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General Synod of the Church of England
July 2001 Group of Sessions

6 to 10 July 2001

by Peter Owen
Member of the House of Laity of General Synod from the diocese of Liverpool
22 July 2001

Health of the Poor

Diocesan Synods can send motions to General Synod, where they join a queue and get debated in due course. Oxford did this in March 1999 with a motion on the health of the poor, following the publication in November 1998 of Inequalities in Health, the report of an Independent Inquiry into inequalities of health in England chaired by Sir Donald Acheson, the former Chief Medical Officer. Having reached the top of the queue, the motion was debated by General Synod this month. As amended by Synod it welcomed recent research by Sir Donald and others, and called for further government and church action to tackle the poor health of those on low incomes.

The debate was preceded by a presentation by Sir Donald himself. At the time of his report the life expectancy for professional men was four and a half years more than for labourers, but the difference had now increased to nine and a half years. There had been a similar, though smaller, increase for women. It was not just the very poorest who had a lowered expectancy of life; there was a gradient from the poorest to the richest. Morbidity (living with angina, chronic bronchitis, back trouble, etc) and other signs of ill health all showed the same gradient across the social classes. Those particularly disadvantaged were young, poor women with children, elderly women living alone, and unskilled young men. However, the report showed that policies which improve health may have no effect on health inequalities, and may even widen them. Education was a fundamental part of improving health. In poorer areas school classes were bigger, but the opposite should be the case. Poorer areas suffered more crime.

The debate was introduced by the Archdeacon of Buckingham. He said that church members could support policies to improve the health of the poor by

Other speakers spoke of the need to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, of practical ways to help, of the inadequacy of benefits and the minimum wage, of spiritual poverty. The motion was passed with no votes against.

World Development

A debate on World Development was preceded by presentations by the Director of Christian Aid (Dr Daleep Mukarji) and the Bishop of Matana, Burundi (the Rt Revd Bernard Ntahoturi). Dr Mukarji told Synod that Christian Aid took being a Christian agency seriously; it was an integral part of the life and mission of the church. Its task was to expose the scandals of poverty, to contribute to its eradication and to challenge structures. The gap between rich and poor was getting worse, and AIDS was being fuelled by poverty. The UN estimates that poor countries were being denied $700 billion every year because of trade rules that limit what they can sell internationally. More debt relief is needed. Christian Aid calls on governments to honour their commitment, made at the UN in 1970 to devote 0.7% of GDP to overseas aid. The UK still gives only 0.32%, and the average for the richest countries is scandal at only 0.22%.

Bishop Ntahoturi spoke about the threat posed by AIDS in Africa, the real and bitterly hard poverty, the malnourishment suffered by a third of Africa's population. Education was the best way to empower the people of Africa and spiritual renewal should be the goal. He appealed for solidarity to seek and work together for a sustainable future for humanity.

The Bishop of Selby, who chairs the Board of Social Responsibility's international and development affairs committee, opened the debate by saying that it was being held in response to the challenge to Synod in November 1998 from Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, to develop a broad coalition to combat global poverty. The Board has just published a collection of essays Development Matters: Christian perspectives on globalization to provide background for the debate. Globalization often appears as rampant, secularist materialism, which gives the individual priority over the community in a way that is contrary to the gospel, and it was here that the Board particularly wanted to challenge government thinking.

The Archbishop of Canterbury focused on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Other speakers spoke of the need to be partners and not paternalistic providers, of the progress that has been made, of how people turned to the Churches in crisis, of the plight of asylum seekers. Finally Synod voted, with no one against, for a motion commending Development Matters, calling for global political and economic action to strengthen the position of the world's poor, and proposing further steps to be taken by Church and Government.

Third World Debt

Immediately after the World Development debate, Synod moved onto a private member's motion from Roger Godin (Southwark diocese) on third world debt. Although third world debt was not necessarily bad in principle, he said, very many loan-funded projects had been unproductive, and had left debts but no income. Developing countries were often paying back much than they were spending on health and education. There was a need for more action by the affluent nations to cut third world debt, and although the UK had given a valuable lead, wholly insufficient progress had been made in Jubilee 2000 year.

