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Campaigning groups limber up for autumn General Synod elections

30 January 2015


Voting: members of the General Synod inside Church House, in Westminster, at the last group of sessions in November

Voting: members of the General Synod inside Church House, in Westminster, at the last group of sessions in November

CHURCHGOERS who represent "the inclusive instincts of most people in England" are being urged to stand in the forthcoming elections to General Synod.

With seven months to go until the closing date for nominations, Inclusive Church has already published a strategy that includes advice on how to write an election address and, for members of deanery synods, how to use their vote. It was launched on Saturday at St John's, Waterloo.

"It's an attempt to increase the number of people on General Synod, both lay and clergy, who would take an inclusive line against discrimination on areas of gender, race and sexual orientation," said the Revd Stephen France, the campaign's coordinator, on Monday.

He believes that the vote on the women-bishops Measure of November 2012 illustrated that the existing membership of the Synod is not representative of the wider Church.

"What tends to happen in dioceses is that, for fairness and balance, they seem to elect parties from traditional Catholics and conservative Evangelicals, and some more moderates.

"That does not necessarily reflect the constitution of that diocese. It is an even-handed approach, but not necessarily representational by proportion."

The campaign pack argues that the Church of England "needs to revise many of the positions it takes on gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and equality, which reflect an earlier age". The aim is to get three to five lay candidates to stand in each diocese. As the election approaches, more advice will be given to voters, who will be given the names of candidates supported by the campaign.

There is a warning, in the pack, that "people sometimes use misleading language in their election addresses." It gives the example that "'in favour of women's ministry' which omits the word 'ordained' looks as if it is supportive of women priests/bishops, but often means 'I do not accept women priests'."

The terms "faithful", "orthodox", and "Bible-based teaching" are also highlighted as requiring scrutiny. "It can be very difficult to extract the truth," it warns. "So be clear and truthful. We don't play those games."

Mary Johnston, who has been a member of the Synod for 20 years, and gave the keynote address on Saturday, said on Tuesday that she fears that the Synod has had "a pretty bad press", and was regarded as "a talking shop of argumentative people".

But she is confident that the Church has learned its lesson and will "studiously avoid" repeating its mistakes as it debates issues including sexuality. She believes that synodical governance is "a precious aspect of Church", that the bishops could do much more to promote.

Forward in Faith is also well-organised. In November, it appointed an election officer, Anne Gray, and each diocese has a local elections co-ordinator.

Sixteen regional meetings are planned to explore ways of finding new candidates, who will be provided with support throughout the process.

In an address to its National Assembly in November, Mrs Gray sensed that people felt "battered, bruised, and battle-weary, . . . I do know how it feels to be isolated in a large rural diocese miles from another kindred spirit and where the establishment considers us to be beyond the pale and, yes, I have witnessed systematic eradication of good Catholic parishes."

But, she argued: "Let's at least show we are willing to flourish within its structures. If we don't, we've only ourselves to blame if things get worse."

She added: "For the first time in over 25 years we won't be entering these elections labelled as being anti-everything. Let's take up the opportunity to be constructive, positive, and let's be proud of who we are."

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