25/02/2016

Views from the floor of Synod

We asked our lay and clergy representatives for their reflections on the highs and lows of General Synod's first full-length meeting since its inauguration in November 2015.

Reflection from Revd Kate Wharton, clergy representative
All the conversations around the Renewal and Reform agenda are really important. That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to stand for Synod this time, as I think these conversations around simplification, and money, and training, and resourcing the church for the future, are hugely important to us all. It’s something which will run throughout this entire term of Synod and has the potential to really impact how we do church. I think the session I enjoyed most was the one on evangelism. We spent the first half of the morning in small groups, looking at 3 questions:
  1. what was your own story of coming to faith;
  2. when was a time you have been excited by sharing your faith with someone;
  3. what are the issues/barriers around sharing faith in your context.
We were in very varied groups and it was fascinating to look at these issues together and get to know one another better. We then spent the second half of the morning hearing from the Evangelism Task Group around various issues relating to evangelism, and then we had a discussion on the topic.

I was lucky enough to get to speak twice at Synod. I had planned my maiden speech for the evangelism discussion, and was delighted to be called (possibly because of the not-so-subtle orange jumper I wore!) I spoke in support of the report, especially the part about urban evangelism, and also highlighted the upcoming urban evangelism conference at Bishopthorpe. The next day I hadn’t decided in advance to speak, but during the debate around the Diocesan motion on the impact of benefit sanctions, I decided to speak in support of an amendment calling on the government to research the impact benefit sanctions are having on people. This time my speech was hastily written during the debate but I was lucky to get to speak again.

A challenge is staying present throughout – mentally and physically! Most days Synod meets from 9:15-1:00 and from 2:30-7:00. During that time there are no breaks (although of course you can leave to go to the loo or get a drink whenever you like and then come back in again). It’s hard to concentrate for all that time though, and really stick with it and engage in the discussions. It’s also easy to do too much – there are ‘fringe’ meetings during every available meal time and you could find you didn’t ever have five minutes spare – sometimes it’s ok not to do everything (I had to tell myself!).

The opportunities are huge – to be involved in shaping the policy and procedures and future direction of our church. Some things we discuss seem fairly small; others are completely huge. Some are fairly straightforward; others are massively controversial. But to have a place at the table, and a voice in the debates, is a massive privilege and one I’m very grateful for. It’s also great fun meeting lots of new people!
Reflection from Dr David Martlew, lay representative
A high point was to listen to the Archbishop of Canterbury introducing the report of the Evangelism Task Group. For him, evangelism was clearly the core business of the Church of England, not an optional extra: not just an 'app' but the 'operating System'! An imperative that every congregation can respond to, each in its own characteristic way.

For me, a later debate on funeral fees rather missed the point - funeral ministry should be part of our outreach, serving the communities in which our churches are set, meeting people at their point of need.
A low point was during the debate on the impact of the sanctions which have become part of our Benefits system. To hear how mechanically these sanctions have been applied and the devastation caused to people's lives was harrowing. By supporting food banks, the church is throwing a lifeline to vulnerable people failed by a shortfall of compassion in a system intended to help.

Clearly I have much to learn, but I'm encouraged by what I have seen and experienced thus far.
Reflection from Debra Walker, lay representative
It was refreshing to see so many new people on General Synod, many of whom are still 'finding their feet'. However, there were were a fair number of well articulated 'maiden speeches' throughout the session which was hugely encouraging.

It was also our first opportunity to meet together in our new discussion groups. The intention is that we will stay together in these groups for the five year term of this Synod. It is always interesting to have opportunity to meet in smaller groups and discuss issues at a personal level with other Christians from diverse backgrounds and I am looking forward to exploring many issues with my own group over the coming five years.

I particularly enjoyed the debate on the report from the evangelism task group and was proud that such an important debate was led by our own Diocese and presented by Bishop Paul. It was also great to hear about the 'Everton' experience in a speech by Kate Wharton. It is fantastic that Liverpool Diocese are fully engaged and helping to lead the way in such an important part of mission.

Being married to a Scot I was pleased when the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland addressed the Synod, and I certainly welcome the report commiting us to closer commitment and relationship with the Church of Scotland. I was however, a little dismayed that in the process of forging better links with the Church of Scotland we had somehow managed to find ourselves at odds with the Episcopal Church of Scotland! At least by the end of the debate I felt we had found a way to continue in Christian fellowship with both Scottish Churches.

Overall this group of sessions was interesting, challenging and inspiring and I am looking forward to the July meeting in York. 
Reflection from Chris Pye, lay representative
This second short group of sessions had the feel that it was marking time until the July meeting in York when we would spend two days discussing human sexuality. Nevertheless, we did discuss some important issues. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave an inspiring address as part of a presentation on Evangelism in which our own Bishop Paul made a significant contribution. We heard that the overly strict application of benefit sanctions, with no room for officials to use discretion, caused extreme and unnecessary suffering. A debate on a diocesan motion from Worcester about the setting of fees for heating and a verger at weddings and funerals at national rather than at parish level was overwhelmingly defeated, perhaps, a recognition that there is no such thing as an average parish!
Reflection from Maggie Swinson, lay representative
Ttwo other parts of the agenda stood out for me: the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Address on the gathering of Primates in Canterbury in January and the debate on blood and organ donation.
 
The Archbishop’s address about the Anglican Communion was of particular interest because I am the lay representative for the Church of England on the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) which has up to three representatives from each Province, and we will be meeting in April. Although in recent years a number of Provinces of the Communion have not attended Primates and other meetings, all have attended the meetings of the ACC.  The news that the Communion was not only intact after the January meeting but that the Primates had committed themselves afresh to walking together, in the full recognition that this would be challenging, was very positive. However, the outcome of the Primates meeting will without doubt influence the ACC meeting - how is yet to be seen.
 
When our business finished early, we were able to debate a Diocesan Synod motion on blood and organ donation. This is something that has been a no-brainer for me since I was a teenager and I have carried a donor card since I was 17 (at which age I had to have parental permission to do so!) and I first gave blood when 18 (which was then the minimum age for donation). The debate highlighted that actually this is something we should seriously consider teaching about in church as part of stewardship. Of course there are individuals in all our churches who cannot donate for various reasons, but that makes it all the more important that those of us who can do. It struck me that when Paul writes ‘I appeal to you therefore, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, wholly and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship’, the offering of our bodies through donation is part of that worship which we should consider as seriously as the offering of time and money.
 
So, I will be looking for an opportunity to share my thinking about donation with the church, and will be praying for all those who will attend the ACC and for the future of the Communion.

News & Events

General Synod February 2016

Full details of this session are on the Church of England website.