Surprising success at Synod

9 02 2012

Depending on where you read it, a summary of this week’s sessions at General Synod might tell you it was a disaster, or tell you it was a humiliating bun fight that achieved very little. I disagree – this synod was the most successful I have ever attended (I am shocked to be able to recall five previous meetings).

Here are a few thoughts on why this is the case:
1. An extraordinary collection of people
When one looks around the Synod chamber, it is difficult not to be impressed by the energy and talent in the room. So many people have gone to great trouble to attend the meeting, and make their contribution (lay folk often have to sacrifice a week’s pay).

Everybody is dedicated to building a strong church, and to undertaking the work of Christ. Even the more ‘characterful’ members, with whom many might find points of disagreement, are fundamentally ‘on-side’.

2. A meaningful agenda
I suspect Synod will always be criticised for being too inward-looking and ‘irrelevant’ to the real challenges of Christian work in our society. We could do a lot better, but we didn’t do too badly this week. Our discussions included:
– How Christians might approach the difficult issue of assisted dying;
– How we engage with Joe Public over parochial fees (Not just how much we charge for a wedding, but whether we charge, who we charge and what that says about our church);
– The deeply distressing situation in Nigeria, and what we can do to assist;
– New Eucharistic Prayers for use with children.

All of these issues have an importance well beyond bureaucracy.

3. High quality debate
At several moments in the week the quality of the debate was quite striking. Deep personal experience was brought to bear, especially in the Nigeria debate. Pithy and thoughtful contributions were made throughout and an especially generous tone was established on Women Bishops (more later). Perhaps most importantly, the voice of the parish priest and their parishioner was woven deep into the fabric of expressed opinion.

The House of Commons would do well to learn something from a chamber that, this week at least, managed to harness expertise, passion and a genuinely representative voice.

4. The Anglican Identity
The issue of women in the episcopate has troubled the Church of England for decades, and Synod has formed the eye of the storm.

And yet, it was here at Synod that a shaft of sunlight came through. Deep in a day-long debate, the Bishop of Gloucester made a striking speech. We were at what seemed to be an impasse – lacking a sufficient majority either to support the current women bishops legislation (deemed unacceptable by traditionalist Catholics and conservative evangelicals) or even to make concessions (considered discriminatory by those in favour of women bishops).

The Bishop of Gloucester asked Synod to give the House of Bishops some ‘wiggle room’ to find a new, acceptable solution. That would require everybody to compromise, to see the bigger picture and perhaps even to take a painful hit themselves. It was then that we remembered what has been central to the success of the Church of England: a readiness to embrace disagreement, to explore difference and to celebrate diversity of thinking.

The final vote called upon the House of Bishops to find a solution that would:
– achieve women as bishops
– be acceptable to the whole church
– avoid any scent of discrimination or establish women as second-class bishops.

Of course, we are not ‘there’ yet. We don’t know if such a solution can be found, but the mere fact we have asked for it shows that there is hope yet for our beloved Church of England.

Where do we go from here?
Given the success if this week’s synod, there are a few things we can do to ensure future productive sessions:
– Meaty and relevant agendas (What do we make of the Occupy movement and the crisis of capitalism? Government cuts?)
– a stronger voice for under-represented groups (a few of us younger folk have committed to planning our contributions to future sessions together, to ensure the greatest impact)
– continued focus on accommodating difference, and working together to find strength and joy in compromise.

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One response

9 02 2012
DKirby

Thanks for this. I appreciated it.
And thank you for serving on Synod.

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