Choose bishops more openly, Synod members urge

08 February 2018

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

THE O’Donovan review of the workings of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) was approved overwhelmingly by the General Synod on Thursday afternoon.

The report, prepared by eight theologians led by the Revd Professor Oliver O’Donovan, called for more theological depth among those chosen to be bishops (News, 19 January).

Introducing his review, Professor O’Donovan described it as “on the revolutionary side of evolutionary”, meaning that it was “neither bland nor bloody”.

As well as boosting the number of theological heavyweights on the bishops’ bench, Professor O’Donovan said he wanted to undo a culture of “excessive secrecy”.

This found considerable backing in the Synod. Anthony Archer, a lay member from St Albans diocese who had served on eight CNCs, welcomed this. He was “not proud to be associated with a body that has a reputation to be secretive”.

The Archbishop of York introduced a take-note debate after Professor O’Donovan’s presentation, which aired some of the controversies that attached to the workings of the CNC. These included the failed attempt to translate the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, to the See of Sheffield — subsequently investigated by an independent reviewer, Sir Philip Mawer — and a proposed motion from the Oxford diocesan synod about its diocese’s delayed and problematic CNC.

In the debate, synod members heard a string of complaints launched against the CNC process, although most speakers seemed to support Professor O’Donovan’s recommendations. Much of the discussion focused on how to improve the diversity of the episcopate.

The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr David Ison, bemoaned the fact that the London vacancy-in-see committee, which he chaired, failed to appoint any non-white people to the CNC.

Not enough of those voting considered ethnic diversity important enough to vote for, he said, instead focusing their efforts on securing female representation or someone who shared their theological positions.

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He asked that the rules be changed so that a vacancy-in-see committee could reserve a place on a CNC for a specific criterion, such as race or gender.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Caroline Spelman MP, reminded the Synod that Parliament and others were looking to see how quickly the Church could promote women and ethnic minorities into senior positions.

However, one of the theologians who assisted Professor O’Donovan with the report, the Revd Professor Jennifer Strawbridge, cautioned against solely pursuing gender diversity. And she warned that focusing on women alone could mean that other minorities remained underrepresented.

Referring to Sir Philip Mawer’s report on the Sheffield affair, Lindsay Newcome, from London diocese, said that much more needed to be done to embed the Five Guiding Principles into the appointments process. Those who were members of the CNC must formally agree to the Principles, as well as candidates.

But the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, who was a central member of the CNC for eight years, warned against “tribal” theological considerations being brought to the table.

“The CNC is a process of discernment and listening, and we can only do that when we switch off the radio waves of our own tribe. We’re not there to form the Church in our own image but in Christ’s image, and that will be different in each diocese.”

Despite the reservations about the CNC voiced by several speakers, when Professor O’Donovan’s report came to the vote, the Synod voted almost unanimously to take note of it.

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