The Council of General Synod (CoGS) voted Nov. 9 to refer a review of General Synod’s membership and rules to the council’s Governance Working Group.
The resolution, General Synod 2019 Resolution C005, tasks CoGS to “to review the composition of the membership and the rules of order and procedure of General Synod and bring forward any recommended changes for consideration at the 2022 General Synod.”
The Rev. Karen Egan, prolocutor of the Anglican Church of Canada, introduced C005, explaining that it was passed by General Synod in July and was thus before CoGS to implement, not vote upon.
“In some ways you can think of it as a plea from the floor of General Synod to begin a review of the governance of the church,” Egan said. “It was really intended to be a very general review and a very timely review.”
She also said there would be, at some time, some conversation between those reviewing governance and the group tasked with strategic planning.
Egan said that officers of General Synod, Primate Linda Nicholls and CoGS’s planning and agenda team “decided that the way we were going to move this along and move it forward was to give this resolution to the current Governance Working Group.” The group currently consists of Canon (lay) Clare Burns, Ann Chaplin, Canon (lay) David Jones, Archdeacon Alan Perry, and Archdeacon Michael Thompson (ex officio). Jones chairs the body, “a group of experienced people who understand the implications of the various decisions around governance, and they will be working on this not in isolation but in conversation with the council and in consultation with the strategic planning group,” she noted.
Egan then presented a motion, moved by herself and seconded by Deputy Prolocutor Judith Moses, that the council “refer General Synod Resolution C005 to the Governance Working Group, so that they may engage the Council in a process of consideration at a subsequent meeting.”
The council passed the motion in near unanimity–though not before one member offered a clarifying question and another expressed concern that the working group included no new members of CoGS.
Michael Siebert, member from the province of Rupert’s Land, asked what the exact motivation was behind C005. “What is the problem that this process is supposed to solve? Is it the problem that we’re declining and need to change membership?”
Egan responded that she did not think there was one main idea—that decline was one among a number of motivations.
Province of Ontario member Hugh Mackenzie said he recognized the “expertise of the people who are being asked to deal with it in a formal way and bring their recommendations to us.”
However, he said, he thinks “that there is a real issue of reform of governance in the national church”—and that current procedures “may have had something to do with the outcome of some of the more serious resolutions” at General Synod.
“With that background, it concerns me that with a new Council of General Synod, that…[the process could exclude] new members of the Council of General Synod who may have valuable experience and input into governance issues that could help—at the level not of input after recommendations are made, but making those recommendations themselves,” Mackenzie said.
Nicholls responded to Mackenzie’s concern, saying that she didn’t see the referral as precluding sharing concerns or ideas with any member of the working group.
Thompson also responded. “The governance working group works with stakeholders, and clearly among the key stakeholders in this process is the Council of General Synod, to try and discern what is a good way to respond to a governance question that’s before the church.”
The task of the governance working group “is not necessarily to come with a recommendation to the Council of General Synod at a subsequent meeting,” he said. “That’s why language is so that ‘they may engage the council in process of consideration.’”
He added that the Governance Working Group “is the servant of the council,” and that its role is to help ensure that CoGS has sufficient information to enact a “good decision-making process.”
At the meeting of General Synod on July 16, none of those addressing C005 directly linked the resolution to the marriage canon vote. However, secular media drew a connection at the time, with The Canadian Press reporting: “One of Canada’s largest Christian denominations will spend the next three years considering whether to change its governance structure amid outrage that just two bishops’ votes stood in the way of having same-sex marriage recognized by the church’s laws.”