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General Synod of the Church of England – February 2003 Group of Sessions
24 to 26 February 2003

by Peter Owen
Member of the House of Laity of General Synod from the diocese of Liverpool
9 March 2003

Employment Status of Clergy

Stipendiary clergy in the Church of England fall into three categories. The majority (5500) have the freehold, and apart from cases of disciplinary offence or other rare circumstance they have complete security of tenure until retirement. Over 1000 have a contract of employment, mainly in chaplaincies, and the same employment rights as most employees in England. The remaining 3500 or so have neither the freehold not a contract but operate under bishop's licence. There have been a small number of contentious and well publicized cases in recent years where the bishop has decided not to renew the licence of clergy in this last category. The British Government is considering the possibility of using its powers under the Employment Act 1999 to confer some employment rights on people who are not technically employees, and this would include the majority of clergy. The Archbishops' Council has sent a response to the Government, accepting that there are unsatisfactory features in the present situation (particularly for clergy with the bishop's licence) and that change is needed. It also argued that the Church needed to conduct its own study of the options for amending current arrangements, with a view to enhancing safeguards against injustice and ensuring a proper balance between rights and responsibilities. To this end it has set up a working party, which will initially consider the position of clergy without the freehold or a contract of employment, and then look at the freehold.

All this was reported to Synod in a debate introduced by Canon Bob Baker. Speakers accepted that licensed clergy were inadequately protected, but that those with the freehold had too much security and it was wrong for there to be two categories of clergy. Some wanted to view the clergy as employees, but others said that clergy were more like franchisees or independent contractors.

Series 1 Marriage and Funerals

In November 2002 Synod gave first consideration to the indefinite extension of the authorization of Series One Solemnization of Matrimony and Burial Services. To complete the process, they came back this time for final approval, which they were given. The arguments in the debate were the same as in November, so they will not be repeated here. The voting figures were:


Voices from Africa

The recently published report Voices from Africa (edited by Andrew Wheeler, Church House Publishing, ISBN 0-7151-5552-0) is an anthology of pieces, all written by Africans, that seeks to help us learn from the experiences of African Churches. It provided the background to a debate about the churches and Christians in Africa. Opening the debate, the Bishop of Birmingham spoke of the importance of listening to the voices. It might be painful to hear of the dislocation of lives through poverty, war, HIV/AIDS, but there was also great joy, determination and hope. Others also spoke of the importance of listening and of the benefits to both sides of encounters with churches in Africa.

At the end of the debate, Synod passed the following motion.

That this Synod, affirming its commitment to receiving from the world wide Church

(a) gives thanks for the witness of the churches in Africa and for the challenge and inspiration they offer to the Church of England;

(b) strongly encourage individuals, parishes, deaneries and other groups to read the anthology Voices from Africa as a means of trying to understand both the joys and the sorrows of African Christians;

(c) reaffirm its commitment to working with the PWM Mission Agencies in their work of promoting both the receiving from and giving to the mission of Churches in Africa;

(d) invite Dioceses, through their Companion Link Committees, to review how they 'receive' from their partner Churches; and

(e) request that guidelines for good practice in relationships where there is a mutuality of receiving and giving be prepared before the end of the present quinquennium.

Gender Neutral Titles

A motion from Birmingham Diocesan Synod came to Synod calling for church legislation to be amended to replace gender specific titles (such as chairman) by gender neutral language (eg chair), and for dioceses to use these titles as soon as possible. As soon as Bridget Langstaff had finished proposing the motion, John Higginbottom proposed that the Synod should move to next business, on the grounds that Synod should not, as he put it, concern itself with such minutiae at the present time of crisis. His point of order was then carried.


Since Synod had held a full-scale debate on Iraq at its previous group of sessions in November 2002, the Business Committee had not included the matter on the agenda this time. However there was pressure from members for another debate, and the two Archbishops agreed to hold a short one.

