19 June 2001
The Church's engagement with society features strongly on the agenda of the July meeting of the General Synod in York, from Friday, 6 July, to Tuesday, 10 July. Debates on international aid and the health of the poor in this country challenge both Church and nation to commit more strongly to working towards the elimination of poverty.
A presentation by Dr Daleep Mukarji, Director of Christian Aid, and the Rt Revd Bernard Ntahoturi, Bishop of Matana, Burundi, a Christian Aid partner, will proceed a debate on international development issues and globalisation. The Board for Social Responsibility is resourcing the debate with its report Global view 2001: an emerging agenda, as well as a collection of wide-ranging essays entitled Development matters.
That debate will be followed by one on a Private Member's Motion by Mr Roger Godin (Southwark) on Third World debt. Later in the sessions, a presentation by Sir Donald Acheson (formerly Chief Medical Officer to the Government) will precede a debate on the Oxford Diocesan Synod Motion on the health of the poor and poverty in Great Britain.
The Synod's debate on rural affairs will inevitably be set against the background of the foot and mouth epidemic. It will also look at the Church's response to the Government's Rural White Paper and the challenges and opportunities for the rural church today.
Constitutional issues for the nation and the Church
Reform of the House of Lords is the subject of a Private Member's Motion from the Revd David Houlding (London). If carried, the motion seeks to maintain the present number of bishops in the Lords, 26, in contrast with the Wakeham Commission's proposal to reduce their number to 16.
On the subject of the Church's governance, the Synodical Government Review (Bridge Commission) follow-up report addresses important questions relating to the size and composition of the General Synod in the light of the response to the Bridge Commission's proposals. The report proposes a reduction of about 10% in the membership of Synod, including the loss of several specially defined constituencies, such as the cathedrals and the universities. The aim of the report is to slim down General Synod, without impairing its essentially representative character.
Another debate looks at the report of the Crown Appointments Commission review and the process for choosing diocesan bishops. The report recommends changes to ensure that the process is open and transparent and is seen to be representative and effective. The Chairman of the Review Group, Baroness Perry of Southwark, will be addressing Synod.
Financial issues facing the Church
There will be a scene-setting presentation to give Synod members an overview of the main financial issues facing the Church at the present time. The recent actuarial valuation of the funded clergy pensions scheme will produce a substantial increase in the contribution rate for parishes. In recognition of this additional burden, the national church bodies have agreed to freeze their administrative costs in 2002, and to seek to do so in 2003 and 2004. The General Synod budget for 2002 therefore assumes budget reductions to meet this target (although more detailed work will need to be done between July and November). There is also a report on the formula by which money is given selectively to needy dioceses and on the apportionment by which dioceses are asked to contribute to central costs.
A different financial perspective is presented by the Ethical Investment report that, this year, addresses in particular the question of investment in the defence industry and weekly home credit companies.
Other highlights include
- the implementation at the beginning of the Synod of the ecumenical agreement between the Anglican Churches of Britain and Ireland and the French Lutheran and Reformed Churches;
- the Archbishops' Council's annual report, which focuses on the Council's developing work programme modelled on its recently agreed themes;
- a relatively small amount of legislative business, including some pensions matters and the draft Synodical Government (Amendment) Measure, which implements recommendations from the first phase of the follow-up group's work, relating mainly to parishes;
- a scene-setting presentation on ecumenical issues in preparation for some major debates to take place at a later date (eg on Anglican-Methodist Church relations);
- the Church Commissioners' Annual Report, the debate on which, following recent public interest, is likely to see members raise questions about the planned improvements to and future rental policy for the Octavia Hill Estates, in London.
Altogether, the July Synod offers a very full and varied agenda, with a wide range of issues relating to the world, the nation and the Church.