Prudence Dailey’s Commentary: General Synod Has It All Wrong

Prudence Dailey’s Commentary

The General Synod has its Priorities Wrong

As the February Group of Sessions of the General Synod of the Church of England approaches, I have been discussing with fellow members of the new Save the Parish group how we might approach some key items on the agenda. These exchanges have proved eye-opening: although I have long been uncomfortable with many of the priorities evidenced by the Church’s leadership, after 22 years I had become used to it somewhat! For some of those new to the General Synod, however—and especially those who have not previously suffered Diocesan or Deanery Synods, or been involved in the machinations of Church politics—it is clear that the Agenda has come as something of a shock.

Of course, there are the usual ‘housekeeping’ items, such as agreeing the timetable of future meetings and the appointment of the chairmen of various committees of which no-one outside the Synod has ever heard: although unexciting, these matters are nonetheless necessary. Other items, though, betray what is perceived to be most important: a long session on the new Archbishops’ Racial Justice Commission; yet another presentation on Safeguarding; proposals to encourage churches to become ‘carbon neutral’ by making it harder to replace their boilers. In addition, there are proposals whose stated aim to simplify the way in which the Church of England is governed by its complex interlocking structures, but which also risk reducing accountability, and concentrating power at the top. There is also a motion, proposed by the Durham Diocesan Synod, calling on the Government to do more to assist victims of human trafficking: though this is entirely laudable in itself, the Synod overestimates its importance if it thinks passing such a resolution will make a much difference beyond displaying its own virtue on an issue which is already on Government’s radar. (Another Diocesan Synod motion, from the Lichfield Diocese, has more mileage, since it encourages the Church itself to increase support for persecuted Christians overseas.)

I shall have more to say about what transpires at the Synod in my next column; but the real problem—as these eager Synodical newcomers have reminded me—is not so much what is on the agenda, as what is not on it. When your local church, which was already struggling in terms of both numbers and money, has been knocked back further by the effects of COVID restrictions; when every penny the congregation can raise is confiscated in the form Parish Share by a Diocese which says you will have to pay even more next year; when you are informed that the incumbent will not be replaced, and your community is under threat of having the church closed and its spiritual heart ripped out—THAT is what you hope the General Synod will be talking about, above and before everything else. Whatever your racial or ethnic background, a Diocesan Racial Justice Officer will not do much to meet your pastoral needs if you do not actually have a Vicar.

As one new member put it, ‘When I was elected to the General Synod, I thought I was going to be voting on important matters for the future of our Church, and I want to know how we can change the agenda’. It needs to be recognised that the agenda is very entrenched, and it will not be easy to challenge it—but some of us are very determined to try. It is quite possible that Synod may not know what has hit it.

Miss Dailey is a member of General Synod from Oxford Diocese.