Greater numbers of young adults, ethnic minorities and women to be actively encouraged to become Synod representatives
On the second day of the 2010 Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Synods, the one motion proposed was unanimously passed, namely "At the forthcoming Easter General Vestry Triennial Elections, the Parishes of the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough, will actively encourage as Synod representatives, greater numbers of young adults, ethnic minorities and women". The motion was praised as an exciting and necessary step to ensure diversity and fresh ideas at the decision-making level of the Church. The motion was proposed by Philip McKinley and seconded by Ruth Handy. Philip McKinley's speech is provided below.
'At the forthcoming Easter General Vestry Triennial Elections, the Parishes of the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough, will actively encourage as Synod representatives, greater numbers of young adults, ethnic minorities and women'
I remember attending a Diocesan Synod down the country a few years ago, where a young, red-cheeked farmer got up and said, ‘Where are all the young people on Synod? Ladies and Gentlemen, would you send us your sons and send us your daughters?’ To which a couple in front of me, lent to one another and said ‘Sure your man is only looking for a wife!’
Members of Synod I seek your support for the motion 'At the forthcoming Easter General Vestry Triennial Elections, the Parishes of the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough, will actively encourage as Synod representatives, greater numbers of young adults, ethnic minorities and women', however I do so as someone who is happily married already, therefore I hope that I have only pure motives.
Members of Synod, we have a problem.
This Diocesan Synod does not adequately represent the diversity, which Archbishop Neill drew reference to yesterday, that is now present within our parishes in the United Dioceses, nor does represent adequately the diversity of peoples that we are seeking to reach out and minister to in our varied contexts. In the words again of Archbishop Neill from his 2008 Diocesan Synod address he said ‘The mission of God is not fully served in a local community, unless the local church begins to reflect something of the richness and diversity of the people of that area’. The three largest groups therefore that I feel are under-represented in this Synod are women, ethnic minorities and young adults.
Allow me to present some statistics.
According to the 2010 Central Statistic Office, inter-Census estimates, 50.3% of the State is female.
However, according to research carried out by Canon Doris Clements from Tuam Dioceses in February 2010, only 37% of the members of this Diocesan Synod are female. So while just over half of Ireland is female, just over 1/3 of this Synod is female. The figures then get worse when you look at the percentage of women as General Synod representatives, lay representatives of Diocesan Council, Diocesan Finance Committees and Diocesan Boards of Nominators.
This is despite a resolution from General Synod in 2005, adopting the Anglican Consultative Council Resolution 13.31.b, that the ‘ACC acknowledges the Millennium Development Goal for equal representation of women in decision making at all levels, and so requests all member churches to work towards the realisation of this goal in their own structures of governance’.
According to the 2006 Census figures, 31,197 of the 118,187 members of the Church of Ireland are classified as ‘non-Irish’. This is a percentage figure of 26.4%. Therefore over one quarter of those that registered as ‘Anglican’ are from a non-Irish or ethnic-minority background, the majority being from the UK.
Since there is no provision for the recording of ethnic backgrounds amongst Synod membership, we can only ask, does this Synod adequately represent the one-quarter of Irish Anglicans who are non-Irish?
According to the 2010 Central Statistic Office, inter-Census estimates, the average age of the State is 34 years of age. We are one of the youngest States in the EU.
Again this Synod doesn’t record age and doesn’t have an age limit, therefore we can only ask, does this Synod adequately represent the 50% of Irish people that are under the age of 34?
It should be noted that these are problems unique to this Dioceses, or indeed to our church. It has long been recognised that churches on these islands and in Europe are being increasingly eliminated from public life and failing to encapsulate the full spectrum of the community. For instance Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in a recent speech to the Irish Peace Centres said ‘I don’t believe any church is making inroads in the culture of young people today’ and we spoke yesterday quite a bit about the missing post-Confirmation generation.
So why is it a problem if these groups are under-represented? Well first of all, without a diversity of decision-makers we cannot expect to draw a diversity of members.
You’ve probably heard the term ‘like attracts like’. Religious sociologists have developed that idea by coining a theory called the ‘Homogenous Unit Principle’. What has been found in churches time and time again is that the demography of the decision-makers, determines the demography of the congregation. A church whose decision makers are predominately over 65, will predominantly attract congregants who are over 65. A church whose decision makers are predominantly Chinese, will predominantly attract congregants who are Chinese.
