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General Synod of the Church of England – February 2005 Group of Sessions
14 to 17 February 2005

by Peter Owen
Member of the House of Laity of General Synod from the diocese of Liverpool
4 March 2005

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. The agenda, official record of business done, and almost all the papers are online and linked from here.

Canon B44

At present, in parishes in local ecumenical partnerships (LEPs) there must be an Church of England service of holy communion, conducted by a priest in recognized orders, on Christmas Day, Ash Wednesday, Easter Day, Ascension Day and Pentecost. A motion from the diocese of Ely, and introduced by Canon Alan Hargreaves, proposed the abolition of this requirement. There are cases where the LEP is itself a parish. If the principal (and possibly only) minister in the LEP is not an Anglican, then he or she is effectively barred from presiding at holy communion on these great festivals, and may have to stand aside for an Anglican brought in from outside.

The Council for Christian Unity (CCU) advises against setting up a single congregation LEP that is co-terminous with a parish unless the bishop and the diocesan pastoral committee can be sure that there will always be an Anglican priest on the staff of the LEP. The problems in Ely were the result of not following this advice. The Bishop of Peterborough (the Rt Revd Ian Cundy) who is the chair of the CCU said that whilst there was a case for looking at the ecumenical canons again, this should not be done in a piecemeal fashion as was now proposed. Other speakers were divided over whether the ecumenical cause would be best served by deleting part of the canon or by leaving it alone. An amendment was carried to retain the canonical basis for episcopal involvement but still to delete the requirement for Anglican holy communion on the five festivals. The amended motion was carried after a division by houses, but only just. The voting figures were bishops:14-13, clergy 90-72; laity 109-80.

Legal Officers Fees

In July 2004 Synod had voted down the proposed average increase of 2.9% in the fees paid to diocesan registrars. This increase was based on the rise in the retail prices index. The Fees Advisory Commission had reconsidered their recommendation and brought back a proposal for a rise of 3.2% which was a weighted mix of the rises in prices and earnings. The Commission had correctly judged why Synod had turned down the 2.9% increase, and the new proposal was carried.

Higher Education and the Church's Mission

On Tuesday morning Synod held a debate on Higher Education (HE) and the provision of Church of England chaplains in HE, based on a report from the Board of Education (GS 1567). The board's chair, the Bishop of Portsmouth (Dr Kenneth Stevenson) introduced the debate by saying that the Church should take seriously the potential that HE offers for its engagement with the world. The purposes of HE went further than the Government's emphasis on financial benefits for the individual and the economy. Chaplains were key agents of God's mission.

Professor Peter Toyne of the Archbishops' Council, and a retired university vice-chancellor, said that the Church should welcome the expansion of HE to admit many more students, but he regretted that the days were gone when time was given to developing the whole person. Canon Professor Anthony Thiselton wanted the Board of Education to maintain a prophetic critique of skills-based learning, and that this should begin in the theological colleges.

The Revd Paul Collier, himself a college chaplain, strongly welcomed the report and said that HE was an opportunity for mission that the Church was not making the most of. Other people spoke in similar vein.

After some amendments, the motion before Synod was carried in the following form:

That this Synod

(a) celebrate the Church of England's historic and current commitment to the work of the Higher Education sector in its diversity;

(b) instruct the Board of Education to engage further with the public debate on values and purposes;

(c) (i) believe that Higher Education is properly concerned with a broad understanding of education and with the development of the whole person; and

(ii) call on Her Majesty's Government and Higher Education institutions to recognise this explicitly and to identify ways in which it can be most effectively put in practice.'

(d) encourage Chaplains as key instruments of God's mission, working with and within their institutions;

(e) agree that the Church of England should seek ensure, where appropriate, that each Higher Education institution is served by at least one whole time Church of England chaplain, to work with ecumenical and multi-faith partners; and

(g) encourage the Board of Education to prepare a resource guide on good practice for Chaplains and lay Anglicans working in universities and colleges.

