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General Synod: unease on new opt-out rules on deanery terms

01 March 2019

Geoff Crawford

The Archbishops of York and Canterbury, and the Archdeacon of Southwark

The Archbishops of York and Canterbury, and the Archdeacon of Southwark

THE Draft Church Representation and Ministers Measure and Draft Amending Canon No 39 received final drafting and final approval on Thursday morning.

Moving that the Synod take note of the report from the steering committee, the Archdeacon of Southwark, the Ven. Jane Steen (Southwark), said that, unusually, the final drafting of this Measure had required two in-person meetings, such was the volume of correspondence that the committee had received. The key issue was in Part 9 of the new Church Representation Rules, which stipulated that elected lay members of deanery synods must stand down after serving two successive terms, unless their annual parochial church meeting (APCM) allowed them to continue.

A Southwark lay representative, Adrian Greenwood, had written to suggest that the APCM could impose term limits. The committee thought that this had merit and would encourage new members of the laity to join deanery synods, but reversed its working, so that term limits would automatically have effect unless the APCM proactively relaxed them. This would align the rules with those on churchwardens, where the default was term limits, which could then be relaxed if the parish wished.

In the July sessions of the Synod, when these proposals had been voted through, an attempt to remove the term limits through an amendment had failed, Archdeacon Steen reminded members. “That decision cannot be reopened in the remaining stages of this Measure.” No one currently serving on deanery synods would be affected by the changes, she said, as it would not take effect until 2026.

Other parts of the Measure addressed making it easier for parishes to comply with data-protection laws affecting the electoral roll and taking account of the new-style joint councils that replaced team and group PCCs.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) said that it was vital that the deanery-synod term limits be reversed at soon as possible. “The only law that cannot be repealed is the law of unintended consequences,” he said. Deanery-synod members, like him, needed several terms to learn the ropes and then find a successor: most of the Synod’s House of Laity would not have made it up the ladder to the General Synod had this rule on term limits existed. Furthermore, it was already hard to find lay people to stand for the deanery synod, so putting up further barriers was unwise. “Please, Synod, think again,” he urged.

Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) explained that he had worked with the Bishop of Southwark to “breathe life” into their deaneries, but this had not included any hard-and-fast rules on term limits, only an encouragement to lay members to think about passing on the baton once they had served three terms. He said that he was “dismayed” at how the revision committee had implemented his suggestion as a “top-down” two-term limit enforced. The whole episode showed that the Synod might need to look again at how revision of legislation worked, he suggested.

Alison Coulter (Winchester) said she would vote for the Measure, but was also concerned about the term limits for lay deanery-synod members. Just as changing the culture of the General Synod would not happen through changing dates, changing deanery synods would not happen by limiting terms alone. “I ask that we look at other options to review this section and think about how we support lay leaders, not limit them,” she said.

Clive Scowen (London) said he was disquieted by how drafting amendments had been used to make “wholesale changes” to legislation which the Synod could neither debate nor vote on. Although it was clearly too late on this occasion, he hoped that the practice would not happen again.

Peter Adams (St Albans) said that he was also “deeply concerned” at the limiting of terms. This would weaken deanery synods, whose main problem was not lay members’ clinging on, but unfilled spaces. Leadership in deaneries needed time and experience; so limiting this would be an “act of self-harm”, he said.

Debra Walker (Liverpool) added her voice to those criticising the term limits, which, she said, would stop new members gaining necessary experience to contribute to debates and put themselves forward for leadership. Flexibility to enable each synod to set its own rules would be a better solution, she said.

Michael Todd (Truro), a former deanery lay chair, said that he was very concerned by the term-limits proposal as well. It would make an impact on elections to the General Synod as well, he warned, which needed not only freshness, but also experience. “Experience is not readily achieved, but easily lost. All too often we struggle to retain the good that we have.” The Synod needed to find a better way of fusing experience and allowing new ideas to come forward.

Canon Sue Booys (Oxford), as chair of the Business Committee, told the Synod that she would use her position to refer the matter to the Elections Review Group.

John Wilson (Lichfield), a member of the national deaneries network, thanked the steering committee for its good work. As chair of the House of Laity for Lichfield diocese, he said, he had concerns about the limiting of terms in the Measure and its unintended consequences: lay members were not the same as clergy members. He urged Synod members to abstain if they could not support it.

Anne Foreman (Exeter) believed in deaneries, she said, but wanted to take a more positive view. Mr Hind had referred to the length of time it took to learn the deanery-synod membership, and, if it took so long, it should be revised. There could be some positive unintended consequences.

The Revd Graham Hamilton (Exeter) said that some members of his congregation would not call themselves Anglican, but he would like them to be entered on his electoral roll. He asked for an updated guide to what it means to be a member of the Church of England.

Responding to the debate, Archdeacon Steen said that one was a member of the Church if one thought one was. She thanked Ms Foreman for her positive view on term limits, and said they could be a new way to bring people on to deanery synods and into the Church. She said the rules were legislating for what the future of the Church was in God’s hands. She said that the Measure would not kick in until 2026, and so it would not affect current terms. Archdeacon Steen was sorry that sometimes things were blocked by the clergy: the clergy were not elected as the laity were, and that was just how it was.

Mr Hind called for a vote by Houses, but failed to gain the support of 25 members.

The take-note motion was clearly carried.

A special amendment to the draft Measure to provide for the making of consequential amendments to the Church Representation Rules was carried nem. con., moved by Archdeacon Steen.

