The final morning of this Group of Sessions ended up being more exciting than I had thought – though nowhere near as exciting as the day before! There were lost of bits of legislation to address but two that were particularly significant.
The first was all about parochial property and where ownership should be vested. There is pressure from some members of the Synod that PCCs should be given the right to ‘own’ and manage their own property rather than it being vested in the Diocesan Board of Finance as it is now. On the face of it that seems totally sensible. If a PCC had the skills to manage, dispose of and acquire its own property then why not? If a PCC did not have the skills then they could still use the good offices of the diocese.
‘They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.’ (Matthew 7.15)
He was speaking of false prophets and not Measures before Synod. But the basic truth applies. We only have to look across the waters at the recent experience of The Episcopal Church to see what can happen when dioceses and parishes and the national church come into dispute over the ownership of property and the attempts by smaller groups of people to take possession of what they believe to be theirs, for whatever reason.
Jesus also said ‘It must not be so among you’. There are principles in all of this about the nature of the church as ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’ and we must be conscious of this. What can seem to be about property can become about nature, about who we are.
Synod rejected what would not have been helpful but we have to be vigilant. Mutual flourishing is exactly that, mutual, and that applies to the inheritance that is ours, of faith, and of those things and resources that enable us to be the church in this land and property is part of that.
The second piece of business that caused a stir was on Church Representation as it affected the workings of PCCs. This debate was adjourned at the February Group of Sessions. So we began where we left off. Two things that it allowed for – a minimum of two PCC meetings a year and a Standing Committee that comprised the Incumbent and Churchwardens. I can see the sense in the first – though it is very minimal – but not the second. It is all too easily for cabals to develop in parishes without legislating them into existence!
A request was made for it to go back to a Revision Committee, but that wasn’t possible. So the option was vote yes or no and as this was a final stage it had to be by houses with a 2/3rds majority in each. It failed to secure that and so cannot come back in this form. But in the quest for simplification we need to look at these issues and we need to get it right as this has proved to be a waste of time and resources.
The penultimate business of each Group of Sessions are the farewells and on this occasion it was time to say goodbye and thank you to the Bishop of Burnley, John Goddard and the Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard. They are quite different – only their names are the same – but both will be missed. ++Sentamu and ++Justin gave great accounts of all that they have given to the church.
We then stood for the Prorogation of the Group of Sessions and Sentamu sent us home with God’s blessing. It has been a memorable and historic Synod of York. The church is now different; we will flourish – I am confident of that. But perhaps I need to finish with something that Fr Philip North said in his speech to Synod in the ‘big debate’. He was quoting the Labour Party slogan for the 1945 General Election. They said ‘And now win the peace’.
It is not said of this Synod in the sense of victory but in the sense that we are now called by God to be the church that we now are and to work for the kingdom and to go for growth and to preach the Gospel and celebrate the sacraments and to do all ‘that the world might believe’.
As I head home that is what I take with me – and a great deal of thanksgiving and I offer the prayer of Dag Hammarskjøld
For all that has been, thanks.
For all that shall be, yes.