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General Synod of the Church of England – February 2004 Group of Sessions
9 to 13 February 2004

by Peter Owen
Member of the House of Laity of General Synod from the diocese of Liverpool
28 February 2004

Links to the many press reports on the meeting of Synod can be found here.

Relationships with ECUSA

A number of questions, and a statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, dealt with the relationship between the Church of England and the Episcopal Church USA in the light of the consecration of Gene Robinson. Simon Sarmiento has already written about this for Anglicans Online, and I refer you to his article here.

Additional Collects

These were returned, unaltered, to Synod by the House of Bishops, and were given final approval, with effect from 14 February 2004. Paper copies will be published later this year, but the texts are available here now as a 54 kB Word document.

Community Relationships

The Revd Simon Bessant, from Blackburn diocese, proposed a private member's motion saying that no Christian should vote for a political party with racially divisive policies. This was in response to the recent successes of the British National Party (BNP) in local elections in parts of Lancashire. There were parties who wished to return to a mythical racially "pure" past, and voter apathy allowed small parties to make a larger impact.

Vivienne Goddard, also from Blackburn, said that the BNP was the official opposition on the local council. The Bishop of Manchester said how horrified he had been at the letters of protest, many from people who claimed to be Christian, received following an anti-racist statement issued by leaders in Greater Manchester.

Dr Bessant's motion was slightly amended, and then passed as follows by 227 votes to nil.

That this Synod, noting the recent success of the British National Party in local elections in parts of Lancashire:

(a) believe that any political movement that seeks to divide our communities on the basis of ethnicity is an affront to the nature of God revealed in creation and scripture and is a grave danger to harmonious community relationships; consequently voting for and/or supporting a political party that offers racist policies is incompatible with Christian discipleship;

(b) call on all Christians in England to nurture a loathing of the sin of racism and to model the teaching of Christ in loving all our neighbours; and

(c) commit the Church of England to work in partnership with our ecumenical partners, other faith groups, voluntary and statutory organisations, mainstream political parties and all people of good will, in building cohesive communities and affirming our multi-ethnic, culturally and religiously diverse society.

Composition of General Synod

Synod returned to the question of its own size and composition. In February 2003 the proposed changes had been sent to a revision committee. This committee proposed that there should be twelve archdeacons and five cathedral deans in the House of Clergy, but that the special constituencies for university clergy should be abolished.

The place of archdeacons in Synod has been very controversial. Whilst there seemed little support for keeping the present one per diocese, many people thought that twelve was too few and amendments had been submitted to increase the number to 24 or to 18. However the Archdeacon of Malmesbury proposed that the special constituency for archdeacons should be abolished entirely. Instead they should be allowed to stand for election as one of the clergy representatives from their diocese. When put to the vote, this was passed overwhelmingly.

Another controversial proposal was the abolition of the six places for university clergy. Dr Richard Burridge (one of these six) proposed their restoration. He said that they brought theological expertise and a distinctive voice to Synod. Synod agreed, and restored the six places.

An attempt to increase the number of Deans failed. Other proposals from the revision committee, such as the number of suffragan bishops (down from ten to seven) and the reduction in the total size from 571 to 480, were not challenged. The new arrangements are scheduled to come into effect at the general election of a new synod in the summer of 2005.

Mission-Shaped Church: Report by the Mission and Public Affairs Council

The Bishop of Maidstone (the Rt Revd Graham Cray) who had chaired the working group that prepared this report, said that it was primarily a report on what the Church was doing in the dioceses. The parochial system remained essential, but there was also a need for church planting. As well as the traditional plant in a new neighbourhood, there was a need for new types of plant, often on a non-geographic basis.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the Church stood at a kairos moment with many things coming together. The report cut across familiar polarizations: churchmanship, large churches versus small churches, and parochial versus non-parochial.

Speakers were generally in favour and were happy with the idea of having both parish-based and network-based church. Synod voted to take note of the report, and passed the following motion.

