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University Proctors and laity debated

12 July 2013

Synod elections

Gown, not town: Canon Judith Maltby

Gown, not town: Canon Judith Maltby

THE General Synod's electoral processes were under discussion on Tuesday morning.

Canon Sue Booys (Oxford), who chairs the Elections Review Group, introduced the group's first report, about the representation of clergy on General Synod, by outlining some of the proposed changes.

She explained that the current allocation of seats between the provinces of Canterbury and York, based on a 70-30 split in favour of Canterbury, resulted in a slight weighting in favour of the Northern province, as the actual split would be 73-27.

She said that the Business Committee had decided that it was up to the Synod to decide whether the practice should continue.

Moving on to the universities' constituencies, she said: "I've been made aware that some university proctors believe the report is inaccurate and lack the promised consultation," she said. "This has left them feeling aggrieved, and I apologise."

The committee had rejected proposals from the Committee on Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns (CMEAC) that minority-ethnic Anglicans should be co-opted on to the Synod to ensure a minimum number of 24. She explained that the Clergy did not appear to be under-representative, but there was "a degree of under-representation" in the House of Laity.

Rather than co-option, however, the committee thought that other groups, including dioceses, "could actively encourage minority-ethnic Anglicans to stand for election".

The Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Revd David Walker (Worcester), spoke as vice-chair of CMEAC. He said more should be done to increase the number of ethnic minorities on the Synod. "It isn't for their benefit, but for ours."

The Archdeacon of Rochdale, the Ven. Cherry Vann (Manchester), expressed concern about the "general drift of resources and influence from the north to the south". The proposal to reduce the number of allocated seats would result in the Northern province's losing members. This was "serious, not least because of the inaccurate perspective of the north and northerners by southern members who haven't been further than Watford Gap".

Heather Pritchard (C of E Youth Council), said that the Youth Council also struggled to attract members from minority-ethnic backgrounds: "We are a white, middle-class bunch." It was launching an "engage campaign" to encourage young people to take up leadership.

Tim Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) questioned the recommendation to abolish university constituencies, calling for reform rather than abolition.

Brother Thomas Quin OSB (Religious Communities) spoke against the abolition of the university constituencies. He said that, in diocesan elections, "I'm not sure that we can rely on the electorate to seek out theologians."

He warned: "University fosters an attitude of mind and inquiry . . . and all people are eager to learn from one another. We need more, not less, of that attitude" to avoid "blind factionalism".

The Revd Dr Rosemarie Mallett (Southwark) noted the very low number of Synod members from minority-ethnic backgrounds, and wondered about the decision to ask CMEAC to encourage more minority-ethnic people to stand for Synod. The task should be spread more widely. "This is our respons-ibility."

The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, gave examples of the way in which the diocese had grown, including the "thirsting for baptism from those who have fled from Iran". He reminded the Synod that there were clergy teaching in European universities and religious communities.

Canon Judith Maltby (University of Oxford) spoke as the representative for the largest of the university constituencies, about 50 clergy: "If that is a rotten borough, then other constituencies like deaneries better beware." She complained that the report was "full of errors and misunderstanding". Would the 50 clergy at Oxford all become members of the deanery? "That would distort the deanery."

The Revd Charles Razzall (Chester) spoke as the only northern member of the 12-person Business Committee. He argued that the reform of universities was "doing something for" university theologians. He said: "Paula Gooder is in no way diminished for her membership of the Birmingham diocese; the same would be true of our university theologians in a new dispensation."

A few years ago, the proposal to get rid of archdeacons had led to their "practically chaining themselves to this chamber and throwing themselves into the lake". But most diocesan archdeacons had been elected, "almost without exception. The same would be true of our great university theologians."

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, referred to the recommendation that the House of Bishops be enlarged by one seat "in order to increase the representation of the southern suffragan bishops". This was "perverse" (to "Hear, hear" from the floor). He urged: "Please reject this nonsense."

Canon Booys responding, said that the proper place for consultation was the revision committee, and urged the Synod not to vote down the motion, as this would mean denying people the opportunity to consult.

The Synod took note of the report.

The Revd Professor Richard Burridge (University of London), moving his following motion, said that there had been a lack of consultation, and the report was "full of inaccuracies and based on wrong information".

The university representatives agreed that their situation was "not only untenable and unworkable, but indefensible". Nevertheless, the mistakes in the report were so indefensible that they could be open to legal challenge.

Professor Burridge offered a number of justifications for the university representatives. There were many clergy in university theology departments who did not hold a bishop's licence. Also, university representatives brought to the Synod academic professional theology. He also argued that university representatives were in touch with young people.

The Revd Mark Ireland (Lichfield) questioned an imbalance in the current system. In his diocese, it took 506 electors to elect six proctors; but it takes only 100 electors to elect the same number of university proctors.

He referred to the abolition of the constituency for archdeacons: but: "archdeacons haven't become an endangered species" in the Synod, he said, because "the cream always rises to the top."

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, said, in answer to a question posed by Professor Burridge, that he would not want him to have one of the Southwark seats, "as much as I love and respect" him.

He said that universities had a historic place, to guide the theology of the Church of England, and "we need to guard this element."

