How about some ecclesiology?

The Bishop of Sodor and Man,
Rt Revd Robert Paterson
The Bishop of Sodor and Man, Robert Paterson, has blogged about the defeat of the Covenant in his diocese last Saturday. I find his views quite revealing.

First, it's very personal 
The Bishop writes,
It was with a very heavy heart that I left the meeting of the Diocesan Synod on 1 March. ... I confess that I was not only shocked by this vote but I felt - and still do feel - personally wounded by it. It is a self-inflicted wound because of my own failings.
Now I don't know anything about the workings of Sodor and Man, so these are my more general reflections. However I doubt the Bishop should carry all the blame, Jonathan Clatworthy tells me he's highly respected in his diocese.

But, personalising the vote reflects the culture of ministry in the CofE which is still very personal. Each bishop does their own thing (at least, within the diocese) and each incumbent does too. If clergy are judged by their peers according to the solidity or charisma or prayerfulness of their own ministry then one corollary is that a concern for continuity across time, entailing a degree of personal restraint for the good of the whole body, feels like a negation of one's own ministry - and therefore one's self.

Another corollary is that a corporate defeat is seen as a personal rebuff. This is why an appeal for loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury may sway votes although it is simultaneously an appeal to set aside the merits of the argument. The other side of the appeal to the personal is the devaluing of synodical structures and an ecclesiology of dependence on hierarchy (father really does know best).

Yet synodical government was created - slowly and against the clerical grain - to embody the corporate nature of the Church. It was based on the presumptions that we are stronger together, that all members should be effective participants in governance, and that the bishops remained in charge.

There was extensive debate about the place of the bishop in diocesan synods which resulted in two key elements. First, that no vote could require the bishop to act in a way he was not willing to act. Second, by making the standing committee of the diocesan synod the same as the Bishop's Council they con-fused two distinct functions and stacked the odds heavily in favour of episcopal control of diocesan government. (Rule 34 (k)(1) of the Synodical Government Measure but, a little ironically, not included in a version of Church Representation Rules printed for the Diocese of Sodor and Man (pdf) which has some distinct legal features.)

Furthermore the price that Parliament required of the Church of England for it to pass to the Church control of its own affairs, in particular over doctrine and worship, was that lay people should be full members of the constitutional governance of the Church.

But the over-valuing (in my opinion) of personal aspects of ministry erodes synodical government. It's not the only thing that does. There has been a general and steady trend to marginalise lay people from decision making such that 1970 seemed to mark a high point rather than a beginning. Partisanship itself is not a problem for synod, but effective withdrawal from the governance of a diocese by certain parties certainly is. By demanding separateness such groups also demand direct access to the bishop (and often to some other bishop as well) in any matters of governance which they think affects them.

In my judgment corporate governance is thus significantly weaker than is good for the Church.

Second, there are those in the know, and there's the rest
The Bishop also makes the point from his personal experience that some people are 'in' (including himself) and the rest are out. As an insider he had not noticed the gulf. He notes that people in the  Church of England has a different understanding of the Communion than is held elsewhere. He comments that people don't have experience of the inner workings of the Communion, and that such experience people have is of the positive side of international links but not the negative aspects of division. He concludes,
The Anglican Communion across the world
You would have to have been at Primates' Meetings, at the Anglican Consultative Council and at numerous international Anglican gatherings to know that the existing instruments simply are not enough to hold together some national churches (and individuals) who have not discovered that "there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3.7) During the last decade and a half I have been privileged to have been round the table at a number of such gatherings in various parts of the world. It is obvious that I failed to communicate this experience and the trust I put in the international oversight of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I don't think it's simply that those engaged in international Anglican diplomacy have failed to explain things sufficiently to the wider audience. I think it's that the wider audience was not deemed important.

Third, putting the personal and the corporate together and coming up with ecclesiology
Whatever happens to the Covenant the experience of debating and voting on the issue will have and effect on the Church of England. I would like part of that effect to be a new debate about ecclesiology.
Bishops in the House of Lords

I believe that the Established character of the Church of England has been a substitute for ecclesiology. It has been a sufficient description of the nature of the Church.

Furthermore any discussion of ecclesiology presupposes the autonomy of the Church and the capacity to determine its own structure, ethos and theological justification. Therefore even to discuss ecclesiology is to raise a potential challenge to the Establishment.

Consequently changes to the government of the Church of England - and the Covenant would entail further changes to its government if passed - has always been done piecemeal, with no over-arching or internally shared ecclesiology.

Admittedly there has been a remarkable consistency of purpose since around 1850: to patriate powers from Parliament without endangering the Establishment. This project has been largely successful, though it is not yet complete, but I think it's no longer sufficient.

I think it's time for a new and systematic debate on what kind of a Church the Church of England would like itself to be. This might include:
  • Are relationships between the Church of England and all its partners - the Anglican Communion, Ecumenical partners, the state, voluntary Anglican societies and other organizations - appropriate, coherent, mutually beneficial?
  • Is the structure of governance right: 
  • Is the balance between bishops, clergy and laity the desirable one? 
  • Is the balance (or relationships) between General Synod and the wider Church correct? 
  • Is the balance between parishes, deaneries and the diocese the best it could be? 
  • Is decision making efficient, effective and in accord with our stated purposes?
  • How are all members enabled to play their part in the life of the Church?
  • Is there sufficient and appropriate accountability? 
  • Do the multiple laws which govern the Church need codifying, revising, reducing?
  • Is the Church of England the body of Christ in a manner which makes Christ visible to those outside it (or even inside)? If not, how might it be so?
Church bows to State
When we say 'Establishment' what comes to mind first is the legal nexus of Parliament and the Church. But we also need to remember that the emotional heart of Establishment, and what I believe most members would fight for, is the relationship between the Church and the monarchy. I don't think very many people at all care about the intricacies of legal structures but the personal and symbolic association with the Queen is something complete strangers will fight about.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The wonder to me is that Bp Paterson was so out of touch with the the people of his diocese that he was shocked by the vote. Perhaps if there was consistent and transparent communication forthcoming from those in the inner circle, in this case the bishop, then there might be better feedback from the flock. Result: Better communication in both directions.

    It seems that those in authority must be continually prodded in the direction of shared responsibility and transparency, which is exactly what did not happen in the run-up to the distribution throughout the communion of the final draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

    I deleted my previous comment to make a correction. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with 'Preview'.

  3. Bishop Paterson, don't personalise things, it's not fair and is akin to pulling rank. Are you going to act like this every time a vote goes against what you want?

    Like Rowan, it's not that you are not loved, rather a majority think that on this matter you are not right and after a sensible discussion the vote has gone against what you would have liked to have seen.