Introducing the debate the Archbishop of York said that it was not for individual nations to substitute their own judgement for that of the international community. There was a serious dilemma between the need not to ignore Iraqi refusal to comply with UN resolutions and very real doubts about the moral legitimacy of a war with Iraq.

Other speakers referred to the need to prepare for a flood of refugees, the steady escalation of action to a point where war was a fait accompli, the arming of Saddam Hussein by many countries not just the USA and the UK, the children, the young and the old who would suffer, and the lack of diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis. Brigadier Ian Dobbie said that there was undoubtedly intelligence that could not be revealed and that he would trust President Bush and the Prime Minster to act honourably. The Archdeacon for the Royal Navy asked people to remember the members of the armed forces in their prayers.

At the end of the debate, and after a period of silent prayer, Synod passed the following motion by 294 votes to 46.

That this Synod

a) endorse the statement issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster on 20 February;

b) in particular, affirm that decisions about how to secure the disarmament of Iraq within the framework of international law must be through the United Nations; and

c) urge all members of the Church of England to observe Ash Wednesday as a day of prayer and fasting for all caught up in the crisis over Iraq.

The Archbishops' statement may be read here.

Cathedral Entrance Charges

Tom Sutcliffe from the diocese of Southwark proposed a private member's motion calling for legislation to stop the imposition of entrance charges to cathedrals. He said that charges changed a cathedral from a tool of mission and an opportunity for evangelism into a tourist commodity. Visitors were less likely to be awakened to a more thoughtful religious response. Other people spoke of the regrettable necessity of charging and of the difficulties of other methods of fund-raising. The Bishop of Guildford successfully proposed an amendment simply to encourage cathedrals to avoid charging if at all possible. The amended motion was passed overwhelmingly.

Choosing Diocesan Bishops

In November 2002 Synod started to implement the recommendations of the Perry report on choosing diocesan bishops. When the debate was adjourned in November, Synod had passed a last-minute amendment to one of the motions before it so as to change the number of diocesan members on the Crown Appointments Commission from four to eight, but had not reached the vote on the substantive motion. Although suggestions had been made outside Synod that many wanted an increase, but would prefer six to eight (an option not available in November), the Business Committee had decided that by voting for eight, Synod had expressed its view on the matter. For Synod possibly to change its mind by considering other numbers required the permission of the Business Committee, and this it had decided not to do.

When the debate resumed Professor David McClean proposed that the debate on this matter be adjourned until July so that more consideration could be given to how to proceed, and this was carried by 207 votes to 170. The remaining proposed changes before Synod were all non-controversial and were carried.

Additional Collects

In July 2001 Synod passed a motion asking for additional collects 'in a worthy contemporary idiom' to be available as alternatives to those in Common Worship. The Liturgical Commission has prepared a set for Sundays, Principal Holy Days and Harvest Festival. Introducing a debate, the Revd Dr Paul Roberts said that extensive consultations by the Commission had shown that most people wanted 'noble simplicity', and the Commission had tried to provide this, but without dumbing-down. Speakers in the debate varied between finding the new collects too simple and not simple enough. They were given first consideration and will now go to a revision committee.

The text of the new collects can be downloaded from here as a 78 kB Word document.

Common Worship: Daily Prayer

Common Worship: Daily Prayer was published in a preliminary edition in Epiphany 2002. Since it satisfies the requirements of the authorized A Service of the Word it does not itself require authorization, but the Liturgical Commission has always intended to draw on the experience of users and a debate in Synod as a part of the process of producing the Definitive Edition. Speakers in the debate were generally very appreciative of Daily Prayer, but there were a number of suggestions for additions: the daily work of ordinary people in the intercessions, a greater emphasis on penitence, and the Church's mission with children.

The preliminary edition of Daily Prayer is available on the Church of England's web site here.