Other speakers said that pressure should now be put onto the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which had promised $100 billion of debt relief, but had only delivered $12 billion. The Archbishop of Canterbury said that there was a perception that the debt issue was over, whereas only $14 billion out of a total of $380 billion had been paid.

The motion before Synod, which acknowledged the role of Jubilee 2000 and noted with regret the totally insufficient progress made towards debt relief, called on the Government and politicians to continue to press for urgent action to cut debt, particularly debt held by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It was passed without opposition.

Renewing Faith in the Countryside

The Bishop of Blackburn introduced a debate on rural affairs by saying that Faith in the Countryside, which had been published ten years ago, had not received the same publicity as Faith in the City and this was perhaps symptomatic of the way in which rural life and village churches could be taken for granted. The Church's concern for rural communities had been seen in the publicity surrounding the current foot-and-mouth crisis. The bishop paid tribute to the Arthur Rank Centre (ARC), parochial clergy and lay people, and bodies such as the Farm Crisis Network and the Rural Stress Information Network. The ARC Addington Fund had raised more than 7.5 million, almost 1 million from church collections, and the Government had matched the money raised.

Several speakers spoke of the devastating effect of foot-and-mouth in their communities, the hardcore poverty, and the empty, silent landscapes. They were extremely grateful for the work of the Arthur Rank Centre, and the prompt financial help from the ARC Addington fund.

The Bishop of Carlisle, whose diocese has the highest concentration of cases of foot-and-mouth, asked for direction on what the nation wants from farmers: quality products, low-cost food, land management? There is a conflict, for example, between the large farms needed to meet the demands of supermarkets and the needs of the environment.

At the end of the debate, Synod passed a rather long motion calling on the Government to hold a thorough consultation on the future priorities and role of agriculture, and a public enquiry into the causes of the current outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. The motion also renewed the Church of England's commitment to its mission and ministry in rural areas and urged the Government to match the prompt response of the ARC Addington Fund in giving financial help to rural areas.

Choosing Bishops

Diocesan bishops in the Church of England (except for the bishop of Gibraltar in Europe) are chosen by the Crown; in practice this means the Prime Minister. Under a system agreed in 1976, he chooses from a list of two given to him by a synodical body, the Crown Appointments Commission (although in one recent case he first asked the commission for more names). In 1998 Synod set up a group to review the procedure, and their report Working with the Spirit: choosing diocesan bishops was recently published.

Baroness Perry of Southwark, who chaired the review group, introduced a debate on the report by saying: "Like most of those who wrote to us, we believe that the overall shape of the system is right for our situation. However, we have to face the fact that there is widespread unease about important aspects of how the system operates." The most widely held concern was about the information at the Commission's disposal, which largely comprises selective summaries of unattributed references. The system gave a great deal of power to the secretaries (who prepare the summaries) and to diocesan bishops (who are the only people allowed to put names on the Preferment List, from which most candidates are drawn). There is also concern that diocesan bishops are being chosen from a limited range of people; in the last five years 17 out of 19 choices were, or had been, suffragan bishops.

The review group recommended that a Senior Appointments List of potential candidates for all senior appointments should replace the Preferment List, that diocesan bishops and others could propose names for the list, and that those on the list should be asked for a personal statement. The Commission should be given consistent, attributed and unedited information on candidates, although it should not conduct interviews of candidates. It should be renamed the Episcopal Nominations Commission to reflect its role more accurately; for example there are many Crown appointments for which it is not responsible.

In the debate, speakers were broadly in favour of the recommendations. Several with experience of serving on the Commission confirmed the criticisms of its procedures. Some thought the proposals went too far, others not far enough. The motion before the Synod asked the Appointments Committee to appoint a steering group to follow up the recommendations, and this was passed overwhelmingly.

Financial Choices

Synod spent much of one morning discussing the central finances of the Church. Shaun Farrell, financial secretary to the Archbishops' Council, gave an update of his November 2000 presentation. The church as a whole will have to pay an extra 12 million per year into the clergy pension fund (for post-1998 service), following its triennial actuarial review. The main reasons for the increase were: clergy living longer, lower returns on investments, stipends rising faster than expected, and a need to catch up on the contribution rate (which had been originally set at the lower end of the range recommended by the actuaries). The Church Commissioners have agreed to find another 10 million of transitional relief over the next three years, and a working group was looking at possible changes in current pension arrangements, with the aim of presenting an overall financial strategy to Synod in November.

