(Photo: the national synthesis team, from the CBCEW website)
The Synod National Synthesis was released yesterday, on 28June 2022. Prepared by the National Synthesis team for the Bishops Conference, it reflects the Synod Reports from each of the Dioceses across England and Wales. These in turn summarised the contributions of an estimated 30000 submissions from across all the dioceses in England and Wales.
A Wounded Church
The Synthesis acknowledges that the Church is “significantly wounded in its ability to act according to its own mission, to let its goodness shine out, and to live its life in a way that expresses the beauty of the faith”. It needs healing and conversion, particularly in the way it fails to welcome; the relationships between clergy and laity; the widespread perception of “the church” as something belonging exclusively to the clergy; the absence of any culture of participation and collaboration; the lack of formation of laity and clergy alike in mission-critical issues; and the failure to communicate effectively.
These wounds all hamper the Church in its ability to fulfil its mission.
Truth, Mercy and Welcome
“The vision of a Church that does not firstly judge and exclude but unconditionally embraces”
The synthesis records strong critiques of the way the Church teaches, presents itself, and operates. There is a strong desire shining through, for a Church that performs God’s mercy as well as proclaims His truth – “to live better the tension of truth and mercy, as Jesus did”. This is manifested in key facets of Church behaviour causing widespread unhappiness:
- the perceived inconsistency and hypocrisy in the way some Church teachings are enforced (e.g. matrimony, divorce, Holy Orders and the Eucharist)
- the perceived failure to welcome, and in particular to recognise and integrate various groups or categories of people, especially women, young people, LGBTQ+, the divorced and remarried, the traveller community, people of colour or with additional needs, and traditionalists
Towards a synodal church
“If there is a single, overriding melody in the synod symphony, it is in the desire for a more fraternal and sororal Church in which God’s overflowing, universal love can be more palpably felt and lived”
The Synthesis affirms that our mission is deeply bound up with our communion in Jesus Christ, and that this communion gives the church “the face of synodality.”
Although the process has been stumbling, uneven and very limited so far, participants have found the experience both novel and transformative. There is a widespread enthusiasm for synodality as “the way of being church”, and a call for church authorities to take the necessary steps now to embed the processes, structures and the cultural changes into dioceses and parishes.
A number of recommendations are set out to move us forward on the path of synodality, including development of parish councils, mechanisms for listening and consultation, communications, small groups to promote personal conversion, formation in discernment and synodal processes.
The Synthesis concludes by declaring that the Spirit has, through the Synod, awakened a new sense of responsibility in the faithful here for the conversion of the Church which we must respond to with confidence without waiting on others to enact this change or that new structure.
The Conference of Bishops are to meet this week to discern, discuss and respond to this Synthesis.
The full National Synthesis can be found here