Synod 1: over-representation in the Diocese of Rochester
How many members of General Synod ought it to be reasonable for one parish church to have? This is the question at the centre of much concern in the Diocese of Rochester that seems to be bubble around under the surface of the water at the moment.
I should add, before I say any more, that I have the greatest respect for some of our Synod representatives. For the others, I simply don’t know them. So this is not intended as a sleight on their abilities in any way. I haven’t named any individual or church in these articles since my point is not about the people concerned, but about the principle of the matter.
However, the publication of the recent election results for our diocese were pretty depressing for many people, me included. Over the next couple of blog posts, I am going to say more about some of the reasons why they have caused such depression.
I wish to start with one particular issue: over-representation.
I find it incredulous that we, as a diocese, have elected three people (two laity, one clergy) from one parish church. Furthermore, my incredulity is heightened by the knowledge that this particular parish church ‘caps’ its parish share and does not pay the full amount to the diocese that they are asked to pay. Furthermore, I find it yet more incredulous since we, apparently, haven’t learnt anything from five years ago. Those same three people from that same parish church were also elected then as well.
Now I know I’m a lowly curate with little experience in such matters as synodical elections, so I don’t know whether this is normal or whether other dioceses suffer this problem as well. However, I find it hard to believe that it can be reasonable and fair for one (admittedly large) parish church to have such high levels of representation in General Synod. This particular church has (at a rough guesstimate) around 2% of the Usual Sunday Attendance in the diocese (which is pretty high for one church I would guess), but it has 33% of our General Synod vote.
Surely, there should be some rule against so many individuals from one church being elected?
Secondly, this particular church doesn’t play a full part in the diocese. They have, for many years, ‘capped’ their parish share contributions. Now it is a complex situation. They are a large church. Their parish share ‘bill’ is pretty big compared to most churches. I also understand that they give away the money, that they don’t give to the diocese, to other churches and projects that they support. So they’re not just a bad, wicked, money-hoarding bunch. That’s nowhere near the truth. However, the fact remains that they cap their parish share.
What’s more they do so in a diocese struggling with money and where a number of churches, particularly in the poorer Medway towns where I happen to serve, cannot afford to pay their full parish share. Those churches could actually benefit considerably from the larger, richer churches helping and serving the poorer, weaker ones. One wonders if they’ve ever read the Book of Acts or Paul’s letters with their emphasis on the interdependence of churches, the strong supporting the weak, the rich supporting the poor.
Surely, there should be some rule against churches who choose not to contribute (as opposed to those who cannot) having such levels of synodical representation?
Thirdly, and on my final area of incredulity, I guess the diocese-at-large has no-one to blame but themselves for this situation. We voted them in five years ago and we’ve done it again this time. I’ll say more about this in a future post, but it might be worth noting that less than 40% of clergy voted and only half of the laity. Not exactly a high turn-out. I can’t prove it, but I do wonder whether the richer, more affluent, more educated areas had higher levels of voting and perhaps that also leads to the skewing of the results towards the south of our diocese and this one church in particular.
Anyway, the questions remain. Surely, this can’t be an appropriate state of affairs?