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High turnover in General Synod elections

22 October 2021

Pat Ashworth and Madeleine Davies digest the results

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Synod members voting in 2018

Synod members voting in 2018

A HIGH turnover in the membership of the General Synod was reported this week in the wake of the quinquennial elections. Thirty-seven per cent of the House of Clergy members between 2015 and 2021 were re-elected, compared with 40 per cent of the the House of Laity. In 2015, 46 per cent of members were new.

For the second time, women make up a majority in the House of Laity, which elected 104 female candidates and 94 male — a majority of 53 per cent. But, although clergywomen were more strongly represented this time — taking 63 places on the Synod and 32 per cent of the vote — the 136 male clergy elected represent a 68-per-cent majority, down from 71 per cent in 2015.

Blackburn elected no female clergy representatives, along with Portsmouth and Ely; but four out of the six lay people elected in Blackburn are women. In Chester, there is one woman among the seven clergy. In Sheffield, all four lay members elected are women.

In Truro, only one of the six places went to a woman, Canon Anne Brown. Women outnumber men in Gloucester, taking five out of the total seven places. Leeds (featured below) elected nine men and eight women; Lichfield, too, was just short of half and half.

In Durham, men outnumber women 7:2: one female clergy representative was elected and one lay. The female suffragans elected are the Bishop of Ripon, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, the Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Beverley Mason, and the Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham. One female Dean was elected: the Very Revd Nicola Sullivan. There are 20 archdeacons, three of them women.

In total, there are 483 members of the General Synod. Where age is concerned, the Synod now has just one elected member (lay) born in the decade 1931-40. Two clergy and 30 lay members were born in the following decade, and 27 clergy and 52 lay people between 1951 and 1960. The highest number of clergy (80) were born between 1961 and 1970, and a further 66 were born in the following decade. Lay numbers for that same period are 52 and 23. Eighteen clergy and 25 lay people are in their forties. Three clergy members and 13 lay members are 30 or under.

Not all figures were immediately available, but Bristol appears to have had the highest turnout: 79 per cent of eligible clergy voted, and 72 per cent of the lay voters (deanery-synod members). Oxford came in next, with 75.77 per cent and 65.77 per cent. London was close behind at 74 per cent and 62 per cent.

While percentage figures for clergy turnout were most commonly in the high or mid-seventies or sixties, in very few dioceses did voting for the House of Laity reach 60 per cent. In Southwell & Nottingham — where 72 per cent of the eligible clergy voted — the figure for deanery-synod reps was 30.57 per cent: in hard terms, 107 returns out of the 350 papers sent out, with one spoiled paper.

Other dioceses showed a similar disconnect: in Salisbury, 70.5 per cent of the clergy vote, but only 38.72 of the laity vote, turned out. In Manchester, it was 77 per cent of the clergy, but 43 per cent of the laity. In Durham, it was 74.15 per cent to 36.07 per cent: in hard terms, 402 voting papers issued and 145 returned.

While no central figure has been collected, the Church Times estimates that at least 30 members of the new Synod are UKME (UK Minority Ethnic)/GMH (Global Majority Heritage). The report of the Archbishops’ anti-racism taskforce (From Lament to Action) recommended representation rise to at least 15 per cent by 2030; so there is a long way to go over the decade.

It was confirmed this week that another recommendation — that ten members be co-opted to serve in this quinquennium — will be debated in February, with the aim of having the co-opted members on board from July. Some candidates acknowledged the imbalance: Canon Bruce Bryant-Scott (Europe) described himself as “yet another middle-aged, over-educated male of British descent, of which General Synod already has plenty”.

Next year, the final recommendations of the Living in Love and Faith project are expected to come before the General Synod, and many candidates set out their position in election manifestos. Inclusive Church, which asked candidates standing on its platform to agree expressly that they were “committed to equality for everyone, at all levels and roles within the church, regardless of gender, disability, ethnicity, socio-economic status, mental health or sexuality”, reported this week that 131 of its candidates had been elected — up from 80 in 2015. They included the youngest member of the new Synod, Emily Hill, a 21-year-old trainee nurse in Hereford diocese.

While many candidates were explicit about opposing a change in the Church’s teaching on same-sex relationships, others produced manifestos harder to parse. Guidance from the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) advised candidates not to “focus on controversial matters such as same-sex relationships/marriage”, and suggested that it might be “wiser” not to refer to human sexuality “as an alternative — it might be helpful to talk about listening positively to and respecting the views of others, even when we find ourselves disagreeing”. CEEC describes itself as a “network of networks”; so decisions about how to commend are made at a local level, with no centralised list.

