Monday, 11 July 2011

On Chairing the Business Committee

Synod has got itself into a terrible mess about the next chair of the Business Committee. The Bishop of Dover, who would be an admirable person to do the job, fit and proper in every sense and in a way that Rebekah and Rupert and Andy are not, has withdrawn his nomination. The Archbishop of Canterbury attempted, in a rather manipulative way, to chastise Synod for opposing his nomination. But of course the issues aren't about the personal - though they contain the personal.

The impasse came about because the National Institutions Measure (which I helped steer through Synod) stipulates that the Chair of the Business Committee should be chosen from the 6 elected members of the Archbishops' Council (2 clergy, 2 lay, 2 bishops). Actually it was never intended that the 2 bishops should be considered as candidates for the post. In those days, the 2 bishops chaired the two major committees - education and ministry. We never thought that they should be candidates for chairing the business committee or the appointments committee - and they never have. With hindsight, we should have written that convention into the standing orders of Synod, but at the time it seemed so obvious that a bishop should not undertake these synodical roles that we didn't do so.

The point is that the Chair of the Business Committee has to be independent and be seen to be independent. They have to steer the business of Synod. They have to defend the rights of "back-bench" members.They have to say "no" to Church House, the House of Bishops, the Archbishops' Council - and to retain control of what comes on the Synod agenda - something they have lamentably failed to do of late, leading to a creeping centralisation and a number of very thin Synod agendas.
They have to ensure that people are heard and listened to and their contributions enabled. They have to be approachable and democrats to their fingertips. It's a hard job. I did it for several years, and I hope I managed to do some of that. I'm sure that the Bishop of Dover would have done and been all those things better than I did. But that's not the point.

Having a bishop chairing the Business Committee when the House and its Standing Committee meet in secret, when the Bishop has the ear of his fellow bishops, when a bishop is perceived as a person of power, and when people are rightly suspicious of bishops (there's nothing wrong with a bit of hermeneutical and ideological suspicion!) would be entirely wrong. We should change the Standing Orders to exclude the possibility of any bishop chairing the Business Committee. If the 2 clergy and 2 laity on Archbishops' Council are seen as unsuitable persons (a bit of a rude conclusion to have reached), then allow the Business Committee to elect its own chair from among its membership (excluding Bishops, of course). But it must be a competent clergyperson or lay person. Not a Bishop.


  1. Thankyou for explaining this so clearly!

  2. Quite right, Pete. This should have been foreseen and dealt with more sensibly.

  3. Thanks for this post - nails it exactly.

  4. So, one must assume all those advocating this position, including Rowan and the charming bishop of Dover must have known all this.

    Then what is going on?

    Why did the climb down come with a wagging finger and not an apology?

    What was really behind this attempt to create a new convention and disregard all the sensible reasons we see laid out in this post?

  5. Too bad Henry VIII isn't around to sort this mess out.