Church Times letters

I am pleased to say that the Church Times published a letter from me on Friday. It's currently behind the paywall but here it is:
In the post-mortems that will follow the death of the Anglican Covenant in England it may be easy to miss another victim: the damage done to synodical government.
From the Windsor Report onwards there was a recognition that extraordinary steps would be needed to get round, through or past the 44 autonomous decision making bodies across the Communion whilst avoiding the chance of any of them making unilateral amendments.(see para. 117).
This set the tone across the Communion. In England General Synod debated the principle of a Covenant but never the wording of a draft available to them at the time.
The Covenant was commended to Dioceses on a number of grounds, including the endorsement of General Synod. It was asserted that the Covenant was necessary to hold the Communion together, that there was no alternative, that the thankless work of and personal loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury should be sufficient reason to vote in favour, and (in the latter stages) that it was necessary as a means to support other, smaller and embattled Provinces.
At no time were advocates of the Covenant prepared to engage in discussion of the actual wording and proposals. Yet it was always the document itself, and not the general principle, which would have been implemented.
It may seem that defeat of the Covenant marks a resurgence of synodical self-assurance but I think this would be to misread what has happened. In place of reasoned debate among equals we have seen arm-twisting, debates structured to maximise the vote in favour, general arguments and bland reassurance, avoidance of any question of substance and attempts at emotional blackmail.
Of course bishops have always been partisan and reluctant to lose in 'their' synods. But from the Windsor Report to the present we have seen systemic attempts to marginalise and diminish synodical government itself in the name of a greater good. The failure to address the substance of the Covenant reflected a refusal to recognise synod members as fully responsible parties in the government of our Church.
Perhaps it is time to recall the vision and persistence of the Evangelical leader George Goyder who, from 1953 to 1969, battled to create synodical government. His plea was simple, reasonable and still pertinent: for proper partnership in decision making.
There was also a letter from Jean Mayland on the same subject:
Jean Mayland at the last Lambeth Conference
When the Covenant was referred to the dioceses, it was sent only with material in favour and not, as with women bishops, with a list of points for and against.

Initially, the dioceses sent out only material in favour. It was after only a great deal of effort that some diocesan authorities were persuaded to send out balanced material.

In many dioceses, there was only one speaker making the presenta­tion about the Covenant — ostens­ibly balanced, but in fact a speech in favour, mentioning a few points against.

In the majority of dioceses, the bishop made a strong speech in favour before the debate began.

In one diocese, the bishop made a passionate speech in favour, and showed the Archbishop’s video, and then the proposer made a formal but detailed speech in favour. Only after all this was the young man speaking in opposition able to open his mouth. Luckily, he kept his cool, and in that particular diocese both Houses of Clergy and Laity voted strongly against.

In another diocese, there was a tie in the House of Laity, and at the recount a senior layman who had abstained changed his vote and voted in favour, and so it was just carried in that House.

Never again should the Church of England deal with an important matter in a manner that contravenes all standards of fair debate in England.

The second area of concern is the House of Bishops, whose votes were distinctly out of kilter with those of the clergy and laity. We are told that they felt that they must support the Covenant out of loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Many wrestled hard with their consciences on this matter, but only a handful had the courage to vote against.

This is because they are now bound by ideas of collegiality which go back to the approval by the House of Bishops of a report, Bishops in Communion: Collegiality in the service of the koinonia of the Church, written by Bishop John Hind and Dr Mary Tanner, and adopted by the House of Bishops in 2000. The Bishops need to break out of this false collegiality, and model for the Church and society a pattern of leadership which is open and honest about differences.

It used not to be like this — certainly not in the first 20 years of synodical government, to my know­ledge. When the General Synod failed to obtain the necessary per­cent­ages of votes for the Anglican-Methodist Unity Scheme to be accepted, the Archbishop of Canter­bury at that time, Michael Ramsey, was bitterly disappointed, but he did not attack or blame those who thought differently. He stood up in his great chair with his eyebrows beetling up and down and called out “Long live God! Long live God!”

That is the message that we, with all our honest differences, need to proclaim to our nation today.
And you might also enjoy: The stupid and ungodly culture of the Church of England (Eliziphanian)
Take the Covenant process first. Why were the Bishops so out of touch? Why was so much effort invested - in a frankly morally dubious fashion - by the institutional establishment in pushing through a measure where there was clearly no consensus? The disconnect between the hierarchy and the rank and file - and especially, the disconnect between the episcopacy and the clergy - should really be a wake-up call to the hierarchy to carry out a fundamental review of how Bishops work. ...


  1. Very good letters, both of them. I'm pleased they were published in the CT.

    Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe that the covenant went down in England. Who would ever have believed...?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Grandmère, down, but I don't think out. Even if no formal steps can now be taken till 2015 I guess England will be regarded as still considering the Covenant. The issue will be one of many tipped into the lap of the new ABC.

      We keep vigilant.

      (Egregious misspelling in the previous version.)

  2. I wondered why your comment disappeared. It's still a mystery to me why so many seemingly intelligent people staked their reputations on such an inferior piece of work as the covenant.

    More important than the covenant for the Church of England is what Sam Norton addresses, why the bishops were so out of touch with their clergy and people or so obsequious to the ABC that stark differences in voting patterns arose. Of course, whether the bishops will address the problem is another matter. I realize more and more that Alan Wilson was/is a voice in the wilderness.