Revd Canon Karen Hutchinson - Clergy General Synod member and Vicar of The Bourne and Tilford
Firstly, for anybody wondering, the General Synod is the equivalent of Parliament for the Church of England – an elected body that has the power to make laws that govern the life of the church as part of the law of the land. Each diocese elects representatives from both ordained ministers and lay people, as well as sending their diocesan bishop. General elections take place every five years; this happened in September, so the meeting of November 24-25 was the first meeting of the new synod.
This synod is really does have the sense of being ‘new’. Many of the old synod who were part of the long struggle to bring about the possibility of women as bishops have now stepped down and not sought re-election, with the result that half the members of this synod are newly elected. From being one of the newbies for the last two years, it was strange to suddenly feel like a veteran! My impression is that the new synod is has more female members, a slightly younger average age, and seemed to be keen to engage positively with the various issues facing us.
Because this synod was mostly about inducting the new people, and being formally inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen, it was a very short group of sessions this time. The queen’s speech was something of a highlight for me, as I think it was for many. She reminded us of our ministry as reconcilers and bridge builders. Especially important today when extremist and harmful religion is in the spotlight, for us to be people who bring the light of Christ into dark places, who foster love and reconciliation.
"The queen’s speech ... reminded us of our ministry as reconcilers and bridge builders. Especially important today when extremist and harmful religion is in the spotlight, for us to be people who bring the light of Christ into dark places, who foster love and reconciliation."
On Wednesday morning we had a major debate on one of the big issues facing the world today - the migration crisis
. Churches of different denominations across Europe and the Middle East are working together to do whatever they can to help people fleeing war and persecution in their own homes. Parables that Jesus told, like the story of the Good Samaritan, convict us of the necessity to go out of our way to give aid to the stranger in trouble, not to walk by on the other side of road, or even the British channel, as one of our speakers phrased it.
A presentation from the Sentamus on their visit to the Pacific Islands in connection with climate change
reminded us that we are global neighbours and can't ignore the effects that climate change is already having on the most vulnerable countries in our world.
There were presentations summarising the current state of the ‘Reform and Renewal
’ project – a major piece of work connecting different aspects of the structural life of the C of E – how it trains its leaders, how funding is gathered and distributed, how rules might be simplified, and also the research on evangelism. More on evangelism is promised in our February 2016 synod as the task group reports.
We finished with a debate on a major piece of work on church buildings. Many people assume that because we are the Church of England, the state will be maintaining our heritage church buildings. But that's not the case. Local communities up and down the country pay for the maintenance and repair of their local churches, though recently some churches have benefited from limited listed places of worship grants. Our church buildings
are not just a jewel in the nation's heritage, but they are places where all people can come to find a sense of the peace and the presence of the living God, so it’s important that we find ways of keeping them very much open for business, and integrated into mission strategies.
"Parables that Jesus told, like the story of the Good Samaritan, convict us of the necessity to go out of our way to give aid to the stranger in trouble, not to walk by on the other side of road, or even the British channel, as one of our speakers phrased it."
Perhaps the most controversial issue for the church at the moment, same sex marriage, was not on the agenda at all. Was it the elephant in the room? It didn’t seem to be – but I think we are all aware that we are going to spend a lot of time at the July 2016 synod talking about sexuality, so perhaps people were simply enjoying not having to discuss it this time!
During meal breaks and in the evening, synod offers the possibility of different fringe meetings. As this was a short group of sessions, there were fewer of these this time, but I attended one that made me quite excited. The Church Army has produced a new resource to help people share their faith. It’s called ‘faithpictures’
and is designed as a six-week (free) course for churches of all shapes, sizes and traditions, but perhaps could be said to be particularly suitable for those with some reticence about faith-sharing. Archbishop Justin pressed the button to launch the course website
. I’m now looking forward to trying it out in my parish!