Richard Doney, a Catholic candidate in the Synod elections, takes stock and looks to the future


“What’s the point then? You’re just wasting your time.” I had explained to one of my children that my chances of winning a seat in the House of Laity on the General Synod were about as likely as a Jeremy Corbyn tribute act winning Windsor at the next general election and that was his response. Allow me to explain briefly why I offered to stand, why it wasn’t a waste of time, and share a couple of thoughts on what might influence things in future elections.

It is very easy for lay Catholics in the Church of England to feel disengaged from what goes on ‘out there’ and not bother engaging in Synodical elections but I think it’s important we do. Not so that we can carp on about how everyone else has got it wrong, but to demonstrate that we are here and that we continue to play our part. As I said in my electoral address, ‘There is no room for ghettoes in the Church of God’.

Deanery Synods have been described as meetings of people waiting to go home – and there might be some truth in that (as secretary of my Deanery Synod I couldn’t possibly comment) – but it is the membership that votes for the lay candidates of General Synod. It is therefore essential that Catholic parishes elect people to their Deanery Synod.

As a local government bureaucrat by day who has Parliament Live on the home screen of his phone for easy catch up by night, Synod and its machinations is actually something that I find very interesting.

Many don’t share that interest but how Synod votes can have an impact on so much – from what words we use to pray in church to how much funerals cost, from clergy terms of service to the budget of the whole Church of England. Votes on the ordination of women are in the past; votes on redefining marriage are yet to come. Synod matters and having Catholic members of Synod also matters.

With eight or nine Society parishes in this diocese – and one or two more who are not part of the Society but who have passed the Declaration and look to the PEV for episcopal care – but almost 900 members of the various Deanery Synods, it was always going to be an uphill battle to be elected here. 

The number of Deanery Synod representatives per parish depends on the size of the electoral roll. Unlike the big evangelical churches, very few of our parishes will have eight or nine reps and so, unlike the evangelicals standing for Synod, we can’t afford to spread our votes thinly.

It would be lovely if Synod elections were not fought on party grounds but they are. This Synodical election was almost a straight fight between Inclusive Church hoping to make marriage ‘gender neutral’ and evangelicals seeking to stop that.

66% of lay Deanery Synod members in this diocese voted. I received nine first preference votes and am very grateful for each and every one. Given that I voted for myself and I know one of the other two reps for my parish also voted for me (I think the third probably voted for the Inclusive Church slate, having stood for Deanery Synod at Easter), that leaves seven votes. One of those was, I think, from an exile in a barren land. Six votes. Another was received when I emailed the electorate directly; he is from one of the Society parishes. We are now down to five votes.

This means that the majority of Catholic Deanery Synod reps in this diocese did not vote for the sole Catholic candidate standing. Had they done so, things could have been very different. I might even have been elected.

Instead of sending a motley crew of Inclusive Church and conservative-on-the-issue-of-marriage evangelicals to Synod, we might – just might – have been in with a chance of this diocese having a lay Catholic representative for the first time in over a decade.

In this diocese, 18 of the 19 successful candidates across both houses were publicly supported by Inclusive Church or by the Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship. It was clear for whom their supporters should vote. Whilst clergy networking means that the House of Clergy know who the Catholic clergy are, that’s not the case for the laity. Without saying “I am a traditional Catholic” in large letters, it is often hard for Deanery Synod members to work out who’s what, and particularly when others are so explicit about their affiliation.

Next time, a clear identifiable slate voted for by each and every Deanery Synod representative must surely be the way to go? In looking at how we rally support on the ground, we need to do all we can to facilitate and consolidate those electoral choices.

There are other lessons from the theatre of politics which might include how many candidates we field and where, along with how best we direct resources. 

Please stand if there is a vacancy for Deanery Synod in your parish and please – next time there’s an election for General Synod – vote for your Catholic candidates.

Thank you very much for the invaluable support, advice, and camaraderie to all those who coordinated this election campaign. Congratulations to those who were successful. Commiserations to those who were not. Let us pray and pray hard for the good estate of the Catholic Group on General Synod. They will need our support, now and in the elections to come.

Richard Doney stood for election to 

the General Synod in the diocese of Oxford.