Thinking Anglicans

General Synod statistics

James Townsend has published some statistics on the age distribution and gender balance of the current Church of England General Synod.

They are well worth looking at in detail, but a couple of his conclusions are particularly noteworthy.

“only 28% of the convocations [ie clergy] being female”
“Even though 35% of the Synod are newly elected, the bulk of the [lay] membership has simply got older by five years”


  • JCF says:

    “Even though 35% of the Synod are newly elected, the bulk of the [lay] membership has simply got older by five years”


  • Is this worrying trend of the greying of the Church of England have anything at all to do with its procrastination on issues of interest to modern youth – e.g gender and sexual difference?

    Just asking.

  • I am of course just over the border, and my particular congregation is not greying – but generally speaking, I would say this is not true, no. The C of E attitude to gender and equality issues is not part of the solution, no, but the bulk of society are so unaware of the church that they would hardly know of these attitudes. Church is a foreign land in what is now a very secular society. I don’t like Carey’s attitudes, but I think he is right to say that in most circles there is an underlying hostility to religion of all kinds because ‘it causes wars’ and ‘it is superstition’ and, if they know anything at all of the Bible, it is that it was invented about 200 years after Christ died [sic] and where not hostility, then total indifference. Younger people know nothing of the thought world of the church.

  • Stuart, Devon says:

    How many people who are not retired can spend a week at a time sitting in Church House?

  • Paul R says:

    James Townsend describes what he calls the “serious problem of gender imbalance”. What would solve his problem? Proprtionate representation on the basis of gender, i.e., quotas? Is that what he wants? What about reserved seats in Synod for women, as in the boardrooms of all Norwegian companies? This obsession with representation based on membership of a collective group – gender, race, and so on – is demeaning. People should be elected to Synod on the basis of their views and abilities, not as ciphers to fill some absurd quota.

  • Erika Baker says:

    “The C of E attitude to gender and equality issues is not part of the solution, no, but the bulk of society are so unaware of the church that they would hardly know of these attitudes”

    I second this.
    When we had to explain to our non-Christian friend why we could not have a church blessing they were, almost without exception, completely surprised. They were so removed from everything the official church stands for that they genuinely knew nothing about it.

    Interestingly, many knew quite a lot about Christianity and were by no means confirmed atheists. They just didn’t see what their beliefs had to do with going to church.

  • john says:

    I largely agree with Rosemary and Erika. The fact is that in advanced western societies it is getting ever harder to make the case for Christianity (or any religion). That is why it is crucially important for intelligent and informed Christians to keep making the case as publicly as possible. ‘Intelligent and informed Christians’ rules out, I’m afraid, large numbers of the usual Church spokespersons, including many clergy and many bishops. On the other hand, I do think the Church makes itself look stupider (and worse) than it needs to over homosexuality and gender issues and that this has some impact.

  • Lister Tonge says:

    Stuart: I think the short answer is, ‘clergy’.

  • Nat says:

    John’s response is very well-put,and applies in great measure to the ECUSA.

    However, I would add that among my many gay friends there is great animosity towards religion in general and Christianity in particular, based on the experience of rejection(largely the result of the louder, non-Anglican preaching that tends to dominate).

    I contend that it is in “margianalized”, un-churched populations that the need is greatest, and to penetrate the hostility, targeted outreach is a necessity. To an extent, this must depend on the situation of the individual church; ours is situated near two populations: the retired, and the gay area – so that is where we are concentrating our main efforts.

    Yes, most are unaware of what goes on at all, and especially at the policy level. But the proportion of representation does perhaps point out where most of the involvement comes from. I believe we need to reach out to the populations who need us most.

  • Randal Oulton says:

    @ People should be elected to Synod on the basis of their views and abilities, not as ciphers to fill some absurd quota.

    I understand your point — so why hasn’t that happened, do you think, for the past 500 years of the church? Women had no abilities?

  • Randal Oulton says:

    @ ‘Intelligent and informed Christians’ rules out, I’m afraid, large numbers of the usual Church spokespersons, including many clergy and many bishops. On the other hand, I do think the Church makes itself look stupider (and worse) than it needs to over homosexuality and gender issues and that this has some impact.

    Agreed. I read someone being quoted the other day, I forget where, who said — oh, I found it!

    “But Synod member John Townsend was more realistic, saying: “In my generation, we are not the national church, we are the nutters on the sidelines.”

  • Susannah says:

    If you look at the % of women in Synod, if you look at the % of women in senior posts in the church, if you look at the % of women on the recently announced ARCIC committee, if you look at the % of women almost anywhere in upper church structures…

    What you have is a continuing patriarchy, and inequality, and it’s simply unacceptable.