That this Synod

(a) welcome the report Mission-shaped Church as a contribution to reflection and action about a 'mixed economy church' and commend it to dioceses, deaneries and parishes for study and discussion;

(b) encourage all parishes to regard the area within their parish boundaries as areas of 'responsibility' rather than areas of 'ownership';

(c) invite dioceses to take account of the report's proposals in the development of their diocesan mission strategies;

(d) invite dioceses and Partnership for World Mission Agencies to send examples of good practice in discovering fresh ways of engaging in mission with contemporary society to the Mission and Public Affairs Division for wider circulation;

(e) request the Mission and Public Affairs Council to: consider how the contributions and needs of minority ethnic people relate to an inclusive theology in changing models of church; consider the growing contribution of minority ethnic people to mission and parish renewal; and draw upon the experience of minority ethnic clergy and laity at looking at new ways of being church;

(f) ask the Mission and Public Affairs Council to consider and take forward the recommendations and report back to General Synod in the next quinquennium;

(g) ask the Mission and Public Affairs Council to also explore how current ministry restrictions relating to parish boundaries could be relaxed, to enable all churches to respond more flexibly to the network culture in which we now live; and

(h) reaffirm the guidelines for bringing a church plant to maturity, that appear in Appendix 1 of Breaking New Ground, already published and approved by General Synod, and recommend that they be adopted and used by each Diocese.

A Measure for Measures: in Mission and Ministry

Church of England legislation governing diocesan and parochial structures, and the disposal of church buildings no longer required for worship is complex. A review group was set up by the Archbishops' Council in 2000 to consider how to "ensure flexible and cost-effective procedures which fully meet changing and mission needs". Their report was presented to Synod by its chair, Professor Peter Toyne. The main proposals came under three headings, although the review group recommended that everything should be included in one Measure:

Dioceses

Neighbourhood and network

Church buildings

The recommendations were generally welcomed, although there was some debate over whether the Church Commissioners' pastoral responsibilities should be transferred to the Archbishops' Council (as recommended by the Turnbull Report in 1995), something which the Toyne Report was not recommending. Synod took note of the report, and passed the following motion.

That this Synod

(a) approve the recommendations contained in pages 96 to 105 of the Report except that in Recommendation 41(c) the word "regular" be inserted before the words "public worship"; and

(b) request the Archbishops' Council and the Business Committee to appoint a follow-up group (i) to prepare draft legislation to implement those recommendations which require it and (ii) to oversee the implementation of the other recommendations.

Draft Pastoral (Amendment) Measure

This draft measure was introduced to put into effect the proposal in the Toyne report that it should become possible to lease part of a church that was in use. The report had recommended that this should be done as soon as possible. It would allow extended use of church buildings without the need to make them partially redundant. The proposal was generally welcomed, and Synod sent it to a revision committee as the first stage of putting it into effect.

Gender Neutral Titles

Proposing a diocesan synod motion from Birmingham, Bridget Langstaff said the diocese was proposing that when gender-specific titles, such as chairman, were used in legislation, they should be changed to neutral titles, such as chair. Two speakers (both women) spoke against the idea, but others were in favour. The original motion proposed that current legislation should be changed, and Synod was told that this would cost about £10,000. The Revd Stephen Trott proposed an amendment, so that only future legislation would have to use gender-neutral language, which would not have cost implications, and Synod agreed to this, passing the following motion:

That this Synod, noting that gender neutral language was one of the guiding principles in devising Common Worship, request that all future legislation of this Synod referring to offices be drafted (where legal and drafting considerations permit) so that gender neutral language is employed.

Future Use of the Church Commissioners' Funds

After paying for clergy pensions, the Church Commissioners have about £60 million to spend each year. Most of this is divided between support for bishops, cathedrals and parish ministry. Bishops' costs (apart from the costs of housing suffragan bishops) are paid in full (£19 million in 2001). Most cathedrals receive the stipends of the dean and two residentiary canons, and with other grants they received a total of £6 million in 2001. Parish ministry received £26 million in 2001, most of it going to support clergy stipends. The Commissioners and the Archbishops' Council had set up a working party to consider how best to use the Commissioners' resources both in 2005-2007 and in the longer term.

The First Church Estates Commissioner (Andreas Whittam Smith) presented the working party's report and said that the £60 million could be used in more creative ways. By spending less on bishops and cathedrals, money could be released for a six-year grant scheme for mission development.

