So, I’ve just returned from my second (although it feels like my first) General Synod, down in London from Monday though ’til Wednesday.
I say the first, because back in November it was all brand new and all very alien. The first day was the induction day, followed by the inauguration service with the Queen, and then an afternoon of business before I had to head back up North for work (it did continue until the following day).
This time, it was business from the get go, and I could stay the full three days now I’ve sorted out some extra leave with work.
I’ve decided to do this blog as a way of sharing my experiences and thoughts back to the diocese and to the deaneries. You may already know but I’m an avid tweeter, and a fan of social media, blogs etc. I’m aware this isn’t for everyone and of course will still be visiting my assigned deaneries as and when they want me too. But in between those visits, at least this is a way of staying in touch.
So, I’ll give you a whistle stop tour of my three days, and may I emphasise they are just that, my take on the time I spent on General Synod. Some topics I understood more than others, some I was even having a well-earned tea break, but I’m assured both of the above are quite ‘normal’.
Monday started at 2.30pm with a few bits of official stuff and then moved onto the presidential address by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
He started of by giving his view of the Primates meeting, and what *actually* happened. He spoke of the meeting being spun more than Donald Trump. He went on to explain, again that the situation the TEC (The Episcopal Church in the US) found themselves in, was a consequence of their actions to perform same sex marriages, not a sanction. I’ll let you make your own mind up there.
He touched on the other subjects they discussed, on the environment, our interaction with Isalm, and of evangelism which we would go on to discuss also.
We also had a presentation on the Shared Conversations, how the regional conversations are in their final weeks, and how we in July will be delving into them.
For me, this will be the second time round, I took part in the Yorkshire regional shared conversations, which was pretty tough, so goodness knows what this is going to be like!
It’ll take place from the Sunday afternoon of Synod for the next two days, with all fringe meetings and stalls being cleared out for that time – a sensible move I think to make sure all members are fully focused on the task in hand.
We then moved onto question time, which I was told, and realised, is actually supplementary question time. Those wanting to pose questions have to write in, they then receive a written response which we are all privy too, and then on the floor you can ask a supplementary question if you feel necessary.
Tuesday we focused on the work the Evangelism task group have been doing, and this for me, was when I really started to enjoy it. We started off in small groups discussing how we became Christians, how old we were, whether there was any common factors in our stories. We also discussed how we evangelise to others, and also what hindrances we face, both as clergy and laity.
Aside from what we were discussing, it was a great way to get to know other synod members I’d never met before, on quite a deep level!
After a short tea break we were back in the assembly hall, and given a presentation from the task group. There were some staggering facts in their report, and quite a lot of it focused on young people – which was weird, considering I’m one of them! (In the Church anyone under the age of 40 is considered young!)
Canon Mark Russell who is part of the group stated that
“An 81 year old is 8 times more likely to be part of a church than an 18yr old.”
“84% of Christians come to faith before the age of 25.
But, only 1% of Christians, after the age of 45.”
That correlated very much which what we discussed in our smaller group, most of us came to faith in our late teens or twenties.
Archbishop Justin Welby reminded us that
“A commitment to Evangelism and witness must come out of love not fear, or in relation to decline in numbers…”
This was the first time that I felt I could have stood up and said something. There was huge talk of young people, and what we as Christians can do to show people God’s love. But as I sat their listening, I couldn’t help but feel like we’d missed something, something quite large.
If we want to show people outside the Church God’s love, then surely we need to meet them were they are at?
And, I may be making a sweeping statement, but from the people I know and speak to, the Church of England can be seen as a homophobic and sexist institution. So surely we need to combat that?
I’m not saying we need to rush through and allow same sex weddings, but surely we need to at least acknowledge that it is a problem? Neither am I just talking about the LGBT+ community, most people know someone, a family member or a friend that fits at least one of those letters?
It was also pointed out to me later, that there was no mention of the disabled, and how unwelcoming Church can be for them, on many different levels…It felt there were bits, important bits missed out.
Like I said, I could have stood up and spoken, but I didn’t quite have the balls, there were loads of people wanting to speak in a short debate, and I hadn’t even prepared to feel like this, never mind anything to say!
Tuesday afternoon we moved onto the Church of England & Church of Scotland joint study group report. I’ll be honest, I had to get this explained to me, and I did so from a few different people to make sure I had a rounded view. There are still some areas I’m slightly sketchy on, but it had a lot to do the Scottish Episcopal Church and their unhappiness. Well I say that, and I’m well informed by friends both within the SEC and outside that they are unhappy, but yet during the debate it was unclear whether they were or not.
The top and bottom of it (I think) is that the SEC were blindsided over the Columba Declaration and that in turn caused hurt and anger amongst the SEC. One of the amendments I supported was in favour to not pass this just yet, but to go back and see if we could do something about that hurt. This was by some seen to be an attempt to ‘kick it into the long grass’ and was lost.
The main motion ended up being passed, and I’m aware some SEC members are now even more hurt.
After quite an intense day so far, I must admit I was in need of a bit of a break and change of scenery, but I did make it back in for some contingency business (when we have a bit of time left at the end of the day) and watched from the public gallery the motion from Leeds diocese to encourage all Church members to consider blood & organ donations pass through with flying colours.
At breakfast, lunch & dinner we have the option to go to fringe meetings(optional meetings on various subjects run by members). Tuesday evening was the General Synod Human Sexuality group meeting where we discussed where we want to be in the next 5 years, how we are going to get there and what’s already in the playing field. It was good to be amongst friends and to meet new ones too.
Wednesday started with a service of communion led by the Synod chaplain and Archbishop Welby. After which we moved onto the motion again from Leeds diocese on the impact of benefit sanctions.
We heard story after story of people who had had their benefits cut, for what sounded like unreasonable reasons!
We heard of someone who was sanctioned for being late for a jobseekers appointment, because he was at a job interview, and another a lady who was in hospital relating to her pregnancy, missed an appointment and was sanctioned. These sanctions are for four weeks! That’s four weeks without money!
It’s the equivalent of being 30mins late to work and not getting paid that month!
I’m wary to call it a debate, because it wasn’t really, more amendments to try and improve the motion, but it was a really great debate, one in which my new Synod
bestie (Fenella Cannings Jurd) made her maiden speech!
The motion flew through with no against votes and only two abstentions…I’m not sure why one would abstain, but there you go!
The afternoon continued onto the Renewal and reform programme covering both ministerial education, which although isn’t my forte, some parts were quite hard to listen too knowing full well we turn away some vocations because of their marital status!
We finished on a presentation by Canon John Spence on resourcing the future. Discussions about more budget for social media to engage younger people, and how we spend money to engage future generations – which I guess again, is yours truly!
Over all, I actually really enjoyed myself, more than I thought I would. I met so many new people, people I’ve ‘met’ on Twitter, people I ‘know the name’ of, and people that I usually would never cross paths with.
I’ve made some friends too, who I expect over the next 5 years together will support me, and I’ll support them.
Next up is July, and more dauntingly the Shared Conversations, that’s going to be knackering, but for now, I’ll concentrate on the synod just passed and connecting with my diocese and deaneries.
Once again, thank you. For electing me, for trusting me, and at risk of sounding like someone off the apprentice, for giving me this opportunity…