Philip Giddings – the mood of the House is yet to settle

15 01 2013

I’m currently reading Nate Silver‘s book on predicting stuff. His broad conclusion is that you shouldn’t try to predict things unless you’re Nate Silver, because you probably won’t be right. Accordingly, I preface this post by saying that I am not a psephologist, and I wouldn’t recommend relying too much on the numbers in the post. The sentiment, however, I am rather more confident of.

One of the great joys of the General Synod is that it differs from the heavily disciplined party lines of Parliament. We have no system of whipping, and even the loose groupings of members are more comparable with party affiliations of the early Nineteenth Century than with the strict party membership system we see today. This means debates can be real debates, without the outcome guaranteed before we start; it enables the Holy Spirit to inform our deliberations through prayer and thoughtful reflection.

Unfortunately the consequence of this organic arrangement is that the Synod can be rather unpredictable and difficult to manage. Along with many others I was left agog that we went into the final vote on the recent Women in the Episcopate Measure without being fairly confident of the outcome. I would like to believe that the preceding debate had the potential to swing it, but to rely on that was a massive gamble for such an important piece of legislation. That is how the House of Laity has inadvertently managed to distort the will of the Church it is elected to represent.

On Friday afternoon, the House of Laity will hold an extraordinary sitting to debate a motion of No Confidence in its Chair, Philip Giddings. The debate has the potential to be deeply divisive, and put on display the most unchristian and unattractive qualities of vengefulness, animosity and contempt. I believe, however, that there is an opportunity to use the debate for constructive purposes – to lay the foundations of a dialogue which will lead to a solution of the wretched problem we face.Image

In an effort to help push the debate towards a productive and positive outcome, I have surveyed a number of Synod members, hoping to gauge the mood of the House of Laity.

Contrary to the fears of many, I predict a reasonably high turnout of between 75% and 79%. This is extremely positive because it means that the debate will not simply be between friends of Philip Giddings and those ‘out to depose’ him. Rather, we can reasonably say that we have come together as a whole house to discuss our future.

Understandably, many members are unwilling or unable to commit at this stage to which way they are likely to vote. However, of those prepared to indicate their ‘starting’ position, at most 46% are currently minded to support the motion. That means the proposers of the motion must think very carefully about how to achieve the support of a majority from the significant (but not very large) numbers currently undecided.

Perhaps most interesting are the comments of those who are keen to listen to the debate. There is a clear and strong distaste for recriminations or vengefulness. There is, however, a profound commitment to finding a way forward.

The current stated positions by those proposing and opposing the motion of No Confidence focus on the speech made by Philip Giddings in the November debate. Having surveyed opinion, I believe this is a mistake – it will only pull us down into squabbling over well-worn disagreements. This may well account for its failure so far to find a supporting majority.

However, that is not to say there is no value in holding the debate and, crucially, the vote. The House is keen to move forward, and to find a solution. The role of Chair will be vital in finding that solution – bringing people around the table, supplying the imagination to find a new way forward, and then galvanising the whole house to support whatever comes out.

The question now must be: “Does Philip Giddings have our confidence to do that job?”

Speaking to members of the House of Laity, there is a strong feeling that, rightly or wrongly, we are ‘standing in the way’ and that it is our responsibility to do something about it. There is no doubt that the strength of reaction in the dioceses against our vote in November has been powerful. We will not be able to fix everything on Friday, or indeed very much at all, but from what I have heard members are very keen to take the first steps towards making amends.


The consequences of the women bishops vote start to roll in

7 12 2012

gay-churchs600x600The Prime Minister has just announced that the government’s legislation introducing marriage for same-sex couples will include provision for religious organisations to host such ceremonies. This is a small shift in the detail of the legislation, but it represents a deeper readjustment of the government’s view towards the Church of England, and it is a direct consequence of the Women Bishops vote in November.

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Tax avoidance is bad business, not immorality

6 12 2012

On Monday evening, Newsnight featured an intense debate about the rights and wrongs of corporate tax avoidance. The two sides vigorously put their cases, but I felt that for all its ferocity, the discussion never really came to anything.  Read the rest of this entry »


26 11 2012

The Thinking Anglicans website have very kindly put together the voting roster with dioceses attached here. Members of the Manchester diocese may be interested to note how many of their representatives voted against the measure in the House of Laity.


Farewell to the Bishop of Manchester

22 11 2012

Th Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester, will shortly be retiring. At the November group of sessions, the Archbishop of York bade him farewell on behalf of the General Synod:

Youth Unemployment – how the CofE can help

22 11 2012

During what was an unquestionably disastrous group of session in London, the General Synod did have a few redeeming moments. One was a debate about youth unemployment, and how the Church of England might be well placed to respond.

We started with a video from the Church Urban Fund, who have produced the report “I’m one in a million“.

The motion of the debate was as follows:

That this Synod, mindful of the corrosive effect of unemployment on
young people, their future prospects and social integration, and
recognising that economic policy solutions alone cannot tackle the
problems without strong networks and initiatives in the community at
(a) encourage parishes and church groups to listen to the voices of
unemployed young people, both locally and through reports such as
“I Am One in a Million”, and
(b) commend and encourage the multiplication of church and
community initiatives which can provide training and other support to
assist young people into work and help them manage the experience
of unemployment without despair.


This was my contribution:

Difficult choices for the General Synod

18 11 2012

Members of the General Synod are starting to arrive in London for a special session. The Synod rarely meets in November, but in July we adjourned the final debate on a piece of legislation that would enable women to become bishops in the Church of England.

To onlookers, this issue seems such an obvious no-brainer that many people I speak with cannot understand why the Church is taking so long to settle the issue. Before the debate proper gets under way (there has been plenty of warm-up material on twitter, blogs and through the post), it's worth exploring what the real issues are.

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