Called to speak to the General Synod?

by
06 March 2020

Could being elected to the General Synod be part of your vocation? Ted Harrison talks to representatives

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Scene from the February group of sessions of the General Synod in Westminster

Scene from the February group of sessions of the General Synod in Westminster

“I FEEL it is a vocation, a calling,” the veteran General Synod lay member Peter Bruinvels says. He was a Conservative MP for four years, but has sat as a Synod member for 35, and is standing again.

When the multi-coloured pack of minutes, motions, and reports ar­­rives before every sitting, he still opens it enthusiastically. Much of his work, he says, is in the detail of Synod business. “Some people might think I’m sad, but I really enjoy the committee work, and speak much less often in debates. I enjoy making things happen.”

He acknowledges, however, that scrutinising legislative work is not to everyone’s liking, and that attracting a younger and more diverse mem­bership is difficult.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesRhian Parsons, at the General Synod in February, at Church House, Westminster, speaking in a debate on the motion concerning the Channel Islands

When Hannah Grivell was elected as a lay representative for Derby diocese at the age of 24, she was not deterred by the way in which Synod works. “I have a bit of a love for a good committee,” she says.

She stepped down recently to train for ordination, acknowledging that her calling to the Synod was in some sense a transitional one, from which she learned much that will be relevant to her future ministry.

As dioceses prepare for nomina­tions for the Houses of Clergy and Laity in September, and elections between 18 September and 9 October, the various Synod group­ings are encouraging candid­ates who are sympathetic to their views to come forward. After the 2015 elec­tions, there was a 46-per-cent turn­over in members, and, this year, a similarly high number of new mem­bers could be elected.

While Vocations Sunday in May will focus on ordained ministry and lay positions, such as youth work or Reader, it will also be an opportunity to explore issues of synodical mem­bership, either at diocesan or na­­tional level.

 

AS WELL as prayerful deliberation by those who feel that they might be called to stand for election, there is a degree of ecclesiastical political plan­ning going on behind the scenes.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesTim Hind, at the most recent General Synod, speaking in a debate on the motion concerning the Channel Islands

The Inclusive Synod Campaign has prepared a 2020 campaign leaflet. It wants an even stronger voice on the Synod, and will advise and support anyone who wants “a forward-looking, inclusive Church”.

There are several seats or each diocese, both for clergy and laity; “so it’s really important that we have enough people willing to stand and give a real choice to voters,” the leaflet says. The campaign also urges enfranchised churchgoers to vote in September.

The Evangelical Group on the General Synod has published a comparable leaflet to encourage candidates to come forward, and has created a website to help Evangelicals to get elected to the Synod in 2020. It describes a “good candidate” as someone who is “passionate about evangelism, scriptural truth and the future of the Church of England”.

Rhian Parsons, from Leicester, is an Anglo-Catholic. When elected in 2015, she was the youngest member of the Synod. “I have been supported and assisted by the Catholic Group from the pre-election period to the present day,” she says.

The group provides insights and expertise. “Some understand the technical details of legislation, others are simply passionate about a particular subject,” she says.

The group usually meets at the start of the Synod to go through business. “Sometimes, we are advised to vote a certain way, if the issue will assist or hinder the Catholic movement, but it is still entirely my decision as to how I vote.”

The Revd Timothy Goode feels called to enrich the conversation about the identity and image of disabled people in Synod  

Julie Withers, a licensed lay minister of St Peter’s, Hale, and St Elizabeth’s, Ashley, in Chester diocese, is one of the Synod’s newest members: she was elected last summer. “My background was financial services, and I was used to reading and understanding legal language,” she says. “I soon felt at home. But, clearly, there is so much to learn.”

She is not representing any of the Synod groups. “I have a heart for the people of our congregations. I feel called to represent all the laity who voted for me — and, indeed, all laity of our diocese; to be a voice for them.”

The Revd Timothy Goode is Rector of St Margaret’s, Lee, and the disability adviser for Southwark diocese. Putting himself forward for the Synod, he says, was “consistent with my putting myself forward for ordination; the call has felt integrated.

“What has also been interesting about the ‘call’ to Synod is how it has encouraged me to sharpen up and deepen my own thinking around the theology of identity and image, in response to conversations and debates both inside and outside the chamber. . .

“My desire has been for the lived experience of disability — a theology of identity and image — to be one of the conversations heard within the richness of the ongoing debates within the Church. It has been a conversation that has gone unheard, and I felt called to share.”

 

SYNOD membership is a serious commit­ment. Travel and accommodation expenses are normally reimbursed by the diocese, but “the main sacrifice is time,” Ms Withers says. “Time to read through the agenda and paperwork, to think about it, ask questions and research, plus time to attend the sessions. If I were still working, I’d be using holidays to attend.”

The Revd Timothy Goode feels called to enrich the conversation about the identity and image of disabled people in Synod

Younger people of working age and those with young families may face particular difficulties in standing for the Synod. There is no fixed policy for the support of parents with young children, Canon Sue Booys, who chairs the Business Committee, said in answer to a recent Synod question — although, previously, a room was made available for a mother with young children and a family carer to have a crèche-like space. “I am sure that staff would be willing to help with similar appropriate arrangements, if they were needed in future.”

Arriving in London to attend a week of Synod meetings can be a lonely experience, Mrs Grivell says. “Both Synod procedures and London itself were strange and unfamiliar.” While some people stay with family or friends, others must find a hotel to return to at the end of each day. “I tried staying outside the centre once, but the commute was horren­dous. York is so much nicer, and you never know who you might find yourself talking to over breakfast.”

Mrs Parsons recalls that, at her first session, “I felt very much out of my comfort zone, while it appeared to me that everyone else knew exactly what was going on.”

She is not sure yet whether to commit to another five-year term, but believes that young people’s voices have been “valued on Synod immensely over the last five years, especially on matters related to youth evangelism and the environment”.

Julie Withers, a licensed lay minister of St Peter’s, Hale, and St Elizabeth’s, Ashley, in Chester diocese, was elected to the General Synod last summer

Tim Hind, a lay member from Bath & Wells diocese, talks of feeling God nudging him. “For years before being elected, I had noticed that various people had made small sug­­gestions. ‘Why don’t you stand for deanery synod? It’s only another three meetings a year’; ‘You can stand as lay chair’; and the ultimate ‘You should stand for General Synod.’ I never knew whether it was pandering to my ego, or a gentle nudge.”

He had been working for a life-assurance and pensions company, and wondering whether he shouldn’t do more for the Church. “I was vindicated when the first thing that dropped through my door after being elected was an invitation to stand as a member of the Church of England Pensions Board.” He served for 16 years.

“I resigned because of a nudge: ‘Why don’t you stand as chair or vice-chair of the House of Laity?’ In almost all the changes of direction, I have seen, in retrospect, a call to pay back to the Church for my training in pensions, [and] to the local church the experience I have gained from working in General Synod.”

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