The system we have is in 3 layers from the parish electoral roll and Annual Parish Church Meeting to the General Synod, via Deanery and Diocese.
Deanery Synods are much undervalued, considered to be a waste of time by clergy and laity alike, distracting the clergy from their day job, and consuming the energy of lay members.
This is what the structure looks like (numbers indicate magnitude not actual except Bishops):
Electorate APCM —represented—-> Deanery Synod 20,000 reps —represented–>Diocesan Synod
Electorate ——(nominated and elected by Deanery Synod)——represented-— > General Synod 200
Member by right of Deanery Synod —- represented ——> Diocesan Synod
Clergy ———————represented——————————————————-–> General Synod 200
Bishops 41 – each convenes a Diocesan Synod and is a member by right of General Synod
(Areas for reform marked in red)
Deaneries (clergy + lay representatives) are sounding boards for changes but they cannot make any legislation or speak for the church on doctrine (they are specifically not allowed to).
The only power they have is as electors.
It would be fair to say that most church members do not understand or care very much about the synod or non-parish institutions at any level. They seem to be a mysterious waste of time and money.
What is lacking in the system is a real connection between pews and synods. The only tangible day to day duties of lay members locally appear to be
1) Presence (at Deanery meetings)
2) Reports (from Deanery meetings)
3) Membership of PCC
The three Houses only come together in the General Synod. Bishops are busy in the Diocese, and Clergy meet in Chapter so Deanery Synod is just one more meeting for clergy to attend, with little or no tangible benefit.
Clergy are there by dint of office so there is no symmetry or sense of common purpose as representatives with laity.
What I would propose to make this system more effective is some surgery to identify the good and cut out the bad.
Having different Houses is a good thing per se. Roman Catholics have only episcopal synods, whereas we enjoy the greater legitimacy of democratic process that arises from
1) Equality (of all Houses, legislation has to be passed in all 3)
2) Election of representatives
It is the laity who provide the weight to the mantle of democratic legitimacy. Behind each member are not just the 50 or so people who voted for them, but the 500 Deanery Representatives in diocese and the 50 people behind each of them in the deanery, an average of 25,000 across 41 Dioceses and 1 million nationally .
The House of Clergy gives clergy an equal share in church government. Maybe we only need 2 houses, lay and ordained but the real issue is not the power of the ordained vs the lay, but the need to reform the deanery synod.
Although no Emperor the deanery is embarrassingly without any clothes. In an attempt to dress up the powerless (so they thought) deanery the legislators, placed great emphasis on its role as a body that would talk about things, and its democratically important role as voters was overlooked.
In a deferential country in the 1970s when synods were created, that is not surprising but there is no excuse now.
The deanery was also unwittingly undermined. As anyone can stand for General synod all the due process of elections is focused on this rather than on elections to Deanery Synod. Although it plays a vital role in nominating and electing to General Synod a substantial percentage of members do not exercise their votes, the one real power and duty they have.
I believe what we need to do is to raise the level of esteem for Deanery Synod by making both houses, lay and clergy, elected and also thereby free up the majority of vicars for their other duties. More than Deanery should be able to hold the members they elect to Diocese and General accountable and be accountable in their turn to their electors. They need to stop wasting time with mere “presence” and “reporting”.
Deanery should be the route for the laity to General Synod, and no other. Clergy can be more flexible. The Deanery representatives, lay and ordained can then turn the wheels of synodical government together. If people want to go on General synod, they can do so via Deanery.
Synods already do not need to search for a role, they have one as an elected body and this can be enhanced by putting clergy and laity on an equal footing as representatives, holding the other layers of synod fully accountable. With such a change in process and emphasis they will become forums which both clergy and lay members will see as the proper route to the next layers where decisions are made if that is where they want to be. We may find yet find clergy and laity alike queuing up to get in to deaneries instead of pining to get out.
I would also beef up the election process, taking it out of the APCM, into the electorate, and ensure that the addresses of candidates for any elected office and the results of elections are displayed in the parish church for all to see. We need to know where people stand, as well as who they are.
Martin’s blog is at http://synoder.wordpress.com
Martin is on Deanery Synod (Tunbridge Wells), an “active” member of his church, a Pastoral Assistant, on the Sunday school-rota, takes family services, hosts a house-group, produces financial projections and has led appeals… He left Burma as a child in 1959, and re-settled in England in 1963 when he was nearly 7. He started as an English student at Lancaster University in 1975 but finished at Cambridge University in 1980 (!) and became a Chartered Accountant and settled in Kent with wife Tina. They have 2 grown up children. Outside of church (having themselves lost a child) they became very involved in and helped set up bereavement support services following the loss of children. This led to their lay involvement in ministry (Tina is a Reader), and indirectly to getting involved with issues of injustice and support for reconciliation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, after they visited on a study tour for lay ministers in 2009. Martin has been a member of the Fabians for many years and stood as a candidate for General Synod for a bye-election in Rochester this year. His blog is at http://synoder.wordpress.com