Vote! Vote! Vote!

AS SYNOD WAS PROROGUED in July there was a touch of sadness since over 100 of us will not be returning in November. That is the hundred who have decided not to stand again, but there will inevitably be casualties where electors decide that some of us deserve a five year sabbatical, if not permanent retirement! Voting papers go out in September and we will know our fate in October.

I can tell you some of the results now. All the Diocesan Bishops will be back ex-officio and the suffragans will elect nine of their number (six from the Southern province and three from the northern province), so you won’t need a swingometer to work out that the House of Bishops will be a “no change” result.

All the rotten boroughs in the House of Clergy will be sending their representatives. Every diocese has a guaranteed place for an Archdeacon and I suppose there will be a lot of places where there are two candidates and three electors. I hope that in such situations the third archdeacon savours his moment of power – and uses his patronage wisely.

The rest of the clergy and nearly all of the laity will have to write their election addresses and go to the hustings, if their dioceses organise such things. I wonder what our electors might find it worthwhile voting for candidates who are sympathetic to your point of view, and if you are not a member of Deanery Synod (i.e. not a voter in this election) it might be worth your while lobbying the people from your church who are.

Are you really indifferent as to whether the Church of England remains established or not? Are you unmoved by calls to reform the Crown Appointments Commission which oversees the process by which new diocesan bishops are chosen? Are you concerned whether the right people get selected for ordination training or not? Is the parson’s freehold worth retaining? Would you welcome the Bishop of Durham’s ideas about Deanery ministry teams replacing parochial clergy? Do you think we ought to make provision for the remarriage in church of divorcees, who have a former partner still living? Do you support the stand on sexuality that the Anglican Bishops took at Lambeth in 1998, or do you side with the Bishop of Worcester? Do you want unity with the Methodists (and perhaps women bishops)? Do you want unity with the Roman Catholics (and perhaps no women bishops)? Is private patronage worth preserving, or would you like to see bishops taking over this role?

I hope I have made my point.

I suspect that you would actually prefer to have a representative on Synod who would stand where you would stand on some of these issues, rather than one who would speak against everything you hold dear. So when that envelope comes thudding through your letter-box in September (if you are a member of Deanery Synod, that is) do take the time to read what the hopefuls have to say and arrange them in order of preference. It may be a long slog, but if you don’t vote and then nincompoops get elected, who do you think you ought to blame?

Viewed from a parish perspective, I can understand that Synod seems a bit esoteric and distant. In fact I know that, I’m in a parish too. It’s easy to dismiss Synod as out-of-touch or ineffective, and there are lots of vested interests who would be keen to clip Synod’s wings. What do you think the Archbishops’ Council business was all about? However I think it is important to realise that even if we make a fair dog’s dinner of things like the Churchwardens’ Measure (which we did), Synod is the best form of representative democracy we’ve got.

In the Roman Church, Synods, such as they are, are clergy only affairs. In other denominations Synods are a bit like delegate conferences where the worthies turn up to be lectured by the great and the good. In the Church of England there is the possibility of ordinary laity and clergy making their voices heard and influencing the course of events.

Let’s face it, if we didn’t need majorities in all three houses from time to time, all of the decisions would be taken behind closed doors in the smoke filled rooms of the House of Bishops or the Archbishops’ Council.

Synod, for all its shortcomings, aims to offer open Government. What we say is on the record and you can have a verbatim account of everything that is said. Contrast that with the minutes of the House of Bishops or the Archbishops’ Council and you’ll find they read something like, “The House received a presentation from the Bishop of Barchester on such-and-such and a wide ranging discussion ensued.”

Such uninformative smoke screens achieve nothing – except perhaps the creation of a job for some bureaucrat at the centre of the Church of England.

So do vote when the time comes; the future of our Church may depend in some small measure on you.

Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.