Saturday, 14 February 2015

Synod question on Task Groups and their membership

This is one of the questions answered at General Synod on Tuesday. As an experiment at this group of sessions the questions and original answers were printed in a booklet and not read out, and the person answering merely referred to the printed answer. Any supplementaries were then taken orally, and I have transcribed these from the audio.

Mrs Anne Martin (Guildford) to ask the Secretary General:
Q46 Could the Secretary General please supply General Synod members with a list of all the Task Groups in existence (including those presenting reports in this Synod, those not presenting reports and the Spending Plans Task Group), along with their current membership?

Mr William Fittall to reply
A The reports of five Task Groups have been circulated to the Synod in connection with the February Group of Sessions, namely, Resourcing the Future (GS 1978), Resourcing Ministerial Education (GS 1979), Simplification (GS 1980), Discerning and Nurturing Senior Leaders (attached to GS 1982) and Optimising the Role of the NCIs (GS Misc 1094). The membership of the groups is included in each report.

It is difficult to produce a comprehensive list of other task groups because there is no standard definition of the term and groups can be established to undertake focused work in a wide variety of circumstances by any number of national bodies. I have, however, placed on the notice board the membership of the Archbishops’ Task Group on Evangelism, the Task Group on responsible Savings and Credit, the Spending Plans Task Group, the Turning up the Volume Group, the Church Buildings Review Group, the Environment Working Group and the Deployment Task Group.

Supplementary questions

Anne Martin: Thank your for the reply and the action taken. Can I also ask, will the terms of reference for each task group be made available to General Synod members?

William Fittall: We can certainly seek to do so. I think that the point, just to draw out, is that even at national level the Church of England is quite a complex institution and some people may have a fantasy that there is a sort of central air traffic control that ensures that all these bodies are set up in an orderly fashion with terms of reference and a single process for appointing members. The reality is that a lot of commissions, councils, boards and so on do set up groups to undertake particular tasks. So I can certainly try and assemble those for you, but it doesn’t all sit neatly on a database.

Vasantha Gnanadoss: Given that black and asian people are very poorly represented in the membership of the task groups will you encourage the people responsible for making appointments to do better in future?

William Fittall: I think in an earlier question there was a reference to guidance that the Appointments Committee has produced on making appointments, and that does very much make the point that’s just been expressed in relation to diversity, and that guidance does apply to all appointments, not just those for which the Appointments Committee itself is responsible. So that is a long way of saying yes.

This last answer refers to an earlier question, which is given below the fold.

The Revd Canon Jane Charman (Salisbury) to ask the Presidents of the Archbishops’ Council:
Q25 Given that around 80% of the membership of the Task Groups is male, including all the Chairs:

  • Was the Appointments Committee consulted about their membership?
  • Were the usual good practice guidelines applied in making appointments to them?
  • can the Council explain why the process has resulted in such a poor gender balance?
  • What steps will the Council take to avoid such an outcome in the future?

The Archbishop of Canterbury to reply
A I agree that an 80/20 gender balance in most contexts isn’t good enough. In the case of the task groups it did not help that, despite progress in recent years, women remain under-represented not only among archdeacons, other senior clergy and of course bishops but also among others who have important contributions to make to exercises of this kind-such as diocesan chairs of finance and diocesan secretaries. The responsibility for these appointments rested with the Archbishops, not the Appointments Committee. So, it is for us to do better in future and for many others to help us by getting more women into the roles from which these sorts of groups tend to be drawn.

Supplementary questions

Jane Charman: For clarification the guidelines I am referring to are in GS Misc 963 and covered by Standing Order 116. Since they so helpfully pilot us through all those issues such as diversity, balance, and mix of skills and experience which so often catch the best of us unawares will the Archbishop now direct that in future they should always be used by everyone in making appointments to groups which serve the national church?

Archbishop of Canterbury: I think I will need to take advice on that question; I’m not even sure that I am allowed to direct such a thing and I would need to know that. I do feel looking at the mix on the task groups that I agree with the stress of the question and I apologise for the failure.

Anne Foreman: Since we are beginning to explore and experience new ways of being Synod could some creative thinking go into finding women of wisdom and experience within the church, but not necessarily in the particular roles that are mentioned in the answer? They do exist.

Archbishop of Canterbury: We don’t have to look far, I entirely agree with you and the answer is yes.

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 14 February 2015 at 3:04pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | General Synod

Thank you, that's very useful.

As a viewer on the live feed, I found this session unnecessarily obscure. I know Synod operates in a 'Parliamentary' manner, but watching people stand up to say the number of their question and their respondent say they had given the answer in writing was particularly unhelpful. Since people - our representatives - had gone to the trouble of writing questions and giving answers, it would have been good to hear them.

Of course there was a certain sudoku-like interest in trying to work out the original question from the supplementaries, but when there weren't any supplementaries I was completely lost!

Posted by: Pam Smith on Saturday, 14 February 2015 at 3:15pm GMT

The original questions and answers were available on the Church of England website in advance of the session. I printed them out so I could follow the discussion.

Posted by: Frances Hiller on Saturday, 14 February 2015 at 4:32pm GMT

Not a biblical pattern of relating and doing business, though, is it ?

Posted by: Laurie on Saturday, 14 February 2015 at 6:43pm GMT

Good foresight on your part, Frances Hiller, but I didn't have that presence of mind and couldn't find them while it was on, so I was, as I said, disadvantaged in terms of following what was happening.

I'm suggesting that if Synod wants to engage people - which I assume it does, as the live stream gives very good access to the debates - it needs to take that into account when planning how it conducts its business. Of course it may be forced to conduct itself exactly like Parliament by legislation rather than by choice - I have no idea.

Posted by: Pam Smith on Saturday, 14 February 2015 at 6:55pm GMT

"The Archbishop of Canterbury to reply
A I agree that an 80/20 gender balance in most contexts isn’t good enough."

A gift of the understatement, has +++Justin.

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 14 February 2015 at 8:00pm GMT

You do have to know where to find the answers, and the refrain that the answer has been printed wastes time. But it was a great improvement, not least because the text of the answers was available to those following online. Not so long ago the answers were given without the questions being published, so it was impossible for those of us following online to know what the question was. It should not, though, be impossible for GS broadcasting inc to provide a split screen with the question and answer on one side and the live feed on the other. I think that might help us all.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Saturday, 14 February 2015 at 9:15pm GMT

I'm a member of then GS Business Committee and I'm grateful for these comments. When we trialled this new form of question time, we didn't really consider the needs of those following on the live stream. Our prime concern was making questions less formulaic and more interactive among members. But I will take these comments into our review of this experiment when we next meet..

Posted by: Simon Butler on Sunday, 15 February 2015 at 5:10pm GMT

Thank you, Simon Butler, I found the question time really encouraging and anything that can be done to make it more understandable will make it even more so, for me at least.

I don't mind having to find something online to refer to, but not having realised the questions were coming up, I was't able to locate the written Q & A among all the other online papers.

Posted by: Pam Smith on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 at 11:25pm GMT
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