The Church’s Parliament

On Saturday 10th February I had the privilege of observing General Synod at Church House in Westminster. During this experience, I learnt a lot about the way our Church is run, the key people involved in our future, and the views of my friends around me. It was thanks to my amazing youth group leaders that I was able to experience this eye-opening event – Cheryl Trice and Sarah Cabella. They lead a group called With Others Now – 1WON – which I have now been involved in for several years. We are a group of teenage Christians who want to not only explore our own faith but promote young people as the future of the Church. I can confidently say that we were all very excited for this opportunity to learn more about the decisions that will affect the shape of the Church in the future.

When we arrived at Church House, all in our matching jumpers, we were given a very warm welcome by all the staff. Although we did get some strange looks (I’m assuming that’s because of the bright red jumpers!) we were approached by several clergy people who were interested in our reasoning for being there and they were all incredibly supportive of us. We were even encouraged to respond to any questions of “why are you here?” with, “because we are part of the Church as much as you are.”

The first point of business was a motion regarding religious communities. This was very interesting to hear, and reflect on afterwards, because it is so relevant in our everyday lives as we interact with people of other denominations and faiths. The Bishop of Manchester, who introduced the debate, gave a talk and played a short film to put across his hope to create “a clearer framework for traditional and new monastic communities”. During the discussions, many people shared personal experiences of how different religious communities have helped them to develop their faith but a key comment that stayed with me was from the Archbishop of Canterbury who said it was “almost impossible to find a period… where there has been renewal of spiritual life without renewal of religious community”. The overwhelming positive response meant that the motion, to celebrate the many new expressions of the religious life, was carried.

The next point of discussion was centred around digital evangelism and was introduced by William Nye. The majority of the discussion was focused on two main campaigns. The first was the #godwithus which was used over 6 million times during the Christmas period.  The second was a new campaign called #liveinlent which can be explored on websites, social media, and booklets. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the #liveinlent booklet thanks to my youth leader Cheryl. Talks then turned to the updated Church of England website which has millions of users thanks to the new improvements. One priest on the panel raised questions around how digital communication can be used to reach teenagers at which point she pointed to my youth group and we all received a very loud round of applause which gave us a lot of optimism that the Church was supporting our views. Although I believe that more can be done to reach teenage Christians and not just the 18 – 24 year olds, I fully support the use of social media and digital communications as a form of evangelism and I believe it can be a great tool to keep the Church relevant and accessible in today’s ever-changing technological society.

The final, and in my opinion the most important, point of discussion was centred around people with Down’s Syndrome. The clear message was to affirm the value of people with Down’s Syndrome and seek to ensure that parents have full information about the current prospects for unborn children whose prenatal tests identify as having Down’s Syndrome. Understandably, there was a very large amount of clergy wishing to speak on this topic and many shared positive personal experiences of interacting with Down’s Syndrome people who added joy to the Church. However, the comment that stood out the most for me was made by the Revd Rachel Wilson who beautifully summed up my views which many of my peers shared. She said, “being born with a disability is not a disaster. I know myself to be wonderfully made in the image of God… if it was good enough for God, it was ok for me”. With 284 votes in favour and none against, a unanimous vote meant that the motion to affirm the dignity and full humanity of people born with Down’s Syndrome was carried.

Overall, I can truly say that observing General Synod was a really eye-opening experience. It allowed me to witness how decisions about the Church are made, understand the views of different people within the Church and also reflect more on where I stand on different issues within my own faith.

By Olivia Best, St John’s Bexley




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