Saturday, 8 July 2017

Synod Observer

Along with Adrian and the fifteen other reps from our Diocese I'm at General Synod (the Church of England's 'parliament') meeting at York University (left).

We started yesterday afternoon, after opening worship, with a welcome to new members, and an address from one of the ecumenical guests, a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. After a debate on the report from the business committee - an opportunity to comment on the agenda - we turned to a debate led by the Archbishop of York, designed to address the current troubled state of the nation.

The debate was called 'After the Election, a Still Small Voice of Calm', but really it was not Synod at its best. There were a plethora of amendments, which were all rejected,  and it all felt a bit confused and a bit of a lost opportunity for the church to speak to the nation.

Question Time followed and then supper in the University dining rooms, followed by a meeting of EGGS, the Evangelical Group of General Synod, a packed meeting (both in terms of numbers and of agenda), ably led by John Dunnett, Chairman of Eggs and General Director of the Church Pastoral Aid Society (CPAS). It was then time for bed.

DAY TWO and we met for worship in the Central Hall at 9am (above) and then we heard a presentation from the Archbishop of Canterbury on the proposal to draw up a teaching document on human sexuality. This will be a major piece of work taking up at least two years, which will eventually report to synod when all the various working groups that are going to contribute to the project have done their work. Questions followed.

Next up was a debate on Presence and Engagement, essentially about the Church's work in areas of the country where there are large numbers of people of other faiths. It was a good debate, with some excellent contributions from people all over the country, about being good neighbours to people of other faiths, sensitively sharing the Gospel of Christ, the unique saviour of the world.

Legislative business followed giving the final approval to various measures which will then be passed to Parliament and will in due course, it is hoped, receive Royal Assent. One measure was about repealing now obsolete pieces of legislation, going back as far as Queen Anne's Bounty in the early eighteenth century.

Next up and with lunch in sight was a presentation about the planned group work in the afternoon on support for local churches from the national church. There were six workshops to choose from and the Southwark members had agreed to go to different ones and then share their notes with the rest of the group.

I went to the group on Life Events, a really excellent project to provide websites and printed publicity for people enquiring about weddings, baptisms, and funerals. Each year the church has direct contact with between 15 and 20 million people in England through these 'occasional offices' so to do them well, and to commend the Gospel through them, is a crucial part of the Church's mission. For me it seemed like money well spent by the national church.

After tea there was a general debate about the workshops and the upbeat, outward looking, pro-mission mood continued. Next up and to round off the day was a debate on a Private Members Motion about conversion therapies (concerned with sexual orientation). There were several amendments, strong views expressed on all sides, lots of voting by houses (where bishops, clergy, and laity vote separately using the synod electronic voting system). It was always going to be a controversial debate. By the time it was over we were ready for dinner and a bit of relaxation after a longish synodical day.

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