So that’s it then. The end of a quinquennium (not a word you get to use very often!). This five year General Synod has come to end and I have hugely enjoyed my two year stint. Having more or less got the hang of how it all works, I really hope that I am elected back on for the next five years.
Our final group of sessions was in York, which I always enjoy. Most people stay on the University campus, which is beautiful, and there’s a great feeling of camaraderie. They work you hard though. We started this time after lunch on the Friday with convocations, where members from the two provinces of Canterbury and York meet separately. Convocations have been around for 700 years, and my understanding is that they were the usual way that things got done before the General Synod came about, but are rarely used now. This was the first time I have made it to a Convocation of Canterbury. There was just one item on the agenda, so the meeting was short – but not lacking in importance. We gave final approval to the Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy. I suggest that all clergy give it a read – it’s actually very good stuff.
A quick break to unload the car and trek up the hill to my room (I’d have packed less stuff if I’d realised that I would be housed quite a lot further from the central campus and the car parks than I was in previous years) then full Synod kicked off at 3 pm. I’m still excited when I see a women bishop, so you can imagine my enthusiasm to hear from our ecumenical visitor, a woman Archbishop, from the Church of Sweden. There was a definite ‘the end is nigh’ feel to the proceedings as from then until Sunday night we ploughed our way through lots of legislation, trying to get things finished before the Synod was dissolved. I won’t bore you with quite what we did when, but these are the things you really need to know about…
Baptism Texts – for five years, General Synod has been working on producing some new texts for the baptism service, and we have finally approved them. They are less wordy than the current texts and in more accessible language. You can stick with the old ones if you like; there are concerns from some that the new provision is ‘baptism-lite’. But if like me, you have been eagerly awaiting something better since the day the Common Worship Initiation Rites were published, you can legally start using the new texts from 1st September this year. Good to know that I will no longer need to play fast and loose with canon law.
Children Administering Communion – from October this year, children who receive communion but are not yet confirmed will be able to administer the bread and wine at communion. Authorisation of all those who administer communion may also be devolved by the Bishop to Archdeacons, Area Deans or Incumbents.
Faculty Procedures – we had a fun time (yes really!) on Saturday morning approving the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015. These new rules should make life hugely easier for Churchwardens, Archdeacons and DACs. After a good humoured debate which included the memorable line ‘Blocked gutters, bats and the Victorian Society – three of the main impediments to church mission and growth’ we approved the new rules which are now wending their way to parliament for their approval.
Safeguarding – the Church of England safeguarding legislation has undergone a massive overhaul in response to the shocking stories of abuse in the church that continue to emerge. The new legislation is designed to make sure we do the best we possibly can to guard against future harm to anyone in our churches. The new Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure was carried unanimously – not something that happens very often at Synod. The new rules are now in place and for a good summary of what that means I suggest you have a look at the Church of England press release which can be found at https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2015/07/synod-gives-final-approval-for-safeguarding-legislation.aspx.
We also had several interesting debates and presentations. Notable among these I thought were:
A debate on the nature of senior leadership in the Church of England, which concluded with a commitment to next year review the so called ‘Green Report’, published last year, but not debated at Synod, which sets out a programme for the selection and training of Bishops, Deans, Archdeacons and the like.
A presentation from the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, flagging up just how few senior leaders there are in the church from minority ethnic backgrounds, and thinking about what we can do about it.
And as if all that wasn’t enough we also discussed new Standing Orders for the General Synod, A report from the World Council of Churches, The Church Commissioners and Archbishops Council’s Annual Reports, The Nature and Structure of the Church of England, the 2016 budget and Development of Teaching and Educational Leadership Partnerships. It wasn’t all work and no play though, as on Saturday night we all packed into the bar for the end of Synod Revue, which among other highlights included a retelling of Cinderella with the Archbishop of York as Prince Charming.
Monday was a bit different. The whole day was given over to discussing our response as a church to climate change. We began in groups of about twenty people, looking at the bible and thinking about Christian attitudes to the environment, past and present. Mid-morning we came together for the first of two major debates. The first motion we debated looked towards the forthcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. It called for all the governments represented at that summit to commit to a low carbon future, as well as encouraging the Church of England to get its own house in order. An excellent debate included a number of challenges to us as individuals. I spent the second half of the debate deleting old General Synod papers from ‘cloud storage’ having been reminded of how much energy is required for me to store documents that way. We approved the motion then went for a well-earned lunch.
In the afternoon we debated a motion on Climate Change and Investment Policy. On Friday we had already heard from the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) about changes they have made to their investments with the environment in mind. There has been a £12 million disinvestment from companies focused on the extraction of oil sands and thermal tar, and active engagement with other fossil fuel companies. The Monday debate built on this, proposing that the EIAG continue to actively engage with all companies where the Church has investments, to encourage them towards ‘greener’ practices. Where companies refuse to listen, the Church will disinvest. We heard a number of stories of how this process of engagement has already made a real difference some companies’ operations. Like the earlier motion, this one was comprehensively passed.
So the end was in sight, but not before a number of farewells. About 100 people have said they won’t be standing again, so whatever the election results, it will be a very different Synod come November. It certainly felt like the end of an era, as we have completed the work on women bishops and now turn instead to the very tricky questions surrounding issues of human sexuality. We finished with a service of Holy Communion, which was very special, before we dispersed – heading off to all four corners of the Church of England (and the Diocese of Europe!) to continue with our ‘normal’ lives and ministry.
If you want to know more about what happened this time, I recommend the reports from my fellow Synod blogger, the very excellent and witty Rev Stephen Lynas, from Bath and Wells Diocese. You can find him at www.bathwellschap.wordpress.com. Meanwhile, if you want more reports from me and you’re a clergy person in Coventry Diocese, PLEASE vote me back onto Synod this autumn.