Thursday, 23 September 2010

General Synod Election Address

It's taken me long enough, I know, but here is the text of my election address...
In your situation as someone reading these election addresses, there are three main questions that I would hope an address to answer, so that is what I shall try to do here.

Who am I?
My name is Justin Brett. I am a teacher, and I live just outside Brighton with my wife and seven year old daughter. I was born in 1971 and brought up in rural Gloucestershire. I went to boarding school in Cheltenham, and it was there that I became a regular churchgoer when I was 13, and was confirmed about a year later. I went from school to Exeter College, Oxford in 1989 to study Classics. At Exeter I sang in the Chapel Choir, resulting in a lasting love of the words of Prayer Book Evensong. I worshipped in a variety of churches as
I moved around Oxford, but spent most time at St. John the Evangelist, the church attached to St. Stephen's House. Following my degree I qualified as a teacher at St Mary's College, Strawberry Hill.
My first permanent post was at a prep school near Slough. I was very much involved in worship there - preaching, leading services and still singing. During holiday times I worshipped at the local parish church. In September 2001 my wife and I moved to Berkshire, where I spent some time working in the secretariat of the local council, and taught in two different local schools. It took a while to find a church where I felt at home, but from 2002 onwards I worshipped at St. John the Evangelist, Newbury. At St John's I became Treasurer, Child Protection Officer and a Deanery Synod representative. I was elected as a lay member of General Synod by Oxford Diocese in 2005, and for three years was Lay Chair of Newbury Deanery. I also held a Bishop's licence as a lay preacher. In September 2008 my wife was appointed Deputy Head at Roedean School, so we moved to Sussex. I am currently teaching at St Aubyns School in Rottingdean, once again involved with Chapel services as preacher and worship leader, and worshipping at St. Margaret's Church, Rottingdean, where I have been elected to the PCC as a Deanery Synod representative. In my spare time I am studying for an MA in Social Policy and Criminology with the Open University, and my wife tells me I spend rather too much time on the Internet.

Why am I standing?
It looks as though there will be two issues over the next Synod that will attract a great deal of media and public attention. One is the consecration of women as bishops, and the other is the continuing question of how the Church deals with homosexuality - further complicated by the development of the Anglican Communion Covenant. As far as the first is concerned, although the legislation could be rejected at final approval, my best guess is that within the next decade women will be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England, and personally I would be delighted by that outcome. My real concern with this issue is how we keep the Church united throughout the process. I do not want to see women bishops at the cost either of losing the Anglo-Catholic heritage so important in this diocese or of compromising the orders of the women who are consecrated. The second issue, that of sexuality, is one which is current in this diocese - for example in the survey on attitudes to same-sex relationships now in progress in Sussex. While I am aware that the theological issues surrounding sexuality are complex and sometimes contentious, I am certain that committed and loving relationships deserve in some way to be celebrated by the Church. Again, my hope is that we can find a way to keep the Church united as this issue is inevitably dragged through the media over the next few years. I am convinced, however, that the only way we will reach any resolution of either of these issues is by continuing to be open to different views and opinions, even if we find them at times disturbing. It is for this reason that I am concerned about the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant. It seems to me that the Church of England, as a national church, is called to be welcoming, open and available to all people, regardless of their situation in life. I cannot see how the constraints of a covenant designed to exclude those deemed to be 'unsound' can help us in this important mission.
Although these issues might cause the greatest publicity, they are not the greatest challenges we face. The current financial crisis is forcing us to ask ourselves what the Church of England itself is going to look like in the future. The next Synod may well need to take a view on just what our churches are for, and whether our current structures are correct and sustainable. As with the other issues I have mentioned, this is bound to cause some divisions, and the way forward might not be immediately obvious. I am not pretending to have any easy answers, but I am willing to keep an open mind, and look to solve problems by consensus.

Why should you vote for me?
I am not offering myself as a candidate in favour of any particular issue, nor am I a member of any particular church faction. I do, however, have a deep love for the Church of England in all its diversity, and I believe that it has a continuing role to play in our society. Over the past five years as a representative for Oxford diocese I have done the best I can to fight for the principles outlined in this address. It was my amendment that encouraged the Church to take a more definite moral line on Trident, and I have intervened where possible to speak in favour of openness, tolerance and diversity. I was also appointed to the Steering Committee for the Ecclesiastical Fees Measure. I have tried to report on Synod proceedings as clearly as possible online and to my former deanery and diocese, and I will continue to do the best I can to act as a link with my own deanery and any other to which the diocese might assign me.
If there is a simple summary of what I have written so far, it is that I believe that the greatest need in General Synod over the next five years will be for members who are prepared to be open minded, creative and accommodating. As a self-confessed Liberal who has nevertheless worshipped happily in a parish under alternative Episcopal oversight, and whose roots are in the traditions of the Oxford Movement, I have sympathy and respect for a wide range of views within Anglicanism. Too often elections such as this one result in the establishment of opposing camps - whose side are you on? My position is that rather than being on any side, I am committed to a united and inclusive Church which values all its members and treats their beliefs with respect. I believe that its diversity has always been the strength of the Church of England, and I am very suspicious of any attempts to remove that diversity by imposing one particular set of values, however sincerely they may be felt.
I am under no illusions that one lay member of General Synod can change the world, but if, like me, you feel that to be an Anglican is to be part of a community that is welcoming, inclusive, caring and tolerant, I would urge you to give me your first preference vote.
If there is anything I have said here that you would like to discuss, or if you would like to know about anything I have not mentioned, please feel free to contact me. You can e-mail me at or telephone me on 07876 746074 and leave a message on the answering machine for me to call back. You can also find my reports from the previous General Synod on Alastair Cutting's General Synod Blog
Thank you for reading this address.
If you want to see it in all its properly typeset glory - thanks to my friend Graeme who is very talented at all things typographical - then you can find the .pdf here.

Monday, 19 July 2010

What The Papers Didn't Say

This is a republication of a two part guest post for the Church Mouse's excellent blog.

