*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

New Synod will cut its teeth on wealth gap and sharing diocesan resources

28 October 2021

GEOFF CRAWFORD

ADDRESSING the widening gap between rich and poor is at the forefront of debate at the new General Synod’s first meeting of the quinquennium, from 16 to 17 November at Church House, Westminster.

The issue comes up in two guises: a debate deferred from July and initiated in the diocese of Sheffield, seeking legislative reform to enable wealthier dioceses to use their historic assets to help poorer ones; and a diocesan-synod motion from Leeds, calling for Government action on reducing the wealth gap.

The climate crisis is not on the agenda for this meeting, but a draft route map for achieving zero-carbon levels by 2030 has been published among the Synod papers. It suggests how all parts of the Church can make changes together, and includes recommendations for building maintenance, heating, and the availability of specialist advice for each setting, alongside ways in which the national Church and dioceses can offer support.

Speaking at the press conference on Thursday, the Bishop of Selby, Dr John Thomson, described God’s creation as in crisis, with the potential of widespread loss of life in which “the poorest and least responsible will be suffering most.” The Synod had set an ambitious target, and this paper represented the next step in building consensus around a workable plan for the whole Church to meet that aim and to make the target possible.

“We recognise this will be challenging, and there will be a financial cost. However, many adaptations can also be made simply and quickly,” he said, emphasising the need for the Church to “get its own house in order”.

This was not about legislation. “We recognise that it is challenging, and that there will be some costs,” he said. Churches were commended for “leading the way in the heritage sector about what is possible”.

At this Synod meeting, there is only one piece of formal legislation, concerning minor changes to the regulations governing vacancy-in-see committees. The Synod will start with an informal day of induction for the members, 60 per cent of whom are new to the Synod. A record number of candidates — 956 for the combined Houses of Clergy and Laity — had stood for election, and the turnout had also significantly increased after the first ever “Stand for Synod” campaign, the secretary-general, William Nye, said.

Inauguration in Westminster Abbey on the Tuesday is followed by a formal inauguration at Church House, but there is no announcement yet about who will be present at that. Formal business opens on the Tuesday afternoon, beginning with a welcome to the new First Church Estates Commissioner, since 1 October, Alan Smith. A presidential address follows from the two Archbishops.

The Synod will then go on to debate “Generosity and Diocesan Finances”. The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, will move: “That this Synod request the Archbishops’ Council to develop legislative proposals, to be brought to a future group of sessions, to give dioceses more freedom to be generous with their historic wealth to other dioceses in the Church of England, and in this way enable a more equitable sharing of this wealth.”

Dr Wilcox has emphasised that the proposal will not entail a mandatory equalisation of historic assets, but is an invitation to the Synod to request the legislative reform that would give dioceses more scope to be generous with their own resources. Currently, the 1976 Endowment and Glebe Measure explicitly restricts what they can do, by insisting that assets income must be invested in the cure of souls within the diocese. The Synod will be invited to explore whether it would be “at least symbolically helpful to remove that restriction” (News, 28 May).

Questions follow for an hour and a half before evening worship. Wednesday opens with a Loyal Address to the Queen from the two Archbishops. The Synod will then debate “The Wealth Gap between the Rich and the Poor”. Canon Paul Cartwright (Leeds) will move: “That this Synod call on Her Majesty’s Government (and all political parties) to adopt an explicit policy of reducing the wealth gap between the rich and the poor and the disadvantages that flow from it.”

There will be an update on the Archbishops’ Council Budget 2022 and Apportionment 2022 report on Wednesday, and a Vision and Strategy debate. Mr Nye emphasised: “It is a new thing for the whole Church to embark on a single vision, a narrative of hope for a growing Church of the future. . . It is not a recipe for cuts and closures.” The Church sought “to double the number of young people and children in our churches by the end of the decade — just about achievable as a vision.”

Canon Dave Male, director of evangelism and discipleship for the C of E, reiterated the three priorities that had been set for the next ten years: a Church of missionary disciples; a Church younger and more diverse, reflecting the nation as a whole; a Church where “mixed ecology” was the norm.

The Synod will debate “mixed ecology” in this session. In 2019, it had set an ambitious target of 10,000 new worshipping communities, “alongside parishes and flowing from them, developing different forms of church”, Canon Males said. “This is not new: in many ways, the Church of England has always had mixed ecology.”

He cited the 1000 chaplains, the 50 religious communities, “daughter churches, church-plants, Fresh Expressions, resource Churches, online church. . . The Church of England has never been static. This is not about usurping the role of the parish and changing structures, but a parish revitalised for mission.”

There will be a presentation by the Governance Review Group, about a report published in September, which seeks to simplify and streamline the governance of the Church to make it easier to operate and more accountable.

Train-a-Priest Fund 2021 Appeal

Please consider a donation to TAP Africa this Lent. Every penny you can give goes to ordinands in Africa who face financial difficulty, to support them as they complete their training. 

Donate online

Read more about this year's appeal

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)