General Synod returns to the Armagh City Hotel on 9th May 2013 for the second ordinary meeting of the 48th General Synod. This will be the first meeting presided over by the new Primate, the Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke. Among the issues to be discussed are:
• A proposal on clergy pensions;
• A resolution for a Special Bill in 2014 to allow for interchangeability of ministry with the Methodist Church in Ireland;
• A proposal to create a Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief; and
• Further work on the proposed Hymnal Supplement.
An innovative development will be an informal session organised by the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures in which members will discuss aspects of the role of bishops in the Church.
The growing difficulty facing the Clergy Pensions Fund was highlighted at last year’s General Synod and it was indicated that proposals would be brought forward pending publication of new legislation by the Irish Pensions Board (An Bord Pinsean).
In June 2012, the Irish Pensions Board reintroduced the previous standard for the calculation of risk in defined benefit pension schemes and issued an additional requirement in the form of a ‘Risk Reserve’, which is required to be in place by 2016. This added significantly to the already calculated deficit of the Clergy Pensions Fund.
The proposal to address the solvency position of the Fund is contained in Bill No. 10 in the Bills pamphlet. The Bill proposes a solution that will safeguard the contributions already made to the defined benefit scheme by serving clergy, who would be at risk of losing their accumulated benefits should the scheme become unviable.
In future, all clergy would accumulate contributions personally within a defined contribution scheme.
Those who are currently members of the Clergy Pensions Fund will receive a pension under that scheme (defined benefit) based on the number of years (and days) to credit in the scheme to 31st May 2013.
Members who contribute to the defined contribution scheme from 1st June will also have pension options based on their personal fund value upon reaching their normal retirement age.
OTHER BILLS AND RESOLUTIONS
By the closing date for circulation, the Honorary Secretaries had received nine other Bills for consideration by the General Synod.
St Patrick’s Cathedral, Killala, and St Crumnathy’s Cathedral, Achonry, and dignities in Tuam, Killala and Achonry: Bill Number 1 will (if passed) designate St Patrick’s Cathedral, Killala, the Cathedral Church of Achonry, as well as Killala, replacing St Crumnathy’s Cathedral, which has been closed.
Bill Number 2 would allow a member of the Chapter of St Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam, to serve also as a member of the Chapter of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Killala, and vice versa.
The provisions of Bills 1 and 2 have been unanimously approved by the Diocesan Synods of Tuam, Killala and Achonry.
Emails and telephone numbers: Bill Number 3 will require dioceses to seek the email addresses and telephone numbers of members of the General Synod (as well as their postal addresses as currently) and supply these to the Honorary Secretaries of the General Synod to facilitate some aspects of business, although standard post will be used for Synod mailings and elections.
Deacons serving in an internship: Bill Number 4 relates to the rights and privileges of incumbents and other clergy officiating in a parish and excludes Deacons serving an internship from the definition of ‘clergy’ for certain purposes, such as membership of General Synod, management of burial grounds and parochial organisation, etc.
Correction of anomalies: Bill Number 5 is a correction of a misaligned cross-reference in Chapter VI of the Constitution, while Bill Number 6 seeks to clarify the requirement for a signature on the Form of Declaration by a Resident and the Form of Declaration by an Accustomed Member of a congregation.
Library and Archives – written records: Bill Number 7 will (if passed) mandate diocesan synods to make regulations for the keeping of written records of diocesan and parochial bodies.
Automatic renominations to the General Synod: Bill No 8 seeks to prevent automatic renomination of outgoing members of the General Synod and will require diocesan synods to apply the same rules for nominating non-members of General Synod as current members.
Easter Vestries: This Bill seeks greater flexibility in setting dates for Easter Vestries. Motions: Among 27 motions submitted for discussion, five motions:
Motion for Special Bill on Interchangeability of Ministry with the Methodist Church: Motion No. 20 proposes the amendment of Chapter IX of the Constitution to enable interchangeability of ministry between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland. If adopted by a two-thirds majority of clergy and laity, a Special Bill will be introduced to the General Synod in 2014.
Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief: Motion No. 4 proposes the setting up of a Select Committee of the General Synod for a two-year term to enable listening dialogue and learning process on all issues concerning human sexuality in the context of Christian belief. The membership of the proposed Select Committee reflects a variety of views.
Board for Social Theology in Action/Church in Society Commission: Motion No. 5 sets out new terms of reference and a change of name for the BSTIA, which seeks to become the Church in Society Commission. Property Tax (Republic of Ireland): Motion No. 13 relates to payment of the new property tax introduced in the Republic of Ireland. The motion proposes that local property tax will be recovered from parishes through dioceses to the RCB which will make payment of the full amount on behalf of the Church.
