GENERAL SYNOD JULY 2014
Report from Tim Allen for the Clare, Saxmundham and Woodbridge Deanery Synods and for Orford PCC
At long last Women Bishops were approved by substantial majorities. A fair number of those who voted against in 2012 accepted the improved proposals now offered.
Robust procedures will be in place to require the Diocesan Bishops to see fair play, guaranteeing a place in the Church of England for those Conservative Evangelicals and Traditional Catholics who for doctrinal reasons cannot accept that women should be bishops. The Archbishops have undertaken shortly to appoint a ‘Headship’ Evangelical as a Bishop, while the Traditional Catholics will continue to have their ‘flying Bishops’. Even those who still voted against are no longer speaking of leaving the Church of England. The atmosphere of the debate was greatly improved, showing more trust and understanding that hitherto. No doubt this owes much, under the Holy Spirit, to the untiring efforts of the Archbishop of Canterbury and those working with him to find a way through the previous impasse.
Margaret Condick and I both spoke in the early part of the debate, drawing attention to the example of the St Edmundsbury & Ipswich Diocesan Synod which was one of four which voted for the new legislation without a single negative vote. This was, I said:
‘probably because in Suffolk we have had extensive and happy experience of excellent women in leadership positions within the Church. Our Cathedral, which celebrates its centenary this year, flourishes under an inspiring woman Dean – Frances Ward. Our Bishops have been well served by two women Chaplains in succession. Although we no longer have a woman Archdeacon, nearly half of our Rural Deans are women (seven out of eighteen, to be precise) and very many of our parish priests are women too’.
When the Crown Nominations Commission (six representatives from our diocese, six from General Synod, and the two Archbishops) meets in September and October, it will be sadly just too early to be allowed to select a woman. But I hope that we shall be able to choose an excellent man as Diocesan Bishop who will have committed himself to appoint as soon as possible a woman as his suffragan Bishop of Dunwich.
In brief summary, the other main points arising at the Synod were the following:
• Preliminary approval was given to a draft Measure to provide stricter standards of Safeguarding.
• Having heard from the well-known American preacher, Rev’d Jim Wallace, Synod unanimously endorsed a motion affirming the church’s role in promoting the Common Good.
• Another motion celebrated Magna Carta and encouraged church members to engage in politics and to promote voter registration.
• After a presentation by Bishop Nigel, as Bishop to the Forces, there was warm support for the Armed Forces’ Covenant and related Community and Corporate Covenants.
• There was a briefing on the proposed new Churches Mutual Credit Union.
• Revised arrangements for providing Housing Assistance for retired clergy were explained.
• In presenting the Archbishops’ Council Budget for 2015, John Spence the remarkable new chair of the Finance Committee made it clear that the current commitment to freeze in real terms the bills to the dioceses could no longer continue if the central Church was to promote growth in terms of numbers and spirituality.
• The Church Commissioners’ financial results for 2013 were again extraordinarily buoyant. The embarrassing investment in Wonga has just been sold – without profit.
• New additional texts for Baptism, designed to be understood by the un-churched, were given preliminary approval.
• Initial proposals in principle for relaxing the rules on robing were approved on the basis that detailed provisions would follow.
• Simplification of the faculty system, on the lines of the approach pioneered here by the St Edmundsbury & Ipswich DAC, under which Archdeacons can approve certain types of work on churches without the need for a formal faculty, was endorsed. James Halsall (our DAC secretary) will be involved in the detailed drafting.
• Funding for the Churches Conservation Trust (which looks after some of the best redundant churches without cost to the diocese) was approved.
• A further attempt by the Archbishops’ Council to simplify the law governing PCCs was (unfortunately, in my view) again rejected as out of touch.
• Proposals to revise the law on PCCs’ holding property were endorsed, while rejecting an attempt to further loosen the provisions.
• Minor amendments to the rules on elections to General Synod were approved, with the more significant addition that the special constituency for university theologians should be enlarged to include the staff of the theological colleges and courses.
All in all, a worthwhile five days’ work for General Synod.