The Church is not a democracy ....

In any debate about the government of the Church sooner or later someone will say 'The Church is not a democracy ....'.

Mr Clive Scowen's opening words of the debate on the election of the laity in 2011 were "The Church of God is not a democracy, and rightly so." (here, page 237, big pdf).

I don't know if Mr Scowen is aware of how often that phrase has been used in the past. It has been a way of trying to stop reform and, in particular, any reform which would widen the franchise.

To argue for change it is de rigueur to say: 'The Church is not a democracy, but ....' Thus reformers are always on the back foot. Mr Scowen's version was "The Church may not be a democracy, but our polity involves a large democratic element."

(I might question just how large the element of democracy is, but I'll leave that for another day.)

But no-one asks, 'if the Church is not a democracy, then what is it?'

I suggest there are two answers. First, that the Church is a constitutional monarchy - with the emphasis on the monarchical rather than the constitutional (as in my previous post).

Democracy and/or truth?
The second answer is more complicated. It concerns the manner in which we discern God's truth and the way in which the Church legitimates the decisions it makes.

In effect a false opposition is set up: on the one hand there is divine truth, and the church is  its guardian.

The attributes of divine truth are unchallengeable rectitude, purity, abstraction, timelessness, compassion, universality.

Conversely, every human decision is challengeable and changeable. People are limited in their knowledge and imagination, self-interested, vulnerable to the winds of political and social flux and, whatever wisdom we can bring to bear on an issue, none of us know the future.

Yet a church must embody and effect divine truth if it is to be (and be recognised as being) legitimate: a real church. On the other hand all decisions are actually made by fallible humans.

Essence and action are fused in church governance. A church must hold divine and human, sacred and secular, together in a single process. For self-confidence it must have sufficient assurance that the outcome is of God and sufficient humility to know that the outcome of any moment is always transitory and insufficient.

This is difficult enough for an individual, or even a group of people who know each other well. It is all but impossible in a larger body.

and yet, in the absence of theory and shared human
understanding, truth is not knowable
In practice General Synod inevitably makes decisions very largely pragmatically - but usually with just enough theological or biblical seasoning to make it palatable. And tastes change. At one point historical argument was highly persuasive, now it's almost irrelevant.

(It's interesting the neither background paper for the debate on lay voting had any theological content. Both were entirely practical.)

And in formulating its polity and its culture of decision making in negative terms 'not a democracy' it offers no guidance as to how decisions are properly made under God, how its legitimacy as a Christian church may be affirmed or challenged.

Monarchy and divine truth
But I suspect the most pernicious aspect of 'The Church is not a democracy ....' lies in the combination of the two silences.

At the heart of church decision making - who may determine the will of God and how - there is silence. Silence about the structures of power, its expression in ordinary church life, and silence about the ambiguities and tests of legitimation.

'The Church is not a democracy' has become an occasional negating refrain, a way in which Synod members tell one another to Keep Off the Grass. (Or, perhaps, to always keep a-hold of nurse ...)

These are difficult and ultimately irresolvable issues, and I'm not sure that continually re-visiting them will help very much.

On the other hand I think they should be up for examination on occasions. In particular they should be looked at carefully and honestly when issues of reform of church structures come up for debate. At present shared silence has helped keep most lay people at the margins of the Church.

One member : one vote



Perhaps, in a previous post, I was too quick to be scathing about how one member, one vote could possibly be considered 'radical' in today's world.

I forgot. The Church of England is not like other institutions. It does things differently.

Specifically the it has a very low opinion of democracy. The reasons are seldom articulated in public.
Politically the church is a constitutional monarchy. This describes the British state too, and the CofE is the State Church. 

In the State, however, the emphasis is firmly on the constitutional end of that oxymoron whilst the church clings hard to the emphasis on the monarchical.

Bishops are princes in their own domains. (A couple still live in palaces.) And it's just been announced that Archbishop Williams will now be a life peer and Baron.

When synodical government was created a great deal of thought was given to the relationship of bishop to diocesan synod:
Bishop Mervyn Stockwood
  • Synods were carefully structured so that they could not outvote their bishop. 
  • The most explicit blurring of the monarchical and the constitutional is in the merging of the Diocesan Synod's Standing Committee with the Bishop's Council. Advising the bishop and formal responsibility for maintaining local government were conflated. Consequently the representation of the laity and inferior clergy [technical term] was subsumed into the Prince's court. 
  • Bishops remain judges in their own diocesan courts. This role is normally delegated to the Chancellor of each diocese. However Bishop Mervyn Stockwood (corrected, thanks to Frank Cranmer for pointing out my earlier mistake), Kingston-upon-Thames, fell out with his Chancellor, Garth Moore. Afterwards the bishop simply sidelined his officer and made most legal judgements himself. (Moore remained Chancellor but the two never spoke to each other again.) 
The Bishop is a prince in his court (in the sense of his personal council) - and is thus surrounded by courtiers. Subsidiary power in a diocese comes from access to the bishop and therefore there is every incentive to protect such access. Consequently sharing information horizontally can be foolish thing to do - even though (or, perhaps, because) it might be best for the organization as a whole.

Autocracy (however tempered) evokes sycophancy (however disguised). It is not good for human or spiritual flourishing, nor for objective or accountable decision making. 

This is a description of the polity of the CofE. It is not about 'good' and 'bad' bishops. It is the capacity for arbitrary decision making which is destructive, whether or not it's exercised, whether or not it's effective or the bishop loved. (And what is done by the Prince is echoed in each lesser fiefdom: parish priests may act arbitrarily because their bosses can.)

