Prudence Dailey’s Commentary: General Synod Update

Prudence Dailey’s Commentary

General Synod Update

A couple of weeks ago, the new General Synod of the Church of England was inaugurated—the eleventh Synod since it began (although sadly the first at which HM The Queen was unable to be present), and my fifth Quinquennium as a member.

The new General Synod seemed to have a somewhat different atmosphere from previous ones, for two reasons:

First, almost two-thirds of all the members were newly elected—quite possibly the largest turnover in the Synod’s history. While some long-serving Synod members had decided not to stand again, a number of former ‘big names’ were ejected by the electorate. Groups within Synod do not operate like political parties—many members do not belong to a group, while some belong to several; and every candidate stands as an individual—so it is hard to know exactly why this happened. In my Diocese (Oxford), however, it was noticeable that only those candidates who expressed an unambiguous view one way or the other on the question of same-sex marriage were elected: perhaps unusually for the Church of England, in this instance fudge was not a popular confection.

The other important factor was the sudden appearance of a new issue of major concern within the Church of England, namely the plight of Parishes. The ‘Save the Parish’ campaign has previously been covered by other writers in this newspaper: I am a member of its Steering Committee, and had the job of co-ordinating its efforts in the General Synod elections (and bringing together the new Save the Parish group in Synod that has now been formed). Many of the new members arrived with a spring in their step—and perhaps in a few cases a certain naïveté about the extent and speed of the change they might be able to achieve—that more jaded Synodsmen rarely possess.

Save the Parish appears to have rattled the hierarchy of the Church of England somewhat, if the number of times ‘Parishes’—and in some cases ‘Save the Parish’—were mentioned from the platform, including by both Archbishops. We were assured over and over again that we are all really on the same side, and that Parishes continue to be at the heart of the Church of England: at times it rather felt as though we were being ticked off for our pig-headedness in not appreciating this. It very much remains to be seen, though, whether those holding the purse strings will be prepared to put their money where their mouths are, or whether they will continue to divert resources into Diocesan bureaucracies and extra-parochial initiatives that have the effect of undermining the Parish system. As one Save the Parish supporter put it, ‘I do think the number of times the Archbishops insist the Parish is safe is evidence that it isn’t!’

The new movement to defend the Parishes is distinguished by its ability to cut right across the usual divides of churchmanship and theology. Much of the life of the General Synod over the past couple of decades has been dominated by seemingly interminable, and often fractious, debates about sex and gender: first women bishops, and now LGBT issues (with various associated themes). As important as these matters are, they have become wearing (and I know at least one former Synod member who stood down for that reason). It will be fascinating to see how the fresh debate over the future of Parishes will play out of the coming years.

Miss Dailey is a member of the General Synod for the Diocese of Oxford.