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General Synod digest: Call to bring back younger voices

14 July 2023
Sam Atkins/Church Times

Samuel Wilson (Chester) moves his motion

Samuel Wilson (Chester) moves his motion

A NEW Church of England Youth Synod or Council should be established to bring the voices of young adults back on to the General Synod, members have urged.

Samuel Wilson (Chester) introduced a private member’s motion that called on the Archbishops’ Council to re-establish an elected body for young adults, to replace the recently disbanded Church of England Youth Council (CEYC) (News, 18 February 2022).

There were only 13 under-30s on the Synod, Mr Wilson (who is 25) noted. This sent the message “We don’t need you” to young people, even if unintentionally. His motion would change this perception and give young people a space of their own, he said. Young people were put off standing for regular election to the Synod because it was so stale and dominated by diocesan officers, he argued.

A national youth gathering or synod would allow people to meet without “someone three times your age interrupting you because of a standing order you’ve never heard of”. His motion also called for the appointment of a new national champion for young people, and co-opting a young adult on to the Archbishops’ Council.

Sam Margrave (Coventry) then spoke to his first amendment to the motion, which would add a clause requesting that the Business Committee return to the Synod with recommendations to increase further the voices of young people. He also proposed a second amendment to strike out the proposed co-option of young people to the Synod with voting powers and replace them with three people solely to attend. He was in support of the motion, but bring on new voting members through elections, not co-option, he said.

Lucy Docherty (Portsmouth) said that young people were humbly asking for more access to decision-making bodies, urging the Synod not to get lost in “petty squabbling”. She asked: please could they have no “mealy-mouthed” comments about co-option slots being taken up. “Don’t tell me we can’t find some money from somewhere: there’s plenty of it if we have the will to go looking.”

Mr Margrave’s first amendment was passed. Mr Wilson then indicated that he was in support of a second amendment to allow three young people to be non-voting Synod members, which was all that was possible under the Standing Orders without formal legislation.

Clive Scowen (London) reminded the Synod that there used to be three members of the CEYC on the Synod, even if they had not had voting rights. He backed the amendment, which was, he said, was the best that could be achieved under Standing Orders and could be implemented as quickly as in a year.

Resisting the amendment, Dr Helen King (Oxford) was confused by its intent. She preferred the original clause, which, she said, was more organic, to having the Archbishops’ Council directly appoint three young members.

The Revd Dr Bruce Bryant-Scott (Europe) said that he was underwhelmed by the low numbers of young people on the Synod. In his homeland of Canada, every single diocese had a voting youth member. “Three? Five? We need to be thinking dramatically more if we really want youth at the centre of our deliberations,” he said.

The Revd Carol Bates (Southwark) liked Mr Wilson’s original motion and criticised the amendments as lowering expectations for having younger people on the Synod. Would the amendments lengthen the process of getting more young people in the room, she asked.

Mr Margrave’s second amendment was carried by 164-130, with 20 recorded abstentions.

Clare Williams (Norwich) then spoke to her amendment, which, she said, would recognise the work being done with young people in developing the Vision and Strategy of the C of E and widening the motion to include children.

Mr Wilson was happy to support the amendment.

The Archbishop of York was in favour of the amendment, though expressed concern that the motion was getting too long and becoming muddled. He was proud that “growing younger and more diverse” was now the stated aim of the Church. The Church’s getting younger was a standing item of business for the Archbishops’ Council, because listening to young people was “prophetically uncomfortable”.

The Revd Barry Hill (Leicester) said that being part of the C of E made you three times more likely to die this year. The average age of an Anglican was 39 in 1980, but 67 today. As key decisions were made on the Synod, they must be shaped by young people. He backed the amendment: the question was “not if, but how”.

Rebecca Chapman (Southwark) strongly supported the amendment, especially listening to children as well as young adults. When she chatted with her three children, they said that church was “boring”, given that they spent most of their time looking at adults’ backs.

The amendment was carried.

Matt Orr (Bath & Wells) moved a “friendly” amendment, he said, though it presented an alternative set of measures and called on the Archbishops’ Council to enact them These included establishing “a regular Church of England National Young Adults Gathering” instead of the “Church of England Youth Synod” described in the original motion. Mr Orr, in a maiden speech, spoke about mission, discipleship, and evangelism among young people.

An alternative amendment was put forward by Shayne Ardron (Leicester), to change a clause that asked for the appointment of a “part-time post with responsibility for democratic engagement with young people” to make it a more clearly defined full-time post.

