18 September 2011

Synod 2011

Wellington's Diocesan Synod was this weekend in Palmerston North - my third synod, and second as a full voting member. Attending synod is always a privilege, but this year particularly so as we were debating probably the most important document to come through the Anglican Church in the last decade or more: the Anglican Communion Covenant. This document comes out of the Windsor Report process and basically sets out in 3 clauses what unites us as worldwide Anglicans, and in clause 4 what would happen to a Province that chooses to act outside what unites us.

I was expecting an impassioned debate, and we got that and more. What I was not expecting was the erudition of the speakers, the respectful, wise, and compassionate way a very divisive topic was addressed, the fire in the speeches that was also tempered with mercy. A truly Christian debate! I took some notes on some of the things that struck me in the speeches (most of which were debating section 4 of the Covenant):
  • The Covenant text does not identify what "matters of common concern" might be to other Provinces, so we don't know what might cause a Province to be suspended from the Anglican Communion
  • Had the Covenant been in force when this Province was debating our Constitution/Te Pouhere, we would probably not have our three Tikanga structure
  • The Covenant appears to block truly prophetic actions by a Province, such as when we ordained women to the diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate - if we'd waited until the Communion said we could, we'd still be waiting 25 years after we started!
  • The Covenant text does not make it clear how full communion is restored
  • The Windsor process of love and gracious action does not appear to be present
  • It centralises more power in the hands of the Instruments of Communion, specifically the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council [in an aside, of the four Instruments, only the ACC has lay representation - the rest are all bishops or archbishops!]
Of the speeches in the synod chamber, 10 were in opposition, and 6 in support. The vote was held "in division", which means that instead of a vote by show of hands (the usual method of voting in our synod), we gathered "in Houses" with ayes on one side, nays on the other of the synod chamber, divided into clergy and laity. The rule is that a vote in division has to be passed (with a simple majority) in each of the three houses of laity, clergy, and bishops, for the motion to pass.
  • Clergy passed it by 12 votes
  • Laity passed it by 8 votes
  • Bishop voted for
So it passed, but by the narrowest of margins.

The other area of significant interest this year was the Electoral College process. Because Bishop Tom has announced his retirement, the voting members of this synod form the Electoral College to elect our next Bishop. +Tom went for a walk while the Chancellor explained the process to those of us (like me!) who have not been part of an Electoral College before. Apparently, it's overseen by a Commissary (another Bishop) with an arrangements committee to get it all running. Nominations for the episcopate have to be made by a layperson and seconded by a clergyperson (or vice versa), and any elected synodsperson can make a nomination. And even if our term as synodspeople was due to expire before the College sits, we cannot be released from our role until afterwards (I was going to stand again in any case). And of course, when the Electoral College sits, everything inside the discussion is completely confidential - no big blog afterwards!

Slightly scary, that!

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