‘Church Times’ article on the July General Synod of the C.of E.

General Synod all set to vote (or adjourn) in July

by Margaret Duggan

Decision time: the General Synod meeting in York last July SAM ATKINS
FOR many people in the country, the great countdown was to the Olympic Games, the Secretary Gen­eral to the General Synod, William Fittall, said at a press briefing last Friday. For many in the Church, however, an important countdown was to the final vote on women bishops at the General Synod, when it meets in York from 6 to 10 July.“It is the first time in 20 years when the Church of Englandhas to face so significant a two-thirds vote. Some will go away rejoicing, while others will be disappointed.”The Church had long been trying to work out a position where there were not just winners and losers, Mr Fittall said, but a way forward that could deliver good news to as many people as possible.

That crucial issue, timed to take up the whole morning of Monday 9 July, will dominate the mind of the Synod, but there are other significant items on the agenda: world mission, Fresh Expressions and church growth, Palestine and Israel, and the ex­pression of faith in public life, as well as routine budgetary and financial matters, and legislative technicalities.

On Friday afternoon, however, the component parts of the General Synod, the House of Laity, and the Upper and Lower Houses (bishops and clergy respectively) of the Convocations of the Prov­inces of Canterbury and York must meet separately to agree by simple majorities that the Synod will take a final vote on the Article 8 business of the women-bishops Measure.

Should the House of Laity, or any two Houses of the Convocations, vote No, the whole process stops there, and the issue will no longer be on the Synod’s agenda. It was un­likely that that would happen, Mr Fittall said, but it could. (If one House of Con­vocation rejects the legis­la­tion, the Synod could be invited to refer it back for further con­sideration by the two Convocations alone.)

The Synod proper starts late on Friday afternoon with an address to Synod members by theArchbishop of Turku and Finland, the Rt Revd Kari Mäkinen, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, which, according to tradition, was founded by an Englishman, St Henrik, in 1155. That Church is now in com­munion with the Church of England.

He will be followed by routine Synod business, and the report by the Business Committee, when mem­­bers have an opportunity to comment on the agenda. The whole of the evening session will be given to Questions, when, Mr Fittall said, the issue of “gay marriage” was most likely to be raised.

Members will spend the first part of Saturday morning in small groups, each chaired by a bishop, reflecting on mission. The Synod will then convene to debate a report on “world-shaped mission” from the World Mission and Anglican Com­munion Panel. It will be chaired by the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Michael Hill, and members will dis­cuss the change in mission practices and the need for greater mutuality in world-mission relationships.

Saturday afternoon is given to legislative business, much of it technical, the Synod’s legal adviser, Stephen Slack, said. It will include final drafting of the Clergy Dis­cipline (Amendment) Measure, which makes “modest and mostly technical changes”, but also gives effect to a request from the Synod to allow disciplinary proceedings against clergy who join organisations that are held to be contrary to the Church’s teachings on racial equality.

The Measure is then up for Final Drafting and Final Approval, as is the Diocese in Europe Measure, which allows more central church help for that diocese, a proposal that easily passed its earlier stages. Other tech­nical amendments will be followed by the annual Legal Officers and Ecclesiastical Judges fees orders. The afternoon will end with a considera­tion of the Church Commissioners’ annual report.

In the evening, the Synod returns to the subject of mission, and the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, will introduce a debate on Fresh Expressions and church growth, based on a report from the Mission and Public Affairs Council. The Synod will undoubtedly hear of many examples of “fresh expres­sions” in the dioceses, and will be asked to “affirm the mixed economy of the Church as an enduring model for mission and ministry”.

On Sunday morning, the General Synod will attend the sung eucharist in York Minster, when the Arch­bishop of Canterbury will preach. After lunch, the Synod will consider the additional eucharistic prayers, intended for occasions when large numbers of children are at the eu­char­ist, for final approval. “Nothing in the Synod could be more im­portant,” the Clerk to the Synod, Dr Colin Podmore, commented as he ran through the agenda.

There will then be the annual report of the Archbishops’ Council, followed by financial business, and the draft budget and apportionment proposals. The afternoon will end with a debate on a report,Testing the Bridges: Understanding the role of the Church amidst riots, disturb­ances and disorder, introduced by the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Price.

On Sunday evening, there will be a debate on a private member’s mo­tion brought by the Revd Stephen Trott (Peterborough) on manifesta­tion of faith in public life. It tackles, Mr Trott says in his background paper, “the silencing of Christian witness . . . [which is] reinforced by over-zealous interpretation at all levels of human rights and equality legislation, in directives issued by the European Commission, in Parli­ament and in the courts, in policies developed by local councils and by employers, and in the increasingly common perception that it is not only wrong to maintain traditions stemming from our Christian ‘past’ but potentially illegal”.

