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General Synod digest: Members grumble about balance of agenda

01 March 2024
Geoff Crawford/ChurchTimes

The chair of the committee, Robert Hammond (Chelmsford)

The chair of the committee, Robert Hammond (Chelmsford)

A BRIEF, brisk debate on the Business Committee’s report kicked off the substantive business of the General Synod on Friday afternoon.

Robert Hammond (Chelmsford), who chairs the Committee, said that meeting over the weekend was being trialled at this group of sessions so that lay Synod members did not have to use so much annual leave as previously. Reminding members that the Committee did not approve the wording of motions, he said that six diocesan and private members’ motions had been timetabled to make up for their absence in previous sessions.

A large amount of time had been set aside to discuss safeguarding, but there could be no substantive debate on the Jay report (News, 23 February), as it had not been published when the agenda had been agreed.

Learning from the marathon multi-day Living in Love and Faith (LLF) debates in previous years, the LLF item on the agenda had also been given plenty of time, Mr Hammond said. He also regretted the increasingly “poor behaviour” of members in debates during recent Synod meetings, and warned that the panel of chairs were intending to crack down on this.

Stephen Hogg (Leeds) said that he was disappointed at the lack of progress on, and absence from the agenda of, the Church Governance Measure, whose revision committee he chaired. He asked whether the Business Committee had resisted others’ kicking the Measure into the long grass, and suggested that the Committee had to be more proactive to ensure that the will of the Synod was not frustrated.

Speaking about safeguarding, Martin Sewell (Rochester) asked what the “Plan B” was if the Synod did not accept the provisions in the safeguarding paper.

Geoff Crawford/ChurchTimesBusola Sodeinde (London) praised the Code of Conduct due to be debated at the Synod

A member of the Archbishops’ Council, the Revd Dr Ian Paul (Southwell & Nottingham), said that avoiding reality was an “art form” in the Synod. “We are standing on the brink of a precipice.” LLF had unleashed a civil war in the Church, while church attendance had collapsed. Ministry could entirely fall away in large parts of the C of E, but that was not on the agenda this week; he said that eight further hours of LLF debate would produce only more division, and amounted to “fiddling while Canterbury burns”. The Church would be left a “heap of ruins” for the next generation unless it grasped the nettle and abandoned LLF.

Busola Sodeinde (London) praised the Code of Conduct due to be debated by the Synod, and thanked the staff who had helped to shape questions and amendments. No one must be subject to personal attacks, she said.

Canon Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) asked Mr Hammond whether it was possible to squeeze into the agenda an opportunity for the Synod to echo the House of Bishops’ call for a ceasefire in Gaza and the return of the hostages.

Dr Andrew Bell (Oxford) pointed out that the number of questions submitted had more than doubled since 2018, taking up more and more of the Synod’s time. Questions were becoming more adversarial and answers more evasive, exacerbating the need for supplementaries, he suggested. He appealed to the Committee to consider how to reverse these trends, and to pull forward the deadline for submitting questions.

Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) praised holding the London sessions over a weekend, and urged members to embrace this as a new normal rather than “grumble and moan”.

The Revd Graham Kirk-Spriggs (Norwich) asked how members could support the Business Committee in its difficult work.

Luke Appleton (Exeter) was saddened that business was being conducted on a Sunday, but was grateful for more “appropriate” items on the Lord’s Day.

The Synod took note of the report.

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