On Monday 10 January 2020, the General Synod of the Church of England proclaimed an Act of Synod on the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing; this commits all parts of the Church, as well as individual clergy, to sharing responsibility for the welfare of ministers and their households. In addition to extracts from the Press Release and other relevant material, this post describes the important features of Acts of Synod.
Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing declared Act of Synod
Measures to promote awareness of the dangers of stress and burnout amongst clergy are to be debated by the 42 Church of England dioceses following a landmark vote today by the General Synod.
Churches and dioceses across the country will be invited to adopt the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing, committing all parts of the Church, as well as individual clergy, to sharing responsibility for the welfare of ministers and their households.
The Covenant – backed overwhelmingly last year by the General Synod – was proclaimed an Act of Synod today by members, paving the way for adoption and debate by the Church of England’s parishes and dioceses.
Under plans voted through by the Synod, Clergy, parishes and dioceses are being invited to contribute their responses to the Covenant as part of a ‘Big Conversation’, inspired by a series of questions and shared commitments.
Recommendations from the Working Group published last year included promoting access to pastoral supervision for clergy including coaching, consultancy or mentoring, in line with support provided to other caring professions.
The report also backed plans to promote awareness of stress and the dangers of burnout as part of training for ordained ministry and new resources for licensing and induction services highlighting the care and well-being of clergy.
The Working Group further recommended that Parish Profiles – the description of a parish and its mission – and job descriptions for clergy undergo regular reviews to ensure they are realistic and that ministers have a clear idea of the role they are being asked to undertake.
A copy of the Covenant is available here.
Prior to the debate, Synod was circulated with two documents:
- GS 2153 – The Clergy Covenant for Wellbeing Act of Synod 2020.
- GS Misc 1246 – The Church of England Covenant for the Care and Well-being of Clergy – A Document for Reflection and Action
The former provides information on the next steps which need to be taken. It notes
“. The mechanism of an Act of Synod requires the Covenant to be proclaimed in each Diocesan Synod. It also allows the Presidents to issue further instructions “which they shall determine following consultation with the Prolocutors of the Convocations and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the House of Laity.” (SO 41.5) It is envisaged that the invitations in paragraph 9 will form the basis of any such further instructions.
The preceding paragraph outlines the practical implications for Diocesan Synods, Deanery Synods, and PCCs:
“. The Working Group further proposed that General Synod invite various parties, including Diocesan Synods, to: (a). debate with a view to adopting the Covenant by the end of 2020; (b). invite PCCs and Deanery Synods to consider and adopt the Covenant themselves within a year of their Diocesan Synod debate and to subsequently engage in the Big Conversation; (c). ask each Diocesan Bishop to sponsor a Clergy Study Day on Care and Wellbeing within eighteen months of the Act of Synod being made (if not already held within the previous two years); (d). within three years of the Act of Synod being made each diocese, along with TEIs, the NCIs, and (should they wish) those working in the Third Sector, report to a new Clergy Care and Wellbeing Facilitation Group on developments and learning since the Report was agreed.”
An Act of Synod is defined in General Synod Standing Order 41*, and is “a collective and formal expression by the Synod of its mind on a particular matter”. If the Synod desires to give an instrument or resolution formal it may affirm and proclaim it as such in accordance with the procedure prescribed by the Standing Order.
Stephen Slack notes:
“An Act of Synod therefore represents ‘provision’ corresponding to that previously made by the Convocations for their respective provinces, in the form of an ‘Act of Convocation’. It does not accordingly enjoy any greater authority than that of Acts of Convocation – which, while they were said to have ‘great moral force, as the considered judgment of the highest and ancient synod of the province’, [ref 27: Bland v Archdeacon of Cheltenham  1 All ER 1012 at 1018] did not create legally enforceable rights or duties.
Although, because of its content, the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 is well known, an Act of Synod is now – on account of its limited effect – a relatively unusual form of provision. In recent years it has most commonly been employed in the ecumenical context. Thus the Meissen Declaration (relating to the Protestant Churches in Germany) and the Porvoo Declaration (relating to the Nordic and Baltic Lutheran Churches) both received the authority of an Act of Synod. [ref. 28: Proc GS (1991), pp 12–21; and Proc GS (1996), pp 1071–1084] Similarly, it [was] proposed that the Church of England should adopt the Anglican Communion Covenant by means of an Act of Synod.”
[Synodical Government and the Legislative Process,  14 Ecc LJ 43–81]
The House of Bishops’ Declaration on women in the episcopate
The Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 enabled “provision for the continuing diversity of opinion within the Church of England”, i.e. options for those theologically opposed to the ordination of women. This was replaced by a Declaration of the House of Bishops concerning the appointment of women to the episcopate, thus substituting the 1993 Act of Synod with another, albeit different type, of quasi-legislative instrument.
However, the provisions of Canon C 29 link the Declaration to a duty of the House of Bishop to make Regulations “prescribing a procedure for the resolution of disputes arising from the arrangements for which the House of Bishops’ declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests makes provision”. Furthermore, these must be laid before General Synod; also for subsequent changes to these to achieve a two thirds majority in each House in order to be passed. Acts of Synod require only simple majority.
* Link to General Synod Standing Orders updated 3 November 2021 at 16:33.
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