Tony Delves reflects on the outcome
Like it or not the General Synod is where the C of E decides much of it’s business. Curiously, given it’s power, it is constituted almost by accident and lethargy.
How many people in the pews realise that elections have just taken place? How many are interested in the outcome? How many people could tell you who are the electors?
Amongst the clergy the candidates are usually known but amongst the lay electors the candidates will be largely unknown. And how many, candidates or electors, have much grasp of what are often complex and difficult theological issues?
The Election Address
All that stands between us and our governance is a regulation two-sided piece of A4 paper where candidates set out their stall. Some are excellent – focused, insightful, visionary, Godly. Many are too damp to light an open fire: career details; recitations of years spent doing porridge on diocesan committees; good intentions and fog; the faintest patina of theological insight.
My prize goes to a thoroughly likeable lay candidate in Durham diocese whose Address contained no reference to Jesus, God, mission, Gospel, faith, Bible, indeed absolutely no religious reference at all. It was a perverse sort of masterpiece in it’s own way for which I felt I wanted to congratulate him. And no, he was not elected!
It is not surprising, given all this, that voter turn-out is usually very poor – around 50% is normal. It does make you ask how representative is this system and of what?
How did we do?
At first sight, not brilliantly. We gained and lost seats in equal measure. However in the 2005 elections we lost seats and so to hold our own now in the face of tough opposition is an achievement of sorts.
Undoubtedly we could have done better, especially in the south.
Sometimes we just did not organise ourselves to field candidates and in a few dioceses we probably split the vote with too many candidates. The point of real significance is that there are new and gifted people coming forward for Synod and they are getting elected, where we grasp the nettle.
How could we do better?
In many places the problem is not that people simply block our candidates, instead the problem is systemic. There will be dioceses where the liberal caucus is so entrenched that getting through it is very difficult. Elsewhere we are so numerically weak that we can make little progress. Between these obstacles are the majority of dioceses where the seats are winnable. The advantage of the STV system is that it allows voters to express a number of preferences and these typically are not made on strictly party or theological grounds. Although there may be a clear Catholic Vote in Synod, the electorate is not so easily categorised.
The systemic problem facing many candidates is most acute in those dioceses which have only three seats to be contested , that is in 19 out of 44 dioceses, or almost half.
Here the contest is invariably tight. In the clergy elections if an Archdeacon stands he or she usually takes a seat and that was so in 31 dioceses. Similarly a woman priest is likely to be elected in dioceses where they are well represented and with more women being ordained this is likely to increase. So where an Archdeacon and / or woman priest stand in a three seat election everyone else is competing for just two seats or even one.
In the lay elections there is a parallel situation. The sitting member syndrome means that existing candidates tend to get re-elected. To this add diocesan heavyweights such as former diocesan secretaries and Chairpersons of the D.B.F. etc and the situation gets tight. Add on the local grands fromages, bigwigs like judges, university dons and others prominent in public life, whose natural suitability seems self –evident, and the election is almost a foregone conclusion, notably in three seat dioceses. But even given these constraints there is fluidity in the system and room for a fair fight for those willing to do so.
The Big Issue
How will the results affect the big issue facing us about the legislation to make women bishops?. The situation could turn any way. On the worst reckoning, if the legislation comes back for final approval in it’s present form, without amendment to honour promises and give us a just provision, then it will probably fail in the House of Laity and possibly also fail in the House of Clergy. But this is not a prospect we should welcome or want.
It requires of the bishops great courage to accept that, Synodically, the irresistible force of liberal change has met the immovable force of orthodox Anglicans and until there is justice for us there will be no peace, no resolution and no women bishops.
Isn’t the game up bar the shouting?
A friend said to me before the elections “It’s Nunc Dimittis for you now isn’t it”. I was reminded of what the French Generals said in 1940, namely it was only a matter of time before Britain had it’s neck wrung like a chicken. Winston Churchill famously replied ” Some neck. Some chicken!”. The point is that there was a high probability that the Generals were right! The moral is that, even in secular politics, the outcome should not be taken prematurely for granted. How much more then in the Church should we resist the temptation to presumption. Until we are thrown aside we hold our ground.
The elections show that with all it’s flaws the Synodical system still allows for the unexpected. It is porous enough to let in new blood, and see off bad blood, and pragmatic enough, when in a hole, to stop digging. ND