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 General Synod Report 11 July 2009

Report on business from the General Synod at York University, Saturday 11 July 2009

Saturday at General Synod

The Bishop of Hulme gave a presentation on the report “Faithful Cities : Urban Life and Faith”.  The Bishop spoke of the need for the Church to continue its presence in urban areas as a sign of hope and he paid tribute to the clergy working in such parishes who are often undervalued, unsupported and poorly resourced.  He also drew attention to the deficiencies in training people to work in uncomfortable parishes and of the problems of continued parish amalgamations.

There followed a number of questions to which the Bishop responded.

The next two items followed from the Pilling Report on senior appointments and the government paper “The Governance of Britain”.

The Vacancy in Sufragan Sees Measure gained final approval.
This primarily amends the 1534 Act to allow that only one  name needs to be submitted to the crown when there is a vacancy.
It attempts also to create more open and transparent procedures.
Under the new Measure when a vacancy occurs in a Diocesan See the patronage of the Bishop will not pass to the crown but by statutory delegation will pass to whoever is appointed to perform the duties of the Bishop during the vacancy. This will have little difference in practice since this is what in effect happens at present.
Finally, if an incumbent leaves a parish to become a Diocesan Bishop the patronage of that parish passes for the next appointment to the crown.  This will no longer be the case, a change that was apparently first recommended in 1964.

The related Crown Benefices Measure allows for parish representatives to have a power of veto where the crown, Lord Chancellor or Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall are the patron.   This amounts to about 8% of all vacancies.

The Draft Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure has not been without controversy because of the proposal to transfer fees from belonging to an incumbent to belonging to a PCC and Diocesan Board of Finance.  At this revision stage various amendments were put to modify the proposed system.

One amendment that was carried removes the requirement intended that an incumbent consult someone in the Diocese before agreeing to waive fees.  The other four amendments were lost but the business had to be adjourned.

Financial business occupies the nearly four hours of business this afternoon.

First up was a presentation on Clergy Pensions.  The backdrop to the report is the general financial climate.  It was explained that in the UK there are 7,400 defined benefit pension schemes and 87% of these are in deficit to a total value of £179 billion.  The Church of England is amongst those in deficit.  Whereas in 2006 the assets of the scheme covered 77% of its liabilties by 2008 this had fallen to just 55%.  Therefore something radical must happen.  The current rate of pension contributions is nearly 40% of stipend, although this is closer to 25% of clergy remuneration as a whole because stipend does not account for housing.  The 40% figure can appear very high.  But one option is to increase the contributions to over 55% in order to cover the deficit.  The report presented to Synod considers various other options including increasing the pension age, years required for full pension and so on. These matters will be discussed at various levels in the church before decisions are reached.

A report on spending priorities for 2010 to 2015 was also introduced.  The aim of this is to look a the central expenditure of the Church, including all expenditure on training costs and to do so over a 5 year period in order to take strategic views.  Some of the proposals are very radical including shifting many areas of expenditure from the national to the Diocesesan or parish level.  The possibility of doing this with training would be a major change because it accounts for 44% of central expenditure.  However, it is likely to be resisted in some quarters because money has been used in the last 40 years as a tool of control.   For example, the independence of the evangelical colleges has proved particularly frustrating to some liberals who have sought to ‘bring them into line’. The idea that candidates and churches would find funding and enter into an arrangement with colleges directly has been anathema to the centralised command economy.

The Synod considered a report on the draft budget and apportionment for 2010 and voted separately on the main areas of expenditure:
Training for ministry £11,803,600.  This is down 1.9% because of the reduced number of people in training.  It had been expected that it would be 10% up.
Work of the central bodies £10,300,258.  Up 1.5% slightly less than originally intended.
Grants and provisions £1,535,450.  Down 8% primarily by cutting grants to ecumenical bodies (which had totalled close to £1 million).
Pension support for mission agencies £830,625.  Up 3.8%.
Support for housing for retired clergy etc.  £3,252,900.  Up 10.3%.
Overall the spending had been expected to be 6.6% up but mainly because of the reduction in ordinands it is up 0.4%.

A general approval debate was given to Additional Weekday Lectionary and Amendments to the Calendar, Lectionary and Collects.

The additional lectionary is intended for those places where there is a daily service of morning and evening prayer but where most of the congregation are visitors.  It has been felt that the existing lectionary is difficult for visitors to take at times if they just stumble into one service.  This new lectionary tries to select passages that some see as less difficult, to have a more clearly defined beginning and end (not just assuming the reading can end in mid story as it were), and for there to be some relation between New and Old Testament readings.  There was some criticism of these approaches and particularly because of the way in which some passages or books feature more than others.

The changes to calendar are to add some new commenorartions: Amy Carmichael, Paul Couturier, the Melanesian Brotherhood martyrs, Gregory Dix and George Bell.  Also to add Thomas Clarkson and Olauda Eguian to the names for the lesser festival relating to the abolition of the slave trade.

For evangelicals Dix in particular hardly commends himself as the man who seems to have largely invented the modern shape of the liturgy.  In his favour he did at least recognise that Cranmer’s liturgy is unsurpassed in giving liturgical expression to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  It is a shame that more churches that preach the great biblical doctrine do not understand how the liturgies they use tell a different story.

Synod returned to the Giving for Life report. After rejecting a further amendment from Clive Scowen the report was duly noted and approved.

First item for the evening was consideration of the Annual Report of the Archbishops’ Council.  There have been calls for a review into the work of the Council and also regular concerns expressed about centralisation.  However, it has to be said that the Council itself does not feel that it has much power.

To round off a day of legislation and finance the Synod received a presentation on the work of the Church Commissioners.  The Commissioners, being answerable to Parliament are not accountable to the Synod although they provide nearly one fifth of the annual income of the Church of England parishes, dioceses and national bodies.  It was reported in passing that Peter Mandelson has recently been appointed as one of the six “State Commissioners”.
The Commissioners reported that they felt they had prepared reasonably well for the financial turmoil of last year though when ‘the storm’ struck they had not perhaps responded as well as they  might.  There was some speculation about where the general financial environment might go but overall it is expected that there may be a drop in capital during 2009 of up to 10%.  Because of ‘smoothing’ arrangements this should not affect disbursements immediately.
In the longer term questions were raised about what the Commissioners should be responsible for.  The questions was raised again, as it was a few years ago, as to whether they should finance Bishops, Archdeacons, Deans and Canons. When it was proposed a few years ago that these costs be met from Dioceses so that the Commissioners can concentrate on supporting parochial ministry and mission there was considerable opposition from a few Bishops.  It has to be admitted that the Commissioners did derive part of their money from the estates of Bishops and Deans, the remainder coming largely from the Queen Anne’s Bounty.   Most of the money is now a pension fund.

David Phillips 11/7/09


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