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

by Peter Owen
Member of the House of Laity of General Synod from the diocese of Liverpool
25 July 2004

Links to the many press reports on the meeting of Synod and to the answers to a few of the Questions can be found here.

Making Synod's procedures more effective (GS 1542)

Synod members have sometimes expressed concern about how much time divisions (when members go through doors to vote) take and the business committee arranged a debate on the possibility of introducing electronic voting. They also wanted to know Synod's views on reducing speech time limits and the number of amendments. Shorter speeches would allow more members to contribute to debates, and it is thought that the real reason for many amendments is to ensure that the proposer is called to speak.

Most of the debate dealt with electronic voting. Suitable equipment, which would also replace the present microphone system, will almost certainly be bought by the owners of Church House as there is a demand for it for their conference business. The only cost to Synod would be a hire charge. The equipment could easily be taken to York and used there. Most speakers were in favour, although there was some concern that electronic voting could be used to keep people's votes secret. However, each part of the motion below was voted on separately, and carried overwhelmingly.

That this Synod invite the Standing Orders Committee, in consultation with the Business Committee, to

(a) introduce amendments to the Standing Orders and the Constitution to permit votes to be recorded electronically;

(b) consider reducing the time normally allowed for speeches under Standing Order 21;

(c) and consider ways in which downward pressure can be applied in relation to the number of amendments tabled for debate.

Composition of Synod

Synod gave final approval to the changes in the Canons and the various Representation Rules that will reduce its size at the next general election in the summer of 2005. Apart from the ecumenical representatives, and any co-opted members, there will be a reduction from 571 members to 468 made up as follows:

from 2005
any house

Of the 12 who could be in any of the Houses of Synod, I expect one to be a bishop and the others lay people.

Other Legislation

Tim Allen, of the Fees Advisory Commission (FAC), introduced a debate on the fees to be paid to diocesan registrars by saying that they had rejected a proposal to abolish the nationally set retainer and to replace it by locally negotiated fees in each diocese. It was therefore proposed to increase the fees by inflation, but should this be price inflation, or a mixture of price and earnings inflation, respectively 2.9% and 3.2%. By a vote of three to two the FAC had decided to recommend 2.9%; the minority favoured the larger figure.

Chancellor Tom Coningsby argued that a higher increase, based on a mixture of price and earnings inflation, should be paid, as had often been the case in the past. The mixture was justified because of the high proportion of the fees which went to paying the registrar's staff.

Synod then voted down, by 119 votes to 125, the order to pay the proposed increase of 2.9%. It wasn't clear whether this was because members thought that the registrars should have accepted the offer to negotiate their fees directly with their diocese or because they thought the rise was too low.

The draft Pastoral (Amendment) Measure, which will allow churches to lease out part of their property completed its revision stage, and final approval was given to the draft Stipends (Cessation of Special Payments) Measure.

Clergy Discipline (Doctrine) (GS 1554)

When the Clergy Discipline Measure 2000 (CDM) was going through Synod it was decided that it would not apply to matters of doctrine, ritual and ceremonial. These matters were left to be dealt with under the procedures of the existing Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 (EJM). These procedures are generally agreed to be unworkable, and the last formal case brought against a Church of England priest for an alleged doctrinal offence was in 1871. The House of Bishops arranged for a working group to review the workings of disciplinary procedures in this area and (if thought appropriate) to recommend new procedures. After much consultation and fifteen meetings the group published its report (GS 1554) in June and brought it to Synod for debate.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Chester (the Rt Revd Peter Forster), who had chaired the working group, said that the EJM was deficient. It had no way of filtering out trivial cases, it was open to challenge on human rights grounds and did not reflect current best practice in disciplinary procedures, cases could be adjudicated in a court with a secular majority, and it did not take account of the development of synodical government. The group had produced a draft measure (unfortunately only available in the paper edition of GS 1554) with proposed procedures similar to those of the CDM.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that such a measure can serve the integrity and credibility of the church and that certain things really are incompatible with Christian profession. Case law can be a benign fact in the history of a church; it can sometimes be helpful in calling the bluff of idle or vexatious complainants. He did though have some concerns about the enormous potential for such complaints in the area of ritual and ceremonial.

