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Church of Ireland Synod: Representation puzzle solved

24 May 2019

Gregg Ryan reports from the Church of Ireland’s General Synod in Derry

Church of Ireland

Bishop Donald McKeown brings greetings from the RC Church, last Friday

Bishop Donald McKeown brings greetings from the RC Church, last Friday

A CONTENTIOUS issue regarding the possible reduction of synodical representation, mooted in 2018, was resolved at the General Synod. The model last year proposed that the Synod be reduced from 648 to 530, and based membership linking the number of representatives to the number of cures in the Church.

Speaking on behalf of the Standing Committee, Ken Gibson (Connor) said that the present proposals were fairer than the original model.

The 2018 Bill proposed a Synod of 530, as opposed to the present 648. This model could be easily understood, he said, and could be regularly reviewed. Mr Gibson said, however, that the Standing Committee believed that some proportionality was fairer.

Thus, the Standing Committee brought together a working group to undertake the fact-finding and analysis needed. Two papers were produced by members of the working group, including the theology of synods, which pointed to the fact that the Church was part of God’s creation and that disagreement was agreeable and healthy; that there was a need to consider the theology of the marginal and of fragility; that the small, isolated or weak church often played a pivotal part in its community; and that the full range of diversity should be represented.

Seconding the motion, Canon Gillian Wharton (Dublin & Glendalough) said: “One of the key features of the Working Group was listening to each other and hearing the concerns of each member of the Working Group; concerns such as that the breadth of the voice of the Church of Ireland, in all its complexity, shades, colours, and experiences would be heard. There was concern that the voice of areas of the Church of Ireland which are sparsely populated, or have particular issues in disadvantaged urban areas, would disappear.”

It was felt that no diocese should have more than twice the average number of representatives, and none should have fewer than half the number of average representatives. She said that they envisaged a phased introduction of the changes, with the first review taking place after three triennia (nine years).

She said that, if the motion was agreed, the Standing Committee asked members to agree that diocesan synods of 2019 be informed of the work in Appendix K of the report.

Andrew Brannigan (Down & Dromore), proposer of the original 2018 Private Member’s Bill, said that it was pleasing that representation was based on cures, the lifeblood of the Church. It was good, he said, to see the weighting system, which was fair in increasing the voices of smaller dioceses.

Canon Horace McKinley (Dublin & Glendalough) said that, as one of the longest serving clerical members in the Synod, he remembered proposals of the past. He pointed out that the Church had a unique feature: it covered one island on which two different political jurisdictions prevailed.

“We are members one of another,” he said. “We are a Church where we are enabled to say “This is my story, and will you now tell me your story”. “The concern of many of us in the Southern Province was that this would lead to imbalance and a shift within the power structure.

“I feel much more confident that those concerns have been met. I plead that we do not think of ourselves only in terms of statistics and numbers, because we are a lot more than that. We are not a business: we come at this from a different angle.”

The Archdeacon of Cork, Cloyne & Ross, the Ven. Adrian Wilkinson (Cork, Cloyne & Ross), said that diversity was very important, and that the small, weak, and vulnerable were still involved.

The Ven. Andrew Orr (Ossory & Leighlin) also supported the proposal, but expressed concern that a small clique of people would be elected again and again, and suggested that a time limitation for serving be introduced to ensure a flow of representation.

Members agreed to adopt the report and communicate the information to diocesan synods.

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