Simon Killwick reports on the Synodical Process
Each session of General Synod begins with a report on the progress of legislation; it is usually like watching paint dry! It seems ironic to be beginning the Forward in Faith Assembly in this way. We have always known that women bishops would come; Forward in Faith has never existed to stop women bishops (contrary to popular opinion), but always to secure a proper place for us within the CofE.
Forward in Faith and the Catholic Group in General Synod have worked closely together to prepare our members and supporters for these debates. Fr Tony Delves has been employed part-time by the Catholic Group and deserves our grateful thanks for this work, with funds provided by Forward in Faith, to be our national co-ordinator. He has worked closely with Mr Stephen Parkinson, Fr (now Bishop) Jonathan Baker, Frs Paul Benfield, David Houlding and myself.
Votes in Deanery Synods are consultative; they are reported to the Diocesan Synod, but are not binding on the Diocesan Synod. We have had some notable successes; generally, where our people were present, and made out a good case for our position, we did well; where our people were not present, we did less well. Votes in Diocesan Synods are also consultative; they are reported to General Synod, but not binding.
However, the legislation must be approved by a majority of Dioceses if it is to come back to General Synod – there is no doubt that will happen, and the legislation will come to General Synod for Final Approval. To gain Final Approval, the legislation will need a two-thirds majority in each of the three Houses of General Synod; all the indications so far are that it will fail to achieve a two-thirds majority in the House of Laity – unless it is amended to make better provision for us.
Many members of General Synod are uneasy about the legislation as it stands; they recognize that if it is not amended, there will be a train crash whichever way the vote goes at Final Approval: if it passes, we and others will be marginalized and excluded; if it fails, there will be huge disappointment and anger on the part of those who want women bishops. Without amendment, it is a lose-lose situation for General Synod.
The problem is that we are not allowed to propose amendments in deanery or Diocesan Synod debates. The only way of expressing the need for proper provision is to propose what are called Following Motions.
Not even the General Synod can amend the legislation at this stage in the process; the House of Bishops is the only body that can do that. So the Catholic Group Executive and Forward in Faith National Council agreed last December to support a Following Motion which came from the Church of England Evangelical Council calling on the House of Bishops to amend the legislation to provide bishops for us with oversight in their own right. This has been passed in two dioceses so far; it may be passed in two more. Sadly, this will not be enough to encourage the House of Bishops to do the decent thing.
One problem that we have faced is that in many dioceses, we have few parishes, and therefore few if any members of Diocesan Synod to put our case. Too often debates have ended up being on the principle of women bishops, rather than the detail of the legislation; there has been little real debate about the issue of provision.
The voting in many Diocesan Synods therefore reflects a general desire for women bishops, rather than the legislation itself. In a number of Dioceses, where we have been better represented, our case has been made, and we have done better; we may not have carried the day, but we have gathered significant support – which refutes the claim that the draft legislation has received overwhelming or unanimous support. Where our case has been made, and there has been real debate on the legislation itself, there has been less than overwhelming support.
Over the summer, I became aware of another Following Motion, calling on the General Synod effectively to reconsider the Archbishops’ amendment. It could not be worded quite like that, because of course the General Synod cannot amend the legislation, only the House of Bishops can do that – so it was worded in a roundabout way instead, that General Synod calls on the House of Bishops to amend in the manner proposed by the Archbishops.
Request for amendment
This Following Motion has already been passed by three Diocesan Synods; it is likely to be passed by two or three more. The beauty of it is that we are already virtually guaranteed a debate on this new Following Motion in the General Synod in February next year. If majority of General Synod pass it, it will hugely encourage the House of Bishops to do the decent thing, the Anglican thing, and amend the legislation. In the meantime, if anyone comes up with a better way of amending the legislation, that can be proposed as an amendment to the Following Motion in the February General Synod.
The Archbishops’ amendment deserves consideration. The amendment would mean that every diocese would have to have a diocesan scheme under which parishes could request the oversight of a complementary bishop. This complementary bishop would have oversight in his own right, not delegated from the diocesan bishop. The complementary bishop would have to act in close partnership with the diocesan bishop. Both the diocesan bishop and the complementary bishop would share oversight between them, in accordance with a Code of Practice approved by the General Synod. This is subtly and significantly different from the draft Measure which provides that complementary bishops only have delegated oversight.
The Archbishops’ amendment is, of course, a compromise, but it stands in the best tradition of Anglican compromises, a tradition which has held the majority of Christians of varying beliefs together in one Church of England for over 500 years.
The amendment could be a lifeline – a lifeline to us, because it could enable us to remain within the CofE with integrity – a lifeline to the CofE, because it could enable the Church to move forward with women bishops and keep most of her loyal members on board by making proper provision for those who hold to the faith and order of the undivided Church.
Thanks to this new Following Motion, our situation looks a lot more hopeful than it did a year ago; the situation for the CofE looks a lot more hopeful. We pray for a positive debate in General Synod in February, and for wise counsel in the House of Bishops. Everyone is predicting the CofE to fracture over women bishops; we can now see how a win-win position could be achieved, and the CofE could yet astonish the world by moving forward together! ND