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One more step along the road: February’s meeting of General Synod

News St Martin – Talking Points

Friday 14 February 2014

St Martin-in-the-Fields is a member of Inclusive Church and has signed their Declaration of Belief, calling to “open the ministries of deacon, priest and bishop to those so called to serve by God, regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation.” We therefore take a great interest in the progress of the legislation to allow women to become bishops, and wanted to share this information from February’s meeting of the Church of England’s General Synod:

One more step along the road we go

With “#synod” trending on Twitter, General Synod took another step towards women bishops in its meeting in early February 2014. Another step indeed, since there have been many in the past, so many, that it is easy to lose sight of where we are in the process of bringing the women bishops legislation to final approval. Let’s recap.

WHERE WE CAME FROM

After the failure of the previous legislative package in November 2012, a new way of doing things emerged, and a Steering Committee was formed of members unusually consisting both of those in favour and not in favour of women bishops. In facilitated conversations under the firm and gentle chairmanship and guidance of the Bishop of Rochester, James Langstaff, we worked together to find a mutually acceptable way forward. The actual piece of legislation is simple but is supported by other documents, including a Resolution Disputes Procedure and, importantly, the House of Bishops Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests. The whole package is based on an understanding of trust and the will for mutual flourishing.

This new way of working together, helped in no small way by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director for Reconciliation, Canon David Porter, resulted in overwhelming support for the Measure when brought to General Synod in November 2013 for First Consideration. In fact, the atmosphere was thus that it was deemed possible to speed up the normal process, dispense with the normal Revision Committee stage and in February move straight to Revision in full Synod.

GENERAL SYNOD IN FEBRUARY 2014

So this February, there were four separate items of business to undertake.

First, the Synod welcomed overwhelmingly the House of Bishops’ Draft Declaration and Disputes Resolution Regulation. There was a good tone to the debate which focussed on the framework of relationships rather than trying to legislate for every eventuality.

Secondly, with large majorities the Draft Measure and Amending Canon (ie the Canon that makes sure associated bits of legislation are made to fit in with the new legislation) were committed to the Steering Committee for final drafting.

Thirdly, Synod was invited to consider a draft Act of Synod to rescind the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 (this was the famous Act of Synod which introduced ‘flying Bishops’). The motion was clearly carried and this new [2014] Act of Synod to rescind the 1993 Act of Synod will be considered by the House of Bishops before it returns for final approval.

Fourthly and finally, a motion made use of the provision within Standing Orders to suspend a particular Standing Order which normally calls for a six month consultation period with the Dioceses over such important legislation (so-called Article 8 reference). While there were some voices raising concern and calling for the ‘Pause’ button, more than the required 75% of General Synod members voted to reduce the period of time to 3 months.

STAGES TO COME

Following now the successful completion of this Revision stage, the legislation goes to the dioceses for approval. Provided a majority of Dioceses approve by 22 May 2014, General Synod will be able to hold the final approval debate in July 2014. This will indeed be the big one and will require a two thirds majority in each of the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity.

If passed, the legislation would then go to Parliament for approval and could be in force before the end of this year. The Church of England could be appointing women as bishops in 2015.

While there were many bits of legislation to get through in February’s General Synod meeting, there were some real highlights, like when Dr Lindsay Newcombe, Lay Chair of Forward in Faith (opposed to the ordination of women), stated that there was an end to battling against each other because the mission of the church is more important.

Amen to that – a lesson not just for General Synod!

Dagmar Winter is a member of the Steering Committee for the Women Bishops Legislation