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General Synod of the Church of England – July 2005 Group of Sessions
8 to 12 July 2005

by Peter Owen
Member of the House of Laity of General Synod from the diocese of Liverpool
24 July 2005

Links to the many press reports on the meeting of Synod and to the answers to a few of the Questions can be found here.

Formation for Ministry with a Learning Church: Reviewing Progress June 2005 (GS 1574)

The Bishop of Chelmsford (the Rt Revd John Gladwin) introduced a debate on progress in following up the Hind report on theological education and training. He said that the regions had been set up and colleges and courses were starting to work together. It was accepted that there was a need for flexibility, and the need for more flexible education and formation should take precedence over financial needs. The House of Bishops had agreed learning outcomes for candidates at four points: selection, ordination, completion of initial ministerial education, and appointment as an incumbent. The Bishop of Willesden (the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent) criticized the Hind process as bureaucratic and no way out of a fortress mentality. The Methodist ecumenical representative (Dudley Coates) disagreed strongly with the Bishop of Willesden. The Methodist Church was committed to the vision of the Hind report but was concerned at a watering-down of the proposals and the lack of ecumenical commitment from the Church of England. This last criticism was echoed by several other speakers. The Revd Professor John Barton spoke of the BMin, with a masters degree to follow, being developed at Oxford University. It would be fully modular and could be done as part of either initial or continuing ministerial education.

An amendment expressing some of the concerns in the debate was defeated in all three houses (bishops: ayes 7 noes 25; clergy: ayes 66 noes 91; clergy: ayes 77 noes 99). Another, adding a reference to ecumenical partners and making the regional boundaries flexible, was passed on a show of hands. The amended motion below was then passed by Synod.

That this Synod

(a) reaffirm the vision of Formation for Ministry within a Learning Church and in particular its call for increased collaboration between dioceses and training institutions over the provision of high quality training for ordained and lay ministry;

(b) recognizing that there is scope for variety and flexibility over how this collaboration is best secured both within and outside regions, urge Church leaders, ecumenical partners and trainers to continue to promote greater partnership and new patterns of training for ordained and lay;

(c) welcome the agreed learning outcomes for ordinands and the recently ordained now approved by the House of Bishops; and

(d) accept that the funding proposals and research in GS 1569 strike the right balance between the respective responsibilities of the dioceses and the national Church.

Assisted Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia (GS 1575)

"Am I my brother's keeper?" asked the Bishop of St Albans (the Rt Revd Christopher Herbert). A bill proposed by Lord Joffe proposed to change the answer from "Yes" to "No". The bill would give people the right to demand that other people kill them. The Lambeth Conference in 1988, in discussing euthanasia, had said that life was God-given and had intrinsic significance and worth, but the Joffe bill made no reference to this. In the Netherlands, where there was little palliative care, about 3500 people a year received euthanasia and it was estimated that doctors ended a patient's life without an explicit request in about 1000 cases. An oncologist from Oregon had told him that there was far less palliative care there since the introduction of assisted suicide.

Speaker after speaker opposed the Joffe proposals. It was rank bad legislation. It was being driven by economics; euthanasia was cheaper than palliative care. One speaker, though, did ask whether helping someone to die might sometimes be an act of compassion.

The motion before Synod was carried by 293 votes to one.

That this Synod, in the light of the current public debate about Assisted Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia ask the Archbishops' Council and the Mission and Public Affairs Council, and those who speak on their behalf, to continue to advocate and develop the principles and arguments contained in the joint submission of the Church of England House of Bishops and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales to the House of Lords' Select Committee on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill made in September 2004.

Children and Holy Communion (GS 1576, Annex 1, Annex 2)

Following a Synod debate in November 1996, the House of Bishops issued Guidelines on the admission of Baptised Persons to Holy Communion before Confirmation. This changed the practice in England that only the confirmed (or those ready and desirous to be confirmed) were admitted to Communion. In practice those admitted under the guidelines are children, as adults are expected to be confirmed. The guidelines require the bishop to decide whether to allow the practice in his diocese. Individual parishes must then seek his permission before introducing it. In 2000 Synod asked for the House of Bishops to report back to Synod by 2005, which the report GS 1576 does. The report proposes to formalize the practice by introducing regulations under paragraph 1(c) of Canon B15A. The draft regulations are similar to the Guidelines, but they now refer explicitly to children.

