Chris Dobson reports on the first afternoon of General Synod
General Synod began in worship and prayer, which gave rise to the first 'priceless moment' when the Archdeacon of Lewisham reached the moment appointed for the bible readings. After a few moments of silent embarrassment and shuffling of papers she uttered the memorable words, "Does anyone have a bible?" Happily someone did and normal service was restored.
The first item on the agenda was a presentation from Archbishop Justin Welby giving an overview of the work of the Archbishops. ++Justin reflected on his visit to the World Council of Churches, the creation of a Catholic order based at Lambeth Palace and an encouraging trip to GAFCON, the full text of his speech can be found on the Church of England website.
One clear and welcome mark of ++Justin's influence in the life of the General Synod has been a explicit emphasis on the call to prayer and worship as an integral part of this Synod. A practical outworking of this is a group of people praying throughout the whole of synod in Church House Chapel and an encouragement for Synod members to take the opportunity to join them in prayer.
The most significant debate of the afternoon was around a report calling upon the Synod to place 'Intentional Evangelism' at the heart of the life and work of the Synod and the church, including the formation of a task force to lead and shape this initiative.
The debate was enlivened by thoughtful and heartfelt contributions from across the synod chamber. Highlights included a warmly received presentation from Philip North who challenged the church not to stress the emphasis on growth to such an extent that we accidentally forget the poor. He noted that while in an area of urban deprivation in his area a parish had remained empty for over two years, another parish in a nice part of Paddington had recently received over 130 applicants .. Why do the majority of church planters go to the places where the fruit is hanging low?
Gavin Oldman acknowledged the 'spectacular failure' of the current generation to pass on the Christian faith to our children, while Stephen Pratt observed that it is very easy for PCCs to talk about Evangelism without getting out and actually doing any. Part of the report is a recommendation that every PCC should be encouraged to engage in at least one new evangelistic initiative every year, and that a significant part of one meeting should be devoted to considering evangelism annually.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, also spoke of his desire to 'liberate' the word evangelism from its association with a particular church tradition, it is a word that rightly belongs to the 'whole church.'
Following an extensive debate the report was received unanimously, and the hope is that it will be part of an ongoing culture change in the life of the church which seeks to place a greater emphasis on growth and mission at the heart of all our business.
The rest of the afternoon's business was the completion of a complex and extensive measure (apparently the longest ever at 32 pages) grandly entitled 'Draft Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure which tied up a whole raft of legislative business, which passed without question. A fact that the Archbishop of York assured the Synod would delight the Queen and Prince Philip.