General Synod February 2017
Monday 13th February
Travelled down for 3pm as House of Clergy met to discuss their wellbeing after lunch. People looked tense again.
Business Committee report
This was expected to be controversial as members were unhappy with the reduced time available for debate on the House of Bishops' report on Same Sex Relationships. These feelings were relayed to the Committee. Comments were also made about group work and whether it was necessary. People were asked to attend their group work.
Anniversary of the Reformation
500th anniversary of the Reformation, celebrated this year. Motion to commend mutual understanding and reconciliation between denominations. References were made to Luther, Tyndale, Pope Benedict, opening up the scriptures. The RC rep said 'justification by faith ought to be taught across the whole church'. The new pattern of Godly living with the change in church practices is part of the whole church history.
Justin Welby- Presidential Address
He spoke of the dangers and temptations of gathering together, uncertainties and the wide range of opportunities and threats, Brexit, Trump, populist views and globalisation, re-imagining Britain.
The challenges are: liberation, educating for change, partnerships ecumenically and economically, vocations, seizing the future, the skills gap.
The temptations: self-indulgence [wanting to win], the need for restraint, the need for care for the vulnerable, negative attitudes, abuse in society, institutions and families.
Opportunities for service and love, without self righteousness, self interest, selfless service. Kingdoms of the world seek power, we need to retain influence. We must be aware of impact and effect, there are no shortcuts or easy solutions.
Many on same sex relationships, marriage and other relationships. Answers included 2.5% population are LGBTI [this is an underestimate], House of Bishops do not wish to change Church's teaching on marriage, how can clergy have 'maximum freedom' to celebrate same sex relationships? Must interpret existing canonical law. What happens to marriage of divorcees if marriage is permanence? Answer is a faculty is required still. Why had LGBTI issues not been addressed? New teaching document on marriage should help clarify the situation. Cost of Shared Conversations? £384,525. How many candidates are in civil partnerships? In 2105- 7 of 581. How will Church schools teach same sex relationships? Need to avoid homophobia and bullying. What about breakdowns in clergy marriages? Number unknown.
New teaching for ordinands- focus on clarity of communication. Apprentices- scheme has potential for young people. Clergy well being- more holistic approach needed. Brexit- new document 'Hatebusters and Neighbourlovers' lists organisations and dioceses involved. How are we responding to Trump? Not trying to keep a running commentary, engaging with moral issues eg. refugees. Green issues- more eco awards, encouraging green energy, biodiversity. Modern slavery- new posts for 3 years to help Church respond. Prisons- more incidents- vital work of chaplains. New dioceses- no further plans. Strategic development funding- can be applied for, £24m for 2017. Why is Manormead nursing home closing? lack of staff. USA reintroduction of torture- can we disinvest? C of E invests ethically. Diocesan peer review, only 4 BME of 56 members. Position of cathedrals as independent bodies- governance to be considered. Statistics for Mission- 6000 submitted online, 80%. Gluten free wafers should be handled separately. Religious broadcasting- meetings taking place with BBC Mutual flourishing- provision to be made by diocesans. Investments in 'social action'- advice to be given to dioceses 'in due course'.
Synopsis of GS business- at present not circulated.
Tuesday 14th February
Farwell to Sir Andreas Whittam Smith. Outstanding service in rebuilding the funds after the stock market crash. Funds have risen from £3.5b to £7.5b. Wide ranging career in editorship of newspapers, film censorship. Testament to patience, consistency and ethical policies. Standing ovation.
Preliminaries to Marriage
Private member's motion to take legal responsibilities for marriage away from clergy to civil authorities, as in Scotland. Civil authorities can check databases for legalities of residency etc, banns have little effectiveness for notification, registrars have extra work to do to check couples.
Opposed by those involved in the Wedding Project as it does not allow banns' contact, make allowance for marriage preparation, loss of banns fees would be £2m, contact with local clergy is valuable. Missional opportunities would be lost. Some clergy still refuse remarriage.