Clergy Terms of Service

The Church of England has been reviewing the terms of service of its clergy. Last February Synod accepted a report proposing that those clergy without the freehold should be given "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 these 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.

The review group has now proposed that in future clergy who now have the freehold should instead also hold their office under common tenure. Introducing a debate on the review group's latest report (GS 1564) the group's chair, Professor David McClean, said that the present arrangements did not reflect the Church's belief that the rights of clergy should be protected and their responsibilities recognized, and that they should be properly accountable. It was time to end the situation where there were two categories of clergy with radically different levels of security of tenure. He explained that the capability procedure was about persistent underperformance, and decisions would always be made by a panel of at least three people.

The concept that the freehold gave clergy property rights over the parsonage, church and churchyard was misleading. Clergy could not sell any of these or offer them as security for a loan. Their rights were those of possession or occupation and not ownership. The group proposed that the formal title should be vested in the diocesan board of finance (DBF), although the parish would maintain its current responsibility for upkeep of the church and churchyard.

In the debate there was some concern expressed about the implications for the clergy of the change from freehold to common tenure, but there was a great deal of criticism of the proposed ownership transfer to DBFs. It was almost as if some people viewed this as the diocese stealing the parish's property. Alternatives to the DBF, such as the parochial church council or a specially created trust were suggested instead.

The motion before Synod was amended to express grave reservations about the recommendations about property ownership, but was then passed in all three houses: bishops 37-0; clergy 150-39 and laity 154-53. It read:

That this Synod

(a) welcome in general terms the recommendations summarized on pages 1 to 7 of the Report (GS 1564) but with grave reservations about recommendations v, ix, xxiiif and xxiiig;

(b) commend the report to the dioceses and the wider Church and ask dioceses and other interested parties to submit comments by the end of July 2005 to the implementation group referred to in (c) below; and

(c) request the Archbishops' Council to appoint an implementation group to follow up the recommendations in the report (taking account of the responses from dioceses and other interested parties both to this report and to the earlier report (GS 1527) on the first phase of the work) and to bring forward legislation based on those recommendations as early as possible in the next quinquennium.

Women Bishops in the Church of England?

Wednesday morning started with a Eucharist at which the Archbishop of Canterbury presided and preached this sermon. Synod then spent three hours debating the report Women Bishops in the Church of England? which had been written by a working group chaired by the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali. Introducing a take-note debate, the bishop said that the report tried to provide an understanding of episcopacy in the Church of England. Synod needed to consider whether there was anything that made it impossible for a woman to exercise such a ministry. The report considered the arguments both for and against the ordination of women as bishops, and listed a range of options for the Church ranging from doing nothing to passing a one-clause measure allowing such ordination. Such a measure might be accompanied by a binding code of practice.

Some speakers asked for more time for reception of women priests or for more theological study before proceeding. The episcopate was universal and reflected the fatherhood of God. Over 1000 parishes had passed Resolution B, saying that they would not accept a woman incumbent. Why was this piece of action so necessary?

The majority of speakers, though, were in favour of allowing women bishops, and many explicitly asked for a single clause measure. The time had come to make a decision; more delay would not change people's minds. Society could not understand why the church did not accept the equality of men and women. Jesus treated women on a par with men. Women, as witnesses to the resurrection, had been apostles to the apostles.

The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke about fatherhood and said "that every fatherhood is named from God the father and not the other way round". His words are worth reading carefully.

After lunch Synod went on to debate Women in the Episcopate, a short report (GS 1568) from the House of Bishops which proposed that there should be a debate at the next meeting of Synod (July 2005) to decide whether to "set in train the process for removing the legal obstacles to the ordination of women to the episcopate." Opening the debate the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the House of Bishops had set up a small working group to evaluate the options. The members are the bishops of Guildford (chair), Blackburn, Lincoln and Willesden with Archdeacon Joy Tetley as a consultant. Most of the speeches could just as appropriately have been made in the morning and at the end Synod voted overwhelmingly in favour of this motion:

That the Synod welcome the report from the House of Bishops (GS 1568) and invite the Business Committee to make sufficient time available at the July group of sessions for Synod to determine whether it wishes to set in train the process for removing the legal obstacles to the ordination of women to the episcopate.

