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Church in Wales Governing Body: Electoral College ‘better equipped’

28 April 2023

Pat Ashworth reports on the development of a two-stage election process

Dave Custance

The Archdeacon of Margam, the Ven. Mike Komor

The Archdeacon of Margam, the Ven. Mike Komor

THE Electoral Colleges which choose the Archbishop and Bishops of the Church in Wales are set to be better equipped after the Governing Body’s commending of the working-group report: a significant reform of the system developed from previous work in September 2019.

The working group felt strongly that electors should be properly equipped and trained to undertake the task of discernment.

Under the current system, a College — comprising the Archbishop and Diocesan Bishops, with lay and clerical electors from the dioceses — meets for three days, and has to vote by a two-thirds majority for the preferred candidate. If they fail to reach a decision, the whole process must start again — something which has led to protracted delays in appointments.

In those circumstances, the new Bill crucially allows for the College to reconvene for a second meeting to be held between 21 and 60 days after the close of the the first meeting, or for the right to fill the vacancy being passed to the Bench of Bishops.

A vote by simple majority is now also an option; no member has a casting vote, and there is no Facilitator. The Electoral College itself, not the Standing Committee, will appoint the shortlisting committee. The Bill includes provision for a video conference, allowing the College to be provided with the nominations and information in advance of its meeting; and for a time of engagement or interview with shortlisted candidates on the first day.

Canon Jan Gould (Llandaff), who proposed the motion, described it as a two-stage process, the first of which was advertising the vacancy as widely as possible. Candidates would then — with no longer any need for bashfulness — submit their applications. The College would have the opportunity on day one to meet shortlisted candidates.

She spoke of the recent election process for the bishopric of Llandaff, in which some of the recommended procedural measures had been used and had made considerable impact. The report had enabled and ensured the primacy of the Electoral College as the body in control of the entire process “By the time it came to the College, the electors had a clear set of candidates and clear information,” she said.

“Importantly, electors felt the innovations had led to a fairer and much much less fraught procedure. We have a good Spirit-led system, but it can work so much better. More consistent information and better discernment was possible, that made the process work in January.”

This Bill was not in itself legislative: a Bill was already in progress for making the necessary arrangements and changes to the constitution. Governing Body members had until 10 May to propose any amendments, and she urged them to engage in the process.

In the debate that followed, the Archdeacon of Margam, the Ven. Mike Komor (Llandaff), confirmed that the Electoral College had been better informed this time at Llandaff. He supported the process in principle, welcoming “anything we can do to increase the level of understanding”. It allowed dioceses to take into account their own context, and “all helps to build a body of information”.

The Revd James Henley (Monmouth) reflected that it could not have been an easy process. It was “all very much good common sense”. He wondered how the recommendations in the report which didn’t relate directly to the constitution would be properly written into a policy, and who would have the power to change or amend them; and also whether a candidate under consideration would be allowed to serve on the Electoral College.

Daniel Priddy (St Davids) acknowledged “difficult and painful experiences” at previous Electoral Colleges. He strongly objected to the context of the shortlisting committee set out in recommendation 7, which “still puts a large amount of power into the hands of a few, albeit they are members of the Electoral College”.

Paul Murray (Swansea & Brecon) felt that the preliminary meeting had been of enormous benefit in Llandaff, ensuring everyone arrived fully briefed. He was pleased that the Electoral College would appoint the shortlist. The new method of balloting would mean no risk of losing a compromise candidate, and a close-knit group would work.

The Revd Dr Peter Lewis (Llandaff) also reported “a really good experience, an enjoyable process” from the Llandaff election. He wondered how people in the Church in Wales might be encouraged to look for candidates to ensure mutual flourishing.

The Revd Richard Wood (Bangor) asked whether the process for how the Electoral College was itself elected was under review. He raised a question about the potential that an assistant bishop might have to move on as a diocesan bishop.

The Revd Mark Thomas (Swansea & Brecon) reflected on diversity, inclusion, and Welsh-speaking candidates, and asked: was specific mention made of ethnic diversity?

The Revd Naomi Starkey (Bangor) suggested that if leaders were to be grown from within the Church in Wales, it needed to start with the formational process: “Identifying people with the charism for leadership should be happening now, for leaders in 15 years’ time.”

The Dean of Newport, the Very Revd Ian Black (Monmouth), concurred, but sounded a word of caution. He fully supported developing people for ministry today and tomorrow, but pleaded for there “still to be room for the God of surprises”.

One recommendation of the report, that candidates give a homily on a set text at the interview, got a mixed reception. The Diocesan Chancellor of Llandaff, Judge Andrew Keyser, who chaired the debate, thought it was a bad idea. “Reputations are a better guide,” he suggested. “I’d place emphasis on things put in front of you immediately. There’s a risk of excessive response to a well delivered homily.”

The motion to commend the report was clearly carried, with none against and two abstentions.

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