The motion was lost
Bishops 10 for, 16 against, 0 abstentions
Clergy 74 for, 87 against, 0 abstentions
Laity 79 for, 81 against, 7 abstentions
A tidying up exercise for numerous pieces of legislation that need final approval or are the result of simplification.
Procedure to provide for clergy after reorganisation. Deanery plans for reorganisation of parishes. Selling glebe land etc. Registrars, dealing with redundant churches, church courts etc. Replacing the requirement for Morning and Evening Prayer for multi parish benefices.
Ecumenical churches relationships- I spoke about the change of title for LEPs to Local Ecumenical Co-operative Scheme, which my own church thought unsuitable- the Local Co-op- and the permission needed to read lessons and intercessions in other churches, something we have been doing for 20 years in our covenanting churches group without realising permission was needed! Comments were also made about a Rural Dean needing to have served 6 years as a priest, some thought this necessary, some not. Safeguarding procedures for priests were updated. Rev Damian Feeney caused a stir by referring to OLMs as the 'kiss of death', a reported comment from one of his colleagues.
Wednesday 15th February
Creation of a new suffragan See for Leicester
Involved no new expense and would replace the Assistant Bishop role with a new suffragan. Caused little controversy.
London Diocesan Synod motion- Fixed Odds Betting Terminals- reduction of Maximum Stake
We had not all realised that the betting machines now allowed £100 per time stakes and that they are concentrated in betting shops in deprived areas, 81 in Tower Hamlets, 95 in Brent. Ladbrokes estimates there are 125,000 problem gamblers. Unanimously passed.
Legislative Business [completed today]
Amending canons for clergy dress and suicide victims services and burial. These had been separated into to canons by the Revision Comm. Canon Pat Hawkins spoke about the need to identify clergy by clothing, using the analogy of football clubs [Wolves and Foxes] and that clothing is not neutral. It was agreed that clergy dress needs to reflect context. The service and burial for suicide people was passed as a pastoral concern.
Presentation on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships
The report of the House of Bishops was presented by the Bishop of Norwich.
The historical base was explained from the Wolfenden Report in 1957 which asked for abolition of criminal offences for homosexual practice to Lambeth Conference resolutions. The report expressed the whole mind of the House of Bishops. The need for further consideration was acknowledged. The need for a teaching document on marriage was mentioned.
We were asked again to attend our groups on Thursday.
Thursday 16th February
Farewell to Bishop of London
++Justin Welby gave a speech thanking Richard Chartres for his work in building the diocese of London, referred to and had photos of his colourful shirts when on mission, gave an example of his statesman-like presence when crossing the room to the vegetable rack became a procession! Mentioned his work with the royal family and complimented him on his ministry and his family. He was given a standing ovation.
Debate on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships
This was given extra time at the request of GS.
Bishop Pete Willesden apologised that people 'expected more than had been delivered' but explained that The House of Bishops wished to 'express a common mind'. The case studies that had been chosen were real people and they were not being objectified. Tests were needed of theological understanding and experiences needed to be shared, 'Every voice needs to be heard'. This was a 'Take Note' motion only and this report cannot come back.
The Bishop of Norwich said that this was not the end process, further consideration was needed, there is little appetite for altering the doctrine on marriage. The 1991 document included life and fellowship. This document was perceived as 'lacking in love', marriage should be monogamous, this report shows a pastoral approach with 'maximum freedom'. the shared conversations have a 'hallowed place'.
Other speakers commented on
- the change in understanding on gay relationships, the silent middle who needed to be consulted
- NE Uganda is polygamist with £75 as a bride price, Anglican tradition is teaching this is wrong
- Report is seen as 'lacking in love', many have friends and family who are gay, Church is seen as homophobic
- Lizzy Lowe, who took her life at 13 because she thought she would not be accepted by her church
- LGBTI people are vulnerable and pained, report is not well-presented, tone is grudging and patronising
- Listening means hearing not agreeing, bishops have heard and led
- sexuality is a gift not a difficulty
- lack of trust and honesty in the Church on this, disagreement about salvation, hypocracy in accepting ordinands who are gay, God has judged Church and found it wanting, fearing a split
- we are between a rock and a hard place, BME encounter racism and sexism, closed minds lead to closed doors
- doctrine comes from the Bible, Book of Common Prayer, Jesus 'teaching, past decisions of GS are important
- shared conversations changed the tone and culture of the Church, underlined gathering and acceptance
- report does not reflect listening, Church is a family, needs love
- a gay man with a partner spoke about the distinction for clergy and laity who are allowed to marry, report fails to set God's people free
- a member of Deaf Anglicans signed about minority stresses, the barrier to shared conversations, practical guidelines are needed to allow participation by all
- the 2 positions are irreconcilable, House of Bishops should make the decision, priests are set apart and should model holiness, sexual morality and those outside this should be excommunicated
- maximum freedom is appropriate, the wider communion would find another decision painful
- a gay priest who is celibate spoke of the bullying of gay people but felt traditional marriage should be upheld although this denies himself
- divorced people are now able to marry in church, decisions are taken at parish level
- howls of anger and pain heard from LGBTI community
- teaching of Jesus has not changed
- we should embrace and affirm inclusivity, why impose uniformity?, take risks, reject discrimination, those outside the Church see this as another discrimination like women bishops
- The Bishop of Liverpool spoke of 'gathering all God's people', seeking the common good, using maximum freedom, 'we gave hard stones when we were asked for bread'
- damage has been caused across the human sexuality spectrum, how can we attract those outside the Church?, any discrimination is bad
- sin is dangerous
- we need a different tone and new culture
- in universities there is a perceived lack of welcome to LGBTI. Church needs to be confident, compassionate, creative
- sex is a distant memory to over 60s!, Church is institutionally homophobic, need to move further faster
- God is of love and justice, Church should have pride in LGBTI members, source of joy and blessing. Canada has rainbow banner
- The Chair of the House of Laity said he is conflicted, debate was not clear
- a motion of adjournment was moved but not supported
- ++Justin Welby made a stirring speech, 'No-on is a problem', there is real and profound disagreement but we are all made in the image of God and we need a radical new Church inclusion. We need to reflect on theology and relationships, bishops must go on thinking, the report is a basis for moving on 'not careless of theology or ignorant of the world around us'
Bishops 43 for, 1 against [Bishop of Coventry pressed the wrong button], 0 abstentions
Clergy 93 for, 100 against, 2 abstentions
Laity 106 for, 83 against, 4 abstentions
Setting God's People Free
New report on lay involvement, energetically presented by Mark Russell
No implementation plan, goals or outcomes, new strategy with implications so that 'together we can follow Jesus'.
Widely welcomed report by the laity, some clergy with concerns.
- David against Goliath
- lay ministry is a sign of the Kingdom and good to see for those in other denominations
- need more input to schools and new clergy under 25
- yet another report when previous ones not acted on, need to find a smarter way
- discipleship is relational for those at work
- mission of whole church, working class people are left behind, learn lessons from failures
- need adaptive change, bishops are supportive
- need to value clergy, could train together with lay
- a member of the Armed Forces commented on changing culture successfully
- from age 10 was discipled by other lay people
- a member of Deaf Anglicans spoke of their need for lay leadership, deaf schools are closing or in decline, no clergy, resources should be available to all
- need for change, laity not confident, do not understand church language or procedures, intimidated by clergy
- respect should be rebuilt in chapters and deaneries, lay chairs should meet regularly
- model of gathering and being sent, called in from real world and sent out there, need to study and learn,
- ministry of Readers and Lay Assistants needs developing, formal and informal education required
It was disappointing to hear so many bishops and clergy speak rather than lay people in this debate.