All done and dusted

This special Session of General Synod is all over. The deed is done and the legislation that was before us for consideration has passed through all its stages. It is really amazing what can be achieved when people focus on the task. But this meeting proved to be much more powerful than appeared when you were simply looking at the agenda.

All done and dusted

We began with Presidential Addresses. The Archbishop of York began and then was followed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Both spoke so powerfully and with honesty. Apologies were made for what had not gone well, there was a commitment to do better. What has gone well was celebrated and the reality was addressed. We will emerge a different church serving a different nation. Nothing will be quite the same. It was that sense of realism, held in the context of belief in the God who is always faithful, that set the tone for all that followed.

There were four stages to the legislative process that would see the elegantly named ‘General Synod (Remote Meetings) (Temporary Standing Orders) Measure achieve final approval and be passed on to Parliament. There was a general debate, then the Revision Stage with all the amendments. Then in the light of that a debate on the hastily written Report from the Steering Committee (written over lunch) and then the Final Approval debate.

So what did we talk about? Well a great many people talked about those who were not in the room. That is often seen as impolite but there was real consciousness of those who had given up their right to be at this meeting of Synod. I was conscious that I was the only Dean present, my fellow Deans had stood aside to allow me to attend so that I was also available to chair. There was an underlying generosity apparent and a graciousness.

Then there was a recognition that passing this Measure did not mean that we did not acknowledge that there is such a thing as digital poverty and inequality in this country. Some members may not own the equipment that they will need, some won’t have superfast broadband (we don’t even have it where I live alongside the Thames in central London!), others are not tech savvy or tech happy. Yet there was also a recognition that meeting electronically will provide better access for those who normally have to leave family to come, or take excessive amounts of unpaid leave in order to be at the Synod.

There was debate in the Revision Stage on two particular issues. The first was around whether or not Article 7 business should be included in the purview of the Measure. Article 7 deals with matters of doctrine, the Canons, our liturgy, those kinds of things. The Measure excluded such business from being able to be considered remotely. There were a lot of people who wanted to amend this to include it. There was suspicion around on all sides that either people were wanting to pull a fast one hoping to get some changes through – such as around the Canons governing the Administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion – or that if matters of doctrine were dealt with in this way they wouldn’t get the thorough consideration they demand. In the end the amendment was not supported.

The second area of debate was around a ‘sunset clause’. It says in the title that this is ‘Temporary’ but there is no ‘sell by date’ in the Measure itself. So weren’t we in danger of creating something temporary that might become permanent (a bit like the tower space platform in Southwark Cathedral)? Again, it was well debated and then Synod decided to stay with the Measure as it was and reject the amendment, trusting Synodical processes rather than writing everything into the Measure.

The final vote was unanimous in all three Houses (just two abstentions in the House of Laity) and that was a resounding endorsement for what will be a new way of working and decision making.

But one of the final speakers made a sobering point that I hadn’t thought about. We are due to have delayed elections to General Synod next year. We are unlikely to meet in person in February and, if we are being honest and realistic, not in July either. For those of us who might not be reelected next time and those who might not stand again, this may have been the last time we sat in the Synod Chamber. It is a beautiful space and if I don’t get the chance to sit there again I will miss it. And I will particularly miss the text around the dome., I sang it as a young chorister and I read it every time I am there.

Holy is the True Light, and passing wonderful, lending radiance to them that endured in the heat of the conflict, from Christ they inherit a home of unfading splendour, wherein they rejoice with gladness evermore. Alleluia!

There is no other prayer to offer.

The few

‘Are we quorate?’ That is often the cry you hear at meetings, especially if someone is wanting to disrupt the meeting. Heads are counted, Constitutions checked. ‘Yes, we’re fine.’ The meeting resumes.

It won’t look like this!

Today General Synod meets in the Chamber for one day only. Just a few people will be present, enough to make it quorate. A great deal of work has gone it to make it all Covid secure – all the usual masks and sanitiser – but also being allocated seats in the chamber. Normally we look out for our friends or at least someone we don’t mind spending time alongside as we walk through one of the doors and decide where to sit. This time we will have to discover who our distanced and allotted neighbour is – for Christians that is like being allocated a pew in church – scary!

So, what is the purpose of meeting under such circumstances in such a strange way? We are there to do one thing and one thing only; to pass a piece of legislation, the excitingly named ‘General Synod (Remote Meetings) (Temporary Standing Orders) Measure’. If it gets through all its stages today it will enable the Synod to meet remotely and to make legally binding decisions, remotely. When we had our Zoom Synod in July we could only talk and not decide. If we do our work today we will be able to meet, talk and decide remotely.

As ever we need your prayers. We only ever meet seeking the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit and whether the agenda is long or as short as this, the need is the same.

Holy Spirit, guide us and keep us as we seek to do the Father’s will, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

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