February General Synod agenda published
Key debates on Trident, criminal justice, schools, the media, issues in human sexuality, clergy pensions, clergy terms of service, marriage law and other legislative proposals on Synod agenda
The February Synod, to be held in the newly refurbished Assembly Hall*, at Church House, Westminster, from February 26 to March 1, has a full and challenging agenda, with a substantial amount of legislative business, including clergy terms of service and marriage law, and a major debate on clergy pensions. There are two high profile private members’ motions on different aspects of issues in human sexuality. The agenda also offers outward-looking debates on Trident, criminal justice issues, and the effect of media standards on individuals and society.
The Synod debate takes place near the end of the three months’ period of public debate initiated by the Government’s White Paper on The Future of Trident, which will culminate in a debate in the House of Commons in March. The debate will be informed by the statement made by the Archbishop of Canterbury when The Future of Trident was published and by a submission from the Mission and Public Affairs Council to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. The motion raises serious questions about whether the Government is right to proceed in the way proposed, given the underlying ethical issues.
The debate gives the Synod the opportunity of considering the major challenges to the criminal justice system as a result of prison overcrowding and changes in the system of supervising offenders with the amalgamation of the prison and probation services. It takes place at a time of considerable public anxiety about dangerous offenders and anti-social behaviour. It highlights opportunities for Christian service and initiatives in the criminal justice system and in working with offenders in the community. The debate will be preceded by an address from Mr Phil Wheatley, Director General of the Prison Service, after which the Bishop of Worcester (the Bishop to HM Prisons) will move the motion for debate.
Lord Dearing’s report The Way Ahead: Church of England schools in the new millennium was approved by the Synod in 2001. Over the past five years, it has driven the Church of England’s schools strategy. The present debate will allow the Church to endorse further strategies for the development of its work with schools, up to 2011 when the Board of Education’s sister body, the National Society, celebrates its bicentenary. These initiatives include new developments in links between schools, and their parishes and wider communities. This is particularly timely, as the Education and Inspections Act (which comes into force this year) offers substantial new opportunities for the Church in education. This has triggered fresh public debate about faith schools and their admissions policies, and the debate gives the Synod an opportunity to engage in this.
The motion from the Lichfield Diocesan Synod arose out of concern that debate about standards of taste and decency in the media tended to be focused on personal choice rather than dangers and consequences. The increase of ‘reality television’ programmes has taken this debate to a new level of concern. The motion seeks to address concerns about media standards and their impact on individuals and society.
Issues in Human Sexuality
Two private members’ motions, from the Revd Mary Gilbert on lesbian and gay Christians, and the Revd Paul Perkin on civil partnerships, will be debated. They have collected the most signatures and will be debated on the Wednesday morning and afternoon of the Synod. The first motion seeks to clarify the position of lesbian and gay Christians in the Church, and the second motion is critical specifically of the House of Bishops’ statement on civil partnerships.
The House of Bishops has produced two factual notes as a background resource for the debates, in addition to the usual notes from the movers of both motions. In these it signals that a member of the House will be tabling substantial amendments on its behalf in the two debates. The last time that the Synod debated this subject was in February 2004, when it considered Some Issues in Human Sexuality: A Guide to the Debate.
This debate is the culmination of a major consultation exercise within the Church on the report of the Archbishops’ Task Group Clergy Pensions: the Way Forward. The Synod is being asked to endorse the recommendations in the report now presented by the Archbishops’ Council, which reflects the results of the consultation.
As regards new legislation, the principal items give effect to the recommendations in the Review of Clergy Terms of Service (the ‘McClean Group’). The draft legislation will introduce, in the form of ‘common tenure’, a new framework of rights and responsibilities under which both freehold and licensed clergy will hold office within the Church, as well as making significant changes in relation to clergy housing.
The draft Church of England Marriage Measure returns to Synod for its Revision Stage. The legislation will make it easier for people to get married in a particular church. The previous General Synod agreed in principle that the right to marry in a Church of England church should be extended to those having certain types of qualifying connection with the church in question. At the moment, people have a right to be married only in the church of the parish where they live or are entered on the church electoral roll.
The draft Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure returns to Synod for Final Approval. This significant piece of legislation aims to improve the Church’s structures and processes in a way that will enable it to further its mission. In particular, it develops the process for diocesan re-organisation, at present to be found in the Dioceses Measure 1978, so that the Dioceses Commission can take a more proactive role and improve the prospects of bringing projects that are in the Church’s interest to a successful conclusion; it helps to simplify, devolve and make more flexible the procedures for pastoral re-organisation and closure of churches for regular public worship in the Pastoral Measure 1983; and it provides a new legal framework for mission initiatives.
The Synod meets just over a week after the end of the meeting of Primates of the Anglican Communion in Tanzania. The Archbishop of Canterbury will, on the first afternoon of Synod, brief the Synod on the outcome of that meeting by means of a Presidential Address.
There will be a debate on the next steps for implementing the Synod’s decision in principle to adopt a system of electronic voting.
There will be a presentation on Fresh Expressions, an initiative by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, which has been exploring new ways of developing the Church’s mission and presence in the community.
*This will be the General Synod’s first meeting in the newly refurbished Assembly Hall. The renovation returns it to the original 1939 design of architect Sir Herbert Baker, with flat floor, reinstatement of Gallery up-lighters and replacement of 1970s broadcasting booths.
The floor of the Hall will be furnished with new chairs for all attendees, a new stage with improved disabled access and new tables for those working on the stage. Other improvements include new paint and carpet, improved acoustic design and audio provision and the introduction of improved communications.
Built in 1939, the Assembly Hall had been altered in 1958. These alterations included the provision of a dished floor and fixed seating, which had come to the end of its useful life by the time the current refurbishment was being planned. Audio-visual technology had been updated every decade but the current refurbishment allowed for a complete overhaul of the entire sound and communications infrastructure.