In which Ruth ponders General Synod 2014

I seem to be the last of the Pisky bloggers to get around to writing about General Synod this year. I’ve been off Synod for the past two years after many years on, so this was an exciting return for me. For I do love General Synod. I love meeting up with Provincial pals who we see less and less these days. In days gone by there used to be Provincial Conferences where we all met up and made new friends, shared stories and ideas, socialised and partied. Sadly we don’t have them any more so there is less opportunity to meet with folk from other dioceses. Of course, I don’t just love Synod because of my social life, it is also an honour and privilege to be someone who plays a small part in the future planning of our wee Church.

There are other good reports on Synod over on the following blogs: Kelvin, Beth, Malcolm, Samantha and Christine. I notice that Chris didn’t like the seating at P’s & G’s, our first time venue for General Synod. We followed the model we use at our Diocesan Synods where everyone is seated at round tables (8 to a table allocated randomly). To begin with I wasn’t sure about that either – especially as I didn’t get to sit with my old pals in what was strangely known as the ‘naughty corner’. However, it means that I have met new people with whom I would probably never have spoken and it also allows those who never would have the courage to speak at Synod to have a say in the small group discussions. And instead of itchy horsehair cushions in pews with no leg room, I much prefer comfy chairs and tables on which to put the copious quantities of paper which go along with Synod business. However, I agree that it did make a faff of voting because the tellers couldn’t easily count when we weren’t sitting in serried ranks.

At my table I think every diocese was represented and we also had the delightful company of Bishop Bob of Aberdeen, past curate of Christ Church Falkirk, so it was good to catch up with him again after our recent 150th celebrations. I also had the joy of meeting Fr Simon of Argyll & The Isles, complete with ponytail and monocle. We Piskies certainly do style and eccentricity in equal measure.

 

But what about the business? Well, we had the usual reports from Committees, some more exciting than others. You want to hear about the exciting ones, don’t you? Well, Bishop Kevin brought us up to speed with the new Scottish Episcopal Institute which replaces Tisec, our current model of training ordinands. It was such an enthusiastic presentation and our prayers are with Rev Dr Ann Tomlinson who will be the new Director. We were told that the new Institute will have cost implications of course and I feel passionately that we must invest as much as we can into training our clergy. Bishop Kevin pointed out that if every member of the SEC were to give an extra £10 per year we could cover it. How easy would that be? I sprang to my feet and threw my last tenner in the air to kick off the collection. (Then Synod told us we can’t have impromptu collections and it all deflated rather suddenly, which was a shame. However, reluctantly, they did allow a retiring collection after Evening Prayer which produced £200 so that’s a start.)

The most contentious issue was the subject of equal marriage. We are not allowed to talk about it in Synod. Even though it will become law in Scotland later in the year, our Church thinks we should take our time. You see, we are not to be trusted to talk about it in Synod because we might say hurtful and triumphalist things. This has apparently happened in the past and some folk don’t like it. (Not when I was there, it has to be said.) So instead the Church held a conference in Pitlochry a few months ago where specially invited folk, from both sides of the debate, were invited to listen to one another in a nice friendly way. And they did. It was all about the listening. And we were told at our pre-Synod meeting that people who’d never talked to one another before became friends. I don’t know who these people are that don’t talk to one another are, because I talk to anyone. I even talk to people I don’t agree with on many subjects but that doesn’t mean to me that we can’t be friends. It would seem that not everyone feels like me. Gosh. At our pre-Synod meeting we heard about these enemies who’d become friends which was all rather lovely and how Pitlochry had given them a nice space to listen to one another. They were quite evangelical about it, in fact. Not so good at listening to those who hadn’t been there, mind you.

I was one of the people who signed a Rule 10 motion to ask that it could be discussed at Synod. It has been one of those subjects that we’ve never really been allowed to talk about. For years we’ve talked about not talking about it. So I thought that Synod ought to get the chance to talk and listen. Those who make up the agenda thought not. We are to follow the process mapped out at Pitlochry where the lovely way to talking and listening has to cascade ‘down’ (yes ‘down’ to us mere mortals who didn’t get to go – and yes, I asked if I could but was refused) to Area Councils and churches. We still haven’t been told how or when that will happen, btw. The Rule 10 motion needed 2/3 of Synod to agree and although we got a majority it wasn’t enough. You can read more about this in the comments on Kelvin’s blog. I thought it quite interesting that Kelvin wasn’t invited to take part especially as he has probably been most vocal about this issue in the past and is an out, gay priest. I also have campaigned on this issue for many years but wasn’t invited. Interesting that the three big evangelical parish priests were all invited. Hmm. Even one of them came to me after and said it wasn’t fair.

