General Synod – Media lessons still to be learned?

The Church of England’s November Group of Sessions of its General Synod began on Monday 18th November, for which the formal business scheduled for the afternoon was:

– Report by the Business Committee, GS 1916, [item 4]

– Intentional Evangelism, GS 1917, [item 5]

– Draft Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure,  GS 1866B and GS 1877B; Draft Amending Canon and Report by the Steering Committee GS 1866Z-1877Z [items 500-502]

– Draft Diocese of Leeds Resolution, GS 1918, [item 509]

Since the newsworthy focus of Synod is Wednesday’s considerations of women in the episcopate, it is clear that on Monday the media would casting around for headlines: the Draft Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure was clearly a non-starter; and link between the Draft Diocese of Leeds Resolution and last week’s BBC 4 programme Cathedrals (trailed as “[t]he dean of Wakefield defends his diocese from absorption into a Leeds ‘super-diocese’”), was a little tenuous for the average “red top” reader.  One of the media’s options, therefore, was to look for an appropriate headline-grabbing quote.

The Church’s own take on the Monday’s headlines is summarized in its Daily Digest: November 19 which rightly includes several positive items, including: Justin Welby’s speech to Synod; the Archbishop of York’s introductory remarks to the debate on intentional evangelism, saying it is vital to consider the re-evangelization of England – Evangelize or Fossilize!; the Bishop of Oxford’s piece in the Telegraph challenging the idea that Anglican schools are dominated by white, middle-class families, and his response to a question at Synod stating that the Church of England and gay rights group Stonewall are to work together to stamp out homophobic bullying in schools.

However, it was the remarks of former Archbishop Carey, made at the Shropshire Churches Conference 2013, which gained coverage in the Times, Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, and Daily Mail on his assertion that “[t]he Church of England could be one generation away from extinction”, some reports linking this with Dr Sentamu’s motion on the promotion of evangelism. There has been no official statement and it has been left to others to comment: Cristina Odone gives her reasons in the Daily Telegraph why Dr Carey’s latest pronouncement is wrong, and the Archbishop Cranmer blog makes the point “George Carey has been predicting the imminent demise of the Church of England at least since 1996, (i.e. almost a generation ago), when he first declared that the Church is always one generation away from extinction”. Others have been highly critical of Dr Carey’s vision and his legacy.

Less prominent in recent media comment, so far, has been the Pilling Report on which Synod had scheduled a number of questions with regard to: its publication, Q39; its status, Q40; future Synod debate, Q41; its consistency with 1987 Synod motion, Q42; Liturgy for the blessing of civil partnerships, Q43; and the process & future Synod engagement, Q44.  However, the report in Thinking Anglicans does not make reassuring reading and suggests that a degree of uncertainty remains.  In response to questions on when the Report will be published, various answers were given ranging from “soon” through “quite soon” to “but not very soon”. In answering questions 40, 41, and 42, the Archbishop is reported to have said:

“I can confirm that the Pilling Report will be a document which will offer findings and recommendations from the members of the group for the Church of England to consider. It will not be a new policy statement from the Church of England. That will be made quite clear when the Report is published.

It is premature at this stage to speculate about any decision making process at the end of the period of discussion and reflection initiated by the report’s publication. Who has the authority nationally to determine any particular issue in the Church of England always depends on the nature of the decision. Clearly, if there were any question of looking again at the motion passed by the Synod in 1987 that would be a matter for the Synod.”

More decisive was his response to Q43, “[i]s the House considering tasking the Liturgical Commission with the preparation of suitable liturgy for the blessing of civil partnerships in church?” Answer: No.

Comment

The largely positive Editorial in the Guardian entitled Mission Impossible noted that

“[i]n less than a year in office, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has defused an existential crisis.”

[…]

“Dr Welby seems to be on the way to pulling off an unexpected coup. It is part of how he is making the Church of England feel relevant. Unblocking the stalled process of making women bishops matters. But it’s nothing like as important as the voice he has given the church in the lives of the most vulnerable.  . . He has been in the forefront of the attack on payday lenders and is actively supporting credit unions. In his latest appeal, he asks Christmas shoppers to give a 10th of the cash they spend on presents as a donation to their local food bank.

[…]

The deeper question is whether the Church of England wants to be in that place enough to put aside its obsession with sex”

Given the many communications problems associated with human sexuality and marriage/civil partnerships since the Church began its re-consideration of these in 2011, perhaps the Archbishop’s next organizational priority should be improved media management?

David Pocklington

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.