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.