General Synod
July Group of Sessions 1999


Racism

The Bishop of Stepney, John Sentamu, spoke to Synod about the Church’s response to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, in which he had taken part. He set the Church of England two tasks: partnership with the police, and anti-racist education. He said that the Church must ask “how she herself plans to take into her life-blood the implications of the findings of the report, in terms of her own attitudes to, and treatment of, different minority-ethnic groups in her body”.

Dr Sentamu said that the Church could help the police deliver an appropriate professional service to all ethnic minorities. It should be part of the DfEE’s coming public consultation on the National Curriculum, and church schools needed to be ready to consider how to implement its findings. The Archbishops’ Council should make it a priority to increase the confidence and participation of minority-ethnic Anglicans at all levels of church life.

In response, Dr Philip Giddings, who is chairman of the Church-and-World division of the Archbishops’ Council, said that the Council would draw together an action plan, and report back to Synod.

Liturgy

As usual there were several items of liturgical business. The draft eucharistic prayers came back from the revision committee. There were twelve motions to recommit parts of these prayers for further revision, but only three were passed. Two covered more or less the same ground: a desire to include more responsive materials in some of the prayers. The third wanted the words “and on these gifts” removed from one of the prayers on the grounds that an epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit) over the eucharistic elements was unacceptable to Evangelicals.

The Pastoral Rites (thanksgiving for the gift of a child, marriage and funerals) also came back from their revision committee. Only one motion for recommittal was carried, and that concerned just one letter; should the text of the declarations read “forsaking all others” or “forsaking all other”?

There was some new material which was given general approval and sent to a revision committee: a weekday lectionary and a miscellaneous item entitled “Rules to Order the Service and other Miscellaneous Liturgical Proposals”. Members of revision and other committees are normally selected by the Appointments Committee using information supplied by synod members when they are elected, but on this occasion we were invited to volunteer. I did so (but failed to be appointed) and was told that there was enormous interest in serving on this committee. The reason, I think, is that one of the miscellaneous liturgical proposals is to make some of the compulsory items in the new baptism service optional.

The Nicene Creed

Apart from the eucharistic prayers themselves, the new eucharistic rites completed their revision stages in Synod in November 1998. At this point liturgical business is referred to the House of Bishops before it is brought back to Synod for final approval. The House has the power to amend it as it sees fit, but usually restricts itself to minor matters, such as correcting mistakes. In the case of the eucharistic the House has it in mind to make a more substantial change and initiated a debate in July to test the mind of Synod.

When the Eucharistic first came to Synod in 1996, the Nicene Creed in the contemporary language versions of the rites included the words “was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” as in the ELLC (ecumenical) version of the creed. In November 1998 Synod amended this to “by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary” as in the ASB.

The House of Bishops wants to reinstate the ELLC wording and has produced a report to explain why. The Bishop of Rochester (Michael Nazir-Ali) introduced the July debate on this report by saying that translations of the creeds should be as faithful as possible to the original. The November amendment seemed to have no basis in antiquity and went back only to the 1960s and 1970s. The BCP has “was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary” following the Latin “de Spirtu Sancto ex Maria Virgine” which is a change from the original Greek. The Greek preposition “ek” in the Creed could be translated “of” or “from”, but the point was that, in the original text, it governed both genitives, the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary – whether translated “of”, “from” or “by”. “We cannot, though, import another preposition,” said Dr Nazir-Ali.

The reason for the original wording and the ELLC rendering had to do with affirming the humanity and divinity of the incarnate Son, not a desire to exalt Mary in the scheme of salvation.

The House of Bishops decided by 36 votes to 1 that it would be right to make their proposed change. The one against was the Bishop of Liverpool, and he spoke after the Bishop of Rochester in the Synod debate. He believed that it was necessary to maintain the distinct roles of Mary and the Holy Spirit on the basis of the authority of scripture, of sound doctrine, cultural appropriateness, and because it did not disturb recent usage.

The motion to “take note” of the Bishops’ report was voted on by houses and carried 37-1 by the Bishops, 164-21 by the clergy and 107-82 by the laity.

Clergy discipline

For many years it has been generally recognised that the current arrangements for clergy discipline are quite unsatisfactory. The procedures of the 1963 Ecclesiastical Measure are exceedingly cumbersome and expensive and are rarely used. Because of this bishops have their own ad hoc arrangements. In November 1996 General Synod debated and accepted the report Under Authority which proposed a more suitable system.

In July we debated a draft measure which will put these proposals into effect. Complainants will have to provide evidence to justify a complaint rather than, as at present, leaving it to the church to do it for them. The adjudication process will be simplified with tribunals modelled on industrial tribunals and using the civil standard of proof (ie on the balance of probabilities), rather than on the High Court and the criminal standard of proof (ie beyond all reasonable doubt). There was a little concern expressed about this change in the standard of proof required, but in general the draft measure was well received.