So instead of discussing it openly and having it minuted, we were to discuss it in our table groups. I felt very uneasy about that, as did many of my gay friends. It was like we were to talk about my colleagues’ sex lives, because that’s what it boils down to, in little secret huddles where nothing would be minuted. What made it even more difficult was that I could see some of my friends in tears in their groups, and some deeply upset and angry. It was a horrible experience. Then we all had to write a secret letter saying what our hopes were about this subject and put it in an envelope, then pick up someone else’s to keep. That felt very manipulative and contrived.

What was interesting was that so many people came up to me and my friends after to offer support and ask what had gone wrong. I’m not gay but I guess people know I support justice and have many friends who are gay, and even some Bishops were asking what it was all about. And as I said before, some of my ‘evangelical’ friends were lovely about it too. All in all, it was not very nice. And I still don’t know how this Cascade is going to happen other than we will talk (again) about it at our Diocesan Synod meeting in November. Nobody knows when we will ever get to talk about it in Synod and take a vote – perhaps next year or the year after folk were saying. Perhaps.

And what else was discussed at Synod you might wonder? Statistics gathering, budgets and finance, moving Saints days, and the other usual business. My blog wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the worship of course. I believe that as P’s & G’s were hosting the Synod they were asked to offer Evening Prayer in their own style of worship. I’m all for variety and in the past have learned some fabulous new hymns and mass settings at Synod. You won’t be surprised that the music in the evening was more of a modern style with a praise band. The sad thing about it was that we weren’t taught the tunes first, as we were with other new stuff. And the screen which contained the words of the songs didn’t always match what we heard, but that was a minor blip.

So it was a funny old Synod really. Looking back a week later I remember the trams (yes, I did the Park and Ride thing on the new trams) and the tears. I remember mirth and monocles. I remember passion and psalms. I remember voting and vetoing. I remember friends and fencing (you had to be there!)

 

Clergy Conference 2010

I am just back from 3 days in misty Pitlochry, staying at the Atholl Palace Hotel, for our annual Clergy Conference. We always have a guest speaker at these events and this year was no exception. However, I have come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter too much who the speaker is. Really, the best bit is getting away from the parish to nice surroundings and meeting up with colleagues and friends. We may have theologies which divide us, but we also have things which unite us. For a start, we are all stipendiary clergy and it is really important that we do get time together to share the things which frustrate, please and puzzle us. Over the years the group has changed. People come and people go, but the main body stays the same. With +Brian at the helm we have grown closer together. Things which were a cause for arguement and disagreement have been dealt with openly and we have found a way to move on in harmony. I’m not exactly sure how it was done, but it has worked. Some of it is due to the fact that we have had time out to listen to one another’s stories, over dinner, in the bar, or sitting round the log fire with a cup of coffee.

Sadly, our speakers don’t always get the opportunity to do that. Often they come from outwith the the Diocese, Province or the SEC. I’m sure they are given a briefing by the Bishop and/or the planning group on the planned topic and I hope they ask about the participants. Sometimes that is more evident than others. But having just recently had an evening of listening to my new little flock’s stories, I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to one another. It has to be a two-way process. Of course we are a diverse group so I guess it takes more than a brief conversation to figure out where we are all coming from, and that will be different in many cases. The best way of dealing with this is to allow dialogue to happen during the course of the conference. Top-down lecturing is never the way to go. It makes us feel like schoolchildren – and we are likely to behave accordingly.

So, what did we talk about while we were away? Well, we listened to a lot of metaphors about the church and mission. We heard from the new Diocesan Deliverance Officer and had good discussions on spirit possession and other such manifestations. We talked about discerning vocations and about our own journeys. The food was excellent, the views misty and atmospheric, the log fires were cosy and most important of all – there was a Sale on at the House of Bruar.