Monday, 10 February 2014

Synod observer (1)

To Church House, Westminster, just round the back of Westminster Abbey, for the February sessions of General Synod.

Our three day meeting will be dominated by the women's bishop legislation, but that is really for tomorrow which is to be devoted to that issue.

It's a bit like the first day back at school after the holidays. Lots of excited chatter. The kindly headmaster (Justin) welcomes us back.

Down in the cloakroom we each have our own peg to hang our coats on, carefully labelled with our synod number (I'm 215).

Then we have assembly or, as we call it, Opening Worship (hymn, prayers, readings from Scripture), followed by news from the headmaster about what's happened during the holidays, or, as the agenda puts it,  'The Progress of Statutory Instruments.'

This section is virtually incomprehensible except to the most diehard Synodspeople.

Next up is the report of the Business Committee, followed by a debate about what is on the agenda and (more usually) what should be (in the opinion of certain synod members). This is an opportunity to make a point that otherwise would not be made, or at least to make a bid for an item to get on a future agenda. It also offers the opportunity to give an airing to topical issues such as the Somerset floods (good contribution here from the local Archdeacon, Andy Piggott)..

Next was a report from the Ethical Investment Group, which advises the church on its investment policy, seeking to base it on Christian ethical values, followed by a debate on Gender Based Violence. This was a serious and thoughtful debate on a growing social problem, which was followed by a sensitive act of worship and reflection entitled 'A service of lament' in which, among other things, we prayed for victims of domestic violence, and the perpetrators. It included a hymn translated by John Wesley - which I hadn't previously encountered - with these lines:

Give to the winds thy fears;
hope, and be undismayed;
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears;
God shall lift thy head

Through waves, and clouds and storms,
his power will clear thy way;
wait thou his time, the darkest night
shall end in brightest day

After that it was Question Time, the chance to ask the House of Bishops, the Archbishops Council (and various committees), or the Church Commissioners questions on any matter of fact or policy (but not of opinion).

As always there was a huge range of issues, with one particular hot potato (attracting eight questions) being the decision of the Church Commissioners to move the new Bishop of Bath & Wells out of  a flat in the Bishop's Palace, and into a £800k house in an outlying village. They seem to have upset the whole of Somerset on this one.

Official business concluded at 7pm, and then it was off to the EGGS (Evangelical Group on General Synod) dinner and meeting which began, appropriately with a rousing rendition of And Can It Be?, before we got down to a discussion on agenda items over the next two days.


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