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..."