Campaigning groups limber up for autumn General Synod elections
CHURCHGOERS who represent “the inclusive instincts of most people in England” are being urged to stand in the forthcoming elections to General Synod.
With seven months to go until the closing date for nominations, Inclusive Church has already published a strategy that includes advice on how to write an election address and, for members of deanery synods, how to use their vote. It was launched on Saturday at St John’s, Waterloo.
“It’s an attempt to increase the number of people on General Synod, both lay and clergy, who would take an inclusive line against discrimination on areas of gender, race and sexual orientation,” said the Revd Stephen France, the campaign’s coordinator, on Monday.
He believes that the vote on the women-bishops Measure of November 2012 illustrated that the existing membership of the Synod is not representative of the wider Church.
“What tends to happen in dioceses is that, for fairness and balance, they seem to elect parties from traditional Catholics and conservative Evangelicals, and some more moderates.
“That does not necessarily reflect the constitution of that diocese. It is an even-handed approach, but not necessarily representational by proportion.”
The campaign pack argues that the Church of England “needs to revise many of the positions it takes on gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and equality, which reflect an earlier age”. The aim is to get three to five lay candidates to stand in each diocese. As the election approaches, more advice will be given to voters, who will be given the names of candidates supported by the campaign.
There is a warning, in the pack, that “people sometimes use misleading language in their election addresses.” It gives the example that “‘in favour of women’s ministry’ which omits the word ‘ordained’ looks as if it is supportive of women priests/bishops, but often means ‘I do not accept women priests’.”
The terms “faithful”, “orthodox”, and “Bible-based teaching” are also highlighted as requiring scrutiny. “It can be very difficult to extract the truth,” it warns. “So be clear and truthful. We don’t play those games.”
Mary Johnston, who has been a member of the Synod for 20 years, and gave the keynote address on Saturday, said on Tuesday that she fears that the Synod has had “a pretty bad press”, and was regarded as “a talking shop of argumentative people”.
But she is confident that the Church has learned its lesson and will “studiously avoid” repeating its mistakes as it debates issues including sexuality. She believes that synodical governance is “a precious aspect of Church”, that the bishops could do much more to promote.
Forward in Faith is also well-organised. In November, it appointed an election officer, Anne Gray, and each diocese has a local elections co-ordinator.
Sixteen regional meetings are planned to explore ways of finding new candidates, who will be provided with support throughout the process.
In an address to its National Assembly in November, Mrs Gray sensed that people felt “battered, bruised, and battle-weary, . . . I do know how it feels to be isolated in a large rural diocese miles from another kindred spirit and where the establishment considers us to be beyond the pale and, yes, I have witnessed systematic eradication of good Catholic parishes.”
But, she argued: “Let’s at least show we are willing to flourish within its structures. If we don’t, we’ve only ourselves to blame if things get worse.”
She added: “For the first time in over 25 years we won’t be entering these elections labelled as being anti-everything. Let’s take up the opportunity to be constructive, positive, and let’s be proud of who we are.”
It has long been thought that the process of electing members for the General Synod of the Church of England may not have been truly representative of the grass-roots of the laity in the Church. There could be many reasons for this, one of which is the difficulty many working people have in sparing both time and expense in attending the full extent of Synod. If one is already a member of the diocesan Synod, this would involve more time and expense which, for the ordinary working lay person might be inhibiting.
However, as the ‘Inclusive Church’ leadership points out in this ‘Church Times’ article, in the current situation of needing to keep abreast of the needs of the modern world, it may be no longer good enough to delegate responsibility of Church government to retired, often conservative, lay people, who have both time and the means to offer themselves for service in this vital area of Church legislation. There needs to be a broader representation of the average lay-person at both Diocesan and General Synods.
There is, increasingly, a need to consider the social and political implications of those who are able and willing to take up positions on Synods, where the polity and organisation of the Church at both local and national levels are worked out. The lack of proportional representation at the November, 2013 Meeting of the General Synod was able to bring about a dangerous dead-lock in the consideration of whether women should be ordained as bishops. Even though the clear majority were in favour, the way the voting proportions were arranged meant that the Measure for the Ordination of Women Bishops was lost.
It was only because the archbishops of Canterbury and York were able to cobble together a compromise, which has led to the present embarrassing situation of the unequal episcopal status of bishops in the House of Bishops – based on their attitude towards the ordination of women – that the process has been allowed to take place. This is surely a case of ‘the tail wagging the dog’, when a conservative minority in General Synod can force the Church into a situation of compromise – in the matter of how different bishops may be constrained to serve the needs of the Church.
Hopefully, the actions of ‘Inclusive Church’ in this matter, directed towards the enablement of a more broadly representative body sitting in General Synod, may, as a direct by-product, help towards a more openly accepting Church; accepting of ALL people, regardless of race, ethnic background, class, gender of sexual orientation. This, then, could be said to be more fit to fulfil the needs of the institution that represents both Church and State under the patronage of H.M. the Queen.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand