Synod Review – things you might have missed

Here’s a quick review of some of the most significant things that took place at the recent General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church beyond the headline grabbing news that we rejected the Anglican Covenant.

  • I was heartened to hear a bishop call for an anti-bullying policy. My first “maiden” speech at General Synod, many years ago was about the bullying that I perceived to be being exercised during my training both towards ordinands and amongst members of staff. All those years ago there was a spat about whether such a speech should even be recorded in the minutes. (In the end it was not recorded accurately and I voted against the adoption of the minutes the following year). This year, Bishop Nigel gave a very clear call for a policy to deal with situations of bullying in church circles. It was good to hear and comes not before time.
  • I think another significant moment was when one of the Bishops referred to having social events for “clergy and their spouses or partners”. Synod heard this news with nonchalant ease, wondering, I suspect what kind of wine and nibbles were served. Yet it is a significant small mercy that a Scottish Bishop can refer so easily to inviting gay clergy and their partners around to Bishop’s House for something so eye-wateringly, mind-bogglingly conventional as a Friday night social with a quiz. It is by such small mercies that great social change happens. It was one of the moments when the sky did not fall in and indeed, no-one seemed to have noticed that there was any risk that it might do so.
  • It was good to hear the Primus robustly respond to some of the things that were being said in the debate about ministry. There were calls for more non-stipendiaries working “not in the parish but in the world” and also for us to focus on those who have “life-experience” to be sought for ministry and not those coming “straight from college who know nothing about the world”. The Primus was having none of it and reminded the synod in no uncertain terms that those entering the ministry late in life often need a great deal of help coping with an institution which is greatly unlike other work places. He also asked where our leadership and future bishops were going to come from if we ended up not having life-long ministries as a key part of the way in which the church functions. Personally, I found the ministry debate one of the more depressing parts of they synod – the usual tired voices arguing for their same pet projects. There did not seem to be much life there.
  • The rather disappointing launch of the rather disappointing new Grosvenor Essay about same-sex relationships. Disappointing because we were not able to discuss it at all. Disappointing too because the authors appeared to have consulted theologians, historians, scientists – everyone in fact except gay couples living in same-sex relationships or indeed LGBTQ identified theologians. It wouldn’t be acceptable to discuss disabled people in an essay without engaging with disabled people. It wouldn’t be acceptable to write about women and the church without engaging with women. I’m pleased that the Doctrine Committee are looking into this area but it seems a terribly disappointing methodology. I asked a question about this but didn’t really feel I got a very good answer. More heartening was an assurance from an Evangelical chum who takes a different view on such things to me that he thought it was a very good question to ask and that it was obvious that those being written about in such an essay needed to be engaged with.
  • It was obvious that the Bishops generally seem to be getting on with one another. That hasn’t always been the case and I know that they will have their stresses and strains beyond the public gaze. There was quite a lot of knock about comedy which can be a little trying after a while and makes it very difficult to have a real debate about some things that matter. For example, we heard, in a way we couldn’t argue with, of churches using the Reserved Sacrament in a way that I think irregular and which I suspect breaches the agreed bishops’ guidelines. Yet this was in a very jolly comedy routine by bishops. There may be a danger in people thinking that they can justify any behaviour at all in the church if they happen to be in Episcopal orders and uttering the words “Whole Church Mission and Ministry Policy”. We are back to the question of the limits of diversity and the appropriate extent of conformity really. We always are.
  • I found some of the claims being made for a renewed diaconate in a new discussion paper that was launched rather disappointing. It is entirely appropriate that the diaconate is discussed, but I do wish we had a moratorium on people making the claim that a particular form of ministry will in some way renew the church because that form of ministry has a particular, vital (and oddly ill-defined) relation to mission. One has heard over the years the same claims being made for lay ministry, local collaborative ministry, lay reader ministry, ministers in secular employment, authorised lay ministry, etc. It isn’t merely silly; it makes talking about mission (which is a rather interesting idea of introducing people to the God so that they encounter love, joy, grace and transformation in a way that they couldn’t otherwise) all seem rather boring.
  • Isaac Poobalan made an urgent request that we take the statistics more seriously. I backed that up with the suggestion that the statistics (and a report interpreting them) be received each year at Synod. For some of our dioceses they are rather encouraging really. Moray and Argyll, for example. For other parts of the church they are cause for real concern.
  • The mood of the Synod this year was generally contented. There was not much friction. We needed Synod to be like that so we could throw the Covenant out convincingly, decisively and overwhelmingly. The Covenant doesn’t represent the kind of church we are. A year ago, many were surprised that there was no support for the Covenant when we had our discussion groups. A couple of years ago it was presumed we would probably sign up and that the vote would be fairly narrow and very bad-tempered. In the end it was neither. It was good to see the Bishops generally voting with the other houses in voting it out. So very different to the Episcopal and Synodical life of a neighbouring Province…

What else? Anyone else who was there want to contribute? Anyone who wasn’t there want to comment or ask anything?

This just in from Ireland