The first ordinary meeting of the 49th General Synod will take place in the Armagh City Hotel on Thursday 7th May. The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke will preside over the meeting. Among the issues to be discussed are:
• Amendment of the episcopal election process;
• A proposal on restructuring of diocesan boundaries; and
• Adoption of a Dignity in Church Life Charter.
NEW TIME FOR SYNOD SERVICE
This year, the General Synod will begin with a service of Holy Communion at 10.30am in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh – providing an uplifting start to Synod business through collective worship.
The preacher will be the Rt Revd Alan Abernethy.
We are grateful to the Dean of Armagh, the Very Revd Gregory Dunstan, for his hospitality.
Each morning, the General Synod will also begin with a short act of worship, to be led by the Rt Revd Kenneth Kearon. The music at each act of worship will be drawn from Thanks and Praise, the new Hymnal supplement.
BILLS AND RESOLUTIONS
By the closing date for circulation, the Honorary Secretaries had received seven Bills for consideration.
Bill No. 1 – Dignity in Church Life Charter
Many organisations have adopted documents widely known as ‘dignity charters’. These documents address the human values underpinning good relationships within organisations and directly relate to regulation of behaviour and access to opportunity to ensure that people are treated with fairness in their working lives.
The archbishops and bishops initiated a process to develop a statement that would give witness to how the Church places Christian values at the heart of interpersonal relationships. A reference group involving clergy and senior lay members of the Church has been involved in the development of the proposed charter.
A consultation with the diocesan bishops and their senior diocesan clergy and diocesan synod representatives also provided input to the process.
If the policy is approved, it will lay a foundation for the development and implementation of formal policies that will address a range of issues affecting the working lives of our clergy.
Drafts of policies derived from the charter will also be circulated to Synod members, including a policy on provision for long-term illness among clergy, an anti-bullying and harassment policy and a clergy grievance procedure.
Bill No. 2 – Amendment of Constitution on matters of medical infirmity
Section 34 of Chapter IV of the Constitution currently provides for circumstances where a member of the clergy is unable to fulfil the duties of office due to “permanent mental infirmity”.
This Bill seeks to modernise and extend the provisions of the existing Section 34 by providing that any decision made in relation to the medical incapacity of a member of the clergy is based on medical evidence (rather than on a decision by a Court of the General Synod) and by extending the current provisions to allow for permanent physical, as well as mental, incapacity.
Bill No. 3 – Amendment of provisions relating to Severance Fund
The Severance Fund was originally set up to provide funding in cases where a clergyperson agreed to leave ministry on a permanent basis following a process of mediation under the Provincial Mediation Panels, which were disbanded in 2012.
The Fund regulations were amended to enable clergy wishing to resign permanently from ministry to access them on the recommendation of bishops.
It is now proposed to amend the regulations to include provision for clergy forced from ministry by illness and to rename it ‘The Clergy Ministry Protection Fund’.
Bill No. 4 – Statements of Charitable Purposes and Objects, Statement of Public Benefit
Following the completion of the pilot projects on charity registration in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, final forms of the statements have been agreed with the regulatory authorities.
Some amendment of the original statements was necessary to comply with the registration formats set out. Registration of parishes is now under way in both jurisdictions in a process agreed with each regulatory authority, managed by Diocesan Secretaries and supported by central staff.
Bill No. 5 – St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh
Consequent on the creation of a second archdeaconry of Ardboe in the Diocese of Armagh, a bill has been brought forward to amend the Statute, Chapter VI of 2011 relating to the regulation and management of Armagh Cathedral, to include the Archdeacon of Ardboe.
Bill No. 6 – Regulation of Chapter and Governance of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
This bill seeks to amend an anomaly that had arisen in respect of the Chapter and Governance of the Cathedral, by clarifying the role of the Chapter in respect of governance.
