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 General Synod Report 27 February 2007

Report on business from the General Synod in Church House Westminster Tuesday 27 February 2007

Clergy Pensions
First business of the day was a presentation on Clergy Pensions followed by debate on a report which contained nine proposals. The main thrust of the proposals were to maintain the current defined benefit scheme on a similar basis as at present.

One of the proposals, which was unopposed, means that in future clergy will have to work for 40 years, rather than 37, to gain the full pension.

  • Three of the proposals were opposed and various amendments sought to remove or modify them.
    Proposal 4 was that pension increases be pegged to inflation rather than clergy stipend levels (the National Minimum Stipend to be precise).
  • Proposal 5 changes the limit to increases in pension after retirement. At present if inflation runs at more than 5% then the increase in pensions is limited to 5%. The proposal is to change this to 3.5%.
  • Proposal 8 has to do with how money saved by some of the proposals might be distributed to Dioceses.

After debate all amendments were lost and the report was approved.

Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure

Late in the morning Synod began debating various items in relation to the new Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure. This package included Draft Amending Canon 27 and Draft Vacancy in See Committees (Amendment) Regulation 200-.

Initial business was brisk with a range of uncontroversial amendments being brought in at this late stage. At about 12.15pm Synod began the final approval debate and although this could have dragged on for a long time it was over within 30 minutes. The final approval vote was passed in a division by houses with just one person voting against (they had said why there were voting against in the debate but I forget what reason they gave).

A couple of following items were dealt with as first business in the afternoon.

The new Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure will now be referred to the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament.

Clergy Terms of Service
Afternoon business began with consideration of the new Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure. This was a general approval debate meaning that after the vote (which was passed) the Measure will be picked over by a Revision Committee before being brought back to Synod at least twice.

There were a lot of concerns expressed about the most controversial proposal in the Measure - the transfer of clergy houses to the Diocesan Parsonages Board. Synod had in the past voted not to do this, but it seemed to creep back, somehow, and is completely irrelevant to the main purpose of the Measure. It looks as though, with plenty of representations to the Revision Committee, this proposal will be dropped.

With all the focus on the clergy house there was a danger that the removal of clergy freehold would not attract the attention it ought. Nevertheless, again, this was raised by speaker after speaker and is clearly an issue that is not going to go away. One speaker said that the proposals were like a Trojan Horse. The original impetus was to give security to clergy without it. Somewhere along the line other changes were brought in which are not necessary. All this is changing the nature of the Church of England in a subtle way which is quite difficult to pin down.

The draft measure was approved, but with a clear indication that some aspects will need to be changed.

The Synod then voted on the Regulations which go with the Measure. Amongst other things these set down the conditions of service for clergy. The Regulations were likewise committed to Revision Committee without any apparent votes against.

The final item in relation to Clergy Terms is Amending Canon 29 which would be a necessary consequence of the main proposals being passed. This was passed to the Revision Committee without any debate being necessary.

Marriage Measure
The Draft Marriage Measure is mainly concerned on allowing couples to marry without a special license in circumstances, which they could not at present. In particular a couple would be required to demonstrate that they have a connection with the church at which they wish to marry. The concept involved is called ‘qualifying connection’.

The regulations appear to have become much more complicated and there were 17 amendments tabled to these proposals. Pete Broadbent gained much applause for arguing that the new proposals are unworkable.

The tenor of the contributions was dissatisfaction with the proposals but the Chairman of the Revision Committee responded that the Committee had been seeking to reflect the concerns raised by the Synod in the previous debate.

As the debate moved on Synod went through one of those peculiar moments that seems to grip it once in a while. First, was the fact that the Synod had voted for something in the past and a Revision Committee had worked on it. Then there was the feeling, voiced in the debate, that members of Synod were regretting that decision. The more this was stated the more it seemed to become accepted, though it was never tested as being the mood of the majority. Some people did try to achieve an adjournment of the debate in order to allow for further consideration of the whole package but the Chairman ruled that this would not achieve the result desired. Finally, sitting in the gallery were folk waiting to present and witness a presentation on 'Fresh Expressions' which was beginning to look like it would never happen. In the end the chairman of the Business Committee, Kay Garlicke, moved the insertion of a rubric which allowed the Synod to suspend the Marriage Measure debates and move to Fresh Expressions. By this point two amendments had been passed which allow for the marriage of parents and grandparents in a church to be considered a 'demonstrable connection' allowing the children/grandchildren the right to marry in a parish church - if the final measure ever gets through. Presumably the Synod will attempt to return to this business tomorrow or Thursday.

The New Chamber
Having spoken to various people I have found no-one, of any churchmanship, who likes the new revised chamber at Church House. The pews have been replaced by chairs, the floor has been levelled, and everything that was once fixed has been made moveable. All this makes sense because the chamber is now used by the General Synod for only 4 days a year. The Corporation of Church House lets out the room for conferences and clearly needs greater flexibility, but the new layout is by no means as useful for the Synod.

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