Church of England says no to Synod reform


A move brought forward to the General Synod of the Church of England from the diocese of London to conduct a review into the way in which the Synod is organised was resoundingly defeated in a vote yesterday evening.

Mr Anirban Roy's motion would have created a review group to look into issues such as how often Synod met, the way in which debate and decisions in the Synod are conducted, and whether the Synod's structures are still fit for purpose in the light of increasing democratisation in other parts of society.

Mr Roy, in his initial speech discussing the motion, pointed out that at the previous July Synod the group representing survivors of clerical abuse were denied an opportunity to speak on the Synod floor because of the fear that this would set a precedent.

"What have we become when we muzzle the voice of the survivors of abuse because some of us might use it as a precedent?" he said.

Some Synod members spoke of the need to avoid a parliamentary style of debate, while others said that compared to Parliament, the Synod is looking much less confrontational, and much more willing to engage with each other overall.

"They sit opposite each other, snarling at each other," one Synod member said. "We sit in a saucer smiling at one another."

Others were concerned that reform to create more overt unity could end up hiding the deep divisions that may exist, and could end up suppressing dissenting views to the point of not giving them any influence on the process.

Prudence Daily of Oxford said that the Chruch of England should not attempt to "sanitise" the ideological divisions that exist within the church.

Stephen Saxby of Chelmsford, who was very fulsome in his praise of the motion, wanted to see an end to the Synod, and the bringing about of a kind of church assembly which was open to all members of Church and could bring to account the higher echelons of the Church leadership. In this, he called for a "great leap forward".

There were some curious statements, with relatively new Synod member Samuel Margrave of Coventry opposing the motion because at previous Synods, he had been told that a plan to arrange for the C of E to pray on the issue of those affected by the bedroom tax could cost "£10,000" and thus questioned the wisdom of paying money to create a review committee that might not suggest any change at all.

"Let's create a Synod of the future based on the one we have now," he said.

David Houlding of London supported an examination of the numbers of times Synod meets. He said: "Those who live by the Synod will die by the Synod."

Opponents of the motion were concerned about what reform could mean, even though the motion only proposed a review of reform, rather than specifying any particular reforms itself.

This situation of review over reform was highlighted further by the amendment that was brought forward and ultimately defeated. The proposed amendment would have added further questions to the proposed review committee's remit. These would have included: "What do we want the Synod to be" and "How can we attract a younger membership to the Synod?".

Not only was this motion defeated, but general reaction in the debate chamber to any suggestion that the Synod be made more representative was received very negatively.

Gerald O'Brien of Rochester pointed out that the Synod is representative of the Church as it currently is, with 62% of its members being over 60, just as 62% of the Church is over 60.

One point that was positively heard though was the need to include more members from the Province of York, especially on particular groups and bodies like the business committee.

Suzzane Sheriff of York said that she had only been compelled to attempt to speak because she was "sick to [her] stomach" about the lack of delegates in prominent positions from the northern province. One member, with a particular interest in statistics, pointed out that in comparison to bodies like the Police and Crime Commissioners, the level of engagement and democratic processes in the Synod was actually quite high.

Others were concerned that the Synod was changing its practices merely because it doesn't like the results it is currently getting. Mr Roy responded to this by pointing out that it took the kind of crisis like the one seen over women bishops in 2012 to lead to the creation of a steering committee with a definite inclusion of a broad range of viewpoints. This extraordinary measure actually used the kind of processes that, Mr Roy argued, the Church should see more often, and that without even the consideration of reform, the Church was in danger of lurching from crisis to crisis. "We can do better. We should do better," was Mr Roy's sentiment on this matter.

None the less, many felt that even the remotest consideration of reform was sufficient, and there were comments to the effect that although this motion may be defeated, the complaints of those who brought it forward would be heard in other avenues. A motion was considered to move this debate to be held at a later time, but Mr Roy was of the view that if this motion should live or die, it should be now. And die it did, with a majority visibly large enough to not warrant electronic counting. Synod reform it seems will have to move along through other avenues.

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