TRADITIONALISTS believe that they have made enough gains in the elections to the General Synod to be able to block legislation on women bishops, when it returns from the dioceses. The election results for the new Synod were announced last week.
The conservative Evangelical group Reform and the Catholic Group on the General Synod have exchanged information on their candidates, and said that their analysis showed that 66 members of the new House of Clergy (32.1 per cent) and 77 members of the House of Laity (35.46 per cent) would “vote against the current women bishops legislation unless it is amended to give [better provision to] those who for conscious or scriptural reasons cannot accept women bishops”.
In a statement, Reform and the Catholic Group said that, as only 34 per cent of the Houses of Clergy and Laity is needed to stop the legislation, “it can and will be blocked by both fully ELECTED houses” (their capitals).
Just one more person’s vote is needed in the House of Clergy to head off the legislation: “There are 21 new Evangelicals on this new Synod, and one out of a possible 58 undecided is a given!”
The Revd Rod Thomas, the chairman of Reform, said they had worked hard at analysing the election results to produce accurate figures. “We welcome the outcome of the elections, as it means that the voice of those who have strong theological objections to women bishops can no longer be steamrollered by the rest of General Synod, which is what happened previously.
“The onus is now on the House of Bishops to make proper, effective, statutory provision for those who can’t go along with women bishops. But”, he warned, “I am not confident in the slightest that they will do that, as they have always hesitated over the issue of passing jurisdiction away from a diocesan bishop to another bishop.
“If they don’t do this, what they are really saying is they would rather see the draft legislation fail than create adequate provision, which is not leadership, but intolerance.”
Reform is considering the formation of a society as a possible solution to the issue (full story).
Canon Simon Killwick, chairman of the Catholic Group on the General Synod, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a solution could be reached to accommodate the traditionalists. There had been a “shift in the landscape” of the make-up of Synod. “We’re not looking to try and block things, but for some significant amendments in the legislation to make better provision for those who can’t accept women bishops.
“It seems there has been something of a shift in the membership of Synod, particularly in the House of Clergy, who blocked the Archbishops’ amendment in July, and one might speculate that the current membership would have blocked the legislation.”
He said that the creation of the new Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda (News, 1 October) could be a “vehicle for accommodating those who can’t accept women bishops”. The idea of a society was rejected by the revision committee, but Canon Killwick said that it would not be a statutory body, but would have its own constitution, recognised by the General Synod.
He also said it would be helpful for the House of Bishops to make amendments to the legislation before it came back to the Synod. The Bishops had a mandate to do this, after the Archbishops’ amendment gained the support of the majority of the Synod. “It would be better if it was amended by the House of Bishops, so it gets through in this quinquennium.”
But the campaigning group Women and the Church (WATCH) described the traditionalists’ announcement as “premature”. “There is no evidence that this view is based on an accurate analysis of results,” it said.
Sally Barnes, media officer for WATCH, said she believed that the traditionalists might have “exaggerated the situation”. There was an increase in the number of women in both the Houses of Clergy (53) and Laity (87), she said. “I’m not saying all women are going to vote in favour of women bishops, but there have been some very good gains for us, and some brilliant people who have got in. . .
“At the moment the legislation has gone to the dioceses, and let’s remember the vast majority want women bishops; so I can’t see Synod turning it down, if the majority of dioceses back it,” Ms Barnes said.
Full General Synod election results
Question of the week: Is there real hope for traditionalists in the new Synod?
Winners and losers in tougher vote
SAM FOLLETT, aged 20, has been elected as the youngest member of the General Synod, writes Ed Beavan. He is a lay representative for St Albans, and is one of the Synod’s youngest-ever members.
Mr Follett’s home church is Christ Church, St Albans, where he is the son of the Vicar, the Revd Jeremy Follett. He previously worked for the Church Army, and is now studying Physics at Nottingham University, where he attends St Nicholas’s.
Mr Follett said he hoped to “bring some insights into how the Church can better reach young people to help it move forward”. He hopes he will be able to encourage more of them to get involved in church structures. “We all know that our Church isn’t perfect; so I wanted to get stuck in and help change things rather than just moaning.”
Canon Chris Sugden, executive secretary of the Anglican Mainstream group and a prominent activist among Evangelicals on earlier Synods, was a high-profile casualty of the elections, failing to get re-elected in the diocese of Oxford.
The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, was also not re-elected, after ten years on Synod representing London. She expressed concern that few people from ethnic-minority backgrounds had been voted into the new Synod. This did the Church “a great disservice”.
Canon David Banting, Vicar of St Peter’s, Harold Wood, in Chelmsford diocese, and a trustee of the Reform group, returns to the Synod, while Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of the campaign group Christian Concern for Our Nation, was elected a lay member for Chichester. She said she was “delighted to have been elected”. Her main focus would be to “articulate the great gospel truth with confidence and conviction”.
Others who failed to get re-elected include the Revd Dr John Hartley, Vicar of Eccleshill, Bradford, a prolific speaker in the Synod since 2004, and the Ven. Jonathan Boardman, Archdeacon of Italy & Malta, who was narrowly defeated in the diocese in Europe.
The debate over women bishops appears to have led to increased competition for places on the Synod for the new quinquennium, compared with five years ago (News, 1 October).
Information gathered from across the country suggested that there were 28 candidates for every ten lay places, compared with 23 in 2005. For diocesan clergy places, the increase has been smaller, from 19 candidates to 21 for every ten seats. Overall, there were 959 candidates for the 404 places, an average of 2.37 candidates per place.
The new General Synod will meet in Church House, Westminster, from 22 to 24 November. It will be inaugurated by the Queen.