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General Synod of the Church of England – November 2001 Group of Sessions
12 to 15 November 2001

by Peter Owen
Member of the House of Laity of General Synod from the diocese of Liverpool
25 November 2001

Presidential Address

In his presidential address the Archbishop of Canterbury said that dioceses should heed the wishes of parishioners and do everything possible to avoid cutting the number of clergy in the parishes. He also announced a new initiative, the Parish Mission Fund, which would receive support from the Church Commissioners. A total of 10 million will be available in the next three years for dioceses to spend on wider mission purposes, and not just on clergy stipends. The Archbishop spoke of good news, the way in which people had turned to the Church for support and sustenance after September 11, the tremendous response to the national invitation to prayer in October, and the pastoral and practical help offered to those affected by foot-and-mouth disease. The full text of the Archbishop's address can be found here.

Dates of Groups of Sessions

General Synod currently meets for four or five days in both July (in York) and November (in London) with a shorter meeting in February (also in London) if necessary. This leaves a relatively short time between the July and November sessions (particularly when summer holidays are taken into account). Ian Smith from York brought a private member's motion to have meetings in February and July only. Synod agreed with the principle of having its main meetings at roughly equal intervals, but also agreed that there should be the possibility of a third meeting if necessary. So, from 2003, the main groups of sessions will be in February and July, with a shorter group in November if necessary.

Just Cause or Impediment?

Marriage Law in England and Wales is governed by the Marriage Act 1949. There are two sets of rules, one for marriages in the Church of England and the Church in Wales, and the other for all other civil and religious marriages. Before a couple can be married in the Church of England one of the following four preliminaries is required.

In the first three cases the marriage can only take place in the parish church, parish centre of worship or licensed building of the parish where one or both of the parties to the marriage are resident or have their name on the electoral roll. Unless one of the couple is divorced with the former spouse still living, the couple has a legal right to be married in the parish church of one or both of them (ie the parish where one or both is resident or is on the electoral roll). Unlike the other preliminaries a Special Licence can authorise marriages in any place at all in England or Wales.

In 1996 General Synod called for the possibility of an alternative to banns to be considered, and there is a Diocesan Synod motion on the residential qualifications waiting to be debated. The British Government is currently reviewing the 1949 Act, and since it has also made it clear that any changes to the law affecting Church of England marriages should be made by Act of Parliament and not by a Measure of the General Synod, now would be a sensible time for a single Act to cover both church and civil marriages. A Working Group was set up by the Archbishops' Council in 1999, and its report Just Cause or Impediment? was published in October 2001. The Group's main recommendations for church weddings were:

Synod held a consultation on the report, to allow views to be expressed. Although many people welcome the proposed greater flexibility about where couples can be married, some are concerned that pretty churches will be inundated with couples attempting to prove a "demonstrable connection". Although many people have a fondness for banns, because of the pastoral opportunities they offer, and would be sad to see them go, their real purpose is to stop those who are about to commit bigamy or incest. In any case nothing in the new proposals would stop churches from announcing forthcoming marriages if they wanted to.

The House of Bishops and the Archbishops' Council will now draw up recommendations to the Government, which will be debated at Synod in July 2002.

For more information on marriage in the Church of England click here and for a summary of the recommendations of Just Cause or Impediment? click here.

The International Situation

The original plans for the November Synod included a debate on Israel and Palestine but the events of September 11 and the military action in Afghanistan led to a change of plan. Instead there was a more wide-ranging debate on the international situation on what turned out to be the day that Kabul fell. However, as the Bishop of Southwark (Tom Butler) said as he opened the debate, "the sense of injustice felt by many Arabs regarding Palestine, and the perceived American support for Israel, does colour attitudes to the escalating war in Afghanistan". The debate, though, was almost entirely about Afghanistan with little reference to Palestine. The Bishop of Rochester (Michael Nazir-Ali) said that this was a war about beliefs, values and ideas. Ideologies, he said, should not be mistaken for authentic faith. It was important to hear what Islamic scholars who were working for the development of Islamic law had to say, and to develop a dialogue between the Christian formal tradition of a just war and the Muslim tradition of jihad. Several people spoke of concerns about the effectiveness of the bombing in Afghanistan, but an amendment calling for "an end to all military action in Afghanistan" was defeated. Another, successful, amendment inserted a recognition of "Western Christian complicity in historical injustices in the world". The final version of the motion, was then carried by 406 votes to nil:

That this Synod, humbly aware of Western Christian complicity in historical injustices in the world, and recognising that people of all faiths are called to live in peace and mutual respect:
(a) condemn terrorism, as inimical to a free and democratic society based on the rule of law and recognize that it may legitimately be opposed in the last resort by the use of proportionate armed force;
(b) express its deep sympathy and offer the assurance of its prayers and practical support to those innocently caught up in violence whether in the USA or Afghanistan;
(c) encourage dioceses to support the witness of the Church of Pakistan and the humanitarian relief work of Christian Aid and those Church of England mission agencies serving in the region;
(d) call on all dioceses and parishes to begin or to continue their efforts alongside other Christians and people of all faiths in working for greater understanding and reconciliation between different communities, based on freedom of religion under the law and mutual tolerance and respect;
(e) pray for the peace of the world, believing that such peace requires not only a just settlement of long-standing concerns in Israel-Palestine and Iraq but also the commitment of governments to work for a peaceful and equitable world order under the auspices of the United Nations; and
(f) commend to dioceses for further reflection the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland's report Who is my Neighbour? as well as the Board for Social Responsibility's report Demanding Peace: A Church Response to the Al Aqsa Intifada.

2002 Budget for National Church Responsibilities (Vote 2)

In July Synod voted to freeze the budget for national church responsibilities at the current level for the next three years. The Archbishops' Council put its proposals of how to do this in 2002 before Synod in November. Cuts will be required, but they will not be across the board, and some new work (eg an implementation officer for the Dearing report on church schools) will be included. In the debate, some speakers queried particular cuts, and others pointed out that if giving reached the levels recommended in First to the Lord then no cuts would be necessary, but at the end of the debate Synod voted in favour of the budget in front of it.

Address by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, addressed Synod on Wednesday morning. She strongly confirmed the Government's support for more faith schools and said to her opponents, "Are we to be the first generation to deny parents the right to choose schools that reflect their beliefs and values? I don't want to go down that road. It is not the right way forward." However she also made it clear that she wanted both faith schools and secular schools in the maintained sector to be inclusive and integrated into "the local family of schools". New schools would be compelled to take pupils from a variety of faiths or none.

The Diaconate

In 1998 Synod passed a motion asking the House of Bishops to set up a Working Party on a renewed diaconate. The working party published their report For such a time as this earlier this year, and their chairman, the Bishop of Bristol (Barry Rogerson), introduced a debate by saying that in the New Testament diakonia was much more than lowly service, but stood for "authoritative commissioning and responsible agency". Deacons had a role in the effective mission of the Church as strengthening the link between the pastoral needs of the community and liturgical offering. The report proposes a concrete job description for a renewed diaconate that is not merely transitional to the priesthood. Fr Anthony Barratt (the Roman Catholic representative on Synod) said that the diaconate had been a part of the ministry of his Church for a long time. It was not a substitute for the priesthood or lay ministry, but contributed to the renewal of the Church's mission. Other speakers in the debate were generally supportive of a distinctive (or permanent) diaconate, but there was concern that distinctive deacons, as described in the report, seemed very little different from readers and other lay ministers. Synod was asked to commend the report for study and ecumenical responses but declined to do so; instead the report was returned to the Archbishops' Council so that the roles of Readers, pastoral assistants and Church Army Officers could be examined as well.

For a Church of England press release about this report click here.

Forthcoming Financial Issues

A Financial Issues Working Group under the chairmanship of Philip Mawer, the Secretary-General of the Archbishops' Council, was set earlier in the year. In a report to Synod the group looked at a number of Forthcoming Financial Issues, in particular the possibility of the transfer of some Church Commissioners' support for parishes from guaranteed annuities to all parishes into selective support. The effect of this would be to transfer money from richer to poorer dioceses, and the question has to be asked whether the richer dioceses were "ready, willing and able" to give up some of their allocations. Another report from the group, on Clergy Pensions, looks at possible changes to the clergy pension scheme, such as a change from the present defined-benefit scheme to a money-purchase or hybrid scheme. This report makes no recommendations, but does ask for views on the various options that it sets out.

Clergy Stipends

In 1999 the Archbishops' Council set up a group to review the stipends paid to clergy and licensed lay workers, primarily to assess whether stipends were adequate to prevent clergy from suffering financial hardship. The Group's report Generosity and Sacrifice was published in September. Introducing a debate at Synod, the Group's chairman (the Revd Dr Richard Turnbull) said that they had found substantial hardship among many clergy, particularly in households with children where the stipend was the only income. The Group believed that the stipend should be "pay for the job done" and quoted biblical evidence to support this rather than the maintenance-allowance approach used at present. They felt that 80% of the starting salary of the headteacher of a large primary school would be an appropriate comparison for incumbents. After taking off the value of the housing provided to parish clergy, this gave a recommended stipend for incumbents of 20,000, about 18% greater than at present. The group also recommended an increase of 20% in the minimum paid to assistant clergy and a more flexible approach to clergy pay, with modest differentials within dioceses. The cost to the Church would be an average of 80 pence per week from each of the one million adult attenders in our churches.