Common Worship Ordinations Services

The Common Worship Ordinal (given initial consideration in February 2004) was returned to Synod by the revision committee, which had met eight times, including one meeting held over two days. Introducing a debate on the committee's report, the Bishop of Chichester said that the ordinal was particularly sensitive to the differences in theological emphasis in the Church of England. The committee had sought to ensure that there was a single ordinal acceptable to all.

A number of motions were carried asking the committee to reconsider parts of their report. These included the inclusion of a prayer of confession, a declaration of ordinands' commitment to collaborative ministry, requiring the giving of the bible to immediately follow the ordination prayer rather than allowing the alternative of giving it at the sending out, and to use exactly the same titles as in the Book of Common Prayer and the Alternative Service Book.

Windsor Report

On Thursday morning Synod discussed the Windsor report, or to be precise a report from the House of Bishops (GS 1570) about the Windsor Report. The Bishop of Durham (Dr Tom Wright), who had been a member of the Lambeth Commission that wrote the Windsor Report, said that the debate was about unity and communion in the Anglican Communion. Never before, after all four Instruments of Unity had advised against a particular action, had a province or diocese gone ahead unilaterally. The church needed to begin from biblical first principles of unity and communion in Christ. Windsor addressed the question of what to do when there was disagreement about what were the central and non-negotiable issues.

Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford) said that the Communion was torn at the deeper levels by the action of ECUSA and parts of the Canadian Church. If the primates in their meeting the following week could not repair the tears there would be division not just between Nigeria and ECUSA but within the Church of England. He said that the Windsor Report appeared to consider the actions of ECUSA and New Westminster to ignore the Instruments of Unity and the response of some African bishops to cross boundaries to be equivalent. He asked Dr Wright if he could say that this was not so.

The Bishop of Worcester (Dr Peter Selby) was concerned that in this emergency important things could be missed. First he hoped that he supported the Archbishop of Canterbury without the need for a resolution. But how supportive had everyone been in 2003 over the appointment of the Bishop of Reading? Second, whilst the Bishop of Durham might claim that the Windsor Report was about a general problem, it had been occasioned by a very particular set of circumstances: homosexuality and relations with North America. The report did not understand why those in North America had acted as they had. As well as those who felt oppressed by liberals there were those who felt that their prophetic voice had not been addressed. Third, although Dr Wright had correctly said that the Commission had not been asked to examine issues of sexuality, there were people in the Communion who "do not so much lack a voice as do not get a whisper". Until they feel heard this issue will never be resolved.

Several speakers complained that the calls for dialogue on sexuality had been largely ignored for decades. The Revd Paul Collier moved an amendment asking Anglicans to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian people, but this was rejected by 209 votes to 140. Some may have voted against because of Dr Wright's pleas not to upset the careful balance of the main motion. Professor David McClean (himself a lawyer) said that there was too much law in the Windsor Report, and too much reliance on law as a solution. The proposed covenant embodied neither listening nor talking together. The Dean of Christ Church (the Very Revd Christopher Lewis) said there was not enough in the report about the nature of the church. The communion had grown up as a light-touch family based on the Lambeth Quadrilateral, but its response to a crisis now was to raise the threshold. Under the new provisions women priests would never have been ordained.

The motion proposed by Dr Wright was carried unamended.

That this Synod

(a) welcome the report from the House (GS 1570) accepting the principles set out in the Windsor Report;

(b) urge the Primates of the Anglican Communion to take action, in the light of the Windsor Report's recommendations, to secure unity within the constraints of truth and charity and to seek reconciliation with the Communion; and

(c) assure the Archbishop of Canterbury of its prayerful support at the forthcoming Primates' Meeting.

