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Campaigners seek to change the system

30 November 2012


THE narrow defeat of the women-bishops draft Measure in General Synod last week has prompted calls for the process of electing members to be changed. 

The campaign group for women bishops WATCH said that the voting among the laity showed that "there was a considerable discrepancy between the local and national voting patterns. When the legislation was debated at diocesan level, it achieved more than a two-thirds majority among lay people in 37 of the 44 dioceses. 

"In Guildford, for instance, 70 per cent of lay members voted in favour at diocesan level, but three of the four General Synod members voted against. Had the General Synod members representing six dioceses chosen to reflect the views expressed by their diocesan synods, the Measure would have passed." 

Canon Rosie Harper, a member of the House of Clergy (Oxford), said that people in her parish felt "completely betrayed" by the fact that four of their lay Synod representatives had voted against the Measure, when the vast majority in the diocese was in favour. 

She said that there would be "much lobbying for change in the system" governing how the House of Laity was elected. She suggested that the process of electing members of the House of Laity should be reformed: instead of deanery-synod representatives' electing them, everyone registered on a parish electoral roll should be eligible to vote, she said.

Ruth McCurry, a spokeswoman for GRAS (the Group for Rescinding the Act of Synod), speaking in a personal capacity, said that deanery-synod representatives often did not have "personal knowledge" of those who were standing for the House of Laity of the Synod. Different groupings had succeeded in getting people elected in the House of Laity.

"We need a system where the electorate know each other, and that points to diocesan synods doing the electing [of General Synod lay representatives] instead of deanery synods, because they know the people in their diocese."

Nevertheless, the Revd Jon Marlow, Priest-in-Charge of St Pancras's, Plymouth, who studied synodical governance at theological college, wrote on his blog on Sunday: "As it stands, the electorate of General Synod lay reps is directly representative of every church in the country, and there is no other body than deanery synods of which that is true."

Introducing "any sort of proportional representation" to the process of electing members of the House of Laity would "only seek to increase the influence of the larger churches", he argued.

Elsewhere on the blog, Mr Marlow wrote: "The important thing to realise about General Synod members is that they are representatives, not delegates. Members are elected from and by their peers, and entrusted with making a decision on our behalf. They are not sent with a mandate: they are elected to think for themselves."

There have also been calls for lay supporters of women bishops to stand at the next General Synod elections in 2015.

The Revd Stephen Kuhrt, who chairs the Evangelical group Fulcrum, said: "The next elections for General Synod in three years' time may well turn into a virtual referendum on the issue [of women bishops], meaning that a very different House of Laity will surely be elected. It is vital for lay people in the Church of England to wake up to their responsibility to get people elected to General Synod who will properly represent them."

Mr Kuhrt said that Charismatic Evangelical leaders, who were mostly in favour of women's leadership, "recognise the greater responsibility they need to have in speaking out on such issues. The excuse of 'not wanting to do politics' is not good enough." 

Question of the Week: Should the electoral process for choosing lay representatives in the General Synod be changed as a result of last week's vote?

A LIST showing how each member of the General Synod voted on the final approval of the draft women-bishops Measure was published on Monday by Church House.

Most attention will be paid to the votes in the House of Laity, where the Measure was lost. Here, there were 132 votes in favour, 74 against, with no abstentions. The Measure thus fell by six votes.

Thirty-three of the 74 members of the House of Laity who voted against the Measure were women. About 25 of the laity who voted against were elected - or, in a few cases, re-elected after a gap - to the Synod in 2010, when elections produced more traditionalists and conservative Evangelicals ( News, 22 October 2010).

A sizeable number of no-voters among the laity were recognisable as members of the Catholic Group, or Reform, the conservative Evangelical group. But floating voters proved decisive. The director of Forward in Faith, Stephen Parkinson, said that Anglo-Catholics and conservative Evangelicals alone "could not have defeated it [the Measure]. It was defeated by a group of people who were prepared to listen to those saying that provision was not strong enough."

letter from eight members of the House of Laity who voted against the Measure was published in The Times, yesterday. The signatories were: Tom Sutcliffe (Southwark); Mary Judkins (Wakefield); Dr Phillip Rice (London); John Davies (Winchester); Anne Bloor (Leicester); Priscilla Hungerford (Winchester); Keith Malcouronne (Guildford); and Christopher Corbet (Lichfield).

The letter said that 12 of the members of the House of Laity who voted against the Measure "did so in spite of most of us unreservedly supporting the consecration of women".

The letter continued: "Most of us who make up the dozen, whose votes against the Measure did not reflect any serious opposition to women bishops, had taken the trouble to state clearly in our election addresses in 2010 that we would vote against the Measure if it did not in our judgement make ample provision of oversight in the way that the minorities needed, or honour promises made to the same minorities only 20 years ago.

"Many of us 12 were prepared to vote for the Measure as it stood in July with a clause referring to 'theological convictions' of those requiring alternative oversight, had the Bishops not lost their nerve and decided under pressure from 'senior women' to reconsider their proposed 'helpful' clause."

The letter suggested that "a new briefer Measure" be brought before the Synod, which "could incorporate the 1993 Act of Synod". 

Opposition to the Measure was particularly pronounced among the laity in certain dioceses. Six out of Chichester diocese's eight lay representatives voted against, as did six out of seven of Winchester diocese's lay members. Among Blackburn diocese's lay repres­entatives, four out of six voted against; among Chelmsford's, four out of seven; among Guildford's, three out of four; and among Oxford's, four out of seven.

In London diocese - the only diocese, apart from Chichester, to vote against the draft Measure at its diocesan synod - six out of ten voted against. There were unani­mous votes in favour of the Measure among lay representatives from Bradford, Ely, Hereford, Norwich, Portsmouth, St Albans, and St Edmundsbury & Ipswich.

The Measure passed comfortably in the House of Bishops, where it was carried by 44 to three, and in the House of Clergy, where it was carried by 148 to 45.

The three bishops to vote against the Measure were the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner; the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell; and the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd John Goddard.

There were two abstentions in the House of Bishops: the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, who wrote earlier this month that he was "uncon­vinced" by the draft Measure (Comment, 9 November); and the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish.

The list of how the Synod voted can be downloaded here

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