Judge John Bullimore said that some provision was needed for policing the Church's borders, but doubted whether the proposals were workable. The definition of the standard by which teaching was to be judged was very elastic. 15 to 20 people would be involved in cases, and he wondered how much it would all cost. He would prefer a referral to something like a doctrinal advisory group.

The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, said that the report went carefully into the disastrous attempts to control these matters through the courts, and then failed to come to the obvious conclusion.

Other points made were that doctrinal offences could be dealt with pastorally, priests should be trained and examined before ordination, ministers must be held to account, and that all ordinands should be given a copy of the Canons. Michael Chamberlain (Archbishops' Council) said that any cases brought under the proposed measure would cost up to £100,000 each if they went all the way to a Disciplinary Tribunal Hearing, with significant additional costs if there were an appeal.

Under the proposals complaints against a deacon or priest could be brought by a person representing either a PCC which had voted two-thirds in favour, or one-tenth of both the houses of clergy and laity of a diocesan synod. There were two amendments to replace "one-tenth" by either "two-thirds" or "40%" but both were resisted by the Bishop of Chester and were defeated.

Tom Sutcliffe then called for a vote by Houses on the motion asking for legislation to be prepared as proposed in the report. He received the necessary support. The motion was defeated because, although it was carried comfortably in the Houses of Bishops (by 27 to 12) and Laity (by 164 to 51) it was narrowly lost in the House of Clergy (by 99 to 103). Although they were in a minority in their house, it is remarkable that 12 bishops voted against.

Marriage Law (GS 1543)

In July 2002 Synod passes a motion which, amongst other things, asked for a relaxation of the rules governing where a church wedding might take place. Instead of being restricted to the parish(es) in which either of the couple resided or were on the church electoral roll Synod wanted the right to be extended to any parish with which one of the couple had a 'demonstrable connection'. The Marriage Law Working Group brought to Synod a proposed set of criteria for establishing a demonstrable connection, but suggested that Synod might want to go even further and allow couples to be married in any parish church of their choice. In the debate some people spoke of the possibility of popular "pretty" churches being overwhelmed by the demand for weddings, but others were in favour of encouraging more couples to be married in church. The working group had put down a motion supporting the demonstrable connection principle, but one of its members proposed an amendment to allow couples to be married in any parish church. On a show of hands this was carried by 200 votes to 185, but enough members then stood up to require a vote by houses and the amendment was defeated narrowly in all three houses: Bishops 14-15, Clergy 88-89, Laity 97-104. The unamended motion was subsequently carried by a show of hands. Legislation will now be prepared using the demonstrable connection principle, but this can of course be amended when it is brought to Synod.

Hind follow-up - alternative sources of funding (GS 1541 and GS 1541A)

The Hind report on ministerial training recommended that an extra one million pounds should be spent on the initial phase of post-ordination training. To fund this, the report proposed a reduction by 75 in the number of people in residential ordination training. When the report was debated in July 2003 Synod asked for other sources of funding to be investigated so as to avoid such a large reduction in residential training. A working party was set up to do this and recommended (GS 1541A) a number of ways of raising money, but half was to come from personal contributions by all ordinands of £500 per year. The Bishop of Chelmsford (the Rt Revd John Gladwin) introduced a debate by outlining the background to these proposals. He then said that the House of Bishops was strongly opposed to them. The House did not want to reduce residential places, but neither did it think to right to ask for contributions from ordinands. He also said that the gap in funding was only £450,000 and would not arise until the last part of 2006. He therefore asked Synod to allow more work to be done so that further proposals could be brought to the February 2005 group of sessions.

Synod was in general agreement with the bishops, although there was some support for personal contributions, and passed this motion.

That this Synod, noting the recommendations summarised in Appendix A to GS 1541A and the concerns set out in GS 1541:

(a) believe that a reduction of residential places for married ordinands requiring significant family support should not now be pursued;

(b) affirm the value of the present arrangements for funding ordination training and decline to support the changes canvassed in GS 1541A:

(c) invite the Archbishops’ Council, after consultation with the dioceses and others, to bring to the February 2005 Group of Sessions proposals for CME 1-4 and, subject to paragraph (b) above, how such proposals might best be funded.

