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General Synod of the Church of England November 2002 Group of Sessions
11 to 15 November 2002
by Peter Owen
Member of the House of Laity of General Synod from the diocese of Liverpool
30 November 2002
The House of Bishops issued a paper Evaluating the Threat of Military Action Against Iraq: A Contribution to the Debate (which can be downloaded as a 164 kB Word document from here) on 9 October 2002 and this formed the background to a debate on the first day of the November Synod. Proposing the motion below, the Bishop of Coventry (Colin Bennetts) said that it would be grossly irresponsible if the Church did not raise those moral and ethical issues that have to be resolved before any recourse to military action. Responses and actions must be proportionate and the aim of any war must be peace. Although Synod should welcome the fact that the UN had been able to agree on a resolution there was a suspicion that the crisis had been somewhat manufactured to suit American foreign policy interest. To go to war when Iraq did not pose an imminent threat would lower the threshold of war to an unacceptable level.
Other speakers referred to the unprecedented opposition in the world-wide church to unilateral action, the impossibility of confining any conflict to Iraq, the dangerous precedent of using military action to achieve a regime change, and the unacceptability of "pre-emptive retaliation". Some were concerned at the anti-American tone of the Bishops' paper.
The Bishop of Southwark (Tom Butler) moved an amendment seeking to add a paragraph to the motion to say that it was for the UN Security Council alone to decide what action to take in the event of any Iraqi breach of the UN resolution, but this was defeated by 141 votes to 110.
At the end of the debate Synod passed the following motion by 290 votes to nil.
That this Synod, mindful that Christians are called to be peacemakers but aware of the deteriorating diplomatic situation between Iraq and the international community:
(a) endorse the conclusions of the House of Bishops' submission (9 October 2002) to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee's ongoing inquiry into the war against terrorism as set out in paragraph 1 of Iraq: Would Military Action Be Justified? The Church's Contribution to the Debate;
(b) call on Christians to pray for the world and its leaders, and to work together with people of all faiths, in the search for a just and peaceful resolution of this crisis;
(c) call on Christian and other religious leaders in Britain to urge their followers to avoid words and actions that might lead to conflict between people of different faiths;
(d) encourage dioceses to support Christian Aid, the Centre for International Ministry at Coventry Cathedral and the Church of England mission agencies as they continue to minister to the needs of the most vulnerable people within Iraq and the wider region;
(e) call on all parishes to exercise particular pastoral concern and support for the families of members of the British armed forces who are separated by the present crisis; and
(f) commend to dioceses for further reflection the BSR report Iraq: Would Military Action be Justified? The Church's Contribution to the Debate.
Election of Churchwardens and Parochial Church Councils
At present these elections can be carried out by a show of hands, or, if privacy is desired, by the use of ballot papers which voters must sign on the back. The signatures are intended to ensure that in the event of a subsequent dispute about the eligibility of those who voted, the papers of ineligible voters can be eliminated. It also makes it very easy to discover how people voted. Professor David McClean (Sheffield) moved a motion from his diocesan synod to provide greater privacy by allowing the use of unsigned but numbered papers (as used in national and local government elections) when meetings chose to use ballot papers rather than a show of hands. Whilst some speakers in the debate were unconvinced that there was a real need for the change or were concerned at the cost of changing the rules, most were in favour and the motion was passed.
Repairs to Church Buildings
Roy Thompson (York) moved a private members motion calling on the Archbishops' Council to press the Government for more funding for urgent repairs to church buildings, which, not surprisingly, was carried.
Choosing Diocesan Bishops
In July 2001 Synod debated a report of a review group into how the Church of England chooses its diocesan bishops, or to be more accurate how it chooses two names to send to the Prime Minister for him or her to choose from. The report was well received, and a steering group was set up to follow up the recommendations. The group made some modifications to the proposals, and brought back to Synod those which required amendments to the Vacancy in See Committees Regulation 1993 and to Synod's standing order 122, which governs the Crown Appointments Commission (or, as the steering group proposed to rename it, the Crown Nominations Commission). Other recommendations will have to be implemented by others (such as the the Archbishops and their appointments secretary, diocesan bishops and the Prime Minister's appointments secretary) and there was also a motion to Synod asking them to do this.
Opening the debate on the steering group's report, Professor Michael Clarke (Worcester, the chair of the group) said that when a see became vacant, there would be an announcement in the church press inviting comments and possible names, and all names would be circulated to members of the Commission. Full documentation about candidates would be provided, and a crucial aspect of the revised system was that this information would not be filtered by the appointments secretaries. A Senior Appointments List of potential candidates for senior posts was proposed. This would include a reference from the person proposing a cleric to the list, factual information supplied by the candidate and references by two referees nominated by the candidate. This improved system for collecting information should mean that full documentation was available for every credible candidate.