What the papers didn't say - Part 1

Perhaps after five years at Synod I should no longer be surprised at the extent to which the media misreport what they see and hear. Some of it is simple ignorance, but some of it is also the desire to make headlines at any cost - be that accuracy or depth of reporting. Nevertheless, as you can guess, I am cross. Three generic headlines have annoyed me over the last few days. The first is the variation on "Church of England to appoint women bishops". Get it right, please. Yes, we are a step closer to that position, but we haven't got there yet. The legislation is about to go out to the dioceses for consultation. That process will take at least a year, and may result in some changes being made by the House of Bishops, following which it may have to go the rounds of the dioceses again. My best guess for when it comes back to Synod for final approval is February 2012, and presuming it secures the necessary majorities it then has to go to Parliament. Only at the stage of final approval will that first headline be true.

The second one is the variation on "Church of England to split over women bishops". I hate to upset the doom-mongerers, but despite their best efforts the coming split has not happened quite yet. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the most important one is that those opposed to the ordination of woment are still part of the Church of England because it is their home and they care deeply for it. That - somewhat ironically - is the reason why they are fighting so hard for what they regard as proper provision. Plenty of people have been feeling hurt and dismayed over the last few days - on both sides of the issue - but the exodus has not happened yet, nor is there any reason for it to happen at the moment. We have until the first woman is ordained bishop (if the legislation goes through) to come up with provision that will make those opposed feel secure while upholding the desire of the majority to see women ordained on equal terms. We may not have got it right yet, but there are still plenty on either side willing to try.

The final headline is the variation on the theme of 'Archbishop suffers defeat in Synod' or 'Archbishop's authority challenged'. The two Archbishops put forward an amendment to the Measure on Saturday which was defeated by the narrowest of margins. Both put their case during the debate, but neither made any attempt to pull rank. In fact they did quite the opposite - ++Rowan saying explicitly that this was not to be seen as a loyalty test. This was not a Prime Minister facing a backbench rebellion. At the very worst it was a Prime Minister seeing a free vote go contrary to the way he had voted himself. In fact, ++Rowan's authority remains strong - when he addressed Synod before the debate on Monday he made two things quite clear. The first was that he wanted to see the legislation committed to the Dioceses with Clause 2 (which had caused the trouble on Saturday) intact. This duly happened - by a large majority. The second was that he did not expect to see attempts to delay the legislation through procedural motions. There was one such attempt at the end of the debate by the leader of the Catholic Group on Synod, but it resulted - ironically - an a strong endorsement of the legislation as it stood, with more than 3/4 of Synod voting not to delay it. This was not the action of a leader without authority, nor the reaction of a Synod without respect.

Of course, that's all the newspapers had time for, but there were some other things done at Synod that seem to have slipped below the media radar, and it is these that I will focus upon in the second part of this post.


What the papers didn't say Part 2

The General Synod Blog (completely unofficial, written by my friend Alastair and occasionally by me) has a useful post giving a list of what else happened at Synod apart from the big news item. There are a couple of things from it that warrant a little more detail, and which might be of interest to generally Church-minded people. The first concerns pensions. Don't get me started on the iniquity of most of what we've done about that, but... One positive thing about February's Synod was the vote to extend full survivor's benefits to surviving Civil Partners of clergy. That rule change was among those that needed to be ratified this time round, and despite some opposition from people standing up and saying that this meant that we were equating marriage and civil partnership, it went through in the end almost unopposed. For those of us with more liberal attitudes to sexuality, that is an encouraging development.

The next thing involves donning the political anorak for a short while. A year ago we were presented at York with a report about recommended reorganisation of church structures that would have removed many of the old committees and replaced them by much smaller groups and set up scrutiny groups of Synod members that would have met once a year. Unsurprisingly, Synod was not terribly happy about this, and told people to go away and come back with something that allowed for more Synod members to have a direct part in the decision making process rather than simply reacting after the fact. Sure enough, a new report turned up this time round and we duly passed it. It reduced the numbers on Boards and Councils by approximately 1/3, while keeping the same proprtional mix of Synod members and others. One of the things that has been bubbling under the surface for the whole of this Synod has been the feeling of a pressure for change within the structures of the Church. A considerable part of this - the introduction of the Archbishops' Council - pre-dates my time on Synod. Over this last five years, however, there has been considerable pressure to ensure that things are done in a more 'streamlined' fashion, and a worry for many people - myself included - that 'streamlined' means decided by the same small number of largely unaccountable people and presented for subsequent scrutiny as a done deal.

My third point of interest is at least tangentially related. We had several Diocesan Synod motions to debate this time round, one of which was about the legal status (or not) of Deanery Synods, and the other of which was about job sharing. Both concerned issues that had come up in individual Dioceses and which frankly needed sorting out. In the case of deaneries, there has been quite a lot of noise made over the last few years about how Deaneries are frightfully important and should be doing lost of interesting stuff. Unfortunately, they have no legal identity, which means that they have trouble doing things like registering for Gift Aid, and any legal responsibility is shared between the members of the Deanery Synod as individuals. The motion from Coventry Diocese was very clear about what it wanted, but was passed only in an amended form. As proposed it would have involved writing new legislation, as it is we will simply have another report. The secretariat are good at reports. The motion on job sharing was passed unamended, despite attempts to do a similar amendment job on it, and so new legislation will be required. The major objection to this - reading between the lines - seemed to be that it would be difficult. I am not sympathetic!

There is a sort of bureaucratic inertia which tends to respond to requests almost automatically with responses such as, "We don't do it like that" or "That's not really what you want" or "Let's write a report on that" or "We've always done it this way". It is easy to characterise such responses as laziness, but that's too simple an explanation. It has seemed increasingly to me that what we see is a sort of complacency - a presumption that the centre always knows best. It is not difficult to see the link between my two points above - the same presumption that 'we know best' will see no problem in restricting policy development to a chosen few (on the grounds that they know best), will also see nothing wrong in attempting to re-write requests from the wider church on the grounds that those making them don't really understand the problems. It is inevitable that one particular issue will dominate the General Synod elections this time around, but I do hope that people will pay attention to this question as well. Does the central bureaucracy exist to serve the Church or not? And if it does, why does there sometimes seem to be the impression that it's the other way round... If anybody out there manages to make it to general Synod hustings, I would encourage them to raise these issues with the prospective candidates.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Women Bishops Day 2

It's looking just a bit more cheerful than it did - don't necessarily believe what you read in the papers. I went into the Chamber yesterday morning determined to do two things - vote against Clause 2 of the Measure (You can see what that means in this post) and at the end of the Revision Stage move a procedural motion to send the whole Measure back for further revision, on the grounds that it seemed to me that as it was it simply did not deliver what it was designed for. I ended up doing neither of these things. What happened? An exercise of leadership and a little bit of grace. It's like this...