Michael Chamberlain, chair of the Finance Committee of the Archbishops' Council, then introduced a debate on the central apportionment of the Council's budget, and the selective allocations to dioceses. Until 1999 these had been the responsibility of different bodies (the Central Board of Finance and the Church Commissioners respectively), but the Archbishops' Council had taken over both and had set up a review into the formulae used for each. The review had recommended only a modification of the system of allocating the Council's budget between dioceses. This had attracted very little criticism and was accepted without debate.

Each year the Church Commissioners make available to the Archbishops' Council a sum of money to support parish ministry in areas of need; in 2000 there was 14.9 million to be selectively allocated. The review proposed that this should be distributed to the dioceses with the lowest resource per minister. This resource is the total of

divided by the number of ministers. The average expected giving income is a percentage of the estimated total personal income of church members. The percentage (about 3%) is calculated by dividing the known national total giving by church members by their total estimated income. The review group considered that their new formula took proper account of low income and recommended the removal of the unemployment and OxLIP (a measure of deprivation) factors which had been in the old formula. This produced Option 1.

In consultations with dioceses, some had expressed concern about the removal of the unemployment and OxLIP factors. In August 2000 the Department of the Environment, Transport, and the Regions (DETR, as it then was) published data on multiple deprivation based not only on low income but on employment, education, health, housing and access to services. The review group had produced an Option 2, in which one-sixth of the available sum is targeted to the 10% most deprived wards (local election areas), and the remainder directed as in Option 1. The two options produce substantially different results.

When bishops were asked to consult within their dioceses, 38 responded: 24 in favour of Option 1, 12 in favour of Option 2, and 2 with no preference. The House of Bishops considered the merits of the two options at its meeting in June and expressed a strong preference for Option 2. The final decision of how to make the selective allocations rests with the Archbishops' Council, which is expected to decide at its meeting in September. Synod was given an opportunity to express its views in a rather short debate.

One speaker was "utterly cast down" by the transfer of resources away from rural areas, others spoke of the extremely serious consequences for some dioceses whose allocations were to be substantially cut. The Bishop of Liverpool said that the DETR would never use the sort of average income analysis proposed by the review group. If the Church dropped all reference to poverty indicators, this would be seen as the Church undermining its prophetic role both nationally and internationally. It was not just an issue of allocation, but about a Church bringing good news to the poor.

The motion before Synod was to support Option 1. Two amendments were proposed, one to delay any change to allow time for progress towards mutual support between dioceses and for an independent evaluation of the proposed new method, and the other to accept Option 2. Both were defeated and then the unamended motion in favour of Option 1 was passed.

Some reports in the press about this debate implied that the Church of England was retreating from the poorest parts of the country. These prompted the Archbishop of York to make a statement on the last day: "On behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury and myself, indeed, I trust this whole General Synod - we want to make it clear to the nation that the Church of England is not now, has never and will never desert the poor. Our ministry is to them as it is to everyone in our land." The full statement can be seen on the Church of England website.

Archbishops’ Council’s Budget for 2002

After the votes on allocation and apportionment, Mr Chamberlain opened a debate on the Archbishops' Council's budget for 2002. The Council proposed a freeze in 2002 on net expenditure on Votes 2 (national church responsibilities) and 3 (grants and contributions to other organisations). There was an increase of 2.6% in the Vote 1 (ordination training) budget; this had not been frozen in order not to defer vocations, as they formed the lifeblood of the Church in the longer term. Vote 4 represented the Council’s contribution to the cost of the pension contributions for clergy working for mission agencies, which it was gradually taking over from the Church Commissioners. The 2001 figure was originally to have been 391,000, but this had had to be increased to pay for the higher contribution rate effective from 1 April 2002.

The net budgets for 2001 and 2002, to be paid by apportionments on dioceses, are shown below. At the beginning of June 2001 it was expected that the 2001 budget would be underspent by about 189,000.

