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General Synod digest: Governance plan sidelined by same-sex debate

17 February 2023
Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, moves the motion

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, moves the motion

THE pressure on time as a result of the extended debate on Living in Love and Faith provisions was never going to allow this group of sessions to complete the scheduled debate on simplifying the governance of the national church institutions (NCIs). An interim report presented to the General Synod for debate contained 22 recommendations in relation to creating a single governance body: Church of England National Services (CENS).

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) tried to intervene at the outset to adjourn the debate, but procedure meant that the motion — to welcome the report and encourage the National Church Governance Project Board (NCGPB) to continue developing a legislative framework — had first to be moved by the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson.

He was keen to do this, he said, given how many staff had been working on it. Many people would be affected by the changes, he said, referring to a “them-and-us” trust deficit in the Church at many levels, compounded by a national governance structure that meant that people were unclear how decisions were made. The “convoluted structures” were liable to be bypassed to get something done, he suggested.

The positive aim of CENS was clarity, Bishop Watson said. There would be a full overview at the July sessions.

Miss Dailey tried again for adjournment on a “matter of exceptional significance and importance” that, through no one’s fault, had been “shoved in at the tag end of Synod”. It needed proper scrutiny, she said.

Bishop Watson urged members to resist adjournment at this stage, which they did.

Rebecca Chapman (Southwark) was grateful for the openness of Church House staff. Here was an opportunity to embed pastoral principles in the life of church governance and “bring trust to our processes again . . . a culture where people are willing to speak up”, she said. She emphasised the need for accountability, and urged Synod members to feed into this “vital and ongoing work”.

Nigel Bacon (Lincoln) wanted to see more effective and efficient organisation, but had concerns, including the timescale and the structure of CENS. The balance of positions was weighted too much towards the nominated positions and highlighted the inefficiency of the running the bishop’s office separately from the diocesan office.

The Archdeacon of Knowsley and Sefton, the Ven. Pete Spiers (Liverpool), drew attention to paragraph 96, suggesting that there was an overlap of the appointments and nominations governance committees. He alerted the Synod to the outstanding vacancy for a bishop on the appointments committee.

Robert Zampetti (London) brought his first amendment, to “take note” rather than “welcome” the report. “We are not yet in a stage where welcome is needed. . . It’s not meant to be negative or positive.”

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven Luke Miller (London), supported it, but Sam Wilson (Chester) demanded to know what the point of the Synod was if it debated “every single word every single time. . . Does it matter? Honestly? Isn’t this like playing politics with words?”

Luke Appleton (Exeter) supported the amendment: “‘Welcome’ implies direction of travel. ‘Take note’ is a bit more sober-minded.”

The amendment was lost by 124-107, with 27 recorded abstentions.

The debate was adjourned, to be resumed in York in July.

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