When the archbishops pitched their amendment to us on Saturday, they did so as just another amendment. "Here it is, folks," they said. "It's not a loyalty test, it's another idea that we are offering alongside these others." It fell, but only three priests would have needed to change their minds for it to pass. Perhaps they didn't want to be seen to bully us, but there is a difference between bullying and leadership. This morning, the Archbishop addressed us again, and this time he told us what he wanted. He told us that, flawed as it may be, we had now to send the Measure to the dioceses - we owed it to them now to let them respond. This meant that he did not want Clause 2 to be left out of the measure, and he did not want anybody moving procedural motions to delay the process. So that was me told, then. Then it came to the debate on Clause 2 of the measure, and person after person stood up - people whom I would have expected to say 'what's the point with this Clause now, it doesn't do the job, let's get rid of it' - and instead insisted that it should stay part. How, then, could I possibly vote against it?

And so it went on throughout the day. The media have - of course - not presented it this way, but the situation at the end of yesterday was not as desperate as it had seemed after Saturday. More on this in due course, as I try to write up what has happened in more detail, but we need to remember that the process is not over yet.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

...and the next day.

So where are we now, then? 'In a difficult place' is the simple answer. As a comment on the previous post says, "in voting with conscience (which you must, of course, do) you have voted such that others will no longer be able to, in good conscience, stay in the Church. A bitterly sad irony. I mean no disparagement when I write that - just observing the terrible moment we have come to." He's right, of course. Here's what it looks like to me at the moment.

We have in front of us now legislation that is fundamentally flawed. Its intent is to remove the legal obstacles to the consecration of women as bishops. In its current form what it does is both remove those obstacles but add further law to ensure that conscientious objection is possible. It is inevitable that if you draw up legislation that way then you will compromise its intention, but while there was a chance that the compromise would allow people to stay together who would otherwise have parted, it was worth doing. However, what yesterday showed us was that there is not sufficient support within Synod for the sort of provision that traditionalists say they need, and that the sort of provision that the majority are prepared to include in legislation is insufficient for the very people for whom it is intended. What is to be done? The answer to that is informed, obviously, by where we are in the revision procedure and how it works. Essentially, whatever Synod agrees now stays agreed. If the Measure is sent for further revision it has to be with specific instructions - once it has gone to the Dioceses and been ratified it cannot subsequently be altered. Consequently these, I think, are the options we have.

1. We grind through the rest of the revision process and send on to the Dioceses more or less what the Revision Committee sent to Synod. From now on, the rest of the amendments don't really change the broad force of the legislation.
2. We stop the revision process at the point we have now reached, and send the legislation back to committee with an instruction to re-examine Clause 2 of the Measure.
3. We vote down Clause 2 of the Measure - and as a consequence the rest of it, because the rest of it is only there as a result of that clause - and send a 'single clause measure' to the dioceses.

I don't know any more if I can endure option 1. If yesterday tells us anything, it's that the legislation is broken. It's not enough for those for whom it was designed, and if that is the case, I cannot see how passing it will cause anything except more confusion and pain as we thrash our way through a statutory code of practice in two year's time that will be equally divisive and equally futile.

Option 2 is tempting. Yesterday was such a bitter blow for me because I have hoped for the last five years that someone, somehow, would produce a rabbit from a hat. Someone, somehow, would show us a way to hold these two integrities in tension. But there is no rabbit, only an imaginary Easter Bunny, and no amount of further revision will give it material form.

So that leaves us with what looks like the nuclear option. A simple yes or no - do we do this or not? All along the argument has been that the single clause option would split us - that people would leave if we did it that way. Well, we passed that point yesterday afternoon. People will now leave. And given that people will now leave, are we really being anything other than patronising and tokenistic if we continue to put provisions into the legislation?

Let's play 'Let's Suppose' for a minute. Suppose we send a single clause measure to the dioceses. Each of them in turn will then be able to indicate to us whether or not they really want the church to change in this way. Some will not want to. If more than half don't then the legislation falls. Even if more than half pass it, if they report substantial divisions then that should be noted by the next Synod when it comes for approval. Suppose such a measure is passed by the dioceses and comes back to Synod. 2/3 of members in each house need to pass it. This will be a new Synod, elected inevitably with this issue in mind - it will be much clearer to our electorate what is going on if the legislation is simple - and they will decide as they decide.

There has been a choice all along about this, and it is one that we have repeatedly shied away from. It was inevitable that provision would be needed for those who could not agree. We could have made that provision by trust, but fearing the consequences of the vulnerability on both sides that such trust would entail, instead we have tried to make it by law. Law has failed us. Trust is now all that remains.

And thus, in my folly, afore this time often I wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the beginning of sin was not letted (stopped); for then, methought, all should have been well.... But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said, Sin is behovable (unavoidable), but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

For if we never fell, we should not know how feeble and how wretched we are of our self, and also we should not fully know that marvellous love of our Maker.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Women Bishops - Day 1

I have to say, I'm struggling more than I thought I would with the Women Bishops debate so far. My background is anglo-catholic, and so when numbers of traditionalist Catholics started standing up in the take note debate and asking us to vote against, I was inclined to listen carefully. The argument was not one I had expected to hear - although perhaps I should have seen it coming - and went essentially as follows: we want you to vote against taking note because the legislation is now fundamentally flawed. Not only does it not do what the trad. catholics wanted it to do, but it is actually just wrong in that it discriminates by gender. We voted by show of hands in the end, and the forest of hands in favour meant that I could abstain unnoticed, but I was left uneasy - not least by the fact that the voices in opposition were all from the traditional catholic side.

