Leaders of the Church of England Reflect on Decisions Made at General Synod

The Archbishop of Canterbury addresses the Synod in York CREDIT: SAM ATKINS/CHURCH TIMES

“THERE seem to be some people here who think legislation happens hurriedly in the Church of England,” observed Penny Allen, a lay member from Lichfield, at General Synod’s meeting in York last week. “I have no idea why this opinion exists.”

As if to prove her correct, members went on to vote for a more measured pace in the move towards legislating for the interchangeability of ministers with the Methodist Church. They had perhaps heard the earlier admonition of the Archbishop of York, who took the opportunity of his last presidential address to decry “a Church which has got used to jumping to conclusions quickly, driven by the need for a crisp sound-bite, a Church no longer capable of pursuing a question patiently and in hope”.

The Methodist debate revealed the breadth of the Synod’s understanding of ecclesiology. One member, the Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone, asserted that Bishops were not “essential” for the Church.

A statement from the Methodist Church welcomed the vote. Ruth Gee, Assistant Secretary of the Methodist Conference, and connexional ecumenical officer, commented: “Though we had hoped that the Synod would be willing to move to legislation, we understand the reasons why some members of the Synod felt it important to give this vital matter more consideration.”

Last weekend’s Synod sessions took place against the backdrop of further hearings at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Members gave a standing ovation to Phil Johnson, a survivor of abuse by Peter Ball, who suggested that, “it would be nice if the Church spent as much on supporting survivors as it does on lawyers”.

At the beginning of the group of sessions, several members challenged the Archbishops’ rejection of a request for a safeguarding debate, as opposed to a presentation and questions. A request for the Bishops to “speak from their hearts” prompted the Archbishop of Canterbury to report that every case of safeguarding failure was “a knife in our soul”. There were “many” survivors of abuse among the bishops, he said. His concern was not to pre-empt the IICSA process.

Andrew Graystone, a Christian communications adviser who works with survivors, spent the Synod outside the chamber fasting.

He said on Wednesday: “At the moment what we have in the Church is one bishop or adviser after another saying: ‘I think I have got a better idea of how to fix this.’ What we need to do is say: ‘God, we are in a mess. Help us.’”

The Synod needed to “discuss the nature of sin and failure and what it takes to restore lives that have been broken.” But he had been encouraged by conversations with members, including bishops.

A debate on what might have appeared to be an uncontroversial piece of legislative tidying-up revealed “the inevitable contradictions that now exist between the law of the land and the law of the Church”, the Revd Neil Patterson observed.

The flare-up related to the definition of “spouse” in legislation concerning the consultation of relatives before building could take place on a disused cathedral burial ground. Although he held a conservative view on the Church’s teaching on marriage, Prebendary Simon Cawdell warned: “This is not a moment to be earning Pharisee points.”

Synod members were told again by the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, who chairs the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project, that members looking for (as one put it) “a conclusion about where we stand as a Church” were destined to be disappointed.

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Source: Church Times