Thursday, 16 September 2021

The Dodgy Liberal Rides Again

 Hello. Long time no blog. If you got here via the link on my Election Address for the Diocese of Leeds, then welcome! If you have (somehow) ended up here from somewhere else, welcome also!

Much of what is below this post is ancient history now, but it should give you a pretty good idea of what I did for some of my 10 years on Synod between 2005 and 2015. It's also fairly revealing about the sort of person that I am. If what is here appeals, then please do vote for me if you can. If you find yourself disagreeing violently, then before you write me off as an election prospect do please get in touch - there are contact details at the bottom of my election address. I have always maintained that to be a Liberal is to respect other people's opinions and beliefs, and more importantly to accept that my own opinions and beliefs might be wrong. So - if you think that I am wrong about something, do please pick up the phone and tell me why.

Happy reading.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Talking about sex. Again.

So, there is this thing called the Pilling Report - full title "Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality". You can read it here, if it interests you. It does a fairly good job of sitting on the fence for much of the time, but it does make a mild suggestion or two about stuff the CofE might want to talk about, and among them is this: 
The Church needs to find ways of honouring and affirming those Christians who experience same sex attraction who, conscious of the church’s teaching, have embraced a chaste and single lifestyle, and also those who in good conscience have entered partnerships with a firm intention of life-long fidelity.
As a result, my inbox has been a little busier than normal. I have had several letters from parishes in my diocese notifying me that their PCCs have talked about the Report and passed a motion on it. There is the odd small variation in these, but in essence the text welcomes much of the report but states that any attempt to introduce any sort of official recognition for same-sex partnerships into the CofE liturgy would be regarded not as a measure of pastoral sensitivity but a split from the majority of Anglican practice, and therefore liable to cause a rift in the Anglican Communion. I'm not entirely certain where the text used by these parishes has come from, but I suspect it is one or other of the Conservative Evangelical campaigning groups.Such a response is not unexpected, and while I would rather have actual threats than veiled ones - so much easier to understand - I can see where they are coming from.

I was a little more surprised to receive the following e-mail this morning.
From:  petergeorgemay@xxxx.xxxx
To: Me
Today at 9:28 AM

The Science of Sexuality
Dear Bishops and Members of Synod
There has been a serious failure to address the known science of human sexuality, as highlighted by the Pilling Report. I have attempted to summarise these issues in the short article attached, which has been commended by several Fellows and Members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists as being an accurate reflection on the current situation.
I trust this will inform your current deliberations.
With many thanks
Yours faithfully
Peter May
Dr Peter May MRCGP
You can go and read the attached article here. I read it, and was motivated to send the following response:
Dear Peter,

Thank you for your letter. I have some observations for you in response.

I think most sensible people on either side of the debate have long since accepted that human sexuality is far too complicated for us to be able to talk in binary terms either about orientation - heterosexual/homosexual - or origin - nature/nurture. I think it's also true that for most of us the challenge is to accept that all of us are made in God's image. This is very difficult for both sides - it is much easier to put those with whom you don't agree in a box labelled 'wrong' than it is to accept that they too are an aspect of creation and thus equally representative of God's will and love.

While it is true that some people hold on to the totemic view that sexuality either is or is not determined at birth, the material you have collected points out to us that the reality is not that simple. In a more general sense it is an excellent reminder that the process of Creation is a continual one - neither you nor I are the men we were twenty years ago. Some of that change is due to our genetic inheritance, some is due to environment or circumstances, some changes are ones that we have actively or unknowingly allowed, some have been involuntary and so on. I would suggest that we cannot be certain about how much of who and what we are is predetermined and how much is the result of circumstance, environment and conscious or unconscious choice, and this has to inform how we talk about sexuality.

I think it is also worth making the point that although as Christians we should be answerable to God and not societal pressure, we also need to be able to deal with society as we find it. I have spent the last five years living in Brighton, and time and again have heard from those on the leading edge of mission in that place that our current squabbles about sexuality make it impossible for them to engage with people who are in desperate spiritual need. In fact, many of us on the 'liberal' side are surprisingly old-fashioned when it comes to relationships. We would love to be able to talk about continence, respect for oneself and others and the need to mirror God's love for us in our relationships, but while the public perception is that Christians think that homosexuality is sinful we remain powerless. It is possible that same-sex relationships are not part of God's plan for any of us, but it is absolutely certain that promiscuous and casual relationships - one night stands for purely physical gratification - are immensely damaging to all those involved. The wreckage caused by such a lifestyle is heartbreakingly visible in Brighton wherever you look, and I have to ask the question - which of these options is better? Should we continue to preach a gospel with which those around us simply cannot connect, or should we instead accept that in a broken and fallen world we do what we can?

