Thinking Anglicans

Special Session of General Synod on 24 September 2020

The two Archbishops have called a special session of General Synod on Thursday 24 September 2020. The only business expected will be a draft measure to allow Synod to meet remotely in November (and subsequently) if necessary. The Archbishops wrote to all synod members last month to explain why this measure is necessary and can only be taken at an in-person meeting; their letter is copied below.

It is hoped that most members will not exercise their right to be present, but arrangements will be made to ensure that enough do attend to provide a quorum in each of the three houses.

Subsequently the text of the draft measure and explanatory notes have been published.

GS 2175 Draft General Synod (Remote Meetings) Measure – First Consideration
GS 2175X General Synod (Remote Meetings) Measure – Explanatory Notes

Letter from the Archbishops

22 July 2020
To: All Members of General Synod

Ref: Special Session of General Synod on 24 September 2020

Standing Order 2(6)(b), provides that in circumstances of special urgency or importance, the Presidents of the General Synod may summon a special session.

We consider that such circumstances exist. It is not practically possible at present to hold a group of sessions in the usual way and we do not know when it will be again possible to do so. Nor is it currently possible, under the Synod’s Constitution and Standing Orders, for the Synod to transact business remotely. There is important business which the Synod must transact before the end of this year. This includes the approval by the General Synod of the Archbishops’ Council’s budget for 2021, which is a statutory requirement under the National Institutions Measure 1998, and the approval of Fees Orders for 2021. Other business the Synod needs to address without delay includes amending safeguarding legislation to take account of recommendations from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) and the giving of final approval to the Cathedrals Measure.

For those reasons, we need legislation that will enable the Synod to meet and transact business remotely should it still not be possible by November for it to meet in the usual way. The Government has not been able to make time for this in Parliament. We therefore need to legislate by Measure and are summoning a special session of the General Synod for this purpose on Thursday 24 September 2020.

This meeting will be held physically at Church House, London. Although no Synod member can be denied admission to this meeting, we will in practice hope to work with the three Houses to ensure that only a quorum-plus of members need attend to ensure compliance with social distancing requirements.

The only business we envisage being on the agenda for the special session is a draft Measure to enable the Synod to meet and conduct business remotely. It is proposed that all stages of the Measure would be taken at the special session. We do not expect to have any other business at this meeting, even urgent business outlined above. These items will be taken to the November Group of Sessions.

Members will receive further details, including the draft Measure, from the Synod Office in due course.

Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of York
Presidents of the General Synod

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Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
1 month ago

As far as I can see from a quick look, this measure refers only to General Synod. But it occurs to me that all diocesan synods are in much the same position as GS, i.e.unable to transact business remotely but unable to do anything about it unless they first meet face to face.   As diocesan synods will also have urgent business which needs to be carried out within a certain time limit, very possibly before it is possible to have a full face to face meeting, it would have been helpful if this measure could have made all-embracing provision… Read more »

Simon Kershaw
Admin
1 month ago
Reply to  Malcolm Dixon

Advice has already been issued from Church House to diocesan registrars suggesting that they might wish to advise their respective diocesan bishops to make provision by instrument under rule 78(5) of the Church Representation Rules so that the diocesan synod can meet and conduct business remotely. Some bishops have already published such an Instrument.

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
1 month ago
Reply to  Simon Kershaw

Thanks for this reply, Simon. It is good to know that the matter is in hand.

Father Ron Smith
1 month ago

If numbers attending are to be limited, what and who will be responsible for determining which of the appointed members should attend? Will each diocese be given a quota?

Simon Butler
Simon Butler
1 month ago

The Houses of Clergy and Laity are being asked to come to their own arrangements. In the House of Clergy we are asking each diocese to identify one person who is willing to attend.

Charles Read
1 month ago

Diocesan members have been asked to decide amongst themselves who is going from each diocese – one per diocese, clergy and laity. The longest serving clergy / lay member to coordinate this – I am the longest serving Proctor in Norwich and have consulted the other three. Only one of us is available so an easy decision!

Last edited 1 month ago by Charles Read
Stanley Monkhouse
1 month ago

A bit off topic I suppose, but … it may well be that like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God (England therefore), but I have been astonished by its efficiency in one regard, and that is the speed with which my name disappeared overnight from all diocesan and synod lists the minute my retirement took effect. This is right and proper, but wouldn’t it be good if such efficiency were found elsewhere in the organisation? With respect to Supreme Soviet elections and meetings, I long ago stopped caring – didn’t even vote. They were as relevant to the… Read more »

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
1 month ago

If you had attended every meeting, been seen on every training course and trained to be an advisor on mission, you’d be a never-forgotten Canon by now Fr Stanley. I suspect you spent far too much time in your parish doing humdrum work like bringing folks nearer to God. Who on earth will be remembered for that? No wonder all trace of you has been removed. You’d have been much more honoured if you had conducted meetings on Fresh Expressions or “new ways of doing Church” rather than actually doing it.

Neil Patterson
Neil Patterson
1 month ago

In response:
1. I am not sure that the need is so urgent for Diocesan Synods, since they do not have legislative power like GS, and (varying across dioceses) decisions can in fact be made by Bishop’s Councils or equivalents acting as trustees.
2. The longest-serving clergy and lay members from each diocese have been asked to liaise with their diocesan members and identify one of each who is willing and able to attend. Given the uncontroversial nature of the business, I don’t think this will be very difficult.

