General Synod Elections

Leslie shares news of her recent experience of the General Synod voting system

As many of you may know I (probably insanely….) threw my hat into the ring to try getting elected to General Synod this year. Perhaps I thought that a somewhat radical and provocative voice would make a slightly different sound in what a lot of people think is a staid, conservative, ultra-slow-moving part of the Church of England! Having asked Simon and others [everyone said “go for it”] in the middle of the summer months, I then went about discovering more, rounded up someone to nominate and second my candidacy, and pitched head-first into the election campaign.

For those of you who don’t know anything about it – nothing in this campaign is either straightforward or easily understandable, least of all the voting system. The first thing all the candidates should do after they are accepted is write an “election address”. These are sent to all people who vote for General Synod representatives. For non-clergy candidates, the electors are the 900 or so serving on Deanery Synods around the diocese. (You see – already it’s getting complicated!) It helps to know a lot of Deanery Synod people who will vote for you. Each diocese has a set number of people who can be elected, but there’s no limit on the number who can stand in any one diocese. There were 19 candidates chasing 7 places this time.

What to write about myself, I wondered. How honest do I need to be! How unusual can I risk appearing to stand out from the others? All sorts of things came to mind; but in general candidates are expected to write something about their background, their church experience, what they would like to see Synod addressing, theological outlook on things like the Bible, views about inclusivity (or not) of women clergy, and the current hot topic, human sexuality including gay clergy and marriage. And the reasons why people should vote for you. It’s interesting to read how some candidates used very veiled language such as “I believe in an orthodox view of the Bible,” or “I believe that the Church should remain faithful and traditional” to say in reality: “I’m against ordaining women and gay clergy and think the Bible is literally true,” and there were a few of those emerging in this election.

Having wrestled with that bit of writing which had to fit on one double sided piece of A4 paper, the next thing to face were the hustings. All candidates were invited to “meet the electors” at three different locations in one week. A few questions proposed by any elector and carefully chosen just before the meeting were asked of the candidates and we were all given a meagre 2 minutes to reply. It was a toss-up between speaking fast enough to say everything you wanted to, and still stay intelligible or even understandable; a really difficult exercise in thinking on the spot. All three hustings were very poorly attended; but I feel that they come too late in the campaigning to make much difference – most voters seem to make up their mind beforehand from the election addresses on paper. Then, after a totally exhausting week, all I could do was sit back and wait for the actual voting count in the middle of October.

I can’t even begin to explain the “single transferable vote” system used for General Synod elections. It makes “proportional representation” sound simple. If anyone is really interested Simon can explain it. Please don’t ask me!! The eventual outcome was that I wasn’t elected, and at first glance it looked like I came near the bottom of the heap. (Very depressing!) What made it worse was that it was a very odd group achieving election: in a diocese which is thought to be one of the most liberal and inclusive in all of the Church of England, only two were women, one middle of the road liberal(ish) man, and four very conservative men who were anti-women-in-authority, with three of those being also anti-gay. However, just a few days ago Simon revealed that in fact I only missed out being elected by a few votes, and if anyone resigned or decided not to continue (or died) in the next two years then I would be offered a place on Synod as “first reserve.” No, I’m not going to start sticking pins in dolls, but it would be rather nice to serve at the highest level of church governance, and perhaps even make a tiny contribution here and there to encourage the Church of England to be much more inclusive, free of discrimination – yes, it does definitely exist in the Church – help to develop material to enable people to grow in faith and discipleship, and try to sort out the difference between “use” and “abuse” of the Bible. We shall see; and at least it only happens once every 5 years! In the meantime there’s plenty of things to be getting on with….


Leslie Spatt