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Presidential Elections: American and Anglican

by Stuart Piggin, All Saints, Hunter’s Hill

We are betwixt two high dramas: the American Presidential Election behind us and the election of the President of the Sydney Synod (aka the Archbishop of Sydney) ahead of us. Members of the forthcoming Synod to elect a successor to Archbishop Davies will be keen to learn how it works. History is the best guide to this as to everything else. So, we here look at the 1993 election of Archbishop Harry Goodhew with occasional gratuitous reflections on the election of American presidents.

This is a very truncated version of the account in my biography of Archbishop Harry Goodhew, soon to be published by Acorn Press. I dare say the biography will be more valuable for the light it shines on Harry's servant leadership in parish churches and in the Diocese than on how he was elected. But the biography now begins with an account of his election because it was such a dramatic event. For a start, the response to the formation shortly before the election of REPA (the Reformed Evangelical Protestant Association) was so frenetic it disrupted the whole Diocese, just as near hysterical division preceded the recent American presidential election. Candidates considered unifying were victorious in both cases.

Harry Goodhew biography by Stuart Piggin

Stuart Piggin's Harry Goodhew

A six-step election procedure

In October 1992, The Rector of Jannali, Bruce Ballantine-Jones, rang me to give me some advice based on his incomparable grasp of the workings of election synods. Because each candidate for election as archbishop needs someone to organise his campaign, he suggested that I might head up the campaign for Harry. It was not that BBJ was supporting Harry—he was hoping that another might take that prize—but he wanted all the candidates to have well-run campaigns so that the election synod would be well informed. He outlined a six-step procedure that should be followed (consistent with the Appointment Ordinance 1982):

  1. Within 21 Days after the occurrence of the vacancy occasioned by the retirement of the Archbishop, the administrator would summon an electing Synod. He would call for nominations to be received 21 days before the electing Synod meets.
    Action: Organise nominations.
  2. Not less than 10 days before the electing Synod, a list of all nominees, nominators and their seconders would be forwarded to each member of Synod.
    Action: Procure as many nominations and seconders as possible.
  3. Nominators and Seconders must be appointed for each of three stages in the election procedure and the Secretaries of Synod notified.
    Action: Arrange a meeting of Harry's supporters to determine who will do this.
  4. On the first day of Synod, nominations would be made and seconded. The purpose of this first nomination would be to get Harry on to the 'select list'.
  5. After the completion of the select list which would be arranged by lot, on the second day the nominees would be proposed and seconded a second time and as many as possible were to be encouraged to speak in support.
    When all speeches in respect of the nominee are made, the President will move that the name be included in the 'final list'.
  6. In moving from the final list to the final result on the third day, the best movers and seconders should be used.

I rang Harry to discuss organising a campaign consistent with this advice. 'You are far too busy to worry about that', he said, adding that he would prefer not to be elected by 'a big machine.' Never much good with big machinery, I was happy to let the matter rest.

Towards the end of January 1993, a document began to circulate in favour of the election of another. It contained some rather pointed observations on the age of the main contenders, hinting that Harry, who would be 62, was too old for the job. By then Pope John Paul II was 73, and the Americans have just elected Joe Biden who will be 78 when he takes office. It was this document which really precipitated the campaign for Harry. One who had seen it was Dudley Foord who rang me to express his view that it was likely to be powerfully persuasive. He believed that, in 'the sovereign plan of God', Harry was the man, but his understanding of God's sovereignty was an encouragement to human initiative rather than to passivity. So, on Sunday 31 January, the decision was made to start organising for the election Synod (29 March–1 April, 1993) and not waste another moment.

The campaign for Harry: 'The cut of his jib'

Stephen Judd, co-author of the diocesan history, Sydney Anglicans, rang me to tell me that he intended to give Harry's campaign his support: 'I like the cut of his jib,' he said. With Stephen on board, the campaign developed a strategy. He wished to try something that he believed had not been done before: each of the three stages of the synod debate was to be distinct in its emphasis:

  • Night 1. Harry, the man, his qualities and his achievements
  • Night 2. Harry's agenda—his policies
  • Night 3. Why Harry is the man

The first support meeting for Harry was held at Robert Menzies College, Macquarie University, on 4 February 1993. It was actually quite difficult to get people to it. The zealous supporters of one of the candidates had raided the clergy, and many of the most vocal synod clergy had been recruited to his cause. Among those present at the first meeting were some who were more anti-this candidate than pro-Harry. Shades of those who were more anti-Trump than pro-Biden.

Between the first and second strategy meetings, Peter Kell and Dr Ron James, both laypersons associated with St Michael's, Wollongong, entered the fray. They encouraged me to get on with the job of writing a brochure for Harry and they organised for the funding of its production and posting.

The writing of the brochure was one of the most moving parts of my involvement in Harry's campaign. I contacted people in each of his six previous appointments and asked them for their views of Harry. The exciting conclusion was that, everywhere they went, Harry and Pam had been stunningly successful bringing congregations together, releasing the laity for ministry and generally presiding over the happiest and usually fastest-growing period in their histories. The important, if not necessarily scientific, inference I drew from this research was that Harry could do the same for the diocese and do it quickly.

On 4 March, just four days before the last day for nominations, Harry had not received any nominations. Stephen Gabbott got on the phone and brought the Wollongong clergy to do their duty. In the end Harry received a very respectable 25 nominations from clergy and 23 from the laity.

On 10 March, Stephen Judd and I had lunch with Harry, and Stephen explained his strategy for getting him elected, which meant we had to have some indication from Harry of his vision since we wanted to make this the main thrust of speeches on the second night of synod.

