2011 debate on lay representation - background paper 1

In 2011 General Synod returned to the issue of the lay franchise in the government of the Church of England.

Two background papers were published. This post summarises the first, GS 1843A, by Mr Clive Scowen for the Diocese of London. The second, GS 1843B, is by William Fittall, Secretary General of General Synod, and will be considered in a separate post. (Links are to .pdfs)

The motion said:
'That this Synod request the Business Committee to commission a thorough review of how the House of Laity of this Synod and the houses of laity of diocesan synods are elected, particular consideration being given to whether the electorate should be some body of persons other than the lay members of deanery synods.'
The background paper sets out the argument. It is a novel in the debate on lay representation in that it is grounded on a structural difficulty in deanery synods, rather than on voting per se. 

The core argument is that:
(1) It impossible to adopt a scale of representation which enables fair representation of larger parishes on General Synod and diocesan synods without at the same swamping the PCCs of those parishes with deanery synod members and risking the domination of deanery synods by a few large parishes.
(2) It is highly questionable how representative deanery synod members are of their parishes or their electoral rolls.
With thanks to Mad Priest
(This latter point has been made often and extensively. It is inevitably true when the body is statutorily necessary and functionally hobbled).

Thus, the paper asserts, if we removed from deanery synods the function of electing diocesan and general synod members, the deaneries could reshape themselves in ways that would greatly enhance their efficacy.

This is not proven. Deanery synods will still have the same, optimistic and largely vacuous and discretionary functions as set out in law. But if substantive functions were legally specified and separated from diocesan synod purview as appropriate to the scale of the deanery (subsidiarity) it may well prove a valuable element in the running of any diocese. Despite all the weaknesses and shortcomings deanery synods have proved resilient and even popular.

Which, of course, leaves the question of the electorate for diocesan and General synod members.

The paper suggests two possible options:
1) A new electoral college for each deanery
In effect, more or less recreating the current electoral system, but separating it from deanery synods.
Pusillanimous (1) by Anja Marais
Or 2) One person, one vote.
Only in the Church of England could this option be described as 'radical'.

Universal suffrage was achieved in 1928 in the UK. (Women could vote for their representatives in the Church in 1919.) Is it really radical in  2011 to suggest that the Church adopt a system we take for granted in almost all other setting?

And the paper then set out the problems and difficulties as explored in 1993. Pusillanimous!

But at least the issue has been put back on the table.

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