This is to prevent parishes finding themselves in default and potentially incurring penalties when, for example, there is a vacancy in the rectory or curacy or some other circumstance that causes correspondence to be missed.
Hymnal Supplement: Motion No. 23, proposed by the Liturgical Advisory Committee, seeks approval for a final list of content for a Hymnal Supplement (Book of Reports, pp.344-348) and for its publication by the Standing Committee.
Other Motions: Other motions focus on a range of interesting content, including the IF campaign (Enough Food for Everyone IF … ) which notes the G8 gathering of leaders in Northern Ireland this year and calls on the UK and Irish Governments to do everything in their power to fight the injustice of hunger.
Motion No. 7 calls on the UK and Irish Governments to support demands for a new international accounting standard that requires companies to report on taxes paid in every country in which they operate.
Motion No. 11 calls on the Church at every level to develop practical responses to the economic and social challenges facing Ireland at present.
Representative Church Body (RCB):
A degree of recovery in investment markets offers hope for a more positive outlook in the future and this year’s RCB report reflects a sense of determination in the face of ongoing challenge on the financial front. A strong focus on delivery of professional services and advice to the Church marks the report.
The challenge of stabilising clergy pensions has occupied a great deal of time in the RCB this year and has resulted in the substantial bill (No. 10) referred to above.
Standing Committee: The Standing Committee report highlights some significant social issues, including Abortion (pp. 200 and 216) and the implications arising from the changes to the EU Single Farm Payment Scheme (pp.204 and 261).
Responses to consultations on new Charities Legislation in the two jurisdictions (pp.202-3) were made.
The Standing Committee also did considerable work on the development of a Churchwide Census (the proposed form appears in Appendix E to the report [p.243]), a review of the complaints and disciplinary procedure (p.203) and proposals for a Select Committee on Human Sexuality (Motion No. 4 above).
The report also highlights the tripartite inter-diocesan conferences on the same issue over the next year (p.205).
The Standing Committee also worked on the development of the Irish Inter-Church Peace Programme, a three-year initiative funded by PEACE III which involves the four largest Irish Churches and the Irish Council of Churches (p.206).
An important report on page 207 alludes to an invitation from the Moravian Church of Great Britain and Ireland to talks about the two Churches moving towards full communion.
The Standing Committee established a sub-committee to prepare guidelines on pastoral reconciliation, mediation and arbitration for use in the Church of Ireland (p.207).
The Bishops’ Appeal
Advisory Committee welcomed the arrival of the first Harman Scholar in Ireland. Mr Amos Nsengiyumva studied agriculture and theology while in Ireland. The scholarship commemorates the life of the late Dean Desmond Harman, a former Honorary Secretary of the General Synod.
The year also saw the sad death of the Very Revd Herbie Cassidy, also a former Honorary Secretary of the General Synod and whose service and dedication we recall with gratitude and affection.
Board of Education Report:
The Board of Education report reflects the many issues confronting every level of the educational establishment affecting resourcing, structures, initial teacher training, teacher deployment and the need to fight for the survival of our small schools in the Republic during a period of unending retrenchment on the part of the State.
Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue:
The vibrancy of the life of the Church of Ireland is reflected in the increasing participation in the Commissions and networks of the Anglican Communion. Also highlighted is the Commission’s report on the engagement with the Moravian Church of Great Britain and Ireland.
Mission and Ministry: The appendix to the Commission on Ministry’s report contains an interesting paper by the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott on ‘Self Care for Clergy – Theology and Practice’ (p.360) which we commend to Synod members’ attention. The Council for Mission is urging that the time is right for fresh mission work at parish level.
Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures: The book of reports also contains the first report of the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures (p.371), which was set up by the General Synod in 2012.
The report highlights the thorough and comprehensive way the Commission is attempting to address its considerable remit.
The importance of this report is indicated by the dedication of substantial Synod time to enable Synod members to engage with the issues raised by the Commission in its work to date (subject to Synod approval).
The Synod Mission Breakfast will take place at 8.15am on Friday 10th May in Fisher 1 Suite, Armagh City Hotel. Those wishing to attend should contact the Revd Paul Hoey at firstname.lastname@example.org. This year’s speaker will be the Rt Revd Ken Clarke, Mission Director of SAMS UK and Ireland: ‘Aim Lower: Fulfilling the Commission of Christ with urgency, imagination and energy.’
Worship is an uplifting start to the business of the General Synod. Each morning begins with a short act of worship.
The General Synod Eucharist will be held in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, at 7.00pm on Thursday 9th May, when the preacher will be the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, the Rt Revd Ken Good.
The Synod always receives a warm welcome in Armagh Cathedral and we thank the Very Revd Gregory Dunstan for his work and hospitality.