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General Synod: Standing Orders (including Crown Nominations Commission)

01 March 2019


The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu

THE Synod debated proposed changes to its own Standing Orders, including some relating to the Crown Nominations Commission which proved contentious.

Geoffrey Tattersall QC (Manchester) moved his motion: a change to Standing Order 113, which stated that, except with permission from the chair, a question must not exceed 150 words. Longer questions led to longer answers, which were not always useful, and took more time, he said.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) moved an amendment to increase the limit to 250 words, but asked why the change was necessary. “It is very limited.”

The Bishop Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), agreed. “I don’t like people trying to close down debate; I don’t like having all the questions written down in the first place.” He argued that limiting the word limit limited the power of the Synod’s “back benches”.

In a short debate, the motion was amended and then lost.

The Archbishop of Canterbury urged the Synod to extend its hospitality to its brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion, with an addition to Standing Order 121. The “average Anglican” was a sub-Saharan African woman in her thirties living on less than £3 per day. Anglicans in many countries were facing the pressures of belonging to a minority community, and many suffered from persecution, war, and environmental degradation. He wanted the Synod to hear from Nairobi and Chennai, from refugees or displaced people in South Sudan or the Middle East. The move would draw out the “common humanity” across the Anglican Communion.

Sue Slater (Lincoln) said: “I look forward to seeing the typical Anglican representing the Anglican Communion in the future.”

The motion was carried. Under the new Standing Order, the two Archbishops will be able to invite up to four Primates or other representatives of other Churches of the Anglican Communion to attend a group of sessions as an “Anglican Communion representative”. Such a representative may, by prior arrangement, be invited by the chair to speak in a debate, but not in a debate on legislation or liturgical business, other than at First Consideration or in the debate on the report of the Revision Committee, or at Final Approval of Article 7 or 8 business, except to correct a serious misunderstanding of fact relating to the beliefs or practices of that Church; nor to move a motion or amendment, table a question, or vote.

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, moved a series of motions on the membership, chair, and archiepiscopal vacancy of the Crown Nominations Commission, all but two of which were carried without debate.

The first motion that was lost proposed a change in the majority required before a name could be submitted to the Prime Minister from “two-thirds of the total voting membership” of the Commission to “two-thirds of the members of the Commission present and voting”. “Politeness bedevils our Church,” Dr Sentamu had argued, and called for a more transparent culture. There was a short debate.

Introducing the next motion, Dr Sentamu said that the proposal to scrap the secret ballet for Crown Nominations was not being put forward unanimously: it was “a demanding call”. The CNC was an “intense environment” in which people were “perhaps anxious to speak faithfully and vote on behalf of a group they might see themselves as representing”. But he continued: “If we are unable to be open in sharing how we are voting . . . are we not failing in our vocation to stand in relation to one another?”

Some members had raised concerns that secrecy was “a protection against people being pressured into voting in certain way”: it was a fundamental principle in political life of the nation.

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn (Southern Deans), had, as a member of the Commission, always been surprised by the tradition of voting after the discussions. A “change of culture” towards openness was needed. Currently, people were “hiding behind” the secret ballot, which enabled them to say one thing and do another: “That’s not right.” The Church needed to “grow up” and be less secretive.

The Revd John Dunnett (Chelmsford) disagreed. The proposal, he said, was based on an “out-of-date assumption” about a marked difference between what was said and how people voted. In fact, in the past two years, he said, the Archbishops had chosen to chair the discussion in a “markedly different” way. The proposal failed to recognise group dynamics and “how they sway the discernment process and the tendency to conform”. A “safe space” was needed.

The Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford) spoke in favour of groupthink, “or, as we might call it, shared discernment”. This was what happened during the work to discern the will of God for parish, deanery, or diocesan posts. “Can we not strive in spite of great division to make decisions together and to be honest?”
Canon David Banting (Chelmsford) spoke of the pressure of group dynamics, and the need to pay attention to the potential to “exploit any perceived or real power”.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) quoted from 2 Corinthians the injunction to “renounce secret and shameful ways”. He continued: “If that is good enough for the apostle, it is good enough for me.”

In a vote, the motion was lost in the House of Laity. Bishops: 19-14, with 1 recorded abstention; Clergy: 76-6, with 4 recorded abstentions; Laity: 63-99, with 5 recorded absten­tions.

Click here to read about other General Synod debates and motions

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