Our man at synod – day 1


Setting off from Penzance on the 0815 train to London Paddington for the next session of the General Synod. The sky over Mounts Bay was grey and foreboding and in many ways that matched my mood as I turned my mind to the items that will be on our Agenda at our meeting.

The two issues that have dogged and at times have seemed to  dominate the General Synod ‘s Business are there again – namely Safeguarding and the Church’s past failures plus Living in Love and Faith and how we welcome and affirm couples in a same-sex relationship – and have already been well trailed in the media already.

But looking beyond that there are also debates scheduled  that are outward facing – such as the crisis in the loss of biodiversity and the impact of the war in Ukraine.

There has been so much rain up country and the fields so flooded that at one point I  thought the train was going to have to transform into an ark.

Yesterday the Vacancy in See Committee which is part of the process for discerning our next Bishop of Truro held its final meeting. It signed off the agreed text of the document known as the Statement of Needs which is the closest thing the church gets to a Job Advert!  It also elected the six representatives from the Diocese of Cornwall who will be on the Interview Panel in Autumn. I find myself as one of those chosen … alongside Anna Mason, Laura Bushell-Hawke, Simon Taurins, Mike Sturgess and Roger Smith. Please do pray for us all in this task. This will certainly give an added dimension to this time at Synod. Some – not all – of the potential candidates may well be members of General Synod. So I will be doing a Simon Cowell from the public gallery on speakers.

The Synod itself began with The Presidential Address from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He began with a chilling reminder of the words of the UN Secretary General Antonion Guterres that the world is becoming unhinged.

Archbishop Justin  Welby spoke of the suffering raging across the world, with the war in Ukraine “frozen”, and the “havoc and horror” being experienced in the Middle East, as well as devastation in places including Myanmar, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as the poverty in the UK.

“We live in a world of suffering and, unlike in the past, it is a world where we are aware of the suffering.”

Suffering has profound impact on all of us and often leads us to become fearful and this in turn can lead division and can make people see each other as enemies something which we must resist. Sadly this is especially true within the Church of England when the level of hatred that he has witnessed is of a level worse even than in secular world.

He made reference to Psalm 56 which is attributed to a time when David was having to hide as he was surrounded by enemies of Philistine. David finds he is delivered by God and this inspires us to seek to live in holy obedience.

The Archbishop speaking directly to factions within Synod urged members to reach out across the divides. “It is only by trusting those who are different from us that we build resilience which will encourage us to see the God who is always at work in the world.”

Archbishop Justin concluded his address by making a presentation of a Lambeth Cross Award to Tom Joy in recognition of 15 years of service as the Chief Investor Officer of the Church Commissioners. During his time his team have seen a great growth in the value of the Church Commissioners assets and played a key role in the development of the Transition Pathway Initiative which brought together a powerful group of investors seeking major changes to move the global economy to a greener future.

We moved swiftly on to business and the first debate was on the topic of Parochial Fees. A motion was proposed by the Diocese of London which sought to restore the fee payable to a  Parochial Church Council when  funeral services take place at crematoria and cemeteries and when there is no service in church. In 2019 this fee of £32 which is meant to reflect the contribution made by parishes in support of such services was transferred from the Parochial Church Council to the Diocesan Board Of Finance.  

The proposer argued that this change has been detrimental to parishes in a loss of income and also acting as a deterrent to churches exercising a funeral ministry.

Indeed one speaker from the London Diocese said that in his Deanery there is only one priest left who will take funerals of non church goers at the local crematorium because PCC treasurers of the other churches felt to do so led to a drop in their income.

The debate turned out to be much more than about money and fees. It emphasised the importance of good funeral ministry by parish churches. Our bereavement ministry is core to our calling as churches and Christians as well as an opportunity for out reach.

One speaker suggested that having heard as part of the presentation to Tom Joy just how well the Church Commissioners Investments were doing whether some of the increase in assets could be used to supplement and strengthen our funeral ministry through the provision of administration and resources to support lay members of the congregation who are working alongside clergy in pastoral care.

The vote on the motion was passed with a large majority – and with me voting in favour ! – so that should at least make me popular with our  PCC treasurers and put a smile on their faces !

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