Introducing the debate of the report the Bishop of Dover said that about ten per cent of churches were admitting children to communion before confirmation. The majority of speakers in the debate were in favour of the practice and said how well it worked in their experience. One person against was concerned about confusion with confirmation. Another said that it undermined unconfirmed adults who could not receive communion and that he was concerned about children who wanted to enjoy baptism by immersion at a later age.

Synod voted to take note of the report. The draft regulations are likely to be brought to Synod for approval in November 2005.

Presence and Engagement (GS 1577)

Introducing a debate on the report Presence and Engagement and the multifaith context of Britain today, the Bishop of Liverpool (the Rt Revd James Jones) said that the bomb attacks in London a few days before had brought into focus the conflicts of the modern world. The attacks had affected those of all faiths and none. 80% of parishes had some people of other faiths. Christianity had existed in a pluralistic world from the start. In Acts 17 Paul had proclaimed the gospel in the context of dialogue. How can we proclaim Christ crucified unless we are friendly?

Most speakers gave examples of good interfaith relations, mainly with Muslims. Many said, though, that there was a need for education and training, and theological resourcing, particularly for congregations; clergy were more keen. Good practice should be shared, and it was good that Guy Wilkinson, the chief author of the report, had been appointed National Inter Faith Relations Adviser.

The motion before Synod was carried.

That this Synod

(a) re-affirm the Church of England's commitment in partnership with Christians of other traditions to resourcing ministry, witness and mission in multi Faith areas;

(b) urge dioceses to review and develop their long-term strategies to equip and support clergy and congregations in multi Faith areas;

(c) commend the report Presence and Engagement for study and action in dioceses and parishes; and

(d) ask the Mission and Public Affairs Council to take forward the Presence and Engagement agenda and report back to Synod in the next quinquennium.

Parochial Fees (GS Misc 771A and GS Misc 771B)

The Revd Moira Astin proposed a motion from the Oxford diocesan synod asking for parochial fees to be increased to reflect the real cost of providing weddings and funerals. Most of these are of people who are not active members of the Church of England, and she asked why the faithful givers in the congregation should subsidize the cost of clergy taking services for which a fee was charged. For a marriage the church provided much more than a registrar: about eight hours of clergy time plus a lifelong commitment to the couple, compared to an hour in total for a registrar.

In reply the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds (the Rt Revd John Packer) said that the fees were not intended to be payment for work done but were a contribution towards ministry. Some, in poorer parishes, thought that they were too high. The majority of speakers agreed with the bishop, and the motion was overwhelmingly defeated.

Church Urban Fund (GS 1579)

Introducing a debate on the Church Urban Fund, the Bishop of Willesden (the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent) said that the fund was the most significant lasting legacy of the 1980s report Faith in the City. It had given £54 million pounds to more than 4000 local initiatives. Grants from the fund had attracted a lot of non-church money. The fund was to be re-launched and become a flexible self-sustaining organization no longer living on capital.

Other speakers spoke of the way that grants from the fund levered in much larger sums from other agencies. One or two speakers thought the fund was reluctant to support evangelizing projects, but the majority view of Synod was shown by the passing of an amendment to change the support for the relaunch from "warmly" to "enthusiastically". The amended motion was carried overwhelmingly.

That this Synod

(a) welcome the new vision for the Church Urban Fund and enthusiastically, with hope and with common purpose, support its re-launch; and

(b) actively support the national fund-raising campaign and urge members of the Church of England to contribute generously.

Strategic Spending Review (GS 1580, 1580A, 1580B and annexes A, B, C, D, E)

On Monday morning Synod debated three closely related reports about funding the Church's work. The first was Accountability and Transparency within the Church of England (GS 1580A). Introducing the debate the Bishop of Liverpool (the Rt Revd James Jones) said that the report was an attempt to enable us as a Church to support each other in the mission of God. The semi-autonomous bodies within the national church could only address issues of power and justice, or resources and mutual support if they could trust each other to give an honest account of God's provision for mission. Synod voted to take note of the report.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells (the Rt Revd Peter Price) then opened a debate on an interim report from the Resourcing Mission Group (GS 1580B). The key challenge facing the Church was not financial but the need for it to develop a more dynamic mission emphasis. This required investment in recruitment, training and leadership development, as well as the addressing of new mission opportunities. Many of the financial issues, such as low levels of giving, were ultimately mission issues. Although there was need for more mutual support, the group did not think that the time was yet ripe to create a central fund to which dioceses were expected to contribute by some sort of formula. For the long term it thought that the Church Commissioners' non-pensions expenditure should be given as block grants to dioceses to facilitate local decision-making. Other speakers generally welcomed the report, and Synod voted to take note of it.

