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General Synod digest: Vacancy in See Committees (Amendment) Regulation 2021

16 July 2021
YouTube/Church of England

Michelle Obende (Chelmsford) contributes to the debate

Michelle Obende (Chelmsford) contributes to the debate

THE Vacancy in See Committees (Amendment) Regulation 2021 was approved on Monday afternoon.

Introducing the debate, Aiden Hargreaves-Smith (London) said that this also flowed from the review of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), in particular how the diocesan members of each CNC would be elected. This included the Houses of Clergy and Laity forming a single electorate in a diocese, consistent with how the General Synod now elected its central members. It also barred the chair of the vacancy-in-see committee from standing for election to the CNC, and also restricted how many diocesan officers can be elected. Provision is also made for committees to meet remotely online if necessary.

Angela Scott (Rochester) noted that the vacancy-in-see committee must elect six diocesan members of CNC, of which at least three needed to be members of the House of Laity in the diocese. Did this also mean that there must be three clerical members also elected, she asked.

Clive Scowen (London) did not think that provision for the chair of the committee to become an ex officio member of the Bishop’s Council could be made in these regulations; so how was it to be implemented?

Dr Michael Todd (Truro) asked: what would happen with the chair of the committee being on the Bishop’s Council, when the committee became inactive after it had completed its work?

Mr Hargreaves-Smith said that the recommendation regarding Bishop’s Council membership would come forward as an amendment to the Church Representation Rules at a later Synod. He also said that part of the point of the current reforms was to breathe more life into the vacancy-in-see committee so that they remained active rather mothballed between vacancies.

The consideration motion was carred by 257-2 with three recorded abstentions.

Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford) moved his amendment to remove the bar on the commitee chair’s seeking election to a CNC. The suggestion that the task of chairing a vacancy-in-see committee would be impaired if the chair was standing for election to the CNC was a “slur to the integrity of those serving in that post”. This was a decision that should be made at the local level.

Resisting the amendment, Mr Hargreaves-Smith said that chairing the committee was a distinct and significant responsibility, and everyone benefited if the chair had the freedom to hold the work of the committee as objectively as possible, without trying to gain support in elections to the CNC.

The Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, opposed the amendment. One of the main aims of these reforms was to increase diversity, he explained, and diffuse power.

Debrah McIsaac (Salisbury) said that it was essential that the chair was independent and had no further involvement in the process. “It’s important we don’t think wisdom resides in a single individual.” She urged the Synod to resist the amendment.

Dr John Mason (Chester) had chaired a recent vacancy-in-see committee, and was elected to the CNC, so would have been directly affected by these changes. He said that the committee and the CNC were completely different procedures. A chair who overstepped the mark would not be elected.

Michelle Obende (Chelmsford) said that she was on the recent CNC for her diocese, where the vacancy-in-see committee’s chair was also elected with her. She therefore supported the amendment to allow this to continue, as only the chair knew the answers to some questions from the central members, because the chair alone had the bird’s-eye view.

David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) supported the amendment, and the principle of subsidiarity. He questioned if it was right for the Church Representation Rules to proscribe a specific person becoming a member of the Bishop’s Council.

Anne Foreman (Exeter), a member of the review group, a former diocesan representative on two different CNCs in the past, and chair of the vacancy-in-see committee, said the aim was to have a completely independent chair. You would not be human if you didn’t use the opportunity to audition unconsciously for election while chair, she warned.

Anthony Archer (St Albans) backed the amendment for reasons already aired by other members. The priority was that a diocese should have the best person chairing its vacancy-in-see committee, and this provision might run counter to that.

The Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that, in many dioceses, whoever became the chair of the committee was already a member of the Bishop’s Council, and was at the heart of diocesan business. He resisted the amendment.

The Dean of Manchester, the Very Revd Rogers Govender (Northern Deans), said it was vital the chair of the committee was entirely objective. He encouraged the Synod to resist the amendment, to give a greater chance of diversity of thought.

Mr Scowen argued that the simplification agenda meant leaving as much as possible to local discretion.

Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) agreed with Mr Lamming and Mr Scowen. “It’s important we allow local people to allow local matters.”

Prebendary Cawdell’s amendment was narrowly defeated, by 133-123, with 16 recorded abstentions.

Linda Ali (York) then moved her amendment to ensure that the diocesan representatives elected to the CNC would be equally divided between clergy and laity. This was in line with the original intentions of the review group.

Mr Hargreaves-Smith welcomed this amendment, and Ms Scott backed this provision.

Chris Gill (Lichfield) asked why consistency was necessary with elections of the central members to the CNC.

Dr Nick Land (York) said that he disagreed with Linda Ali. If a diocese sent only two clergy and four lay people to a CNC, it would still mean that the total membership of the body was evenly divided between seven clerics and seven lay people, because both archbishops always sat on a CNC ex officio. If the amendment went through, there would always be a majority of ordained people on every CNC, which was not ideal.

Stephen Hofmeyr (Guildford) said he did not follow why there had to be equal numbers. There were, after all, far more lay people in every diocese than clergy. It should not be for the Synod to dictate to local people how they could be represented.

Ms McIsaac also urged the Synod to resist the provision. If you were going to leave some choice to the locals, this was a good one to leave in their hands, she argued.

Keith Cawdron (Liverpool) spoke in favour of subsidiarity and letting dioceses make the choice as they needed to.

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) said that the existing situation was fine.

The Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford) said the Archbishops were in a class of their own, and so, to represent the needs of the ordinary parish clergy, more clerical members were necessary in a CNC.

In a vote of the whole Synod, the amendment was defeated by 159-98, with seven recorded abstentions.

Prebendary Cawdell moved another amendment to address how many senior diocesan or NCI staff could be elected to represent a diocese on a CNC. Mr Hargreaves-Smith resisted this amendment, and it lapsed for lack of support.

The regulation was approved by 263-9, with three recorded abstentions.

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