Size and Membership of General Synod

After debates in July 2001 and July 2002 about its own size and composition, Synod started on the process of putting the proposed changes into effect; this will involve amending one canon and three sets of representation rules. The detailed proposals from the drafting group are for a reduction in total size from 571 to 480, including reductions in the special constituencies for suffragan bishops (from 9 to 7), cathedral deans (from 15 to 5) and archdeacons (from 43 to 12). The chair of the drafting group, the Bishop of Dover, said that, although special constituencies were still needed, no more that ten per cent of each group needed to be on Synod. Some retired clergy would be eligible for election as clergy proctors. There would be no universities constituencies; if necessary the Archbishops should nominate up to three theological experts to provide expertise missing from the electing members.

In the debate several speakers (not all of them archdeacons) said that the reduction in number of archdeacons was too great. They were the ones most involved in putting the decisions of Synod into effect in the dioceses, and three quarters of them were on committees, boards and groups outside Synod. One complained that the proposed sizes of the various constituencies were the result of pragmatic decisions with no overall principles behind them.

There were also complaints about the abolition of the universities constituencies, which was being proposed despite a explicit vote by Synod in 2001 to have "one or more special constituencies of university recognised teachers with theological expertise".

At the end of the debate all the proposals were sent to a revision committee.

Churches Conservation Trust

Synod had a debate on funding the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) in November, and the order to put the proposals into effect was debated in February. Proposing approval of the funding order, Lady Brentford, (the Third Church Estates Commissioner) said that since November the Government had set its contribution somewhat below the figure asked for by the CCT, and as a result the Church's maximum contribution for 2003/2006 was reduced in proportion from £4.4 million to £3.875 million.

In the debate the Bishop of London said that the perception by the public and in government that the Church was being enormously generously treated was totally false; the Church was not a "pampered pensionary but the most disestablished Church in Europe" in this matter. Other speakers were unhappy about spending money in this way, but with these reservations, the funding order was approved.

Parliamentary Democracy

Synod continued a debate (adjourned from November 2002) on a motion encouraging the government and others to enhance the effectiveness of our parliamentary institutions. Speakers made various suggestions of how to do this. Amendments to the motion were carried in favour of proportional representation by the single transferable vote and the abandonment of the closed-part-list system. The motion was carried.

Emerging Issues in Mental Health

Synod's final debate, on mental health, concentrated on the Government's draft Mental Health Bill. Opening the debate, the Archdeacon of Lincoln said that the draft bill concentrated on public safety. It treated mental illness as a medical condition only, and failed to acknowledge race, spirituality, gender and culture. It did not recognize the causal link between mental illness and social deprivation. The Chaplain General of Prisons said that of the 57,000 adult men in prison, 42,000 had mental-health problems, and the ecumenical member for black-led churches spoke of the large number of black people in mental hospitals. Other matters raised in the debate and in the background papers are well-covered in the motion below, which Synod passed by 203 votes to nil.

That this Synod

(a) welcome the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce new mental health legislation designed to reflect the fact that most people with mental health problems live in the community and require a comprehensive response to their illness;

(b) request Her Majesty's Government to take careful note of the wide response to the draft Bill, including concerns about

(i) those who lack capacity; and

(ii) the proposed inclusion of people with learning disabilities who do not have an additional mental health disorder within the ambit of compulsory treatment;

and in particular to retain the positive elements of the 1983 Mental Health Act and call upon Her Majesty's Government to

(i) revise the text of the draft Bill to take account of the many concerns expressed (including but not exclusively those listed above); and

(ii) ensure that sufficient resources are made available for the implementation of any new legislation;

(c) further request Her Majesty's Government to provide a real alternative to prison for those with mental illness, with particular reference to young offenders, and to extend the protection of the legislation for those who remain in prison with mental health needs;

(d) urge parishes and deaneries to develop their pastoral care of those with mental illness and their carers and welcome the decision to produce Promoting Mental Health: A Training Resource for Pastoral Care as a means of equipping them to do so; and

(e) commend the ministry of the mental health chaplains in promoting the wellbeing and needs of mental health users and their carers.

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