on business from the General Synod at Church House Westminster, Thursday 12 February 2009.
First business for Thursday was consideration of a report on the Anglican Covenant. The latest draft of the Covenant is referred to as The St. Andrews Draft. Provinces of the Communion have been asked three questions and the report before Synod seeks to respond to the draft and answer the questions. The Synod was asked to take note of the report though it would have been possible to pass a following motion to make particular points.
The three questions asked were:
(1) Is the province able to give an “in principle” commitment to the Covenant process at this time (without committing itself to the details of any text?)
(2) Is it possible to give some indication of any Synodical process which would have to be undertaken to adopt the Covenant in the fullness of time?
(3) In considering the St Andrew’s draft for an Anglican Covenant, are there any elements which would need extensive change in order to make the process of Synodical adoption viable?’
The response proposed is:
(2) This would be Article 7 business requiring full synodical process and refernce to the Dioceses. It could not take precedence over the present legally defined doctrinal and organizational basis of the Church of England.
(3) Various comments are made.
The Covenant process is ongoing but it has been clear for some time that it will not have the teeth to address the problems which precipitated it. It is also clear that it will take a long long time before anything is achieved.
Consideration of two set changes precipitated by the Government in relation to the role of the Crown in appointments.
In the first set three changes are being proposed:
- For suffragan sees only one name will be put the the Queen.
- When a Diocesan see is vacant the Queen would no longer take over the patronage role of the Bishop, rather it would be transferred to another designated Bishops, save that her Majesty has the right to issue notice that she will continue to exercise her authority.
- When a person is appointed as a Diocesan Bishop their post shall no longer come under the patronage of the Crown.
It was pointed out in debate that despite the obvious sense of this change it does modify the nature of establishment.
Related to the previous item, and dealt with by the same Revision Committee are changes to the role of the Crown where it is the patron of parishes. The present legislation is not binding on the Crown. The changes will give parish representatives similar, but not identical rights as any other parish. In practice this will make no difference since the Crown already operates the same system of appointments, even though not obliged to do so.
Two items were brought to Synod regarding pensions. The first of these had been held over from earlier in the week because of the Diocese of Europe. It appears that the issue for Europe had been resolved but the debate was adjourned again because of concerns over the drafting of the text. A second motion was put and carried.
Business had speeded through so a Diocesan Synod Motion from Peterborough was brought onto the agenda. This called the production of eucharistic prayers which can be used for children. Specifically in view is communion services taken in church schools when almost all those present are children. After debate the Synod voted to move to next business. The logic appeared to be that a vote ‘no’ would be seen as anti-children (a rather absurd argument) whereas a vote ‘yes’ would make work of the Liturgical Commission and take a lot of synodical time. There seemed to be an assumption that those who wished to have an adapted communion prayer could do so without concern.
First business of the afternoon was a debate on the ‘Financial Crisis’. This followed on from a presentation earlier in the week. This was a wide ranging debate but the final vote was simply a taken note motion of a report. Synod had the option of supporting a following motion but it was clear that this would have had some opposition and given the option the Synod voted to continue the take not motion such that the following motion ran out of time and was not taken.
Bishop David James of Bradford introduced “Presence and Engagement” on ministry in multi-faith areas. He reminded Synod members of the overwhelming vote yesterday of the need to share the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ alone with all. He then challenged Synod member whether God might be calling them to do this by moving live and work in areas where there are those of many different faiths. Christians are called to relate to those of other faiths, to show love rather than hate, to make peace, to witness to Christ and to engage lovingly. The Bishop stated that we should build bridges of friendship, but bridges over which Christ can walk.
The debate that followed highlighted differing views about the nature of engagement. Several speakers also spoke about the problems faced by converts from other faiths and the apparent discrimination against Christians in modern day Britain.
After debate the motion to take note of the report was passed unanimously.
The final debate of the day was on the future of Church of England retreat houses. There is concern about the viability of most of the Diocesan retreat houses. There have been a number of closures and others which may close soon.
Retreat houses are a relatively recent phenomenon, most of them are less than a hundred years old. Subsidies from Dioceses have proved increasingly a burden and some are in need of major capital expenditure. Part of the motion requested a review of the retreat houses and their viability which may have led to subsidies but this part of the motion was removed by an amendment. The final part of the motion encourages church bodies to make full use of retreat houses.