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General Synod digest: Pairing system will make CNC ‘more diverse’

16 July 2021

Aiden Hargreaves-Smith, presenting the proposals

Aiden Hargreaves-Smith, presenting the proposals

THE General Synod voted on Monday afternoon to implement the recommendations of the Responsible Representation review, which establishes a new election process for the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC).

It will have the power to elect three pairs of members from the House of Clergy, and three from the House of Laity, to the CNC. The recommendations seek to ensure a diverse representation of views, ages, and traditions on the CNC, and the review body acknowledged that its report would make uncomfortable reading for an “overwhelmingly white, middle-class and able-bodied” Synod.

The part played by trust and accountability in the shaping of the Church’s common life, the cultural context and inclusion of different voices and perspectives, and the discernment and responsibilities of the electorate as they cast their vote were all identified as founding principles.

Aiden Hargreaves-Smith (London) moved each of five propositions in turn in a marathon debate on Friday. The report had set both a challenge and an invitation, and work had been going in for two-and-a-half years to ensure the reflection of “a glorious diversity of voices and experience round the table”, he told the Synod, urging members to keep in mind “the bigger picture of new and creative working together . . . the ultimate challenge for all of us”.

The first of the five propositions established the principle of a single election in which members of both Houses could stand and vote: the most significant advance in diverse representation, Mr Hargreaves-Smith said.

The Revd Stewart Fyfe (Carlisle) feared that the opposite might be true: “It might diminish the depths of perspectives we bring. We simply cannot speak for one another from the inside.”

That proposition (Item 5) was carried, in a 30-second vote that was the equivalent of a show of hands: a method that was to become a point of controversy at a later stage of the debate.

The second proposition (Item 6) was that the election must take place at a group of sessions at the Synod, “with only the members of the House of Clergy and Laity who are present (including by participating remotely in the case of a remote group of sessions) being entitled to vote”.

Postal ballots, therefore, would go. The election would take place in a context of silence and prayer which was “profound and liberating”, Mr Hargreaves-Smith said.

Canon Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) defended the democracy of postal voting as including “more people in more elections. It’s absurd to say that the Holy Spirit doesn’t work in my office or guide me who to vote for.”

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) brought an amendment that he described as “simple and non-controversial”, which allowed for hybrid meetings as well as remote meetings. That was carried without debate.

A second amendment, from Anne Foreman (Exeter), sought to enable a member to vote who was unable to be present at the session because of illness or disability. She highlighted the commitment to inclusivity and diversity, and warned of “an unintended consequence of not addressing the needs of disabled people. Synod must be fully accessible to all.”

Clive Scowen (London) felt strongly that “Either it matters that all members are present at the debate, or it doesn’t.” What about clergy officiating at funerals on that day? What about carers, he asked. “What constitutes being ill, and how ill do you have to be?” It was likely to lead to an argument about who qualified and who didn’t, and as such, was “unfair and unworkable”.

Sam Margrave (Coventry) said that not supporting this amendment would send a message that disabled people were not welcome and did not matter. It was about equity and equality: “If we remove postal voting, we must make provision.”

Prebendary Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells) was also concerned. Would all this lead to doctors’ certificates being requested? It had to be something workable and consistent with voting for other forms of business. Penny Allen (Lichfield) was concerned about the way this would be seen outside the Church, and urged the Synod: “Trust one another.”

The amendment was carried with a 60-second vote in place of a show of hands.

Michael Stallybrass (York) considered it a retrograde step to move towards voting in the Synod itself as opposed to voting electronically, especially as there was a move towards electronic hustings.

April Alexander (Southwark) spoke of a disadvantage for women in selection: if six members of the Commission held those theological convictions, it would be impossible for a woman to be selected. The Revd James Dudley-Smith (Bath & Wells) urged the Synod to vote against this, to ensure diversity and inclusivity.

