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Day 1

Bill enabling Church meetings to take place online introduced at Synod

A Bill which, if passed, will provide for the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, Diocesan Synods of the Church of Ireland, and General Vestry meetings of the Church of Ireland to have the flexibility to meet electronically rather than, or as well as, in person was presented at General Synod today (Wednesday May 4).

Bill No 1, in the name of Honorary Secretaries Ken Gibson and Canon Gillian Wharton, seeks to amend chapters I, II and III of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland to reflect the fact that such meetings may be conducted, wholly or partly, by the use of electronic communications technology.

Proposing the Bill, Mr Gibson explained that under the Constitution, meetings of General Synod, Diocesan Synods and General Vestries must happen in a ‘place’. During the pandemic, Covid restrictions meant that these meetings could not take place physically in a place.

In a move which Mr Gibson admitted may surprise some, he thanked God for the Irish Government which passed temporary legislation allowing many bodies constituted in similar ways to the Church of Ireland to set aside their normal requirements and meet online, ensuring that the business transacted was legal. This enabled General Synod to meet online in 2020 and 2021. That legislation has now expired.

He said that Bill No 1 would act as a safeguard in the event of a new wave of Covid or any such disaster meaning “in the future we will no longer be held to ransom by that word ‘place’”. He added that it would give flexibility to General Synod, dioceses and parishes to make use of technology, where appropriate, in how they do their business.

In seconding Bill No 1, Canon Wharton said the Bill was not prescriptive but aimed to give flexibility to how people conduct their business in the future, not just at General Synod level, but at Diocesan Synod and Easter General Vestry levels.

The Bill passed its first and second stages and will go to its third and final stage on Friday morning.

A motion amending Standing Orders to reflect the change was also proposed.

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