SYNOD SPECTATOR

Vol. 1 No. 1

[This is the first of a number of Supplements on various topics which will from time to time form the centre four pages of New Directions]

A CERTAIN NOTORIETY

Surprised to find herself the youngest member of a Synod accused of superannuation, Helen Jarvis reflects on the experience

The road to General Synod began for me in 1992 when Rochester held its usual residential Diocesan Synod, but included a group of young people among the number. One of the recommendations that emerged was that young people, where eligible, should be encouraged to play their part in the government and leadership of their local churches. It was because of this, that I joined my PCC and later, Deanery and Diocesan Synods. The idea of standing for General Synod never occurred to me. By this time I was studying at Kent University for a PhD in Theology and my search for books led me to Bishop Colin Buchanan who, on hearing of my involvement at Diocesan level, suggested I put myself forward as a General Synod candidate. I did not realise, at the time, quite how much was involved in the election process and guessed that the step from Diocesan to ‘General Synod could be likened to that from Deanery to Diocesan.

With the support of my family, friends and vicar, I decided to stand, thinking that the whole process would be a valuable experience, regardless of the result. I duly sent in my nomination form, wrote my election address and attended the hustings. It was these that worried me the most, not because I had to make a speech but because candidates have to respond so quickly to a variety of questions. However, they went well and I felt a sense of achievement once they were over - when I heard the final result, I couldn't believe that I had been elected!

Since that day, I have spoken to a number of people who ask me why I stood, yet my reasons are no different from those of the other candidates - we all stood because we care. As for why I was elected, I don't believe it was simply to get youngsters on the Synod (in fact, I know some chose not to vote for me specifically because of my age). Moreover, young people stood in other dioceses and were not elected. I think that my 22-year interest and involvement with the church played the vital part, firstly as an altar server and chorister and later as a member of the local Education Committee, PCC, Deanery and Diocesan Synods. It is important to realise that I was judged on the same basis as all the other candidates and had to show the same level of commitment, understanding of relevant issues and ability to make a significant contribution to the life of the General Synod. As young people were standing in other dioceses, I didn't know that I would be the youngest member, neither did I realise that the media would see it as such a novelty. I was happy therefore to leave the responsibility of handling the calls to the Communications Unit at Church House (since when things have been much quieter).

The introductory afternoon was a great help in understanding how Synod works and it gave new members the chance to meet and talk with others who were there for the first time. The service in Westminster Abbey and the ceremony at Church House were very exciting and I have to admit that once we got down to the business of the first session, it was a bit of an anticlimax. I had not expected General Synod to be so very different from Diocesan Synod, yet it seemed so much more parliamentary. I also felt that I had to be in the Assembly Hall for the whole time, whereas the more experienced members knew it was wise to take some breaks. By Wednesday, however, I had adjusted my expectations and really began to enjoy Synod. As each day passed, I valued more and more the opportunity to listen to the debates and vote on issues which I felt were vitally important for the Church. Equally, as the days passed, I met so many more new people. I loved the fact that you could pop into the Hoare Memorial Hall for a cup of tea and just sit at a table with people you didn't know and be welcomed as a friend. I can't claim to remember many names, but I certainly recall faces and conversations. It always amused me when I was asked if I was a new member (as this was one of the opening questions to just about every conversation) and I had to say that I wouldn't have been eligible to stand five years ago. You should have seen the puzzled look on their faces as they worked it out. On the other hand, some members did stop me on my travels, take a hard look and then ask if I was "the young one" they had heard about.

Now I look forward to February, and one thing I have learned is that travelling everyday is not ideal. Next time I intend to stay in London. I have been asked when I am likely to make my maiden speech and I think that York is a possibility, either concerning the National Youth Work Report or initiation. Until then, I must return to my thesis so I have something to show my professor before the end of the month and convince him that Synod and study really can go happily together.

Helen Jarvis is a post graduate student of the University of Kent.

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IS THAT ALL?

Four new members of the General Synod come to terms with it intimidating ways and humdrum procedures

Mary Judkins (Wakefield) writes:

People who know me realise that I have a penchant for elephants. I therefore felt very much at home in the Assembly Hall at Church House when I arrived for my first Group of Sessions of the General Synod and spotted two of them on a wall panel! However that was during the introductory afternoon prior to the official opening by Her Majesty the Queen, and the Hall was empty.

Once the business of this, the Sixth General Synod of the Church of England got underway, I felt very lost. The information guide sent to the newly elected members helped, but what goes on has to be seen to be believed. Those members re-elected to General Synod certainly knew what to do - and did.

People from my home parish ‘briefed' me before I set off for London - I was not to be afraid to speak out if I wanted to do so. The first debate was barely underway when I knew that I had to make my maiden speech as soon as possible.