Bill No. 7 – Pensions (Chapter XIV of the Constitution)
Subsequent to the extensive revision of Chapter XIV of the Constitution in 2013, certain infelicities were discovered, which are corrected in this legislation governing pension matters for clergy.
Among 21 motions submitted for discussion are the election of Synod committees and motions presented to carry forward the work ordered by the General Synod, including a request to extend the tenure of the Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief, and a motion from the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures seeking endorsement of the direction of work undertaken to amend the procedures for episcopal election.
That Commission also presents a motion on diocesan boundaries for discussion (No. 16).
A discussion document detailing possible approaches to diocesan restructuring invites the Synod to acknowledge the need for change and ask the Commission to bring forward a Bill on the subject in 2016 – an hour has been allocated for discussion on this.
A motion seeking permission to bring forward a proposal for interchangeability of ministry between the Church of Ireland and the Moravian Church of Great Britain and Ireland has been put forward, marking a significant point in an ongoing inter-Church conversation.
Long-standing concern over VAT on remedial work on protected structures will be highlighted in a motion asking the Synod to endorse Church representations seeking its removal.
As the 150th anniversary of Disestablishment approaches (2019), a motion proposes movement on an idea presented by the Commission on Ministry for the creation of a centre of community prayer, retreat, hospitality and study. There is also to be a motion drawing attention to the persecution of Christians across the world and encouraging greater adherence to the principle of freedom of religion expressed as a basic human right in the Geneva Convention.
Representative Church Body (RCB)
The RCB has been highly focused on stabilising central finances and establishing a foundation for future growth so that the long-term objectives for Church mission can be supported sustainably.
The RCB reported that the value of General Funds at the year end stood at the 15-year average, while the sum of €25m has been transferred to the Clergy Pension Fund to support the solvency of the Fund.
Overall, withdrawals are still greater than the average income generated, but the funding situation is moving back to a position of sustainability.
Over the past five years, distributions from the Unit Trusts to parishes and dioceses have totalled just under €40m, while the value of invested funds held by the Unit Trusts has grown by €68m.
The new charities legislation has required the wider Church to review its assets and this, in turn, has resulted in a tidying up exercise, supported by the Property and Legal Departments.
To facilitate more efficient management, a computerised property database is being developed to list all property and enable speedy record retrieval for legal and compliance purposes.
Amongst the issues raised in the Standing Committee report are the report of the Church and Society Commission, incorporating its response to a Department of Justice (NI) consultation on abortion and a suggested alternative Bills procedure at General Synod.
Board of Education Reports
Amongst the issues of interest are the Board’s concerns over the Education (Admission to School) Bill 2013 in the Republic of Ireland. The report also welcomes a recent decision by the Minister for Education and Skills to announce alleviation in retention thresholds, with a particular focus on smaller, isolated schools.
In Northern Ireland, the Board welcomes the Education Bill 2014 which replaces the existing Education and Library Boards with a single body.
The report also highlights developments in Initial Teacher Education in Northern Ireland.
Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue
The CCUD report includes more on the ongoing dialogue with the Moravian Church and contains a reflection from the Bishop of Connor on the WCC Assembly in Korea.
Mission and Ministry
The Council for Mission report includes reflections from the ‘Break Out’ sessions at last year’s General Synod.
Local ministry is discussed in the report of the Commission on Ministry, while the Church of Ireland Youth Department reports on its intention to develop a new strategic plan.
The Liturgical Advisory Committee reports progress on the development of Thanks and Praise.
Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures
Appendix III of the report outlines a proposed new approach for the election of bishops, whereby a vacant diocese would develop a diocesan profile and a statement of needs in advance of the election of a new bishop.
The Electoral College would also elect a Discernment Committee to assist in shortlisting candidates on the basis of a profile and statement of needs.
This will take place at 8.15am on Friday 8th May in Fisher 1 Suite at the hotel. Those wishing to attend should contact the Revd Patrick Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The speaker will be the Rt Revd Harold Miller, speaking on his dioceses’ Year of Mission.