Synod took note of the report.
The fun started when Synod went on to debate the implementation of the recommendations. The revised procedures in the Commission were still to be based on paperwork (albeit much improved paperwork) and any personal knowledge that Commission members might have of individual candidates. However, the Revd Paul Collier (Southwark) proposed that once a shortlist of candidates had been drawn up, they should be interviewed by the Commission. The Perry report had said that interviews would be unsettling for candidates considered for several dioceses, but Mr Collier said that there were three counter-arguments. Surely, senior clerics were sufficiently robust to deal with this kind of disappointment, there would be a level of anxiety anyway as people would know when the Commission was meeting, and, in any case, surely there was some satisfaction in being called for interview even if unsuccessful. What was vitally important was that interviews would deal with the problem that some candidates were known to the Commission and others were not. Other speakers spoke in favour of Mr Collier's amendment, and it was carried.
Two other amendments were not carried. Mr Collier proposed to make voting at the Commission open instead of secret. Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford) wanted the Commission to use the single transferable vote "as far as possible". The present voting procedure by elimination was negative, he said.
Synod then went on to consider the steering group's proposed amendments to Standing Order 122. The first was simply to change the name from Crown Appointments Commission to Crown Nominations Commission, to reflect the fact that the Commission does not itself appoint diocesan bishops. The Revd Stephen Trott wanted to increase the number of members from the diocese with a vacant bishopric from four to eight, and because the composition of the Commission and its name are in the same paragraph of the Standing Order, his proposal appeared as an amendment to the steering group's motion to change the name. Mr Trott said that he wanted to make the diocesan membership of the Commission equal to the eight central members, as he felt that this would produce more risk-takers. He did not want a "safe pair of hands" as a church leader. On a show of hands the vote on his amendment was close, but on a count it was passed by 197 votes to 180.
Before synod could vote on the main motion (and actually incorporate the increased number of diocesan representatives into its standing orders) Canon Bob Baker (Norwich, and Prolocutor of the Canterbury Convocation) proposed that, because of the two very significant amendments that had been carried, Synod should adjourn its consideration of the matter, and this was agreed by 226 votes to 153. The matter will now return to Synod at a later group of sessions.
Series One services
Unlike other alternative services, which are authorized "until further resolution of the Synod", Series One Solemnization of Matrimony and Burial Services are only authorized until 31 December 2005. Noting that there is still a significant demand for these services, the House of Bishops brought two motions to Synod to bring their period of authorization into line with other services. The motion for the marriage service was agreed without controversy. The burial services include, amongst the optional prayers:
Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord:
and let light perpetual shine upon them.
O Father of all, we pray to thee for those whom we love, but see no longer. Grant them thy peace; let light perpetual shine upon them; and in thy loving wisdom and almighty power work in them the good purpose of thy perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
These are contentious in some parts of the Church of England, and some speakers explained their opposition to the service because of their inclusion. Others were in favour of the service. It was pastorally effective for all generations and did not raise the doctrinal questions raised by some speakers. When it came to the vote, the motion to extend authorization was carried.
Since extending authorization is a two-stage process, the matter will have to come back to Synod for final approval.
Vesture of Ordained and Authorised Ministers
Andrew David (Southwell) moved a motion from his diocesan synod seeking an amendment to Canon B8 so that ministers, with the agreement of their church councils, might "dispense with the provisions relating to the vesture of ordained and authorised ministers during the time of divine service." He wanted some flexibility because of the very real fact that "perceived from outside the worshipping congregation, robes can be a bit of a hindrance."
Whilst some other speakers supported the call for flexibility, others said that it was just another step towards allowing the clergy to be indistinguishable from other people in church, and pointed out that there were many dress codes in other walks of life. Liturgical vesture moved the worship away from the person and towards God.
A vote by houses was called, and the motion was defeated. The Bishops and the Clergy both voted against and the Laity only just voted in favour.
You can view the Canons of the Church of England here.
Barry Barnes (Southwark) introduced his private members' motion asking for restrictions on the abuses of the Abortion Act of 1967 by saying that when it was enacted it had been said that the number of abortions would be relatively small, but there was now one abortion every three minutes in England and Wales. He said that despite the good intentions of those who supported the Act in Parliament, abortion was being used as a method of contraception.
Speakers in the debate spoke of the psychological trauma caused to a woman by having an abortion, the pressures to abort a potentially disabled child, which was now legal even at full term, and how easy it was to have an abortion.
