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Church of Ireland General Synod: Slimming Bill withdrawn to allow consultation

18 May 2018

Gregg Ryan reports from the Church of Ireland General Synod in Armagh

Peter Cheney

The Church of Ireland’s General Synod meets in Armagh last week

The Church of Ireland’s General Synod meets in Armagh last week

A BILL to reduce the numerical size of the General Synod was presented, which, if passed, would represent the first significant change in this area to the constitution of the Church of Ireland for half a century.

The Bill sought to amend Chapter 1 of the constitution to “increase the flexibility and functionality of ynod as a debating forum and administrative body by reducing synod membership in proportion to the reduced size of the Church of Ireland, therefore allowing for more choice of venue, reduction in costs and giving higher value to synod membership”.

The sponsors of the Bill, Andrew Brannigan (Down & Dromore) and Canon Alison Calvin (Kilmore), said that the Bill would achieve the aim of a more equitable spread of membership across the House of Representatives by allocating one seat to each diocese or united diocese for every cure.

On the establishment by General Convention in 1870, diocesan representation in the House of Representatives was based on one clerical member for every ten priests at that time, and two lay members for each clerical member. The total number of representatives produced on this basis was 624, and has since remained largely unchanged.

The first reading of the Bill was opposed by the Archdeacon of Ossory and Leighlin, the Ven. Andrew Orr (Ossory & Leighlin), who said that, while the Synod needed some changes, what was put before them in the Bill offered the most dramatic change since 1870, and the Synod was given only a few weeks to decide. “Are we really going to change the governance of the dioceses on the hoof, on a whim?” he asked. Members voted to allow the Bill to be read.

Proposing, Mr Brannigan said that the lack of change in synodical representation had resulted in an imbalance of representation. His proposal was simple and fair, and valued each cure equally, although he conceded that some dioceses would lose more seats than others.

The Bishop of Tuam, Killala & Achonry, the Rt Revd Patrick Rooke, made an impassioned plea for the Bill’s rejection. There were serious implications for large parts of the island, he said. Southern dioceses would lose a far greater number of representatives, and might be disheartened enough not to attend.

The Revd Malcom Kingston (Armagh) suggested that the Bill would allow for a more cost-effective Synod. Canon Patrick Comerford (Limerick) called on the proposers to withdraw the Bill, owing to the division that it was causing. There had not been enough consultation with the Church as a whole, he said.

Canon Horace McKinley (Dublin) believed in safety in numbers. “The more the better rather than concentrating too much power in smaller numbers,” he said.

Canon Calvin said that the proposed Bill was about fairness through conversation, not imposition: the Synod represented the people of the Church of Ireland, not places.

The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, reported that he had received a private member’s motion proposed by Sam Harper (Cashel, Ferns & Ossory) that the Bill be withdrawn, and that the Standing Committee be requested to consider the contents of the Bill, and return to the 2019 General Synod with a report and proposals.

Mr Harper said that the effect of his motion would be to give a year for the consideration of the Bill. It would still be in time to take effect before the next triennium. Eithne Harkness (Armagh) seconded the motion: “It is an issue that merits really serious consideration and reflection.” Lady Sheil (Down & Dromore) said that the motion would allow the Standing Committee to come back with carefully considered proposals with time to reflect and, above all, to consult.

The Bill was withdrawn in favour of the motion.

Merger Bill passed. A BILL that would have resulted in the merging of two large dioceses in the west and south-west of Ireland under a single bishop, and was withdrawn in 2016 after considerable local unrest, was passed at the General Synod.

The approval came after the diocesan councils of both reported to the synod that they had passed identical resolutions approving such a union, and put forward a new Bill to assist such a merger in the future.

The dioceses affected are Tuam, Killala & Achonry, and Limerick & Killaloe; the latter see was vacant when the proposal was first mooted.

The new Bill provides for the temporary suspension of the constitutional requirement for the calling of an episcopal electoral college within the required time, should an episcopal vacancy occur; so that, if final talks reach agreement, the merger can proceed to the next stage, including a Bill for the alteration of diocesan boundaries.

Both sees are currently occupied: Tuam, Killala & Achonry by the Rt Revd Patrick Rooke, since 2011; and Limerick & Killaloe by the Rt Revd Kenneth Kearon, since 2016.

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