So this is the main reason why one member, one vote might be considered 'radical'. It suggests that the CofE might possibly step a little closer to being a membership church, maybe. 

One member, one vote is radical in the sense that the 1832 Reform Act was radical. It allowed a much wider section of the community to vote for their governing representatives. It did not bring chaos or instigate government by the working classes. The ruling class simply accommodated and adapted - and so will the Church.

One member : One vote


2011 debate on lay representation - background paper 2

William Fittall, 
General Synod's Secretary General
William Fittall contributed a background note on the legal and procedural background to the debate on voting for the House of Laity of the General Synod.

Looking back
He cites the conclusions of the Bridge Report of 1997 (I've not been able to locate a copy on my shelves, which is annoying).

These were:
  1. That deanery synods should no longer be part of the electoral process. Therefore
  2. A new electorate will need to be created, "(a) to enable parishes to have a direct involvement in the electoral process and so to feel confidence in its outcome and (b) to establish an electorate who would act responsibly to ensure, so far as possible, that the wishes of the parishes were accurately reflected."  He recommended:
  3. "synodical electors". I.e. people elected simply to elect diocesan and General synod members. In about the same numbers as the current Deanery Synod membership.
It considered and rejected one member, one vote one grounds of cost, practicalities and the difficulty of keeping the list free from irregularities (which might then lead to legal challenges).

It also rejected the suggestion that members of the Diocesan Synod should be the electorate.

Looking forwards
Fittall reinforces my belief that change would be simple by stating that it would not need a Measure.

On the other had it would need a two-thirds majority by houses and that may be far from easy.

He then raises a series of questions:
  • what impact the use of the electorate concerned would be likely to have, respectively, on the roles of deanery synods, diocesan synods and the General Synod in the life of the Church; 
  • whether the electorates for the House of Laity of the General Synod and houses of laity of diocesan synods should in principle be the same; 
  • whether the use of the electorate concerned would mean that the lay membership of the General Synod and of diocesan synods would better reflect the views and concerns of the laity of the Church of England; 
  • what impact the use of the electorate concerned would have upon the ability of  those elected to fulfil their responsibilities as, respectively, members of the General Synod or a diocesan synod; 
  • the cost of operating any new system; 
  • any other practical issues to which the use of the electorate concerned would give rise, including from the point of view of identifying its membership (a) in sufficient time to enable elections to proceed at the prescribed point and (b) with sufficient clarity to avoid legal challenge to their result; and 
  • the extent to which the use of technology might alleviate difficulties of either kind. 
Can technology help?
I sometimes wonder whether Mr Fittall has a thoroughly dry sense of humour. That, by way of just seeing what will happen or if anyone will notice, he can slip in a little something without changing the tone of the text. Misspelling his own name (as fit-all) was no doubt just a typographical slip. But where (bullet point 2 above) did the question of separating the electorates for diocesan and General synods come from?

Amongst what's missing:
  • How on earth can the Church of England justify an indirect electorate?
  • What is the proper place of the laity in the government of the Church of England?
  • Are lay people 'members' to the extend that an account should be given to them of the activity and achievements of those who govern?
One member : One vote


2011 debate on lay representation - background paper 1

In 2011 General Synod returned to the issue of the lay franchise in the government of the Church of England.

Two background papers were published. This post summarises the first, GS 1843A, by Mr Clive Scowen for the Diocese of London. The second, GS 1843B, is by William Fittall, Secretary General of General Synod, and will be considered in a separate post. (Links are to .pdfs)

The motion said:
'That this Synod request the Business Committee to commission a thorough review of how the House of Laity of this Synod and the houses of laity of diocesan synods are elected, particular consideration being given to whether the electorate should be some body of persons other than the lay members of deanery synods.'
The background paper sets out the argument. It is a novel in the debate on lay representation in that it is grounded on a structural difficulty in deanery synods, rather than on voting per se. 

The core argument is that:
(1) It impossible to adopt a scale of representation which enables fair representation of larger parishes on General Synod and diocesan synods without at the same swamping the PCCs of those parishes with deanery synod members and risking the domination of deanery synods by a few large parishes.
(2) It is highly questionable how representative deanery synod members are of their parishes or their electoral rolls.
With thanks to Mad Priest
(This latter point has been made often and extensively. It is inevitably true when the body is statutorily necessary and functionally hobbled).

Thus, the paper asserts, if we removed from deanery synods the function of electing diocesan and general synod members, the deaneries could reshape themselves in ways that would greatly enhance their efficacy.

This is not proven. Deanery synods will still have the same, optimistic and largely vacuous and discretionary functions as set out in law. But if substantive functions were legally specified and separated from diocesan synod purview as appropriate to the scale of the deanery (subsidiarity) it may well prove a valuable element in the running of any diocese. Despite all the weaknesses and shortcomings deanery synods have proved resilient and even popular.

Which, of course, leaves the question of the electorate for diocesan and General synod members.

The paper suggests two possible options:
1) A new electoral college for each deanery
In effect, more or less recreating the current electoral system, but separating it from deanery synods.
Pusillanimous (1) by Anja Marais
Or 2) One person, one vote.
Only in the Church of England could this option be described as 'radical'.

Universal suffrage was achieved in 1928 in the UK. (Women could vote for their representatives in the Church in 1919.) Is it really radical in  2011 to suggest that the Church adopt a system we take for granted in almost all other setting?