We live in a dark place. However unconventional they might be, and however uncertain we might be about them, committed, faithful and loving relationships stand out in that darkness like beacons. Can we not allow that they are beacons of God's love?
As I have been putting this post together, Dr May has kindly replied to the purple prose above, saying that his concern is 
"to get the facts on the table, which are currently being distorted for ideological ends, and hushed up by those represent ‘science’."
I have to say that I agree with him. There is distortion for ideological ends from both sides of the debate. If we could somehow be certain whether or not sexuality is fixed at birth, it would make things much easier. However, all other complexities aside, it is almost impossible to prove a negative - and that is what both ideologically hard-line positions demand. The conservative position is predicated on the fact that people are not created gay. The hard-line progressive position is predicated on the fact that your sexuality is not something you can change - you can't 'decide' to be straight any more than you can 'decide' to have blue eyes. It is this fundamental problem that causes most of the sound and fury - both sides present what is actually a sincerely held belief as something capable of absolute proof.

So what do the rest of us do? I have said before that my understanding of what it means to be a Liberal is to accept the mantra 'of course I could be wrong'. I sometimes envy people their certainty over issues where I can clearly see the arguments for and against each position, and am forced to choose as best I can.

For what it's worth, I am in favour of that bit of the Pilling Report, and if anyone is still reading this ridiculously long post, I'll tell you why. I have no idea whether or not sexuality is a choice or not. However, I am certain that there are many people who sincerely believe that their homosexuality is an integral part of the way in which they were made by their creator. As a Church we are faced with a choice about how to minister to such people. We can believe that they are disordered in some way, in which case however welcoming we might be, however loving, they will never truly feel a part of the Church. Alternatively we can accept them without reservation as they are, affirm their relationships and - most importantly - hold them to the same ideal moral standards as anyone else. We should strive together to support relationships based on continence, fidelity and mutual respect, and seek forgiveness together when we fall short of that ideal. I could be wrong about homosexual relationships. If I am, I will be called to account for it in due course. However, until that time, I am making what I believe to be the best choice in an uncertain world.

Here ends the sermon. Comments most welcome, but please don't start on the slippery slope towards bestiality or whatever, because that's just silly and you'll have more fun here.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

What now, then?

So. Time to put the head above the parapet again after a long silence. No particular need to rehearse what happened yesterday - there will be plenty of accounts of it in various places - but what is a liberal supposed to do now? I have said before that my understanding of that label is the realisation that although I have reached my own views (hopefully) by reason and coherent argument, nevertheless I might be wrong.

Of the various dissenting views that were aired yesterday, I have to admit that some make more sense to me than others. I no longer agree with it, but I do understand the basis for the traditional catholic objection that we alone do not have the competence to make this sort of move. I would add, nevertheless, the remark made to me many years ago by an old priest to the effect that it took Rome 400 years to put the Mass in the vernacular after we showed them the way, but they got there eventually. The conservative evangelical 'headship' argument, however, leaves me scratching my head. I have never been a literalist anyway, but I really do not understand the sort of selective literalism that elevates some parts of the Bible to be infallible while quietly ignoring others. Still, the fact that I do not understand it is not a good enough reason to say that it is invalid as a point of view. It is a belief deeply and sincerely held by a small but significant minority within the Church of England and it deserves respect. Most of the people who voted against the legislation yesterday did so because of one or other of those deeply held beliefs. I respect absolutely the fact that they did so, and I am glad that they did so. They remind the majority in the Church that theirs is not the only view.

But. (Had you guessed there was a 'but' coming?) But, not all those who voted against the legislation yesterday did so because of their own beliefs. Instead, they went against their own conviction in order to demonstrate a spirit of inclusivity and openness to those with whom they do not agree. No doubt they did so with the best possible motives, but the potential havoc they have wreaked by doing so is considerable.

