Report on the July 2014 Sessions of General Synod in York
Women Bishops Measure (GS 1925B)
I’m sure you are aware that the final vote enabling women to become bishops was taken at the July 2014 sessions of General Synod and that Synod voted in favour of the Measure with a significant majority. A two-thirds majority was needed in each house. This was achieved in all three houses. The voting figures were:-
House of Bishops Yes 37 No 2 Abstentions 1 (93%)
House of Clergy Yes 162 No 25 Abstentions 4 (83%)
House of Laity Yes 152 No 45 Abstentions 5 (77%)
Nationally the Dioceses had also given their overwhelming support for the Measure with its supporting House of Bishops statement and Grievance Procedure - ‘The Package’. Unfortunately the Diocese of Europe was unable to convene a Synod to get their results to the Returning Officer in time. It was generally acknowledged that the facilitated discussions in the previous synods had dramatically changed the atmosphere to one of accommodating those seeing the package from a different perspective.
The Measure will be debated in Parliament early in the Autumn Sessions and then pass to the Queen for her signature. General Synod is then recalled for a short November Session to complete the necessary legislative processes. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York will then announce the date from which it will be possible for women to be appointed to the Episcope. The announcement of the name of the first woman to be appointed as a bishop could be made before Christmas! Her ordination would take place in 2015.
Those who are struggling, on theological grounds, with the concept of women bishops are assured that their sacramental and pastoral care will be delegated to an appropriate male bishop.
Monday, 14 July was a momentous day in the history of the CofE.
The Women Bishop’s Measure certainly wasn’t the only significant debate on the very full July 2014 agenda.
Additional Texts for Holy Baptism (GS 1958)
Concern had been raised, by the Liverpool Diocesan Synod, about the inaccessibility of parts of the Holy Baptism liturgy from Common Worship. The prayer over the water and the wording of the promises are particularly difficult for families who have no church background. Simpler draft texts have been prepared and are at present being trialled. These will be returned to Synod for further discussion when they have been evaluated. These new texts are not designed to replace the present Common Worship texts but to offer additional alternative options. They were generally favourably received.
Covenants between the Armed Forces and Local Communities (GS 1960)
It was felt that the commitment of those who serve in the Armed Forces demands a reciprocal obligation from the Nation to ensure that their families are not disadvantaged. The service parent can be away from home for many months at a time and be serving in difficult and dangerous situations. This leaves the parent at home making all the routine family decisions. Those living in Service accommodation will generally have the support of other Armed Forces families but it is now much more common for Service families to live in our parishes and communities. It can be a very lonely existence for the family left behind, who may have had numerous moves with little opportunity to settle into any local community. Parishes are asked to be aware of the need for pastoral care and spiritual support of any such Service family and to consider signing a Community Covenant detailing what help they are able to offer.
Clergy Robes (GS 1944A and GS 1944B)
Synod agreed to introduce draft legislation to allow some easing of the requirements for clergy to robe when leading worship as it was felt robes can become a barrier in certain situations. Robes would probably remain mandatory when leading Eucharistic worship - whatever the setting.
Safeguarding (GS 1952)
The safeguarding legislation will be tightened. If passed the proposed new legislation will allow bishops to order clergy to undergo a compulsory risk assessment and prevent lay people convicted of an offence under the Children and Young Person’s Act (1993) from serving on PCC’s, Deanery and Diocesan Synods.
Common Good (GS 1956)
As Christians we are to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’. With a General Election within the next twelve months we are urged to challenge our local parliamentary candidates on issues that can improve the quality of life for the majority. Our vote must be for the good of all and not simply supporting what is best for us as individuals. Churches have an impressive record of social action. Our faith should be demonstrated in both word and action.
Charm - Rental Housing Scheme for Retired Clergy (GS Misc 1073)
Clergy approaching retirement without adequate funds to purchase property on the open market can apply for assistance from the Charm charity. At present the clergy person finds a suitable property for their retirement (below a specified price limit). The property is then purchased by Charm who rent it back to the clergy person with the opportunity for a part-ownership agreement. The scheme is to be reorganised to avoid costly legal fees resulting from the purchase and sale of numerous properties each year. Retiring clergy needing financial assistance for their retirement home will, in future, choose from a portfolio of available properties owned by Charm.
The 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta. (GS 1945A and 1945B)
The 15 June 2015 is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Churches are encouraged to actively join national celebrations and to use the occasion as a mission opportunity.
Reports and Financial Matters
As always at York there were a number of annual reports and financial statements from:-
Many of the questions related to sexuality issues and same sex marriage. The CofE has not changed its stance and continues to state that marriage is between a man and a woman (BCP). There is no authorisation for same sex marriages to be held in CofE churches and clergy are not permitted to marry a same sex partner.
Other questions related to Assisted Dying which was being debated in Parliament while Synod was meeting. Again there has been no change of policy within the CofE.
The Presidential Address was delivered by The Archbishop of York. It was both challenging and reassuring. His text was:
‘See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity .... Therefore choose life’. (Deut. 30:15 and 19b).
If we choose life it dictates all the other choices we make and our responses in all areas of our lives. With his understanding of the Hebrew Archbishop Sentamu explained that the Ten Commandments were not just commands but also promises. ‘Do not steal‘ is better translated ‘You will not steal‘ - if you have chosen life in Christ Jesus he will keep you from stealing.
If you want further details of the General Synod debates all the papers and audio recordings are available on the CofE web page: www.churchofengland.org