Thursday, 23 September 2010

General Synod Election Address

For the General Synod of the Church of England, most English of Legislative Institutions, a Ruritanian Mask hides the curious fact that all three houses have completely different forms of franchise:
  • Licensed or beneficed Clergy all get a vote — fish and chips common or garden democracy. The sort of thing they did in ancient Athens. One Person One Vote. Radical Stuff.

  • Laity are elected indirectly (making it possible to be a candidate whilst not being an elector). Such a system was used for the US Senate before the 17th Amendment (1913?)... Curiously enough, primitive Anarcho-Syndicalists were keen on indirect elections too.

  • Diocesan bishops are elected by Cathedral Chapters instructed to elect them by Her Majesty the Queen. This ardently Royalist elective system, which fills the majority of the upper house, will renind some of Mogens Jallberg’s pithy comment: “In Democracy: it's your vote that counts. In Feudalism it's your count that votes.”

  • Southern Suffragan Bishops like me have our own clergy-style mini elction, with a tiny electorate of around 50 and 9 candidates for 4 places, so anything could happen. This is a grassroots kind of election appropriate to, say, a smallish parent teacher association.
People with no sense of fun or soul might think this is all a right old mess, and ripe for reform so everyone gets a vote on some consistent set of principles. People with soul, however will enjoy the way this way of operating gives the Holy Spirit an opportunity, in true English fashion, to hedge his bets on three different systems simultaneously.

The Bishop of Fulham has been telling the New York Times what this all adds up to –“The trouble with the Anglican Church is that it has adopted a parliamentary model and one that presumes change and presumes everyone can have a say. I think it’s become a kind of fascist democracy.” After years of being rather snooty and invertedly snobbish about the General Synod, I observe that change does happen, and God is usually in it somewhere (but where?), and I believe to the bottom of my boots that everyone should have a say, because to deny them really is a kind of fascism. Was it time to climb off the fence and get involved?

As Her Majesty has not instructed a Cathedral Chapter to elect me on pain of imprisonment for prae munire, the only way to find out out what it would be like to be part of a fascist democracy has involved asking my colleagues to vote for me, among others. Mind you, this is pretty much what happens in most elections. This involved producing an election address. If you're not a suffragan bishop you haven't a vote anyway, but if you are, vote early! vote often!
Before becoming bishop of Buckingham is 2003, I worked for 23 years as a parish priest, with some prison ministry, teaching and design work. This summer I found myself encouraging friends to stand for General Synod, feeling a hypocrite because of my own long-standing cynicism about it; There’s an obvious answer, and I’m very grateful to +Lee Rayfield of Swindon and +Christopher Chessun of Woolwich for kindly proposing and seconding me. What are my issues, and what might I bring, as a new member, to the General Synod?

Church Culture


I have played a leading role in the implementation of Common Tenure in our diocese. I believe we can work out our procedures in a helpful way, but I hope it’s done within a theological vision for Christ-centred servant ministry. CT must promote vocation in ministers. Beyond the clergy, many parishes are feeling poor and downhearted. All kinds of growth happen when churches seek out the energy around them and work with that — an analogy with air source heating comes to mind.

Communications

I am not techie for the sake of tech, but really enjoy being part of the C of E’s discernment process about new media, as well as having my own blog, which has had over 380,000 hits. Social media can painfully expose our weaknesses, especially if the Church is boring, weedy and faithless. People in a flatter, globalised social order seek loving service, not conventional authority figures. Authenticity and Interactivity count for more than the effortlessly superior Olympian heights which past Anglican bishops have commanded. People are often surprisingly open, and we can exercise real influence, but it must be earned not assumed. Christians often have real depth and authenticity, but I also encounter fear and denial among episcopal colleagues and others. We need to learn how to change, not only to engage more clearly with people for the gospel, but for our own souls’ health.

Education

At a time many in the schools trade are casting around for a vision, anyone with a clear idea of what it means to be truly child centred, anchored in confidently held values, has much to contribute. As chair of one of the largest Boards of Education in the country, I can see in our 288 schools everything to play for, and much to gain... or lose!

Ecclesiology

With deep Evangelical roots, I wrote a doctorate on Anglo-Catholic Ecclesiology. My view of the Church, Catholic and Reformed, is shaped by spending regular time over many years with a French Benedictine Community. Conversion, Stability and Obedience strike me as vital tools in discipleship and community building. I’m a historian. I think our tradition is often fuller of resource and hope than we realise. Covenant? I can see why the Archbishops want some basis for the Communion better than the fading Cheshire-Cat smile of the British Empire, but wish it would go on one side of A4.

The next Synod is about far more than the ordination of women to the episcopate, which I joyfully support. Christ transcends gender. The sociological geometry of Christian ministry has always reflected the society we serve, and I see this as part of our incarnational calling. A two-speed episcopate seems to me a long way from Catholic order. It’s embarrassingly obvious that further wobble and faff will just annoy everyone and make us look even sillier than we already do.

If there’s anything you’d like to check back with me about, please do. I’m delighted that many much-liked and valued colleagues are standing for GS this time round. If you think I can bring anything particular that you value to the party in a helpful way, please vote for me.

21 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Bishop Alan, if I could, I would vote for you. Since I have no vote, consider this my endorsement of you.

I encourage those of you who can to vote for Bishop Alan.

Malcolm+ said...

The best of luck, bishop.

Though one is moved to wonder whether the luckier outcome is to be elected or defeated. ;-)

UKViewer said...

An interesting address to fellow Bishops.

