by Canon Jenny Humphreys, former member of General Synod (2010 – 2021), member of WATCH and member of the Bath & Wells Vacancy in See Commission
I write halfway through the election process for a new General Synod. I remain a Synod rep until the results are confirmed, which makes me a member of the Bath & Wells Vacancy in See committee for one more meeting! Several of us are not standing for Synod again, and those that are standing are not guaranteed to be re-elected. So, an unknown number of new people will have to be brought up to speed very quickly, in time to vote for whoever is to join the Crown Nominations Commission to discern our next Bishop! Just one of the quirks of the governance structures of the Church of England!
What are the significant moments from my 11 years? (Not counting the weird experience of Zoom Synod meetings over the past 18 months, and the disappointment of not being in York for the final one to say farewell to fellow members) I looked up my election address from 2010 – when candidates’ statements were distributed as printed copies by post! Looking back, it seemed easier to compare the information and aspirations listed by candidates when you could spread their declarations out on a table in front of you than it is to juggle with them online – or maybe that’s just my age showing!
Personally, there have been a lot of changes. I was widowed shortly after the Synod elections when my husband Rod died in December 2010. The grandchildren who were infants then are teenagers now. I retired from my role as Diocesan World Mission Adviser in 2016, and my parish is now in a Benefice with another local church and assessing what the post-pandemic future will be for worship and discipleship.
What did I offer to General Synod in 2010? I brought an understanding of the wider Anglican Communion through facilitating our Diocesan Link with the Anglican Church in Zambia, and from attending World Mission conferences here and around the world. Co-ordinating the pre-Lambeth Hospitality for global visitors to Bath & Wells in 2008 was a very special privilege, and I hope next year’s experiences will build up similar relationships of trust, co-operation, and companionship in the Gospel for others.
I said in 2010 that I believed it was crucial to take all that was best of the Church of England’s breadth of theological understandings, traditions, and attitudes into the future, but that we must not be afraid to change as and when the Spirit led us. 11 years later I believe that in some very significant areas the Spirit is way ahead of us, and we have some catching up to do!
During my first term I joined GSWATCH (General Synod Women and the Church) after attending a Fringe meeting and was later invited to become a national Trustee. Obviously one of the highlights of my time on Synod was the passing of legislation in July 2014 to enable women to become bishops – this followed the damage done to the church’s reputation when the legislation in November 2012 narrowly failed to pass in the House of Laity. Compromises had to be made to enable the legislation to pass in 2014, and the effects of these do not allow yet for full equality for women’s ministry in the Church of England. This may sound controversial to some, but continuing to permit discrimination is not only a bar to mission, particularly for young people, but gives the impression that the Church of England is another religion that does not recognise the full humanity of half of God’s people – consider the Taliban in Afghanistan denying education and human rights to girls and women due to their extreme version of Islam, and the legislators in Texas influenced by US Evangelical Christianity denying women’s control over their own bodies – the current lack of transparency from some parishes here on their attitude to women in leadership is the thin end of a very dangerous wedge.
In my second term on Synod, I became more involved with justice and equality of opportunity for LGBTQA+ Christians. A significant moment came in February 2017 with the ‘Not Taking Note’ campaign in response to the House of Bishops’ Report on ‘Marriage & Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations’. That debate was the most moving and powerful I have heard on Synod, with significant contributions from a wide range of speakers. The Archbishop of Canterbury said that “the church needs a radical new inclusion based in love, our Christian understanding, neither careless of our theology nor ignorant of the world around us”. A request was made for the votes to be counted by Houses, thus needing approval in all three to pass. The House of Clergy voted against; the Report fell. The outcome is the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project – will this lead to the necessary changes? Let us hope so, especially if a more inclusive General Synod membership is elected.
I have not only been concerned with issues of gender and sexuality: I have represented Synod on the Ethical Investment Advisory Group; and supported motions for more action on Climate Change; more equality of ministry for Readers; support for global church links and relationships; and more attention to be paid to the legacy of the Windrush generation and the church’s welcome, or lack of it, to those of different ethnicities.
Looking to the future, there are many issues that will crop up on the General Synod Agenda – legal, financial, liturgical, missional, educational, and ethical – to list just some areas of church life. But until we take seriously the equality of every person’s identity with regard to gender and sexuality – the equality that is recognised and legislated for in all other areas of life in England – we will struggle to get our mission to tell the wider community about the love of God to be taken seriously by those we want to reach.