act will be to agree formally to hybrid working that would enable members to speak and vote from home. The racial-justice debate is the main item of business on the first day, preceded by a presentation from Lord Boateng, who chairs the Archbishops’ Commission on Racial Justice.
Lord Boateng laid great emphasis on the involvement and ownership of the whole Church at a press conference on Friday. “This must not be London-centred in any sense of the word,” he warned, noting that the Commission’s most recent meeting had been in Bristol Cathedral, “in a city that wrestles with these issues, a history in which the very foundations of economic success and prosperity are based on slavery and injustice”.
He had learned from working with Archbishop Desmond Tutu that “you have to be intentional in bringing about change. All the measures Synod takes — decisions about budgets, change in governance — must reflect Christ’s inclusivity and passion for racial justice.” The 25-page background paper is detailed and based on 47 recommendations for the Synod to discuss.
“Serious reflection” has been given to the Questions session — when Synod members can grill bishops and senior staff — about which there has been much protest in the past from members. This time there are two sessions, the first being on the Tuesday. The Synod’s Business Committee acknowledges concerns about the lack of time, especially when it comes to answering supplementary questions — “with some members feeling that the attitude towards those answering questions was very aggressive and disrespectful, and that this lent a hostile and unpleasant tone to the whole item”.
It has made considerable changes to the process, and “invites members to remember that Synod is a Christian body and encourages them to engage in all business in a spirit of generous enquiry”. The secretary-general of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, is appealing for members to exercise a “self-denying ordinance” in terms of the number of supplementary questions asked. Those wishing to ask them must signal this in advance, but do not have to say on which issue.
An update on safeguarding will be held on the Wednesday morning: a presentation with an opportunity for questions, brought by the National Safeguarding Team and the lead bishop. Legislative business on the Faculty Jurisdiction (Amendment) Rules follows [see separate story].
The Durham motion on human trafficking, to be debated on the Wednesday afternoon, arose from the involvement of the diocese in the national campaign to support a young man who had been a victim. It calls for effective systems to be put into place for trafficked minors to give them proper protection as victims of crime.
The Review of Clergy Remuneration report considers the findings of a survey of more than 3000 stipendiary, self-supporting, and retired clergy and a separate survey of diocesan secretaries/leadership teams. The report was published in July 2021, and circulated at the July Synod.
Members will now have an opportunity to consider and debate the report, which found that 62 per cent of respondents were reported to be living comfortably or doing all right, but 13 per cent were finding it quite or very difficult to manage, and 25 per cent were just getting by. Sixty per cent of respondents disagreed that there was capacity for funding stipend increases through increases in parish share.
A presentation and take-note debate on the ongoing work of lay engagement follows, under the title Setting God’s People Free. It will be moved by Dr Jamie Harrison, who chairs the House of Laity. Group work on Vision and Strategy follows, before a second Questions session.
The Thursday begins with group work on diversity and difference, before the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, brings a report from the Governance Review group to the Synod. The motion does not ask the Synod to endorse the specific list of recommendations, but to set the process in motion on how to take them forward.
Lichfield’s motion, headed Persecuted Church and the World, seeks practical support as well as prayers for the persecuted Church, and requests that the Lambeth Conference this summer addresses the issue.
It wants to see dioceses develop link relationships, “expressed broadly through visits and exchanges, prayer, gift giving and financial support. . . In the field of FORB (Freedom of Religious Belief), the links provide the opportunity to develop a deeper knowledge as to what it means to be Church outside of England. . . This provides a more detailed and nuanced picture which isn’t easily captured by the rather blunt headline figures produced by media and agencies.”
Last on the Thursday afternoon, before the farewells, is the take-note debate on the proposed changes to the membership of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) for the see of Canterbury. The background paper suggests that the balance of representatives on the CNC does not reflect the current nature of the Archbishop’s office, and notes: “It is important to recognise that many of the national church responsibilities of the Archbishop are closely bound in with Communion responsibilities, as is his public voice” (see separate story and leader comment).
The Anglican Communion was represented on the last occasion by the Archbishop of Wales, who, Mr Nye said at the press conference, was “probably not the most representative of Anglicans all around the world”.
In answer to a suggestion that the proposed Communion representatives might be able to block the election of a female Archbishop of Canterbury, he reflected on the implausibility of five diverse voices’ voting the same way; and five out of 17 votes did not constitute a veto. The consultation process ends in March, and the conclusions will be brought to the Synod in July.