So that was it – the last General Synod of the Quinquennium. Many will not stand again, having seen the advent of women bishops due to the work of this Synod. Bits of the four days in York had an end of term feeling, things being finished off and loose ends tied off. So we had the immense joy of considering the Synod’s own Standing Orders. But all this has to be done, and done well.
The Convocations of Canterbury and York (gatherings of the clergy only) met first to approve a new set of Guidelines for the Professional Practice of the Clergy. Duly approved, they constitute an Act of Synod, and will be published in the autumn. Synod was then addressed by two Archbishops – York and Uppsala – before a first outing of its standing orders so that the evening session could follow new rules.
Friday evening was question time. The rules were new, and simpler. The atmosphere was a bit grumpy. One Bishop struggled to give a simple answer to a straightforward question. Another gave a rather high handed set of answers. The Archbishop of Canterbury was cross, and frankly rude. A basic rule of thumb is that the more defensive the Bishops are, the more tetchy Synod gets; and the more tetchy the Synod gets, the more defensive the Bishops become. It’s a vicious circle, and to start on it on Friday evening was worrying.
Saturday morning began with adapting the rules about clergy discipline to make the rules around Safeguarding more robust. I’ve followed this through my time on Synod and was pleased that my first vote of this groups of sessions was to support this important subject. The remainder of the morning was devoted to legislation – dull but necessary. New faculty rules were probably the highlight.
After lunch, we reconvened for a debate on Leadership in the Church. This was prompted by the refusal to allow Synod to debate the ‘Green Report’ on selecting and training senior leaders in February. Another report was up for debate, but the real target was always clear. Tetchiness and defensiveness in spades was my fear. In the end, it was a very good debate. The Archbishop welcomed an amendment that meant Synod will review processes around leadership. He also apologised for his answers the night before. This was a welcome exercise of leadership in a debate on leadership. The debated report (from the Faith and Order Commission) is excellent, and I was pleased to speak in the debate.
After another brief session of legislation, we moved to a debate on a report from the World Council of Churches. This is an agreed ‘convergence text’ on the Church, only the second the WCC has ever issued. An important piece of ecumenical work, whose potential may not be unlocked for some time. We finished the day with reports from the Church Commissioners and the Archbishops Council.
Sunday always begins with worship in York Minster. Once back in the chamber we approved some additional texts for baptism in simpler language. These have been moderately controversial, but only if you regard the Daily Mail as a source for liturgical understanding!
Having approved the Synod’s Stranding Orders, they were put to use in a rambling debate on the structure of the Church of England. This was a diocesan motion, from the Diocese of Wakefield (now subsumed into the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales). A great number of shopping lists were being read as speeches, until someone put us out of our misery and we voted to move to next business.
That next business was a presentation from the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns. This is important, not so that we can tick boxes about inclusion, but because we are missing the voices of many people from our leadership and from Synod. Much food for thought for all involved in vocations, elections and appointments. Sunday ended with the budget for 2016, duly approved.
The last day of the Synod was given over to consideration of the environment and climate change. It began in small groups with worship and a Bible study. This was a good way into the subject, and it was good to remember that the Bible has been (and still is in some places) used to justify environmental degradation. A major motion ahead of the Paris summit in December, when world leaders will meet to agree how to limit global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius. This was passed overwhelmingly (only six votes against) and made the United Nations website by lunchtime. In the afternoon, we voted (again overwhelmingly) to support the new investment policy regarding climate change generated by the Ethical Investment Advisory Group. This is a Church of England body that is now regarded as leading the field in terms of ethical investment. It advocates disinvestment in some circumstances, but far more importantly it speaks of robust engagement with companies. This is a much more effective way of getting change. This was my last vote on the Synod, and was as important in its own way as my first. So, after farewells (only to Bishops) and a service of Communion, Synod was prorogued and dissolved. It meets again in November, after elections have been held.
Reflecting on the weekend, which was as enjoyable and as exhausting as ever, I can see that it has inspired me to do two things. The first is to fast and pray on the first day of each month, for climate justice and the Paris summit. The second is to join the Mothers’ Union – they held a really excellent fringe meting about their Bye Buy Childhood campaign, which reminded me of all the good things they do in the UK and around the world. Synod has achieved much this weekend, and through its past five years. There have been ups and downs, and it has been a privilege to represent the clergy of the Diocese of Derby for the last two and a half years.
Now, where might the MU membership form be?