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) chairs the steering committee for the legislation arising out of the Elections Review Group's report. He said that the committee would listen to what the Synod had to say: "You should see me as Father Christmas."

Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities) supported the motion. Applying one-person, one-vote "too rigidly . . . militates against the Church and society hearing everything that God wants to say."

The following motion was overwhelmingly carried:

That this Synod request that the Steering Committee appointed under SO 49 to be in charge of the draft legislation arising from GS 1901 undertake full consultation with the University proctors regarding the proposals relating to the University constituencies in GS 1901, GS 1902 and GS 1904 and bring forward further proposals for consideration by the Revision Committee for the reform of those constituencies, based on accurate information.

THE SYNOD moved on to legislation.

Canon Butler set out the contents of the business now before the Synod. There was "plenty of time to amend in the revision committee and Synod before final approval".

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, had not thought that the issue of suffragan bishops was contentious until the appearance of the "ecky-thump factor" in the debate. He suggested that the issue was not the provenance of the suffragan bishops, but their lack of voice overall. Their number had been "reduced significantly".

Suffragan bishops brought a "different kind of edge" to the Synod. Also, if there were only a few suffragan bishops, the minority voices, such as those not in favour of women bishops, tended to get "drowned out".

The Revd Paul Ayers (Bradford) told people back home that he had to modify his accent at the Synod, "as quite a lot of people from the south can't understand when I speak". Life in the north was "very different in many ways". He encouraged members to write to ask the committee to look again at the question of the north and south.

Tom Sutcliffe (Southwark) disagreed with the advice from the Business Committee to vote in favour so that problems could be ironed out in the revision committee: "We ought to vote against this if they have made a bit of a cod's ear of it."

The Revd Hugh Lee (Oxford) noted that Oxford deanery already had some 80 clergy members. "To add another 50 to Oxford deanery would make it extraordinary indeed." He also asked why the secretariat should go out and find who voters were. Why shouldn't voters self-register?

The Revd Stephen Trott (Peterborough) said that there were no fewer than 13 ex-officio members in the House of Laity, with one more to be added. "Could consideration be given to those who are ex-officio being given voice, but perhaps not a vote, so as to remedy the democratic deficit of being on Synod but not elected?"

The Synod referred Amending Canon No. 32, the Convocations (Elections to Upper House) (Amendment) Resolution 201, and Clergy Representation (Amendment) Resolution 201 to the revision committee.

The Synod moved on to consider Church Representation Rules (Amendment) Resolution 201.

David Ashton (Wakefield) had voted for the creation of a single diocese in West Yorkshire and the Dales, but expressed concern that the proposals meant that the Northern province would lose representatives on the House of Laity.

Clive Scowen (London) said that it was his understanding that there would continue to be 59 seats in the Northern province; there would not be any loss of lay seats as a result of the diocesan reorganisation.

The resolution was referred to the revision committee.

THE Synod then moved on to debate the motion that it "request legislative proposals to be brought forward to: (a) establish an electoral college for elections by the laity to the General Synod and diocesan synods; (b) make provision by 2020 for elections to the General Synod to be undertaken online; and (c) make provision by 2015 for nominations for elections to the General Synod to be undertaken by email".

The Archdeacon of Dorking, the Ven. Julian Henderson (Guildford), who chairs the Business Committee, introduced the second report of the Elections Review Group, focusing on elections to the House of Laity. This final item of business for the group of sessions "is not one which immediately enthrals the heart and excites the mind", he said, but it has "important consequences".

The Business Committee had come to the view that "our electoral system for this House of Laity needs to evolve". Three options were on the table. The current system, whereby members of deanery synods elected diocesan and General Synod members was described as the "narrow base".

The "widest base" would be offered by universal suffrage, extending the electorate to all members of parish electoral rolls. In between was the idea of an electoral college, for which electors would be elected at annual parochial meetings. "The Business Committee concluded that this is the best of the three options."

The report also called for elections to be conducted online.

William Seddon (St Albans) said: "My fear is that changing the electoral system will do little to change the system unless more is done to educate church members."

Pamela Bishop (Southwell & Nottingham), a diocesan lay chair, said that such chairs would welcome being consulted. Rather than look to change the system, it was important "to make whatever structure or system work."

Philip French (Rochester) spoke to his amendments. He spoke of how out of touch the House of Laity was with the electorate. His first amendment would introduce universal suffrage. His second amendment would address "the pitiful lack of urgency in proposing to do nothing significant until 2020. What's wrong with 2015?" His third amendment addressed the need to be more transparent, open, and accountable. Publishing election addresses online would be a good start.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) agreed that the House of Laity was unrepresentative, but the root cause was not the electoral system, but its implementation. Electors required access to literature that was "transparent, and honestly described the candidates".

TheVen. Christine Hardman (Southwark), was concerned that none of the three options was "quite fit for purpose". She urged a return to an earlier option: that electors come from the lay elected members of PCCs. This idea should be expanded to all lay members of the PCC, including churchwardens: the "treasure of the Church of England".

Debrah McIsaac (Salisbury) opposed Mr French's first amendment. The idea of local churches' having to put together reports was "mind-boggling".

The debate was adjourned, and will be brought back "in due course".


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