25 February 2024

Church votes for simplified Archbishop Election Act

Melbourne Anglicans have new Archbishop election rules. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

18 October 2022

Melbourne diocese has retained its synod vote for a new archbishop under a newly passed Archbishop Election Act, but creators say new processes will simplify how the next archbishop is discerned and elected.

The Archbishop Election Act 2022 aimed at modernising and streamlining how future archbishops are appointed was passed without amendment at Melbourne Synod.

Mover lay representative Dr Jenny George described the revision prior to its passage as an improvement on the way in which future archbishops would be elected.

She said that in the event of synods failing to reach agreement, having a larger board of electors and higher voting majority would give better representation of the whole Melbourne Church yet still be small enough to be practically workable.

Dr George said the main reason for changing the Archbishop Election Act 1988 altogether was that it was intricate, difficult to understand and had presented many confusing choices.

But she said key changes would streamline the system.

Read more: Lay representation, Archbishop Election Act – 2022 Melbourne Synod wraps up

These relate to the board of electors, the voting majority for the board and conflicts of interest.

Under the Archbishop Election Act 2022 the board of nominators identifies and decides on the election candidates. This board comprises 18 people.

If after two synods no candidate has been elected by vote, synod members have to elect a board of electors to choose the archbishop.

The board of electors comprises 24 people, of whom 75 per cent have to agree on who is to be elected archbishop. This is an increase in board size and voting majority from the previous system.

If this board has not elected anyone after 12 months, it is dissolved and a new board of electors is elected.

Under the new act provisions for conflict of interest are extended. Formerly only members who were being considered for election could not be on the board, but now they would also be rendered ineligible if a close family member was being considered.

Read more: Clergy legislation ‘out of date’ with current needs, undergoes review

Dr George said that the act’s revisions broadly reflected what was already in place, and the way in which Melbourne Synod balloted.

During archbishop elections the synod voted on the names it was presented with in a series of voting rounds. If one candidate received the vote of two-thirds of both the clergy and the laity, then that person was elected archbishop.

If not, both old and new legislation provides several opportunities to try again, including an adjournment to allow synod to reassess and pray.

The new legislation also specifies how the board of nominators as well as the board of electors would operate, nullifying the need for potentially complex debates over motions.

It would also accommodate electronic voting to further expedite procedures.

If there were more than four ballot rounds, the new act also triggered the convening of chair moderated meetings in which to discuss candidates.

Dr George said that the new rules would allow for new ways to find out what synod sought in a new candidate and enable more ideas about how to discuss candidates.

These might include less combative ways than what was provided by the current practice of standing orders, she said.

She said that needing a 75 per cent majority was better for an election behind closed doors, as it gave confidence there was widespread support for the candidate.

Seconder the Reverend Dr Alexander Ross said decluttering the act was an act of sensitivity, enabling a culture of simplicity and openness empowering all members of the synod to engage.

The article was amended on 24 October to reflect that under the new Archbishop Election Act 2022, the process of election has remained as a synod vote. Under the new act, a new, larger board of electors will only be used if two synod elections in a row fail.  

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