Now, this has started to flag something up for me which seems to be a long term issue that people haven't really realised yet. It is clear from the Twittering going on at Synod that there is some lack of understanding about how those against get to their positions, and as a result they miss that there are two very different positions of opposition. To put it as simply as possible, the Catholic position is that women cannot be bishops because this is a break from the traditional order of the Church. If the Pope changed his mind on this tomorrow then I am convinced that such an announcement would be greeted with delight by some, at least, of my traditionalist friends. On the other hand, the conservative evangelical position is that women cannot be bishops because they are women. This is not misogyny (although it can turn into that) but a particular understanding of what the Bible says. These two views are not, as far as I can see, compatible in any real sense. These two portions of the Church of England may currently have common cause, but that is really all they share, and there comes the problem. In trying to frame legislation, because legislation is the way we work, it has proved impossible so far to come up with the sorts of provision that would satisfy both parties at once. The result was today's series of defeated amendments.

Personally, I voted against all three of them. I felt, in conscience, that I couldn't do anything else. If we are going to have women bishops, then they have to be fully bishops - I am aware of the irony of the way I come to this conclusion, but anything else offends my sense of catholic order. Nevertheless, I was in tears after the third amendment was defeated. I knew that the point would come at some time when I had to follow my own conscience, and I knew it would feel as if I was rejecting people that I love and value greatly, but there is a difference between knowing something intellectually and feeling it emotionally. I hadn't expected it to hurt so much - and if it hurts me so when I get the result I voted for, I cannot begin to imagine the pain of those with whom I do not agree.

I can't write any more on this tonight. I am too tired, too sad, and adrift in a place with no familiar landmark to tell my way. Please pray for us all.

Friday, 9 July 2010

One down, four to go...

So - what's the story so far? Well, it's been a pretty normal session so far. We've done some legislation, we've welcomed some observers and new Synod members. Notable among the ecumenical visitors was the Evangelical Lutheran Archbishop of Estonia. After a brief introduction his speech was read for him by an assistant - both of them formally dressed in the sort of frock coats that bishops in this country haven't worn for decades. It was a fascinating talk about how the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Estonia - which was once the State Church - was suppressed under communism and has subsequently had to build itself back up virtually from nothing.

The legislation was almost without incident, but not quite. We had some brief Liturgical business to do. Pete Broadbent the Bisop of Willesden was in the chair, and dispatched it in minutes. Then we moved to pension reforms. Synod had, reluctantly, agreed to various reforms in February to deal with the projected deficits in the scheme. We had also passed a motion that asked for surviving civil partners to have identical pension rights to surviving spouses. Then someone suggested in the general debate that perhaps we ought to think about this again, as we didn't want to give the impression that Civil Partnerships were the same as marriage. In its immediate context this sank below the surface quite quickly as people got sidetracked into widows' pensions (including what sounded like the suggestion that they should be seen as compensation for bearing children, which was an interesting reflection in the current social climate). However, when it came to the debate on the specific rule change, up popped one of the clergy members of Reform...

My heart sank, I have to say, and I scuttled out of my comfortable corner of the hall to try and attract the attention of the Chairman. What followed was a delight to hear. Partly, of course, because I didn't end up saying anything, but mostly because the next four speakers spoke passionately in favour, and the legislation was passed virtually nem. con. Obviously, for someone with my views that is encouraging, but it is also encouraging in another sense - it means that Synod is sticking by past decisions, and this may well be our best hope of emerging reasonably unscathed from the next two or three days.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

A Lesson concerning the Debating of Women Bishops.

Earlier on today, Ruth Gledhill was asking for blog posts to explain the upcoming Women Bishops debate. I thought I'd have a go, and since Ruth's Blog is now hidden behing the Great Pay Wall of the Murdoch Empire I thought I'd post it here as well. Quiet everyone, the teacher's coming...

"Good morning class. Today's lesson is all about how to work out what on Earth General Synod is doing in all these debates over the next few days. You are going to need the following set texts - the Report of the Revision Committee, the Draft Measure, and Notice Paper 5. If you have forgotten them, go and download them now. Yes, we'll wait... OK. Everybody got the right bits of paper? Good. Now, the first thing you need to know is that there are actually only two debates about this happening at Synod. Yes, I know it looks from the Agenda as though there are going to be at least five, but it's actually one short debate and one very long one, that will take about a day and a half to get through. Let's deal with the short one first.

"The first debate is scheduled for Friday morning. Last year we sent the Revision Committee away with a series of instructions about how the legislation was supposed to work, and they made several changes to it - as well as listening to lots of people presenting all the same ideas that had previously been rejected all over again. They have sent revised legislation back - that's the Draft measure - and they also make a report about what they have done. Yes, I know we can see what they have done by looking at the Measure, but what the Report does is explain how they decided everything. That's why, if you look at the Report, you can see it's very long. And not very interesting. No, you don't need to read all of it, but people will refer to it in the debates, so you need to have a short look at it. So, this first debate is to 'take note' of the Revision Committee's Report. In Synod-speak, 'take note' has a particular meaning - it means that the Synod as a whole accepts the report. If the Synod decides not to 'take note' then the whole process stops at this point. No, that won't happen - but there will be some interest in seeing how many vote for and against, because right at the end of the process the legislation needs 2/3 of the bishops, 2/3 of the clergy AND 2/3 of the laity to support it, or it won't become law. For now, though, a simple majority will do. There won't be any discussion about particular parts of the Measure - that will come later - and this first bit should be quite short.

"Next - and probably following on immediately - comes the second debate. The big one. What happens, essentially, is that Synod goes through the Measure clause by clause, amending them or not, and then voting on them. So, to understand this process we need first to look at the Measure. Yes - it's a lot shorter than the Report. You'll notice that it has 11 Clauses - let's look at them one by one.