Jonathan Redden (Sheffield) successfully proposed an amendment to add paragraphs (a) to (c) to the motion below despite the view of some Synod members thought that it looked like a group of middle-aged men imposing their views on women. The motion itself was passed by 222 votes to 22.
That this Synod being gravely concerned with the fact that in England there are currently 500 abortions every day of the year, call upon Her Majesty's Government to bring in urgent legislation to restrict the abuses of the Abortion Act and, in doing so, to give consideration to the following:
(a) protecting women from being coerced into abortions and providing counselling facilities to help women keep their babies;
(b) guaranteeing a woman's right to full disclosure about the balance of risk involved; and
(c) protecting those women most likely to be injured by abortion by requiring the screening of patients.
Marriage in Church after Divorce
In July 2002 Synod debated the marriage in church of divorced people with a former partner still living. Synod then gave general approval to the rescission of the York Convocation Marriage Resolutions of 1938 which stated (in part) "that in order to maintain the principle of lifelong obligation which is inherent in every marriage contract between Christians (however solemnized) and is expressed in the plainest terms in the Marriage Service, the Church should not allow the use of that service in the case of anyone who has a former partner still living", and of the similarly worded Canterbury Convocation resolutions of 1957. Rescission is a two-stage process, so Synod in November was asked to give final approval. The Convocations and the House of Laity had each exercised their right to debate and vote on the matter, and did so on Monday afternoon before the whole Synod met. As they all voted in favour, Synod was able to debate the matter on Thursday morning. Since by then the matter had already been discussed twice, and at the separate meetings and the main debate on final approval everybody who wished to speak was entitled to do so, there was a certain amount of repetition.
Introducing the main debate the Bishop of Winchester (Michael Scott-Joynt) said that Synod had been influenced by the legal officers' advice that the resolutions ought to be rescinded as they might be construed as conflicting with the right of parishioners to marry in their parish churches, which is qualified by the clergy's right to refuse marriage to divorcees on the grounds of conscience (but not on the grounds that somebody else had told them to refuse). The bishop said Synod's decision in July that there were "exceptional circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former spouse" contradicted the Convocation resolutions, and the only consistent approach was to rescind the resolutions. Despite the symbolic value that some saw in the resolutions there was no middle way and they had to go. However no clergy would be obliged against their consciences to marry a divorced person with a former partner still living; their position would continue to be safeguarded in civil law.
In the debate some speakers argued form the indissolubilist position; others spoke to support what the Bishop of Winchester had said. Some said that a service of blessing for divorcees who married again was the right approach whilst others said that such services were hypocritical. Some spoke of the pain of being refused a church wedding.
At the end, the Archbishop of York, who was in the chair, said that although only a simple majority of the Synod was required, he would order a vote by Houses. The motion to rescind the resolutions was carried in all three:
Appointments to the Archbishops' Council
Synod was asked to agree to the appointment of the following new members of the Archbishops' Council to replace two retiring members (Elizabeth Paver and Stephen Bampfylde) and one (David Lammy) who resigned when he was appointed a Government minister.
Dr Stevenson is to become the chair of the Board of Education, and the Archbishops wanted to appoint him to the Council in this capacity. Some concern was expressed that this was not the purpose of the appointed members, but the appointment of the new members was agreed by a large majority.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Introducing his private member's motion, Keith Masters (Lichfield) started with a harrowing tale of a seven-year old girl whose body he had seen after she has bled to death after a form of genital mutilation. The worst form of FGM involved removing the genitalia with a razor blade or piece of glass without anaesthetic or antiseptic, and preserving a very small opening with a piece of wood or reed. It was a matter of culture and not religion. There was an urgent need to provide other ways of celebrating womanhood. Westerners could not just walk in and tell people that they were wrong.
Other speakers who had lived in countries where FGM was practised spoke of their experiences, and emphasized the need for tact. A reference in the original motion to the "evil of FGM" was toned down by a successful amendment.
At the end of the debate, Synod voted unanimously in favour of the amended motion below.
That this Synod, noting gratefully that all forms of female genital mutilation (FGM) are prohibited under UK law:
(a) recognise the urgent need for continuing action through health education and cultural programmes to work actively towards the total eradication of these practices world wide, through the provision of alternative and harmless 'rites of passage' into adulthood, which include celebration and general approval by the local people;
(b) condemn all forms of FGM;
(c) request the Archbishops' Council to consider ways in which the dangers of FGM can be better understood by the Church and the nation;
(d) urge all Provinces of the Anglican Communion to challenge the ritual practices and customs which serve to legitimise FGM; and
(e) welcome the efforts of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation to combat this abuse against women and girls.