Synod members then proceeded to savage the report. Dioceses were having a hard enough time as it was without having to find money to support their bishops and cathedrals. The report assumed that bishops and cathedrals had nothing to do with mission. Although Synod was only being asked to take note of the report, there was a feeling that to vote in favour gave too much support whereas to vote against said that nothing needed changing. This dilemma was avoided when the adjournment was proposed and carried.

There are links to the full report here.

Being Human: Report by the Doctrine Commission

The Rt Revd Stephen Sykes (chair of the Doctrine Commission) introduced a debate on the Commission's recent report Being Human. The report addressed the fundamental questions of what it is to be human today, and the central chapters were about power, money, sex and time. Various views were expressed in the debate, and at the end Synod voted to take note of it.

Being Human is published by Church House Publishing.

Some Issues in Human Sexuality

In 1991 the House of Bishops issued its statement Issues in Human Sexuality and Synod debated this in 1997. Last year the House of Bishops issued a follow-up: Some Issues in Human Sexuality: A guide to the debate. This new report is 358 pages long, and presents a range of views on homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexualism. Synod debated it for two hours, a range of views was expressed, Synod took note of the report and passed this motion:

That this Synod commend Some Issues in Human Sexuality to the Church for study and reflection.

What Synod did not do was consider any motions expressing any particular opinion on the matters in Some Issues.

Some Issues in Human Sexuality is published by Church House Publishing.

Cohabitation

The Revd Simon Stanley proposed this motion from the York Diocesan Synod.

That this Synod

(a) believe that the provision in law of a contractual relationship, other than marriage, between two cohabiting adults is socially desirable, that such relationships exist and will continue to exist whether approved by the State and the Church or not and that the absence of a legal contract for such a relationship is a potential cause of injustice and misery; and

(b) request the Archbishops' Council to investigate and explore the issues involved in contractual partnerships, other than marriage, between two cohabiting adults and to report to the General Synod.

He said that it was about justice, and not sexuality. There were all sorts of reasons why people lived together, and they deserved the same sort of protection as those who were married, particularly when the relationship was ended by death.

In the debate, some members agreed that there was an injustice to be righted, others appeared to find it impossible to get out of their minds the false idea that cohabitation automatically meant illicit sex, and others said that passing the motion would deal a serious blow to marriage.

The Bishop of Southwark proposed an amendment (which completely changed the wording) to include reaffirmation of the importance of marriage, and to eliminate any action that would cost money. Synod accepted his amendment, and passed the amended motion below by 248 votes to 27.

That this Synod

(a) strongly reaffirm that marriage is central to the stability and health of society and warrants a unique place in the law of this country;

(b) recognise that there are issues of hardship and vulnerability for people whose relationships are not based on marriage which need to be addressed by the creation of new legal rights; and

(c) ask the Mission and Public Affairs Council to monitor future developments on these issues and report as necessary to Synod.

Draft Stipends (Cessation of Special Payments) Measure

This measure returned from the revision committee. It provides for the abolition of guaranteed annuities and other payments from the Church Commissioners currently made without regard to need. The measure includes a provision that the money released (about £5 million a year) should be redistributed to dioceses for stipend support on the basis of need. The First Church Estates Commissioner (Andreas Whittam Smith) proposed an amendment to remove this restriction, but this was rejected since Synod wanted to be sure that the money to be released was used to support clergy in needy dioceses. The draft measure was approved without amendment, and will go to the steering committee for final drafting before it returns to Synod for final approval, probably in July 2004.

Common Worship Ordinal

Authorization of the Alternative Service Book (ASB) Ordinal will expire at the end of 2005. Unless a Common Worship version is authorized before then, all ordinations will have to use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. A draft ordinal was presented to Synod based on the ASB, but with the ordination material spread more widely through the rite, and with more material specific to each order included. Synod agreed to send the draft for revision.

However one particular proposal proved controversial. This was to drop the requirement that a person being consecrated as a bishop must make the Declaration of Assent during the consecration service; instead he would make it before the service. Since this requirement is part of canon law, Synod also had before it a draft amending canon to make this change, and on a vote this was rejected.

