Simon Clift is a representative for Winchester Diocese on the Church of England's General Synod - a kind of national parliament for the CofE. He's spent most of this week in London. Here's his view on what's been happening:
[Tuesday] I arrived late y’day in time for what has become the most important meeting of each Synod gathering for me personally, the EGGS dinner and meeting (EGGS stands for Evangelicals Group on General Synod).
It was great to sit with my friend on Synod from Winchester, Rev Ben Sargent and to hear from other people whose opinions and values I respect including a number of Diocesan and Area Bishops.
There were a number of heartfelt comments made during the evening ; particularly by Bishop Peter of Bath & Wells who is stepping down from his Lead Safeguarding role. I had a profound sense of the impact this role has had on him as a clearly very pastorally minded person. His position is being taken by two Suffragan Bishops, the Bishop of Huddersfield a member of EGGS and our own Bishop of Southampton, Bishop Debbie. We must pray for her in this challenging new National role.
Bishop Tim also spoke from the heart about his emotional pain seeking resolution & reconciliation with the Church in the Channel Islands and reluctantly coming to the conclusion that it is best to handover their oversight to the Diocese of Salisbury.
This morning started with an early morning breakfast small group study trying out the resources being developed by the Living in Love and Faith taskforce. We were a small group of 10 and were given three separate exercises in smaller groups of 4.
First of all we were invited to list examples of pastoral situations related to human sexuality and identity. Our facilitator pointed out how narrow the focus was for the examples we came up with i.e. same sex relationships and gender identity rather than a whole host of wider relevant issues such as reduced fertility, contraception, divorce & remarriage and adultery.
Secondly one of us was invited to speak uninterrupted on one of three issues which are contentious on matters of human sexuality and another member of the group then had the task of faithfully reflecting back what the first person had said. In the feedback I reflected on my fear and trepidation at putting an orthodox position forward. Only 5-10 years ago it would have been those offering a revisionist view who would have had such feelings.
Lastly we were given an A5 card with a brief reflection on a key theological issue underpinning our thinking on issues of identity and sexuality. Ours was on Diversity laying out helpfully the contrasting positions of celebrating difference on the one hand as an expression of God’s good creation and on the other acknowledging sin and the brokenness which follows impacting on individual identity and human relationships. This I think was the most useful and made for a relatively easy way of taking about different views without having to immediately speak out what we disagreed on.
By the end of the small group I came away thinking that I would be willing to lead such a small group at St James by the Park when the final resources are published. Look out for these resources and an opportunity to use them.
I am now sitting in the chamber debating a Draft Cathedrals Measure which has a huge number of technical amendments which is v hard to follow!
Before this debate started I was able to greet Archbishop Stephen from Myanmar who arrived y’day. He greeted me warmly and said that he had already invited me to join them at their 50th anniversary at the end of March! I think when he said, ‘me’ he meant Winchester Diocese rather than me as an individual or InterHealth under whose umbrella I took part in their last Church Family Conference about 3 years ago.
I had chance to chat briefly with Bishop Paul Butler who some of you will remember. I asked him whether the recent 2-part documentary on Bishop Peter Ball was a fair reflection of what happened. It was very helpful to get his straightforward response. By the way if you haven’t watched it there is still time finding it on BBC iPlayer. It reminds us of how important it is to listen to those alleging abuse and to be aware of the temptation of the church to close ranks and be more concerned about providing pastoral care to its own i.e. the clergy person who has been accused.
... [part 2]
Well, we’ve reached lunchtime on Wednesday and I’m looking back on a challenging & disturbing debate this morning on Safeguarding responding to the interim report from IICSA with recommendations following their inquiry within the Diocese of Chichester and the case of Bp Peter Ball. The original motion was basically making a statement that as Synod we accept IICSA’s 5 recommendations and commit to implementing them. An amendment was added into this rather bland statement highlighting the need for justice for survivors including financial redress.
Time and again speakers made it clear that apologies, regret and words of lament were not enough. Actions and culture change was required. Synod unanimously backed the motion with the amendment and has committed itself to just redress to those abused by the Church whatever the cost. The whole debate was a fresh reminder to me that safeguarding must be embedded in all we do at St James by the Park.
As I write this we have now started a debate responding to the Climate Emergency and how the Church can reduce its carbon footprint. It’s setting a more ambitious target to net zero emissions by 2045. So challenging given the age, state of repair and sheer size of so many of our church buildings. Having already agreed to be constrained by justice for survivors in finding funds for redress, here we have another situation where we are constrained, this time by the urgency of the climate emergency. The motion calls for 16000 separate action plans one for each church as well as one national plan as to how we might achieve this.
Time to look back on the rest of yesterday. Last night ended with an evening reception at Lambeth Palace hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife. The reps of each Diocese get invited in rotation to such a gathering so it was my first time while on Synod. It was a chance to speak with the Archbishop of DR Congo based in the Diocese of Kindu. He was pleased to be able to speak a bit of Swahili with me and I explained I was a “doctor for clergy” trying to explain a bit of what I do with church ministers. Well, his eyes lit up and he surprised me by saying that the biggest health problem his clergy faced were hernia from working in their shamba as the only means to give themselves an income. He went on to say that he discouraged them getting the hernias repaired in the village as two of his clergy had died from complications so the only option available was paying $200 to get the operation done in Kindu. I was left wondering whether there was something that the Diocese of Winchester can help with given our new link with DRC. I had a vision of a long line of clergy queuing up for their hernia repair a bit like Cataract Eye Safaris are conducted.
Our afternoon yesterday was spent with the promised session on the Living in Love and Faith Project. Once again those leading the process modeled ‘good disagreement’ urging for more time to be given for individual Dioceses and churches to join in with this dialogue using some of the excellent resources I had tested out earlier in the day. The hope is that through this process the Church will find an umbrella spacious enough under which all of us can shelter despite our strongly opposing views on the matters of human sexuality. However I sensed that there are many in Synod on both sides of the debate who are increasingly skeptical that such a solution is possible. I wonder what you think?
The Synod ended y’day with an important motion which acknowledged the hostile reception which those on board HMS Windrush experiences and the reality of persistent institutional racism which has continued to this day. What struck me afresh was the real pain experienced by my BAME brothers & sisters and my own blindness to my privilege as a white westerner.
As I write we just closing the debate on our response as the Church to the Climate Emergency in which we have shortened the timescale to achieving a carbon neutral position bringing the target date to 2030. Synod was persuaded by the need to be prophetic and so chose to be even more ambitious than we were originally asked to consider.
Well, I am left wondering how many big issues can be discussed and decided upon in such a short space of time. I am worried that we are trying to press forward committing money and other resources in a number of different directions at the same time! We might have massive historical reserves as a whole church but doubt whether our other resources will enable us to be achieve such ambitious tasks.
Thank you taking an interest to read this.