Clergy Stipends, Pensions and other Financial Issues
In November 2001 Synod debated the report Generosity and Sacrifice which, amongst other things, recommended an incumbent's stipend of £20000 instead of the current national stipend benchmark of £16910 (both figures at 2001/2 levels). The Archbishops' Council's Financial Issues Working Group produced a report for Synod with recommendations for implementing the proposals in Generosity and Sacrifice. There is also a proposal that about £9 million per annum should be redistributed so that it is added to the £15 million per annum from the Church Commissioners which is currently selectively allocated to the least resourced dioceses. Of this extra, about half is now distributed, for historical reasons, by the Church Commissioners as guaranteed annuities to some parish clergy.
Introducing a debate on the working group's report, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds (John Packer) referred to the mutual support between dioceses involved in the redistribution of the £9 million as a fundamental part of the package. Generosity and Sacrifice had set three aspirations for clergy stipends:
1) an increase in assistant staff stipend levels to the national minimum stipend, as a matter of justice;
2) an increase of 4.4% in incumbents' stipends over and above normal increases, since stipends had not kept pace with average earnings; and
3) an incumbents' stipend of £20000 at 2001/2 levels.
The report recommended that aspiration 3 should be implemented from 2007, with the actual speed of implementation determined each year. The report also looked at clergy pensions and recommended that the defined benefit scheme should be maintained, but with a number of adjustments to how benefits were calculated.
In the debate some speakers spoke of how clergy were not well paid; some were supported by working spouses and others received help from clergy charities - principally with holidays. Others spoke of the impossibility in many dioceses of being able to afford aspiration 3, and pointed out that when the working group had consulted dioceses, a majority had said that aspiration 3 was either not justified at all or was not affordable at present. A straw poll at the Inter-Diocesan Finance Forum had voted 40 to 3 against aspiration 3.
Synod voted to take note of the report, and then moved onto a debate on a report proposing the abolition of the Church Commissioners' guaranteed annuities. Introducing this debate, the First Church Estates Commissioner (Andreas Whittam Smith) said that the annuities did not benefit individual clergy, but rather dioceses whose parishes had, for historical reasons, been rich in endowments. Most dioceses had said that they were in favour of their abolition. Synod voted to take note of the report.
Bishop Packer then moved that the Business Committee be instructed to introduce the necessary legislation to abolish the guaranteed annuities, and to approve the other recommendations in the two reports. The Revd Simon Killwick moved an amendment to remove aspiration 3. A vote by houses was called with the following result.
Since the vote was lost in the House of Bishops, the amendment was defeated, and aspiration 3 remained in the recommendations.
The working group had recommended that the differentials for archdeacons, deans and bishops should be rounded up, but an amendment proposed by the Revd Peter Spiers (Liverpool) that they should be rounded down was carried.
Finally Bishop Packer's motion was carried on a show of hands.
Funding the Churches Conservation Trust
When a Church of England church becomes redundant (because it is no longer needed for parish worship) attempts are made to find an alternative use. In the minority of cases where these attempts are unsuccessful, the church is either demolished or transferred to the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT). Since 1969 the CCT has received 327 redundant churches. They remain consecrated and may be used for occasional worship. The Government provides a grant of 70% of the CCT's costs, leaving the Church to find the remainder (a maximum of £4.4 million in the triennium 2003-2006). When a redundant church is sold, two thirds of the proceeds are retained by the diocese and one-third goes towards the Church's 30% contribution to the CCT. The remainder of the Church's contribution comes from the Church Commissioners. In a debate, Lady Brentford, the Third Church Estates Commissioner, invited Synod to approve these arrangements for 2003-2006.
Whilst some speakers felt that it was wrong to spend any money on redundant buildings when it could be used for the living church, the majority supported the work of the CCT and arrangements for 2003-2006 were approved.
National Youth Strategy
Synod finished with a debate on a proposed new National Youth Strategy with four elements:
Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Blackburn (Alan Chesters) said that the strategy was built on the solid foundations of the 1996 report Youth A Part. The strategy offered a new way of working to nurture and encourage young people who were active Christians, those just clinging on and those effectively ignorant of the Good News. It is proposed to set up a substantial Youth Evangelism Fund to be spent over a limited number of years. The main intention of the Fund will be to support local, grassroots projects. It was intended to attract new money to the Fund, and not rely on existing church finances.
In the debate everyone supported the proposals, and the following motion was passed unanimously.
That this Synod
(a) endorse the four key areas of the proposed National Youth Strategy;
(b) approve the proposals for the establishment of a Youth Evangelism Fund;
(c) call on the Church in the dioceses, deaneries and parishes to be actively involved in the implementation of the National Youth Strategy; and
(d) ask the Archbishops' Council to monitor the implementation of the National Youth Strategy and to give a report on progress before the end of the current quinquennium.
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