A promising start from a new Synod

2 12 2010

Just like when you start at a new school, when you’re newly elected to Synod you are invited to an induction before the older boys and girls arrive. Well, on Monday 22nd November, the Synod support staff and a number of volunteers gave a pretty comprehensive induction. Nevertheless, the new-at-school worries remained: what if I fall over in front of everyone? Where do I go at lunch? Will I have any friends to talk to?

The first day of Synod-proper was dominated by the visit of Her Majesty The Queen, and everybody got terribly excited about the whole affair. We kicked off with a service in Westminster Abbey (including a procession of borderline-ridiculous length). Then the 600-odd members of Synod and observers scurried over to Church House so that the Queen could deliver a brief speech (it’s all a bit like the State Opening of Parliament).

Even as an ardent monarchist, and lover of all things ceremonial, I started to wonder whether we had overdone it this time. Then it occurred to me that there was something rather important going on.

We are only the 9th General Synod since the enabling Act of 1969. In ecclesiastical terms, we are very much mere toddlers. And yet the function we serve – to manage the Church of England – is rather an important one, and one that needs to be taken seriously (at least by us, if not by anybody else).

As the Archbishop of Canterbury observed, The Queen was the only person in the room who had been involved with the Synod’s predecessor, the Church Assembly. Through her presence, our Supreme Governor was lending us some authority and ecclesiastical clout.

Earlier I observed that I felt like I was on my first day at a new school, but that doesn’t give an altogether fair picture. The slightly ephemeral worries about falling over, or dropping papers everywhere were quickly dwarfed by the worry about voting the wrong way – as one experienced memberqueen  told me, “voting is the most important thing you do here.”

While we had some interesting discussion about the Big Society, and the Church’s role in it, the only matter of substance for this sitting was the Anglican Covenant.

On first examination, I was quite satisfied that I couldn’t support the covenant for several reasons:

–       It was ‘un-Anglican’;

–       It would be impossible to implement;

–       It would satisfy nobody and frustrate everybody.

Then the Archbishop of Canterbury made all this more difficult for me. In his Presidential Address, he urged the Synod to support the Covenant, effectively saying that he couldn’t do his job without it. Suddenly I was required to choose between voting against my conscience or against a man I trust, respect and depend on.

The debate followed, and was of extra-ordinarily high quality. It was clear that many people felt distinctly uncomfortable about the Covenant. Nevertheless there was a sense that we would have to bite the bullet, and that this was the only solution on the table – there was ‘no alternative’ to use a phrase with eerie significance.

In the end, like the majority of the Synod, I voted to send the Covenant to the dioceses. To a certain extent this kicks the issue into the long grass, as it won’t come back for final approval until 2012 (by which time the whole project may have fallen apart). Equally, it gives members of Diocesan Synods across the Church an opportunity to debate the matter and express their view.

All in all, a very productive few days and a promising start. There was none of the back-biting a petty feudalism I had been led to expect. Instead, a real sense of optimism that, as some tough issues head towards us, we will work together to find the best solution we can.

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One response

10 02 2011
Tony Sidaway

Hi, I noticed your name in a report on the meeting of the Synod, which mostly covered Dr Sentamu’s call for the church to embrace a “counter-cultural vision” and challenge the marginalization of religious moral values.

I didn’t see his speech but I assume it relates to the concerns he and Dr Williams have expressed about the steady flow of Employment Tribunal and Court verdicts against Christians who take a religion-based moral stand–the most recent being the Cornish hotel case.

Your words, that the church in your generation wasn’t a national church but “nutters on the sidelines”, seem to be quite critical of this approach.

Since the Guardian’s report was brief and I may have got the wrong end of the stick as an outsider to Synod affairs, would you care to clarify?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/feb/08/church-debate-archbishop-york-sentamu

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