    Paul expresses the view which he’s entitled to: “This obsession with representation based on membership of a collective group – gender, race, and so on – is demeaning.”

    Well it’s demeaning that women are so poorly represented, that the church loses the weight and slant of female perspective, and it’s also a terrible witness to a society which is waking up to the good sense of equality and fairness, and the once-weird idea that actually a woman is just as competent as a man at using her intellect, her experience, her wisdom, her skills.

    So yes, personally, I think a quota system, or any restructured system, would be preferable to the present leadership by grey-haired men. And I have nothing against grey-haired men. But they don’t, or shouldn’t, be perpetuating male privilege… and yet… oh, not a single female bishop in the Church of England.

    It’s ridiculous, out of order, and requires overthrow (in other words, surrender of power and The Church taking proactive measures to end institutionalised sexism).

    Other than that… praise God for the Church (50% women) and all the grace and love from day to day. Praise God for being God.

    And looking to the time when there is no Gentile or Jew, no male or female, but our growing free in Christ.

    In that day, perhaps we will celebrate a lesbian Archbishop of Canterbury, and not even notice her orientation, because her personhood is what we see, and what distinguishes her ministry and authority.

  • Old Father William says:

    In the USA, there are places like St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle and Christ Church, New Haven, where, on Sunday evenings, compline is sung expertly in a dark church, with candles and incense. The churches are packed with university students. In Seattle, I know, some of them have to sit on the floor. So the Church has something to “say” to these young people. In both locations, however, the clergy and congregation are not perceived to be hopelessly out of date on current social issues.

  • David Shepherd says:

    Yes, this 21st century Sanhedrin may be an out-of-touch embarrassment, but after dissecting the issue for some time, are we ready to make our own declarations of faith on this page that ‘the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginings and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God’.

    Surely, this verse is echoed in the thinking and speeches of Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce and so many others who abandon quiet comfort, to fight and think laterally and asymmetrically and believe that they could overcome by persistence and prayer against impossible odds!

  • David says:

    Stuart nails the key issue. The way that the structure works actively prevents people who aren’t retired (or clergy) from attending. If people get five weeks holiday a year (maximum), how can we expect them to give up two or three weeks of that to sit in a Synod chamber?

    Deal with the way they meet and you may well deal with a whole host of other issues because the make-up of the people in the room could be significantly different.

  • Richard Ashby says:

    Leaving aside the issues of gender and age imbalance for a moment, the other question is how far the House of Laity is representative of the person in the pew. The system of indirect election, whereby the electors are those on the Deanery Synods, means that the general worshiping congregation has no direct say in who represents them in General Synod. Indeed getting candidates for Deanery Synods is quite hard enough as it is and those who are elected to them know just what a thankless task their membership is anyway. The whole system is deeply flawed.

  • john says:

    I would like to stretch the boundaries of this particular discussion, if Simon will let me. Because this discussion, like all others, is always eventually about the integrity/sustainability of the C of E or of international Anglicanism.

    Although we (on TA) must always fight for intelligent Christianity, full acceptance of women priests and bishops and of homosexual people, we should also (I believe) strive to keep with us Anglicans of good will and commitment who do not accept our views on these matters but who wish to remain Anglicans.

    The UK blogosphere now is full of mushrooming Ordinariates. It’s rather depressing. It remains the case that a large majority of FiF people do not want to do this. This very evening I heard of the priest of a certain parish in a certain diocese who declared: ‘I do not want to do this. I am an Anglican’. It is tremendously important now that we all keep our nerve, our deeper loyalties, and help these people to remain with us.

  • John, a lot of what you have said here has a great deal of merit. However, how do you deal with a situation – vis a vis women clergy and bishops – where some in the Church decide for themselves that women are not allowed, by their perceived Scripture and Tradition measurements, to hold any teaching or sacerdotal role within the Church?

    Either God is calling women into these ministries in our day and age of the Church, or God is not. How can these two conflicting understandings of the Holy Spirit’s call (or not) upon the Church of today co-exist. The doctrinal implications are vital – for both the health of the Church, and the continuance of viable ministry within it.

    The matter of episcopal jurisdiction is quite important to most Anglicans. When the question of who may take Holy Orders in in dispute, there can be little encouragement of the laos to remain a part of a Church which is ambivalent on this issue. If one is allowed to ignore the leadership of the local Church ,because of their God-give gender, what does that say about obedience – or for that matter about justice?

  • Laurence Roberts says:

    What ‘sacerdotal’ role ? None in the C of E. This sort of excessive, flamboyant and inaccurate language doesnt help much.

