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 General Synod Report 8 July 2006

Report on business from the General Synod in York

Saturday 8 July 2006

The first full day of business at the General Synod in York began with an address by the Archbishop of the Province. John Sentamu ranged widely in his talk touching on matters of human rights, sexuality and inter-faith issues.

There followed two relatively mundane items, Church Accounting Regulations and the appointment of two new members of the Archbishops’ Council. The Bishop of Portsmouth has stepped down from the Council due to ill health and Peter Toyne has retired. In their place were appointed Professor John Craven (Vice-Chancellor of Portsmouth University) and Philip Fletcher (Chairman of OFFWAT) were appointed. Michael Chamberlayne, due to retire at the end of the year was appointed for a further year because of the number of financial issues, including pensions, which are being faced at present.

The Synod then devoted just over two hours to debate on women bishops. The motion aimed to assert that the consecration of women bishops is a legitimate theological development. Despite many debates in the past no such decision had yet been taken. There had been an attempt to argue that the resolution constituted in itself a change in the doctrine of the Church of England and therefore would be ‘Article 7 Business’. Thirty-one members of Synod had petitioned the Archbishops to this effect but had been turned down. The practical effect of this would have been that the motion would have required a 2/3rds majority in each of the three houses of Synod (Bishops, Clergy and Laity). As will be explained below if this had been an Article 7 debate the motion would have been lost.

Two matters appeared to raise their head repeatedly in the debate. First was the recent address which Cardinal Walter Kasper delivered to the House of Bishops. One of the main anglo-Catholic objections has been that the Church of England does not have the authority to make a decision on this matter without the Roman Catholics and Orthodox. The time devoted to Kasper indicates that many are sensitive to this argument. Second was the assertion that despite the number of debates the Synod has still not engaged properly with the Rochester Report on the theological issues.

The comments by two Bishops warrant mention. First was Peter Forster (Chester) who asserted that Synod had left this as an open issue in the early 1990s and that part of the role of a Bishop has to do with unity and that in the present environment the consecration of women would create disunity.

Tom Wright (Durham) who appeared to described himself as an ‘open evangelical’ attempted to support his views from Scripture. He argued (as he had done in a recent letter in Churchman) that Mary Magdalene was an apostle as was Junia (possibly mentioned in Romans). He deduced that these things justified women Bishops – this despite the fact that the early Christians did not see it this way. He also argued that in 1 Timothy chapter 2 when Paul says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” he was instructing that women should study at home. Both these points were refuted later in the debate by Angus Macleay.

There 'wrecking motions' one from the Bishop of Chichester and another from David Houlding both of which were lost.

The Synod voted by houses on the motion with the following result:

  In favour Against    
Bishops 31 9 77% 23%
Clergy 134 42 76% 24%
Laity 123 68 64% 36%

Therefore, there were more than 1/3rd of the laity voting against. The motion was passed but had it been final approval on legislation it would have failed. This fires a significant warning shot for the likely success of legislation within the lifetime of the present Synod.

The main business of the afternoon was consideration of the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure. This had developed in a number of details by the revision process. Consideration of the Measure had to be taken in a large part clause by clause but there were a number of amendments attempted. Most significant of these seems to be an amendment put by Andrew Presland which was passed. This removes the need of a Bishop to gain the consent of the Diocesan Pastoral Committee (now to be called the Pastoral and Mission Committee) for a Mission Initiative. However the amendment does require that the Bishop gain the consent of the leader or leaders (or the proposed leader or leaders) of the Initiative.

Some of the less exciting business of the day:

  • The application of the Clergy Discipline Measure to the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Guernsey does not have PCCs and a clergyman on the island cannot be tried within the English legal system so it needs its own law.
  • Parochial Fees Order.
  • Changes to the constitution of the Diocese of Europe.

The evening was taken up with proposed Draft Marriage Measure. The main plank of this is to allow for a much broader range of people to be married in a parish church. Details of this have been reported elsewhere.

 

 

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