Page 8 - Church Review JUNE 2020 [IM)
P. 8

Charting Disestablishment 13
By Revd. Robert Marshall
“All politics is local” is an aphorism attributed to the twentieth century Irish-American politician Tip O’Neill. It was as applicable to assembling the lay delegates to the Convention as it is to modern politics.
All of the notable lay figures in the convention were elected locally as synodsmen : Sir Edward Grogan (St Patrick’s Cathedral), Lord James Butler (Drumcondra, Dublin), Tankerville Chamberalin (Monkstown, Dublin) all three trenchant senior figures in the evangelical Protestant Defence Association; Judge Warren and the vice-Chancellor Hedges Eyre Chatterton (both St Stephen’s Dublin), and RW Gamble QC JP (St Matthias, Dublin) are key examples.
The membership of the Convention was chosen by two stages. Firstly, lay synodsmen were chosen by each parish, district or congregation to act with the clergy but as separate orders in diocesan synods. Secondly, these synods elected a specific number of clerical and lay delegates to the Convention itself. This two tiered system avoided the complications of direct election and was similar to the method by which today’s county councillors elect some on the members of Seanad Éireann.
Press reports of local meetings often described them as “well attended and influential”. Nevertheless motivating the laity to come to meetings and elect delegates for the third time in nine months cannot have been easy. For those involved the elections were not novel but there must have been a degree of fatigue amongst church members who were called again to meetings. In the spring representatives for the Church Conference had been elected. That had been followed by elections in September for delegates to the Lay Conference. It is not surprising that in November, many meetings sought to give their representatives to diocesan synods authority until the Disestablishment Day, 1 January 1871, even though that was beyond the remit they were called to fulfil.
The calling and organisation of parish meetings
At the end of October 1869, the secretaries of the Lay Conference issued a circular suggesting how delegates might be chosen. The Lay Conference had stood back from dictating to the diocesan synods and by implication the parish meetings how they should proceed, hence the secretaries were limited to making suggestions. The suggestions endeavoured to adapt the existing law relating to vestries to the needs of the situation. Strictly speaking these special meetings were not
vestry meetings as the statute law applicable to vestries did not provide for the election of synodsmen. The secretaries suggested that a meeting of all adult male parishioners or members of congregations resident in the parish or district be convened by the officiating minister or church wardens on five clear days’ notice. In the case of churches to which no district was assigned, all adult male members of the congregation should be entitled to attend that church’s meeting.
The mandate was that each benefice or congregation should elect “as many lay representatives as clergy but in no case should the number of lay representatives be more than double the number of clergy”. The names of the delegates were then to be certified in writing to the bishop by the churchwardens or the officiating clergyman.
The ambiguity of choosing one but not more than double the number of clergy was widely noted. A meeting of the Dublin, Glendalough and Kildare delegates to the Lay Conference was chaired by Sir Richard Orpen, Solicitor. It approved having two delegates for each clergyman. That meeting expressed a desire that “only earnest laymen of sound evangelical opinion should be elected”. The solution widely adopted, and endorsed by at least three prominent lawyers, was that the meetings should elect two representatives for each clergyman so that the first elected was the representative for all purposes. The second would retire should it be decided that only one should have been elected.
Meetings were convened by parish circulars, by announcement in churches and a small number by newspaper advertisements. They took place in churches, schoolhouses and vestry rooms and were generally chaired by incumbents or churchwardens following an invitation or election by the meeting. In many cases the incumbent was elected to chair the meeting. At Westport, Archdeacon Cather was proposed by Lord John T. Browne. At St John’s Sandymount, a churchwarden objected to any meeting in the church unless chaired by a churchwarden or the incumbent. At St John’s, Newport, (then Cashel), the meeting was chaired by the curate assistant.
For the most part, meetings across the country elected two lay representatives. Occasionally the election of only one was reported as at Foxford (Straid, Killala). Clogher and Armagh were a special case where the Primate decreed a single delegate from each parish. The meetings came thick and fast after 5 November, a large sample of reports being
carried almost daily by the Irish Times and the Dublin Daily Express.
The synodsmen chosen
The interested peers were certain of election in their parishes: the Marquis of Drogheda at Monasterevin and Harristown (Kildare) (in which he held an advowson); the Marquis of Kildare at Kildare; the Marquis of Sligo at Westport (Tuam); the Earl of Meath at St Catherine’s (Dublin) and Earl of Courtown at Kiltennel (Ferns) where they respectively held the advowson. Members of parliament were elected including Sewalls E Shirley for Ardagh; Colonel Stuart Knox, for Drumglas (Armagh), and Arthur Kavanagh, for Clonacoose (Ferns). Leading commercial magnates also featured: two members of the Guinness family at St Patrick’s Cathedral and another in Stillorgan, (Dublin) and two Digges La Touche one from St Patrick’s Cathedral and the other from St Anne’s, (Dublin) along with lawyers such as Sir Richard Orpen for St George’s (Dublin) and William Brooke for Taney (Dublin). Other benefices elected queen’s counsel and judges. There were deputy lieutenants who represented the Crown in their county and local justices of the peace. Land aside, a place on the local petty sessions court as a justice of the peace was the most common denominator amongst the delegates chosen.
One of the difficulties was to secure a balance of representation. The Irish Times expressed the view that “the choice should not fall exclusively upon landed gentry or upon lawyers or other professionals who might reside in the metropolis”. The Dublin Daily Express concurred in the representation of the commercial classes. There were speeches and resolutions at parish meetings to similar effect. This repeated desire to embrace the middle classes included recognition that, without encouragement, those classes would select people of higher social standing. Their difficulty was the time and expense involved in getting away from farms and small businesses to attend meetings in a society not as mobile as ours. While Clones (Clogher) suggested establishment of a fund to meet expenses, the practical consequences of the desire for middle class involvement is difficult to gauge. Few mentioned on the lists of delegates are plain “Mister” but that is an inadequate basis for identifying a strong farmer, a modest shopkeeper, or a businessman.
Other business
Some meetings went beyond the authorised agenda of electing synodsmen. They considered glebes, church fabric, the future provision of church requisites and funding.

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