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100 years ago: Unrepresentative laymen?

05 May 2011

May 5th, 1911.

[In 1911, the laity were unrepres­ented in the prevailing system of synodical government. But, since 1886, a House of Laymen for each province had been elected by the Diocesan Conferences — all purely consultative — to stand alongside the Convocations. From 1903, the clerical and lay Houses united on occasion as the Representative Church Council.]

THE first morning of the business of the Lower House [of the Con­vocation of Canterbury] was ren­dered lively by a tremendous on­slaught by Canon [Hensley] Henson upon “a certain assembly”, which, he believed, was called the House of Laymen, but which “has no part in the constitutional system of our Church”. Such words have been used heretofore by stern and un­bending High Churchmen. It is Broad Churchmen who are now the ultra-clericalists. But the explana­tion is not far to seek. The dignified clergy who make up the bulk of Convocation are not very ecclesias­tically minded. But the large majority of the members of the Lay Houses have an unfortunate lean­ing in that direction. The other day the Canterbury Laymen voted by 245 votes to 7 against the plans of Prayer Book change which have been divulged. Canon Henson says he is thankful for that vote as another nail in the coffin of the House of Laymen, as claiming to be in any way representative of the Church of England. They do not, he says, represent the working-classes of England. Dr Henson should surely remember a question put to him not long ago by a layman who has given his life to the cause of the Church of England, and who is en­thusiastically acclaimed whenever he appears on a Church platform. Who are they who have given the brilliant Prebendary of Westminster a place in the Representative Church Council? Three or four elderly clergymen, affluent nominees of the Crown, sitting round a small table.

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