Monday, December 14, 2009

Time to review how we elect our bishops

Two recent elections of bishops in our church, Kelvin Wright for Dunedin and Ross Bay for Auckland, are now out of the way, and no further elections are planned for a month or three. The next, I believe, is to elect a successor for Archbishop Jabez Bryce, Bishop of Polynesia, sometime in 2010. This is a good time to think about how we elect our bishops.

Below I append some canons which govern the conduct of the electoral college formed in each electing diocese. You will observe by reading them through that no canon governs what happens before the meeting of the electoral college, save for how representatives, commissary,and secretary are to be appointed for the college.

Without prescription for what happens before the college meets we have had the following variations in recent processes (that I have some awareness of):

Nelson (2006) and Christchurch (2008): both followed a similar pattern of calling for names to be declared beforehand by a certain date, with papers then sent to the persons and their referees, papers collected, copied and distributed to college members; then video interviews were conducted for presentation in the college itself. At no point were the names of the persons being considered by the respective colleges published to the world at large. Generally confidentiality was enjoined upon members of the college between the closing date for names to be submitted and the college itself.

Auckland and Dunedin (both 2009): both departed from the pattern above! Auckland published the names submitted for consideration on its Diocesan website, and encouraged members of the college to discuss the people concerned (but to keep information made available in written material submitted to them confidential). This may have been the first time that a Diocese has published the names to be considered. (On some occasions in the past newspapers have published the names to be considered). Dunedin promoted a fairly high level of silence about the names being considered, did not distribute the written material before the Synod, but made it available for reading at designated places(s) within each archdeaconry; and did not require of its candidates that they each participate in a video interview, while, nevertheless, permitting promoters of the names to show video material of their candidate if they so chose.

You can begin to see possibilities for questions arising about consistency of processes. If we go back to the Nelson and Christchurch elections we can also note some questions which have emerged about the overlap between the organising committee for the proceedings and those presenting candidates (i.e. should presenters be able to also be on the organising committee or not?) and also the question of whether meetings of college members at which candidates were present should or should not be able to be organised, and, if so, before or after the closing date for candidates names to be submitted.

If, further, we note that there are simply no canons which specify anything at all about names of candidates being submitted before the college actually meets, paperwork being requested from them, closing dates for candidates' names to be declared, video interviews or not, etc, then we see that there just might possibly be a case, quite a strong case in fact, for our church through its General Synod to review the prior conduct of processes before the electoral college takes place in order to ensure some kind of canonical mandate for a process to take place which is consistently followed across the dioceses.

To head off some possible responses: I am well aware that there is another set of questions which arises about what happens inside an electoral college and whether our canons offer sufficient guidance about that. That is a discussion for another day, or for your own blog posting. At this time I will not discuss that, nor publish comments about that issue. My concern here is with what happens between the declaration that an electoral college will meet to elect a new bishop and the meeting of the college. All thoughts on that are welcome.

Our canons currently say this in respect of electing a bishop for the pakeha dioceses of New Zealand, further canons govern the procedure for electing a bishop within Aotearoa and within Polynesia, with canons also specifying how sanction of nominations from the electoral takes place:

§ 2. Appointment of Bishops for and within Dioceses in New Zealand

2.1 An electoral college sitting for the purpose of nominating a
bishop to exercise jurisdiction over a diocese in New Zealand
shall consist of any Bishop licensed for and exercising Episcopal
ministry within that diocese and those persons entitled to clerical
votes and to lay votes in the synod of the diocese concerned.

Composition of electoral college 2006
CANON I TITLE A - A. - 2 - 2004
In the case of the nomination of the first bishop in a new diocese the electoral college shall consist of the clergy licensed to any parish or any other ecclesiastical office within the boundaries of such new diocese, and not less than one lay representative for each parish or ministry or mission unit within the same boundaries to be elected in such manner as the Primate / te Pïhopa Mätämua or the commissary appointed by the Primate shall direct.

Electoral college for a new diocese.

2.2 An electoral college sitting for the purpose of nominating a bishop to exercise an episcopal ministry within a diocese other than as Diocesan Bishop shall consist of the Diocesan Bishop and any other persons licensed for and exercising episcopal
ministry within that diocese and the clerical and lay members of the standing committee of that diocese (by whatever name that standing committee be called) and such other persons being members of the diocesan synod as that synod may have previously chosen or determined from time to time.

Electoral college for bishops other than Diocesan.

2.3 The failure of any one or more parishes or ministry or mission
units to elect any representative shall not prevent an electoral
college from proceeding to the despatch of business.

Failure to elect representatives.

2.4 The Diocesan Secretary, or in the case of a new diocese a person named by the Primate / te Pïhopa Mätämua or by the appointed Commissary, shall be electoral college secretary, and shall attend the electoral college but shall not vote unless otherwise qualified so to do and if not qualified to vote shall speak only at the request of the person presiding over the electoral college.

Electoral college secretary.

2.5 The Primate / te Pïhopa Mätämua or the commissary appointed by the Primate / te Pïhopa Mätämua shall convene and preside over any electoral college. PROVIDED THAT any person so presiding shall have no voice or vote in the nomination unless otherwise entitled to a voice and vote as a member of the electoral college, in which case that person shall speak and vote as a member of that person's own order.

For any electoral college for the purpose of nominating a bishop within a diocese other than the Diocesan Bishop, the Primate / te Pïhopa Mätämua shall appoint the Diocesan Bishop or the nominee of the Diocesan Bishop as the commissary to preside
over such electoral college unless the See be vacant.

Convening and presiding.

2.6 When an electoral college shall have met and been constituted for the purpose of nominating a person to be a bishop, the name of a person to be nominated may be proposed by a person of any order who is present and qualified to vote, and shall be
seconded by a person of another order who is present and qualified to vote.

Nomination procedure.

CANON I TITLE A - A. 3 - 2006

2.7 Whether the names of one or more persons be proposed no person shall be validly nominated by the electoral college unless that person shall have received a majority of the votes of each order represented in the electoral college.

Majority of votes required.

2.8 An electoral college may otherwise determine its own procedures and processes of consultation, decision making and nomination, PROVIDED THAT the votes of each order in the electoral college in the final ballot shall be taken by secret ballot and the electoral college secretary shall count the same (being assisted by such scrutineers as the college shall appoint) and shall report the result to the person presiding over the electoral college.

Determination of other procedures.

Secret ballot.
2.9 No bishop who has resigned or has given notice of resignation from office shall preside over or participate in any electoral college for the purpose of choosing a successor to that bishop in that episcopal office and ministry.

Exclusion of resigning bishop.
2.10 Any electoral college may by a majority of votes in each order of that electoral college, delegate the right of nomination to any person or persons whom it may appoint either absolutely or subject to such conditions as it may think fit to impose. Such delegation and the name(s) of the delegate(s) so appointed shall be notified to the Primate / te Pïhopa Mätämua forthwith by the person presiding over the electoral college.


Anonymous said...

As a member of the Auckland electoral College, I personally felt it helpful to have the material relating to candidates distributed to us a month before the college began so we could prayerfully prepare ourselves for the college and that we had all relevant information.I believe it was also helpful that the names of the candidates were published. It meant that we could discuss candidates with people who although were not members of the electoral college may have more personal knowledge of some of the candidates and this enabled members of the electoral college to make a more informed choice.
In an important decision such as this, I do not believe that secrecy is the way to go particularly in this day and age with electronic communication.

Peter Carrell said...

I agree. We should have less secrecy and as much information as possible available to electors within a reasonable time frame.