General Synod 2015: Sit Rep on Day 1

I am in Edinburgh, where the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church has reached the close of business for Day 1.

There is a significant amount of business to be conducted in this Synod, and a lot of it is about marriage and about Canon 31. The motions that came on Thursday were largely procedural in nature, relating to whether Synod wished to adopt the process that had been suggested by the Faith and Order Board. It required a two thirds majority of Synod voting in one House.

The motion passed with the following amendments as I understand them:

  • A procedural motion will be taken following the substantive debate as to whether Synod should move to a vote on it (and, by implication, whether Synod is of a mind to have any change to the Canon)
  • If so moved, the vote will be by what has been described as single transferable vote, rather than by the allocation of points as had been suggested originally by the Faith and Order Board.
  • If so moved, the vote will be on Options A / C / E as writ in the Synod Papers (1 / 3 / 5 in the linked blog post). There will then be a separate motion as to whether a conscience clause should be added.

A further amendment was proposed, suggesting a further option for the ballot that Canon 31, Section 1 should be maintained in its present form and that a conscience clause should be added allowing individual ministers to solemnise marriages between individuals of the same sex. That amendment did not achieve a majority of Synod and so that option has not been added to the ballot: it is my view that that was a right and proper decision by Synod, as it would not have been an option that could not possibly have resulted in a competent Canon but instead might have led to the Church having a Canon Law that contradicted itself.

Now, that is all procedure. It is all preamble. It is not yet the substance of the thing, but it seems to me that it has been significant nonetheless and that Synod has had important conversations amongst itself today and done work that it was necessary to do. It seems to me particularly important that Synod did not choose to merely follow along with the process presented to it or indeed merely to vote down the whole thing, but chose to do that hard work that it felt was needed to make that process better. I think — or hope, at least — that that represents a willingness to engage.

Tomorrow, we move to substance.

There is a vote before lunch on whether we go on to debate. If we do vote for that debate, that will take place after lunch on the canonical options as listed, and, if it is agreed to move to a vote, a vote on those options by ballot. If voted on, we will then be able to choose whether to ask the Faith and Order Board to instruct the Committee on Canons to prepare canonical material for first reading in 2016 in line with that vote. The final piece of business tomorrow will be to discuss whether the Committee on Canons should prepare a new Canon which if agreed to would enable the registration of civil partnerships in the Scottish Episcopal Church — it is worth noting that that piece of business is not contingent on anything that has gone before it.

There is a live audio stream available on the Provincial website for anyone who wishes to follow along at home, and the public gallery at St Paul’s and St George’s where we are meeting is open to the public for all debates.

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