Unconscious Bias at General Synod, July 2017.

During Questions on the opening evening the Bishop of Newcastle spoke about the training offered on uncovering and addressing Unconscious Bias in relation to all aspects of being human. This is generally understood to refer to race and gender, but also includes other areas including sexuality. The Bishop of Chelmsford replied in answer to another question on the same topic that the training objective is for better and more conscious awareness of one’s self, and better and more conscious decision making which will benefit the church.

Members of WATCH can only hope that this raised awareness will permeate through the Church of England at every level, especially after events earlier this year in Sheffield. Those members who are General Synod reps will know of the importance of voting for suitably aware people for the Crown Nominations Commission which begins a new term this year.

Saturday began with a Presentation from the House of Bishops on the Proposals for the Pastoral Advisory Group on Human Sexuality and the Development of the Teaching Document. The listed membership of the groups working on these two areas is 21 male to 8 female, and it is hoped that the bishops heard the disquiet about this ratio which was also raised during the Questions Session. WATCH will need to be vigilant while the extended membership of these groups is chosen, and encourage the bishops not to let Unconscious Bias sway their decisions.

A Private Member’s Motion against Conversion Therapy and a Diocesan Synod Motion on Welcoming Transgender People were both passed with good majorities, which bodes well for further steps towards the full inclusion of LGBT people in our churches.

Good debates took place about the Church’s Presence and Engagement in multi-religious contexts; on Clergy Wellbeing; and the Cost of Applying for Citizenship. It was heartening to hear after the end of Synod of the appointment of the Revd Canon Dr Gulnar (Guli) Francis-Dehqani as the first Bishop of the newly created See of Loughborough, especially as she had made some positive contributions to the debates. Synod’s loss is Leicester Diocese’s gain!

An amending Canon regarding Clergy vestments went through final stages of approval – interestingly it was mostly discussed in terms of male attire - Unconscious bias strikes again!

Changes in the timetable and arrangements for Fringe Meetings made for some long queues at meal times and a consequent rush to get to the Fringes on time. The WATCH event was well attended and heard an overview of the past year’s activities, encouraged people to join GS WATCH, received thanks from the GS Human Sexuality Group for support regarding the bishops’ Take Note Debate in February, and encouraged those present to vote for inclusive candidates for the upcoming CNC Elections. Thanks are due to Stephen for coordinating the meeting and the publicity stand – I will be interested to hear if the new arrangements had any effect on the number of people browsing the exhibition stands generally.

To round off my Synod experiences I attended our Diocesan Synod a couple of days after returning from York. The opening worship was fine apart from the line in the second verse of “Be Thou My Vision” which I can’t sing as I am never going to be anyone’s ‘true son’! Unconscious Bias – it really does need some work doesn’t it?

Jenny Humphreys

Picture above of WATCH Chair, Emma Percy at the WATCH Stand at Synod.