CoGS mulls possible changes to General Synod membership, Order of Bishops

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CoGS mulls possible changes to General Synod membership, Order of Bishops
Canon (lay) David Jones led the presentation on behalf of the Governance Working Group via Zoom. Photo: Joelle Kidd

In a session during a virtual meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) Sept. 12, the Governance Working Group presented potential changes to the composition of membership of General Synod, including specific attention to the role of bishops.

The session, which General Synod’s chancellor, Canon (lay) David Jones, characterized as “educative,” will inform the proposals brought forward by the working group at the March 2021 meeting of CoGS.

These proposals respond to Resolution C005, passed at General Synod in 2019, which tasks CoGS with reviewing “the composition of the membership and the rules of order and procedure of General Synod” and recommending changes at the 2022 General Synod.

Jones’ presentation drew on a survey of CoGS members from its July meeting, which had focused on the proportional method used for determining the number of elected clerical and lay members a diocese is entitled to send to General Synod. Dioceses are organized in tiers according to average weekly attendance based on specific Sundays. However, 20 out of the church’s 30 dioceses are currently in the lowest tier.

The survey results revealed that 74% of CoGS members wished to keep the current basis for determining the number of delegates relative to population, but that most (83%) wanted to “spread out” the 20 dioceses in the bottom tier. 70% of members also said they wanted to keep the minimum number of elected clergy and lay from each diocese at two from each order.

The survey feedback created a “conundrum,” Jones said, as most people were in favour of keeping the minimum number and spreading out the bottom tier, yet the majority also voted to keep General Synod the same size or make it smaller.

Jones offered three possible solutions to offset the increase: to reduce the number of delegates that the largest dioceses are entitled to, to include youth delegates as part of diocesan representation rather than in addition to the elected members, or to reduce the number of bishops in the Order of Bishops.

There are several issues related to the size of the Order of Bishops, Jones told CoGS.

The number of bishops as well as the proportion of bishops relative to the other orders has increased over time; bishops now make up 18% of General Synod. Jones noted that this imposes a financial cost—for bishops’ attendance at the meetings of General Synod and the biannual meetings of the House of Bishops—and also gives bishops more influence in votes by all orders.

“The question is, should the mere consecration as bishop automatically make you a member of the governance body?” asked Jones. Doing so “assumes that all dioceses, regardless of their size or financial viability, are equal,” he said, noting that there is a considerable size disparity between dioceses—the largest (diocese of Toronto) being 100 times larger than the smallest (diocese of the Yukon). It also opens the possibility that the appointment of additional suffragan or assistant bishops “could be used as a way to skew decision-making at General Synod,” Jones said.

CoGS members broke into small groups via Zoom to discuss the material and complete a survey.

While the survey results do not represent a formal vote and were not entirely complete at the time of the meeting, the responses indicated that the group felt it was most important to spread out the dioceses, followed closely by keeping a minimum of two clergy and two laity representatives in each diocese, and that keeping General Synod the same size or smaller was not as important; that slightly more people would not accept the increase of size of General Synod; that a majority would consider changing the youth delegates to be included as part of the elected clergy and lay delegates; and that an overwhelming majority wished to consider changes to the membership of the Order of Bishops.

Members were also asked to rank three potential models for changing the membership in the Order of Bishops. Model one would limit the number of bishops from each diocese to equal the number of clerical delegates from that diocese (additional bishops could attend General Synod and have the right of voice but not vote); model two would do the same but would have additional bishops voting in the Order of Clergy; and model three would change the composition of the Order of Bishops to consist of an equal number of bishops from each ecclesiastical province.

The results of the survey showed that model one was the most preferred way to address changing the Order of Bishops, followed by model two and then model three.

During a time of response to the presentation, National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Mark MacDonald said that he had “a great deal of discomfort,” with the fact that the process was “not addressing issues of systemic racism and other things in the way in which we’re ordered, that that has not been brought up as an issue.”

While he voted in favour of making the Order of Bishops smaller, MacDonald said, “I have noticed the coincidence that the question of the size of the [Order] of Bishops is raised as more Indigenous bishops are being brought forward…. I think it would be gross and evil if we did not address the issue of the fundamental inequities in Canadian society that are reflected in the makeup of our deliberative bodies, in the way in which they’re formed.”

In the material provided by the Governance Working Group, Jones also included a memo written by the Rev. Monique Stone, the mover of Resolution C005 at General Synod 2019, in which she suggested removing representation by population and giving each diocese equal representation. “Representation by population is a civic norm, not a biblical or spiritual one…. By continuing to compose attendance in any form of ‘tiers’ or ‘bands’ we continue to reinforce these civic structures that create imbalances and inequality from the moment someone walks in the door of General Synod,” she wrote in the memo.

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Joelle Kidd
Joelle Kidd joined the Anglican Journal in 2017 as staff writer. She has worked as an editor and writer for the Winnipeg-based Fanfare Magazine Group and as freelance copy editor for Naida Communications.

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1 COMMENT

  1. The article references a distinction between civic norms v. ‘biblical’ and ‘spiritual’ norms. The reference leaves me wanting to know more about this distinction. In particular, what is meant by ‘biblical’ norms of governance? What comes to mind are patriarchal models i.e., patriarchs, sacral kingship, cultic priests, apostles and disciples ( 12 men or 70/72 men respectively), and Hellenistic elders ( women should just stay quiet in the ecclesia). So please tell us that whatever is meant by ‘biblical’ governance norms transcends culturally conditioned patriarchal institutions. The article references the quandary over bishops as well. Again, it would be important to distinguish spiritual aspects of the role from our current polity in which The Canadian Anglican episcopate is essentially a form of ecclesiastical feudalism with the office of bishop canonically and customarily understood as liege lord. The institution of episcopacy in the Canadian church continues as one of the last vestiges of the colonial legacy of The Anglican Communion. Surely what is required is a further evolution of synodical government at the General Synod level where laity and those in ordered ministry ( whether bishops or priests or deacons) vote as members of one ‘house’. After all, we no longer live in patristic times. The faith experience of lay members is equal to that of ordained members. In many instances, as a result of education and expertise, laity often know particular things that most clergy don’t. What could be more ‘biblical’ than an integrated assembly discerning the Spirit as a microcosm of the whole people of God. Finally, one hopes this is not yet another go around with perennial ‘restructuring’–more re-arrangement of deck chairs as the demographic iceberg draws closer on our horizon.

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