The General Synod met in London 6th-9th February and our Synod reps Robin Brimms, Nic Denyer, and Izzy Macdonald-Booth, along with Ian Flintoft, Robert Lawrance and Claire Robson attended along with our newly elected Bishop Helen-Ann.
The item of business which caught the headlines was the debate on Living in Love & Faith, which was a motion from the House of Bishops apologizing for the way the church has failed to welcome LGBTQIA+ people, commending prayers to be used in celebrating same-sex unions, and to end the use of Issues in Human Sexuality as the guidance document for human relationships in the church, to be replaced by another teaching document yet to be produced by the bishops. The debate ran over two days, lasting eight hours in total, which was quite a marathon!
Much of it was taken up by amendments, some wanting to go further and more quickly than the bishops had proposed, others wanting to slow down the process, remove the prayers and ensure that the church’s traditional teaching on marriage would not be changed. This last amendment was not resisted by the bishops and in the final vote their motion passed in all three houses.
At the next Synod in July we anticipate they will present a new teaching document on human relationships, as well as the prayers which will have been subjected to some revision in the light of the debate and ensuing conversations.
For some this vote was not enough, for others it was already too much, and one of the tasks ahead is how to live with this difference. The debate included undercurrents about the use and abuse of power in relationships, in the church and in synod, as well as differences of opinion on what scripture teaches and about the nature of marriage. Speakers from ecumenical and Anglican Communion perspectives reminded us that the decision will resonate in other denominations and abroad; we were also reminded that parliament has a view in terms of the impact on civil society of not undertaking change. The vote was preceded by prayer and received in silence, and everyone was conscious of the work that lies ahead.
Of course, this was not the only item of debate in the four days of meetings! There was also a vote calling on the government to respond to the Cost of Living Crisis and on allocating funds for Ministerial Formational Training. A report on safeguarding made clear that there is still a lot of work to be done to respond to the concerns raised by IICSA, as well as addressing historic abuse cases in the church. A debate about funeral and wedding fees agreed to limit annual increases to 5% (they are currently linked to CPI index in August of the previous year - currently 10%). As well as debates in the chamber, our representatives attended fringe meetings and worshipped in the chamber and at nearby churches.
Bishop Helen-Ann writes: “It was so good to join our diocesan representatives at my first General Synod as Bishop of Newcastle. I was immensely proud of their engagement in a number of key issues: parochial fees, LLF, the cost and living crisis and much more.
“From maiden speeches to chairing whole sessions of Synod our reps did an excellent job of representing our diverse communities and ministry units always ensuring a strong and confident voice from the North.
“This was in so many ways a key gathering of General Synod, and I really do want to commend our reps for all that they do”.
By Robert Lawrance