I duly filled in the white form indicating that I wanted to speak against the Turnbull Report ‘Working as one Body'. I was awake till the early hours composing what to say, drafting and redrafting, highlighting my main points. I sat for nearly three hours waiting to see whether I would be called. The physical exercise of getting to my feet every time a speaker finished, in order that I might catch the Chairman's eye, was wearing, let alone the nervous energy I was using. But finally ...

I have never known five minutes go so fast. Once I started to speak though, I was confident in what I had to say, knowing that I had the backing of many people who had elected me to the House of Laity. I was still ‘on a high' when I got ready for bed at nearly midnight.

Will I speak again? Yes, if I am given the opportunity. Why? Because this is the only way that the true voice of the ‘person-in-the-pew' will be heard.

Was it worth it? Yes. As I said in the opening remarks of my speech, quoting the Bishop of Durham, "Leadership involves taking risks and making mistakes." How else are we to learn and others learn with us?

David Wilkinson, (Derby) writes:

Coming into General Synod with no experience of a Deanery or a Diocesan Synod, I am not sure what I expected. There was a most impressive opening service in Westminster Abbey with the Queen present, the sort of occasion that you may see on TV, but it was moving to take part in it oneself. If only the C of E could organise its affairs with the efficiency of its high profile services - though it must be said that the loudspeaker system went on the blink. (Was that symbolic?)

I liked the way members can sit almost anywhere in the Assembly Hall; you never know who you'll be sitting next to. The standard of debating was high, and there were always plenty of people wanting to speak, so it was not easy to get called. By contrast the method of voting is archaic - raising one's hand and holding it up while the officials count. At least you can tell which way other members are voting.

But when you have to vote on a series of amendments, some of which seem to have only peripheral relevance to the original motion, it is not easy to work out which way one should vote. I kept my eyes on two old hands I knew, and then found them voting at variance. So perhaps we all find it confusing. Having to vote on the Turnbull report on the second day of Synod was particularly vexing, especially when one of the issues was the speed of implementation, and it was not clear (to a new member) what further opportunities there were going to be for discussion.

In the debate on Something to Celebrate many people were profoundly unhappy with the lack of an adequate theological framework for the working party's comments on the family. This provoked the Archbishop of Canterbury to make a clear statement on the difference between marriage and cohabiting, which was good to hear. But in the debate which followed there were powerful emotional appeals by Bishops, and perhaps these were what won the day. But I was glad to see that the Laity, when voting by houses, were much more suspicious of the report than the clergy. I take this as a good sign that they will take an independent line during this Synod.

The debates on the Inner City and Fairer World Trade were most informative and I was glad to learn that the large quantities of (free) tea and coffee that are available in Church House are all fairly traded goods. I enjoyed it much more than I expected (the Synod and the coffee), but it could be a lonely experience at first if you did not know many people.

Alison Ruoff, (London) writes:

The next question was whether or not to wear a hat for Her Majesty. Having successfully won through in the election, the question of dress seemed to assume a disproportionate importance, but I suspect that this was because I really had very little idea of what happened at General Synod.

However when a succession of large, heavy brown envelopes from Church House started thudding on to my doormat, thoughts of hats rapidly slid down my list of priorities. "How do I manage to find the time to read everything?" I thought. "You don't," said a wise owl from a previous quinquennium, "be selective."

"But how?" I asked. "Oh, you'll get the hang of it." Well, I skim-read most of the reports and read the conclusions and recommendations rather more carefully, but I did find it hard to get up enthusiasm for the thick tome on standing orders and procedure.

Suddenly, while ploughing through one of the reports, a paragraph hit me straight between the eyes. It was about lay office holders and the reasons why they might be disqualified from holding office. This paragraph suggested that people with a serious criminal record, for example child abuse, should become eligible to stand as Churchwardens. It caused me to pull on my Magistrate's hat, and also my ‘Sense and Sensibility' hat come to that. Surely this should not be? I knew that I was going to have to do something. I would have to speak, but how to go about it?

The adrenalin was pumping and I was beginning to feel decidedly ill. Who cared about a hat anyway? Navy coat, navy hat with a bit of ribbon and some net. I felt rather splendid as we paraded down the aisle of Westminster Abbey. Her Majesty wore a most becoming hat and coat in a delicate shade of powder blue.

My amendment was on the order paper, which I was assured would guarantee I would be called to speak. But the standing orders were so complex. What would I do if some wise old owl jumped to his feet with the cry of "Point of order, Mr Chairman," just because I had made a hash of something. The whole thing was turning into a nightmare.

The first afternoon was a blessing in that I began to get the hang of how business was conducted and when one is supposed to leap to one's feet. Tuesday night and it was down to speech writing. Well, I hadn't had time with all the busyness at home, and anyway it had been in my head verbatim for days, maybe weeks. But now I could add something about the Nine O'Clock service. Procedures didn't seem to have been very effective there and here we were proposing to slacken them even more!

