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General Synod digest: governance of Church Commissioners reformed to increase diversity

16 July 2021
YouTube/Church of England

Much of the debate was taken up with discussion of a motion put forward by the Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn)

Much of the debate was taken up with discussion of a motion put forward by the Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn)

REFORMS to the Church Commissioners’ governance, with the stated aim of increasing the diversity of future candidates for Commissioner by limiting tenure to ten years and relaxing the qualification on belonging to the Church of England, were approved by the General Synod on Saturday afternoon.

A vote by Houses, was requested, and it was carried: Bishops 22-2, with two recorded abstentions; Clergy 80-40, with five recorded abstentions; Laity 79-61, with five recorded abstentions.

Much of the debate was taken up with discussion of a motion put forward by the Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn), which sought to send back the proposals for further scrutiny because it was suggested that they were too important to be dealt with under a legislative reform order (LRO), which cannot be amended by the Synod. His motion was supported by Sam Margrave (Coventry), who described the LRO as a “blatant power grab in the middle of a pandemic”, and said that the gifts of existing church members needed to be recognised.

LROs are a new, simplified process to speed up change without going through the complex and slow Measure process. After a long debate, the motion to send back the LRO was lost by just four votes: 140-144.

When the Synod discussed the substance of the LRO, concern was expressed on Twitter about phrasing that suggested that there was not enough talent among UKME Anglicans to stand as Church Commissioners. Canon Priscilla White (Birmingham) posted on Twitter: “Deeply distressed at the implication there are no UKME Anglicans with relevant gifts to be commissioners.”

But Loretta Minghella (First Church Estates Commissioner) said in the Synod that the current disqualification for any but Church of England members had affected the diversity profile of Commissioners. She said that “passionate” UKME professionals were currently barred, but “passionless” candidates could stand simply because they ticked the Church of England “box”. The new rules, she said, would “raise the bar” in terms of candidates’ commitment to the position of Commissioner.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) said that the revised ten-year limit of tenure would achieve a balance between “experience and fresh perspectives”.

Martin Kingston (Gloucester) supported the LRO, saying that it looked “tribal to carry on endorsing the same people for office” over and over again.

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford) said that she was bewildered by the controversy, describing the proposals as “simply sensible” and necessary to increase diversity.

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