That discussion formed the basis of an agenda paper for Harry, which we discussed at the fourth planning meeting at Miranda on 13 March. We there decided on movers and seconders for the first two days of the debate.

The fifth support meeting was held at Gymea Anglican Church on 25 March 1993. After spending half an hour in prayer, we each gave our impressions of our candidate. It was a moving and incredibly exciting time as we each rehearsed the speeches we would give if called on at the synod. On this night, we finalised our movers and seconders and organised for about 28 people to have speeches in their pockets for Harry.

The election synod

The election synod began on 29 March at 4.30 pm in the Wesley Centre. Harry's mover, Peter Kell, and seconder, Stephen Gabbott, looked at Harry's qualities and track record. They demonstrated that Harry was the most experienced of the candidates in a variety of parishes in a variety of dioceses. They were two brilliant speeches, and Harry was voted on to the select list to be considered the next evening, with scarcely a dissenter. Bp Paul Barnett made it through with equal ease. Bp John Reid and Phillip Jensen also made it through, but with more difficulty. Their elimination the next evening looked inevitable.

On the second day, 30 March, we held our sixth support meeting in St Andrew's House. Someone suggested that, of the four candidates, we pray that Harry would be dealt with first, and, at the synod, Harry's name was drawn first. Paul Perini and Stephen Judd set Harry's broad vision and double agenda before us. He would build confidence and promote desirable change, they said. Biden's vision of 'unity' and 'possibility' echoes this.

Neither Phillip Jensen nor John Reid got through this second phase. Again, Harry went through, this time to the final list, with no voiced opposition. What struck me was that Harry's supporters were the ones sounding youthful and passionate. Being inexperienced, I did not appreciate that this was the lull before the storm.

The choice was now between Harry and Paul Barnett. According to our strategy, this final night of speeches was to address the subject of why Harry was the man. Debating was not my forte and, too late, I realised that I should have allowed another to put the motion for Harry's election. For, now I had to make a speech in reply. Throughout the evening, I was bombarded with suggestions from anxious Harry supporters about what I had to say. I rose with a great pile of incoherent and unreadable notes. I had no idea what to do with them. Furthermore, I was flustered by the fact that serious misgivings had been expressed about Harry by Paul's supporters. I did not do well.

The surprise was Chappo, who concluded the evening by saying that Paul and Harry were equally eligible, which was plainly true, but not the sort of truth often found in election synods. It was the last synod speech he ever gave and one of the best, the mature verdict of an ecclesiastical statesman, aware that the whole process had become excessively personalised. It was a brilliant way to end the debate¸ leaving many with a pleasant taste in their mouths. Maybe there was hope for the diocese after all! Asked later for his impression of the 1993 election synod, Trevor Edwards wrote:

It was a remarkable experience...our group covered the whole Synod in prayer and the people from our group consistently got the right tone in their speeches. Once the list had been reduced to Barnett and Goodhew there seemed to be a genuine attempt by the Synod to choose between two good options.

We were then required to return the next afternoon, 1 April, and cast our vote. It is a very good idea to allow a day between the last speeches and the final vote. It helps synod members to reflect less on the campaign and more on the candidates. The candidate should not be chosen on the basis of who was supported by the best campaign. It should be decided on the basis of who is the best person for the job. I comforted myself with the thought that, as synod members reflected on the candidates, Harry would get himself elected.

Stephen Judd never wavered in his conviction that Harry would be elected. His best calculation was that in the House of Laity, where 237 votes were required, Harry would win with 269 votes, and in the House of Clergy, where 132 votes were required, Harry would win with 139 votes. In the event his calculation of the vote for Harry was optimistic, by two in the House of Laity and two in the House of Clergy. Harry won with 267 votes in the House of Laity (against 203 for Paul) and 137 (against 122) in the House of Clergy.

Now, humour me! Permit a further comparison with another American President. Admittedly, comparing Harry's election with Lincoln's election in 1861 must strike you as more than faintly ridiculous. But the parallels are really interesting. Both were four horse races; both victors were the least known of the candidates; in both, the losing contenders lost because they had made enemies or at least strong opponents, whereas both Lincoln and Harry had avoided criticising others, and their lower profiles meant that they had not only fewer powerful friends, but also fewer powerful opponents; both Lincoln and Harry were the first choice of the minority and the second choice of the majority; in both it was easy to think of the outcome as a defeat for the most aggressively supported candidate rather than a victory for Lincoln or Goodhew. Then, as Lincoln's and Harry's time in office unfolded, both, though the least vindictive of men, endured tough opposition. Political reality is similar in church and state.

Response to Harry's election

With the announcement of the result, post-election euphoria broke out as the feeling swept over emotionally drained synod members that the decision reached was the will of the Holy Spirit of God who had guided us in answer to our prayers. When Harry and Pam were presented to the synod, Harry was relaxed and radiant. He spoke with such facility and grace as to immediately impress those who did not know him well. The synod broke into spontaneous song, 'A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you.' Harry took that to be 'the expression of a desire for all of us to find a deeper experience of Christian love, generosity and kindness in our shared life across the Diocese.'

Riley Warren, Principal of Macarthur Anglican School, wrote to Harry,

for you to be elected in the first ballot, and to receive such a genuinely warm welcome and ovation, I believe is a true indication of Synod’s recognition of you as God’s man for Sydney at this time. I praise Him for it.

From 1 April 1993 to 19 March 2001, Archbishop Harry Goodhew was to be 'God's man for Sydney.' Now we must pray that Synod will elect the next God's man for Sydney and beyond. Praying for Joe Biden would also be a good idea.