Church needs to be 'very, very local' – new Synod delegate

INCLUSIVITY, diversity and being forward-looking are key principles for Guernsey’s new lay representative for the Church of England’s General Synod.

Ruth Abernethy is Guernsey’s new lay representative for the Church of England’s General Synod. She is also the rector’s warden at Town Church.  (Picture by Peter Frankland, 30104815)
Ruth Abernethy is Guernsey’s new lay representative for the Church of England’s General Synod. She is also the rector’s warden at Town Church. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 30104815)

Town Church warden Ruth Abernethy was successful in the recent election after standing on a progressive platform of celebrating equality.

She said she felt immensely privileged to represent the island, and hoped that the new General Synod, which is the assembly for the Church of England, would promote love and togetherness for all of humanity.

‘Inclusive, not just in terms of sexuality, which I think is what people perhaps first think of when they think of an inclusive agenda, but inclusive in terms of all barriers that could prevent people from maybe accessing the church and feeling like they’re the kind of person that would be welcome at a church. And also inclusive in terms of access for people with disabilities, people of different races, people that maybe don’t have as much money as other people. All of those topics are important to me.’

Town Church and its sister church St John’s have both bucked the national trend for declining congregations by making firm commitments to inclusivity and have thereby grown their flocks, so Ms Abernethy has a strong track record for openness and being welcoming.

The corporate lawyer wants the General Synod to overcome some of its old internal disputes and differences so that level heads can structure the Church of England in the best possible way.

On the parochial level she has firm views, and thinks that resources should be re-allocated from the central churches to the parishes.

‘One of the things that church needs to be is very, very local. It’s all very well having national policies on things but people don’t join their local parish church because of something that’s happening in Westminster or in some central location, it happens because of what’s happening on the ground in the community around them.

‘So in my manifesto there was quite a focus on local issues, the fact that the parish needs to be the heart of the church, and for me I think the future of the church lies in building up the local churches, making sure they’re properly funded and that you have enough ministers, priests, and deacons etc, to be out and about in their communities and really connecting with people on a personal level. I think that’s what makes the difference to how the church grows.’

The weekend election was the first contested lay person election since 1938, and Ms Abernethy becomes the first woman ever to represent Guernsey at the General Synod.

However, she did not think that detail was particularly relevant.

‘The basis that I stood on is that gender is not the important factor, it’s whether the right person got the job. And I’m not saying I’m the right person as in me personally, but I think my manifesto was quite clear as to what I stood for and I think me being appointed is a reflection that the majority of people who had the opportunity to vote, are forward-looking and inclusive and welcoming in their theology.’

Ms Abernethy celebrated her triumph with a gin and tonic among friends.

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