And the paper then set out the problems and difficulties as explored in 1993. Pusillanimous!

But at least the issue has been put back on the table.


General Synod votes for direct election of lay representatives (almost)

OK, it was 1993. And even then, they didn't.
It was 1993, and the UK came
2nd in the Eurovision song contest

Mr Jim White moved a Private Members' Motion asking that
... the principle of direct suffrage (as with clergy and bishops) should be applied to the election of lay members of General Synod as a foundation stone of, and not simply one of the options in, the impending review of the synodical system.  
[The review eventually emerged as the Bridge Commission Review, 1997]

Jim White said,
The proposition itself is very brief and simple: that the House of Laity should be elected directly by all Church members. It is a principle that is laid before you. You could say it was one member, one vote, if you wanted to choose that language. The reason for adopting the principle is the trust, fellowship and equality, one with another, that our Church institutions should demonstrate. 
Speakers against the proposal said,
  1. It would be less fair because (a) most candidates would be unknown to electors, and (b) because most would vote for someone they know this proposed system would give unfair advantage to candidates from large congregations.
  2. It would increase factionalism.
  3. Allowing non-Anglicans on electoral rolls to vote would be absurd.
  4. Deanery Synods should be taken more seriously, not sidelined
  5. It would cost too much
  6. Clergy would determine the lay vote
  7. The church is not a democracy (If I had an old shilling for every time I've read this ....)
  8. All representative systems are flawed
  9. "The House of Laity is not there to represent the interests of the laity, but to bring a lay interest to the representation of the Church as a whole and as a unity.". i.e. "to assist discernment" (Tom Sutcliffe)
  10. It disadvantages candidates who are less able to use the media, and aids the already famous
  11. There would be too much discrepancy between the value of a vote for a lay representative compared to the value of a vote for a clerical representative
  12. Church elections are totally different from secular elections
  13. There would be a possibility of a legal challenge if all the administration did not work fairly
  14. People won't inform themselves about the issues
  15. Voting on manifestos alone leaves you vulnerable to misrepresentation
  16. The young will be discriminated against because they move dioceses more often
Those in favour added
  1. You can trust the people
  2. The representativeness and legitimacy of the House of Laity under the present electoral system is questioned.
  3. Deanery Synods are 'the weakest link in synodical government', and too weak to legitimate General Synod.
Dr Christina Baxter
The motion was amended, a move instigated by the Synod's Standing Committee and led by Dr Christina Baxter. The amendment excised the substance  of the proposal and shunted discussion into the forthcoming review of synodical government as just one option.

The final motion read:
... the principle of direct suffrage for lay members of General Synod (as with clergy and bishops) should be considered as one of the main elements in the impending review of synodical government. 
But the Chairman of that debate pulled a fast one. In order to demand a vote by houses 25 members had to request it. When asked, only 22 members stood to make the request. He decided to order a vote by houses anyway.

The result was:
Bishops: 17 for, 4 against
Clergy 107 for, 60 against
Laity 75 for, 129 against
In a vote of the whole Synod, therefore, the motion would have passed. 

It's hard to interpret the vote in relation to the debate. Most speakers were against the motion, and were evidently outvoted. It's probable that those of the House of Laity who voted against the proposal were content with the arrangements that had put them there. Some may have objected to the watering down of the motion - though Jim White recommended acceptance, though with a heavy heart.

It's also probable that the fact the vote was lost in the House of Laity meant that the Bridge Commission need give the direct suffrage of the laity very little consideration.

This was good news for opponents of the idea, given that most (not all) of their arguments were very weak and that many relied on disparaging the electorate.

And I think I'm right - and open to correction - that this was the last time the issue of direct lay election was debated in General Synod until 2011.

One member : One vote


One member : One vote - simple!

It would be remarkably easy for the Church of England to change to one member, one vote for electing Diocesan and General Synod members.

It needs one practical change and a couple of substantive legal changes.

1) The practicality: a national database of members

This already exists for clergy (in fact, there's more than one) so there can be no objection in principle.

There would need to be a Code of Practice governing (amongst other things):

  • the duty to maintain the database and keep it up to date
  • data protection, permissions given by those on the list as to the use of their data, and levels of access to the records, physical and electronic security
  • the use of the data (in particular, contact details) by people who are already members (e.g. bishops, elected members of Synods)
  • the use of the data by people who are not members (e.g. commercial firms), and for purposes other than church governance (e.g. by lobby groups).

Electoral roll officers already have a duty to keep the roll up to date. They would, in addition, simply have to pass on any changes to whoever manages the database.

These are important matters and will need careful consideration. But they are practical and organizational details that are well within the existing competence of the Church.

2) Changes to the Church Representation Rules

To elect members of Diocesan Synod
To change rule 30(5)(b) to read:
members elected by the houses of laity of the deanery synods [insert] electors whose names are entered on the electoral roll of the parishes in the diocese in accordance with the next following rule
Deaneries would probably be regarded as constituencies (though it's not essential) and wording to make this explicit would also be needed.

The equivalent change would need to be made in the rule governing election to General Synod:
35(1)(a) the members elected by the diocesan electors [insertelectors whose names are entered on the electoral roll of the parishes of each diocese as hereinafter provided
There would, of course, be a number of alterations to other parts of the Church Representation Rules which will follow from these changes - but they would be relatively straight forward once the principle change was agreed.

OK, I'm not a lawyer or a parliamentary draughtsman, but the principle's clear.

Once General Synod decides in favour of 'One member : One vote' implementation will be entirely straightforward.

