New standing orders will stifle minorities

by
02 November 2006

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Sir, — The steering committee’s report on the Strategic Spending Review invites the General Synod to choose between three models of “the Church we want to become”. The Bishop of Chelmsford and his committee recommend as ideal “a measure of mutual solidarity”. That sounds like the managerial ethos (we pay, they spend) that is already enshrined.

Now it seems that the power of individual General Synod members to curtail or intervene in “process” is about to be further reduced. Could any member today, I wonder, do what the then Provost David Edwards did in the mid-1990s to the proposed abolition of Oak Hill and Mirfield?

The 39th report of the Standing Orders Committee wants every amendment proposed to a motion to be countersigned by ten other members, and submitted 24 hours in advance. This will make it much harder for mavericks or loners to operate, and will further suppress minority views already endangered by the coming reduction in membership numbers.

Yet unpopular causes were what caught Jesus’s attention, and are precisely what we should be listening out for. Equally, though chairmen have power to extend as well as to reduce speech limits, a default length of five minutes will cramp the range of debate.

Amendments that prove unsupported are not wasting the Synod’s time. Debate may go various ways. Of course, the General Synod’s limited time must be well used. But now that the Archbishops’ Council is firmly in the driving seat, the demands of process dominate ever more severely. Perhaps the General Synod should delegate specialised matters to Grand Committees of 80 or 100 members at various separate day meetings. That would reduce pressure on issues of genuine public concern.

It is hard enough to persuade ordinary people to stand for the General Synod. Whistle-blowers and individualists are crucial to the Church’s self-examination. MPs jealously guard their “privileges” as representatives of the people. Synod members as a body have nothing comparable to the Speaker. But their autonomy and initiative need reinforcing, not curtailing.

Lay members’ motivation may be different from that of the clergy and bishops. But wasn’t the articulation of the laity what the 20th-century reforms of synodical consultation were all about?
TOM SUTCLIFFE
(Southwark lay member)
12 Polworth Road
London SW16 2EU

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