Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Synod: messy, imperfect, but ours

From the London Guardian-

Years ago I was visiting friends in the Episcopal Church in the United States. The diocese had just elected a new a bishop and my friend had been an elector in the House of Laity of the diocesan synod. What did he think of the new man? I asked. "Well", he said, "he's a bit of jerk but he's our jerk". This layman, in other words, responded like a grown-up, taking responsibility for decisions and acknowledging his accountability.

In the Church of England, unlike most of the Anglican Communion, we do not elect our bishops, but we are governed by a synodical structure in which the three "estates" of the church are represented in three houses: laity, clergy and bishops. This model is replicated in every diocese as well. That it is a cumbersome and often frustrating decision-making system is beyond dispute. What is less acknowledged is that lay participation and a (somewhat) democratic authority is nothing new and has been inherent in our structures since at least the Reformation.

General Synod is a direct descendent of the Reformation Parliament of 1529-1536 which declared the Church in England to be independent of the see of Rome and the king to be its supreme head – in so far as the law of Christ allows. Even that megalomaniac Henry VIII needed parliamentary legitimisation for his programme of ecclesiastical reorganisation. The Commons, acting as a "lay synod" of the church, developed an increasing sense of responsibility and accountability in religious matters. So much so that slightly more than a century later, a Commons-dominated Parliament would abolish the Church of England and send its archbishop and supreme governor to the scaffold: a superb example of the law of unintended consequences.

More here-

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