One member : One vote


How we got here (briefly)

The Church of England didn't create its current, wrong headed, voting arrangements for the laity by accident.  It took a lot of negotiating, compromising and conniving to arrive at such an unnecessarily complicated and inappropriate arrangement.
The Provinces of theChurch of England

The process of formally associating the laity with the clergy in the government of the Church of England can be traced back to the 1830s. The first phase led, through several recognized but informal meetings of laity with the clergy, to the creation of Church Assembly. The (all clerical) Convocations of York and Canterbury met, usually separately, twice a year. By the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act , 1919, Parliament enabled the Synods to meet together, and with a house of laity, to comprise the Church Assembly.

Pressure to reform Church Assembly came after the second world war. In the course of the reform of Canon Law (much underrated, in my opinion, in the modernization of the Church) two things became obvious. First, that the mechanism of formal consultation between the separate parts of the Church Assembly was cumbersome, inefficient and an utter waste of time. Second, that the Church's ultimate goal of acquiring powers over it own doctrine, worship and clerical discipline would only be possible if the laity had a bigger say in the decision making of the Church.

Since the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts the Church of England has been separating itself from the state, though at the speed of continental drift. One thread of this separation has been to move away from the idea that the House of Commons was, in theory and practice, the effective voice of the laity in Church affairs. Some MPs, in particular those most engaged with Church affairs, remained reluctant to let this go. But if they were to relinquish the role it would not be to an assembly wholly dominated by the clergy.

In 1952 the Convocation of York discussed the idea of a General Synod but no action followed. In the Spring session of the Church Assembly of 1953, Mr George Goyder proposed,
'That the Assembly respectfully requests the Archbishops to appoint a Commission (including representatives of the Convocations) to consider how the Clergy and Laity can best be joined together in the synodical government of the Church, and to report' Church Assembly Report of Proceedings, 1953, p. 89.
The motion was passed by a large majority and was 'gladly accepted' by the Archbishops. Seventeen years then passed before General Synod met.

George Goyder is, in my view, the hero of this story. He was a businessman, a leader of the Evangelicals in the House of Laity, and he stuck to his vision through forests of committees and commissions.  He was included to make dramatic claims and to see lay participation as the solution to an all-out assault on the Christian heritage of the country. He was convinced that the Holy Spirit worked through the whole church, not merely through the clergy.  He knew the challenges he faced. After four years as a member of the Synodical Government Commission he stated that he
became convinced that [outright synodical government] was impractical because of people [clergy] who would resist and resent any attempt to interfere with a body [Convocation] in which they exercised considerable prerogatives which they valued, and rightly so.' Church Assembly Report of Proceedings, 1958, p. 338.
At that point it looked as though all was lost. But the mood changed and there were more committees, commissions, reports, compromises, debates, and votes. Defenders of clerical privilege began to feel on the back foot.

In the end a mishmash of competing principles were squashed together into one scheme set out by the Hodson Commission report (government by synod, Synodical Government in the Church of England. (C.A. 1600) 1966))

It was this commission which insisted on indirect elections. The report stating that members were
firmly convinced that direct parochial election must be sacrificed at diocesan level in order to introduce effective synodical government ...' p. 50.
The rationales offered included:
  • That when the Anglican-Methodist unity proposals had been referred to the parishes there had been evident confusion
  • That parishes were too varied to meet the desire for reasonable uniformity in the lowest level of the electorate
  • That consultation with parishes all too often meant receiving the views of the incumbent
The central challenge to this proposal was that as a consequence
'... any kind of representation in the affairs or consultation of the main body of the Church by the parishes and congregations disappeared.' Valerie Pitt, Church Assembly Report of Proceedings, 1966, p. 594
The challenge was never answered.

This topic is going
to be tough to illustrate
There was one more step which has had a lasting detrimental effect. The Hodson Report had wanted to make ruri-decanal conferences (now Deanery Synods) an effective part of the structure of local government of the Church. It proposed that the business of the Diocesan Synods should be considered beforehand by the Deanery Synods. This would have given the opportunity for significant and sustained contributions to debate. But - with no announcement, explanation or discussion - the word 'beforehand' was dropped from the Measure. As a result Deanery Synods were emasculated. They were left with just one substantive statutory role: to elect the members of Diocesan and General Synod.

At some point a bureaucrat, bishop or church lawyer took it upon themselves to quietly and arbitrarily shift the balance of power in local church government and no-one noticed, or no-one spoke up. Shame on them.


One member, One vote - now!

It's time this blog either packed up its briefcase and went home for tea, or took a different tack.

With the Covenant (almost) dead, that focus has gone. 

But I came to oppose the Covenant through earlier studies which strongly suggested that attempts to determine doctrinal difference through (semi-) legal processes were both doomed and destructive of the Church. 

Related studies had long ago brought me to the view that every member of the Church of England should  have a vote for its representatives in Church government.

When General Synod defeated the proposal for women bishops despite 42 of 44 dioceses voting for it, some people raised their voices in favour of reform of Synod, and not least of the method of electing lay members. I would like to see that voice grow louder and for longer. 

The present system
At the moment those on the electoral roll of a church vote for Deanery Synod members. These people then vote for Diocesan and General Synod members. 

This system of indirect voting means that there is no accountability from governing bodies to the people in the pews - the people who very largely pay for the Church. Where there is no accountability, the people don't count.

