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The Church Times: Activists seek candidates for new Synod

28 August 2015

As elections for the General Synod near an end, groups campaigning to change the make-up of the Church of England’s governing body have laid out their hopes for the next five years.

The deadline for nominations to stand for the Synod close early next month. The membership of the new Synod will be sealed by mid-October, once each diocese has concluded its elections.

Forward in Faith’s elections officer, Anne Gray, said that, although the reputation of the Synod had been hit among traditionalist Catholics during the women-bishops debates, plenty among that constituency were still keen to stand.

“General Synod is in a much better place now than it was in November 2012,” she said on Tuesday. “The new women-bishops legislation passed quickly due both to a consensus being reached and a genuine willingness on all sides to move forward together. Being Catholic means being concerned for the whole Church; so of course we are concerned for the General Synod.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by the election campaign co-ordinator of Inclusive Church, the Revd Stephen France. Inclusive Church has assembled a list of 108 people, clergy and laity, standing for election to the Synod under its banner.

“I had no difficulty finding people who want to see the Church change and are willing to stand,” he said last week. “Clearly what happened with women bishops caused an outcry, and was bound to affect the reputation of the Synod, but that’s why we have had no difficulty finding people to stand.”

Mr France said that the women-bishops debates, which dominated the last quinquennium, had prompted many of Inclusive Church’s candidates to stand. “Obviously that issue was resolved, but it’s early days yet. Rachel Treweek is the only diocesan woman bishop still.”

One of those who are standing for the first time under the Inclusive Church banner is the former Conservative MP Sir Tony Baldry. Previously an ex-officio member as the then Second Church Estates Commissioner, he is standing for election in the diocese of Oxford.

He acknowledged that some would wonder why he might voluntarily seek a return to the Synod. He recalled, however, how he had been expelled from his C of E Sunday school three times as a child, but had always been readmitted.

“I think my shortcoming was ‘over-enthusiasm’,” he joked last week. “Having spent five years on General Synod ex officio in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner . . . and given my task as chair of the Church Buildings Council looking after the maintenance and care of 16,000 parish churches in England, I hope I have something to contribute.”

The second Anglican priest to enter a same-sex marriage, the Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain (News, 27 June 2014), is also among those on Inclusive Church’s list of candidates, standing in the diocese of London.

In his election address, Sir Tony emphasised his belief that all should be welcome in the C of E “regardless of our gender, or wealth, or the colour of our skin, or disability, or sexual orientation”.

The shared conversations on sexuality currently being run throughout the dioceses will come to an end during the next quinquennium, and Mr France said that the sexuality debate was bound to be a flashpoint for the new Synod. “I suspect that will be the most divisive issue to happen in the Church for a long time.”

He also said, however, that Inclusive Church was interested in other issues, such as disability, wealth inequality, and racial equality — topics on which the Church had a “variable history”.

For traditionalist Catholics, the confidentiality of the seal of the confessional and the requirement for ordinations to be by bishops would be among the big issues coming up in the next five years, Ms Gray said.

As for the shared conversations, she said that while everyone should be encouraged to take part in them, Forward in Faith could not support any change to the sacrament of marriage.

“This will probably be a much harder issue than women bishops,” she said. “We would hope that in the light of the positive atmosphere around the [women-bishops] settlement that past suspicions will remain in the past so that we can all move on together, thinking the best of each other.”

But electors should not just look at theological stances when deciding how to cast their ballot, Ms Gray said. “Above all, we are encouraging electors to pray for right decisions to be made. We need a new General Synod . . . which will reflect the diversity of the Church.”

Mr France said that the Inclusive Church campaign resources encouraged candidates to be clear in their election addresses. “[They] should say exactly what they believe, so that people who do want to have representation in that area know that they getting it from that person.”