Finally the Bishop of Chelmsford (the Rt Revd John Gladwin) opened a debate on a report from the Steering Committee for the Strategic Spending Review (GS 1580). The Church was not in a financial crisis, but there were issues to be addressed: the allocations and apportionment formulae, administrative costs in dioceses, and the feeling in the Church that the financial landscape had changed so much in recent years that we needed to stand back and take stock. Collaboration and mutual support required consent and not coercion.

The Bishop of Willesden (the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent) said that the Church had never taken strategic planning seriously. If a few of the richest parishes in a diocese, or a few of the richer dioceses refused to pay up there could be serious problems. He was suspicious that the report would lead to old, tired 1980s bureaucracy. Other speakers spoke of the lack of support for existing institutions, the need for an equitable Church and central redistribution, pleasure at seeing the word mission used so liberally and the need for mutuality to spread wider. The motion below was passed.

That this Synod

(a) welcome the good progress set out in the report from the Finance Review Steering Committee (GS 1580);

(b) endorse the broad principles set out in GS 1580A and GS 1580B;

(c) invite the Archbishops' Council, the Church Commissioners and the House of Bishops to oversee the implementation of both reports once consultation on their detailed recommendations is concluded.

2005 Budget (GS 1581)

Synod agreed the Archbishops' Council's budget for 2006, and how it should be apportioned between dioceses.

Vote 2005 apportionment () 2006 apportionment () increase over 2005
1: Training for Ministry 9,171,240 9,267,000 1.0%
2: National Church Responsibilities 9,574,425 9,919,100 3.6%
3: Grants and Provisions 1,271,850 1,416,500 11.4%
4: Mission Agencies Pension Contributions 675,000 740,000 9.6%
5: CHARM 3,117,000 3,111,000 reduction of 0.2%
Net Apportionment 23,809,515 24,453,600 2.7%

These are net figures. Including income from sources other than the apportionment on the dioceses, the gross budget of the Council in 2006 is £32.1 million. In July 2004 Synod passed an amendment to the 2005 budget asking the Archbishops' Council to reverse the proposal that maintenance grants should become part of Vote 1 from September 2005. The Council did this, and the apportionment figures above for 2005 reflect this change.

Ordination of Women to the Episcopate

Synod spent the whole of its Monday afternoon session debating a motion to start the process of removing the legal obstacles to the ordination of women to the episcopate. Opening the debate the Bishop of Southwark (the Rt Revd Tom Butler) said that some objected on ecumenical grounds that women should not be ordained as bishops until their orders would be universally recognized. But the Roman Catholic Church had refused to recognize the orders of male priests and bishops, so what difference would ordaining women bishops make? In any case there would be ecumenical gains with the many churches which did ordain women bishops, and with the Methodist Church. He said that St Paul's writings on women were inconsistent; he insisted on their subservience but regarded them as co-workers. He believed that the Church of England should act prophetically for the whole church.

In opposition the Bishop of Chichester (the Rt Revd John Hind) said that the Church of England had not had the theological debate for which the Rochester report had been prepared. It had not agreed on the principle of women bishops. The working group chaired by the Bishop of Guildford had not yet reported on practical ways forward. Yet Synod was being asked to agree to a motion which implicitly said that the debate had been concluded and explicitly that it should act accordingly. Some argued that the theological issue had been settled when women were admitted to the priesthood, but why in that case had the 1992 legislation explicitly excluded women from the episcopate? He said that in matters of faith and order the Church should stay where it was, and where the majority of churches still were. He agreed that there were serious issues to discuss, but the issue was what kind of debate to have. The motion before Synod was both premature and a dangerous precedent.

110 members of Synod had asked to speak but there was only time for 30 or so to be called. Many spoke of the acceptance of women priests and how illogical it was to exclude them from the episcopate. Most of those who spoke against the motion said that more time for debate on the principle was needed but one or two argued that only men could be leaders.

The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe (the Rt Revd Geoffrey Rowell) proposed a delaying amendment that "the fullest opportunity be given to the Church to reflect on and debate the issues set out in the Rochester report" but this was defeated. The Archdeacon of Berkshire (the Ven Norman Russell) proposed an amendment to ask the House of Bishops to "give specific attention to the issues of canonical obedience and the universal validity of orders throughout the Church of England as it would affect clergy and laity who cannot accept the ordination of women to the episcopate on theological grounds". He supported the ordination of women but wanted to make it easier for those who found this hard to accept. This was carried by 233 votes in favour to 216 against.