"1. Provision for the consecration of women as bishops and ordination of women as priests. Yes - this is the simple bit. It changes the law so that women can be bishops.
2. Duty of the Diocesan Bishop to make arrangements. These 'arrangements' are the real substance of the Measure, and what the major amendments will attempt to alter. As they stand in the Draft, they basically say that every bishop has to put forward a scheme showing how he (or she in due course, perhaps) will accommodate those who for theological reasons are unable to accept the ministry of a woman as priest or bishop. What shape that scheme has depends, obviously, on whether the Diocesan himself will ordain women - that must also be stated in the scheme itself.
3. Parish Requests. This describes what a parish has to do and say - who votes, how often and so on - in order to trigger arrangements under Clause 2.
4. Benefices in the patronage of the Crown etc. Nothing is ever simple in the Church of England, and some parishes are governed by different rules than others, especially when it comes to appointing vicars.
5. Code of Practice. This clause establishes that a Code of Practice is to govern how Clauses 2 and 3 are put into action. It also states how any Code of Practice should be authorised and how it can be altered, but it doesn't say anything about the substance of such a Code.
6. Duty to have regard to Code of Practice. Yes, it's Lawyer-speak, and it means that as a bishop you have to do what the Code of Practice says.
7. Equality Act exceptions. Obviously, if you are going to establish bishops who have to be male this might get you into trouble with the Equality Act, so this makes it clear that the Act does not apply in the case of (male) bishops appointed to oversee dissenting parishes. Yes, the Measure can do this, because once Parliament approve it, it's the law.
8. Interpretation. This just defines some of the words used in the Measure so that people can't come along later and argue that they mean something different. Yes, I agree that should be obvious, but we are dealing with lawyers here.
9. Consequential amendments. If this gets passed, then certain other rules and regulations will change as a result. This just lists them and tidies them up.
10. Repeals. Likewise, if this passes it will make some earlier rules and reguilations irrelevant, so again this tidies up.
11. Citation, commencement and extent. What the Measure shall be called, when it will come into effect and who it will affect.

"No - I haven't forgotten the debate. In fact I was just coming to it. If you get out your last text, Notice Paper 5, you will see that the debate follows the order of the clauses and... Yes, I know it's complicated. Well, actually it isn't, it just looks that way. Lets take it clause by clause.

"Nobody is trying to amend Clause 1 - although people will try to vote against it, because if that vote is lost then the whole measure becomes meaningless.

"Clause 2 is where things get more intricate. There are two attempts here to re-write it entirely. The first one - 512 on the Order Paper - would set up alternative traditionalist dioceses. This idea has been ruled out already as essentially legislating for schism, so it probably won't get far. The second - 513 - sets up transferred arrangements for traditionalists. No, that's not the same as the Draft Measure. Yes, it does sound the same, but there is a big difference. In the Measure as it stands, parishes have to ask the Diocesan Bishop for special arrangements, and he/she appoints someone to look after them. If this went through, the transfer would be as of right. Supporters of women bishops don't like this option because you could see it as creating 'second class bishops' by enabling traditionalists to act as if their diocesan bishop didn't actually exist. Again, these proposals have already been rejected, and they probably won't get through this time. They are not enough for the hard-line traditionalists, and a step too far for the reformers. The third major amendment is the one proposed by the two archbishops. It tries to bridge the gap between the idea of transfer and what is in the measure as it stands. Given that most of the usual suspects - sorry, I mean campaigning organisations of one sort or other - don't seem to like it, it probably won't get through. However, with both Archbishops backing it, you never know. The rest of the amendments to Clause 2 are essentially tinkering at the edges.

"Clause 3. Although there are a lot of amendments here - 519-527 on the order paper - they don't really make a huge amount of difference. They alter some of the detail about opting into or out of whatever is (eventually) described in Clause 2, but whether or not they are passed the legislation remains substantially unaltered.

"Clause 4. Unsurprisingly, no amendments to this one. What about the person who wants to speak against it? Give me a moment, I'll get there soon.

"Clause 5. Two amendments here. One is the second part of the Archbishops' amendment - it will only get debated if their first one goes through. The second is one that essentially re-writes Clause 5 to say that the House of Bishops can do whatever they want in a Code of Practice. No, I have no idea what the logic is behind that. Yes, that does mean they can do what they want. No, that won't necessarily be a good idea.

"Most of the rest of the amendments are small bits of drafting that result from other things that might or might not be passed earlier on, but three are more interesting. 540 would put a 'sunset clause' into the measure. No, not that, it means that it lapses after a certain period of time... 541 is designed to make it harder to change these rules after they are agreed - it would need a 2/3 majority in Synod to do so. 542 allows for dissenters to be pensioned off if they leave because of the changes but before they come into effect.

"So finally, at the end of all that, we have a re-drafted Measure. Subject to a final vote that then gets sent out to the Dioceses, and if a majority of them agree then it comes back to Synod again for a final debate, but no more revision, and if it gets its 2/3 majority it goes in front of Parliament and becomes law.

"Oh yes, and you wanted to know why it was listed on the Notice Paper that people wanted to speak against things. I need to back-track a bit, then, and explain some rules to you. When Synod is doing revising, the presumption is that everything is OK unless someone complains. So, you only get a debate on a particular bit of a measure if someone either tries to amend it or gives notice that they want to speak against it. What's more, if someone suggests an amendment, after they have explained why they want it and what it will do, Synod has to show some support. It's called the Forty Member Rule (yes, I am serious and no, that's not funny) and it states that unless 40 people in Synod stand up to show that they want a debate on that particular amendment we forget about it and go on to the next thing.

"So, any clearer? No? Never mind. You'll have something in common with most of the rest of the Church of England, then..."

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Another Guest Post

This is a slightly adapted version of the second part of my posting assignment for Church Mouse Publishing.

A little while ago, I discovered a website called 'Wordle' - I even wrote a little about it here - so as an experiment before writing this post I thought I would make a Wordle of the rather long post I wrote for the Church Mouse last week. It looks like this:

Wordle: General Synod February 2010

It turns out that the graphic is a pretty good summary about what went on. The big word, right through the middle of it, is 'Church', and indeed for most of the time that's what we were talking about - what kind of a church we wanted to be. The word 'pension' is quite prominent, and our various discussions on pensions forced us to think not only about our own stewardship but also about how the outside world perceived us. 'ACNA' is also prominent, and the ACNA motion forced us to think carefully about what it meant to be Anglican (another prominent word in the picture) - especially in churches quite different to our own Church of England. Both of these strands raised issues of sexuality, but although that was an important factor in what we did, it didn't dominate. You can see 'sexuality' clearly in the mix (right above 'ACNA', in fact) but it's much less important than 'Church' and indeed 'Anglican'.

