The General Synod of The Church of England meets again from July 8-12, this time in York.
This is just the third meeting of the new Synod since five yearly elections took place last summer.
Full details of the agendas are available via the links below, plus ways in which you can engage with the proceedings.
For the full Synod timetable and papers etc click here.
Meanwhile the results of the most recent elections for representatives from this Diocese are still available to be viewed on this page of our website and our representatives are pictured here (including Bishop Julian, centre) at the Westminster Abbey service prior to their first Synod last November.
General Synod is the national assembly of the Church of England and passes legislation known as measures and canons which have legal force.
Synod considers and approves legislation affecting the whole of The Church of England, formulates new forms of worship, debates matters of national and international importance, and approves the annual budget for the work of the Church at national level.
The General Synod comprises the Convocations of Canterbury and York, joined together in a House of Bishops and a House of Clergy, to which is added a House of Laity. It was established in 1970, replacing an earlier body known as the Church Assembly.
In a regular year, General Synod meets in February in London (as pictured top) and in July in York. Occasionally it meets in November, also in London.
Motions on net zero, future spending, and access to pornography will all be debated.
The Secretary General of the General Synod, William Nye, recently outlined some of the main business at a press briefing. Discussions will also include how the next Archbishop of Canterbury is to be selected.
The “Routemap to Net Zero Carbon by 2030” will be discussed. The development of the plan was instigated by the General Synod’s decision in February 2020 to commit the C of E to being carbon-neutral within 10 years.
Changes to the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) are another item on the agenda. A report from the CDM Implementation Group will be brought to the Synod. If it wins approval, the Archbishops’ Council will then bring forward legislation to be considered in February.
As covered in Diocesan news reports back in 2019 (and reported on more recently in the Church Times) parochial fees for church weddings could be reduced or scrapped under proposals being brought by our diocese to the General Synod, which meets in York next week.
The motion, which will be debated under contingency business only if time allows, asks the Synod 'to amend the Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2019 so that the fees relating to marriages are set at nil or at a minimal amount in order to demonstrate the Church’s commitment to marriage and pastoral care'.
In July 2019, our Diocesan Synod originally passed a motion (presented by Blackpool Deanery Synod) that read: "That this Synod call on the Archbishops’ Council to introduce an order to amend the Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order 2019 so that the fees relating to marriages are set at nil or at a minimal amount, in order to demonstrate the Church’s commitment to marriage and pastoral care."
Tom Woolford, who is proposing the motion, writes...
There is a correlation between the rising level of Church of England wedding fees (300% rise since 2000) and the sharp decline in recent years in numbers of church weddings (which have halved in the same period).
The trend appears to be especially acute in poorer areas such as Blackpool deanery where this motion originated.
It now costs more than £500 to have banns read and a wedding conducted in a parish church; and this amount does not include charges for a verger, music, bells, flowers, or even heating if needed.
On its own, of course, correlation need not imply causation, and there are certainly other factors behind the decline in church weddings too - such as increasing secularisation and more choice in terms of venue.
But our Diocesan Synod passed the motion (and therefore sent it up to General Synod for debate) on the grounds that (i) the high fees, anecdotally at least, do put couples off from marrying in church.
In addition (ii) high fees put church weddings (and marriage more generally) beyond the reach of many, while the process for waiving fees for those who need it is opaque, intrusive, and embarrassing; and (iii) according to Scripture and our own liturgy, marriage is meant to be a gift of God’s grace, but our fees give a contrary impression.
Having more weddings in church would also re-establish more and closer links between parish churches and their communities that will bear pastoral and evangelistic fruit; while taking such a radically generous step would also shift opinions about the Church's relationship with money.
Understandably, there are some churches that rely on the income generated by weddings fees to be able to pay their parish share who are naturally concerned about the financial implications. This certainly necessitates careful thought and planning - maybe a time-limited and/or regional trial - on the part of the Archbishops' Council, were the motion to pass in General Synod.
It may be, however, that moving to a suggested donation system (which in most cases could be gift-aided) will mitigate that danger, while having more weddings overall (making more donations!) might mean that the pecuniary impact is less severe than some fear. It will certainly be an interesting debate, should we get round to it in York.
Ronnie Semley, July 2022 (page updated for each Synod)