Vote 2001 budget () 2002 budget () increase over 2001
1: Ordination Training 8,806,303 9,038,175 2.6%
2: National Church Responsibilities 7,342,868 7,342,868 0%
3: Grants and Contributions to other organisations 1,004,900 1,004,900 0%
4: Mission Agencies Pensions 299,000 464,000 55.2%
Net Apportionment 17,453,071 17,849,943 2.3%

The budget was approved by Synod.

Church Commissioners

Although Synod is not responsible for the Church Commissioners, it receives its annual report, and every two or three years is given the chance to debate it. The Secretary to the Commissioners, Howell Harris Hughes, said that the Commissioners' investments had again outperformed the market in 2000. The latest actuarial review had shown that the proportion of their funds needed to meet their pension commitments for pre-1998 service could be reduced, and as a result more money would be available for other purposes, in particular the extra transitional relief referred to above under Financial Choices.

The Third Church Estates Commissioner, Lady Brentford, said the Commissioners had spent 160 million in 2000. Pensions were still their largest single expense, with 92.4 million paid in 2000 and a further 11.3 million given in transitional relief to dioceses. The full text of Lady Brentford's presentation can be found on the Church of England website.

The debate on the report mainly dealt with the Octavia Hill estates in south London, which are owned by the Commissioners. The homes on these estates provide social housing and are currently let at below market rates. The Commissioners are considering a programme of refurbishment after which some homes would be let at market rates. Some speakers in the debate believed that it was wrong for the church to withdraw from social housing, whilst others felt that by providing subsiding housing in just one place resources were being denied to more deserving cases elsewhere.

Synod Reform

The Bridge report on Synodical Government reported in 1997. Much of it was controversial, in particular its recommendations for a substantial reduction in the size of Synod (from 581 to 390), and the abolition of most of the special constituencies. A follow-up group has been looking at these recommendations and its recently published report was less drastic, with a reduction in membership to about 485. It accepted the Bridge proposals for a reduction in the number of suffragan bishops on Synod from nine to six, and the abolition of the special constituencies for cathedral deans and for university clergy. However it rejected the proposal to abolish the special constituencies for Archdeacons and instead proposed to keep the current representation of one per diocese. Introducing a debate on the proposals, the Archdeacon of Tonbridge said that if Synod was to become a leaner body something had to give.

These proposals did not go down well with Synod, with most people wanting things to stay more or less unchanged - except for keeping so many archdeacons. There was also a concern that if the size of Synod were to be reduced, then the clergy and laity elected by the dioceses would be less representative than they are now.

In a series of votes, Synod voted to keep the number of suffragan bishops on Synod unchanged, to keep the special constituencies for deans, to reduce the number of archdeacons from 43 to the same as for suffragan bishops (currently nine) and to keep the special constituencies for the universities. It also rejected the recommendation for a reduction in the size of Synod.

A number of other recommendations from the follow-up group attracted little or no attention in the debate, and these, together with those which were accepted in the votes, will form the basis of legislation which will be put before Synod in due course.

Reform of the House of Lords

26 Church of England bishops sit in the House of Lords. The Wakeham Commission had recommended that this be cut to 16. A private member's motion from the Revd David Houlding of London urging the Government to retain the present number was debated. Mr Houlding said that the bishops sat in the House of Lords to serve the nation and they needed to be there in sufficient numbers if their voice was to be heard. Other speakers referred to the contribution that could be made if members of other denominations and faiths were given seats, and said that it was important not to be defensive and prescriptive. The Bishop of Durham proposed an amendment asking for "provision fully adequate to enable Bishops of the Church of England to continue to contribute effectively to a reformed House". This was carried, and the amended motion was then carried by 372 votes to 25.


One of the first parts of Common Worship to be authorized was the set of Contemporary Language Collects. Their style has been criticised and Wakefield Diocesan Synod had sent a motion to Synod asking for a new set "in a worthy contemporary idiom". Introducing a debate on this motion, Judge John Bullimore said that the diocese did not feel it had been given collects in the forms and rhythms of speech it was comfortable with, and was asking for a more contemporary idiom. Some speakers agreed whole-heartedly with the Wakefield motion, whilst others thought that the new collects were not as bad as they were being painted; perhaps only ten to fifteen needed alternatives. However Synod as a whole agreed with the Judge, and passed the motion.

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