Simon Killwick reflects on the last quinquennium

The last five years on Synod was a roller-coaster ride over legislation for women bishops. It began with the emergence of inadequate legislation based on a Code of Practice, which would have condemned the Church to resolving theological disputes in the secular courts. There were a number of attempts to amend and improve the legislation: by both Archbishops; the Manchester motion; and the House of Bishops. All were lost. It was then clear to the Catholic Group that we had no alternative but to press the nuclear button, and work for the defeat of the legislation: building up the numbers of those who would vote against it at Final Approval. The train crash we had warned against took place in November 2012, when the legislation failed to gain the majorities it needed. It still seems incredible that there was no plan to deal with the likely defeat of the legislation, which resulted in a torrent of anger and abuse directed at those who had voted against. We called for early talks to be held to try and resolve the situation; after some initial hesitation, talks were convened.

They led to a huge improvement in relationships, and a workable settlement was reached remarkably quickly. There is widespread agreement that the new settlement is better for the whole Church of England than the previous failed legislation; but there has been no apology for the vitriol heaped on those who secured its defeat.

One of the key lessons from all this is the importance of talks outside the synodical process. There were two attempts at talks behind the scenes while the Measure that failed was going through the Synod. They both took place in Coventry, and were facilitated by Canon David Porter. Unfortunately on both occasions the synodical process was already too far advanced for there to be a serious engagement with the talks. The disastrous end of that process led to a new seriousness in the talks that then followed. Clearly this is a lesson that has been learned, with talks currently taking place on human sexuality prior to any debate in Synod. It is important that we play a full part in the talks, recognising that they are on a different issue, and that the outcome may be very different.

Much of the work of the Synod takes place outside formal debates. Much of it is informal networking in the tearooms and the bars, and I am glad to say that the Catholic Group has worked hard in building up positive relationships with other Synod members. Catholic Group members also took part in a wide range of committees, which are invaluable for networking and contributing positively to the running of the Church. Our work in all these areas has helped to earn respect and build up positive relationships. I am sure that the new Catholic Group will be vigorous in engaging with the wider Synod in this way. This is also something we can all do at a more local level in deaneries and dioceses. We need to engage positively with the life of the wider Church, to show that we are really interested in it, and to build up good relationships.

In some ways, the settlement we have over women bishops is better than a new Province would have been. The danger of a new Province was that it could have been like a Continuing Church within a Church: a ghetto cut off from the rest. The history of Continuing Churches is generally not a happy one, as internal disagreements lead to conflict and division. Being part of a wider whole encourages a more responsible attitude to internal disagreement. The good thing about the Ordinariate, too, is that it is very much part of a wider whole.

It is for our own good that we need the discipline of being part of a wider whole. Having chosen to remain in the Church of England we must be wholehearted about our engagement with that Church, even as we look to wider Catholic unity. A vital part of our vocation is to remind the Church of England of the responsibility of wider Catholic unity – positive engagement with our Church at every level enables us to fulfil that vocation.

The members of the Catholic Group are deeply grateful for all the support we have received from Forward in Faith over the years, and continue to receive. There has been practical and financial support which has been vital to our work; successive Directors of Forward in Faith have been invaluable with their advice and support, too. That said, the Catholic Group has always reserved the right to make its own decisions. At the time when the former leadership of Forward in Faith and the southern PEVs were looking to the establishment of the Ordinariate, the Catholic Group took the view that this was not what the majority of Anglo-Catholics were looking for; even though it was right for some. We therefore decided to persevere with seeking a settlement within the Church of England.

This will be my last speech to the National Assembly as Chairman of the Catholic Group – I am one of nearly 50 per cent of members of both the Catholic Group and the Synod who did not seek re-election. In my case this was after 17 years on the Synod, and nearly 10 years as Chairman of the Catholic Group (ten of the most turbulent and time-consuming years to be Chairman). I am sure that a very excellent new Chairman will be elected; we also have a fantastic new Catholic Group, including a good number of younger members. A younger Group will make it clear that we are very much part of the future of the Church.

We all owe a huge debt to Anne Gray for all her hard work and perseverance as our Elections Officer. I would also like to thank the members of the national Elections Steering Committee. Elections co-ordinators and teams up and down the country have done a great job in helping so many candidates to be elected. I very much hope that elections teams will not disband, but will continue to ensure we have candidates for Diocesan Synod and other local elections, and any casual vacancies to General Synod. One or two dioceses – Chichester and Exeter, I believe – have for many years had a diocesan elections committee planning and overseeing elections; it would be good if every diocese had such a committee. It could well be a key task for local Forward in Faith branches: either to ensure that there is a local elections committee, or to undertake that task themselves.

At every level, we need to reach out to fellow members of the Church of England in love and fellowship, and as co workers in the Lord. There is still much healing and reconciliation needed, and we must be pro-active in seeking it: for the good of the Church, and to fulfil the teaching of the Gospel. It can be done. One of the finest debates of the last Synod was on my private member’s motion on Senior Church Leadership; no one voted against the motion – an incredible turnaround from our position in previous years. We need to look for opportunities at every level, local and national, to take something forward for the good of the Church, which will draw others in, bringing healing and reconciliation, mutual respect and Christian love.

ND Canon Simon Killwick remains Rector of Moss Side, in the diocese of Manchester.