COMMENT: MAY 1998

SAINT GEORGE’S House, Windsor (Chairman, the Dean of Windsor; Vice-Chairman, the Duke of Edinburgh) which is a ‘residential centre to provide opportunity of study and discussion by clergy and laity’ (‘ecumenical and inter-faith stances enjoined by the Trust deed’) has been devoting itself rather single-mindedly of late to one project : the repeal of the Act of Synod.

In what is emerging as a pattern (September 1996; April 1997; September 1997; April 1998), the College has sponsored or hosted a series of conferences or consultations the conclusion, if not the express aim of which (judging from the published papers of the conferences in question) has been the radical revision or the ending of the Act. Indeed from the third of these consultations arose the motion in the Epping Forest Deanery Synod which will come before the Chelmsford Diocesan Synod in the Autumn for ‘the repeal of the Act of Synod by December 31 1999 at the latest’.

St. George’s has a reputation for hosting gatherings of the ecclesiastically great and good, among whom, no doubt, Prebendary Paul Avis, the convenor of the most recent meeting, is to be accounted; as is the writer, broadcaster and public relations consultant, Mrs. Christian Rees, whose ubiquity at these gatherings will surprise no one. This recent conference was conducted under the Chatham House rules (which, let the reader understand, would have rendered Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech ‘unattributable’).

As a matter of fact Mr. Avis’s consultation, which will report to the Archbishop of Canterbury shortly, seems to have been inconclusive. Judging from the rich crop of rumours which confidentiality inevitably engenders, Bishop Geoffrey Rowell and Dr. Robert Hannaford discharged themselves doughtily, and Bishop Christopher Hill defended his new opinions with less enthusiasm than might have been expected. Prebendary Avis himself gave a paper on the authority of diocesan bishops which one auditor described (unattributably) as ‘ultra-montane in the extreme’.

What everyone, at the Windsor conference and elsewhere, can be agreed upon is that the Act of Synod is due for an overhaul. It was a clumsy piece of work, which pace the tears of the Manchester bishops who greeted it with such emotion, intensified rather than diminished the ecclesiological problems it was designed to address.

At the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Council and College of Deans of Forward in Faith has produced a discussion document on the implications for the Act of Synod of the ordination of women to the episcopate. The paper was sent to the Archbishop in April, and will be publicly launched in July, to coincide with the General Synod and the Lambeth Conference.

Under the Faith House Rules there is little we can reveal about the paper at this stage, except of course, that where women bishops are concerned, it is against them.

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