Kate
Kate
1 month ago

I have reservations about the detailed operation of the measure. It makes it impossible to put anything remotely contentious on the GS agenda because those in opposition could try to vote down the standing orders at the start of the session to prevent even discussion taking place. I think the vote to approve/reject the standing orders ought, from the second and subsequent sessions held under the standing orders, be moved from the start to end of the agenda and only affect sessions subsequent to that in which the vote is taken. It is certainly possible, for example, to envisage some… Read more »

Bernard Silverman
Bernard Silverman
1 month ago

I was a member of GS from 2000-03, preceded and succeeded in a rotten borough by the future former Bishop Gavin Ashenden. It was already clear that a lot of the sessions were expensive and unnecessary and could have been replaced by remote discussions, even with the technology available then. [I remember suggesting both this, and electronic voting, and being somewhat ridiculed for doing so…. ] The current situation makes this essential but in the longer run one could certainly envisage two kinds of “set piece” business being done remotely. Firstly the big debates with foregone conclusions. Secondly, the routine… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
1 month ago

Many thanks for this! The system of representative so-called democracy that we have in this country grew out of a need to gather together the leading interests of the realm in order to secure finance for the state. The convocations were part of that process no less than the commons. Naturally, the proctors in convocation, like the burgesses representing the towns or the knights the shires needed to gather in one place on behalf of the electors whom they represented, and whom it would otherwise have been inconvenient to assemble together in the manner of an Hellenic boule. These were… Read more »

Charles Read
Charles Read
1 month ago
Reply to  Froghole

If you don’t have something like the GS then the Church of England will be run by and decisions made by the bishops alone. Is this what you envisage? As Churchill might have said, the GS is the worst possible way of governing the C of E apart from all the other options.

Bernard Silverman
Bernard Silverman
1 month ago
Reply to  Charles Read

There are many other options.

Bernard Silverman
Bernard Silverman
1 month ago
Reply to  Froghole

There are probably two main purposes in having a Synod. The first is to take decisions about resolutions and legislation. That could be done by a referendum system as Froghole has suggested, but often the devil in is the detail, and so even if you like referendums a representative body is useful, both to formulate the detail of resolutions and to follow through on their implementation. Of course the current electoral system for the House of Laity is broken and should be scrapped. The current system (like that of the Venetian Republic) would be an interesting case study for a… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
1 month ago

Thank you for these comments! I was writing somewhat disingenuously, to provoke, for which I apologise. I agree that there should be some sort of deliberative body, and note that, of course, referenda are not exactly in fashion in this country at present. Of course, Synod came into existence prior to the St John-Stevas reforms to the committee system in parliament, but I agree strongly that some form of select committee system would be very useful. There could be committees for each of the divisions within the Commissioners (i.e., MinDev, Pastoral & Closed Churches, etc.). It seems to me that… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
1 month ago
Reply to  Froghole

I’d strongly endorse the introduction of select committees with lay chairs, and more streamlining of synods.   The advantage of representative democracy is that most people don’t have the time or inclination to get involved in the minutiae of policymaking and are quite happy for a suitable person to make decisions on their behalf. Occasionally it may be appropriate to consult voters directly, as with David Cameron’s three referendums, when Parliament delegated decisions on major constitutional matters to the electorate, with whom sovereignty ultimately lies. There’s no reason why General Synod couldn’t do likewise.   Of course, our tricameral legislature… Read more »

Bernard Silverman
Bernard Silverman
1 month ago
Reply to  Froghole

Amen to (nearly) all of that. Keep provoking. My only concern is whether the three-house system is actually a necessary check on the power of the hierarchy. Of course one could look to the US Constitution which doesn’t allow Cabinet members to sit in Congress. The analogy would be that Bishops, members of the Archbishops’ Council, etc would not be allowed to be members of GS. Now that would be interesting!

Last edited 1 month ago by Bernard Silverman
God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
1 month ago
Reply to  Froghole

Froghole and Bernard- Agreed. Next item … I’ve seen figures before relating to ‘growth’ of bishops etc as church numbers (however measured) decline inexorably – I’m sure you will have contributed analysis. What needs to happen to effect change? I note something like 500 members of General Synod- why? to what effect? and that’s without the ‘executive’ beavering away unappreciated. I’ll be so bold as to suggest we have a ‘governance’ filled with place people, ‘yes men’, ‘brown olfactory apparatchiks’, unquestioning, unboatrockers … 50 years on from its inception, time surely for whatever would be the word for the equivalent… Read more »

Charles Read
Charles Read
1 month ago

“I’ll be so bold as to suggest we have a ‘governance’ filled with place people, ‘yes men’, ‘brown olfactory apparatchiks’, unquestioning, unboatrockers …” I’ve been a member of GS on and off since 1997 (with a long period off in the middle) and i don’t recall ever seeing many members of the Houses of clergy and laity who fit this description. On the other hand, over the years, a number of bishops have indicated to me that they regard GS as an annoyance and they would rather the bishops were just left to lead. I think GS does a pretty… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
1 month ago

Many thanks. I note from Peter Brierley’s analyses of churchgoing that regular attendance in the Church of England has fallen from 1,370,400 in 1980 to 660,000 in 2015 (http://www.brin.ac.uk/figures/church-attendance-in-britain-1980-2015/). It has probably declined considerably over the last five years. On that basis the number of legislators in Synod should probably be reduced by more than half. However, if it is the case that there was a dramatic reduction in churchgoing between 1970 and 1980 (as has been my understanding from reading about secularisation in modern Britain), and if it is also the case that the number of people sitting in… Read more »

David Lamming
David Lamming
1 month ago

The following e-mail message was sent to General Synod members yesterday, 12 August 2020: “We have received correspondence from some members who have suggestions for changes to the draft, and in the hope of minimising amendments, the Steering Committee will consider those suggestions on an informal basis; suggestions received by 5.30pm on Friday 28 August will be put to them for consideration. Then a final draft (or confirmation that the draft of 30 July is unchanged) will be circulated to members on or before 9 September, after which any amendments will need to be submitted in the normal way, and by… Read more »

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