Doors slammed shut! Windows blown open?

Observer chided me after my End game post not to be defeatist about the coming shape of the Communion and suggested I focus again on opposition to the Covenant.

I take both points. But first,

The war is over. Really.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz making a point
My basic assertion in that post, that the war is now over, was reinforced by an interview given by Fred Hiltz, Primate of Canada, who said,
But I have to say that this meeting was not in any way dominated by discussions around sexuality. In fact, you actually would have to pull very hard to find references to it in our plenary conversations, which is amazing…The last few primates’ meetings have just been dominated by that issue, [the] actions of certain provinces and the reactions of other provinces to those actions, people not going to the Eucharist. None of that happened, everybody participated fully in every aspect of the meeting…People were together at the Eucharist, they were together at tea, they were together at plenary, they were together for prayer, for meals. There was a real sense of community there… The blessing of same-sex unions was just not a big ticket item, not a topic of discussion at this meeting. Not only was it not a big ticket item but nobody was saying, “When are we going to get to this issue?” which was quite profound.
Likewise, with the [proposed Anglican] Covenant…there was a general feeling that…we need to let the provinces have the conversations…and we’re not going to enter into a big conversation about it until our provinces have spoken.
The point was made that a number of the people present would share GAFCON's attitudes on the key divisive issues. But for the first time for a long time the Primates' focus was on working together - a focus only made possible by those who were absent.

I stand by my description of how I see the Communion shaping up (centralised in the Archbishop of Canterbury, the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion and their respective officials, clericalised, women and laity further marginalised, the distance from centre to edge getting ever greater).

But I will make a significant qualification.

A kairos moment
The end of the civil war gives a brief moment for debate on what the Communion might look like. The idea of changing it has been very widely accepted. Significant changes have already been made. But we no longer need to look at the Communion through the lens of civil war or the foci of sexuality, biblicism and accusations of colonialism. These remain important issues but, fairly abruptly, the steam has gone out of them and the engine driving them has departed on a side-line.

So the qualification of my previous post is this: now is a brief moment for ecclesiological speculation which could lead to a different kind of understanding of the Communion.

What I have described as happening now is only one possible future. There are always alternatives.

An every member church
I would like to see a church in which every member is valued as a fully adult person and constituent of the church.  That is, valued as members of the church per se, consciously setting aside what have recently been prior questions of gender or sexuality (or, for that matter, any other irrelevant consideration).

In the Church of England lay members are not valued particularly highly.

I am sure it is different in other parts of the Communion though I don't know any of them well enough to know how it works in practice. One possibility in the new Communion might be debate on the place of laity-clergy-bishops and the different ways in which members are involved in and excluded from aspects of church life in different parts of the Communion.

The Church of England's General Synod in session
In the Church of England, for example, lay people do not directly elect their representatives on the Church's governing bodies. Those on a parish's electoral roll elect members of deanery Synods. They are the constituency which elect members of Diocesan and General Synod. In the 1960s when the synodical structures were being created there was much discussion of the cost of universal suffrage in the Church. To put it another way, it was decided that the laity weren't worth the money - even though it was also pointed out that it was the laity who provided the money.

(A sidelight to illustrate my point. I did a Google search for pictures for this post. In the first few pages of each search there were lots of pictures of General Synod, one or two of a Diocesan Synod in session, none of a Deanery Synod meeting. Not even worth the record.) 

You can also see members' (lack of) importance in the way information is collected. No Diocese can communicate directly with its members because it does not have a list of them. Dioceses collect the numbers of people on electoral rolls (because numbers are important) but not names and addresses, except for parish officers and elected representatives.

The whole ethos of the CofE is monarchical. The further from the monarch - princes, to be more accurate - the less important people are. Deference remains rife. Like the British state the Church is a constitutional monarchy but, unlike the state, the Church puts relatively little emphasis on the constitutional half of the equation.

There was once a previous opportunity to debate these issues
Fifty years ago there was a brief flowering of publications and debate about the laity in the church spurred and supported by the World Council of Churches' Department of the Laity and the sense that the times they were a'changing.  It didn't last.

Bishop John Robinson
Bishop John Robinson was a prominent participant. In A New Reformation? he promote a new vision of an ‘accepting church’ which met people where they were and accepted them for who they were. This church would comprise small nuclei of people scattered like seeds through the world. By contrast church structures, which sustained barriers of clericalism, professionalism and sexism were potentially heretical. They would have to be overcome by a truly lay theology which would find ‘... its creative source to be the engagement of the laos in the life of the world.’ (p. 63). This lay-centric church, by contrast with what it inherited, would be a reinvigorated community, true to its nature as an instrument of God’s Kingdom.

The enthusiasm didn't survive and more conservative voices won the day. In 1959 Robinson proclaimed that great things were afoot in the Church of England, the tide had turned. In 1969 he wrote in On Being the Church in the World that the tide had indeed turned, but 1960 had proved to be the high water mark, not the beginning of a new ecclesiastical order.

General Synod was first proposed in 1953. In 1965 its structures might have been agreed but were sent back for more work. By 1969, when finally agreed, the place of the laity had been further weakened. For example, one of the roles of the Deanery Synod is to debate matters which are debated in Diocesan Synod. In the earlier draft they were to do so 'beforehand'. To debate issues before the debate at Diocesan Synod would have given Deaneries a significant influence in the affairs of the Diocese. To debate matters after a decision is irrelevant. In 1969 the word 'beforehand' had been removed - and I don't believe that change was ever publicly acknowledged or discussed.

The Covenant
My desire for an every member church is one root of my continuing opposition to the Covenant.

Even if the unsavoury and punitive aspects of Section 4 were removed the Covenant would still serve to reinforce the centralising of power and strengthening of hierarchy. It will make the distance from pew to decision-making even further than the miles that already divide them. It will further marginalise ordinary members of the church. It is time to look again at the base on which the whole organization of the church stands. Now is, I think, a brief opportunity to do so.

Doctrine, ethics, spirituality, worship, polity are all essential and constitutive - and are all meaningless unless they are embodied in the daily lives of ordinary faithful Christians. So, act for every member of an every member church and

Vote against the Covenant 


  1. And priests who are retired or unemployed have no vote whatsoever, not even by proxy. They are completely disenfranchised.

  2. You and me both, Mad Priest.

  3. Please come visit the Episcopal Church is you would like to see how laity are fully enfranchised. It's not a perfect system, but all orders of ministry are fully engaged.

  4. Anonymous16/2/11

    OK, Schizophrenologist, very impressive; but retired priests and unemployed priests are clergy, not laity.

  5. Anonymous, you are quite right about retired and unemployed clergy not being part of the laity.

    But it's strictly those who do not have the bishop's 'permission to officiate' who are excluded. So if you've retired (say) and no longer wish to work for the diocese then you're not welcome anywhere. Nothing personal.

    It does feel a little like constitutional discarding.

    And perhaps Schizophrenologist was making a wider point encouraging of my argument?

  6. I'm not 100% sure, but I think you have to be licensed to a church to be able to vote for synod reps. So, even if you have permission to officiate you are still disenfranchised.