A previous General Synod of the Church of England at Church House in London. Photo by Keith Blundy/Church of England

Church of England's synod takes on Brexit divisions as zero hour approaches

LONDON (RNS) — The Church of England’s most senior leaders are expected to rebuke Britain’s political leaders over their handling of Brexit at the church's General Synod this week.

In a special motion at synod, just weeks before the Brexit deadline, the archbishops of Canterbury and York will urge politicians to do more to heal divisions in society.

The motion, put forward by Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, archbishop of York, says that “social divisions feel more entrenched and intractable than for many years.” It also refers to “the divisions within the major political parties which are stifling the emergence of a hopeful and viable visions for the common good in our communities.”

Although the motion does not explicitly mention Brexit, it says that “the nation’s leaders must work together for the common good at this time of division” and that the Christian commitment “to putting the voices of the poor and marginalized at the heart of the nation’s concerns” must be reaffirmed.

The archbishops call on every diocese and parish to pray regularly for Parliament members and the government, seeking God’s strength and wisdom for the responsibilities they bear.

Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, addresses the General Synod at Church House on Feb. 20, 2019, in London. Video screengrab via Church of England

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The synod debate comes in the same week that Prime Minister Theresa May has written to all 317 Tory MPs, urging them to unite behind a Brexit deal while warning them “history will judge us all” over the process. But three of her Conservative MPs quit their party. Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen wrote a joint letter to May saying that the government's "disastrous handling" of Brexit was the final straw. Meanwhile, May was striving yet again this week to persuade the European Union to agree to changes to the “backstop” plan to prevent the return of customs checks on the Irish border.

The U.K. remains on course to leave the European Union on March 29, even as May has been unable so far to convince a majority of MPs to back the withdrawal terms she struck with the EU last year.

The country also remains deeply divided over Brexit, with growing anxiety about the impact on jobs and investment when Britain quits the EU, especially if a new relationship with Europe is not in place by the time of Britain's withdrawal.

Church of England Synod officials have cleared almost two hours in the agenda on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 23) to enable the assembly of representatives of clergy, bishops and lay members of the church to debate the motion on the state of the nation.

This is at least the third time Welby has voiced his concern in the Brexit debate. Two years ago, in his presidential address to General Synod, he said the Church of England must take part in reshaping post-Brexit Britain or risk seeing the country ruined by its current problems.

“This could be a time of liberation, of seizing and defining the future, or it could be one in which the present problems seize our national future and define us,” he said.

Attendees take a break to meet one another at the Church of England’s General Synod at Church House on Feb. 20, 2019, in London. Video screengrab via Church of England

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

In January, speaking in the House of Lords, Welby warned that if Parliament fails in the task entrusted to it of sorting out a Brexit deal, a second referendum might be necessary. “This is about more than Brexit, and Parliament must not show itself unfit for the job,” he said.

Just before Christmas, Church of England bishops also said they were praying for "courage, integrity and clarity for our politicians” at a time of turmoil over Brexit, while Welby and Sentamu called on churches to pray for politicians, “praying for wisdom, courage, integrity and compassion for our political leaders and all MPs; for reconciliation; and for fresh and uniting vision for all in our country.”

Their comments were also endorsed by the Rt. Rev. Susan Brown, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, along with the Most Rev. John Davies, archbishop of Wales.

With time running out, the U.K.'s Anglican churches aren't the only ones praying for Britain. The umbrella organization Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has issued a request that all its member churches and associated bodies join together “in a time of dedicated prayer for the political situation in the United Kingdom."

The moderator of CTBI, Angaelos, Coptic archbishop of London, asked for help from abroad as well, saying, “We hope and pray that every person of faith will join us in prayer across our nation, and beyond.”


  1. The archbishops have a point. One has to look hard to find a bigger cluster-eff than Brexit, with plenty of blame for every British politician to claim a nice-sized chunk.

  2. It’s not the politicians who need to do something about the division. It’s the job of the church, among others, to do that job. Teaching people how they can disagree and yet still be friendly to each other.

