Report on General Synod Representation Adopted by Members
A report on General Synod representation was presented to General Synod in Derry/Londonderry this afternoon during the presentation of the report of Standing Committee. The details of the proposals for future synod membership are contained in Appendix K of the report of Standing Committee in the Book of Reports.
Presenting the report, Honorary Secretary, Ken Gibson, gave a summary of the 2018 Bill and its amendments and outlined how they helped Standing Committee evolve its thinking. He also spoke of how Standing Committee went about the task set for it by Synod last year.
He said that the original Bill proposed a model that linked membership to the number of cures in the church. The Bill proposed a synod of 530 as opposed to 648 at present. This model could be easily understood, he said, and could be regularly reviewed. Running through the amendments, however, Mr Gibson said that Standing Committee believed that some proportionality was fairer.
Standing Committee brought together a working group to undertake the fact finding, analysis and number crunching required, he said. This group comprised one member of Standing Committee per diocese, allowing all to have a say. Two honorary secretaries, Mr Gibson and Canon Gillian Wharton, facilitated the group.
He reported that Standing Committee debated the whole issue of representation at each of its meetings during the year and devoted a full day to the topic at a special meeting in November. The report and resolutions come from Standing Committee and not the working group.
He paid tribute to the working group for their respectful listening, increased understanding of each other’s culture and context, shared learning and breaking down of stereotypes.
Standing Committee and the working group wished to avoid inadvertent consequences of any change. They recognised a need to remember that they were seeking a solution that was best for the whole church and the importance of finding a simple model that could be easily adapted, he stated.
Two papers were produced by members of the working group which looked at the theology around synods which pointed to the fact that the church is part of God’s creation; that disagreement was agreeable and healthy; synod was a decision making process which facilitated the life of the church; representative government was fundamental to church polity; there was a need to consider the theology of the marginal and of fragility; the small, isolated or weak church often played a pivotal part in its community; and the full range of diversity should be represented. They were also aware of developments in Tuam, Killala and Achonry and Limerick and Killaloe.
Seconding the motion, Canon Gillian Wharton noted that “One of the key features of the Working Group was listening to each other and hearing the concerns of each member of the Working Group; concerns such as that the breadth of the voice of the Church of Ireland, in all its complexity, shades, colours and experiences would be heard. There was concern that the voice of areas of the Church of Ireland, which are sparsely populated, or have particular issues in disadvantaged urban areas, would disappear,” she said.
Canon Wharton outlined the weighting system proposed: “In addition to the basis of the same number of representatives as cures in the Church of Ireland, we explored a weighting system, and that weighting system is to give one extra place to the diocese with the greatest number of cures and to give twelve extra places to the diocese with the smaller numbers. Now, before you whisk out your calculator and start checking the figures in the Tables on pages 250 and 251, and wonder about our mathematical ability, we also ‘rounded up’ the numbers so that they are divisible by three; the reason being that the proportion of our representatives at General Synod is two lay people to each cleric”.
It was felt that no diocese should have more than twice the average number of representatives and none should have less than half the number of average representatives. She said they envisaged a phased introduction of the changes to lessen the impact of the changes with the first review taking place after three triennia (nine years).
She said that if the motion was agreed Standing Committee asked members to agree that Diocesan Synods of 2019 be informed of the work in Appendix K of the report.
Speaking to the report, Andrew Brannigan (Down), who proposed the original 2018 Private Members Bill, thanked the Honorary Secretaries and the working group and Standing Committee for their work. He said it was a pleasing thing that representation was based on cures, the life blood of the church. He said it was good to see the weighting system which he said was fair in increasing the voices of smaller dioceses. He added that it allowed for a review every nine years. “The road to representative reform at General Synod has been a long road over many years and hopefully we are coming to the end of this road. One thing I have learned is that it is a road that we travel together,” he stated.
Canon Horace McKinley (Dublin) paid tribute to the tremendous amount of time, research and analysis carried out by the working group. He said he was one of the longest serving clerical members in the synod and remembered proposals of the past. He pointed out that the church had unique features in that it covered one island on which two different political jurisdictions prevailed. He said that it was vital that we understood that we needed each other – “we are members one of another,” he said. We are a church where we are enabled to say “this is my story and will you now tell me your story”. “The concern of many of us in the Southern Province was that this would lead to imbalance and a shift within the power structure. I feel much more confident that those concerns have been met,” he added. “I plead that we do not think of ourselves only in terms of statistics and numbers because we are a lot more than that. We are not a business. We come at this from a different angle.”
Archdeacon Adrian Wilkinson (Cork, Cloyne and Ross) said that diversity was very important and that the small, weak and vulnerable were still involved.
The Revd Andrew Orr (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) also supported the proposal but worried that a small clique of people would be elected over and again and suggested a time limitation for serving be introduced to ensure a flow of representation.
John Godfrey (Limerick) commended the work on the proposal. There was an opportunity for it to be divisive but the proposal had managed to bring the whole Church of Ireland along with it, he said.
Joc Sanders (Limerick and Killaloe) thanked the members of larger dioceses for the generosity of spirit they had showed in looking at smaller dioceses and for the way they have treated Limerick and Killaloe and Tuam, Killala and Achonry who would hopefully merge in the future.
Members agreed to adopt the report and communicate the information to Diocesan Synods.