The Church of Englands General Synod met in York over the weekend, running through to Tuesday with strong representation from this diocese.
While a lot of media coverage centred on the on-going issue of finding acceptable legislation for those who oppose women bishops, there were a number of other important issues discussed.
A very serious and shocking statement from the sex abuse victim support groups led to a sincere apology from Justin Welby on behalf of the whole church and a removal of the twelve month rule within which complaints had to be raised. It also exposed the lack of pastoral care given to those in need.
Speaking to BBC Radio Stoke on Sunday morning, the Bishop of Lichfield, Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill reiterated this dioceses priority to support survivors of abuse.
Its very important that we issue an unreserved apology for people and families that have suffered and there may be others who havent come forward yet. He urged people who have safeguarding concerns to contact the church authorities (parish or diocesan safeguarding officers) or police.
The place of the Anglican church as part of a worldwide movement was brought home when one guest, Bishop Angaelous of the Christian Coptic Church was called away as two churches in Egypt had been torched and two priests killed. He returned to speak about the situation, explaining that Egypt has great problems- the stock market at a five year low, unemployment at 33%, 5500 strikes in a year, debt at 85% of GDP, threefold increase in car thefts and general unrest due to the economic instability. Attacks have been on all religious groups and the media are portraying a battle zone. 'A kingdom divided will fall'. There is a need for pragmatic and cohesive leadership but all is not lost, what happened under Diocletian was worse. He asked for three days of prayer for Egypt, starting on Tuesday before affirming that Christians and Muslims can work together to rebuild the country.
General Synod contains representatives from every diocese in England in all three houses representing bishops, clergy and laity. All played a full part in the various debates:
Rev Chris Sims and Rev Mark Ireland spoke about the need for mission planning, Rev Stephen Pratt about the need for safeguarding training and I asked for assurance that the C of E would not invest in alcohol as we have street pastors that see the effects [answer- no assurance] says lay member Penny Allen.
It was the first synod for Canon Wealands Bell, the winner of a by-election following Revd Paul Farthings move to a new post in another diocese.
As a new-comer to Synod, my energies were largely directed towards understanding what was going on he says. But that didnt stop him participating in the debate on women bishops:
As someone who had stood as an avowedly inclusive Anglican, and as a liberal Catholic who has for many years tried to support my Traditionalist friends, I was most exercised by the debate on the Episcopate. I found the process measured and courteous (unlike some of the irresponsible tweeting by people who werent there), and spoke up for a binding provision which need not be seen as injurious to the dignity of women. My view did not prevail, but I am confident that we ended in a place from which our longed-for destination may still be reached by all of us together.
The debate was A much more good natured meeting thanks to the facilitated conversations with leaders experienced in reconciliation on Saturday and an interactive theatre caricature of our attitudes which made us all laugh! says Penny We spent a long time in reconciliation exercises [on the Saturday] which made the atmosphere of the debates easier. We are proceeding slowly but surely towards our goal of appointing women bishops while still safeguarding the consciences of the minority opposed".
Those reconciliation exercises were a departure from normal synod meetings: firstly people worked in small groups and secondly the exercises were conducted behind closed doors to enable open and honest discussion. Did it help the following debate?
The temperature at the July sessions of General Synod was…hot. Very hot -well outside at least. Facilitated group conversations helped ease the feelings regarding Women Bishops. New proposals were given a cool reception though: we shall have to wait and see how it evolves with the steering group according to another lay member, Tug Wilson. The issue isnt completely settled that may still take two years for synod to pass legislation with the required two-thirds majority required in each House.
At last everyone agrees there must be women bishops says Penny. This was cheering news and now fifteen people of different views are to be locked in a room with Rev David Porter [experienced reconciler] to come up with the necessary legislation.
General Synod isnt just a business meeting, but a place built on worship, and Bishop Jonathan was called on to lead worship during the weekend, as was Wealands who was drawn in to lead the sung responses in worship one day.
"We had a good weekend in sunny York though some couldn't resist the tennis quips Bishop Jonathan. Tug adds:
Important issues like overhauling how General Synod is elected run out of time - to be resumed. Oh well .... At least Murray won.
The full list of General Synod members for Lichfield Diocese is:
House of Bishops: Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill
House of Clergy: The Revd Mark Ireland, The Revd Maureen Hobbs RD, The Revd Preb Patricia Hawkins RD, The Revd Stephen Pratt, The Venerable Christopher Sims, The Revd Canon Wealands Bell.
House of Laity: Mr Tug Wilson, Mrs Joanna Monckton, Mr David Beswick, Dr Chik Kaw Tan, Mr Christopher Corbet, Mrs Penny Allen, Mr John Alexander Shand.