  3. The Church took no official on Brexit prior to the referendum. Why now? Also, why would a church weigh in on such a secular issue?

  4. The C of E is the established religion. Twenty-plus of its archbishops also sit in the House of Lords.

    The politicians from every corner seem determined to bollix the exit, no matter what. I think ten MPs, 7 Torries and 3 Labor, have left their parties in the last few days. That’s quite unusual in GB. Given the mess, perhaps the Archbishops figured they had to try something.

  5. Can’t you see that, Catherine Pepinster? The Church of England, the Church of Scotland and CTBI (Churches Together in Britain and Ireland) are blind & clueless! They really have no idea that:

    “The Americans, along with the hard Brexiteers in Britain have engineered an economic disaster and view it as a business opportunity. The EU27 see this as geo-political game play and are throwing their all behind greater integration whilst the world watches what is about to happen to Britain. This is an opportunity that neither will miss. The Kings and Queens of this global chess game, for the first time, see Britain as nothing more than a pawn. Winner takes all. … So if you thought Brexit was about arresting inequality or immigration, or about wages, jobs, democracy or sovereignty – you are wrong.”

    Source: Graham Vanbergen, “The Disastrous Brexit Plan You Knew Nothing About”, TruePublica, December 19, 2017.

  6. Because they know it is an error and a mess? Don’t we know the Royals feel this too, for that matter?

  7. Nationalism. The US and the UK fell for it. It is rising elsewhere. It will be the scourge of the 21st Century.

  8. Internationalism was the scourge of the 20th century.

  9. As a UK citizen, the thing that is worrying me at the moment is that we are committed to military unification with the EU, regardless of what happens over Brexit. Those of us who voted “Leave” thought we were about regaining Britain’s sovereignty, but it is looking like a pretty toothless independence deal if someone else gets to control our forces.

  10. “A UK citizen” and YOU DON’T KNOW? It’s the MILITARY of the “UK citizen[s]” that’s behind Brexit! According to Graham Vanbergen (in “Brexit – How the British People Were Hacked”, TruePublica, November 23, 2017):

    “The co-ordinated attack on Britain’s democracy is slowly coming to light. A company called Cambridge Analytica are accused by a growing number of newspapers of using the same methods the MILITARY use to effect mass sentiment change. These are the same strategies of psychological warfare but adapted to be used against a civilian population. In this case – Britain. … According to a growing number of prominent journalists, Brexit was the result of a combination of proven psychological warfare strategies used by privately owned corporations but developed by the British MILITARY, along with illegal funding provided by foreign billionaires for the sole purpose of profiting from the economic destabilisation caused by the result. And whilst these accusations are now the subject of bitter legal battles, these same accusations keep bubbling to the surface from different sources.”

  11. The problem with this view is that the reason why the referendum occurred at all was that David Cameron’s Conservative Party was haemorrhaging members to UKIP, who were promising that, if they got into power, there would be a referendum on EU membership. So he offered a referendum in his Conservative manifesto to see off UKIP, then had to make good on his promise. He then sent a personal letter to every household in the UK telling us all that we needed to vote “Remain”, and persuaded numerous public figures to make the same recommendation. If there was a sudden shift in sentiment, this doesn’t explain why there was ever any need for the high risk strategy (from Mr Cameron’s point of view) of offering a referendum.

  12. One possible explanation would be that David Cameron is a complete nincompoop.

  13. STILL NOT SEEING WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE? Try news-reading while thinking outside The (Cereal) Box that is BrexitFakeNews™ (like the article we just read). In the old days our grandmas would call the following signs of the times, A Soft Coup: Regime Change by Other Means. My loved ones in England & I call it, Brexit:

    William James, “Post-Brexit Britain ready to use ‘hard power’: defense minister”, Reuters, February 10, 2019.

    “Brexit: Military reservists on standby in event of no deal”, BBC News, January 17, 2019.

    “UK ‘could build new military bases around world after Brexit’: ‘This is our moment to be that true global player once more,’ says Gavin Williamson”, The Independent, December 30, 2018.

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