Andy Hawes asks whether the General Synod is more than a spectator sport

I OFTEN SIT IN THE public gallery at Synod and look down. with members sitting in concentric circles, it reminds me of a circus. There are certainly ringmasters and certainly performers. It is significant that I am a spectator – somehow I have not yet become part of the show.

Since being elected last year, I have sought the answer to the question, “Can General Synod be a vehicle for the Holy Spirit?” But I am afraid it is the circus that comes first to mind and not a Holy Assembly. It is ringmasters and performances, not prophets and humble listening that sets the tone.

First, the “ringmasters” – there are perhaps two dozen people who really know how to crack the whip, to make the right calls, to make the right programme trip along. They know the Standing Orders, the right questions to ask, the right interventions to make; they are recognised and hold the centre of the ring – often. In the centre of the circus sit the Bishops and outside them in the inner ring, the Standing Committee and the Church Commissioners – there are few ringmasters outside those prime moving spheres.

It is significant that performers make all the difference to the show. Most General Synod members appear to be good honest people endeavouring to play their part with integrity. Many are undecided about issues great and small and they are often swayed by the virtuoso performances The most notable of these, in my brief experience, was the speech by the former Bishop of Chester in the debate on clergy differentials. Although mostly irrelevant in content, it was passionate in delivery and eloquent to the point of emotional bludgeoning – it carried the day.

Like a circus, most of the vital work that keeps the show on the road is carried out beyond the public gaze. Setting the agenda, the priming of chairmen, the appointment to committees – all these are much more important than the public realise. The circus is run from behind closed doors and sometimes, like a circus, it does not resemble much in ordinary life. Perhaps that is why I sit in the gallery, preferring to be a spectator rather than part of someone else’s show.

Andrew Hawes is a member of General Synod. He represents the clergy in the Diocese of Lincoln.