Reforming the General Synod of the Church of England
Continuing His Grace's (covert) reforms while he is temporarily reinstalled to the See of Canterbury during this interregnum..
Having established democracy in the appointment/election of vicars and bishops at diocesan level, it is reasonable – indeed, a logical corollary – to address the structures of the General Synod.
Nationally, the Church of England ought to be notably clerical in its day-to-day administration and decision-making: the laity ought to be involved in revived and beefed-up diocesan synods, since the Bishop and his vicars are charged with ministering locally. Decisions may be taken on a simple majority, and bishops no longer have the right to veto. This subsidiarity gives lay elders an extended role in the governance of the English Church at a local level: any railing against (say) clerical immorality or tediously frequent contributions to Thought for the Day is to be confined to these convocations.
The Synod itself is no longer to be ‘General’ or tri-cameral, but vice-gerential and bi-cameral: it should consist of all the bishops of the provinces of Canterbury and York in the Upper House (House of Bishops) and elected clergy in the Lower House (House of Clergy). These may be, as presently, elected by lay members of the Deanery Synod in each diocese every five years by a system of single transferable vote. It is to be a forum for expressing Christian views and insights on major public issues, political, economic, social or moral.
Synod may only meet when summoned to do so by writ from the Supreme Governor, who remains the Monarch. It meets before God and under His authority, and must always be accompanied by prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist. It will be for the debate of all theological controversy relating to doctrine, liturgy and the administration of the sacraments, and – observing a church divided along Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical and liberal lines – all argument must refer to Scripture. The priority must be the defence of the pure doctrine of the Gospel and its propagation in the nation.
The House of Bishops is the executive branch of the legislature and has the sole right of legislative initiative, except where Scripture provides otherwise. It is independent of the national Government and represents the diocesan and national perspectives. The President of the House of Bishops is the Archbishop of Canterbury and, in his absence, the Archbishop of York. The House may propose legislation to the House of Clergy and to Parliament, which may become Measures, Canons, Acts of Synod and other legal instruments. Proposed legislation must receive Royal Assent and defend the interests of the Church and the peoples to whom the Church is charged to minister.
The House of Clergy is directly elected by members of the Church, with each member serving a five-year term. They represent the parochial perspective: there are to be no more co-opted or ex-officio members. Its function is to debate and enact laws proposed by the House of Bishops, and propose amendments where necessary. The House of Bishops is bound to consider all such amendments though may set them aside after due consideration. In such cases, the House of Clergy exercises democratic supervision over the House of Bishops by withholding consent from what the Upper House proposes, but the Bishops have the ultimate authority because the Ecclesia Anglicana is a single national body expressed through corporate Episcopal leadership. Proposed canons that conflict with the Royal Prerogative or with English custom cannot be put into effect. Proposed canons that conflict with the House of Clergy may be put into effect because we are not here concerned with numerical proportion but with guardianship of the Faith.
His Grace is aware that the removal of the House of Laity won’t go down too well with everyone, but he is of the view that the ‘bottom-up’ work should be done in strengthened diocesan synods and the top-down work a vice-gerential synod. The fact that bishops and clergy have been elected by the laity ought to increase the confidence of the laity in both bishops and clergy. There is interdependence as we are members of one body of Christ (1Cor 12:12-31; Eph 4:1-16). The bishops, clergy and laity all need to work together for the Gospel, but all do not have equal authority in the Church of Christ.