Mouse has already written an excellent post on what Synod didn't do, and has also rightly highlighted the importance of the address given by the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Methodist Conference. There is, I know, a long distance between aspiration and action, and there are issues that need to be sorted before the kind of union to which they alluded could take place. However, the fact that we were assured that the dream of unity restored, after two centuries walking apart, is still alive in both our Churches is great news.

If last July's Synod was the stroppy synod, then this one is, I think, the hopeful synod. We managed to demonstrate that, collectively, when faced with difficult and potentially divisive issues we could listen to each other - we proved it over ACNA and again over pension rights for civil partners - and that leaves me feeling more optimistic about our prospects as a church than I was this time last week.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

ACNA-Related Ramblings

I was really quite frightened yesterday about what could have happened in Synod - and I stood up and said so in respons to the motion to move to next business. Later on an old friend of mine - also a Synod member - told me how he had looked at the line of people acting as Eucharistic ministers for the Communion service on Wednesday morning and thought just how fragile the bonds were that held us all together. We could have done an enormous amount of damage yesterday afternoon... but thank God, we didn't.

Of course, if you ask three different people to tell you what happened yesterday you'll get at least four different answers, but the best analysis for my money is on Scott Gunn's Blog. From my own perspective, I have a few thoughts that I wanted to put on record. Yesterday morning I had a long and interesting conversation with one of the ACNA delegation who had come to observe the debate. What he told me was that ACNA wished to enter into the Anglican Communion via the Covenant process. Now that seems to me to be an entirely reasonable aim - especially, as I pointed out to him, that provided the Covenant was ratified by the Communion this would mean that ACNA's relationship with TEC would have to be the same as their relationship with the Church of England.

However, if ACNA is going to present itself as the representitive of the conservative strand of Anglicanism in North America - and I think that is the only way in which it can present itself if it is going to make a serious attempt at being part of the Anglican Communion - it has a way to go yet. Scott talks about some aspects of this in his article I have mentioned above, and I would add in particular the fact that there is currently one major continuing Anglican presence in North America that is missing from ACNA. Changes in the Episcopal Church in the 1970s led to the Congress of St. Louis and the subsequent establishment of several conservative, Anglo-Catholic continuing churches. These are still operating in North America, and number more than 200 congregations - in other words about a quarter the size of the current ACNA grouping. These groups represent a style of traditional Anglo-Catholicism that is very familiar us in the Church of England - more than that they represent a tradition that I would expect to find in any conservative grouping. The fact that they are not there makes me wonder to what extent ACNA really does currently represent traditional Anglicanism in North America.

So what did and didn't we do yesterday? We did acknowledge (rightly so in my opinion) that a lot of people in North America who identify as Anglicans - whether part of the Anglican Communion or not - are in a very difficult situation right now. We did affirm that ACNA are telling us that they aspire to be part of the Anglican Communion. We did acknowledge that at the simplest level our inclination is to be inclusive. What we did not do is recognise ACNA as anything other than a self-defined group. Unless or until the Anglican Covenant is adopted, that is as far as the Church of England can or will go. The ball is now firmly back in ACNA's court. Do they genuinely wish to be part of the Anglican Communion? Time will tell, and I will watch with interest.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Guest Blogging Again

The Church Mouse has invited me to do another synod report for him, which is very flattering. It turned out to be so long that it needed two posts, but here it is in full for anyone who might be interested...

First of all, my thanks to the Mouse for his invitation to provide another guest post on General Synod. The brief for this one is a sort of a preview - and I should state the obvious at this point: all bias expressed herein is my own, and in no way reflects upon the objectivity of the Church Mouse or his Blog.

So, as everybody knows, General Synod only really debates two things these days - whether you need a Y chromosome to be a bishop, and what to to about those difficult gay people. The first of those topics will not, as it turns out, be on the agenda this Synod. The group revising the legislation to allow the consecration of women as bishops have not been able to complete their work in time, and there will be no new draft to debate until July. No doubt the howls that greeted that particular piece of news over the last couple of months will be repeated when the brave and long-suffering Bishop of Manchester makes his report, but essentially that's it for the issue of Women Bishops until July. Turning from gender to sexuality, though, there are tense times on the horizon.

The first concerns ACNA - The Anglican Church in North America. Despite its name, this is a very recent organisation that has swept up a number of groups who have, at various times, left The Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada. The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion - indeed it was the first Anglican Province outside the British Isles. The Anglican Church in Canada is also part of the Anglican Communion - indeed it only became fully separate from the Church of England in the 1890s. ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion. Although about a quarter of ACNA is made up from a group that split from The Episcopal Church in the 1870s, most of the rest have split in the last couple of decades, either because of the ordination of women or the changing attitude of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada to homosexuality, and its establishment has generated quite a lot of heat and noise.

The narratives of ACNA and the Episcopalian mainstream are predictable enough. ACNA members declare themselves to have been excluded from The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada because of innovations on the part of those churches - particularly to do with sexuality - that are contrary to scripture. The mainstream Episcopalian line is that these people chose to leave, are welcome back any time they want as long as they are prepared to declare obedience to the Canons. This sort of thing has been going on for more than a hundred years in North America - one of the constituent groups of ACNA split from The Episcopal Church in the 1870s - but the scale this time is a little different. Compared to most continuing churches in North America - such as the Anglican Catholic Church or the Anglican Province of America - ACNA is relatively large, boasting about 750 parishes in the US and Canada combined. That sounds a lot, but when you consider that the Diocese of Exeter has 506 parishes, and the Diocese of Oxford over 600, it's not really such a major player as it would wish to make out. Still, it has attracted public attention, and next Wednesday will see a Private Member's Motion asking Synod to declare itself "in communion with" ACNA.

