Fragments and secrecy

The ACC's new constitution has been voted for by at least two-thirds of the members of the ACC between their meetings in Nottingham, UK in 2005 and Kingston, Jamaica, 2009.

And (all credit to the managers in one sense) the constitution - and the Memorandum and Articles of the new charitable company - don't appear to have been leaked into the public domain.

So I asked around and the only reference my correspondent on General Synod could find to these changes was:

From the House of Bishops meeting January 2007

1. Deemed Procedure

The following Reports and papers were either agreed or noted under the House’s deemed procedure:
(iv) Anglican Consultative Council: Proposals for Constitutional and Procedural Reform
It scarcely makes the heart race. I could find no reference to it on the General Synod website.

The inference must be that the Church of England voted in favour of the changes and the bishops were informed. (I'm guessing that 'deemed procedure' means there was no debate in the House of Bishops.)

Who the 'Church of England' was that voted, I don't know - presumably the representatives on ACC. If so, they took a considerable amount on their own backs without public discussion - Synod is, after all, the Church of England by representation.

But I want to make a wider point: much too much has been done behind closed doors. If power can be accrued by discussion and deals in secret there is every reason to believe that this way of working will be embedded in the new structures of the Communion.

Those 'in the know' will have no incentive to share. Those who would like to be 'in the know' will have every incentive to learn the ways of discretion and secrecy.

This may make life easier in the short-term for power-brokers and bureaucrats but in the longer term it will sap the commitment and energy of the church, it will lessen the willingness to participate and engage with bigger questions, it will limit the quality of decision making, and it will engender increasing resentment amongst those who have no voice.

Furthermore such secrecy is a direct denial of the voluntary nature of Church membership. It is a denial of the episcopal nature of the Church in the sense that decisions won't be taken by bishops whether alone or in synod. Decisions will be taken by a few - some of whom may chance to be bishops - but most bishops will simply be told what has been decided. And some of the few will be lay people or ordinary clergy. But they will be few.

And for decisions read 'authority'. Authority in the church is leaching from bishop-in-synod to small groups of people in the loop.

To keep information amongst a small group is a rational and understandable response to the communications capacity of the internet. Most internet chatter (including this) is ill-informed, speculative, partisan, sometimes malicious and always a nuisance to those who are trying their best to undertake the serious task of church leadership.

But an equally rational response is to engage in a careful, planned, positive and informative manner, putting as much as possible into the public domain as soon as possible.

Of course every organization rightly and properly has to consider the public statements it makes and some things should not be posted for the world and her uncle to see. But let the presumption be in favour of openness and disclosure (including the rules as to what should not be disclosed and the timetables for making matters public). Some poeple will always fret and want more, but we will know where we stand.

We currently have the farce of a consultative body (the ACC) keeping their consultations secret. We have the offence of a governing body (the SCAC) being set up without any formal notification that it was being done - let alone the rules by which governance will be exercised.

We will end with the tragedy of a Church led by small groups in close touch with one another and increasingly distant from every other member. The attempt to concentrate authority and to make it forceful and effective (to cite the Windsor Report) will in the predictable result in a loss of credibility and deep unhappiness across the body of Christ.

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