In a debate on these two amendments, Canon Anderson Jeremiah (Universities and TEIs) said that the challenge was to “not be patronising” to young people, and to trust them. He supported Mr Orr’s amendment, as it went further than the original proposal.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, also spoke in favour of the same amendment, which he had helped to devise. The term “Synod” could be off-putting, hence the focus on developing a “gathering” for young people, albeit one that would be charged with the kind of work envisaged by the original motion.

Bishop Butler said that the amendment had been developed in collaboration with Mr Wilson, Mr Norwood, and others, and that they would ensure that the Archbishops’ Council couldn’t remove engagement with young people from the top of the agenda.

A point of order followed to clarify whether Mr Margrave’s earlier amendment would still apply if Mr Orr’s amendment was adopted. It was confirmed that it would.

Amendment 54 was carried, and Shayne Ardron’s amendment fell.

In a debate on the motion as amended, Kenson Li (UKME co-opted) said that many young people saw the Church of England as not a safe space, owing to “utter failure” in safeguarding processes, and as an “institution where homophobia and misogyny goes unchecked”. The motion was a “first step”, but he “couldn’t stress more the importance of allowing young people to lead this process”.

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin (Southern Suffragans), said that, in the Province of the West Indies, it was normal for young people to be more heavily involved.

“Young people are interested in faith matters, they really are,” she said. Supporting the motion, she said: “Let’s not put it to report after report, but just get on with it.”

In her first speech to the Synod, the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell (London), who is the lead safeguarding bishop, said: “Children and young people are an integral part of our Church” and should therefore be “an integral part of our governance”.

She said that “the relationship between governance and healthy cultures is fundamental, and I acknowledge that there are situations where we are not getting that right at the moment.” Safeguarding was an example.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that having youth at the centre in the Church would make an impact on the world, as well. “Having young people involved in leadership and choosing what decisions we make will shape, transform, and render our vision useful and extraordinary powerful in the society in which we live.”

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), joining in on Zoom, spoke of his involvement with the Sea Cadets, in which youth voices are centralised. He said that, if changes were properly structured, they could have a huge influence.

Thanking the speakers in the debate, Mr Wilson said that “this is step one of a billion.” He hoped that members would be minded to go back to their communities with a renewed appreciation for their young people.

The motion as amended was carried on a show of hands.

 

That this Synod:

(a) acknowledge the national strategy to “grow younger and more diverse”;

(b) take note of the report Rooted in the Church (2016), which observes that young adults feel a sense of belonging if they:

(i) are included within the whole church family,

(ii) are treated as equal members of the church,

(iii) are supported by leaders who act as bridges or mentors, and

(iv) are given a safe space to ask questions;

(c) re-affirm the importance of having young adults directly involved in decision-making and strategy;

(d) recognise the valuable contributions made by members of the Church of England Youth Council (CEYC);

(e) request the Business Committee to bring a report to Synod with recommendations that increase the voice and representation of young people within Synodical bodies and through Synod elections and detailing how the above has progressed enabling children and young people’s opinions and concerns to be heard;

(f) recognise the role played by children and young people in the development of the Church of England Vision and Strategy;

(g) value the work being undertaken through the Growing Faith Foundation to listen to the voices of children, young people and young adults; and therefore call on each diocese to work alongside Children, Youth and Family advisers and practitioners to develop ways of ensuring that children, youth and young adult voices are heard within their decision-making processes; and actively involve them in decision-making;

(h) request the Business Committee to bring forward proposals, including legislation if necessary, that:

(i) seek to enable greater numbers of young adults be elected to General Synod;

(ii) enable the voices of children, youth and young adults be heard within the debates of General Synod;

(i) encourage each General Synod member to work with Children, Youth and Family advisers and practitioners to listen to the voice of children, youth and young adults in their preparation for each meeting of General Synod;

(j) request the Archbishops’ Council to:

(i) ensure that all policies seek to ensure that they contribute to fulfilling the vision of being a younger and more diverse church;

(ii) develop ways whereby the voices of children, youth and young adults are fed into their discussions and decision-making processes;

(k) call on the Archbishops’ Council to establish a regular Church of England National Young Adults Gathering (name to be determined) which will enable young Anglicans between the ages of 18 and 25 to:

(i) meet together for worship, prayer and fellowship,

(ii) engage with and discuss issues identified as being important by young adults themselves, and

(iii) relate to decision-making structures including Dioceses, General Synod and Archbishops Council;

(l) request to the Archbishops’ Council that funding be found from within the budget for a first such national gathering, whilst exploring provision of longer-term funding.

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