The consequences of change
It isn't possible simply to change the voting system as though it was a technical matter with no other implications.
  • The marginalization of the laity is a cornerstone of our present synodical system.
  • To change the franchise would be to change the whole set of relationships which currently structure the church - clergy:laity, diocese:parish, General Synod:parish.
  • Inevitably too the present kingpins in this structure - bishops and parish clergy - would also have to modify the ways they work and their relationships with the people around them.
The fundamental change will be to treat each enrolled member as a fully adult member of the Church. I think such change will be beneficial - and equally that it will be resisted.  

From first debate in Church Assembly to the instigation of General Synod took some 15 years. I don't doubt that change now will take something like as long. So there's no reason to delay.


Where we stand now on the Covenant

On the Modern Church site Jean Mayland has summarised where matters are now with the Covenant.

In essence, those who haven't yet declared are likely to wait till after the ACC meeting in November in New Zealand.
Jean Mayland staffing the MCU stall at
the last Lambeth Conference

It's unlikely but just possible that a province or two might make an announcement just before the meeting to try to influence the discussion.

On past experience the press conferences, releases and information that will emerge from the meeting will tell us very little. We'll need the usual combination of leaks and Kremlinology to guess at the content of what is said, never mind its implications.

This is no way to govern a membership organization; but perhaps that's the flaw in my logic.


The violence continues in Zimbabwe

Direct from NewsDay, 28 August
MASVINGO — Embattled Anglican Church leader Chad Gandiya’s subordinates last week appealed for President Robert Mugabe’s intervention over the alleged continued harassment of their followers by members of a faction led by excommunicated church leader Nobert Kunonga.
The church leaders lamented their continued eviction from Anglican Church buildings in most parts of the country by Kunonga’s followers even though the matter was still before the courts.
The Bishop of Masvingo 
Godfrey Tawonezvi
Part of the letter reads: “We are, therefore, appealing to President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, His Excellency President RG Mugabe, members of the Government of National Unity, Home Affairs co-ministers and the Police Commissioner-General to intervene in this matter where innocent and peace-loving worshippers are being driven out of their church buildings for no legitimate reason.  
"As Anglican Bishops in Zimbabwe in the Church of the Province of Central, we wish to express our dismay at the continued harassment of the faithful in the Diocese of Masvingo. What happened to freedom of worship in Zimbabwe?”
The letter was co-signed by Anglican bishops Cleophas Lunga (Matabeleland), Julius Makoni (Manicaland), Godfrey Tawonezvi (Masvingo) and Ishmael Mukuwanda of the Diocese of Central Africa and Anglican Church worshippers at Daramombe Mission in Chivhu.
The bishops said despite a court judgment clearly indicating that the Chivhu church was not within Kunonga’s jurisdiction since September 1, 2001, the latter, with the assistance of the police, had continued to evict members belonging to the Gandiya faction from the building. 
“What Kunonga is using to hoodwink the police are title deeds which he illegally refused to surrender to the Diocese of Masvingo at its formation. We are also disturbed that the police have taken sides. They are the ones who are in the forefront when our members are evicted from their church buildings." 
However, police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said he was not aware of the alleged disturbances in Chivhu.  
“For now I am unable to comment,” Bvudzijena said.
He may be unable to comment, but he can scarcely by unaware of the issue.

More Kanunga invasions


Squaring the circle

I've been mulling over one paragraph of a post by George Conger, first published in the Church of England Newspaper of June 17.  It comments on the ACNS press release after the last meeting of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion which I noted here earlier.

The must-have button for General Convention 
You can set aside the headline 'England allowed to discuss Anglican Covenant': it says nothing and is wholly unrelated to the text. It probably merely indicates the prejudices of some headline writer.

Conger says,
Under the terms of the Anglican Covenant, provinces that do not ratify the agreement would not be able to participate in decision-making about the covenant. While the Church of England cannot reconsider the covenant until 2015, the Standing Committee carved out an exception to this rule to allow the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mrs. Paver, the Church of England’s lay representative to the ACC to remain part of the process – though not as a representatives of the Church of England.
The rule referred to is:
(4.2.8) Participation in the decision making of the Standing Committee or of the Instruments of Communion in respect to section 4.2 shall be limited to those members of the Instruments of Communion who are representatives of those churches who have adopted the Covenant, or who are still in the process of adoption. (The Anglican Covenant)
First, English representatives would currently have no problem with this clause because they may be regarded as 'still in the process of adoption'. So too will every Province which does not actually reject the Covenant (which is the Philippines and Scotland to date - and that's assuming they've informed the ACO officially).

Secondthe SCAC determined that those who are members of the committee ex-officio are not present as representatives. Unfortunately for them this merely confirms that they cannot, under the rule, participate 'in the decision making ... in respect to section 4.2' [of the Covenant]. Bishop James Tengatenga, as chair of the ACC, and Mrs. Paver, as vice-chair, cannot participate in discussion of Covenant issues precisely because they are not 'representatives'

This might also pose a question for those Primates who are members of the SCAC. Para. 6 of the Schedule to the Constitution (pdf) of the Anglican Consultative Council, and §8.5, describes them as Ex-officio members of the ACC, their membership lasting only so long as they are members of the Standing Committee. While they self-evidently represent their respective Churches they are not members of the Standing Committee in a representative capacity.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is an Instrument of Communion in his own right and can presumably participate in that capacity, but not, by section 4.2.8, as a member of the SCAC. Presumably also Bishop James Tengatenga and Mrs. Paver can be involved in such Covenant decisions only when the matters are under consideration by the Anglican Consultative Council itself because there they are representatives. 

