Paul Benfield gives a brief report on the recent Sacred synod held in the northern province
The Bishop of Beverley, together with the Bishops of Burnley, Pontefract, Whitby and Bp Paul Richardson, Assistant Bishop of Newcastle, called a Sacred Synod for the clergy of the Northern Province on 16 May. So it was that bishops, priests and deacons descended on the Church of St John and St Barnabas, Belle Isle, Leeds. The church is used by Bishop Martyn for meetings as it is not far from Leeds City Centre (for those arriving by train) and also very near a motorway junction. The trouble was that the motorway junction was closed for roadworks, so many of us had an interesting tour round South Leeds, guiding ourselves by the spire of St Mary’s Hunslett.
When I arrived at Belle Isle just before 11.00 the church seemed rather empty and I momentarily felt depressed at the poor turnout. I should not have worried, as suddenly hordes of clerics ascended from the Family Centre, where coffee had been served, and the church was full. It is a 1930s building filled with ecclesiastical furniture from various unlikely places, including, we were told, the altar used at one of the Anglo-Catholic Congresses.
Sadly, Fr Jonathan Baker was not able to be present to speak to us about the theological issues, so it fell to Fr David Houlding, Chairman of the Catholic Group on General Synod, to begin with the theological principles and then explain where we are in terms of the synodical process. He outlined the requirements about jurisdiction and sacramental assurance which must be satisfied in any provision for us, and went on to explain where the present TEA proposals are deficient. After questions to him the Midday Office was led by the Bishop of Pontefract.
We adjourned to the hall to eat our sandwiches and catch up with friends from other dioceses. After lunch Canon Glyn Webster, Prolocutor of the Province of York, chaired a forum at which the bishops and Fr Houlding answered more questions and responded to statements from the floor. It would not be right to report in detail on this session since people were encouraged to speak frankly and honestly and some did so. Hopes and fears were expressed, together with praise and criticism.
The Synod did not pass any resolutions and it did not hatch some secret plot. It was simply a coming together of clergy with their bishops to pray and listen together and to learn where we are and what may lie ahead. For those of us on General Synod and in other national bodies it is easy to forget the many clergy labouring faithfully in the vineyard, who perhaps feel isolated and unsure whether anyone is with them.
The Synod should have encouraged them, for we went away with a renewed sense of unity and purpose. We went away resolved not just to defend our position, but to teach and proclaim the Catholic faith not only in ‘our’ parishes, but throughout the Church of England.