But why is this? When each of us makes a decision, we do so influenced by our cultural norms. These are our ways of behaving, of speaking, of dressing, of acting, of interacting, even of thinking. So for instance if you asked three different people to prepare some food for a church Bible study, the first person, let’s say a rather stereotypical 65 Irish person, may prepare egg salad sandwiches, with white bread, cut into triangles, with the crusts removed. The second person, let’s say a rather stereotypical 25 year old Irish person, may bring a bag of Sweet Thai Chilli Crisps and a sour cream and garlic dip. The third person a stereotypical Nigerian may produce jollef rice and pounded yam. These reflect how we use, often totally unconsciously, our cultural norms in making decisions. It’s not that any of these decisions are wrong; they simply reflect our differences.
So if one sub-culture dominates any organisation, then one set of cultural norms predominates and these then permeate the whole organisation, so that the organisation will in turn feels ‘over 65’ or feel ‘Chinese’. This is despite the fact that members of that group may still wish to be welcoming to the outsider and but they are simply unaware of their benign cultural indicators and dominance that may be off-putting to others.
In fact if one cultural norm takes over it ultimately causes the organisation to become exclusive, because all other sub-groups will simply feel excluded and will in turn disengage and the effects of that disconnection or marginalisation can be quite extreme.
Let me give you one stark example of this. In the first five years of the Millennium, there were a number of high profile instances of what was dubbed ‘home-grown British terrorism’. This involved men between the ages of 18-35, who were all British citizens, Muslim and second-generation immigrants. Some were involved in the planning of Sept 11th, others caught fighting for the Taliban or Al-Qaeda and subsequently sent to Guantanamo Bay and then on July 7th 2005 four such men carried out a suicide bomb attack on the London transport system, killing 52 people and injuring 700.
In the utter disbelief that followed a UK Government report on behalf of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion was published that suggested that the young British second-generation Muslims became radicalised simply because they weren’t listened to. The leadership of British Islam is predominated by first generation migrants, many from rural, traditional settings within their home countries and many don’t speak in English. Therefore as second generation migrants, the young men encountered a massive identity crisis, between the values of their religious leaders, from whom they were totally disconnected and unserved and the values of the society around them. Prying on this vulnerability however, Islamist preachers used Saudi-funded teachings and materials to radicalise the young men with absolutist and extremist theologies.
The report therefore recommended that the solution to terrorism was not a trillion dollar war on Iraq, instead it was simply the increased participation of young adult, second-generation, English speaking British Muslims, in the culture and decision-making structures of British Islam, so that their ideas can be heard and their struggles reflected in the organisation.
So we ignore social groups at our peril.
However I believe the solution to all this lies at the very heart of our Christian faith. Wherever you look God calls us to engage with the other. Whether it’s prophets of the Old Testament, the New Testament’s Great Commandment, the Great Commission, the Lord’s Supper, Paul’s model of church ‘one body with many parts’, whether it’s drawn from our own self-understanding as being ‘catholic’, which means universal, ‘evangelical’, bringing the Good News to the whole world, ‘ecumenical’, engaging with the whole inhabited Earth, ‘Pentecostal’, experiencing faith with many cultures, think also of Anglican comprehensiveness, a via media church. Wherever you look, God has called us to be a diverse but united community of believers. In the words of St Paul in Galatians 3:28 , ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’.
The motion before you is very straightforward, 'At the forthcoming Easter General Vestry Triennial Elections, the Parishes of the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough will actively encourage as Synod representatives, greater numbers of young adults, ethnic minorities and women'.
At present the only mechanism the Dioceses has to increase representation at Synod, is through its Diocesan Council and the election of additional lay members, traditionally from under-represented groups, under Sections 10 and 11 of Chapter 2 of the Constitution.
However it shouldn’t be left to the Diocesan Councils, to have to fill the gaps. The parishes have a far broader social network than the Councils; and indeed the primary purpose of a Diocesan Synod is for parish representatives to be involved in the diocesan governance of the church, not co-opted Councils members.
I recognise that not all parishes will have suitable candidates from each of the constituencies I’ve proposed, but I believe a concerted effort can be made. I would also encourage parishes to take careful consideration when electing representatives. A person elected purely for tokenism undermines this whole process. Instead we are looking for intelligent, competent speakers, people with passion, new ideas, enriching perspectives, people whose participation can help make the Synod a space open to the kind of ideas that will help us face the complex challenges of a post-Celtic Tiger, post-Christendom Ireland.
Therefore you have just over six months, to try and identify, encourage and mentor suitable replacements. If you have served longer than 15 years on this Synod, can I encourage you to be the one to take the lead in mentoring a replacement?
Ladies and Gentlemen I encourage you to support this motion, because unless our decision makers reflect the full variety of God’s creation, our decision makers fast become irrelevant. If you will not support it for that reason, then perhaps you might remember our friend the young, red-cheeked farmer, whom I met recently, only to discover that he still hasn’t found a wife!