Yes, the vote was on the legislation not the principle, and yes, the people for whom the provisions had been designed had said that they were not adequate, but to think that delay would do anything to change this is frankly naive. It had taken us seven years to get that far, and the compromises was as good as they were going to get. The upshot of rejecting the legislation is that nobody wins. The majority of the Church of England is unable to proceed as it wishes. We have lost at a stroke what credibility we might have had left with the political establishment and forfeited our right to speak out against inequality and injustice in society. How can we do so without being branded the most obvious of hypocrites? As to those who opposed the measure through genuine conviction, they might have just lost their last chance for proper provision. The change will come, and if Parliament enforce it - as they might - or the next few meetings of Synod see the rescinding of the Act of Synod or re-writing of the 1992 Measure - and they might - then that change will come in starker form than we have seen up to now. So much for good intentions.

Many of us have a lot of explaining to do, but the ones who have the most explaining to do are the ones who in the end were not true to their own convictions. I hope they think that their compromise was worth the damage they have done to us all.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Dodgy Liberal Comes Out

I outed myself on Facebook last night. No, not that - I mean I announced that I was a Freemason. Mind you, I haven't ever made any particular secret of it - I just don't tend to go around festooned with squares and compasses. Why would I do such a thing? Because the Sunday Telegraph decided that they were going to have a go at the recently appointed Bishop of Ebbsfleet because he was a Freemason, and in doing so give any number of talking heads an opportunity to slander an organisation of which I am proud to be a part, and which I think is a powerful force for good.

I suppose I had better start by trying to address the conspiracy theories. First - Freemasonry is a heretical religion that worships its own god. Not true. You have to believe in a God if you want to join - one of the first questions you are asked is 'In whom do you place your trust', and the expected answer is 'In God' - but Freemasonry is open to anyone who can, in conscience, make that statement. That does mean, of course, that as a Mason I have to consider that someone else's faith is valid for that person, just as they must accept that mine is for me, but that's a whole different argument. I am indebted to a friend of mine for the analogy, but if Freemasonry is heresy then so is Alcoholics Anonymous, or any other twelve-step program. Secondly, Freemasons worship the Devil. Apart from the fact that there isn't any sort of worship going on, because we're not dealing with a religion, this is just plain comical. Or at least it would be, except for the fact that it is also a classic blood-libel sort of smear that is virtually impossible to counter. It's very difficult to prove a negative - especially to a conspiracy theorist's satisfaction. All I can say is that in nearly twenty years of membership, after a great deal of research, and with the benefit of access to plenty of people who really would know, I have never encountered anything like that. Ever.

Third, Freemasonry is corrupt, and people join it so that they can 'get on'. I have no doubt that some people join for that reason, but there aren't many of them, and they don't stay. For a start, one way to get yourself kicked out is to be convicted for any crime except a minor motoring offence. Also, the reaction of any Mason to being given a handshake and a 'nudge nudge, wink wink' would be to think 'what a plonker' follwed by 'that one certainly won't get the job'. Would you prefer to use a plumber, a mechanic or a solicitor that you knew? Probably. You could just as easily know him from that hotbed of satanic iniquity known as the Village Bowls Club as from your local Lodge. That's pretty much the limit of the networking opportunities, I'm afraid.

Fourth, it's a secret society. Well, it isn't. If it was, I wouldn't be writing this. When I joined, I made a promise to keep three things secret in each ceremony - namely a sign (of the 'I'm a little teapot' variety), a handshake and a word. I can tell you that they exist, but not what they are. It was only a promise, not a solemn blood oath, but it is something to be taken seriously nevertheless. You could torture it out of me, I suppose (actually a swift sight of the thumbscrews would probably be enough), I would break the promise in a court of law if the alternative was to be found guilty of contempt, and if it would save a life I'd tell you in a heartbeat, but otherwise - I made a promise and I intend to keep it. Just as I hope you would if I asked you to. Society with secrets? Yes. Illuminati? No.