The next morning dawned, but before Synod, my husband and I were attending the National Prayer Breakfast over the road from Church House at 7.30 am. At 9.20 the speaker, Chris Akabusi was still in full flow, so I crept out. I needed to find some friendly supportive "wise owls" to sit beside me, just in case. The debate got underway. I stood and sat. I stood and sat and then I was called. I pressed the microphone button, said, "Alison Ruoff, 431, London" and began. The green light was on. I was OK; it was rather fun; I was quite enjoying myself, and then the amber light came on. I finished. I sat down and I became aware that other members were clapping loudly. I'd missed bits out, but I guess they'd got the gist!

The debate continued and then, "Would Mrs Ruoff move her amendment?" I stood up and said rather mechanically, "I beg to move." I was relieved to see that the amendment was passed and that the Revision committee will have another look at the offending clause. The rest of my first General Synod was thoroughly fascinating though strenuous; but already I'm looking forward to February.

Rev Dr Jonathan Gibbs (Europe) writes:

Asking Synod members to enter Church House from Dean's Yard was certainly likely to impress the newcomer. The effect was achieved not just through the architectural setting but also by the array of personnel who hovered around the foyer checking security passes and ushering the uninitiated in the right direction within this somewhat confusing edifice. Perhaps it was a parable of the organisation into which we were about to become incorporated - an imposing façade beyond which it was not easy to penetrate, and within whose walls one might easily spend a great deal of time walking round in circles.

Coming from the Diocese in Europe, where we are particularly aware of the place of the Anglican Church as a minority community, this impression of strength and permanence is one which leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable. I revelled as much as anyone else in the grandeur of the service in Westminster Abbey and was warmed and delighted by Her Majesty's address to the new Synod. But is there not a danger of kidding ourselves that we are much stronger and more permanent within the nation's life (not to mention the rest of the continent) than is really the case? It is a danger we will have to watch in the next five years.

Turning to the business of the Synod, a number of things remain with me. Firstly, Synod was spirited enough to tell those who brought business to it, that it would not deal kindly with matters that were ill thought out in either practical or theological terms. This was clearly demonstrated when Synod debated the Board of Social Responsibility's report Something to Celebrate.

Some of the reporting of this debate has verged on the dishonest, especially in claiming that the vote to "take note" of the report placed the Church's seal of approval on its contents. Nothing could be further from the truth. The mood of the Synod, in line with the Archbishop of Canterbury's excellent and stirring speech, was clearly to say to the BSR that its failure to give an adequate and well-researched theological basis to its report was unacceptable. Only concern that the subject itself should not be lost from the Synod's agenda for the next five years, I believe, prevented the report from being thrown out altogether.

This was potentially a water-shed debate for the Church. revealing a groundswell of opinion demanding that what the Church says and does must be grounded in well argued theology which pays full respect to Scripture, to Christian tradition and to the best insights of contemporary scholarship. Theology will have to come out of the backroom in this Synod, and play its part in shaping the mind of the Church in the face of the very difficult issues which undoubtedly lie ahead.

Finally, two further reflections.

Firstly the Synod has begun to take seriously the need for organisational reform, as witnessed by the response to the Turnbull Report, though there remain significant questions, especially concerning the accountability and responsiveness of the new structures to the concerns of churches and Christians at the grass roots.

Secondly it is very clear from Synod's proceedings that the real power to shape decisions about the future of the Church lies elsewhere in the Church's myriad of committees and boards, and with those who decide on Synod's agenda long before we meet.

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OUT OF THE GOLDFISH BOWL

George Austin, a seasoned synod hand, feels the excitement of a new freedom

After twenty-five long years swimming round and round, often aimlessly, in the synodical goldfish bowl, it is an odd feeling to have been plucked out of it by one of my fellow archdeacons. I have yet to come to terms with the manner of my departure, though it is nothing new in church life. I have often been at the receiving end of such activity, and know only too well that church politics is at least as dirty a business as the goings-on in and out of Parliament.

How often in the life of the General Synod have those of us who do not mind being bloody, bold and resolute, been encouraged - nay begged - by colleagues (especially episcopal ones) to raise our heads above the parapet, only to find that the promised cavalry charge has been reduced to a one-horse race? And how often has personal abuse been substituted for reasoned argument? As I observed the November Sessions from the press gallery, it was when a fine speech from Canon John Stanley was ridiculed by a member who, because he always raises a laugh, believes himself to be funny (though the laughs are usually at someone else's expense), that I began to be thankful that I was no longer a member. Never again would I have to take part in that sort of debate.