And, I would suppose, their absence from decision making will have to be explicitly recorded and the records subject to disclosure should any disgrumtled Church consider legal action.

Third, and almost incidentally really, the Covenant does not give the Standing Committee power to have 'carved out an exception to this rule', or any other. 

Fourth, critically, I suggest that this section of the Covenant will, if put into practice, lead to actions which are not in accord with English charity law.

Members of the SCAC are trustees of the ACC. The Charity Commissioners' Essential Trustee (a summary, not the law itself) says:
(D) Trustees and their responsibilities
Charity trustees are the people who serve on the governing body of a charity. They may be known as trustees, directors, board members, governors or committee members. The principles and main duties are the same in all cases.
(1) Trustees have and must accept ultimate responsibility for directing the affairs of a charity, and ensuring that it is solvent, well-run, and delivering the charitable outcomes for the benefit of the public for which it has been set up. 
(E7) Trustees can generally delegate certain powers to agents or employees, but will and must always retain the ultimate responsibility for running the charity. (Emphases added.)
The Constitution of the charity (the Anglican Consultative Council) is the primary document for the charity and trustees must conform to it: neither the Covenant nor the trustees themselves can override it. 

The Constitution, as usual, grants the Standing Committee the power to order its own procedures, the Archbishop of Canterbury having a veto) (§27.1:2). It is this power, I suspect, which enabled the Standing Committee to try to sort out the mess this bit of the Covenant is already starting to create.

The Constitution, so far as I could see, makes no provision to exclude trustees from decision making except where there is a conflict of interest or loyalty (§10)). The Charity Commissioners say,
Trustees appointed by another organisation, such as by a local authority, (sometimes referred to as nominative or representative trustees) have exactly the same duties and responsibilities as other trustees. They must act independently of the organisation which appointed them and act only in the best interests of the charity. There may well be occasions where such trustees will have to act in a way which conflicts with the interests of the organisation appointing them. In such circumstances the best interests of the charity must come first; this duty overrides all other considerations. (A guide to conflicts of interest for charity trustees.) 
As I understand it, trustees may not recuse themselves from whole areas of the charity's decision making by policy. Covenant or no Covenant. There is no such power in the Constitution and to do so would be to cease to exercise their trusteeship.

I suggest that section 4.2.8 of the Covenant, if implemented, would almost inevitably be in conflict with English charity law and the application of it would certainly give lawyers grounds for an action against the  SCAC if a Church felt it had been unfairly penalised or disadvantaged.

Therefore something must give. It will be the Covenant.

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, canonical nor secular. But I do work for a charity and need at least a rudimentary grasp of the principles. However, if you can point me to any misrepresentation or case law or anything authoritative at variance with my argument I will make whatever changes are necessary to this post and apologise at the earliest opportunity.

And, if you can do that, you might also be able to answer another, related, question. What's the legal standing of 'alternate' trustees? I can't see a reference in the Constitution to this practice of naming deputies, and I can't see how they can be trustees unless they're full members. The Charity Commission doesn't list them as trustees. I suppose they could merely have observer status. Either way, I think this is an example of the SCAC being too casual about trusteeship - and, as always, opaque.  


Brisbane defers the Covenant

Culled from an Australian Catholic discussion board:

Just came from the Brisbane synod vote [Saturday 23/June] on approving the Anglican Covenant. Rather than approve or reject it, they took the 'Welsh Option' and instead passed the following motion which acknowledges that the process has been somewhat overtaken by events.
That this Synod recommends to the General Synod that it:
Affirm the commitment of the Anglican Church of Australia to the Anglican Communion.
Affirm its readiness to engage with any ongoing process of consideration of the Anglican Communion Covenant
Request clarification from the 15th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council as to the status and direction of the Covenant Process in the light of the position of the Church of England.
Urge upon the Instruments of Communion a course of action which continues to see reconciliation and the preservation of the Communion as a family of interdependent but autonomous Churches.

The Anglican Diocese of Brisbane and the Roman Catholic 
Archdiocese of Brisbane and Diocese of Toowoomba 
signed a Covenant on 29 May 2009
The author adds:

There are some real structural problems with the Australian Anglican Church and the covenant. Everyone has to agree otherwise no-one can, and there is absolutely no chance that all diocese will agree so its a moot point.
All we can do about it from this side of the world is to keep affirming our commitment to communion and ongoing dialogue. The covenant debate was a useful trigger for starting that sort of dialogue for those who actually considered it.

The Brisbane Diocesan website
doesn't seem to have the result yet. It has the speech to Synod by the Archbishop Phillip Aspinall in favour of the Covenant which concludes,
So I think Australia should enter into the Covenant. We have further contributions to make as the Covenant evolves. Indeed the unique shape of the Australian Church means we may have a very important contribution to make. We can only do that if we are on board.
I look forward to hearing what emerges from the group discussions this afternoon and to the debate in Synod. You now know what I think, but we Anglicans believe in dispersed authority, so I wait to see what you think!


Something strange in the woodshed

The picture is intriguingly entitled
Anglican_Communion_corrected. By whom?
Some funny things are going on in relation to the Covenant.  I guess they reflect divided attitudes amongst those who might regard themselves as 'players' in this particular game.