Restorative Justice - Rethinking Sentencing (GS 1536)

The Bishop of Worcester (the Rt Revd Peter Selby), who is also Bishop to HM Prisons in England and Wales, introduced a debate on restorative justice, based on the report Rethinking Sentencing (GS 1536). He spoke of the crisis in the prison system and said that restoration was the deepest of human needs.

The Chaplain-General of Prisons (the Ven William Noblett) said that restorative justice was the reappropriation of the Christian tradition. He commended the Government for moving in this direction but more could be done.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that a Christian ought to regard punishment as something that brings about change, whereas we currently had a situation in which the expectation of the system was fundamentally that change did not happen. One of the reasons it didn't happen to the offender was that programmes of rehabilitation and education within the system were consistently frustrated by the abnormal mobility of prison populations, itself a direct consequence of overcrowding.

He, and others, spoke of the outrageous character of the treatment of children in the system and of the problems for women in prison and the disruption to family life. The Vicar-General of York (Chancellor Tom Coningsby), who is also a Crown Court judge, said that judges went for non-custodial sentences whenever possible.

Other points made were that non-custodial alternatives to prison were not a soft option, black people were over-represented in prison, and that 70% of prisoners were illiterate. At the end of the debate, Synod passed the following motion by 275 votes to nil.

That this Synod

(a) commend the report Rethinking Sentencing as a valuable contribution to the debate over penal policy;

(b) welcome Her Majesty's Government's proposals to promote and develop restorative justice as a significant feature of its strategy to limit re-offending;

(c) express dismay at the ever-rising prison population, which limits the effectiveness of programmes to reduce re-offending, to rehabilitate offenders, and provide healing for victims of crime;

(d) re-affirm the ministry of Christians within the criminal justice system, especially those in Prison Service Chaplaincy, the Churches' Criminal Justice Forum (CCJF), the lay magistracy and the many voluntary Christian organisations working with offenders and victims; and

(e) encourage Church members to embrace criminal justice as a cause for prayer and Christian concern and – where able – to involve themselves in practical initiatives.

Stipend Differentials

The Revd Chris Lilley put forward a private member's motion to phase out stipend differentials for clergy dignitaries (residentiary canons, archdeacons, deans, bishops and archbishops). He said that he could find no support for differentials in Jesus's teaching and he did not think that the burden on dignitaries was greater than on others. The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds (the Rt Revd John Packer) spoke in favour. He did not think that his ministry was of more value for the Kingdom than it had been when he was a parish priest; it was just different. Members in general were not convinced. A vote by Houses was called and the motion was defeated in all three: Bishops 5 to 14; Clergy 66 to 98 and Laity 47 to 147.

Mission Agencies (GS 1544)

The Bishop of Coventry (the Rt Revd Colin Bennetts) opened this debate by asking Synod to affirm its commitment to the work of the mission agencies and saying that each diocese, deanery and parish needed to review the practical implications of this. Other members said that the C of E should not bring guilt about its colonial past to today's relationships. Agencies were "us" and not "them". An amendment to the motion before Synod was carried to add a reference to mission partners serving in England, and the motion was then carried nem con.

That this Synod, in reaffirming its continuing commitment to the work of the mission agencies:

(a) acknowledge its responsibility to co-operate in God’s global mission with other partners and especially the mission agencies;

(b) endorse a vision of mission that is made more complete by acknowledging our part in, and what is offered by, the global church;

(c) affirm the distinctive ministry of mission partners from across the world who are serving in England, enriching the work of God’s mission to our country:

(d) encourage each diocese and deanery to explore the challenges of our involvement in God’s Mission offered by the mission agencies with the help of resources produced by PWM;

(e) request PCCs to review their financial and prayer support of the mission agencies in the light of the 1996 General Synod motion "that all PCCs seek to commit at least 5% of their annual income to the support of … the agencies" and the contribution they make to God’s Mission.

2005 Budget

Synod agreed the Archbishops' Council's budget for 2005, and how it should be apportioned between dioceses.

Vote 2004 apportionment () 2005 apportionment () increase over 2004
1: Training for Ministry 9,049,298 10,201,840 12.7%
2: National Church Responsibilities 9,228,360 9,574,425 3.8%
3: Grants and Provisions 1,194,229 1,271,850 6.5%
4: Mission Agencies Pension Contributions 675,000 675,000 0.0%
5: CHARM   3,117,000 [new item]
Net Apportionment 20,146,887 24,840,115 23.3%

These are net figures. Including income from sources other than the apportionment on the dioceses, the gross budget of the Council in 2005 is £32.7 million.