Item 6 as amended was carried, again by a 60-second vote in place of a show of hands. But that was beginning to worry the Synod. Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) protested that it gave “no indication whatever” of what percentage of members had voted which way, nor of the mood of the Synod. She wanted to see a counted vote of the whole Synod.

That was facilitated in a point of order by the Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford), which led the chair, Dr Rachel Jepson, to exercise her power to change the voting method for amendments to a 60-second counted vote of the Synod.

Item 6 was carried by 185 to 86, with 12 recorded abstentions.

Mr Hargreaves-Smith moved the third proposition (Item 7), allowing for each pair to agree between themselves or decide by lot which of them was to serve for a particular vacancy. A casual vacancy would always necessitate a fresh election of a complete pair. This allowed for pairs of candidates to choose a running mate from each House, Mr Hargreaves-Smith said. Each pair was envisaged to work as equals, enabling a wider representation to stand and giving more backgrounds and perspectives.

Canon Andrew Cornes (Chichester) suggested that it was unhealthy to have “too much power concentrated into the hands of too few people”. It would take time for CNC members elected by the Synod to get to grips with the issues: “What we might gain in diversity we would lose in experience, knowledge, and influence.”

Nigel Bacon (Lincoln) believed that pairing people with opposite views would have the unintended consequence of squeezing people out: better to have a pool of six clergy and six laity chosen by STV.

Why not mandate diverse pairings, Michelle Tackie-Obende (Chelmsford) asked. “What is to stop 12 men not representative of the Church today being elected? It’s evident from the current make-up of Synod members that we must do more than just desire change.”

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, commended the solution as “elegant”, and more likely than anything else to produce diversity. “Trust the process,” he advised.

An amendment by Clive Scowen (London) sought to designate one member of each pair as the principal and one as the alternate. Where neither was able or willing to serve on a particular vacancy, the chair of that House would be able to appoint another in their place. Any casual vacancy would be filled by the alternate. The principal would “attend most meetings, and build up skills and expertise more quickly”.

Mr Hargreaves-Smith urged the Synod to resist. “This would not be a genuine pairing, based on equality and shared commitment,” he said. “This would be hierarchical.” Some alternates might never function as commission members.

More debate followed. The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, said: “I long for the new culture of trust and working together . . . to raise our horizons . . . to give breadth and purpose. This sounds deceptively reasonable, but resist; I believe Synod needs to vote on the pairings. They are central to everything being presented here, and may present the best way forward for being diverse.”

There was enough support for a request for a count by Houses, and the amendment was lost: Bishops 4-24, with two recorded absentions; Clergy: 42-81 with eight recorded abstentions; Laity 64-71, with 16 recorded abstentions.

Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford) moved his amendment to allow that when one of the pair ceased to hold office as a central CNC member, the vacancy would remain unfilled for as long as the remaining member of the pair was willing to serve. When that member was unable to serve for a particular vacancy, the member’s place would be taken by a member of the same House, appointed by the chair. If both members of a pair ceased to hold office, or if a remaining member was unwilling to continue, there would then be an election of a complete pair.

Mr Hargreaves-Smith resisted the amendment because there would then be an imbalance in the single member surviving a pair. Carl Fender (London) said that trust underpinned the pairings. Different churchmanships were underlying: a single member’s continuing alone might not continue that.

Dr John Mason (Chester) said that there would be a strong bond between the pairs: “If one was minded to resign, they might decide to effectively, but not actually, resign, leaving the other to continue. That would compromise integrity.”

The amendment was carried narrowly by 128 to 125, with 26 recorded abstentions.

Item 7 as amended was carried by 217 to 69 with 26 recorded abstentions.

The Synod then went on to debate Item 8, which would enable the CNC to co-opt one non-voting member for the consideration of a vacancy if it considered that its membership was not representative of the diocese as a whole. Mr Hargreaves-Smith described this as “a necessary back-up”. Any use of the power would have to be agreed and justified by the commission.

Peter Bruinvels (Guildford) was “always nervous about co-options”. How would the person be selected for the vacancy? Was there a guarantee that it would be a one-off? Could that person even end up chairing a CNC?

