General Synod
July Group of Sessions 2000


Public Worship with Communion by Extension

Although Synod completed all the material needed for Common Worship in February, one item of liturgy remained for July: the final approval of Public Worship with Communion by Extension. There has been a lot of opposition to the principle of Communion by Extension - the practice of bringing elements consecrated in one church to a congregation in another church, when there is no priest available for a separate celebration. Reasons for opposition varied: some objected to any form of reservation, some questioned the need for the service at all, and others thought that it tore the heart out of the Eucharist. However unofficial forms of Communion by Extension are already in use (and would undoubtedly continue if Synod turned down an official version) and satisfy a deeply felt need in many places. So the final vote was in favour - but only just since final approval of liturgy requires a two-thirds majority in each House and this was only just achieved in the House of Laity. The final vote was as follows.

   ayes   noes 
 Bishops   28 
 Clergy 137  34 
 Laity 131  64 

The Theology of the Episcopate

Synod passed a private member’s motion from Archdeacon Judith Rose of Rochester “That this Synod ask the House of Bishops to initiate further theological study on the episcopate, focusing on the issues that need to be addressed in preparation for the debate on women in the episcopate in the Church of England, and to make a progress report on this study to Synod within the next two years.” Points made in the debate were that

  • it was now time for such debate,
  • the same arguments applied to the ordination of women to the episcopate as to the priesthood,
  • we cannot move backwards or stand still, but must move forward with openness and anticipation,
  • the church as it is organised is often a scandal and a hindrance to the gospel, and how can a Church supposedly about liberation deal unjustly with half the human community in its orders of ministry.

Some of those (such as the Archbishop of York) who are known to oppose women bishops supported the motion, and the motion was carried in all three Houses as follows.

   ayes   noes 
 Bishops   36 
 Clergy 154  39 
 Laity 165  49 

Baptismal Practices

A motion which started in a parish in the Liverpool diocese made its way onto the General Synod agenda in July. It called for a review of baptismal practices in the Church of England with the aim of securing greater consistency both between local churches and across the country as a whole. Proposing the motion, Keith Cawdron said that the key concern behind the motion was a concern for mission, and that this was damaged by the major differences in practice between different churches. The motion did not seek to push the church in any particular direction, but could the parishes not come closer together? Margaret Swinson, also of Liverpool diocese, had put down an amendment that better reflected a concern for better preparation and made it easier to see that baptism was the beginning of a journey. This was passed, and the amended motion was then passed overwhelmingly. It read:

That this Synod, believing that baptism provides a unique missionary opportunity for the Church;
(a) recognise that enquirers should be offered relevant preparation from the Church which relates faith to life and commend the use of material already available;
(b) urge all churches to examine ways to help the journey of faith that is marked at baptism to continue; and
(c) encourage PCCs to discuss and prepare a baptism policy in consultation with the bishop to be made available to enquirers.

The Archbishops’ Council’s Draft Budget for 2001

The 2001 budget is affected by three main factors.

  • The recent increases in numbers in training. This is set to continue in 2001 although at a slower rate than in previous years. The total number of sponsored students attending colleges, courses and Ordained Local Ministry training schemes in the 2001/2002 academic year is forecast as 1551 compared with 1517 in 2000/2001 and 1454 in 1999/2000. The resultant increase in the training budget from 2000 to 2001 is 7.3%.
  • A decision to freeze or abolish 13 posts. As a result the budget for central church responsibilities, after allowing for the expected staff salary settlement, has increased by only 1%.
  • Reserves that are now at the lowest possible level. It is no longer possible to take money out of the reserves to finance expenditure, as they are all needed as working capital.

The total budget has increased from 16,667,190 in 2000 to 17,453,071 in 2001, an increase of 4.7%.

Clergy Discipline

Synod resumed its detailed consideration of the draft Clergy Discipline Measure which had been adjourned in February and made a number of important decisions. The required standard of proof will remain the civil standard and hearings will in general be held in private, but the number of assessors on the disciplinary tribunal will be five rather than three. The draft measure will brought back early in the life of the new synod for final approval.

Churchwardens Measure

I reported after the July 1999 group of sessions that the Churchwardens Measure had been sent back to Parliament with revised (and reduced) powers for the bishop to suspend a churchwarden. Even this proved unacceptable to the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament, and Synod’s Legislative Committee recommended to us this July that the power of suspension be dropped from the Measure entirely so that the rest of it should not be lost. However we were assured that separate legislation covering suspension would be introduced in the near future. A few members of Synod, notably the Archbishop of York, argued that the Measure should be sent back to Parliament unamended, but the majority (by 271 votes to 71) accepted the advice of the Legislative Committee and removed the power of suspension - for the time being at least.

Draft Faculty Jurisdiction Rules

The 1992 Faculty Jurisdiction Rules have been in operation for seven years, and Synod had before it a revised set of rules to come into effect on 1 January 2001. Among the main changes is the extension of time for an archdeacon’s licence for temporary reordering, which would be helpful in the way archdeacons assisted parishes in managing change. The forms have been revised with the intention of making them easier to complete, and the possibilities of colour-coding and electronic publishing are being investigated.

Not surprisingly there were complaints in the debate that the Faculty system was cumbersome and overcomplicated, but at the end the new rules were carried overwhelmingly.

Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod

Synod was sharply divided when it debated a motion to take note of a report from a House of Bishops’ working party about the working of the 1993 Act of Synod, which provided for Provincial Episcopal Visitors (PEVs or “flying bishops”). Some speakers welcomed the report, but others said that they could not even vote to take note of it. The Bishop of Blackburn, who chaired the working party, said that the Act had helped many priests and lay people stay in the Church of England. It allowed a period of reception in which both those in favour of women’s ordination and those against could participate with integrity. Whilst views on the ordination of women influenced opinion on the Act and its working, the pastoral care of PEVs and other diocesan officials had won overwhelming praise. The Act was not intended to create a ghetto or a Third Province, but it took generosity on all sides to make sure that this did not happen.

During the debate a number of speakers complained that the Act called into question the priestly ministry of women and that it suggested that there was some provisionality about women’s orders. The Bishop of Chester said that when the Act had been originally proposed, the view that clerics who accepted women priests somehow invalidated their sacramental ministry had been rejected. However this view was now accepted in some quarters, and he wanted to resist “impairment of communion”. He criticised the report for being too accommodating of the view that one could decline to receive communion if one disagreed with the person presiding. The report’s ecclesiology was divisive and its theology was muddled.

Whilst, in theory, voting to take note of a report does not commit Synod to anything, such a vote is normally interpreted as implying, if not actual agreement with the report, then at least no strong opposition. However, voting not to take note sends the report into a form of oblivion. In neither case is it possible for Synod to say that it does not like the report, but does not want the matter to go away. In this case the dilemma was resolved by a motion to move to next business; this was passed and no vote was taken on the take note motion.

Youth A Part

The Youth A Part report was published in March 1996 and debated at Synod in July that year. Four years later we had the follow-up debate that was one of the things asked for in 1996. Standing orders were suspended to allow three young visitors to Synod to speak. (Young in this context means, so far as I can tell, early twenties.) Although they had been on PCCs, and diocesan and deanery synods they sometimes felt isolated and unwelcome, and one said that she was heartbroken at the barriers that people, including Christians, created between each other.

Synod passed a long motion, but since it sums up the points made in the debate, I will quote it here in full.

That this Synod welcome the positive work resulting from Youth A Part and commend those working at National, Diocesan and Parish levels to:
(a) enable young people to make an active contribution to the worship and mission of the Church, especially with regard to evangelism and social justice;
(b) actively encourage young people’s participation in decision making in the church and to reduce structural and cultural blocks which inhibit this, especially with reference to minority ethnic concerns, and, to this end, request the Bridge Follow-Up Group, in consultation with the Young Adult Network, to bring back proposals to enable young people to participate more effectively in synodical government; and
(c) secure resources to enable young people to be active in the Church’s mission; and
(d) continue to work with the Government and other agencies in responding to the alienation of many young people in society and to endorse the positive contribution of the Youth Service; and
(e) undertake to review further progress in 2005.

A Time to Heal

The longest report to come my way in five years on Synod was A Time to Heal: A Contribution towards the Ministry of Healing. The last report on healing was written in 1958 and an up-to-date review was long overdue. As the Bishop of Chelmsford (who had chaired the working group that prepared the new report) said: “The ministry of healing is one of the greatest opportunities that the Church has today for incarnating and sharing the gospel. Christian healing, as distinct from faith-healing, is the distinctive witness of the Church. It follows the pattern set by Christ. It is visionary, prophetic and dynamic.”

Although the report was generally well received, and Synod voted by a large majority to accept it, there was some criticism that its theology and scholarship were poor, and a warning that the more one encouraged expectancy that God would heal, the more one plunged into despair those who were not healed.

First to the Lord

In July 1999 a debate on First to the Lord was squeezed out by pressure of other business, but this July there was time to debate a follow-up report. This was opened by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds (the Rt Revd John Packer) who said that giving increased by 8% in 1997 and by 4% in 1998. “Ever since I was ordained I have been at meetings declaring that the C of E would not survive financially the pressures being placed upon it.” But with new pressures there was the need to move towards half-tithing: 5% of take-home pay.

Not everybody agreed with the bishop’s view that a specific figure should be put before people, and the Archbishop of Canterbury said that it was more important to consider what the money was for; the Church should be expanding its work and not cutting back as it was at present.

At the end Synod passed a motion which included encouraging “parishes to seek out and own the vision God has for them in their communities”, challenging “Church people to give in proportion to their income” and recommending “5% of take home pay as an initial target”.

Statistics

Patterns of church attendance have been changing. Many people attend Sunday services regularly, but not every week. Others attend only weekday services. Current statistics - the usual Sunday attendance - count a person who attends every other week as half a person, and totally ignore the midweek attender. So, for example, the 1998 figure for usual Sunday attendance of 804,000 represents a larger number of worshippers. The problem is that nobody knows how much larger.

The Statistics Review Group has been looking at better ways of counting Church of England worshippers and their recommendations were debated and accepted by Synod. The Archbishops’ Council will now have to consider their implementation, but an amendment will ensure that those in parishes and dioceses who will have to collect the new data will be consulted.


Peter Owen
Festival of the Beheading of St John the Baptist 2000
(amended 6 October 2000)

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