They voted, but what is the point of it all? The figures from General Synod 2012 @churchofireland #gscoi

Yesterday, I was back at the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in Dublin for the debate on the motion from the Bishops, Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief.

The debate was very long, and the voting took longer than expected too, thanks to a request for the votes to be by division. This meant that on every amendment and the final motion, all the members in the House of Laity and the House of Clergy had to vote by passing through gates in the North Choir (the Ayes) and the South Choir (the Noes) just like in Parliament in Westminster. At least it meant that after nearly three days of sitting down they got to move about a bit.

The amendments

There were four amendments tabled, which for ease of reference I will call:

  1. Canon 31
  2. Comerford
  3. Exclusion
  4. McCallig

Canon 31

This amendment suggested putting the entire text of Canon 31 in the body of the motion. It came from Andrew McNeile (Dublin) and the Very Rev. the Dean of Cork (Nigel Dunne). Many speakers in the debate said that they were very surprised that this came from both of these members of Synod. I suspect that what they were alluding to was that they generally don’t agree on things.


The amendment from the Rev. Canon Patrick Comerford (Dublin) seconded by the Rev. Stephen Fielding (Connor), had two parts, the first to make the opening statement agree in its use of language with the Preamble and Declaration found in the Book of Common Prayer. The amended text (words changed are struck through, and amendment in purple) would read:

The Church of Ireland, mindful of the Preamble and Declaration, believes and accepts the Holy Scriptures as revealingcontaining all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

the second was to add words,

The Church of Ireland recognises for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage than those provided by the Book of Common Prayer (pp 405-428) and that provided for in the totality of Canon 31.


From Neville Bagnell (Tuam, Killala & Achonry) and AG Oughton (Meath & Kildare) was the suggestion to include ‘exclusion’ in the motion…

A continuing commitment to love our neighbour, and opposition to all unbiblical and uncharitable actions and attitudes in respect of human sexuality from whatever perspective, including exclusion, bigotry, hurtful words or actions, and demeaning or damaging language.


The Rev. Darren McCallig (Dublin) and Mrs Joan Bruton recommended the alteration of the words ‘The Church of Ireland teaches therefore that faithfulness within marriage is the only normative context for sexual intercourse’, to

The Church’s teaching therefore has been faithfulness within marriage as the normative context for sexual intercourse.

Had I been able to vote (which I was not, as I am not a member of General Synod, I would have voted,

Comerford Aye
Canon 31 No
Exclusion Aye
McCallig Aye
Motion as amended No

Caption competition

Synod members were asked to come up with a caption for this photo…. the winner is given below…

The Votes

Following the advice of the Assessor (the legal adviser on hand), His Grace the Lord Primate of All Ireland Archbishop Alan Harper took the votes on the amendments in the following order, Comerford, Canon 31, Exclusion, McCallig. The House divided as outlined above, after waiting five minutes between each vote being announced and then dividing…


Order Ayes Noes
Clergy 58 73
Laity 84 122

The Noes being higher, the amendment was not carried.

Canon 31

Order Ayes Noes
Clergy 54 75
Laity 84 126

The Noes being higher, the amendment was not carried.


Order Ayes Noes
Clergy 56 73
Laity 89 121

The Noes being higher, the amendment was not carried.


Order Ayes Noes
Clergy 48 81
Laity 60 148

The Noes being higher, the amendment was not carried.

The substantive motion

With no amendments being carried, the final vote was on the Motion as originally drafted. The result is shown as it was finally known, however, I must point out that the Bishops voted after the result of the other Houses’ votes was announced, and was made public by the bishops standing if voting Aye, and then standing if voting No.

Inappropriate timing…

After the Houses of Laity and Clergy had voted, and returned to their seats, the Archbishop of Armagh seemed to think that it was an appropriate moment to announce the result of the caption competition. The winner was the Rev. Alistair Grimason with

I told you so…it says I might be going to Hell – but it doesn’t mention Connaught ANYWHERE.

I think I am not alone in reckoning that this was a serious error of judgment on the part of the Archbishop. It did not lighten the tension that was palpable in the building, if anything it made it worse… but back to the votes.

Order Ayes Noes
Bishops 101 22
Clergy 81 53
Laity 154 60

1. The bishops who voted FOR the motion were:

The Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland and Metropolitan, The Most Rev. Alan E.T. Harper;

The Archbishop of Dublin, Bishop of Glendalough, Primate of Ireland and Metropolitan, The Most Rev. Dr Michael G. StA. Jackson;

The Bishop of Meath & Kildare, The Most Rev. Dr Richard L. Clarke;

The Bishop of Clogher, The Right Rev. F. John McDowell;

The Bishop of Connor, The Right Rev. Alan F. Abernethy;

The Bishop of Derry & Raphoe, The Right Rev. Kenneth R. Good;

The Bishop of Down & Dromore, The Right Rev. Harold C. Miller;

The Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh, The Right Rev. Kenneth H. Clarke;

The Bishop of Tuam, Killala & Achonry, The Right Rev. Patrick W. Rooke; and

The Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert, Aghadoe, Killaloe, Kilfenora, Clonfert, Kilmacduagh & Emly, The Right Rev. Trevor R. Williams.

2. The bishops who voted AGAINST the motion were:

The Bishop of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ossory, Ferns & Leighlin, The Right Rev. Michael A. J. Burrows; and

The Bishop of Cork, Cloyne & Ross, The Right Rev. W. Paul Colton.

What now?

Many of us are asking, “What now for us in the Church of Ireland?”For me, the simplest answer can be summed up by using the words spoken in my ear yesterday whilst I stood at the back of the Synod Hall (the nave of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin),

Keep calm, it’s not over yet. It’s only a motion.

And the priest who said that to me is right. It is only a motion. It is not the law of the Church. To make it law it would need to have been a Bill: but it wasn’t. It has much the same effect as the seemingly endless Motions that are debated up in the Northern Ireland Assembly – many very worthy – but rather pointless as they effect no change whatsoever. So it may be asked, what was the point of it all?

Related articles

My thanks to a cleric of Connor for pointing out that my reporting of the votes to the substantive motion was slightly wrong – the gremlins had got into the posting… Thanks Fr F.

2 thoughts on “They voted, but what is the point of it all? The figures from General Synod 2012 @churchofireland #gscoi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.