on business from the General Synod at Church House Westminster, Tuesday 10 February 2009.
Review of Constitutions. This was a presentation on proposals to do away with the present Boards and Councils of the Church of England. There is a modest cost saving but the intention appears to be driven partly by a sense that the Boards and Councils do not deliver at present. However, the fear of the proposals is that it appears to be undermining the working of democracy and accountability.
The present Boards and Council are partly elected and partly appointed.
It is proposed that the Archbishops will appoint a “lead person” and a small reference group who together with the staff at Church House will take action. Once a year a sub-committee of General Synod will meet for a few hours to review what has been done.
Whilst this may streamline affairs it is at the cost of elected members being involved. This is another move which centralises power in the hands of a small group of people, the Archbishops.
Final Approval of Draft Amending Canon No 28. This concerns Local Ecumenical Projects. At present a Bishop has to ensure that C of E worship is held ‘reasonably frequently’ and also that communion must be celebrated at certain festivals. The proposed amendments removes the absolute requirement for the communions but not that relating to ‘reasonable frequency’. Guidance is also to be offered to Bishops about what all this means in practice. Being final approval it required 2/3rd majority in each house. Bishops voted 19 to 2 in favour. Clergy 84 to 21 in favour and Laity 103 to 23 in favour. Therefore the amendment to the Canons was passed.
The Miscellaneous Provisions Measure was passed with only one vote against.
First consideration of a measure on Ecclesiastical Fees. This follows the report ‘Four Funerals and a Wedding’. There are various provisions to clarify the law on fees and change the way they are handled. At present it is stated that 90% of clergy assign fees to the Diocese.
It is proposed that the ministry element of fees should be paid direct to the Diocesan Board of Finance.. Local arrangements will be required for how this is handled.
- The parochial element would be passed to the parish.
- The level of fees will come to the Synod more infrequently.
- There will be more regulation over when fees can be waived.
- Fees may be implemented for services not presently covered, such as memorial services, and will not apply for the funeral of children.
Brief consideration was given to a change to the rules relating to pensions. The matter arose because of how clergy in the Diocese of Europe are dealt with.
This debate as adjourned when it became clear that it relates in part to the Diocese of Europe whose Bishop had been involved in discussions but was not present due to the matter being moved foreward on the agenda.
The Archbishop of Canterbury opened afternoon proceedings with an address to the Synod. He spoke about the Lambeth Conference and recent Primates’ Meeting and made various observations regarding them. He pointed out that the Primates Meeting shows that whatever we may make of those with whom we disagree there is still a conviction that others within the Anglican Communion are fellow Christians. This does indeed seem to be the impression given and to have been explicitly stated by some of the Primates. In contrast other people have insisted that there is every reason to conclude that some of those in the Communion cannot be counted as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Archbishop went on from here to talk about the debate on women bishops and highlighted some of the issues.
Detate began on a motion regarding membership of the British National Party. The motion invites the House of Bishops to bring in proposals to prevent clergy being members of the BNP. Some of the stated views of the BNP do not fit comfortably with Scripture but there was concern about the notion of forbidding clergy to belong to a particular political party. Two amendments attempted to keep the sentiment of the motion without the particular application but these were both defeated. The House of Bishops will now be asked to take this forward.
Presentation on the Financial Crisis. This consisted of a panel of Andreas Whittam-Smith, Lord Griffiths and Bishop Peter Selby. There were a series of brief statements from the panel followed by questions or comments from the floor which the panel responded to. This was a far ranging conversation which raised a number of matters relating to the causes of the present problems, implications for Christians and ways to address the problems both from the perspective of the Church and the nation.
Final business of the day was a debate on a Chester Diocesan Synod motion on the voice of the Church in public life. In the face of pressure to accept secularism and exclude religion from the public arena the motion was intended the re-assert that Christians should be fully involved in the public arena and not ashamed of their faith.