by Erica Wooff
from Signs of the Times No. 20 - Jan 2006
The Church of England elected a new General Synod in September. Before the results were announced there was much speculation about whether the new composition would reflect the increasing polarization of Anglicanism. Many of us at the MCU were concerned that increasing numbers of candidates would be elected on the basis of what they would oppose rather than of what they would affirm. So we gave some - inevitably limited - support to InclusiveChurch's attempt to encourage candidates who welcome the diversity and openness of the Church. Erica Wooff describes what happened.
Now the body is not made up of one part, but of many... The eye cannot say to the hand, "I do not need you". (1 Cor. 12:20)
Thanks to the support of our partner organisations, including the Modern Churchpeople's Union, InclusiveChurch was able to plan and implement a highly successful General Synod Campaign in 2004/5.
The campaign was funded by InclusiveChurch's partner organisations and individual supporters. Thanks in part to the generosity of MCU members, the InclusiveChurch Executive was able to employ me for a year to design and implement a strategy for the 2005 General Synod elections, increasing the number of people elected to General Synod who supported our aims of a diverse and inclusive church.
Diverse and inclusive. Two distinct yet complementary aims which required two distinct and complementary parts to the campaign - partnership working and promotion.
Partnership in diversity is the definition of InclusiveChurch. We are not a single issue group. We are not even a member organisation. We are a network of partner organisations and 10,000 individuals whose very make-up reflects the breadth and scope of the Church of England and beyond. We come from differing traditions and differing locations but we are united in:
celebrating and maintaining the traditional inclusivity and diversity of the Anglican Communion.
It was crucial, therefore, that our campaign reflected our make-up and our absolute commitment to diverse Anglicanism. Across the country, we set out to encourage a broad spectrum of people to stand for General Synod in both lay and clergy elections. That way, whether an individual elector wanted to vote for a black candidate, a Catholic woman, an accepting Evangelical or someone openly gay, s/he had the best chance of finding one amongst their voting papers.
We organised this broad canvas of candidates by setting up - once again through the existing networks of our partner organisations - an email network of active contacts across 36 out of the 44 dioceses. We also launched regional groups, events and workshops in the North West, North East, the South West and South East, all emphasising diversity and setting out helpful tips to standing for General Synod. Throughout the year there was continuing and updated publicity and resources on General Synod Elections through our fortnightly newsletters to our 10,000 supporters and our website. All our resources and information were straightforward and through our website, open to everybody, including people who opposed our viewpoint. There was no required subscription, no three line whip and no party badge.
But while we were open and transparent, yes we were also promoting greater inclusion within Anglicanism. For the past two years, InclusiveChurch, with its partner organizations, has been campaigning hard towards that day when women are appointed as bishops without conditions and for the full inclusion, again without conditions, of all people at all levels of the church, regardless of race, gender, disability and sexual orientation.
We believe these two issues are the most important issues facing the new Synod and the whole Communion in the next five years and so had a specific objective within the Election Campaign of promoting full inclusion on them.
But above all we wanted to encourage the electorate to vote - according to their consciences. Yes we want them to vote for pro-inclusion candidates but it is voter apathy that led to circumstances like 4 out of 5 of the 2000-2005 GS lay members in Lincoln diocese being Forward in Faith. And if we could get dioceses to be more representative of their electorate then that is what an inclusive church is all about. Through the email network, the website and our partner organisations, we encouraged the electorate to examine all the electoral questions and question candidates, if they believed the above two issues of inclusion to be important.
Now the elections are over, the results are in and the first meeting of the new General Synod has been and gone. First of all, thanks to you all of our MCU supporters who have taken the plunge and stood for General Synod. Congratulations to those who were successful and commiserations to those who weren't.
We are now working with our partner organisations in setting up links within Synod and working in a coordinated way in promoting issues on inclusion and diversity. If you are a new or returning General Synod member who hasn't yet been in touch with us then please contact InclusiveChurch and let us know. We'll then be able to support you and put you in touch with other members.
It's complicated, being Anglican. The threats to our traditions of breadth and depth are many. At InclusiveChurch we know we ourselves need to try always to do better at being truly inclusive. We are actively seeking discussions with those whose opinions we do not share - discussions which are difficult to have because feelings at times run so high.