In the 1996 debate Synod passed an amendment to say that the current procedures should continue for misconduct involving matters of doctrine, ritual or ceremonial, and the draft measure provides for this. However, the implementation group which prepared this draft considers these procedures to be unworkable; the court at first instance consists of two judges who have held high judicial office and three who are or have been diocesan bishops, and any appeal is to three Lords of Appeal and two House of Lords Bishops! In effect, there are no remedies for doctrinal misconduct at present and the question is being asked whether this is right. However there are no proposals on the table at present, and anything that you may have read or seen in the media about heresy trials should receive a particularly large dose of the healthy scepticism that you apply to all their stories about the Church.

Archbishops’ Council

The Council presented its first report to Synod, covering the six months since it had come into being on 1 January 1999. Elizabeth Paver, one of the its appointed members, said that the Council was creating a new model of leadership and was different from a normal board of directors. The Council’s priorities included building relationships, church unity, enhancing spirituality, and discipleship and mission. In society it hoped to contribute to the nation’s education, strengthen marriage and family, and serve the marginalised. To do all this, the infrastructure had to be right, and that included finance, communications and human resources.

Churchwardens

The Churchwardens Measure was given Final Approval at the July 1997 Group of Sessions. This was not the end of the process for all measures have to be approved by Parliament before they become law. The Legislative Committee of General Synod is responsible for sending the measure to the Ecclesiastical Committee (a joint committee of the two Houses of Parliament). This latter committee then considers the measure before sending it to the Lords and Commons with its recommendations. Parliament can then either accept or reject the measure; it has no powers to amend it.

Before the Ecclesiastical Committee met to consider the Churchwardens Measure there was heightened public and press interest in the part of the measure which gave the bishop powers to suspend a churchwarden. Although the House of Bishops had drafted a set of guidelines on suspension, it was feared that some bishops would ignore these as they would have no statutory authority. There was also concern that a churchwarden had no right of appeal against a bishop’s decision to suspend him or her.

The Ecclesiastical Committee duly met, and in view of its concerns it invited the Legislative Committee to a joint conference, which took place on 24 June 1999. The Legislative Committee came away from this conference with the clear view that Parliament would reject the measure as it stood. They therefore decided to withdraw it from Parliament and bring it back to Synod. In these circumstances Synod has the opportunity, if it wishes, to amend the Measure before sending it back to Parliament.

So this July we were presented with a number of options, ranging from dropping the bishop’s power to suspend altogether, to leaving the measure as it was. The decision was made to reduce the grounds on which a bishop might suspend. In particular it was agreed that a churchwarden who was charged with an imprisonable offence could be suspended, but that one who was under investigation for such an offence could not be. Two important additions were also made: (a) the House of Bishops’ will be required to draw up guidelines, which will have to be approved by General Synod, and (b) there will be right of appeal (to the Dean of Arches and Auditor) for suspended churchwardens.

This revised version of the measure was given final approval and referred back to the Legislative Committee to start again the process of parliamentary approval.

Other matters

Other matters considered included.

  • Church Conservation. The Church will go on providing 30% of the funds for the Trust that cares for redundant churches.
  • Taxation. Synod passed a private member’s motion calling on the Government to allow churches to reclaim VAT on their expenditure.
  • Budget. The Archbishops’ Council budget for 2000 will be 8.5 million for ministry training and 9.5 million for central administration. Because of the continuing transfer of functions from the church Commissioners to the Council this second figure shows a large increase over 1999, but there is, of course, a corresponding reduction in the Commissioners’ expenditure.
  • WCC. There was a presentation on last year’s WCC assembly in Harare. Synod passed a motion giving thanks for the work of the WCC but calling for changes that would allow the Roman Catholic Church to become a full member.
  • Ethical Investment. Canon Hugh Wilcox opened a debate on the Report of the Ethical Investment Working Group of which he is a member. The Church’s central investing bodies had a responsibility to secure the best financial return on the Church’s combined assets of 5.1 billion, but in accordance with ethical imperatives. During the past year the Church’s investors had relaxed their attitudes to breweries in recognition that many of them had become restaurant-and-leisure chains. The working group had recommended disinvestment from Tomkins, the owners of Smith & Wesson, the handgun manufacturer. It was in discussion with Sainsbury over its decision to open some stores on Christmas Day.
  • Kosovo. A presentation by the Bishop of Oxford.
  • The chairman of the Doctrine Commission (Stephen Sykes, at the time Bishop of Ely) gave a short presentation on its current work. The commission exists to advise the House of Bishops and other boards and councils in doctrinal matters. At present time, money, sex and power are the matters occupying its mind.
  • Learning. Synod committed the church to the development of a “learning culture” that would encourage lay discipleship.

And finally

There was one thing that we did not discuss for lack of time: First to the Lord Funding the Church’s Mission. This is an excellent report and it will be generally available despite the lack of synodical discussion. Be sure to read it.


Peter Owen
Festival of St Luke the Evangelist 1999
(amended 6 October 2000)

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