I would not have known that you have Evangelical roots. You seem to be so much more! Perhaps I am just not discerning enough.

But I wish you well, the voice of all Bishops is needed in Synod, either by election, or by proxy.

Hopefully, your joyful celebration of the Ministry of Women will come to fruition in the next Synod, with women being elected as Bishops without any qualification of their role.

Now to start a lottery on the first Women Bishop!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

GM, Malcolm, may thanks for your kind wishes. The Ruritanian complexity of it all does make it very easy to be philosophical about the whole business, and the use of Single Transferable Vote does mean that these quirky electorates wishes do get represented accurately in the result. I'm big on the English idea that the virtue is to take part not to win. Trying to win is the sort of thing Foreigners do, like training before sporting contests, or voting in elections...

Lesley said...

Go Bish, I hope you get in :)

Erika Baker said...

Good luck, you'd be the best thing that could happen to General Synod. Although it might not be the best thing that could happen to you - you have to have a certain masochistic streak in you even to consider it.

I agree that you don't want to do it like those strange foreigners. Much more sensible to get whole heartedly into the English way of doing things and knock on individual church doors wearing a big "Vote Alan" rosette...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

UKV, Lesley, Erika, thanks for kind thoughts. Standing for election for something seems to be the best way to induce kind comment from friends this side of dying! Why only yesterday I went to a GS house of laity hustings (to find out what people are buzzing about in this election, even if they don't have a vote) and one engaging candidate (with whose views, I must say, I cannot concur as much as both of us would wish) told me that my beard was just the right length right now. However low this election may be on information, it's certainly high on niceness...

Erika Baker said...

With women it's the right hair-do, with men it's the right beard. You're bound to get in now!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Wrong house, I'm afraid, Erika, but a nice thought. Certainly encouragement to go and get my beard done, though with a trip to the middle east coming up I have been hoping it would get a bit longer and more rabbinic...

What got me down about the meeting was that with 7 candidates there, all but one substantially over 50 (to estimate conservatively) there was little evidence that any of them actually get it about the moral basis of equalities, not as they relate to gender anyway. If the church seriously wants to relate to people under 50, pretty much all of whom that don't vote BNP do get it, this is a huge area for development over the next five years.

Lesley said...

The thing is we had about 20 seconds notice of the husting dates... so my diary already booked

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Lesley ‚— v important feedback. Various candidates were saying same thing to me last night. Definitely a point to address another time...

Charlie said...

Are we allowed to know who the other candidates for HoB are? I can't find it anywhere on the C of E national website.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Charlie, I didn't know, even though I was a candidate, until voting papers arrived on Saturday. I'll get you a list here when I come out of meeting...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Charlie —
Candidates for places for four southern suffragans on general Synod:

1. Ian Brackley, +Dorking
2. Pete Broadbent, +Willesden
3. Brian Castle, +Tonbridge
4. Colin Fletcher, +Dorchester
5. John Ford, +Plymouth
6. David Rossdale, +Grimsby
7. Humphrey Southern, +Repton
8. David Walker, +Dudley
9. Alan Wilson, +Buckingham

Hope this information helps. I don't know who has stood for Northern suffragan places, nor have I any easy way to find out!

Richard Gillin said...

Good luck, Alan! Glad to see a spread of perspectives, geographies (although I am always surprised to see that Grimsby is "Southern"!) and personalities in the mix.

I think each person standing should be asked to confirm that they agree that the next synod is not just about women bishops - there is so much more we should be worrying about!

Charlie said...

Thanks! just idle curiosity really, as obviously I am not one of the 50 people with a vote.

badman said...

The thing that has always troubled me is the House of Laity. I've been on church electoral rolls for 15 years, and I go to the odd annual parochial church meeting, both of which make me an exception even in the exceptional ranks of those who regularly go to church. But I've never had a vote for the House of Laity or been consulted by those who do, or known anything about the candidates - not even their names, let alone their views.

I think the House of Laity is a fraud because in no sense at all (surely) can it be said to represent the views of the laity of the Church of England.

The method of indirect election was favoured by Napoleon because it gave an illusion of democracy whilst, in reality, stifling the grass roots.

I can understand arguments against democracy in church. But I think there should be honesty and no reports of the House of Laity ever seem to recognise how far removed from the laity it really is.

Erika Baker said...

I agree, the moral basis of gender equality is often casually dismissed as a human rights or even "human rights" driven agenda that goes against Christian beliefs.
And from the FiF front you hear that complaining about women not being able to be priests makes as much sense as complaining about men not being able to have babies.

Anonymous said...

I certainly hope you get in. In terms of clergy, I'm looking to vote for those who espouse servant leadership rather than self promotion.

Diana said...

I really hope you get in, In terms of clergy candidates, I shall be voting for those who espouse the principles of servant leadership rather than self promotion.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for many kind words. I think there needs to be a careful examination of all the points you raise, and especially a review of how communications technology can be used better, as some diocese are attempting, to inform people about their candidates. The Diocese of Bristol, for example, has offered short film space on their website. Also the means of informing people need to be enriched.

To my mind the argument for some measure of democracy in Church is that the Holy Spirit is given to each Christian in Baptism. Benedict tells us that a healthy community will consult everyone, remembering that sometimes God's will can be revealed through the least obvious person.

I have come to find, following Robert Greenleaf, that the only sure legitimation of any leadership in our context is willingness to try and serve... This discovery reinforces the message of Philippians 2, II Corinthians 4, and other passages that enunciate the principle.

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