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General Synod – November 2000 Group of Sessions
by Peter Owen
The Seventh General Synod of the Church of England was inaugurated on Tuesday 14 November 2000 with a service of Holy Communion in Westminster Abbey attended by Her Majesty the Queen. The service was Order One from Common Worship, on which the sixth General Synod had spent so much of its time during the previous five years. The Eucharist Prayer was Prayer G, the one with the famous (some might say infamous) phrases "the silent music of your praise" and "he came to supper with his friends". The preacher, Professor Alister McGrath, Principal of Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, spoke of the need for discernment, for service and to renew our vision.
After the service we made the short walk to Church House where it was officially announced that those gathered there had been duly elected. The Queen addressed us, and you can find in the press attempts to read between the lines of her comments on Common Worship and find out what she really thought of it. The Archbishop of York presented her with a specially bound copy of the paper edition, but said that he would spare her the CD-ROM.
That took us to lunch, but afterwards it was down to business. For the first time since November 1995 there was no liturgical business on the agenda, which seemd rather strange to me.
Themes for the New Quinquennium
The Archbishops’ Council brought a paper Themes for the New Quinquennium to Synod for debate. John Gladwin, the Bishop of Guildford and a member of the Council, said that the two-year old Council was neither a Star Chamber nor a Cabinet, and in its leadership role it was to be a servant and not a master of the Church. It had to do less, and do it better, and so had decided on four themes:
On Wednesday morning we gave final approval to the Clergy Discipline Measure which will set up a new system to replace the unwieldy and almost unusable procedures of the 1963 Measure. This must now be approved by Parliament before it can come into effect. Whilst everybody agrees that something new is needed, a few are not satisfied with parts of the new arrangements. The main objection is that the tribunals considering contested cases will use the civil (rather than criminal) standard of proof. The Revd Stephen Trott claimed that this did not meet European human rights requirements, although other speakers said that the new system compared favourably to the arrangements in the National Health Service and other professions. Sir Patrick Cormack MP was concerned that the Measure might not get parliamentary approval. However nearly all the other speakers were in favour and final approval was given by all three Houses: Bishops by 38 to 0, Clergy 197 to 23, and Laity by 200 to 21.
Shaun Farrell, financial secretary to the Archbishops' Council, gave us a presentation on the present state of the Church's finances. Some highlights from what he said were:
Church Urban Fund
The Church Urban Fund (CUF) was set up in 1987 as part of the response to the Faith in the City report. By 1999 £31 million had been raised, and more than 2900 grants, totalling £37 million, have been made. The original intention was that the Fund would have a limited life, and be wound up in 2010. However, at the present rate of making grants, the money will run out in 2004. The Archbishops' Council set up a review of the Fund last year, and the results of this review, and the Council's comments on them, were debated on Wednesday. The review recommended that grant-making should be reduced to maintain the Fund's capital whereas the Council's recommendations included:
The motion before Synod was passed nem con: it reaffirmed the church's commitment to the poor and marginalised, thanked God for the achievements of the CUF, endorsed the Archbishops' Council's recommendations, and asked for reports on progress to go to the Archbishops' Council by June 2001 and to General Synod by summer 2002.
Wednesday's business finished with a motion from Southwell Diocesan Synod asking for Non-Stipendiary Ministers (NSMs) to be renamed Self Supporting Ministers. The general view of Synod was that although NSM was an unsatisfactory title, all other suggestions were even worse. The motion was amended to propose that the use of NSM should be dropped altogether except for administrative purposes, and the amended motion was carried.
Communion before Confirmation
The tradition of the Church of England is that confirmation before admission to communion is the norm, although this tradition is not as old as many people think. In 1996 Synod agreed guidelines from the House of Bishops for the admission of children to communion before confirmation. These guidelines still describe communion before confirmation as a departure from our inherited norm. On Thursday morning Synod debated a diocesan synod motion from Bristol asking the House of Bishops to initiate a change in canon law so that General Synod could decide whether or not to change this norm. Proposing the motion, Barry Rogerson, the Bishop of Bristol, said that the parishes in his diocese wanted "the Church of England to have a clear and agreed understanding of Christian initiation as a result of a common praxis". People in the debate spoke both for and against communion before confirmation. Stephen Venner, the Bishop of Dover, said that it was too soon to assess the present arrangements. He proposed an amendment to replace the Bristol request to the House of Bishops with a request to the House to monitor the current arrangements and to report back to Synod in 2005. The amendment was carried, after which the amended motion was also carried.
Racism in the Church
In July 1999, Bishop John Sentamu addressed the General Synod about the work of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, to which he had been an adviser, and the lessons for the Church. In November 1999 the Archbishops' Council set out the first stage of an action plan to follow up the Inquiry Report, with a particular focus on gathering the reality of where we stand, in terms of statistics and the perceptions of minority ethnic people. The staff group which has overseen this work has produced a report, Called to Lead, of its work so far, and this formed the basis of a debate on Thursday afternoon. Philip Giddings introduced the debate on behalf of the Archbishops' Council and said that the Church must accept the challenge of institutional racism and repent. "The facts and figures here set out speak powerfully of the collective failure of the Church of England to provide full opportunities for black and Asian people to take their full part in our life at every level." Beyond a certain level black and Asian people became less and less visible. The report recommended that the next stage of the action plan should focus on five themes:
Speakers in the debate spoke on their own experiences in their parishes and dioceses, which all confirmed what Dr Giddings had said. At the end of the debate synod voted by 314 votes to nil to encourage the Archbishops' Council to pursue the next stage of the action plan as set out in Called to Lead, and to report back to Synod.
Iraq: a Decade of Sanctions
The last debate was on a report from the Board for Social Responsibility (BSR) on sanctions against Iraq. Introducing the debate Humphrey Taylor, the Bishop of Selby, said that there was a growing unease about the morality of sanctions, because of doubts that they can bring about change at a fair cost. "The suffering of the Iraqi people is real, unnecessary and avoidable." Colin Bennetts, the Bishop of Coventry, told the Synod how he had seen a society on the brink of collapse, when he had led a delegation of bishops to Baghdad in 1999. In ten years Iraq had changed from being a relatively sophisticated country to looking like one in the Third World. Sanctions had only strengthened the determination of the ruling elite. The Revd Murdoch McKenzie of the United Reformed Church, and one of the ecumenical representatives on General Synod, said that all the Churches would welcome the BSR's report. According to UNICEF statistics, half a million more children had died since 1991 than would have died in the absence of sanctions. "Whatever Saddam Hussein is doing, it cannot be worth the lives of 4000 children each month."
A few speakers were opposed to any relaxation of sanctions on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was a tyrannical dictator who was the main cause of his people's suffering. Summing up, the Bishop of Selby said that the motion was not asking for sanctions to be stopped, rather for them to be reconfigured. The motion below was then carried by 255 votes to 29.
That this Synod, noting with deep sympathy the suffering of the Iraqi people:
The group of sessions ended with the Archbishop of Canterbury's presidential address. This had to be read by the Archbishop of York as Dr Carey had lost his voice. The Archbishop set three targets for the new Synod: to lead mission, to deepen the unity of the Church (both within the church of England and among all Christian bodies in this land), and to deepen confidence in the gospel we profess. The full text can be found in the speeches section of the Archbishop's website.
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