Bishops in Scotland defeat membership proposal

by
19 June 2008

Margaret Duggan reports from the annual meeting of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church

Truth and order: the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church at the Synod eucharist in Edinburgh last week

Truth and order: the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church at the Synod eucharist in Edinburgh last week

THE SCOTTISH Bishops made synodical history at the meeting of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Edinburgh last week. They defeated by one vote a motion that had been substantially passed by the Houses of both Clergy and Laity.

The issue before them was that of membership of the church, and how it was to be defined and listed. It has been a vexed question for some years, and has been before the General Synod since 2003. At the present time a list of communicant members is kept by each incumbent, and only he or she knows who is on that list. Putting the worst construction on the situation, the incumbent can control who is on it, and this has been considered by many members to be undesirable.

The Committee on Canons had brought a proposal that there should be two lists open to scrutiny. One, the Congregational Roll, would be a list of “all those who attended or were otherwise involved with a congregation”; the other, the Electoral Roll, would be a list of the more committed communicant members “who wished to participate fully in the affairs of the congregation” and who would be able to hold office. They would have to sign a declaration that they were baptised, over 16, and communicant members of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) in the place where they wished to serve, and that list would replace the communicants’ roll.

The motion, which was a series of amendments to Canon 41, was introduced by the Revd Jeremy Auld (St Andrews), who said that there was a need for uniformity in the church, and a recognition of who was responsible for maintaining the membership rolls. The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) and Common Law required it.

The Congregation Roll was meant to be open to anyone, and to be as inclusive as possible, but the Electoral Roll would make it clear who was qualified to hold office. It did not preclude the cleric of a congregation continuing to keep a communicants’ roll, because there were places and occasions when a communicant’s status was required. It was also clear that no one should be on the Electoral Roll of more than one church.

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The Revd Sally Gorton (Glasgow) said that it would create an unnecessary barrier of bureaucracy, and do nothing to encourage people to join. “The present system appears to work perfectly well. If the communicants’ roll is kept properly, then those on it over 16 can vote, and be office bearers.” She considered, however, that 18 would be a more appropriate minimum age than 16. The Revd Dr John Armes (Edinburgh) also criticised the proposal as pastorally unhelpful. He was particularly concerned at the proviso that no one could be on the rolls of two churches, as he knew there were those who worshipped regularly in Edinburgh as well as at their second home in the Highlands. Overall, he thought it “a fairly useless piece of legislation”.

The Revd Robert Warren (Edinburgh) said that care needed to be taken to conform with the requirements of the OSCR. Canon James Milne (Brechin), a member of the Committee on Canons, defended the motion, saying that a voting member of a congregation carried certain responsibilities. In addition, the current system allowed just one person (the incumbent) to place a person on the list of communicants “without that person even having a say on whether they wanted it”. The new canon allowed them to say “Yes” or “No”.

Canon Hugh Lee (Argyll) said that, in the light of a difficulty he had had with a particular church member, it was preferable that a rector had control of the lists in consultation with the vestry. The Dean of Glasgow, the Very Revd Dr Gregor Duncan, was another member who thought the present system worked perfectly well. “It is a bad idea to legislate to stop people being perverse: they always will be perverse.” John Whittall (Aberdeen) wondered whether three different rolls were really necessary. Canon John Lindsay (Edinburgh) agreed: “Let’s not fix it if it’s not broken”. He felt it was spurious to suggest there was any legal necessity for it.

When the amendments to Canon 41 were put to the vote they were passed in the House of Clergy by 35-23, and in the House of Laity by 45-14; but lost in the House of Bishops by 3-4, so the motion was lost overall.

Episcopacy — but what sort?

THE PRIMUS of Scotland, the Most Revd Dr Idris Jones, used his charge to the General Synod to reflect upon the authority of bishops, and how different models of episcopacy are deployed in various parts of the Anglican Communion.

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  In the United States, he had observed, bishops worked in a quite distinctive way that tended to mirror that country’s constitution, and that had recently led to misunderstanding in the Communion from Provinces that had a different way of working.

