Synodical government ‘has served church well’
Bishop Mark MacDonald notes similarities between synodical and parliamentary government, wondering whether this model is appropriate for church governance (How do we act like a church? Feb. 2017, p. 5). The reason for the similarities between the two systems is surprising. Although both have roots in Athenian democracy, synodical government was developed by the Dominicans in the 13th century; Parliament evolved from Dominican governance four or five centuries later.
Bishop Mark suggests three fundamental features of church governance. First is reading and praying through the gospel. We see this in General Synod in the opening and closing Eucharists, the daily Offices and Bible study. And during sessions, the primate sometimes pauses for prayer.
The second feature is consensus. He notes that CoGS uses consensus for some decisions. At General Synod, “no-debate” motions are presented and voted upon without debate. This is an efficient way to deal with routine or non-controversial business, but also a form of consensus. Consensus is tested in two ways. First, any member may have a motion removed from the no-debate list, so it can be debated. Second, each motion is voted on. Similarly, The Episcopal Church General Convention and some dioceses in Canada use consent resolutions—combining several motions in one with no debate permitted.
The third feature is that “Jesus is present and guides decision-making.” This follows from the prayer, worship and Bible study throughout General Synod. It is also found in the basis for the theology of synod in Acts 15. There the minutes of the first synod say, “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28).
My observation over seven general, five provincial and more than 20 diocesan synods is that the fundamental difficulty with synodical government is not the model, but that the system is often inadequately understood. Of course, experienced synod members do bring a wealth of understanding, and we have chancellors and assessors. But participating effectively in synod is a skill to learn.
No system is perfect, and synodical government can be improved, but it has served the church well for eight centuries—so well that it was adapted for secular governance in the formation of Parliament.
The Ven. Alan T Perry
Diocese of Edmonton
On refugee policies: Good intentions are not enough
The Anglican Journal made much of the plea by church leaders for fair and generous refugee policies (Churches call for ‘fair, generous’ refugee policies, April 2017, p. 1). While the headline implies this to be some rather harmless “virtue signaling,” the article goes on to suggest that the church had something very specific in mind—the scrapping of the safe country agreement with the U.S.
Before lending its support to such a step, the church needs to realize that [as] admirable and fair [as] Canada’s refugee policies may be, they are made possible by having oceans on three sides and the U.S. on the fourth. If opening the U.S. border to all and sundry—economic migrants and refugees alike—shows Canada’s refugee system can be gamed or overwhelmed, do you really think public support will persist? Anglican church leaders should think a little harder and at least address the impact their preferred measures might have for, as we all well know, in the real world, good intentions alone do not cut it.
‘A huge disservice’
I’m glad to see that our bishops are in agreement about focusing the shift and priority of the church away from same-sex marriage to “evangelism, discipleship and mission” (Bishops to focus more on mission, Nov. 2016, p. 1).
As a 30-something-year-old priest who has been a lifelong Anglican, the conversations around human sexuality have been going on for much longer than the “three years of intense debate” that the national House of Bishops has been devoting to the debate over same-sex marriage. Conversations over whether or not it’s OK to be gay and ordained and have a partner or whether we can bless unions of same-gendered people or allow them to be included fully in the life of the church has been an epic failure on the church’s part.
I can’t help but strongly feel that we have done a huge disservice to LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] Anglicans through this entire, poorly managed situation. We have failed them for so long, my stomach turns at the thought that now we have passed a resolution to spend three years before our next General Synod to talk about what this will look like for us.
We have failed LGBT people continuously. We failed them in the ‘80s and ‘90s with the HIV-AIDS epidemic; we turned our backs on them and ostracized them. We called them sinful and deviants because we did not understand the type of love they professed. Once again, the church is sweeping issues under the rug. Before we can fully move beyond issues of human sexuality and marriage, we are switching to a new focus. The issues of same-sex marriage are not over as quickly as that.
If we are to shift our focus to “evangelism, discipleship and mission,” our church had better start focusing on more resources for clergy to use in order to carry out that aim. I was frustrated to recently discover that many good Anglican Church of Canada resources are no longer being printed and they focus exactly on this new effort for the church. Yet again, we have neglected a facet of the church and are left scrambling to do something that will make it OK.
The Rev. Quenton Little
Diocese of Huron