1) The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion
The first was the announcement by the SCAC that there was now "no timeframe" for the adoption of the Covenant:
The Standing Committee received an update on the progress of the Anglican Communion Covenant. It was noted that eight Provinces had endorsed the Covenant to date, in some cases with a degree of qualification. They were the only responses received so far by the Secretary General. The committee also noted that the President, Chair, and Vice-Chair all hold their offices other than as representatives of their Provinces. 
There was general agreement that no timeframe should yet be introduced for the process of adoption of the Covenant by Provinces. The Standing Committee will return to this question following ACC-15. Press Release
While it was entirely understandable that the Church of England should not yet have informed the  Secretary General of the result of its deliberations on the issue, has not the Province of the Philippines told him that they have rejected the Covenant, or did he just forget to mention it?

"No timeframe" and "following ACC-15" keep options open. Drexel Gomez' drumbeat of 'urgent, urgent' has clearly been ignored. Instead an open-ended process would allow the Anglican Consultative Council to kill the Covenant if enough members wished to do so. Alternatively it would allow one province after another to sign up till those who had initially declined to do so became overwhelmed by its popularity and conceded.

Conditional trusteeship of the Anglican Communion?
The reference to the standing of ex-officio members of the Standing Committee strongly suggests a worried conversation on the lines of 'what is the role of members of the Standing Committee who represent provinces which have not signed the covenant?' (Which could easily be 5 out of 11 elected members.)

My understanding of English charity law (which governs the Committee) is that it is pretty straightforward: as trustees they must all act in the best interests of the charity and not of any nominating or electing body; they cannot be excluded from decision making (except in cases of conflict of interest) nor delegate their responsibilities to others. Some could, of course, voluntarily step back from certain questions or decisions. 

But this would result in the farcical position of overlapping layers of decision making within the governing body of the Communion. Once again, the Covenant would be a source of visible disunity in the Anglican Church.

2) GS1878: report by the Business Committee on the reference [of the Covenant] to the dioceses

GS1878 is a masterclass in hints and insinuation in an objective report. Having noted the defeat of the Covenant under the rules, it says,

6) ... For the record, there is nothing in the Synod’s Constitution or Standing Orders that would preclude the process being started over again, whether in the lifetime of this Synod or subsequently, by another draft Instrument to the same effect being brought forward for consideration by the General Synod before being referred to the dioceses under Article 8. The Business Committee is not, however, aware of a proposal to re-start the process in this way.

General Synod in session
Now why would you comment on a matter which has not been proposed? 

I don't doubt the first sentence is factually correct but I wonder whether this paragraph was included in any earlier report on a defeated Article 8 business. It sounds like a snub to those who confidently stated that that the matter cannot be brought back to Synod before 2015. But even if this is not absolutely and constitutionally correct it is certainly politically impossible to bring the issue back in this Synod: so to whom is this hint directed?

More worrying is the extended discussion on the votes. While, again, I'm sure it's accurate in every detail it is completely irrelevant. Its sole purpose seems to be to obfuscate the result and imply that the vote is in some way unreliable. 

Whether by intent or not, the discussion is undermining of synodical government. In the 18 years' debate which led to the creation of General Synod the repeated refrain was: 'the Church is not a democracy'. Voting by houses and dioceses was an expression of the synodical character of the government of the Church of England. It deliberately avoided making individuals the constituent element of church government (as, for instance, did the refusal to give all lay members a vote for their representatives in General Synod).

Thus the CofE's governance does not ask, are a majority of members or their representatives content with a proposal, it asks: are a majority of local synods content? And they were not.

Yet now we are told that if a few individuals here or there changed their mind or their diocese the result could have been quite different (paras. 8&9). Correct, I'm sure, but so what? Members voted the way they voted, synods divided accordingly and the motion was lost. 

The only 'so what?' I can think of which might justify the Business Committee endorsing such a report is that they were thoroughly brassed off with the result. If this isn't an abuse of process it is certainly playing fast and loose with the interpretation of the result.


The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe sets out on a new course

From the Harare Standard

Gandiya faction constructs own Anglican churches

JENNIFER DUBE, Saturday, 12 May 2012 18:01
The Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, Bishop of Harare (Right)
CPCA, Anglican Communion
Photo Credit: Anglican Harare CPCA
THE Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) has started buying land to build new churches as the property wrangle with ex-communicated Bishop Nolbert Kunonga continues.

Reverend Samuel Sifelani of the Marlborough parish said parishioners from his church would soon start building new structures because the Kunonga faction was preventing them from using the building they had shared before their acrimonious split.
“We are happy to be able to convene and pray in peace, without being attacked and arrested,” one parishioner said. “But we are not completely at peace because our properties were taken away from us.” 
Land has been acquired in Ruwa where the Mothers’ Union intended to build a training centre and a conference centre. Glenview parish has bought land while Warren Park parish is fundraising. Norton and other parishes have also secured land.

Kunonga told the journalist,

“Assist them by telling them that they should not build in the name of the Harare diocese and Anglican because they would have built for me as the law gave me custody of the church and all its properties,” he said.

“They do not know what they are doing but they have to be wary or else when I arrive at the properties they will start saying the law is unfair yet it is them who would have shown lack of intelligence.

He added: “Impress upon them that they should change the name so they do not get disadvantaged. They can come up with a new name and re-register or else their efforts will amount to nothing but a waste of time because the law is clear that they have no church.”
All here 


No Anglican Covenant - next steps

Until now the No Anglican Covenant Campaign has, for obvious reasons, focused strongly on England and the vote in English dioceses.
Malcolm French

A number of changes have followed the defeat of the Covenant in England.

Lesley Fellows has stood down as International Moderator and she deserves great praise and gratitude for the manner in which she performed this role.

