General Synod Musings

Having been in the Diocese of Peterborough for a little over a year now, I did not expect to be elected to General Synod. Amazingly, I was though, and I remain completely humbled by the result – for more information, and to hold me to account, please find my electoral address here:

The Inauguration Ceremony and first session of this quinquennium took place earlier this week and it seems pertinent to offer an update on some of the matters discussed. There is much more to update on, but these begin to shed some light:

Presidential Addresses

Archbishop Justin Welby focused his presidential address on casting the net on the right side of the boat (John 21:6). He reminded Synod that we had been journeying for many years and this state of change we currently find ourselves in is nothing new. Indeed, moving towards new expressions of church characterised the latter half of the 19th century. Inspired by an indigenous Australian pastor though, ++Justin did speak of the importance of walking to the future backwards, in order that we continue to have sight of our tradition and what it means to us. He also acknowledged our failures as the Church in safeguarding, in racism, and in the way we treat those who are disabled – acknowledging the importance of being able to admit our wrongs and seek to do better. What was perhaps most compelling in ++Justin’s presidential address was in relation to choices and discernment which lie ahead of us: he compelled Synod to move away from a binary approach which favoured one and thus discarded or excluded all others. He urged us not to look at anyone, ever, as stumbling blocks or obstacles, but to remember we are all sisters and brothers in Christ. We all need to learn to listen to the stranger on the shore, telling us where and how to fish – I love that, and it is so true!

Archbishop Stephen Cottrell spoke of a significant difference between parliament and Synod being that Synod needs to “journey together to seek God’s will, allowing differences to harmonise…. To meet each other with respect and trust, to believe in our unity.” For clarification of this unity he pointed us back to the unity we all share in Christ because of our baptism. ++Stephen reminded us that our task as Synod is to work out what it means to be the Church of England in and for this day and in this age…what it means to know and follow Jesus Christ. He reminded us that the five marks of mission in their totality are at the heart of that. ++Stephen moved on to remind Synod of the grassroots initiative for a simpler, bolder and humbler church…challenging us with an allusion to the words of Jesus: “what did you do for the least of these, my sisters and brothers? How did you in this quinquennium and this latest manifestation of the General Synod, serve the poor, bind up the wounded, bring home the excluded, renew the Earth?”

Each of these presidential addresses set a tone for humility, inclusion and an imperative to “listen much and speak little”, in the words of St Ignatius of Loyola.

Generosity and Diocesan Finances

The following motion was carried:

‘That this Synod request the Archbishops’ Council to develop legislative proposals, to be brought to a future Group of Sessions, to give dioceses more freedom to be generous with their historic wealth to other dioceses in the Church of England, and in this way enable a more equitable sharing of this wealth.’

It was noted that this could be seen as a first step in putting our own “house in order” and, despite noting the various complexities surrounding historic wealth and how assets might be handled, there was an overwhelming support for this motion and a desire to encourage a greater spirit of generosity between dioceses.

The Wealth Gap Between the Rich and the Poor

The following motion was carried:

‘That this Synod

  1. (a)  recommit to working both nationally and locally to respond to human need by loving service, and to transform unjust structures of society which are creating the wealth gap; and
  2. (b)  call on Her Majesty’s Government (and all political parties) to adopt an explicit policy of reducing the wealth gap between the rich and the poor and the disadvantages) flow from it.’

Once again, there was an overwhelming amount of support for this motion. Some expressed concern that those in society who have the lowest paid jobs – many of whose labour has been of paramount importance during the pandemic – have not been adequately valued and acknowledged.

Those who expressed concerns about this motion only did so in relation to it not going far enough. There was a call for the Church to do far more to tackle the housing inequality by using our assets to ensure that people in need can be housed affordably. Others drew attention to the cyclical relationship between poverty and disability, the fundamental impact of poverty on health, and the impact of poor air quality. Equally, local councils who may previously have been instrumental in funding agencies to support those living in inadequate housing, who struggle with poor health or are supporting older relatives with care needs, now do not have the resources to do so because their grants have been cut so significantly. There was a heartfelt call from members of Synod from a range of backgrounds to be a prophetic voice in these matters and work to give voice to those who are most deeply affected and “done to” in our societies.

Have your say!

I’m honoured to have the opportunity to represent fellow clergy in the Diocese of Peterborough at General Synod. As pledged in my electoral address, I am not there to simply offer my own views, but rather to encourage dialogue, listening and learning with colleagues here in the Diocese. If you would like an opportunity to feedback, or to have your say on anything detailed in this post, please do leave a comment, or be in touch with me, or either of the other clergy reps (Rev’d Steve Benoy or Rev’d Mark Lucas) for Peterborough Diocese, by email. I look forward to hearing from you.

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