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Synod Considers the Future of Archdeacons’ Tenures

Synod Considers the Future of Archdeacons’ Tenures

The Commission on Ministry has sought the feedback of synod members on the options for changing the tenure of archdeacons. The Commission has set out three options: to link the tenure of an archdeacon to that of a bishop; a fixed term that may be renewed subject to the discretion of the bishop; or for the term or duration to be agreed with the appointing bishop at the time of appointment – and also the option that no change is required. The options were put in the form of a motion to Synod members.

The motion was proposed by Archdeacon Barry Forde explained that the motion came of the discussions which emerged from the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures.

He said that in reviewing the current position on tenure the Commission was clear on three things. Firstly that the appointment of an archdeacon was the prerogative of a bishop alone and that the duty and office of an archdeacon was to aid and assist the bishop. Secondly, once appointed the archdeacon may retain that office until she or he moved from the dioceses, retired or reached the age of 70. Thirdly, it was not up to the commission alone to decide that change was necessary and what the change looked like.

Archdeacon Forde had canvassed opinion from all serving bishops and archdeacons on a range of issues and was now seeking the views of Synod.

“Proposals and proponents for change recognise the inextricable direct link between a bishop and an archdeacon – both on appointment and in duties. They advocate permitting a new bishop to make changes best serves that direct link, allows for things to be freshened up, for others to have the office, and for serving archdeacons to have the possibility of stepping down without being compelled to remain in situ until retirement,” he explained.

He added: “Proposals and proponents for no change point to the need for continuity in a diocese, the need for time to allow serving archdeacons to grow into the role, the pressure on smaller dioceses to refresh appointments, and the need for any new bishop to have to work with those in the diocese’.

Archdeacon John Godfrey (Tuam Limerick and Killaloe) said he was installed as Archdeacon the previous Sunday. He said that he considered the offer of Archdeacon in vocational terms, that we do the work of God as a calling even though the burden may be considerable. But he said it was important that it not be a sentence and that it was consonant with the idea of calling. He said it was important that the Archdeacon work well with his or her bishop and the change in episcopy effects the role of archdeacon. He said that Archdeacons do not get paid much more than a Rector but status is increased and it would be very difficult for a bishop to remove status. He suggested that archdeacons could universally be appointed for a fixed tenure of five or seven years.

Archdeacon Robert Miller (Derry) said he had been an archdeacon since 2012 and had transitioned to a different bishop. He encouraged people to have an input into the discussion. He said that the role of the archdeacon found its home in being both relational and contextual and both were important with the bishop. Being archdeacon was a responsibility and not a promotion and it was primarily relational. He said that the commission should continue to explore the office of archdeacon but felt that what it was currently trying to do is to legislate the conversation which had to take place between bishop and archdeacon.

Archdeacon Peter Thompson (Armagh), another recently appointed Archdeacon, said limiting tenure limited the archdeacon’s ability to kick back when the bishop needed to be brought into line.

Bishop Andrew Forster (Derry and Raphoe) said archdeacons were in many ways the unsung heroes of the work that went on in dioceses. The relationship between the bishop and his or her archdeacons was key to a healthy diocese, he stated. He said he was wary of a centralisation of legislation in this as it was a relational issue and a local diocesan issue. He suggested parking the discussion.

Bishop Michael Burrows (Tuam Limerick and Killaloe) said he had worked with 11 archdeacons and suggested that some people were ‘born archdeacons’. He said he was nervous of central legislation on this issue and agreed that archdeacons could be the unsung heroes of the administration of the Church and deserved the gratitude of bishops. He congratulated Archdeacon Forde in the manner in which he presented the discussion which allowed the middle ground of the church’s thoughts to be heard.

Frank Dobbs (Connor) made a plea for flexibility which he said was very important in relationships. He suggested that the appointment could be made on a specific term which could be reviewed yearly.

Dean Stephen Forde said being an archdeacon was a sacrificial role both for the individual and for the parish in which the archdeacon served. The seven year option being offered may be worth considering if only it allowed the archdeacon and bishop to have a conversation.

Ken Gibson agreed that archdeacons were the unsung heroes of the Church and were superb.

Archbishop John McDowell encouraged the commission in their work but said that the people seemed to be saying they were unsure that it should be dealt with via a Bill.


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