Telling the Story: Being Positive about HIV/AIDS

This debate was preceded by a speech from the Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn MP. You can read what he said here.

Introducing the debate on the report, Telling the Story (available here as a 243 kb Word document), the Bishop of Chelmsford said that HIV/AIDS had struck every part of the world and was still spreading. The church could make a massive difference, for example by leading the fight against stigma. Sex-education programmes were essential in the fight against AIDS.

Others spoke of how poverty made the effects of HIV/AIDS worse, of the economic effects when large numbers of young adults died from AIDS, of the large number of orphans, of women forced to have sex with their HIV-positive husbands.

Synod took note of the report, and passed this motion by 191 votes to nil.

That this Synod, aware of the suffering and unprecedented threat to human life and development presented by HIV/AIDS and mindful of the statement issued by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in May 2003 that the 'Body of Christ has AIDS':

(a) commend the positive contribution that Churches and church agencies in Africa have made to addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic;

(b) affirm the work of the Church of England's world mission agencies, the development agencies and diocesan companion links in their support of those working with people with HIV/AIDS, including orphans and children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS;

(c) commend and encourage further development of partnerships between DfID and Churches of the Anglican Communion as exemplified in the HIV/AIDS work of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa;

(d) encourage dioceses and parishes to use World AIDS Day (December 1) as a means of raising awareness of the impact of AIDS and raising financial support for the work of the Church's mission and development agencies in their work with HIV/AIDS; and

(e) ask the Mission and Public Affairs Council to take forward the recommendations set out in section 7 of Telling the Story: Being Positive about HIV/AIDS.

Weekday Lectionary and Amendments to Calendar, Lectionary and Collects, Rules for Regulating Authorized Forms of Service, and 'Rules to Order the Service and Other Miscellaneous Liturgical Proposals' (GS 1342A, as amended by GS 1342B)

These were given first consideration. The draft weekday lectionary returned to the ASB principle of four lessons a day, arranged to give continuous or semi-continuous reading of individual books of the bible. Morning and Evening had separate sequences of readings arranged so that if only one office were said the whole of scripture would still be read, but over a longer period. The proposals were generally welcomed although there was some criticism of the length of the readings, and some people (particularly in cathedrals) would like a third set of daily readings suitable for use with people who only attend occasionally. The various amendments to the rules etc are intended to correct some minor anomalies, especially when Epiphany falls on a Sunday and the Common Worship and RCL Sunday readings get out of step. Synod agreed to send it all to a revision committee.

The Review of Clergy Terms of Service

Following a debate a year ago, and discussion in separate houses last July (see here for my report of the House of Laity meeting), Synod debated the first report from the group reviewing Clergy Terms of Service. Introducing the debate, the group's chair, Professor David McClean, said that little had been done about the insecurity of tenure of clergy without the freehold since 1867. Central to the group's work was the concept of unfair dismissal, which often happened in the guise of the revocation of a licence or the expiry of a fixed-term appointment. The group proposed that those clergy (the majority) who were not employees should remain office-holders, but that those without the freehold should have "common tenure". Appointments would be open-ended, subject to the retiring age and to the possibility of removal on grounds of discipline, ill-health, redundancy or after the "capability procedure" when a failure to reach minimum standards proved irremediable. This would give clergy similar security of tenure to most people in comparable professions, with the ultimate safeguard of access to an impartial tribunal (the Employment Tribunal) outside the church.

In the debate a number of alternatives to the proposals were suggested. Perhaps the Government should be asked to make an order under Section 23 of the Employment Relations Act 1999 conferring similar rights. Was it right for Christians to take cases to the secular courts, or should the church set up its own version of the Employment Tribunals? Others welcomed the proposals, and nobody even suggested that the present situation was satisfactory.

Synod took note of the report, and passed the following motion.

That this Synod

(a) welcome the recommendations summarised on pages 1 to 6 of the Report;

(b) commend the report to the dioceses and the wider church and ask dioceses and other interested parties to submit comments to the working group by July 2004;

(c) request the Archbishops' Council to follow up the recommendations, taking account of the responses from dioceses and other interested parties, and to bring forward legislation based on those recommendations; and

(d) request the working group to make a further report to this Synod at the conclusion of the second phase of its work.