And what of the occasions when ambiguous motions have been presented, so that pestilential and radical minorities can afterwards claim that words which had one meaning for their proposer in fact meant victory for the opposite camp (especially where the word 'camp' is used advisedly)?

So rather to my surprise I am feeling, like John Wesley, strangely warmed - or at least strangely liberated. I have, in those words etched in gold around the ceiling of the Synod chamber, 'endured the burden and heat of the day'. I once was lost and now am found, was slave and now am free. Michael Brown of the Yorkshire Post described how an earnest evangelical once found me drinking coffee in an otherwise deserted Hoare Memorial Hall and upbraided me for avoiding an important debate: 'You don't take Synod seriously enough, George.' I am supposed to have replied, 'I'm not here to take Synod seriously. I'm here to prevent others getting on Synod who might take it seriously.' I cannot remember the incident though it is probably true.

But the General Synod has over the years taken itself too seriously. It has assumed that it is the centre of church life, the most important activity which a church member can undertake, and with such an arrogance has been no good servant of the Church of England. It is not in reality the captain on the bridge of the ship but should rather be the man with the oil-can who makes sure the engines and bearings run smoothly.

Worse still, it has assumed the authority to make any change its wilder activist members may have on offer. It has not (yet) of course attempted to alter the formularies of the Church of England, but a leading lawyer member has said categorically that if the Synod determined that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead then this would be the doctrine of the church. It can hardly be credible or possible that those who bought into being either synodical government or the Worship and Doctrine Measure had such radical change in mind.

It is the electorate which is the heart of the problem. Any parish priest knows that the Annual Meeting will usually elect to the deanery synod those who are prepared to stand, who know they must endure boring meetings in cold church halls in the depth of winter. A deanery synod was once defined as sixty people wishing they were somewhere else. So it is not difficult for the activist for whatever cause to sit on a deanery synod and thus to vote in the general election.

Since the thirteenth century there has been universal suffrage for the clergy electors, who in fact elect to Convocation and not to the General Synod, but often they avoid the privilege by simply not voting. And so far as archdeacons are concerned, theirs in a little rotten borough where two or three appoint one of their number to be the member for the diocese. If the Synod's pretentious assumption of authority to do anything it wishes is justified, then there is no excuse for the archdeacons' constituency. Only if the Synod's main task is properly seen as oiling wheels can it be right for one archdeacon to represent each diocese. For one of the major synodical tasks is legislation and it is largely the archdeacons' task to administer church law.

The constituency of Deans and Provosts cannot claim even such a justification, with forty-three electing fifteen of their number; while rather more suffragan bishops elect even fewer. All, or almost all, are establishment men, since for many years few bishops have dared to appoint anyone who is not a paler shadow of their own pale selves. Add together the unelected Bishops, those with tiny constituencies and the possible co-options, and over 41% of the non-lay members are wholly or partially unrepresentative.

Given the need for too many years for liberal conformity if such preferment was and is to be obtained in all but a few dioceses, and given that so many bishops will listen more to non-parochial advisers than to the voice of the pews, it is little wonder that the General Synod has been the heart and the cause of the dis-ease presently eating away at the Church of England.

No wonder I feel liberated to be exiled from the synodical snake-pit. But I shall look back on some good things achieved. Especially I shall remember serving the working parties which improved pension arrangements and removed most of the worries about housing for retired clergy. And the eighteen years on the Church Commissioners, where I found that most of what we did was, perhaps surprisingly, more concerned with the mission of the Church and the pastoral care of the clergy than anything on the General Synod. I only regret that I did not have more time to help deal with the scandal of episcopal housing - or rather the expectations which some in the purple cherish to live more like the landed gentry than servants of the servants of God.

And although I intensely disliked the meetings of the Crown Appointments Commission, I do believe the present Commission had begun to change for the better the kind of bishop appointed. Three places are vacant on the Commission, and it will be an indication of the character of the new Synod when the by-elections have taken place. Interestingly it is the so-called Open Synod liberals, who have in the past been the dominant group in Synod and who set so much of the agenda, who now claim to feel marginalised. As one said to me, 'I am in an oppressed minority now, and I don't like it.' If evangelicals are at last the powerful group, it will be interesting to see if they now misuse that power as the liberals did. Or will they remember that traditional Catholics share their love for scripture and concern for Christian morality, and be sensitive to the points at which they differ. For the good of the Church I hope they will.

But I shall be outside it all, I suspect with increasing gratitude to those whose mischief removed me. No more shall I sleep through the worst of the debates; no more shall I have to trek out of the chamber when certain people rise to make the same speech they have made countless times before; no more shall I hear that call to vote which so well sums up the Synod's apparent purpose and certain achievement in the Church, that clarion call by the Legal Secretary: 'DIVIDE'.

George Austin is Archdeacon of York

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