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General Synod: age limit, PCCs, data safety, and churchwardens in the spotlight

Among the changes, one seeks to ensure clergy never swamp the laity in the parish


Michael Stallybrass (York)

Michael Stallybrass (York)

THE Draft Church Representation and Ministers Measure and Draft Amending Canon No. 39 returned to the Synod to complete their revision stage.

Introducing the debate, Professor Joyce Hill (Leeds) said that the report dealt with the new Church Representation Rules, provisions relating to ministers, and provisions relating to the holding of services. It was the first time that these rules had been completely overhauled. The result was “clear, comprehensive, workable rules that met the needs of the Church”.

A significant issue was compliance with new data-protection legislation. The decision was not to rely on consent for processing personal data, as this would pose an “unacceptable burden”, but to rely on grounds that processing was “necessary for the compliance with a legal obligation”. In terms of elections, it was decided to “future-proof” the rules; so they would treat email addresses as equivalent to a postal address. In terms of electoral rolls, names would no longer need to be removed from the roll during the course of the year, but as part of annual revision.

The committee had also decided to strengthen the potential for representation of mission initiatives on diocesan synods. The committee had also looked at requirements for morning and evening prayer: a majority expected it to be held daily somewhere in each benefice. They did not wish to see a fundamental change in what was supposed to be the pattern of normal worshipping life.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK WOODWARD AND DANIEL EASTONThe Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), raised three issues. First, how the initial electoral roll should be drawn up: there could be “difficulties of trust”. To have a roll drawn up in the usual way of habitual worshippers would be “a good thing to do”. Second, all worshippers should benefit from the same scale of representation. Third, because of the triennial structures: was it possible for a diocesan synod to start something up at any part in this cycle?

He had been struggling with this legislation: taking the opportunity to bring those who were worshipping in forms of church that were “increasingly normative, not strange things at the edges”, into synodical structures was “the right thing to do”.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Peter Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), said that this was “a good day for simplification”. As a warning, he recalled that the last time the Representation Rules had been considered, it had been “a disaster, a débâcle not to be repeated”, with “nitpicking” prominent. He urged the Synod not to repeat this. The Measure established flexibility and was designed to be used (not used because PCCs weren’t working as well as they should be).

Michael Stallybrass (York) welcomed most of what had been done. But he had become aware of a situation that required a “small modification”, to help and protect people in PCCs. A late amendment last year to the Ecclesiastical Offices Age Limit Measure meant that the PCC must give consent to the issuing of the direction to extend the term of an incumbent’s appointment. In those discussions, the incumbent should not be present. The draft model rules for PCCs made it clear that minutes should be confidential.

He had found himself in a situation with a 70-year-old incumbent where the PCC received a letter asking them to agree to an unspecified extension. The PCC had felt that this was not in accordance with the Measure’s request for a specified period of time, and the then chair got the agreement of the PCC that all discussions should be under Chatham House rules and that any vote should be done by secret ballot. The secrecy of the ballot had protected people on the PCC.

The Church Representation Rules had two clauses, one of which stated that any member could require minutes to show the vote. Yet there were circumstances, particularly those concerning personnel, where it was inadvisable to have a person-by-person outcome recorded. Was it possible to consider inserting into the rules to allow for, in special circumstances, a secret ballot?

Jenny Tomlinson (Chelmsford) welcomed the provisions for joint councils, as PCCs could often feel “torn about collaboration”. These provisions would enable parishes to “have their cake and eat it” — local sensitivities could be dealt with at PCC level, and incumbents’ diaries could be freed up. The provisions would make a difference to the ten villages with which she was working, opening up a range of different possibilities enabling them to “work together without losing the distinctiveness of each church and community”.


Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) spoke about the status of lay chairs at the end of trienniums. It was the convention that the diocesan and deanery lay chairs continued in their office whether or not they had been re-elected, until a successor was appointed, but that was not clearly stated in the rules. Could this be made explicit?

The Dean of the Arches, the Rt Worshipful Charles George QC, welcomed a new rule ensuring that the laity on a PCC must outnumber the clergy. It had previously been understood that a lay majority would always be the case, yet this was open to abuse — this was precisely what had happened at St Mary le Strand. Eight additional curates had been licensed without the PCC’s knowledge. There were difficult considerations, and he was not alleging bad faith, but what happened did indicate the urgent need for the provision set out in this new rule.

Clive Scowen (London), who chaired the elections review group, thanked the committee for their provision for electronic elections, including the harvesting of email addresses. This was really important for the programme to conduct the 2020 elections electronically.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) suggested that there was a need to consider whether meetings of PCCs had a lay majority.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) spoke as a member of the revision committee, and argued that the concern about meetings was not necessary: there would be a lay majority. Gerrymandering at St Mary le Strand — if that was the right word — could not happen again under the new rules.

The Synod took note of the report, and proceeded to clause-by-clause revision.

Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) moved an amendment concerning congregations that operated under a Bishop’s Mission Order. Mr Greenwood said that his amendment would remove the need for a special majority to give representation to BMOs. Dr Steen said that the steering committee would support the amendment, and it was carried.

Items 524 to 526.

Amendments were moved by Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford) concerning a minimum number of members of the PCC. Three was a sensible number for the standing committee in a small community in places where it could be difficult to elect a churchwarden. That amendment had been rejected, however, and he was surprised that it had been brought back with a minimum of five, which lost sight of all proportionality and practicality. His amendment was a compromise. It was more likely that these rules would be ignored.


The steering committee resisted his amendments. It made sense for the churchwardens to be members of the standing committee, and that other members should also be elected to safeguard the wider elements of the PCC. It could easily mean that the standing committee could be made up of the cleric and two churchwardens.

The Bishop of Lynn, the Rt Revd Jonathan Meyrick (Southern Suffragans), said that the Lynn area had dozens of parishes with fewer than two churchwardens. He found it odd that the steering committee did not understand that the change was needed, given its previous support of small parishes.

Canon Sally Gaze (Norwich) said that one of her PCCs had four members, one of whom was in hospital. “If you stick to five members, what would this PCC have done?” she asked.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that if the amendments were carried, then the steering committee might need to consider that the PCC would have to conduct a separate meeting straight after the annual meeting.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) pointed out that churchwardens were not automatically appointed to standing committees, and that there would be additional church membership.

Prebendary Cawdell’s amendments to the Draft Measure were carried.

Read a report of every General Synod presentation and debate from York 2018, here

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