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Sunday, 27 February, 2000, 00:25 GMT
Church synod gazes inwards

icon of virgin and child
The birth of Christ: Synod to debate the Holy Spirit

By News Online's Alex Kirby

The forthcoming meeting of the governing body of the Church of England, its general synod, is set to focus on internal measures, rather than controversial issues.

At the meeting in London from 28 February to 1 March there will be scarcely any debate on the church's political involvement, its position as England's established religion, or the dwindling attendance at its services.

The synod is not due to discuss Section 28, the law which forbids the promotion of homosexuality in schools, nor will society's other ethical and moral conundrums loom large on its agenda.

Vanishing worshippers

There will be no talk, officially at least, of divesting the church of its established status, making it one faith among many instead of the privileged sect it still remains.

Nor will there be a session to address the apparent haemorrhaging of church attendance, Sunday congregations in 1997 dipped below one million for the first time, though the church says that figure is a serious underestimate.

This meeting is emphatically about the church itself, the agenda a series of housekeeping measures which the synod's 580 members say are essential to equip the church for its task.

synod meeting A packed chamber, and a full agenda
Much of the time will be taken up with approving services for inclusion in the new prayer book to be authorised later this year, Common Worship.

That will replace the Alternative Service Book, introduced only in 1980. Its use will cease to be legal from 1 January 2001, to the dismay of some clergy who resent spending scarce funds to phase out so recent an introduction.

One synod source told BBC News Online that Common Worship was making surprisingly rapid progress: "It's bound to take decades to produce the definitive prayer book."

"Archbishop Cranmer began working on the Book of Common Prayer in 1538, but it was 1662 before it saw the light of day."

One debate will concern the exact translation from the original Greek of a clause in the church's creed, its main statement of doctrine.

The synod will have to decide whether Jesus was born "by" the power of the holy spirit from Mary, "of" the spirit, or "from" him. The bishops' money is on "from".

Targeting the BBC

Other synod sessions will concentrate on approving a streamlined disciplinary procedure for the clergy, and on the Archbishops' Council, effectively the church's cabinet.

Two sessions are likely to attract outside interest. The first is a motion critical of the BBC for the amount and nature of its religious coverage.

farm demonstration Synod will support the farmers
Proposed by a synod member who is a former BBC local radio religious producer, it has attracted the highest number of signatures in support of any private member's motion for at least a decade.

The other motion, on the farming crisis, urges the government to introduce a farmers' retirement scheme and a food labelling policy identifying meat produced to the best welfare standards.

Most of the three days, though, are introspective, a church addressing itself and hardly anyone else.

Change possible

There are other motions, opposing narrow nationalism, for instance, urging the church to combat racism in its own employment policies, calling for action to improve the health of the poor, and challenging female genital mutilation.

They are unlikely to be debated. The business of keeping the church machine ticking over means there will almost certainly not be time for them.

But News Online's synod source says the balance could change later this year, after the election of a new synod.

"This heavy internal agenda was inescapable. But once these mammoth exercises are out of the way, I think the church will want to be more outward-looking."

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See also:
17 Feb 00 |  UK
BBC's religious programmes under fire
25 Jan 00 |  UK
Church set to marry the divorced
24 Jul 99 |  UK
Church women gather in hope
10 Jul 99 |  UK
Church of England reaches out

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