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Sunday, 30 November, 1997
The Church of England: Synod Report (Special to Anglicans Online)
by Simon Sarmiento
The Church of England's General Synod met last week at Church House, Westminster. Here is a brief summary of what the synod did.
The Synod debated in detail The National Institutions Measure, a revised version of the proposals to reform the central administrative bodies of the Church of England, originating in a 1995 report from a commission chaired by Michael Turnbull, now Bishop of Durham. These proposals had been modified to meet various objections, in particular criticism from Parliament that the balance of Church and State in the composition of the Church Commissioners should be protected. Currently this body is 95 strong, and was originally to be reduced to 15, but is now proposed to number 33. Some of their responsibilities would be transferred to a new Archbishops' Council, which will now have ten elected and nine appointed members, six of the latter being subject to approval by the Synod. This executive-style Council is the key innovation of the Turnbull proposals and has been quite controversial. It will subsume innumerable current committees. The revised proposals were supported by Stuart Bell, who is the Second Church Estates Commissioner, a title held by the MP who represents the interests of the Church of England in the House of Commons. His speech was taken as evidence that the Labour government would approve the revised plan in due course and does not wish to disestablish the church. (All General Synod measures are subject to parliamentary approval.)
This new report got a very rough ride. It stems from a commission chaired by Lord Bridge, set up to review the structure of General Synod itself and which has recommended very substantial changes, e.g. a reduction in membership from 575 to 390 members. The report was strongly attacked in debate, and a move was even made to 'move next business' a device which would have prevented further discussion for several years. Although this was defeated, the neutral motion to merely 'take note' of the report passed by rather slim margins (bishops 24-4; clergy 111-92; laity 114-102) which indicates considerable opposition, but allows further debate in diocesan and deanery synods to continue. The report recommends the abolition of deanery synods as the electoral college for General Synod members. It would replace them in this function by an electoral college in which each parish is directly represented on the basis of 1 vote per 50 electoral roll members. The separate clergy-only Convocations of York and Canterbury would also be entirely abolished if this report were accepted as it stands today. Among those who attacked its proposals were the Archbishop of York, David Hope, who argued strongly for the retention of the (two) provincial structure, embodied in the Convocations.
The Prolocutor of Canterbury Convocation, the Revd Hugh Wilcox, of St Albans diocese, called the report an attack on God's gracious gifts to the Church of England: its parish clergy, its laity, its history, and its traditions, referred to the 'Gadarene rush to turn the Church of England into the religious division of McDonalds or the National Health Service', and he even quoted the principle of 'no taxation without representation'.
Methodist Unity Talks
Proposals to initiate formal conversations with the Methodist Church were approved by large margins. The last Anglican-Methodist reunion scheme failed to obtain the necessary majorities in General Synod in 1972. More recently, in 1994, the Methodists had invited Anglicans to 'talks about talks' and this had now led to the current proposals for more formal discussions. The way forward this time is perhaps more likely to be along the lines of the Porvoo and Meissen agreeements.
Liturgy (see also part two of this report)
The draft Initiation Services (Baptism, Confirmation, Reception) received final approval by overwhelming majorities in all three houses, and will be published (by Church House Publishing) in the New Year. It is authorised for use from 11 April 1998.
The draft of The Eucharist revision, which is at an earlier stage of discussion, got a thorough going over, with many individual amendments being proposed and voted for and against. This draft will return to the Synod in 1998, when the revision committee has had another go.
The Synod backed unanimously a motion concerning government immigration policy, originally introduced before the last election, by the Revd David Houlding (diocese of London). He condemned the 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act which removed all benefits from asylum seekers unless they had declared themselves at port of entry into Britain. This issue has taken on new urgency recently with the arrival at Dover of many Eastern European gypsies. He urged the new government to deal with the backlog of the 55,000 asylum seekers in Britain who await a decision. Mr Houlding said: 'there has been no clear indication that [the Labour government] will repeal the Act or that they will restore the right to benefit for asylum seekers."
To train more theological students than had been expected in the last two years, £243,000 additional was voted (the total budget for this is £3.9 million).
Forty-two clergy who left the Church of England because of the ordination of women as priests have returned. Of these 19 have resumed stipendiary ministry, 14 have returned as non-stipendiary clergy, and nine have retired status.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, in response to a specific question concerning those opposed to the priestly ministry of women said that 'we shall continue to make room for that theological viewpoint' and praised the work of the provincial episcopal visitors (often known as 'flying bishops').
The next meeting of the House of Bishops will discuss proposals for the encouragement of discussion in the dioceses of the Bishops' statement Issues in Human Sexuality. That meeting (in January) will also discuss a report on Local Non-Stipendiary Ministry.
A motion from Lichfield diocese asked the synod to agree that IVF procedures should be used only to treat cases of infertility in married couples with stable and continuing heterosexual relationships. But the synod supported an amendment which merely affirmed marriage 'as the ideal context for the procreation and rearing of children'. Dr. John Polkinghorne, chairman of the Church's medical ethics committee, who put the amendment, said: 'As Christians, we certainly believe that the lifelong institution of marriage provides the ideal context for all procreation. But there are today many couples of manifest stable commitment who do not choose to make a legal and public commitment by getting married.'
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