LET’S be honest, the General Synod has not developed the sexiest of reputations. Among those of us who are clergy, it’s an easy target: it’s like the dutiful older sibling, earnestly discussing the minutia of ecclesiastical policy, while the rest of us get on with real life.
"You have to be either scared of losing your place in the Church, or the type of person who loves boring meetings to join the Synod," we tell ourselves. They are not like us. Membership of a minority group does not automatically make a wise politician, but the Synod is not helped by the deficiencies in its representation.
In the General Synod that experienced such a struggle over women bishops, only 28 per cent of the clergy voted on to it were women, and not one of them was under 40. Those who were openly part of racial, disability, or LGBT minority groups were woefully under-represented in the decisions that the Church made about them.
"Even the name", some clergy tweet wittily every time the Synod meets, "sounds like a Star Wars villain." We write our cynical blog posts, and go to great lengths to explain to our Guardian-reading neighbours that most of the C of E isn’t like those Synod types. Then the headlines move on, and we all get on with life. It’s a well-rehearsed play. We all know our roles: "Synodically governed, episcopally led, clerically tweeted."
The challenge and opportunity that we are facing now is that the General Synod seems to be leading and speaking for the Church more than the rest of us are. More column inches are given to Synod statements than to any other branch of the Church. The Reform and Renewal movement is Synod-led, not merely bishop-led. The opportunities for this Synod to have an impact on daily life for us all are considerable.
You don’t need me to tell you that the stakes are also high. Clergy and congregations are ageing and shrinking. "Of course, we’re not bringing in radical change because of fear that the C of E will die," and we are quick to add: "Mission must be our priority because it is God’s work." And the Reform and Renewal programme looks genuinely hopeful. But vital to this change has to be the General Synod itself, and vital to the Synod is its electorate.
We do not have the luxury of critical distance from the Synod. We need to put our votes where our tweets are. There have been significant campaigns, and many candidates from minority groups and outward-focused ministries are standing. There is a great deal to vote for this time, much to pray for, and a great deal to hope for.
The Revd Sally Hitchiner is Chaplain to Brunel University, London.