A place of ‘sober second thought’

Photo: bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock
Photo: bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock
Published November 16, 2016

(This editorial first appeared in the November 2016 issue of the Anglican Journal.)

This month, the new members of Council of General Synod (CoGS)—who will help govern the church for the 2016-2019 triennium— meet for the first time.

Elected by their provincial caucuses at last summer’s General Synod, a majority of them are fresh faces—only about five of the 27 (excluding seven officers of General Synod) have served the council in the previous triennium or in recent years.

This is an exciting development. The infusion of new blood in any organization is generally seen as a good thing, ripe with promise of alternative ideas and infectious energy. The arrival of new, creative thinkers/doers, for instance, can help shake things up and pave the way for meaningful, beneficial change. No matter how smoothly an organization has been running, there should always be room for growth.

It is equally valid, of course, to argue that having a fresh slate does not always yield positive returns. There are many factors to consider—among them, the willingness of the “newbies” to do their homework, in terms of learning about their role, the function of the organization they are serving, the issues it deals with and the processes in place for addressing these.

While a volunteer position, being a member of CoGS is nonetheless a privilege that carries a huge responsibility. CoGS governs the church between meetings of General Synod, and it is one of the places where important decisions about the life of the church are made, including its spiritual and financial health.

From day one, CoGS members will be given an orientation, but in the end, it will be up to each of them to make choices about how much they are willing to participate. One hopes they will remember that they have been elected not simply to sit through discussions or act as a rubber stamp when decisions need to be made.

Newbies (and it goes without saying, even veterans) must be willing to step up and offer ideas, seek clarification and yes, ask the hard questions and respectfully disagree when necessary about matters requiring their approval, no matter how perfunctory they may seem. Like Canada’s Senate, and General Synod, for that matter, CoGS must be a place of “sober second thought.”

It is not that the decisions they will be asked to make are questionable in and of themselves, but they will be more solid and have great integrity if they have passed the test of due diligence. Of course, one always has a reasonable expectation that a church behaves more morally and more ethically than most institutions. Historically, however, such has not always been the case with religious institutions, in Canada and around the world, and it is precisely for this reason that this church has chosen to be more open and democratic than most and to offer checks and balances.

One hopes that CoGS will uphold this ideal of transparency and accountability at all times. This extends to granting the Anglican Journal unimpeded access and thinking twice about in-camera meetings.

As a Journal editorial written in 2002 noted succinctly, when Journal staff are asked to leave so that information can be received in secrecy, “it is the members of the church who are ejected; the parishioners, the people in the pew whose financial and moral support is sought at other times, are thus excluded.”

Transparency and accountability are particularly crucial at this time when the church is faced with divisiveness over the issue of same-sex marriage. Canadian Anglicans are looking at their church for clarity, honesty and for courageous leadership on this and many other critical issues of the day.



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