Malcolm French has taken on the tasks of International Moderator.

Jean Mayland, a lifelong campaigner for change in the Church of England, is now the English Convener for the group.

Press Release here.

NACC attention is now turning to the US where the mood is difficult to read.

The Episcopal Church's General Convention meets in July in Indianapolis, Indiana. Three motions have already been proposed and the NACC motion is currently looking for sponsors. (OK, I'm being pedantic here. These proposals are all called resolutions. I believe that a motion becomes a resolution when it is agreed (resolved) not when it's put forward. But, when in Indianapolis ... So, I concede, and the texts will hereinafter be called resolutions.)

Three resolutions have so far been proposed. One for the Covenant, one for continuing engagement with the Covenant process, and one against the Covenant. All resolutions are listed here.

The one for the Covenant comes from a group who call themselves Communion Partners (firmly conservative) and was announced in 2009. The one opposing the Covenant comes from the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council. And the one in the middle seems to be a response to these two with the intention of keeping the ball in the air until everyone else has declared what they think. (Comparison at Preludium)

All these, and any others received in time, then go into a mincing machine which people have explained to me and I still have no clear idea how it all works.

Time to open up the ACC

The Anglican version of the Olympic
opening ceremony, ACC Nottingham 2005,
Photo: ACNS
The next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Auckland, New Zealand, begins on October 27th. An outline of events is here (pdf).

Traditionally the ACC has been very circumspect about sharing its deliberations and the event programme says "The ACC needs to get on with its own work in relative privacy,".

But it's not 'its own work', it's the Church's work (and, we would hope, God's work). The secrecy, with only selective and carefully managed press releases coming out of the conference, followed by the bare list of resolutions, is wholly inadequate.
The role of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is to facilitate the co-operative work of the churches of the Anglican Communion, exchange information between the Provinces and churches, and help to co-ordinate common action. It advises on the organisation and structures of the Communion, and seeks to develop common policies with respect to the world mission of the Church, including ecumenical matters. (Anglican Communion site)
From Dave Walker
The ACC is (a) a meeting of representatives from around the world, (b) consultative in its character and (c) of interest to a very large number of people around the world. Representatives should be audible to those they represent, consultation should (as much for its quality and comprehensiveness as for the benefit of others) be as public as possible, public interest is to be taken seriously as a sign of the engaged membership of the global communion.

I accept that members may not want to release the details of everything while debate is still going on. I accept that, occasionally, some matters may be confidential (though, having written that sentence, I puzzle over what would require confidentiality, and on what grounds). But what would be the harm in releasing transcripts or, at least, detailed summaries of each debate once the event is concluded?

Secrecy in government is both necessary and corrosive. As a rule I believe the balance should be struck by beginning with the presupposition that everything is public; exceptions should then be justified on a case by case basis according to previously agreed criteria.
Logo from the AnglicanChurch of Canada

But the ACC is not making judgments on commercial matters, nor dealing with information that's market sensitive. It's not debating matters which entail the disclosure of sensitive personal information. It's not a private club. There are no security implications of its debates. I even struggle to think of issues that it would simply want to hide.

So why is it so secretive? Why is information about its deliberations so sparse as to be almost vacuous? Whose Communion is it anyway?

Time for a new campaign: for an open minded, hearted, and voiced Communion.


Final voting figures on the Covenant

Alan Perry has produced a final tally of the statistics on the Covenant vote (and I've added some comments). 

In all, 3588 people voted in the 44 diocesan synods, including 94 bishops, 1584 clergy and 1910 laity. (Bishops' votes did not count toward the results, but were nevertheless recorded.)

The proposal to endorse the Covenant was defeated by 26 Dioceses to 18. This is a significantly bigger margin than the difference in individual votes. 

It is important to remember that this voting system was devised as part of synodical government. It was never a system of individual votes where people happened to be gathered geographically. 

Matters referred to dioceses under Sections 7 & 8 of the Synodical Measure are proposals for significant change in church life. Therefore the bar which a proposal had to pass was set noticeably higher than 50%+1. The intention was to find a way of ensuring, so far as possible, that a positive vote really reflected sufficient support for change around the country and amongst both clergy and laity. 

Therefore one way of looking at the discrepancy between the votes of bishops and those of the laity and clergy is to suggest that synodical government structures have proved effective. Bishops may be out of step with their people but the synodical system provided an effective brake on their forward march.

Whether the lesson you draw is that diocesan voting should be circumvented or strengthened depends on deeper questions of how you perceive the nature of the church.

Percentages of the vote by houses:
All voters

For the Covenant Against the Covenant Abstained
49.25 46.29 4.46

Voters excluding bishops

For the Covenant Against the Covenant Abstained
48.43 47.14 4.44

Bishops only

For the Covenant Against the Covenant Abstained
79.79 14.89 5.32

Clergy only

For the Covenant Against the Covenant Abstained
46.65 49.49 3.85

Laity only

For the Covenant Against the Covenant Abstained
49.90 45.19 4.92

Number of dioceses voting for and against by houses:
Bishops only
For the Covenant Against the Covenant
37 7

Clergy only
For the Covenant Against the Covenant
18 26

Laity only
For the Covenant Against the Covenant
22 22

It is clear overall that the Covenant was unable to secure majority support amongst either the clergy or the laity. The bishops voted overwhelmingly for the Covenant.

In 22 dioceses both clergy and laity voted against and only in 4 dioceses was the Covenant defeated in a single house (clergy).