The Revd Eric Bramhall (Liverpool) pointed out the contrast between the Diocese of Guildford which paid its clergy significantly more than the nationally recommended amount, and parts of Liverpool where the clergy felt unable to claim their expenses from their parishes. He called for a more equitable distribution of resources. The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds (John Packer) said that he preferred the old definition of a stipend as enabling clergy "to do their work effectively and to live without worry" and asked for more discussion about family allowances and differentials.

Synod voted to note the report and to ask dioceses a series of questions about their views on the recommendations and a possible timescale for their implementation.

For a Church of England press release about this report click here.

Church Schools in the New Millennium

In 1998 Synod had voted that it believed "that Church schools stand at the centre of the Church's mission to the nation". The Archbishops' Council set up a Church Schools Review Group under Lord Dearing. The Group's report The Way ahead: Church of England schools in the new millennium was published in April 2001 and debated in November. The Group concluded that the Church's mission can only be discharged through Church schools if there is a sufficiency of provision. There is a much smaller provision at secondary level than at primary, and parental demand for places cannot be met. The Group recommended a major expansion to provide - either through additional Church schools or the expansion of existing schools - the equivalent of an extra 100 Church secondary schools. Provision at primary level is varied and dioceses are recommended to expand their provision where it is particularly sparse. Expansion of provision is not sufficient, and Church schools need to be distinctively Christian and to work in close partnership with the local worshipping community. But all these plans begin and end with teachers and there is a need to recruit Christian teachers.

After Lord Dearing has introduced the Group's report, the Bishop of Blackburn (Alan Chesters), who is chairman of the Church of England's Board of Education, said that it was important for the report to be owned by the whole Church. Recent events had given the forces of secularisation renewed vigour, but the bishop urged Synod and the whole Church "not to lose its nerve at this critical moment of opportunity for the Church in our national life". Most speakers were strongly in favour of the report, and several spoke of the need to support the vocation of Christian teachers. A motion encouraging the whole Church (but particularly the dioceses) to put the report's recommendations into effect was passed overwhelmingly.

For a Church of England press release about the Dearing report click here.

Resolution B

In a multi-parish team ministry, the PCC of just one of these parishes can prevent the appointment of a woman team vicar anywhere in the team by passing what is known as Resolution B. A motion from Leicester diocesan synod to restrict the effect of Resolution B to the parish concerned came before Synod. After a few speeches, both for and against, a procedural motion to move to next business was carried by a large majority. This ended the debate without a vote, and a similar motion cannot be brought back within the lifetime of this Synod, which clearly felt that whilst the motion was well-intentioned it was the wrong motion at the wrong time.

Resourcing Bishops

In May 2000 the Archbishops of Canterbury and York commissioned a review group under Anthony Mellows, Emeritus Professor of Law in the University of London, to look at the resourcing of bishops in the Church of England. The group's first report Resourcing Bishops (covering all bishops, both suffragan and diocesan, except for the two archbishops) was published in June 2001. The group found that the bishops were very hardworking (perhaps excessively so) and did not have lavish lifestyles. Their stipends, and most of their working costs, are paid by the Church Commissioners. The term "working costs" (or, even worse, "expenses") can be misleading, as for the most part they are not bishops' costs in a personal sense, but costs incurred in the day-to-day activities of the Church of England, mainly in the dioceses. The system is managed in great detail, and at some considerable cost, by the Commissioners, and there are anomalies and inequities between bishops and dioceses. For example the cost to the Commissioners of a diocesan bishop (excluding stipend and maintenance of the see house, and not including the two archbishops) varied from 46,000 to 129,000 in 1999, and of suffragans from 9,000 to 53,000. The review group believe that the present system does not provide best value for money, and does not encourage bishops to exercise financial management and control. The group recommended that the provision of resources should be measured against standard principles. Much of the resources should be provided to diocesan bishops as block grants to support all the bishops in the diocese, so that bishops could deploy resources in the manner most suited to their locality.

The report was debated in November. In his introduction to the debate, Professor Mellows said that it was the review group's judgement that the present system could not continue. It would crack, he said. The Bishop of Portsmouth (Kenneth Stevenson) was concerned that a recommendation to have a Bishops' Resource Group in each diocese would increase bureaucracy and be less efficient than the present system. He said that most bishops lived in "elegant poverty" and found that that their jobs were becoming more complex. Lady Brentford (the Third Church Estates Commissioner) said that the Church Commissioners were totally committed to supporting bishops. She agreed that the present system was far too centralised. Synod voted to take note of the report, although one member thought that the report was irrelevant until the questions "How many bishops should we have?" and "What are their tasks?" had been answered. The Archbishops have set up a Consultations Group to listen to the views of Synod and others and then to offer them advice on how to proceed.

For a Church of England press release about the Mellows report click here
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