So why did I join it? The same reason as many people do, I think. I got to know some people who were masons - and Jonathan Baker was one of them - found them to be good people whom I admired, and decided to join myself. I am immensely glad that I did. I don't think I have gained any material benefit from it at all - quite the opposite, in fact - but I have no doubt at all that I am a better person for it. The reason for this is that although Freemasonry most definitely is not a religion, it does provide a rule of life. The best way to illustrate this is to suggest that you read some of the ritual for yourself. If you click here you will find a Google document, containing a speech that is given by one of the members of the Lodge (from memory) to a relatively new Mason. The conceit is that as you move up through the three grades, starting off as an apprentice, you get progressively more complex tools to learn how to use. These are the ones for the second degree. Give it a read, and then please tell me what you find morally objectionable or incompatible with Christianity.

This post was originally titled ...Part 1. Part 2 was supposed be an attempt  to deal with the other objection that people raise about Freemasonry, namely that it is actively damaging. This Twitter post from a priest in the C.ofE. is an example of what I mean: "I've seen and experienced the sinister side in my ministry. The threats, the spiritual ties, and the spiritual fallout in lives" The person that I am quoting protects his tweets, so I haven't linked to him, but I had hoped that either he or anyone else with a similar experience would be able to reply to this post and let me know about their experiences. The conspiracy stuff with which I began is really a side-issue - it's the perceived damage that I would like to engage with - especially since it seems to run counter to everything I know about Freemasonry in general, and my experience of it in particular. Unfortunately, I haven't heard anything back (as of 8th July 2011). The offer still stands, though...

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

On votes, rules and resistance

Yesterday, for no doubt excellent reasons, the powers that be attempted to make an end run around the constitution which had been set up for the Dioceses Commission. It didn't work. There's more on the General Synod Blog here if you are interested. The point that I did my best to hammer home in the debate is that if you have a set of procedures then you ought to follow them. If they prove themselves unfit for purpose then you change the procedures. What you don't do is circumvent them, because that weakens your whole system.

That was yesterday. Then today we have what looks on the surface like a similar situation. The Business Committee of General Synod is the body that decides Synod's agenda. It is mostly (I think) either directly or indirectly elected by Synod itself. The rules that govern it state that its Chair must be one of the six people elected from General Synod to the Archbishops' Council. One of these people is nominated by Archbishops' Council in consultation with the Appointments Committee, and the name sent to Synod for approval.

As things have fallen out this time round, the person in question is the Bishop of Dover. Needless to say, this has caused some muttering among those for whom a purple shirt often serves dual purpose as a red rag. One person has even congratulated me on what I said yesterday, and then gone on to say that 'something must be done' about the Bishop of Dover being Chair of the Business Committee. Given the amount of influence the House of Bishops already has upon the Synod Agenda I can't say I'm wild about the idea either, but my point yesterday still stands. There is always an argument from expediency for ignoring bits of the rules you don't like. It is very unwise to allow such arguments to prevail.

Anyway, what would normally be a synodical rubber stamp this afternoon to confirm the Bishop's appointment as Chair of the Business Committee turned instead into a debate, and as a result a procedural motion was put to adjourn, and it passed. The point of the adjournement was to avoid the situation of having an appointment rejected that had been proposed by one of the Archbishops in the presence of the person to be appointed. It has, of course, resulted in the ironic situation that it is now up to the Business Committee (acting chair, the Bishop of Dover), to decide when the proposal comes back...

I abstained on the question of adjournment. I think, although I am not quite certain, that if that motion had not gone through I would have voted in favour of the Bishop of Dover's appointment. It's the same point as I was making yesterday - the procedure for appointment was followed, and it gave a result that people didn't like. That's life. If there are enough people on Synod who don't want to see a Bishop chairing the Business Committee then they need to change the Synod Standing Orders to that effect.

However, in terms of what one might in rather grandiose fashion describe as Synod power politics, the last couple of days have turned out to be quite interesting. Synod - despite the fact that we are right at the beginning of the quinquennium - has been really rather feisty. There was a certain tension during the last synod over questions of authority and accountability, and a feeling occasionally that 'they' were making decisions in advance and just relying on Synod to roll over and do as it was told. It looks to me as though this has carried over into the new quinquennium. I do hope that 'they' (whoever they are) have taken note of the last couple of days. Attempts - whether real or imagined - to pre-empt decisions of the whole Synod, or assumptions that it will do as it is told, may well be greeted with rather more resistance than we have seen in the past.

Perhaps this hasn't been such a dull session after all...

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.