General Synod Report – I saw the Queen!

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Cov crew

Back to Synod, and its all change as the newly elected body comes together for the first time. I actually felt like something of an old timer with my huge experience of the last two years. Here’s what we got up to.

Monday 23 November 2015

On Monday we had an induction day, mostly for new members, but lots of returners joined in too, partly for the company, partly to try and get a grip on things we don’t really understand, and partly for a free lunch. The morning was a bit dry with a lesson on the history of Synod, but things perked up after lunch with a mock debate on ‘Whether coffee is preferable to tea first thing in the morning’ (clearly it is not) and fun playing with the new electronic voting machines.  We finished at an immensely civilised 4.30 pm, leaving time for a free evening in London.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Tuesday was somewhat less relaxed and a lot longer. The day began with a service of Holy Communion in Westminster Abbey for all the Synod members, invited guests, and also attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. The Queen has attended the opening of every General Synod since its creation in 1970 and the service in the Abbey is apparently one of the few times she receives Communion in public.

Dehydration was the order of the day as we had been given firm instructions to be robed and ready and in the Abbey well over an hour before the service began and there wouldn’t be a toilet break until the conclusion of the inauguration which followed on from the service. We all got togged up in Church House where it was much like a fancy dress party with a wonderful array of robes on display. As a simple parish priest, my relatively straightforward black and white outfit looked quite sombre compared to some of the doctors, canons and bishops in their bright reds and other colours.

Charlotte and Ruth at Synod

There was a very jovial mood as we waited for the best part of an hour in the cloisters. Each of the diocesan groups was taking photos to post on Twitter and Facebook, and there was a lot of laughter.  We were eventually lined up to process into the Abbey, each diocesan group led in by its Bishop. Once seated there was another longish wait until the magnificent buglers proclaimed that the Queen had arrived and the service began. We were sat behind the Queen (quite a long way behind!) but I could just about see her hat.

The atmosphere was wonderful, the singing glorious, the sermon profound and the distribution of communion slightly chaotic, so all in all a really great service. At the end we had been instructed to get to the Assembly Chamber at Church House as quickly as possible so we didn’t keep the Queen waiting. No stops for the toilet allowed. I took this instruction seriously so was one of the first in, meaning I got a great seat very near to the central dais where the Queen would be sitting.

Once we were all in, the Archbishops, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh joined us for the inauguration. We were treated to excellent speeches from both Archbishops and the Queen, and gave her a stupendous round of applause. It was a huge privilege to be there and a memory I will treasure.

We were allowed a longish lunch break, before Synod started proper. As usual we had a presidential address from the Archbishop of Canterbury and a Report from the Business Committee. The bulk of the afternoon was then given over to an update on the Reform and Renewal Programme. If you want to know more about what it’s all about, there’s an overview on my earlier blog entry ‘Looking towards Renewal and Reform’. There is also a very good film you can watch, just follow this link: https://www.churchofengland.org/reform-renewal.aspx.

Wednesday 25th November

Wednesday felt like a more normal day at Synod. We began with worship, and then heard a moving presentation from the Archbishop of York and his wife Margaret about their recent visit to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, where they saw for themselves the very real effects of climate change and rising sea levels. The presentation concluded with a beautiful and profound film ‘A Pacific Prayer for the Moana (Ocean)’, giving thanks for the ocean and all that it provides, even as it threatens to overwhelm them. You can watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yC3Q6o9vS3M.

The big debate of the morning was about the Migrant Crisis. We voted overwhelmingly in favour of the motion which in summary urges parishes and dioceses to work closely with local authorities to support refugees; welcomes the aid provided by the Government but calls for significantly more than 20,000 Syrian refugees to be allowed to settle here; calls on the Government to work with international partners to help establish safe and legal routes for vulnerable refugees to places of safety, including this country; and for the Government to take a ‘fair and proportionate’ share of refugees now within the European Union, particularly those with family already legally resident in the UK. Opening the debate, the Bishop of Durham listed some of the vast numbers of displaced people and refugees in the world commenting that:

“The numbers are approximate. But God knows exactly how many there are. God knows every one of them by name; each one made in God’s image and someone for whom Christ died.”

The final item of the morning was a presentation about some recent research into ‘The Public Perceptions of Jesus’, which despite some negative press reports, contains some very interesting and encouraging statistics. Some of the headlines numbers are:

  • 43% of the population believe Jesus rose from the dead
  • 40% of the population don’t know Jesus was a real historical figure
  • 67% of the population know a practising Christian
  • 66% of practising Christians have talked about Jesus to a non-Christian in the past month

To find out more, read the full results here: https://www.churchofengland.org/media/2392609/talking-jesus_booklet.pdf

After a well-earned lunch, the Chamber filled up again for the final debate of this group of sessions on a Report of the Church Building Review Group. The report makes a number of recommendations about how our church buildings can be best managed and used. In the debate we heard a number of stories about imaginative uses of church buildings. My favourite was of a large Victorian church in Penzance with a small and ageing congregation. They decided to install a soft play area in the back of the church, and during the week, the building is now alive with the sound of children laughing. Mums often pause to pray or light a candle and the number of christening enquiries has shot up.

Much of the focus of the debate was on the rural church and how to manage so many historic and listed buildings. It seemed fitting then that the final speaker reminded us not to see the rural church as a problem, but rural ministry as an exciting mission field.

Final farewells before the Archbishop prorogued us. A really exhilarating three days and I’m already looking forward to returning in February.

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HERE WE GO AGAIN!

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Agendapic

Firstly, a HUGE thank you to everyone who voted me back on to General Synod. It’s a great privilege to be there and a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. I’ll do my very best to keep you informed of what goes on.

Several of you have said to me that it would be helpful to know what is going to happen at Synod in advance of a group of sessions, so this is my first attempt at a ‘pre-Synod blog’. Let me know what you think.

We kick off on MONDAY 23 November with an induction day. As a returning member, I don’t strictly have to go, but having spent two years struggling to grasp quite what was happening a lot of the time, I am looking forward to finally having some explanation of how it all works.

TUESDAY MORNING is the inauguration of the Synod, and this is where it gets really exciting as I will hopefully get to see the Queen. I have seen her once before, at the distribution of the Maundy money at Winchester Cathedral when I was about seven, but I don’t really remember it. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attend a service of Holy Communion in Westminster Abbey for all General Synod members and guests, and I’ve been told that five years ago the dioceses were seated alphabetically so the Coventry cohort were very near the front. I’m really hoping that they don’t decide that it’s fair to turn it round this time.  After that the Synod members all troop into Church House where the Queen officially opens the new Synod. We have to wear ‘convocation robes’, an exciting combination of cassock, scarf, hood, preaching bands and academic robe. I’m just glad it’s November.

Business starts on TUESDAY AFTERNOON, and you can watch the proceedings live at the Church of England website. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s presidential address is always a highlight, and that will be at about 3 pm. The main item of business is a presentation on the Reform and Renewal programme, which I would guess would be at some time after 4 pm.

WEDNESDAY MORNING includes a presentation about Global Warming from the Archbishop of York (around 10 am) followed by a debate about the Migrant Crisis, which I think will be very powerful . The morning concludes with a presentation of the results of some very interesting research about Public Perceptions of Jesus (about noon).

The group of sessions finishes on WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON with a no doubt riveting report from the Church Buildings Review Group. I must confess that I haven’t yet read the 66 page report, but I have the weekend…

Prorogation is at about 4.30 pm and then we all head home until we return in February. Do keep in touch. I will be tweeting during the sessions. You can follow me at @RevCGale.