Senior Church Appointments

In the last few years, following the Perry report, the system for appointing diocesan bishops has been overhauled. Anthony Archer from St Albans proposed a private member's motion calling for an integrated and consistent method for making appointments to other senior posts (suffragan bishops, deans, archdeacons and residentiary canons). There was a code of practice that applied to some, but not all, of these posts. In many cases an appointment was made by Downing Street and the diocesan bishop concerned using an undocumented system. This could not be right.

Although a number of speakers questioned the need for a review, or said that local reviews would suffice, others spoke in favour and the motion (after some amendment) was carried overwhelmingly.

That this Synod:

(i) consider that the Church should adopt an integrated and consistent method for the making of appointments to senior ecclesiastical office (other than diocesan bishops) to ensure that all appointments are transparent and encourage the confidence of the Church in the procedures that support the final selection; and

(ii) request the Archbishops' Council to commission a working party (to be chaired by a person independent of the Council and the Synod) to review and make recommendations (without limitation) as to the law and practice regarding appointments to the offices of suffragan bishop, dean, archdeacon and residentiary canon, including: -

(A) the role and practice adopted by diocesan bishops in the making of nominations to suffragan sees; and

(B) the role of the Crown in the making of appointments to the other senior Church offices referred to above and how it is discharged,

and for the Archbishops' Council to report back to the Synod within eighteen months of the date of this debate.

Sharing God's Planet

Synod ended a busy and tiring week with a major debate on the environment, based on the report Sharing God's Planet (GS 1558) and an accompanying briefing paper (GS Misc 767) from the Mission and Public Affairs Council. Introducing the debate, the Bishop of London said that the average temperature of the surface of the earth was likely to rise by between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees C by the end of the century. There was a real danger that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could break up and cause a rise in sea-level of about 16 feet. Acidification of the oceans was detrimental to the small organisms at the bottom of the food chain. The Church had to put its own house in order.

Everybody agreed that something had to be done, although there was some disagreement about what. For example, was the use of nuclear power, which would certainly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, an acceptable alternative to oil? There was criticism of those countries that refused to sign the Kyoto agreement, but also of the destruction of hedgerows, wildlife habitats and flood plains. A number of amendments were added to the original motion, which made it rather long, but it was passed with no one voting against.

That this Synod

(a) commend Sharing God's Planet as a contribution to Christian thinking and action on environmental issues;

(b) challenge itself and all members of the Church of England to make care for creation, and repentance for its exploitation, fundamental to their faith, practice, and mission;

(c) lead by example by promoting study on the scale and nature of lifestyle change necessary to achieve sustainability, and initiatives encouraging immediate action towards attaining it;

(d) encourage parishes, diocesan and national Church organizations to carry out environmental audits and adopt specific and targeted measures to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources and ask the Mission and Public Affairs Council to report on outcomes achieved to the July 2008 group of sessions;

(e) welcome Her Majesty's Government's prioritising of climate change in its chairing of the G8 and its forthcoming presidency of the European Union;

(f) urge Her Majesty's Government to provide sustained and adequate funding for research into, and development of, environmentally friendly sources of energy; and

(g) in order to promote responsible use of God's created resources and to reduce and stabilise global warming, commend to

(i) the consumers of material and energy, the approach of 'contraction and convergence'; and to

(ii) the producers of material and energy systems, safe, secure and sustainable products and processes based on near-zero-carbon-emitting sources.

Other debates

The Weekday Lectionary was given final approval. A debate on the funding of the first four years of continuing ministerial education was started but adjourned when it ran out of time. Synod voted (by 132 to 110) not to consider a motion asking candidates for election to Synod to include details of organizations they belonged to in their election addresses. The numbers of clergy and laity to be elected by each diocese in this autumn's general election to Synod were agreed. The draft Pastoral (Amendment) Measure was given final approval, and the draft Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure completed its revision stage.

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