How do we determine CoGS representation?

Canon Alan Perry. Photo: Art Babych
Canon Alan Perry. Photo: Art Babych
Published June 5, 2010

General Synod wrestled with key issues around the way the church governs itself and approved, after considerable debate, a resolution reducing the size of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) from 42 to 28 members.

The governing body of the Anglican Church of Canada also agreed to reconsider an earlier decision to reject a resolution that changes the basis for determining the number of lay and clergy members representatives to General Synod from each diocese. The resolution was defeated when it did not receive the required two-thirds majority vote from laity, clergy and bishops.

Later, however, Archbishop David Ashdown, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, and Archbishop Claude Miller, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Canada, put forward a motion to reconsider the quashed resolution noting that it had received at least a 60 per cent vote from each order. Eighty lay members had voted in favour of the resolution and 50 were against it. In the order of bishops, 24 voted yes, and 15, no; Sixty clergy voted yes and 42 voted no.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that section 21 of the Rules of Order of the General Synod Handbook allows for such a reconsideration. The resolution will be revisited by the Synod plenary on Mon. Jun. 7.

The proposal to change the “unit” for counting the number of clergy and lay delegates a diocese can send, from the number of licensed clergy to weekly church attendance, drew both support and strong reactions from the plenary.

David Jones, chair of the Governance Working Group, explained that since licensing practices vary across the country, this was “no longer an appropriate unit” for measuring representation.

Some members who opposed the motion argued it would limit representation of smaller, far-flung dioceses where weekly church services are often not possible. Others pointed to outdated national statistics from 2001. Some expressed concern that church attendance numbers “are totally unreliable” in some parishes, with priests using “all sorts of formulas” including midweek concerts as well as weddings and funerals to bolster attendance figures.

Jones said he was “appalled” to hear about such cases. He also explained that average weekly attendance should not include weddings, funerals and services held in medical or long-term care facilities.

In terms of representation, he said, the formula guarantees a diocese at least one clerical and one lay member, as well as their bishop and a youth member. Now, he added, the debate needs to focus on how to determine the additional clergy and lay members that larger dioceses are entitled to.

Canon Alan Perry, diocese of Montreal, expressed support for the motion calling the formula “sane and sensible.”

Archbishop Ashdown said that the resolution is “not perfect but it’s a lot better than what we have now.”

Shortly after the vote, Jones told the Anglican Journal that he was “disappointed” the resolution did not pass but acknowledged that it was “the will of General Synod.” He added that “the tension between the more populated dioceses and the less populated, generally northern, rural remote dioceses, is going to continue. It has existed since we were created.”

He said he was “concerned about the number of people who seem…to accept that they don’t keep accurate statistics.” He acknowledged that the question of how to measure church is a challenge. But he added, “If you don’t measure it by reference to number of people–however you do that–how do you measure it?

Archbishop Hiltz said he was optimistic the issue would be revisited. “I think the debate we had this afternoon in some ways whet the appetite for some continuing conversation around these matters in the next triennium. Vision 2019 calls for a review of all our structures… I don’t think that was the absolute end of it.”

On the issue of reducing the size of CoGS, the church’s executive body between General Synods, Jones said the main reason for the move was to make it “more manageable and effective.” The membership of 42 “is too large” for a grouping that is not even a legislative body, he said.

Canon James Robinson, diocese of Calgary, urged Synod to vote in favour of the resolution saying that CoGS needed to set the example of exercising financial responsibility at a time when General Synod is facing serious budget deficits. “If we want to get our church back on strong financial footing, it requires changes…responsible stewardship,” he said.

Savings incurred from reducing the number of CoGS members could otherwise fund the “programmatic and relational ministries” of the church overseas, pointed out Bishop James Cowan of the diocese of British Columbia. These ministries are crucial, he added, given the conflict that exists in the Anglican Communion. Other Synod members raised varied questions ranging from the basis for measuring efficiency to the issue of representation.

Rob Marsh, diocese of Fredericton, who just finished a term at CoGS, said the membership “wasn’t too big a number for me.” He added that to reduce the number would be to cut down the wide range of views that exists in the church.

Meanwhile, Synod also approved resolutions that amended the Declaration of Principles to enable General Synod to provide for the selection, confirmation of selection, consecration and resignation of the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, and provided for this bishop’s membership in General Synod.

Archdeacon Sid Black, co-chair of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, urged Synod to vote on the resolutions, stating “it would be a significant day” for the church and indigenous Anglicans if they were passed.

After Synod members gave their approval, a beaming Archbishop Hiltz said, “Let’s celebrate this historic moment.”

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald was not around for the vote since he is currently on a speaking engagement overseas. He is scheduled to arrive Sat. Jun. 5, said Hiltz.

In 2007, Bishop MacDonald became the first National Indigenous Anglican Bishop with pastoral oversight over all of Canada’s indigenous Anglicans.

Synod also approved on second reading an amendment to the Declaration of Principles which would give General Synod authority with respect to the election, confirmation, consecration and resignation of a Bishop Ordinary having jurisdiction over Anglican chaplains on duty with the Canadian Forces.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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