Much business at this year’s General Synod (again on Zoom but this time over two days) was preliminary or ongoing, with no momentous votes. Topics covered included the form of future elections of bishops, bullying and harassment policies, clergy wellbeing (including the very important matter of clergy time off) and of course the perennial discussions on quota, stipends, pensions and investments.
For three topics we were able to form break-out groups for detailed discussion. One of these was episcopal elections, and the other two were the climate emergency and, with some reference to the peri- and post-pandemic world, the strategic direction of the Church. Church in Society has provided some very useful guidelines for how a congregation might head towards carbon neutrality, and our stewardship of the environment is one of the Anglican Five Marks of Mission that stimulated some useful discussion on the Church’s strategic direction.
This was our second Zoom General Synod – last year’s was one day in December to deal with important or urgent business. This year in some ways felt stranger – the weather was right, the business extended over two days with morning and evening prayer, and it was easier to imagine again meeting in person, sharing coffee breaks and meals, and renewing old acquaintances. At least this time we had some more input from our interfaith and interdenominational guests, though technology, as so often, meant that there were one or two problems along the way. On the whole, however, all was well, and we can look forward, perhaps, to more normal times next year.
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 followed 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!