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 General Synod Report 12 February 2008

Report on business from the General Synod at Church House, Westminster Tuesday 12 February 2008

After prayers the Synod began a day of legislative business with the promulgation of Amending Canon 27. This has to do with Local Ecumenical Projects and Mission Orders under the new Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure. Consent was also given by Synod to changes in the Vacancy in See Regulations.

Pensions Amendment Measure.
The aim of this Measure is to allow the Church Commissioners to expend capital in order to meet their commitments. This power has been authorised twice and expires in 2011 but the draft Measure will extend the power until 2018.
The Commissioners have spent over £400 million of capital during the last 9 years. The Commissioners have been enabled to pursue capital gain rather than just income return knowing that they could then dispose of some of the capital. This has been deemed to be of great benefit in allowing the Commissioners to meet their various commitments, in particular pensions.

The Synod also approved the Code of Practice for the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007.

The Synod had a trial of the new electronic voting system. Each Synod member has a handset and card and has to enter a code number displayed in the chamber for the purpose.

Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure.
This is the revision stage of the legislation, plus consideration of the regulations and an amending canon. Synod has been shown drafts of codes of practice but these are not for consideration yet. In addition to the large numbers of papers involved there were 46 resolutions including amendments to be considered. Debate went on for over two hours in the morning and a further two in the afternoon.

Paul Benfield attempted to remove freeholders from the provision of the Measure. This amendment was lost as. A similar amendment from Clive Scowen, which attempted to allow Synod to bring in provision for freeholders to switch to Common Tenure in a few years time, was also lost. Therefore, if this Measure is finally approved and accepted by Parliament it will remove clergy freehold.

A further amendment from Clive Scowen sought to ensure that the final appeal in the process should be to a Church tribunal rather than to the national employment tribunal system. He based this largely on an appeal to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 6. However, there was concern about this application of the passage and the need for an external check on the processes so the Synod rejected this amendment also.

Paul Benfield put an amendment regarding Parsonages. The debate from this point on became quite confusing because a later amendment proposed to make a more radical change by deleting an entire clause of the Measure. There was therefore a prolonged debate on 3 amendments during which some people spoke on the general principle and others spoke on the specific point relating to the Benfield amendment.

Just before lunch the Synod voted in all three houses in favour of the amendment. This was the first time the Synod had used its electronic voting system. The Bishops voted in favour 14 to 9 with 5 abstentions. Clergy voted in favour 100 to 57 with 4 abstentions. The Laity voted in favour by 84 to 79 with 4 amendments which was much closer than the other two houses.
Immediately after lunch the Bishop of Dover announced that the Steering Committee was prepared to remove Clause 7, Clause 5, Schedules 1 & 2 and various other consequential changes. All this reflecting the fact that the Synod had indicated that it did not wish to change the present arrangement whereby a parsonage is part of the clergy freehold. It is expected that the tidying up work will be done in order for Final Approval to be sought in July.

The debate on the various aspects of the Terms of Service Measure carried on for over two hours in the afternoon. There were two main highlights:

At one point the Archbishop of Canterbury was heckled by a lady in the gallery because of his support for Sharia law and Druids.

Dr John Hartley from Bradford put a series of amendments regarding aspects of the Regulations although all these were defeated. One of his amendments was to require Bishops to comply with the guidelines, whereas the Regulations specify that they should have regard to them. In response it was argued that Bishops who did not show proper regard to the guidelines would face serious problems with a tribunal. What made the amendment interesting was that one of the Bishops called for a vote by houses and this call was supported (requiring as it did 25 members to support) by almost all the Bishops present. In the even the amendment was defeated in all three houses - one Bishop voted in favour. However, the vote was very close in the house of laity.

Casinos

Debate began early on a motion put by Tom Benyon expressing strong opposition to the government sponsored increase in gambling. Two amendments on behalf of the Mission and Public Affairs Council were put. These gave more scope to the motion and had a different tone (‘gravely concerned’ rather than ‘appalled’). Mr Benyon noted that in the last four years spending on gambling has increased from £4 billion to £40 billion (this appears to be based on turnover) and in debate it was stated that 32 million people in the UK gamble. Therefore, for those who gamble they spend over £13,000 per year each.

The speeches in Synod showed unanimity of concern regarding gambling although some people were clearly much more ‘appalled’ than others.

Tim Cox’s motion on Bible availability was brought forward from Thursday afternoon due to the earlier business finishing sooner than expected. The motion reflect the fact that in many churches the Bible is not readily available to people during services or at other times. Whilst the motion does not require churches to do anything it sets down a marker and ought to be a stimulus to make Bibles available. There were to amendments to do with which particular translations of the Bible ought to be provided. The motion was passed with one person voting against.

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