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Bill seeking gender balance amongst parochial nominators presented at General Synod

Bill 2, General Synod 2021

The Commission on Ministry presented a Bill dealing with gender balance amongst parochial nominators to General Synod this morning (Thursday September 30). Bill No 2 seeks to ensure that those who act as parochial nominators at a time of vacancy have within their ranks a measure of gender balance and thus assist in representing the demographic of the parish or group of parishes.

Proposing Bill No 2, Hazel Corrigan (Hon Sec) said the Commission on Ministry wished to ensure there was gender balance amongst parochial nominators rather than to have an entirely male or entirely female group of parochial nominators. “Typically, it is the parochial nominators who meet with candidates and discuss the needs of the parish and these changes would ensure that candidates are not meeting an either all male or all female group of parochial nominators. It is important that the parochial nominators, in as far as possible, represent the breadth of the parish or parishes and including both male and female together will help to do this,” she said.

The Bill was seconded by Wilfred Baker who said it was a good Bill.

In discussion on Bill No 2 Sally Johnston (Down and Dromore) said that she was a parish nominator. She said she was elected on the basis of her particular attributes and skills and would not want to be nominated because she was simply a woman to even things up. She suggested that changes could diminish and weaken the team.

Trevor Cleland (Connor) added that the position of parochial nominator was a key role and it should not matter whether you are a man or woman but that you are the right person for the job.

The Revd Stephen Farrell (Dublin) said there should be gender balance on Boards of Nomination but why should this only apply to lay members. He asked if it was time to take a broader look at Chapter IV of the Constitution and if the process was taking account of charitable best practice.

Andrew Brannigan (Down) acknowledged the good sentiment behind the Bill but he opposed it. He said gender balance was improving and asked if this was a problem that had been raised. He suggested that local parish context was not taken into account and that the Bill focused on the laity. He said the issue should be discussed for the whole church and not just parishes and laity.

Cynthia Cherry agreed gender balance should be considered but not that it should be a firm requirement as it may mean the wrong person is selected for the job.

The Revd Paul Arbuthnot (Cork, Cloyne and Ross) said it was good that Chapter IV of the Constitution was being looked at as the Constitution must serve the needs of the Church. He felt it was the right idea but wondered if the Bill was bold enough as there may be other minorities missing out. The Bill is part of a broader package which he described as piecemeal reform when Synod should be going for a wholesale review of Chapter IV.

Canon Gillian Wharton (Hon Sec) said that the Commission on Ministry had given the matter serious consideration. It is hoped in time that gender balance will also apply to diocesan nominators, she said, but there are some dioceses in which there are very few women clergy. She explained that the commission is not suggesting that there be gender balance but rather that there be at least one man and one woman among the parochial nominators. She agreed that no one wanted to be the token person there because of their gender. She said it was necessary to make a difference now.

Dr Patricia Barker (Dublin and Glendalough) introduced an academic and business lens to the debate. She said she had done research in the area of gender balance and suggested there was a need to move the process forward. She said where decision making is made by a mixture of gender it is more rigorous, sounder and holds better. She said that based on the current research she would support the motion.

Archdeacon Barry Forde said we could celebrate the step forward that could be taken today and take on board the appetite for change to Chapter IV. On the issue of tokenism, this is one means of getting a degree of representation across the church, he stated. We are looking at this through the organisation of the parish and not through the lens of the candidate who has to attend the selection panel, he said adding that the Bill was a positive step forward.

Peter Whyte (Limerick and Killaloe) accepted what has been said by both sides. We have an opportunity to make an improvement, he said. Women think differently from men and bring a different and necessary set of skills, for example reading body language, he observed.

Canon Ian Berry (Clogher) expressed concern for the practicalities of the Bill and how they would work out in parish settings and in parish groupings. What happens if the parish doesn’t elect with balance, he asked and said that guidance would be welcome.

The Revd Ian Linton (Down and Dromore) said he could not see how it would work practically, particularly in a group of parishes.

In reply Ms Corrigan said gender balance was improving in parishes, but slowly. The commission has discussed most of the issues that came up today but felt this Bill should continue. She said the commission would give consideration to discussion on the whole of Chapter IV. A single gender panel was not ideal, she added.

The Assessor, Lyndon McCann, outlined the Constitutional situation dealing with the election of parochial nominators within a group of parishes.

The Revd Ian Linton proposed a vote by orders which was agreed. Bill No 2 passed its first stages and will come before Synod for its third and final reading on Saturday morning.

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