It is with some trepidation that I have offered myself as a candidate for General Synod for the next quinquennium (five-year term), having been a member for Salisbury Diocese in 2000–2005. During that time, we signed off the last stages of liturgical revision (remember that?!) including the ordinal and alternative collects, and received the excellent Some Issues in Human Sexuality, amongst other things. Since then, Synod has had to deal with some even more demanding (and bruising) issues, not least the two attempts to admit women to the episcopate.
It is clear that the next session will be strongly shaped by the ‘Reform and Renewal‘ agenda, and this will touch on issues of church growth, discipleship, and theological education as well as questions of clergy deployment and the increasing role of lay ministry. And, of course, with the Shared Conversations process coming to an end, the Church’s position on same-sex marriage will also be on the agenda in one form or another.
For that reason, it is worth thinking about the potential make-up of the new Synod—though these things usually take some time to work out. In recent conversation about the elections, someone passed to me the analysis they had done on the candidates, and I offer it here along with some further analysis of my own. The table below gives the numbers of men and women standing for clergy and lay elections in each diocese (CM is clergy men, etc), as far as it is possible to discern from diocesan websites, and I have calculated the number of candidates standing per place for each house (the column C/P):
|Diocese||C M||C W||Pl||C/P||L M||L W||Pl||C/P|
|Bath and Wells||9||2||4||2.75||4||5||5||1.80|
|St Eds and Ips||7||1||3||2.67||5||5||3||3.33|
|Sodor and Man||3||0||1||3.00||1||1||1||2.00|
|S’well and Nottm||6||0||3||2.00||8||4||4||3.00|
|W Yorks & D (Leeds)||12||8||10||2.00||14||5||9||2.11|
If there are any mistakes here you spot from your own diocese, or you can fill in the gaps, please post in the comments below.
There are a few interesting things to note:
- As you can see from the C/P average, the competition for clergy places overall (2.27 candidates per place) is slightly less than the competition for lay places (at 2.46)—which I think is fairly usual. What this masks, though, is that you have to be a particular kind of person to be a lay member of Synod; whereas clergy can count it as ‘work’ time, as a lay member you have to be able to take the time out since there is no recompense for lost earnings. You therefore need to be wealthy, self-employed, retired, highly committed, or a combination of all four. This is countered by the fact that there is no retirement age for lay members as there is for clergy—though there might be pressure to change this, with the increasing number of retired clergy who are active in ministry.
- There is considerable variation in competition between different dioceses. For clergy, your best chance of being elected is in Chester, Liverpool or Peterborough, where only one person will not succeed. In the new diocese of Leeds, there are not sufficient lay candidates to fill the places. On the other hand, Canterbury, Oxford and St Alban’s are hotly contested amongst the clergy, where fewer than one in three candidates will be elected, and there is also serious competition for lay places in several dioceses.
- The total number of members of Synod was reduced after my quinquennium, and these figures have been further revised for this election. This has left a good number of medium-sized dioceses with three proctors (clergy to be elected), and in most dioceses one of these is taken by an archdeacon, since the electoral ‘college’ of archdeacons was abolished when numbers were reduced. The net result of this is to (in effect) eliminate minority views under the STV system; if candidates holding a minority view come third amongst the non-archdeacons across all dioceses, then they will disappear from all but the larger dioceses. If, on the other hand, either dioceses or their Synod representation were merged, then such candidates would reappear again in the longer list that would result. In other words, two lists of three look much more homogeneous then one list of six, and this will be increasingly felt if Synod becomes any smaller. (A similar dynamic applies to contested mid-term elections; they result in appointing more of the same.)
But perhaps the most striking thing about these numbers is the low representation of women, particularly for the House of Clergy.
There are nearly three times as many men standing as women (299 to 99),
and five dioceses have no women standing at all.
(Bristol, Ely, Portsmouth, Sodor and Man, and Southwell and Nottingham)
It is not difficult to think of some reasons for this. There are a good number of jobs in the C of E that involve quite a bit of tedious admin, and in amongst the important debates, there is a lot of tedious admin involved in being on Synod. (For a theological evaluation of much of this tedious admin, I would refer you to Phil 3.8b.) My universal experience is that women are more sensible than men in avoiding this tedious admin! More broadly, a higher proportion of ordained women are in part-time or split-role ministries, and adding Synod membership into this mix is more challenging than if you are in a single, full-time, stipendiary role. There is a particular issue of timing as well; many women will have stood for the last Synod because of the issue of women bishops, and a good number of them probably feel as though they have done their time and have the bruises to show for it—now is a good time to step down.
Whatever the reasons, will it make a difference? Given the decisions made over the last ten years, I am not sure that there are major concerns about direct representation on issues that affect women in ministry or in church membership (though I am happy to be corrected on this). But my other universal experience is that women bring something distinctive to the kinds of processes that Synod makes use of, and if the next Synod is more male-dominated, I am not sure that that is going to be a particularly good thing. It remains to be seen whether this will be the case; where there are few women candidates, they are more likely to be elected, so the imbalance of candidates will not translate into the same imbalance of Synod members.
Either which way, one thing is clear: if we want more equal gender representation in Church government, we cannot leave it to chance.
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