The Synod is fastidiously shifting in the direction of larger range
A MAVERICK bishop might not survive the recommended new process for electing members to the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) and vacancy committees in the diocese – and this could lead to a mono-episcopate, the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt. Rev. Peter Broadbent, warned on Saturday.
Politics could not be cut out of the discussions either, he told the General Synod, which met online in an extensive debate on the change in the prevailing culture in the church: So many synod members wanted to help ensure that a shorter period of speech was imposed.
Bishop Broadbent endorsed the goals – and welcomed the increased transparency and inclusiveness – recommended in the report that sparked the debate: the Responsible Representation Review (news, April 16). But he wondered if a consensus-building approach might also turn out to be a value-free approach.
The recommendations in the review are designed to ensure a greater variety of views, ages, and traditions in the bodies that select and appoint bishops and represent the Church at the national level. Membership in the General Synod is recognized in the review as "predominantly white, bourgeois and capable". The reviewers state, "We strongly believe that change is necessary and unless aspects of this report make it uncomfortable to read, we have not conveyed the strengths of our reasoning."
They continue: “In the context of synodal elections – from nominations to voting to the role of the elect – it too often seems that partisan views weigh more than genuine commitment to the vitality of the entire body of Christ in its full breadth and legitimate diversity . "
Politics, they say, “becomes destructive when it becomes a factionism that divides the body. Our reflections also lead us to question the existence of the lay-clergy divide in many of our electoral processes, and particularly in CNC elections. "
Aiden Hargreaves-Smith (London), Chair of the Review Group, said she had sought a broader theological view of representation. The preferred model was “something that recognizes that our identity is in Christ and our belonging to the body of Christ. The candidates should represent this body indiscriminately and be credible representatives of the entire body.
Church of EnglandAiden Hargreaves-Smith (London), Chairman of the CNC Review Group, presented the accountable representation report
"This is a real desire to be constructive," he said, noting, "The church may too often be better at teaching diversity than practicing it." It represented trust, accountability and responsibility in the context of electoral representation, in which “we should not only care about others more than ourselves, but live them out in our institutional life”.
The expansion of the vocal range was both desirable and necessary, resulting in "a real openness, attentive listening, and waiting for God." This should represent the calling of a candidate or elected representative as "a vital part of our Christian calling, our respect for the body."
The challenge for all synodal bodies was to consider how their processes could be rooted in Christian discernment. Mr. Hargreaves-Smith suggested working together in the context of "liturgical and prayerful reflection".
Discrimination – waiting for God – is at the heart, he said. Openness and openness should be accepted and valued. "We have to protect ourselves from labels and drawers."
Some speakers referred to "ingrained attitudes" and "perishable behavior" – terms used in a 2017 CNC review, Discerning in Obedience. Many underlined the difficulties of cultural change. But it took a new member, Abigail Ogier (Manchester), in a maiden speech to remind the Synod of the barriers to diversity.
She said she discovered a real desire to improve things; The time required, however, is likely to limit the pool of candidates to both the general synod and the CNC. Other factors included the availability of paid vacation, family circumstances, and geographic location. Those with limited disposable income wondered if this was all “for people like us”.
Joyce Hill (Leeds) noted that candidates for the decision-making bodies did not have to state whether they objected in principle to a woman as diocesan bishop. There was too much room here for fudge and wiggle, she said, but her amendment to include this requirement was lost.
Perhaps influenced by the concerns expressed in the discussion, the Synod voted in favor of an amendment by Dr. Jamie Harrison (Durham) who suggested “receiving” rather than “supporting” the recommendations at this stage. This technical change made way for a reception period so that members could express their reservations without derailing the entire reform process at such an early stage.
The Synod voted 296 for and 18 against the amended proposal, with 16 abstentions. It read:
"That this Synod receives the recommendations set out in Section 6 of the Representation Responsible Report: a review of the electoral process at the Crown Nominations Commission."
In summary, Hargreaves-Smith wanted to assure the Synod that this was “not a central takeover”.