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No-confidence vote in the House of Laity; women deans in the Lords

14 December 2012


From Mr Christopher Whitmey

Sir, - The facts that you report on the proposed vote of no confidence in the Chair of the General Synod's House of Laity (News, 7 December) are depressing.

"It is not a personal issue," Stephen Barney says. To my knowledge, since 1975, every Chair has been a living and thinking person with feelings. The Chair should "uphold view of the dioceses", says Penny Allen. The General Synod's Standing Orders gives no such duty. "Chairs are meant to be impartial," says Sally Barnes. But this is only when they are chairing a debate.

The debate to bring forward legislation to ordain women in 1984 was opposed, by invitation of the Standing Committee, by the Chairman of the House of Laity at that time, Oswald Clark. This was after some 74 per cent of votes cast in diocesan synods had been in favour. Mr Clark's speech started: "It gives me no pleasure, speaking in a personal capacity, to find myself in opposition to my diocesan bishop and diocesan synod [Southwark]. My only comfort is that, whatever its outcome, he and I and our colleagues will be walking together and staying together as friends."

The present House of Laity would better serve the cause for women bishops by considering a Gravamen and Reformandum under House of Laity Standing Order 13 asking the House of Bishops to ensure that the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 (flying bishops) is retained by the next Measure for women bishops.

I also hope that the House of Laity's Standing Committee, when considering the agenda for the meeting, will take legal advice to ensure that a vote of no confidence in the Chair is in order. Such a motion, if passed, has no legal consequences whatsoever - especially when the Chair has done no wrong save exercise his right to freedom of thought and speech.

Oldstone Furlong, Fownhope
Hereford HR1 4PJ

From Fay Wilson-Rudd

Sir, - You rightly drew attention to the fact that there has been a request for a meeting of the House of Laity to express a vote of no confidence in our Chair, Dr Philip Giddings.

When I was invited to support this move, which I considered unhelpful, I wrote to the General Synod Office asking if it would be possible for the House of Laity to meet for a day in February, not to challenge Dr Giddings, but to try to create the opportunity for lay people to talk meaningfully to each other. Too often, I only hear statements the meaning of which is not always clear.

I suggested a "café-style" gathering that could be helped by having some theological input and, maybe, mediators present, to help us to explore issues such as how personal positions are more important than the wishes of our dioceses.

I was subsequently informed that it would not be possible to organise such a meeting before February, and it would be more appropriate for such discussions to take place in York when the full Synod is in session.

The Synod Office is now trying to set up a meeting that will, I fear, lead to further entrenchment of personal positions rather than find a way for the House of Laity to move forward together.

(Synod member for Bath & Wells)
Flat 3, Old School Place
North Grove
Wells BA5 2TD


From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, - If we are to move forward with regard to the recently defeated draft women-bishops legislation, may I make two brief points, one ecumenical, the other constitutional.

Little thought seems to have been given to the implications of our being seen to renege on the promises of 20 years ago to our minorities, even when enacted in an Act of Synod. Methodists and others seeking union will need undertakings to respect their ethos and traditions. They may also need assurances to be given to bring on board some of their minorities, such as those not convinced of episcopacy.

Second, according to the well-researched tract The Grand Question by scholarly Bishop Edward Stillingfleet (1635-99), since the Conquest in 1066, our bishops have sat in the Lords because they are civil rulers having the status as barons. Having lost this status, their continuance is an anomaly, and must be merited anew.

Thus, if Parliament now wants an equal number of senior Anglican women in the Lords, why should they need be bishops at all? Why not also include deans? The two Archbishops aside, why not a rule that the next vacant seat in the Lords should go alternately to the most senior woman and then man, whether dean or bishop, a new Archbishop counting as the next male appointee, so that after him a woman must be appointed?

Parliament would have the senior Anglican women whom it wants, without imposing its will on the Church as we continue our pilgrimage of discernment.

17 Francis Road


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