Monday is the big day when the Draft Bishop and Priests (Con­secration and Ordination of Women) Measure comes before the Synod for final approval, unless the House of Laity or any two of the Houses of Convocation have refused to allow it. The Measure cannot be amended, and requires a two-thirds majority in all three Houses of the Synod. Mr Fittall said that there were three possibilities.

First, the legislation could receive a two-thirds majority in all three Houses — Bishops, Clergy, and Laity. It would then go to the Ecclesi­astical Committee of Parliament, and on for approval in the Com­mons and Lords, before receiving Royal Assent. It would then be possible for the first woman to be appointed and ordained bishop from late 2013 or, more probably, early 2014.

Second, the legislation could fail to win two-thirds in one or more Houses. Then it falls, and it is back to the drawing board. There would have to be “a period of reflection and discussion to determine what new legislative proposals might be brought to the Synod”.

Third, an adjournment motion (which could not be voted on by Houses) could be proposed and carried during the final-approval debate, inviting the Bishops to re­consider the Measure and/or Amending Canon generally, or one or both of the two amendments that it made to the Measure in May.

If this happened, it is probable that the Bishops would meet in Sep­tember. A short additional meeting of the Synod could be convened on the contingency dates provided for November.

Neither Mr Fittall nor any of the Synod officials was prepared to predict what the outcome would be. “How it will go is a mystery, not a secret,” Mr Fittall said.

After all that, the Synod returns to any of the legislative matters not com­pleted on Saturday, and the evening is given over to a presenta­tion on The Church School of the Future, a review produced by the Edu­cation Division of the Arch­bishops’ Council.

On the final morning, Tuesday, another private member’s motion is to be brought by Dr John Dinnen (Hereford) on the work of the Churches in Palestine and Israel, asking the Synod to affirm its support for all the Christian agencies working among the Palestinians.

There will then be a diocesan-synod motion from Bradford, in the hope of ensuring that all vacancy-in-see committees have at least 21 members. It deals with complicated issues that particularly affect small dioceses, such as Bradford, in the adequate representation of various categories of member, and asks for simpler legislation.

Then, should the women-bishops legislation have been carried, and no November group of sessions be likely to be called, it will be the last Synod meeting while Dr Rowan Williams is still Archbishop of Canterbury. In that case, the Synod will want to ex­press its gratitude to him for his ministry to Church and nation, and to bid farewell, with all best wishes for the future, to him and Mrs Williams.

Will female bishops have the same authority as male bishops?The requirement imposed on diocesan bishops by Clause 2 of the Measure to draw up diocesan schemes applies equally to all bishops, irrespective of their gender or practice in relation to ordaining women. All parishes remain subject to the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop, male or female. Even a male diocesan bishop would need to appoint another male bishop to minister to a parish in response to a Letter of Request. A woman could be appointed Archbishop in the future (but not as Dr Williams’s immediate successor).A Church within a Church?

The legislation creates no new structures, and no changes to the present pattern of dioceses. Some Church of England people do not accept the ministry of bishops who have ordained women. The C of E has, since 1994, shown a willingness to accommodate diversity on this, and has experienced a degree of impairment of communion. This has been treated as “a bearable anomaly”.

Will parishes choose their own bishop?

The selection of the bishop who will minister to a parish that issues a Letter of Request will remain a matter for the diocesan bishops, taking into account the provisions of the dio­cesan scheme and the Code of Practice.

Is there “taint” or “pedigree” on the face of the legislation?

It was integral to the draft legislation, before the House of Bishops’ amend­ments were made, that arrangements had to be made for those whose convictions, or doubts, about the ordained ministry of women would prevent their receiving such ministry.

The amendment does not specify anything on the face of the legislation about the nature of those convictions, save that they must be about the consecration or ordination of women. The making of this provision is not considered to imply that such convictions or doubts are shared by the C of E as a whole.

(Those who, for theological reasons, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops reject these terms as not an accurate or fair summary of their theological convic­tions.)

When will the Code of Practice be available?

The Code cannot be finalised until the Measure has received final approval. But an illustrative draft Code of Practice was presented to the Synod by the House of Bishops in February.

If the legislation comes into force, will the C of E still be in a period of “reception”, or will it have taken an irrevoc­able de­cision on women’s ordina­tion?

The C of E will regard all those whom it has ordained as priests and con­secrated as bishops as priests and bishops in the Church of God. The provision made for those who as a matter of theological conviction could not receive the ordained min­istry of women as bishops and priests is said to reflect: (a) the acknowledgement that that conviction remains within the spectrum of Anglican teaching and tradition, and (b) that the broader process of discernment within the universal Church concerning the admission of women to all orders of ministry continues.

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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One Response to ‘Church Times’ article on the July General Synod of the C.of E.

  1. Pingback: Christians must confront their own ‘disgust’ over homosexuality, says Archbishop « Queer Church News

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