The large increase in apportionment is almost entirely due to two items that have been transferred to the the Council from elsewhere. Maintenance grants to students in training are currently paid by dioceses. From September 2005 they will be paid by the Ministry Division of the Council, and this accounts for all but 1.3% of the increase in Vote 1. Because of a pooling arrangement the change should be cost-neutral for dioceses, but there was a feeling in Synod that dioceses should maintain the link with those that they sponsor for ordination by continuing to pay the grants directly. An amendment to the budget was carried asking the Council to consider continuing with the present arrangements.

The second change is the transfer of the cost of CHARM (the Church's Housing Assistance for the Retired Ministry) from the Church Commissioners to the Council. This will allow the Commissioners to distribute an extra £3.1 million to the poorer dioceses, who will be net beneficiaries. There was an attempt at Synod to phase in this change, but this was easily defeated.

In a separate debate Synod agreed to cap payments under Vote 4 for the pension contributions of clergy employed by the mission agencies to the 2005 figure (increased in accordance with inflation) or the actual amount payable if less.

Christmas Stamps

When a fifteen-minute gap opened up in the agenda, Synod debated and passed unanimously this private member's motion from Dr Christina Baxter.

That this Synod, noting that over 71% of the population of the United Kingdom declared themselves to be Christian in the 2001 Census, request the Royal Mail to issue Christmas stamps with Christian themes every year.

Trade Justice (GS 1547 and GS Misc 744)

The Bishop of Southwark (the Rt Revd Tom Butler) introduced a debate on the Christian Aid report Trade Justice (GS Misc 744) and the accompanying report from the Mission and Public Affairs Council Trade Justice: A Christian Response to Global Poverty (GS 1547). Although the UK had doubled its aid budget since 1997, great challenges remained. "Eight hundred million people around the world will go hungry tonight." Aid alone would not end poverty; fair and equitable trade was needed. The basic message of the Christian Aid report was that trade wasn't working for the benefit of the world's poorest.

Many speakers gave examples of the effects of unfair trade and Synod passed the following motion by 268 votes to one.

That this Synod, recognising that issues of trade justice are applicable to all parts of the world,

(a) commend Trade Justice: A Christian Response to Global Poverty to the wider Church as a contribution to further study, reflection and action in preparation for the Week of Action for Trade Justice, 10-16 April 2005:

(b) encourage all diocesan synods to consider becoming fairly traded dioceses and to circulate guidelines to assist congregations to use fairly traded products;

(c) express its support for the aims and objectives of the Trade Justice Movement, by becoming a member of that movement;

(d) encourage the Church through its mission agencies, diocesan companion links and development agencies to build international support for the Trade Justice Campaign within the Anglican Communion and its ecumenical links;

(e) ask the Mission and Public Affairs Council to develop an advocacy strategy in favour of trade justice that can inform the Church’s contribution to public policy debates on this issue during 2005; and

(f) commit itself to prayerful support of Her Majesty’s Government and politicians of all parties in any actions to reduce global poverty.

Domestic Violence

Kathleen Ben Rabha introduced her private member's motion on domestic violence by saying that incidents reported to the police probably represented only one tenth of the real total. It was predominantly male violence on females and had no respect for class, race, age, gender or geography. Research for the Methodist Church had found that attitudes, values and beliefs, within the Church, might serve to reinforce the power of perpetrators, and that these values and beliefs had not only hindered recognition and response to domestic abuse, but had also effectively shielded perpetrators.

Others members spoke of their own personal experience of domestic violence, the impact on children caught in the crossfire of physical violence or seeing and hearing the abuse taking place, how domestic violence could be worse than the violence in prisons and the special needs of victims in ethnic minority communities. Synod passed the following motion by 246 votes to nil.