Ambiguity concerned the Revd Julian Hollywell (Derby) and the Revd Anne Stevens (London). The Dean of Jersey, the Very Revd Tim Barker (Channel Islands), said that co-option would be useful for the very particular needs of the Channel Islands; and Mr Lamming asked who would raise the issue of representation, and when and how the decision would be taken.

Stephen Hofmeyr (Guildford) said that it rested on the assumption that “a handful of people know better than the electorate.” Josile Munro (London) supported co-option, especially in London, to show that the Church was aware that it shouldn’t be just an “all-white” group of people. Ms Ozanne believed that it ensured a balance of voices round the table. The debate was about “trusting each other to make sensible and wise decisions”.

The Dean of Manchester, the Very Revd Rogers Govender, identified “a huge deficit of diversity in our structures. We as the Church tend to be tribal and vote for people we know who represent our interests. UKME people don’t generally get a look in. Support this, to bring in more voices.”

Item 8 was carried by 245 to 42 with 20 recorded abstentions.

Mr Hargreaves-Smith welcomed the fifth proposition (Item 9) as “the home straight”. If the CNC fails to agree on a name for the submission to the Prime Minister, “it may direct that the process for filing the vacancy is to recommence at a stage it specifies, which may include the stage at which diocesan members are elected by the Vacancy in See Committee”.

It aroused no debate and was carried by 281 to 12 with seven recorded abstentions.

The motions carried were:

That this Synod request that the necessary amendments be moved to the Standing Orders and the Vacancy in See Committees Regulation (as appropriate) so that the electorate for the election of central members of the Crown Nominations Commission (‘CNC’) comprises the combined membership of the Houses of Clergy and Laity.

That this Synod request that the necessary amendments be moved to the Standing Orders and the Vacancy in See Committees Regulation (as appropriate) so that the election of central members of the CNC must take place at a group of sessions of the Synod, with only the members of the House of Clergy and Laity who are present (including by participating remotely in the case of a remote or hybrid group of sessions or of a member who is unable to be present at a physical meeting by reason of illness or disability) being entitled to vote.”

That this Synod request that the necessary amendments be moved to the Standing Orders and the Vacancy in See Committees Regulation (as appropriate) so that:

a) central members of the CNC are elected as six pairs, three pairs from the House of Clergy and three from the House of Laity, with one member of each pair serving for the consideration by the CNC of a particular vacancy, the pair agreeing between themselves which of them is to serve or, in default of agreement, the matter being determined by lot; and

b) if just one member of a pair ceases to hold office as a central member of the CNC, the vacancy is left unfilled for so long as the remaining member of the pair is willing to continue to serve as a member of the CNC, and so that where that remaining member is unable to serve for a particular vacancy the member’s place for that vacancy is taken by a member of the same House as that member appointed by the Chair of that House; but so that if both members of a pair cease to hold office as central members of the CNC, or if a remaining member of a pair is unwilling to continue to serve, the vacancies are filled by an election of a complete pair from the relevant House held in accordance with Standing Order 134.

That this Synod request that the necessary amendments be moved to the Standing Orders and the Vacancy in See Committees Regulation (as appropriate) so that the CNC may co-opt one non-voting member for the consideration of a vacancy if it considers, having regard to the documentation received from the Vacancy in See Committee and the Prime Minister’s and the Archbishops’ Secretaries for Appointments, that its membership is not representative of the diocese as a whole.

That this Synod request that the necessary amendments be moved to the Standing Orders and the Vacancy in See Committees Regulation (as appropriate) so that should the CNC fail to agree on a name for submission to the Prime Minister, it may direct that the process for filling the vacancy is to recommence at a stage it specifies, which may include the stage at which diocesan members are elected by the Vacancy in See Committee.

On Monday afternoon, all the elements agreed were put to a formal during a second standing-orders session. Every vote was carried with a large majority.

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