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Monday, 7 February 2011

What The House Of Laity Did First...

Synod officially started at 3.00pm today. However, immediately before that meeting there was a meeting of the House of Laity by itself. These don't happen at every session - most business is conducted by Synod as a whole. (The House of Bishops is different - they do meet regularly outside Synod - but that's for expansion elsewhere, perhaps.) This afternoon the House of Laity was invited to co-opt Dr Priscilla Chadwick as a member of the House so that she could be re-appointed as Chair of the Dioceses Commission. The short version of what happened is that we declined to make such a co-option.

The longer version is a bit more nuanced. The powers that be have managed to get themselves in a muddle. As the Dioceses Commission is set up, a certain number of its members have also to be members of General Synod, and its Chair has to be selected from among those members. Furthermore the Chair of the Commission is not allowed also to be a member of various other Synod-related bodies. The idea seems to be that the Chair should be someone who has been in some way elected by the wider Church, and also that they should not be someone who is already obviously part of the establishment. So far so good, you might think. Unfortunately, it turned out that none of those from Synod who ended up on the Commission were deemed by the powers that be to be suitable for the post of Chair, and instead Dr Chadwick was suggested for the job. Consequently, in 2008, the House of Laity was asked to co-opt Dr Chadwick so that she could chair what was then the new Commission. Reluctantly, we agreed.

Given that we were told that the first co-option was quite essential because Dr. Chadwick was the only person for the job, it came as something of a surprise that we were now asked to make exactly the same co-option. After all, this time Dr. Chadwick could have stood for Synod. She didn't. The point was made in the debate that actually there was a good argument for the Chair of the Commission not to be an elected member from a particular diocese on grounds of impartiality. While this was a sound point, it doesn't alter the fact that a set of procedures exist for the appointment of the members and Chair of the Dioceses Commission, and that the central bureaucracy has attempted to circumvent them because they were not delivering the result that the bureaucracy required. This isn't the right way of doing things, and this time we were not sufficiently convinced by the arguments from expediency to put aside what little democratic legitimacy we possess and roll over when required by the secretariat.

In all of this, the person I feel sorry for is Dr. Chadwick. For what it's worth, I think she has done a good job, and I have been very impressed with what the Commission has so far achieved. As I understand it she was asked to continue in her post, she didn't put herself forward. Perhaps those who did the asking might reflect whether they have really done her or the Church any sort of service in making that request in the way in which they made it. Perhaps they might further reflect on the suggestion that if your procedures are not delivering the results you desire, then the procedures themselves need to be changed. If you attempt simply to circumvent the rules you currently have then the only conclusion to which onlookers might come is that those rules didn't really count for anything in the first place. And surely that can't be true...

(Chichester 289)

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