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General Synod digest: Deanery synods

21 February 2020

Madeleine Davies, Hattie Williams, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in London


Clive Scowen (London) 

Clive Scowen (London) 

A MOTION to remove the term limits of deanery synods was carried by the General Synod on Tuesday.

Introducing the debate, Clive Scowen (London) said that the motion was part of the last fruit of this Synod’s Election Review Group (ERG). The previous legislation had limited the number of deanery-synod terms that a member could serve to two. Mr Scowen said that the working group had been over­whelmed by the number of re­­sponses to their con­sultation — 928, which included one bishop.

The most popular option was not to impose term limits at all, as some deanery synods would not be able to replace experienced members, and it would limit the efficacy of a deanery synod. Respondents had also said that term limits should be decided at a local level. The ERG had given a wide range of opinions.

If the motion was approved that day, the Business Committee would bring a new amendment to the General Synod in July. Mr Scowen suggested voting by Houses, so that it would be clear whether it was worth bringing this back in July.

Caroline Herbert (Norwich) wel­comed the recommendation. There were some churches that could not fill all their spaces on a deanery synod. The term limits would have a big impact on small rural churches.

The Archdeacon of Southwark, the Ven. Jane Steen (Southwark), spoke against the recommendation. The rules as written required only one term of absence. “This will undermine Setting God’s People Free,” she warned. She asked the Synod to have confidence in its earlier decision.

Simon Friend (Exeter) urged the Synod to vote against the motion. He had been elected lay chair at only his second deanery-synod meeting. “We really do need to bring in a new culture and a fresh culture to deaneries.” He said that people were feeling as if they had to remain on their deanery synods, and this should not continue.

Dr John Mason (Chester) en­­couraged the Synod to vote for the motion. There were no other term limits for other synodical organisa­tions; so why should this apply at a deanery level, he asked.

Martin Kingston (Gloucester) asked whether the Church of En­­gland loved the status quo that much. Synod members needed to be more revolutionary, he said.

The Revd Zoe Heming (Lichfield) said that PCCs would have the op­­portunity to opt in or out of this issue. If the default option was term limits, it removed the potential for conflict in a PCC’s imposing term limits to “get rid of people”.

Michael Stallybrass (York) said that his diocese had had a radical reimagining of what deanery synods could be, which included creating lay deans rather than lay chairs. This had breathed new life into York’s deaneries; he argued that the six year-limit was far too short.

The Revd Stewart Fyfe (Carlisle), a rural dean, said that it was difficult to encourage good people to serve. They would feel a failure if asked to step down.
The motion was carried in a vote by Houses: Bishops 14 to six; Clergy 66 to 31, with four recorded absten­tions; Laity 128 to 14, with two recorded abstentions.

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