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Boom in General Synod election candidates

24 September 2021

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

UP TO 50 candidates in the General Synod elections are standing in some dioceses, presenting electors with a mountain of addresses to read, and sometimes — in a new departure for the new quinquennium — videos to watch.

Voting closes on 8 October: hustings are scheduled during the next two weeks.

Southwark tops the list: it has 24 clergy standing and 27 lay people. Chichester comes next, with 17 and 33 respectively, up from 15 and 16 last time. Oxford has 23 clergy and 24 lay; Chelmsford has 16 of each; Manchester has 17 and 13; York has figures of 11 and 21. By contrast, the two candidates standing in Sodor & Man have been elected unopposed, and the process is complete.

This was the first time in the Synod’s 50-year history that the elections had been advertised nationally, with a 90-second film, a short explanatory animation, and a dedicated webpage. The secretary-general of the Archbishops’ Council and the General Synod, William Nye, said in July: “We are praying that the leadership of the Church of England, including bodies like General Synod, may become more representative of the people of England — and that means younger and more diverse.

“This campaign has a very clear message which we hope will reach everyone in the wider Church: if you want to be part of making decisions affecting the whole Church of England and debating matters of national and international importance, this is your chance. Will you stand?”

All the candidates’ addresses have been posted on their diocesan website, with no limit, in most cases, on the number of words. Some are, in effect, full CVs. Others paint a picture of clerical family life with children and dogs: ”I am blessed with a vicarage buzzing with our four teenagers, their school friends, church friends and girlfriends.”

There is plain speaking and fighting talk: “If elected, I will be fighting to ensure that the disgraceful and shameful ‘traffic light system’ we have seen in other dioceses is never repeated” (a reference to Chelmsford’s signals about future clergy deployment); “We cannot allow the diocese to give up on parishes by not supplying ministers to those parishes who can’t pay their way” (a reference to the policy in most dioceses); “Being in Synod should never be about being militant or silent.”

Defending the parish system comes high on the list, and is written about with passion. There is a good deal of telling it as it is: “I am committed to working to enable the Church to identify and address the gap between the rhetoric of mission in ‘every corner of England’ and the cold reality of declining finances, increasing parish size, bureaucratic structures which are particularly burdensome in parishes with very few professional human resources.”

Many of the clergy candidates are seeking to engage in the Synod with the Clergy Discipline Measure. Few in the addresses sampled avoid the issue of human sexuality, marriage, and the exploration of Living in Love and Faith. most appear to be transparent about where they stand: “Sadly, I left my previous Anglican church when it adopted an ‘inclusive’ statement on sexuality.” “I firmly uphold the sanctity of Marriage as revealed in Scripture and taught by the Church through the ages.” “No matter how much work goes into mission and evangelism, we will fail while the Church is seen as misogynist, class-ridden, racist and homophobic by many of those whom we seek to attract.”

Taking Manchester diocese as an example, there appears to be a broad range of traditions represented. Clergy candidates here include an Inclusive Church Ambassador; an Evangelical Forum member; and a liberal Catholic “standing because I feel that the Church is teetering on the precipice”.

Diversity is much spoken of. One candidate acknowledged: “Yes, the Church of England is represented by white middle-class men.” A cleric working in one of the deprived wards of Salford says: “I am standing for election because I believe I would bring a voice from the Global Majority Community. . . These voices are lacking in General Synod.”

There is frankness: “Too often we are guilty of giving someone who has finished a curacy three churches to run where all of them have had 50 years of decline and we are asking them to grow the congregation in all three.” “For too many years, urban ministry in northern towns and cities has been under-resourced.”

Lay candidates in Manchester come from a wide range of backgrounds: a BBC radio producer; a former mayor of Trafford; a nurse at Manchester Royal Infirmary; a city councillor. A laywoman declares: “I want to ensure that not only the voice of the Diocese of Manchester is heard but my voice as a black woman from the northern province who has unfinished business to take care of and is committed to a church that is inclusive and representative in all its constituents.”

Another, a young ordinand of Chinese heritage, describes himself as “a young candidate with the energy, tact and prayerfulness needed to facilitate constructive dialogues, who is not afraid to challenge and ask questions within the diocese and the General Synod.”

The youngest among those seen so far is a candidate in Bath & Wells, a 19-year-old about to study Arabic and Hebrew at university: “I think that having the younger generation represented in the House of Laity will help us understand the changing needs of our society.”

The director of the Central Secretariat and Clerk to the Synod, Dr Jacqui Philips, said on Wednesday: ‘We are really delighted that so many people are standing, and that there is such a high level of interest and engagement in the General Synod elections.”

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