That this Synod, noting that Domestic Violence is regarded by the Home Office and the Police as a crime:

(a) view with extreme alarm the number of incidents being regularly reported, as being an unacceptable picture of suffering and abuse;

(b) call for national guidelines to be issued by the Archbishops' Council for those with pastoral care responsibilities, as to the appropriate relationship with both victims and perpetrators;

(c) recognise the special circumstances associated with domestic violence, and therefore the special needs of victims, in minority ethnic communities; and

(d) urge all Dioceses to consider ways in which they could (i) work in partnership with other agencies, co-operating sensitively with those serving minority communities, to provide the resources needed by victims and their families; (ii) speak out against the evil of domestic violence; and (iii) work for justice and safety in the homes of this nation.

Europe (GS 1548)

The Bishop of London (the Rt Revd Richard Chartres) opened a debate on Europe by saying that it was a timely opportunity for Synod members to contribute to policy-making in Europe. He contrasted the British view of the EU as being solely about protection and benefit with the view of it in other parts of Europe as the grandest of grand projects forged in the furnace of a devastating war. The bishop said that we had to show that it was foolish to relegate the energy of faith to the margins of life as some European politicians wanted to do. But if we were serious about playing a part in ensouling the new Europe then we had to expose ourselves with humility to the cut and thrust of public debate; pious declarations were not enough.

The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe (the Rt Revd Geoffrey Rowell) reminded Synod that the Church of England was a European church even if it did not always recognize the fact. The diocese in Europe had 260 chaplaincies and congregations.

Professor David McClean spoke of the extraordinary decision-making process in Europe, where amendments were put and discussed, but not voted on. Instead new drafts were produced until consensus was reached. Article 51 of the new constitution obliged Europe to consult with the religious bodies on relevant matters and this presented the C of E with opportunities.

Synod then passed this motion by 297 votes to 15.

That this Synod, mindful of the special role of the Christian faith in Europe's history, recognising the historic change that has occurred in Europe with the enlargement of the European Union and conscious of the Churches' ongoing commitment to the process of healing, reconciliation, and mission across the continent:

(a) affirm the continued role of Christianity as an empowering source of inspiration and enrichment for Europe’s continued cultural, spiritual, political and socio-economic development;

(b) commend the report The Church of England and Europe (GS 1548) to dioceses to assist reflection on the Church’s calling in Europe;

(c) welcome the contribution made by the Conference of European Churches and other church organisations to the EU Convention on the Future of Europe;

(d) affirm the Charta Oecumenica as a basis for ecumenical work in Europe;

(e) endorse the aims and avenues of opportunity set out in Chapter Five of GS 1548 as a framework for developing the Church's common witness and mission in Europe; and

(f) ask the Mission and Public Affairs Council and the Council for Christian Unity in liaison with the Diocese in Europe to consider and take forward the recommendations and report back to General Synod during the next quinquennium.

Drug Misuse

Professor Helen Leathard introduced a debate on a motion from Blackburn Diocesan Synod by recalling how a former drug-user had said in a 1998 Synod debate that two things had made him give up: prayer and love. She said that it was necessary to distinguish between different types of drug-taking and to realize that their legal status did not necessarily reflect their danger. Drug-users were neighbours in need of loving care.

Others spoke of the enormous demands of time and money required to tackle the problem. It was more important to talk to informed young people than to older people ignorant of the problem. The motion below was carried by 246 votes to nil.

That this Synod, concerned about the extent of drug misuse at all levels of society, urge the Archbishops' Council, Diocesan and Deanery Synods and parishes, as appropriate, to hold informed and Christ-centred discussions with experienced drug workers, pharmacologists and health care professionals about the ways in which the Church can be involved with the Christian and secular agencies already working in this field.

Other debates

Synod also had short take-note debates on the Annual Reports of the Church Commissioners and the Archbishops' Council, and two sets of liturgical material being considered for commendation by the House of Bishops. Common Worship: Initiation Services Rites on the Way and Reconciliation and Restoration (GS 1546) is available online. Common Worship: Times and Seasons and Festivals (GS 1549) is not but this is, perhaps, not too surprising as it is 558 pages long. A lot of the Times and Seasons material has been taken from Lent, Holy Week and Easter (1986), The Promise of His Glory (1991) and Enriching the Christian Year (1991) and much of it has already been authorized or commended. The Weekday Lectionary and Amendments returned from the revision committee which had dealt with the matters raised in February. Synod accepted the committee's report and the matter is expected to return for final approval in February 2005 so that it come into effect on Advent Sunday 2005.

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