The Gift of Authority

ARCIC issued its statement The Gift of Authority in 1998. The Council for Christian Unity issued a brief statement (available here as a 46 kb Word document) which formed the basis for Synod's first debate on the statement.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Peterborough said that there had been no consensus on the merits of The Gift of Authority. There was a need to know about jurisdiction and infallibility before we could live with authority, and these issues needed clarification.

The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the view of authority as gift, but spoke of his grave misgivings about the word infallibility, and of the need for further work on the relationship between the local and the universal.

Some members thought that the CCU motion was a little too critical, whilst others said that important matters had been left out. In particular the Bishop of Woolwich wanted to add an explicit reference to the Marian decrees and the difficulties they caused, but his amendment to do this was defeated.

Synod passed this motion, after amendments had been passed inserting paragraph (c) and rewording (h).

That this Synod:

(a) re-affirm the Church of England's commitment to work with all its ecumenical partners towards the full visible unity of the Church of Christ;

(b) recognise the significant role of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) in progressing the search for unity;

(c) recognise the pioneering work of ARCIC in developing an ecumenical method which seeks to get behind the language of division and to express the common faith in fresh ways;

(d) welcome the witness of The Gift of Authority that 'authority rightly exercised is a gift of God to bring reconciliation and peace to humankind' and its emphasis on the synodical nature of the Church as the form in which 'believers and churches are held together in communion';

(e) acknowledge that differing convictions about issues of authority are best explored in the context of shared church life and collaboration in mission;

(f) believing that any search for theological agreement on universal primacy requires that the contested claim of universal, ordinary and immediate jurisdiction for the Bishop of Rome be resolved, and noting that The Gift of Authority does not refer to this issue, request that it again form part of the agenda of ARCIC;

(g) observing that The Gift of Authority's treatment of the teaching authority of the Bishop of Rome is not sufficiently clear, request that ARCIC clarify in what sense this is 'a gift to be received by all the churches'; and

(h) affirm that ecumenical texts proposed for agreement by the Church of England should be consonant with the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it and with existing ecumenical agreements, especially when these have already been agreed by this Synod.

Asylum

Synod ended its business with a debate on Asylum, introduced by the Bishop of Southwark. He said that government legislation had made many asylum-seekers destitute and started with the assumption that those seeking entry were lying. Churches were filling the gaps in provision for asylum-seekers, which the government had deliberately weakened. Nearly every speaker spoke against government policy, and Synod passed the following motion by 253 votes to nil.

That this Synod, in the light of Scriptural teaching about care for the vulnerable, welcome for strangers and foreigners and the Church's calling to reach out to the marginalised and persecuted

(a) applaud the responses made by congregations and coalitions of churches working with other faith communities and voluntary organizations in responding to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers;

(b) welcome the contributions made to our Churches and national life by asylum seekers and other migrants;

(c) express its deep concern over the vilifying in the media of those seeking asylum and actively support the efforts of church and secular groups who are seeking to promote a balanced treatment of asylum seekers by the media;

(d) condemn the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable by organised criminals engaged in people trafficking;

(e) call upon Her Majesty's Government

(i) to deliver an asylum system characterised by the quality, speed and justice of its decision making, its respect for human rights and its care for the most vulnerable and to ensure that the vital safeguards of appeal and judicial review are not removed by current legislation;

(ii) to ensure that no person is left homeless or destitute at any point during the process of an application for asylum up to the actual removal of failed applicants at the port of departure;

(iii) to ensure that its presentation of policy and action towards asylum seekers does not promote a negative image of vulnerable people; and

(iv) to raise public awareness of the global phenomenon of migration including the needs of asylum seekers, economic migrants and displaced people and the disproportionate burden borne by developing countries; and

(f) request the Mission and Public Affairs Council to:

(i) study the arguments advanced from several quarters about a more positive approach to asylum seekers many of whom have skills and motivation that Britain badly needs; and

(ii) report to this Synod within twelve months of this debate on its findings and the action it has taken.

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