Some members acknowledged uncertainty. “We will be bringing together everything we have been learning over the last few years about identity, sexuality, relationships, and marriage to discern what God might be saying to us,” the Archdeacon of Knowsley and Sefton, the Ven. Pete Spiers, said. “I don’t know yet what that is. I have an open mind, but also a desire to hold us all together as far as possible.”

A new General Synod fringe group, the Evangelical Forum, has been set up, in the wake of a vote by the Evangelical Group on General Synod (EGGS) to change its basis of faith to affirm marriage as “between one man and one woman”, and commit unmarried people to sexual abstinence (News, 28 June, 2019). EGGS reconstitutes its membership in each quinquennium; so it is not yet clear how many members will be joining it.

Among the prominent Evangelicals elected are the Revd Lis Goddard, and Ed Shaw, co-chairs of the CEEC, and the Associate Director of the Church Society, Dr Ros Clarke. Christian Concern will now be represented by Benjamin John (St Albans); its director, Andrea Minichiello-Williams, did not stand this year.

It is understood that representation of the Catholic Group in General Synod has fallen from 50 to 30 members. Anglo-Catholics elected included the Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller, who, as one of only two traditionalist archdeacons in the whole Church of England, suggested that the Synod “desperately needs the direct experience I can bring”. Also elected was Emma Gregory (née Forward, Bath & Wells), the youngest Synod member 16 years ago, and still “offering the perspective of younger members of the Church.”

Church Times analysis of manifestos suggests that 24 candidates, including four members of the clergy, were elected under the banner of the Save the Parish campaign, which produced a manifesto calling for, among other things, greater use of the Church Commissioners’ assets in support for parochial ministry (News, 4 August). They include Geoffrey Tattersall QC, Diocesan Chancellor of Manchester and a former chairman of the Synod’s Standing Orders Committee.

A far higher number expressed support for the parish system as central to the Church’s mission, without endorsing the campaign (“I remain utterly committed to the parish system as the bedrock of the Church of England’s proclamation of the gospel in our localities” — the Archdeacon of Totnes, the Ven. Douglas Dettmer). Others voiced support while feeling the need to clarify that they supported change (“I believe that the Church of England needs to ‘save the parish’ and to change and evolve, as the Lord leads and the UK needs” — Canon Lisa Battye, Manchester).

Among the more decided comments on the use of the Church’s assets came from the Revd Christopher Blunt (Chester) who would “vote to see our historic assets used — even used up — in the service of our nation: promoting carbon neutrality, sustainable housing, welcoming those migrating to the UK, and in children’s and youth ministry”.

Other priorities that emerged strongly included reform of the Clergy Discipline Measure, and clergy well-being and morale. “Too often, we are guilty of giving someone who has finished their curacy three churches to run where all of them have had 50 years of decline, and we ask them to grow the congregation in all three,” Canon Andy Salmon (Manchester) wrote.

Also prominent were safeguarding, and the commitment to going carbon-neutral by 2030. The dearth of children and young people in the pews was highlighted in many manifestos, and candidates cited experience as former or current youth workers, including Sam Wilson (aged 23), a missioner for youth for the parish of Bowdon, Chester, and Georgia Willis, 25, a youth pastor at St Matthew’s, Exeter.

At least four clergy leading churches in the Holy Trinity, Brompton, network were elected, as was the Revd Sarah Jackson, the chief executive of the Church Revitalisation Trust, a charity set up by the church and one that aims to see 100 city-centre resource churches planted.

Amid the setting out of voting priorities, members gave moving testimonies of their life to date. “I’m no one special; I’ve never been on diocesan synod; and it has been many years since I was on deanery synod. I’ve not written books, I’m not a Reader, I am a follower of Jesus and a flawed one at that; though I do my best, I do fall short at times,” Jason Clarke, a warehouse worker from Chester, began.

Temitope Taiwo (London), a St Mellitus ordinand, wrote of being “raised in a single-parent home by a wonderful, faith-filled mother”, while the Revd Will Pearson-Gee (Oxford) wrote of the “loss and devastation” that he endured after losing his first wife and son in a car crash, and of being saved from despair by the good news of Jesus.

“I grew up living in a dysfunctional family, in and out of the care system,” Billy-Jo O’Leary, of the diocese of Rochester, wrote. “I believe that the Church of England has a huge role to play as the hands and feet of Jesus.”


Synod members in their own words

The Revd Martin Poole (Chichester) I align myself with the Save the Parish campaign whilst also being a keen advocate of Alternative Worship, Pioneering, and Fresh Expressions which I believe should be parish based.

The Revd Mark Mawhinney (Durham): Ministry across the Church of England requires adequate, indeed generous resource. But all too often this is available only to projects which can be seen as innovative, speculative, and creative.