The member moving the motion says she has done so as a result of her own convictions, and not at the instigation of any other person or organisation. I see no reason to disbelieve her, but her band-wagon has been well and truly jumped on, and I have no doubt that the debate will display once more a whole set of well and publicly aired dirty laundry. You see what underlies ACNA is not really sexuality, but a fundamental difference between two possible ways of dealing with the relationship between Church and Society. Does the Church itself need to change and adapt to continue to minister to the society in which it finds itself, or should the Church instead proclaim more firmly what it understands to be its historic orthodoxies and attempt to refute the errors it finds in society. Both alternatives have their problems: the former runs the risk of becoming post-Christian, of losing the uniqueness of the Christian message in a fog of moral relativism; the latter has to struggle with the question of what orthodoxy actually is in an institution like the Anglican Communion. Quite why the line got drawn in the sand over sexuality, as opposed to marriage after divorce or the ordination of women, for example, I have no idea, but this is the situation in which we find ourselves, and it is why we will inevitably end up talking about homosexuality on Wednesday...

The motion has attracted the inevitable amendment from the House of Bishops that manages to prevaricate its way out of most sorts of trouble, and I expect that there won't be any extreme results in the end, but it's going to be a difficult debate. If Synod doesn't pass the motion, then it's a kick in the teeth to ACNA and an implicit pat on the head for The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada. If it passes it unamended then the same applies in reverse. The response that makes political sense is to pass the motion as amended by the bishops, but that is going to need some skilful playing in the Chamber if it is to come off. The Twitter stream on Wednesday might be interesting...

We are also going to end up talking about sexuality on Thursday, as a result of another Private Member's Motion, this time concerning parity of pension provision for surviving Civil Partners. This is difficult for a number of reasons. First, and most practical, is the fact that pension provision in the Church of England is currently shot to hell, and nobody can even work out what we need for a field dressing, let alone reconstructive surgery. There isn't any money. Secondly, the Church is currently abiding by the law of the land with respect to this sort of pension provision. Some defined benefit pension schemes have changed their rules so that surviving spouses and civil partners are treated equally, but none has been abliged to do so. Of course, the message that an organisation sends out by taking such a step is a very clear one - it is treating civil partners and spoused equally - and there's the rub for the Church of England.

At the moment, clergy are allowed to enter into a civil partnership. They are supposed to assure their bishop that the relationship is celibate, but in practice there is quite a lot of 'don't ask don't tell' - it depends very much upon the attitude of the diocesan bishop. However, there is a big jump from recognising that civil partnerships are part of the law of the land - and confer most of the same benefits and obligations as civil marriage - and considering them to be the equivalent of marriage in the eyes of the church. Whether or not this was the intention of the proposer of the motion, and I strongly suspect that it wasn't, this is the ground on which I think the battle will be fought. At some point, and some point soon, we have to have a sensible, grown up conversation as a church about how we view human sexuality and relationships. A major part of this has to be how we now view the institution of marriage in society as a whole, and what implications this has for the church's theology of marriage. Without intending to, this motion hits at the very heart of those tangled questions about relationships that we have not even yet begun to resolve, and that is why I am certain it will not be passed. I can only hope that in the process people do not say things that they are likely later to regret.

Looking back at what I have just written, it occurs to me that all I have covered is two Private Member's motions, and there is a whole other agenda there to be debated. Some of it is actually relevant and interesting, and deserves more publicity. So, what else is there on the agenda?

I have sometimes heard it said that in the Gospels, while Our Lord has very little to say on the subject of sex, he has a surprisingly large amount to say on the subject of money. Although you won't guess it from the media coverage, a similar thing could be said about Synod - especially this time around. The sexuality issues I have written about already are prompted by Private Member's Motions, but the money talk is mostly prompted by the Church secretariat. The Church of England has a hole in its pension fund, and it doesn't know how to fill it. Part of the trouble, though, is that the hole is currently not real, but projected.

The scheme that is causing all the problems has only been in operation since 1998 - all pensions earned prior to that date are paid by the Church Commissioners. Obviously, this new scheme at the moment is not paying out much money at all - it isn't having to pay many pensions yet - so its income greatly exceeds its expenditure and it is building up capital. The trouble is that the surplus it is currently generating is very much less than the surplus that the actuaries say it needs if it is to meet all its future obligations. Gone are the days when most people only drew their pensions for a few years and obligingly dropped dead - even retiring at 68 or 70, a large number of the scheme's current members will be expecting to draw pensions for twenty years or so after retirement. That puts a heavy burden on a scheme which has to guarantee a certain level of pay out, and the net result is that dioceses are currently being asked to make payments to the pension fund equivalent to almost half a priest's annual stipend. The Church is not alone in facing this sort of problem, which is why almost all similar defined benefit schemes - or final salary schemes - are closing.

(A short diversion about pension schemes at this point. Essentially they fall into two types. Either the amount you put into the pot is defined, the money is invested over time, and you get whatever you get at the end of it - defined contribution, uncertain level of pension at the end - or the amount you get at the end is defined, usually in terms of a fraction of your final salary, which means that the amount you have to pay in varies according to hugely complicated and rather pessimistic actuarial calculations - defined benefit, uncertain (and high) level of contributions. The Church's scheme is the second type.)

So why keep the Church of England's scheme open? And for that matter, how can we afford it? A number of debates in the coming week will touch on this subject. There is some tinkering at the edges to be done - some has already been decided upon, other changes may be made next week. None is particularly major, all will leave future pensioners slightly worse off or bearing more risk. It has been left to an ordinary member of synod to put in an amendment to encourage us to think the unthinkable and close the current scheme, replacing it with a defined contribution model.

This whole situation causes me personally a great deal of doubt and difficulty. We ask our priests to dedicate their lives to the Church, and in return we pay them virtually nothing. Nevertheless they do at least have the prospect of a guaranteed level of income - up to 2/3 of the virtually nothing we pay them - when they retire. What does it say about the way we value their sacrifice if we take away even that certainty? And yet some dioceses are currently having severe trouble meeting the bills for stipends and pension costs, and if the contributions increase as forecast they will have to reduce the numbers of priests they employ in order to meet the cost of the pensions of the remainder. Which is frankly mad. I don't have a solution to this one, but I do know that we badly need your prayers on this dilemma.

