General Synod was postponed this year from its usual June two and a half day session in Edinburgh to a one-day Zoom meeting on 5th. December. The technology, already tested at the General Assembly, allowed all the participants (around 130 of us) to raise questions, make comments, and vote, just as we would at St. Paul’s & St. George’s, where this time only the General Synod Office staff and a few others were gathered. Mostly the technology worked, though there were inevitably a few glitches.
The meeting began not with coffee and chat but with a refresher on the new way of doing things. Then we had the Synod Eucharist with the Primus officiating and his charge to Synod, which concentrated chiefly on fighting bullying within the church, something highlighted by a clergy welfare survey last year.
The usual elections followed, allowing us plenty of practice with the voting buttons. Then Standing Committee presented the annual report and accounts and the unfamiliar news that quota this year, the amount of money that each diocese pays to the province, was to be reduced significantly to allow some leeway to churches struggling in the current circumstances. This was following by group discussions on what we had found particularly valuable during lockdown, and how the church could be resourced to enhance or improve that for the future.
There was a generous lunch break to allow us time away from the screen, and this was followed by a review of the process of reforming Canon 4, concerning the election of bishops. The committee working on this would like input from everyone who has an involvement in these elections or who has had in the past. The afternoon session also looked at the revised Safeguarding Policy for the church, and at conditions for the clergy – stipend, time off, and again bullying.
Standing Committee returned to report on ethical investment, an ongoing revision of where the church’s money is used, and this was linked to the next topic of debate, Church in Society’s motion concerning climate change and the church’s reaction to it. It was felt that the church should be leading, not simply following, in this matter. Again this topic had echoes in the Provincial Youth presentation that followed, which covered reactions to lockdown, climate change and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Evening prayer closed the meeting, which like so many other things this year had notes of the familiar and layers of the strange. So little chance to socialise with our friends across the Province, or to greet visitors from other denominations and faiths; so strange to see everyone in gilets and thick jumpers when we usually meet in June; so odd to have synod business in the middle of one’s own home. But on the plus side, as someone remarked, at least we didn’t have to queue for the ladies’ loo!