The Revd Barry Hill (Leicester): Congregationalism is, for me, the great institutional sin of Anglicanism from which most other sins flow.

Venessa Pinto (Leicester): As a 26-year old Black woman, I represent a demographic that is “missing” from many of our churches. and can give voice to the concerns of a generation whose voice needs to be heard if we are to respond strategically and creatively to the demographic challenges of the coming decades.

Nigel Bacon (Lincoln): There is significant risk that a proposed Diocesan Finance Measure will force dioceses to pool their assets. This could be ruinous for our diocese.

Penny Allen (Lichfield, 71): I have been the only laywoman representative for the diocese for the last six years. Lay women have always been under-represented in General Synod. There has been an imbalance in churchmanship during the last six years, and I hope that this will be resolved so that the range of traditions is proportionately represented.

Debbie Buggs (London): I am concerned that the Church of England has forgotten that the Old Testament prophets were unpopular and spoke against the prevailing views and practices of their times.

The Revd Lindsay Llewellyn-Macduff (Rochester): I’m standing because I believe, and have done for years, that the parish system as it stands is breaking people. I am equally convinced that the geographical and community focus of the parish is invaluable, and would not want to see it side-lined.

Jonathan Baird (Salisbury): The parish is being impoverished (and dangerously so) by the harebrained profligacy and unnecessary duplication of the 42 dioceses, a third of which are believed to be close to bankruptcy.


Diocesan snapshot: Leeds

AS ONE of the largest dioceses, formed from a merger, Leeds is as good a snapshot as any of the breadth and background of Synod members. The longest-serving member, David Ashton, “Father of the House”, was re-elected, having served on the Synod since 1973, and is philosophical about the challenges ahead: “There will be no simple answers.”

Alexander Berry was the youngest cathedral director of music in England when he went to Bradford in 2017, and will be one of Synod’s youngest members. “The absence of young people from our churches is one of the chief challenges Synod faces,” he says. He hopes that the LLF process “will result in generous and life-affirming provision for the needs of LGBT+ people, as I am convinced the current impasse is unsustainable and damaging for the Church’s mission, especially among younger people, for whom the Church looks increasingly like a place of injustice”.

Jane Evans had a career in corporate communications and worked for World Vision for 15 years. She describes her churchmanship as broad, and lays a strong emphasis on clergy and lay people working closely together. Professor Joyce Hill, the former head of a policy unit for higher education, speaks of the need for “continuing progress towards fully embodying the ministry of women as priests and now as bishops — an issue that is yet far from being solved”.

Dr Richard Mantle, the general director of Opera North, defines the task ahead as “reconciling the basic human right to be treated equally with the biblical and historic teaching of the Church on marriage. . . We need to discern how we can flourish together in following Jesus Christ. For some, this could be a daunting prospect, and I, for one, will not shy away from it.”

Two women, Catherine Stephenson and Diana Tremayne, were newly elected on the Inclusive Church ticket. The Archdeacon of Leeds, the Ven. Paul Ayers, holds conservative views, and observed: “It’s generally better if whichever ‘side’ wins a vote on any issue makes sure that as much of what the ‘losing side’ want can be given, without compromising the decision.”

Canon John Bavington grew up in Pakistan, where “almost all my friends were Pakistani Muslims”. He was baptised and confirmed in the Anglican cathedral in Karachi, and ministers in Bradford, “where we have diverse congregations and need to enable much more diversity in our leadership”.

Canon Paul Cartwright was for 15 years a police officer with West Yorkshire Police. He describes himself as “a local lad and proud to have grown up in a diocese I’m totally committed to”. Canon Rachel Firth is also a champion of the north: “Synod needs northern voices, rooted in a broad Anglican tradition and with a creative, open outlook. Our current culture, in and out of church, would seem to drive us to conflict, ‘either/or’ thinking.”

The Revd Angela Hannafin believes that “A post-pandemic world offers opportunities for new patterns of clergy and lay working together. Current debates on developing lay people have never been more important.”

Canon Joyce Jones, re-elected, is also concerned to make sure that the voice of the York province is heard in Synod. “The Church is not a members’ club but a missionary organisation which exists to serve the whole population of this country, and, to achieve that, the large population areas in the north need to be represented effectively.”

The Revd Che Seabourne, a former research scientist, brings experience of church “grafting” as part of a team that addressed the challenge of a church at risk of closure.

The Revd Gary Waddington has been in parish ministry for more than 25 years, and is re-elected to the Synod, where he has “spoken up for those serving and living in the poorest areas: ones often overlooked and underfunded”. The Revd Ruth Newton is studying for a doctorate in environmental mission; the Church “cannot remain silent” on environmental matters, she says.

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