So what else are we going to be doing at Synod? Quite a lot of legislative business - none of it particularly earth-shattering, but necessary none the less. There does seem to be a lot of it, but in comparison to the obscene quantity of lawyer fodder generated by Parliament on a daily basis it is really quite restrained. However, there are also some more obviously religious items. There are some additions to the Lectionary to be debated, and one member has already submitted amendments to the effect that there is too much from the Apocrypha there and not enough from the canonical books of the Bible. A Diocesan Synod motion will invite us to consider the importance of the Bible in the light of the forthcoming 400th birthday of the Authorised Version, and there will be a debate about the compatibility of Science and Christian belief. I am rather looking forward to that last motion. Given the huge amount of free publicity for Christianity provided by Richard Dawkins recently, it seems a sensible time to be thinking about these issues. If the debate goes well, it should provide not only intellectual stimulation but also theological stimulation and questioning, and that can only be a good thing.

Without a doubt this is going to be a busy and diverse Synod. We are going to come head to head with a number of difficult issues, and there is the possibility that some of what we do could have considerable significance not only for the Church of England but for the Communion as a whole, so this rather long ramble ends with a simple plea. Please keep us in your prayers over the next few days, and pray particularly that all of us listen with an open mind to each other, and seek for God's direction in all that we do.

Thursday, 4 February 2010


Long after all the up-to-date people, I have discovered Wordle. In its own words "Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text."

Just for an experiment, I thought I'd make a Wordle of this blog. Here it is:
  Wordle: Dodgy Liberal Blog
Quite interesting, I think. In fact, I was so intrigued I tried one for 1 Corinthians 13, which I also rather like:

  Wordle: 1 Corinthians 13
Why not have a play yourself at

Saturday, 2 January 2010

An almost forgotten post...

It was very flattering to be asked to write a guest post for the Church Mouse Blog about the July Synod. Seeing the link to it on my own Facebook page earlier this evening reminded me about it, so I thought I would stick it up here too - not least as a prelude for any further thoughts about the forthcoming February Synod...

Many thanks to the Church Mouse for inviting me to write this post. Hopefully, he won't be bored from his whiskers to his tail by the time he has finished reading it!

I wonder what, if anything, people out in the real world (who weren't in York from Friday until yesterday) have heard about General Synod this week. The two things most associated with Synod - namely the issues of who ought to go to bed with whom and whether you need a Y chromosome to be a bishop - have been strangely absent, despite some effort to get them on the agenda. Instead, the main news seems to have been about Synod wanting to cut the number of bishops. Or at least, before the debate on the motion from the Diocese of Bradford, that was the main news. Then in the debate itself many interesting things were said about episcopal numbers - in particular the fact that perhaps we ought to have more bishops not less, but that they should be pastors and evangelists rather than managers at the head of a bureaucracy - and all of a sudden the headline became all about the Church of England wanting more bishops, not fewer.

Actually, if this Synod is going to fix itself in my mind in any way, I think it will be as the 'stroppy synod'. A few things have happened to make the ordinary members of synod more than a little unhappy. There has been a fair amount posted elsewhere about the various constitutional stuff that happened - or failed to happen - during this session. From my own viewpoint, however, I think that the stroppiness is a symptom of tensions that are not peculiar to Synod. The reality of Synod's place within the structure of the C. of E. is that despite its notional authority - it is the only body that can change the way the Church is governed - much of the business of the Church happens around it and even on occasion despite it.You could try to involve Synod more, but the more 'democratic' you try to make the Church's institutions, the more unwieldy you make them - it is much more efficient to have a smaller number of people making the decisions. The alternatives to concentrate executive power into a few hands and then have your elected body as a sort of watchdog. This is the model that Local Government now follows, and it is the model that people feared was being offered to Synod. One problem with it is that it is almost entirely reactive - you can't use it to initiate policy.

There is a second problem with it too, which is that most decisions come to a scrutiny body as more or less a done deal, and it is very difficult to undo them, even supposing that you are properly briefed as to how and why those decisions have been reached. This is what went wrong in the debate about appointments to Archbishops' Council. Some of the Church bureaucracy were convinced that they faced a sort of Peasants' Revolt, but it wasn't really that - it was frustration. The executive and scrutiny model that we have to some extent already with Archbishops' Council can throw up some peculiar situations - especially, and ironically, if you put in structures to make it accountable. So it was that Synod were invited to confirm the appointments of two people to Archbishops' Council whom nobody knew, on the basis of virtually no information. Because they were in a bad mood already, a variety of people got up to point out how silly this was - either Synod ought to be able to do the scrutiny properly, or there was no point in doing it at all.

I don't think we have heard the last of this. There is pressure to change the way the Church does much of its business, and few people would deny that it is currently slow and bureaucratic. The question really is what to do to make the system work efficiently for the Church, while at the same time ensuring accountability and - just as importantly - input from those who are not insiders, but elected by the two or three people we have left in the pews...

Finally, there has of course been rather a large elephant in the room throughout the proceedings, namely the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans - the group that launched itself in Methodist Central Hall just before the start of General Synod. There was quite a lot of conversation around York about what the reactions would be to those bishops who attended, but in the end nothing happened at all. The views of Michael Nazir-Ali and John Hind that led them to attend the FCA meeting are well known, and John Broadhurst, the Bishop who managed to make a complete ass of himself from the platform, is not a member of Synod. Of more interest, however, is the Private Member's Motion from Lorna Ashworth, one of the lay members from Chichester, which requests that the Church of England declares itself in communion with the FCA. I left York on Monday morning, but by that time it looked as though it may well have reached the 100 signatures required for the Business Committee to consider it for inclusion on the agenda. [Edit: the motion received 126 signatures, and will now be considered by the business committee] Given that there are at least two motions ahead of it, this probably will not happen in February, but it is a real possibility for next July. On the present timetable, that means we will probably have Women Bishops back in February, and then Sexuality back next June, possibly with more Women Bishops. I can't wait, can you?

First posted on Church Mouse Publishing, 15th July 2009.