  “In Africa, generally speaking, the bishop is the chief in every sense of that word”, while the Church of England adopted a parallel structure to that of the constitutional monarch as the way to exercise ministry. “Even within the short compass of the still United Kingdom, variety can be seen; for bishops in Wales or in Ireland carry out their ministry of shepherding each in a distinctive way. Perhaps the most striking example of the different understanding of the nature of episcopal ministry is in the varying methods of election. None are perfect.”

He suggested that the authority of a bishop, and what sort of bishop, was “a matter to be reflected upon in the context of our current debates this year”. It was particularly relevant, he said, in connection with the proposed Church of England/Methodist Covenant, and very much so when the Bishops came to the Lambeth Conference.

Synod wary of Covenant process

BY A SMALL majority, the Synod made a commitment to taking part in discussions about the future of the Anglican Communion without necessarily committing itself to the Anglican Covenant process. It asked the Scottish dioceses to discuss and submit comments about the St Andrew’s Draft Covenant to the Faith and Order Board by the end of this year.

BY A SMALL majority, the Synod made a commitment to taking part in discussions about the future of the Anglican Communion without necessarily committing itself to the Anglican Covenant process. It asked the Scottish dioceses to discuss and submit comments about the St Andrew’s Draft Covenant to the Faith and Order Board by the end of this year.

The debate was introduced by Canon James Milne (Brechin), and seconded by the Bishop of St Andrews, the Rt Revd David Chillingworth, who said that the Anglican Communion had been amazingly successful as it had spread across the world, “but we do now need some kind of glue to hold it together”. An Irish bishop had recently raised the issue of how the Anglican Communion was led, and how the Archbishop of Canterbury was chosen. Many such matters had to be discussed, and “do we not regard ourselves [in Scotland] as midwives to the Anglican Communion?”

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Two members from Glasgow, the Revd Dr Eamonn Rodgers and Gill Young, said that they were unable to support the Covenant at all. Ms Young disliked the idea as “very un-Anglican”. Also from Glasgow, Canon Professor John Riches saw a danger of the Anglican Communion becoming more of a gathered sect, and it should be very careful not to undermine its ecclesiastical status. The Revd Ian Hopkins (Edinburgh) said that truth, justice, and freedom were not incompatible with the Covenant; and the Revd Marion Chatterley (Edinburgh) wanted to know what would happen if the Synod rejected the motion: would it exclude the SEC from all the considerations of it?

Canon Ian Paton (Edinburgh) was not happy with the motion that the Synod “affirm an ‘in principle’ commitment to the Covenant process at this time without committing itself to the details of any text”, and put an amendment: “That this synod affirm an ‘in principle’ commitment to continue to participate actively in discussions regarding the future shape of the Anglican Communion at this time (without necessarily committing itself to the concept of a Covenant).” This proved acceptable to the Synod, who voted for the amended motion 65-56.

Rural bishop and his lunch

THE Scottish Episcopal Church is to set up a Rural Commission to explore new ways in which the SEC, alone or in partnership with others, can do more to meet the needs of rural communities.

About a third of SEC congregations were in rural areas, said the Revd Professor David Atkinson, a former Professor of Agriculture, who introduced the debate. No less than 98 per cent of the land mass of Scotland was rural, containing 21 per cent of the population. The rural communities had been hit hard by rising energy costs, and many were in fuel poverty. Food poverty was also a concern, as the cost of a “healthy food basket” was £10 more than in cities.

The need was for a group that could deal with urgent matters, such as the closure of post offices, as well as longer-term issues.

Kate Sainsbury (St Andrews) said that practical ideas were needed, such as placing a computer in each church for blogging, or creating a virtual college.

The Bishop of Moray, the Rt Revd Mark Strange, said that village shops were disappearing so fast that as he travelled round his diocese — by far the largest land area of any in the UK — it was difficult to find anywhere to buy his lunch. He hoped that the SEC would set up a rural office, with support that was not just a pendant committee of a larger body.

After a brief and supportive debate, the motion to set up a Commission was put to the vote and passed overwhelmingly.

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