  • Fr Mark says:

    Why the objection to “sacerdotal” role, Laurence? Sacerdotal is simply the adjective from priest, and the 1662 BCP refers to the “ordering of priests.” Maybe the Archbishop of Sydney doesn’t hold with it, but it is Anglican terminology…

  • John says:

    Fr Ron,

    As far as I understand it, you are a disobedient priest. So is Fr Mark. I am certainly a disobedient layperson. One of the greatest living Anglicans theologians once wrote to me: ‘Of course, I have always been a disobedient priest’. Pretty well everybody who contributes to this blog is disobedient in one way or another. We all think it right to be so. It’s called the exercise of individual conscience. I applaud it. I also believe it is a legacy of the Reformation, which is why we are Reformed Catholics. Trouble is: if we exercise this right, we have no right to deny it to others (provided, of course, that their thinking and behaviour is not vicious, which the thinking and behaviour of most FiF/’Society’ people certainly is not). We also have a duty to maximise the good in any context. It is not a good if some FiF priests are pushed out and churches are left priestless. That would apply in the case I cited. The supply of priests to many churches hangs by a thread. Some of these churches are in awkward sharing arrangements with churches of different persuasions. But they stagger on – just about. It would be stupid, irresponsible, and wrong to overturn such arrangements, on which the well-being and happiness of many depends.


  • Laurence Roberts says:

    No Mark ! You wan’t find it in the BCP + c of E formularies. It is a particularly insensitive and unnecessary word to me. Yes, there are various views of ordained ministry, but bandying this un-CofE and rather unpleasant word around is unhelpful.

    Requires a good deal of disingenuousness.

    Hint –
    many (unresolved) questions about Jesus’ life + death,+ what it means for us today (all of us!): then (if you or Ron)try to link (all) this with ministers + the Holy Communion you enter very difficult terrain. Let alone stuff to do with protestants; + the history of sacrifice both human + animal in various (‘pagan’) contexts.

    Presumably the contested word leaves out most Christians – and means to ?

    I think Kung and many others would raise similar theological concerns…

  • Indeed, we have priests -and should one have a low church theology, they can easily be accommodated by remembering Luther’s theology, which is that the Church in common participates in Christ’s priesthood. But in common it appoints particular people to exercise that role on its behalf, either congregation by congregation or as a larger body.

  • Fr Mark says:

    Laurence: are you not rather overreacting here?

    Different Anglicans use different terms. “Sacerdos” (and the BCP has always been authorised to be used in Latin – I used to attend the BCP Latin Mass at the University Church in Oxford, for example) gives us “sacerdotal.”

    Interestingly, those jolly Scandinavian Lutherans with whom we’re so happily in communion avoided not just all that ghastly Puritan iconoclasm which so blighted England’s ecclesiastical and aesthetic history, but also their accompanying ideological assaults on traditional English religious language (glossoclasm, perhaps?). In Denmark, where I am writing this, the Protestant Lutheran word for a “minister” is Præst, churchgoers go to Messe, and the main Sunday service in each parish church is… Høj Messe. (I hope the special Scandinavian characters come out on this thread).

    The lamentable English Protestant tradition of getting overwrought and seeking to purify – linguistically, aesthetically, sexually – has left us in some ways much the poorer compared to the Nordic Lutheran churches, who seem to have been more relaxed about such things.

  • John (on Wednesday)

    Yes, I am a sinner, there is no denying that.

    However, there is an accepted ecclesiological tradition – that of male only priests – that has now been questioned within many parts of the Church Universal. The way we get around that in the local Church situation is, I suspect, somewhat dodgy – but then, have we Anglicans ever been so rigidly ‘orthodox’ in such matters?

    The way we get around it in my parish is that, at the 8am BCP Mass on Sundays, only a male priest presides – in order to salve the consciences of the few in the parish who have an objection to receiving the Eucharist at the hands of a female priest. We presume that, when the present population at the BCP Mass moves to Paradise, our female Priest Assistant may be able to ‘take’ the early Sunday Mass – if that BCP format is still required by then.

    In the meantime, there is no embargo on the presidency of a woman priest at any of the mid-week Daily Masses, nor at the Sung Mass at 10am on Sundays. All of this is done to allow maximum sacramental participation of every parishioner.

    WE occasionally have the privilege (and I believe she quite likes it) of having our Diocesan Bishop, The Rt. Revd. Victoria Matthews, presiding at a special Concelebrated Mass here at St. Michael’s, Christchurch, where we rejoice in our Reformed and Catholic Heritage. The people love her.

  • john says:

    Father Ron,

    Well I approve of your arrangements.

    It’s not about whether or not you are a sinner, but whether you disobey in good conscience. But I don’t want to prolong this discussion.


  • John – ‘Pax Vobiscum’ – Ron

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *