Officers of General Synod have written to all members confirming that they have used their legal powers to cancel the planned residential meeting in York and propose an informal/remote meeting similar to the present sittings of Parliament; also an extension of the term of the current Synod by a year. Extracts from the announcement are reproduced below.
General Synod officers examining possibility of ‘virtual’ meetings amid coronavirus challenge
The Church of England is looking at options including a possible change in the law to enable the General Synod to meet remotely, in response to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to all members of Synod today, the officers of Synod confirm that they have used their legal powers to cancel the planned residential meeting due to take place York in July in light of the current restrictions.
However, they set out proposals for members of Synod to meet informally and remotely, potentially in a similar way to the current sittings of Parliament, as well as details of an extension to the term of the current Synod by a year.
Under the current rules, Synod can only pass legislation and transact key business by meeting in person.
In their letter, the officers – the Archbishops, Prolocutors of Canterbury and York of the House of Clergy, and the Chair and Vice-Chair of the House of Laity – say they wish to explore with the Government the possibility of Parliament passing legislation to enable the Synod to transact its business remotely if it is not possible to meet in person.
If it is not possible to do this in time to arrange a remote sitting in July, they suggest an informal remote meeting of Synod members in July when, although they could not pass legislation or take other decisions, could discuss urgent matters and carry out scrutiny.
Separately, Parliament has already approved a provision in the Coronavirus Act 2020 enabling the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to request an order postponing the elections to General Synod due to take place this summer.
A request to postpone the elections for a year is due to be considered by the Privy Council shortly. It would enable the current Synod to meet in November. If it were still not possible to meet physically by then, it is hoped that Parliament will have passed legislation so that an official sitting of the Synod by “virtual” means would be possible.
Synod members are to be surveyed to gauge support for the idea.
Notes to editors
The full letter can be read online.
The Officers of the General Synod are:
- The Presidents – the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu;
- Prolocutor of the Convocation of Canterbury, the Revd Canon Simon Butler
- Prolocutor of the Convocation of York, the Revd Canon Chris Newlands;
- Chair of the House of Laity, Canon Dr Jamie Harrison
- Vice Chair of the House of Laity, Canon Elizabeth Paver
Meetings of General Synod
With regard to the legal issues involved, the officers of Synod have taken a decision to exercise their powers under Standing Order 2(5)(b) and (7) to cancel the residential group of sessions scheduled to take place in York in July 2020. However, the Synod’s Constitution and Standing Orders do not currently enable the Synod to meet remotely. It is therefore in a “Catch-22” situation since the usual means of amending them – by primary legislation in the form of a Measure and by the Synod passing amendments to its Standing Orders – is currently unavailable while it is unable to hold a physical meeting.
The Officers therefore wish to explore with the Government the possibility of Parliament passing legislation to enable the Synod to transact its business remotely when the option of a physical meeting is not available. Since it might not be possible for legislation to be passed by Parliament in time to enable the Synod to conduct business remotely in July, the Officers are also looking at the possibility of setting up an informal online arrangement for Synod members to discuss urgent matters and ask questions using one of the dates previously reserved for the July General Synod. However, this would not be regarded as a formal meeting of Synod.
Postponement of General Synod elections
“(1) Her Majesty may by Order in Council, at the joint request of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, postpone to the date specified in the Order the date on which the Convocations of Canterbury and York stand dissolved for the purposes of the Church of England Convocations Act 1966”.
S.84(4) provides that an Order under that section may make consequential, supplementary, incidental, transitional or saving provision.
Privy Council meetings are held monthly, and the last was on 3 April 2020. Should the Privy Council agree in May to the postponement of the Synod elections, the Inaugural Session of the new Synod will not take place until November 2021; existing members of Synod will serve for a further 12 months and that casual vacancies that arise before 13 July this year must be filled.