At the end of the debate a vote by houses was called and the amended motion below was carried in all three houses. The voting figures were bishops: ayes 41 noes 6; clergy ayes 167 noes 46; laity ayes 159 noes 75.

That this Synod

(a) consider that the process for removing the legal obstacles to the ordination of women to the episcopate should now be set in train;

(b) invite the House of Bishops, in consultation with the Archbishops' Council, to complete by January 2006, and report to the Synod, the assessment which it is making of the various options for achieving the removal of the legal obstacles to the ordination of women to the episcopate and ask that it give specific attention to the issues of canonical obedience and the universal validity of orders throughout the Church of England as it would affect clergy and laity who cannot accept the ordination of women to the episcopate on theological grounds; and

(c) instruct the Business Committee to make sufficient time available in the February 2006 group of sessions for the Synod to debate the report, and in the light of the outcome to determine on what basis it wants the necessary legislation prepared and establish the necessary drafting group.

Ordination Services (GS 1535Z and annex, GS 1535B: Deacons, Priests, Bishops)

On the Friday afternoon of Synod the Common Worship ordinal returned for its final revision stage. The revision committee had added the option of including a prayer of confession. Synod carried an amendment to restrict the choice to the two on page 169 of Common Worship. It then considered another which would have made the usage normal instead of merely permissive. This was lost in a vote by houses (bishops: ayes 7, noes 24; clergy: ayes 62, noes 95; laity: ayes 81, noes 77) even though the laity voted in favour.

A further amendment sought to remove the option of giving the bible to the newly ordained at the end of the service so that it had to be done immediately after the laying on of hands. This was also lost in a vote by houses, although this time all three houses voted against (bishops: ayes 11, noes 20; clergy: ayes 48, noes 109; laity: ayes 61, noes 95).

The House of Bishops met on the Saturday morning, and made a number of changes. These included making the confession normative and changing the words at the giving of the bible to strengthen the sense of the authority of scripture.

The texts then returned to Synod on Monday evening for final approval. The Bishop of Salisbury (the Rt Revd David Stancliffe) introduced the debate on this. He said that the importance of scripture was emphasized by the first question put to candidates in all three services: "Do you accept the holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?" There was a divergence of views about the best place to give the bible and much depended on how it was done. He suggested that a large lectern bible should be given in the traditional place and held aloft by the candidates in turn so that it was visible to the whole congregation. Individual copies could then be given at the sending out. Final approval (which requires a two-thirds majority in each house) was given: bishops 25-0, clergy: 155-4; laity: 175-8. The services are now authorized from 15 September 2005 in time for this autumn's Michaelmas ordinations.

[Note: the texts linked above do not include the amendments made by Synod and the House of Bishops. The amendments are listed in full here.]

In the Spirit of the Covenant: Interim Report of the Joint Implementation Commission

Synod's last business before the closing eucharist was a debate on the Interim Report (2005) of the Joint Implementation Commission under the Covenant between the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Church of England. Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Peterborough (the Rt Revd Ian Cundy) said that the report was deliberately a record of work in progress. Three faith and order issues (the bread and wine of Holy Communion, presidency at the Eucharist, and interchangeability of ministries) requiring further work had been identified, and much of the report was devoted to these.

Other speakers gave examples of good things going on already but others were disappointed at the slow rate of progress. The Methodist Church representative on Synod (Dudley Coates) said that the Methodist Conference had just had a similar debate, with similar frustration that things were not going faster. It had had serious and significant debate on the possibility of taking bishops into its system, and he warmly welcomed Synod's decision on women bishops. On doctrinal matters he asked the Church of England not to ask more of the Methodists than of itself.

At the end of the debate Synod voted overwhelmingly to commend the report for study in the Church of England

Other debates

In other debates, Synod approved the rules and code of practice that are needed before the Clergy Discipline Measure can come into effect at the end of the year, made some changes to its standing orders, and agreed to a request from the diocese of Southwell that it could change its name to Southwell and Nottingham.

The Archbishop of Canterbury announced that Synod would be dissolved on Wednesday 13 July 2005 at the end of its five-year term. Elections for a new Synod, to meet first in November 2005, will be held in September.

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