Twenty special amendments to allow electronic voting for elections to the House of Laity and, therefore, diocesan synods were carried nem. con., as was a further special amendment to change bishop to chancellor in the Measure, on a judicial matter.

The Archdeacon then moved final approval of the Measure. The task group had identified Rules, some of which dated back to 1919, which were ripe to be streamlined. Parishes should be given more control over legislative matters. The Rules had now been made clearer and easier to understand. All matters relating to parish governance were in one section. Another significant reform was the provision for joint councils to replace individual PCCs, and reduce the administrative burden, particularly in rural areas. It also required lay members to have a majority on a PCC. Of 14 amendments tabled in July 2018, four had been carried.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Southern Suffragans), said that this was a very good Synod moment. He had once had bumped into the Archbishop of Canterbury early in his term when he was concerned about how difficult representation Measures were. He paid tribute to Archdeacon Steen and her committee for their work. The Rules were now much more usable. It was “simplification that has gone really well”, he said.

Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford) was pleased that the Measure provided for electronic voting. Law would now catch up with reality in representation and government, and parishes would be able to delegate matters to joint committees without harming parochial identity. Despite having held two incumbencies, he was still the youngest member of his deanery synod, and older members did not want to feel that they were being pushed out. The Church was in danger of creating ecclesiastical day centres. For the sake of the future of church life, deaneries and dioceses shouldn’t just remove clauses.

Deborah McIsaac (Salisbury) urged Synod members to think hard before voting for final approval, as, despite many positives, the legislation was not fit for this yet. There was a potential change in polity.

Declaring an interest, David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that he was a member of the revision committee. He urged members to give final approval “overwhelmingly”, despite an inadequate debate over amendments in July 2018. He asked what could be done about this. He said that the final approval should not be voted down, as the Measure was significant and needed. He hoped that it would have royal assent by the end of this year, so that it could be brought in for 2020, and suggested that the Archbishops could exclude the controversial clauses from the commencement of the Measure.

Nigel Bacon (Lincoln) shared others’ concerns on term limits for deanery synods. He urged the Archbishops to delay implementing this part of the Rules pending a review.

Martin Kingston (Gloucester) asked the Synod to come back to what the Measure was trying to do. “We are presenting ourselves as an institution ready and fit for purpose in the 21st century to proclaim the gospel in a way which represents everyone.” Anyone outside the Church would think six years was plenty of time to learn the ropes. “We present ourselves as old, dyed-in-the-wool, stuck in our ways, when we resist measures which provide an opportunity for [change] but do not dictate that change has to take place,” he said. Anyone could carry on after six years if their APCM agreed. What would it say about the C of E if it removed this provision?

Clive Scowen (London) also welcomed Canon Booys’s assurances. which would allow time for “proper consultation”. All options would be on the table during this process, he insisted, including keeping the term limits, reverting to the default, or giving individual deanery synods the opportunity to decide for themselves. The hope was that deanery synods would become such “exciting places to be” that people would be “queuing up to join”.

Mr Greenwood urged approval of the overall package of reforms, even for those who questioned the term limits. A compromise way forward had been found through the proposed review, he said. The Archbishops should also defer implementation of the contentious part of the Measure.

April Alexander (Southwark) suggested that General Synod members might also have their terms limited, to prevent staying too long and achieving excessive influence. The clashing lengths of terms — three years for deanery synods but five years for the General Synod — was also a concern.

Sarah Tupling (Deaf Anglicans Together) asked whether those with disabilities were able to get involved in the processes of the Church, chairing synods and other committees and writing legislation.

The Revd Dr Robert Munro (Chester) said the current proposals did limit, but also enabled, especially through the welcome introduction of more electronic voting and processing of forms. “This isn’t just a bit of legislative business, but it helps us enter this century, with the challenges it presents.”

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), told the Synod that it was all members’ responsibility at every level of synodical government to be constantly nurturing a successor.

Lindsay Newcombe (London) expressed dismay that the debate had been dominated by discussion of just one point. She was, however, reassured that the term-limits issue could be revisited. The Measure was very welcome, including significant simplification, greater use of electronic correspondence, a lay majority on every PCC, data-protection updates, and more.

The Draft Measure was given final approval in a vote by Houses: Bishops 26-1; Clergy 126 nem. con.; Laity 147-2, with 7 recorded abstentions.


ARCHDEACON STEEN then introduced the next tranche of changes from the Simplification Task Group. The proposals were mostly concerned with multi-parish benefices, particularly those spread over a wide geographical area. They relaxed the requirements for priests to hold a service of holy communion on every Sunday in every church. Now, it would only need to be in at least one church in the benefice.

Archdeacon Steen admitted this might not make much difference practically, as the canons were widely flouted in this respect, but it would at least mean that incumbents were no longer in breach of them. Another change would allow ordinands to be ordained not as an assistant curate in a particular parish but to a bishop’s mission initiative or a non-parochial institution. A final change would allow any cleric beneficed or licensed in a diocese in effect to have permission to officiate anywhere in the diocese for an indefinite period at the invitation of the minister with the cure of souls.

Draft Amending Canon No. 39 was given final approval in a division by Houses: Bishops 20 nem. con; Clergy 92 nem. con.; Laity 118-2 with 1 recorded abstention.

The Synod then adopted the petition for the royal assent and licence.

Click here to read about other General Synod debates and motions

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