Synod is broke - disagree if you dare

Yesterday's vote in General Synod, which kicks the possibility of women becoming bishops into the long grass again, was the wrong decision. Not because it is right to have women at all levels in the church (although I personally believe that it is). But because the final decision does not reflect the intention of the church. As Tim Hind wrote in the run-up (I think in a national newspaper), the people of the churches are expecting to have women as bishops and expecting that soon. That expectation was based on a long and careful process that has clearly demonstrated that the Church of England is ready for this. What we saw yesterday was a failure on the part of General Synod, a catastrophic failure of process and of the body itself.

Synod is not, as many commentators are saying, the Church of England. (As in "Church of England rejects women bishops"). The Church of England is where I was last night, with a group of baffled women and men who worship in their local churches week by week, who work tirelessly to serve their communities in the name of Christ, and who see no connection between their lives and what happens in the Synod chamber. The Church of England has been saddled with a governing body which has only a tenuous connection with the body of the Church itself.

The synodical system was born in 1970, a product of the same post-war bureaucratic impulse which gave us Ted Heath's restructuring of local government and a whole culture of little committees and procedural rectitude throughout the nation's life. Business has long since moved on from this, the public sector is moving, but the Church remains wedded to it. Our system of governance is locked down by statutes, procedural rules, and glacial ponderings in interminable committees. General Synod yesterday epitomised this, as 7 hours of debate produced over a hundred speeches, largely saying what had already been said before, ending in an arcane vote which left us exactly where we were 10 years ago. Andrew Brown called it a "long and boring suicide note".

The system is no longer, if it ever was, fit for purpose. Synod is broke, and I dare anyone to say otherwise in the light of what happened yesterday. A majority, in the dioceses and in the chamber itself, voted in favour, but the measure was lost. Literally years of painstaking work was wasted because the rules say it cannot return to the Synod in the present 5-year term. The vote was decided by a small number of people who are in favour of women bishops but decided that the solution proposed was not sufficiently detailed. The will of the whole church was blocked by a minority who played the system more effectively than anybody else.  Nor should this have been a surprise to anyone who has watched the antics of the Synod in recent years. Its world is one of motion and counter-motion, block votes and backroom deals, dusty briefing papers and divisions by houses. This is no way to do governance in the 21st Century.

It's being said that new Archbishop of Canterbury's first priority is to get the issue of women in the episcopacy through the Synod. Surely as he casts his eye over this antiquated and self-serving institution, his very first act should be to tear down the whole edifice and build something new in its place.


Anonymous said…

I too am angry and they must look at how Synod works - I do agree. I wouldn't want the 2/3 rule changed as Church is not a democracy - it should take time and real debate to change major elements of its life and practise.

I do think that we need to urgently look at how the House of Laity is elected - I'm wondering whether the next House should be elected by every member on the church electoral rolls - that might make it more reflective of the laity.

There is also the possibility that some of those who voted against yesterday may be aghast at what has happened and be prepared to change their vote - that could allow the measure to come back soon - well we can pray!

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