Synod examines church’s governance

Published July 3, 2007

While Bishop William Anderson (left) argued that there had not been enough consultation on governance issues, Canon John Steele urged General Synod to move on the matter.

Members of General Synod took a step toward changes in the governance and structure of the Anglican Church of Canada by approving a motion allowing the primate, after consultation with the house of bishops, to begin discussion with the provinces and dioceses about the “possible reform” of the church’s provincial and diocesan organization and structures.

Discussions concern such possibilities as the elimination of the provinces and the transfer of their powers to General Synod, adjustments of diocesan boundaries to reflect modern day transportation patterns and demographics, and reduction in the number of dioceses.

However, Synod referred two motions to the Council of General Synod (CoGS), the church’s governing body between General Synods, “for further work;” the motions dealt with changes to the way the church deals with amendments to its canons (laws).

One motion proposed changes to the church’s declaration of principles, its constitution and rules of order, so that amendments, other than those concerning doctrine or discipline, may be made at one meeting of General Synod. Under current rules, these amendments require the approval of a two-thirds majority of each of the three orders of General Synod (bishops, clergy and laity) at two successive synods. (General Synod takes place every three years.) Between sessions, they must also be taken to all diocesan and provincial synods “for consideration.”

A recurring argument made by those opposed to the motions was lack of consultation and information.

“People need to know what the issues are in order to make an informed decision. We’re away from the seats of power and often what happens is we don’t get a voice,” said Bishop William Anderson of the diocese of Caledonia. “All I got was a draft.”

Others were fearful about the effect possible changes in structures would have on dioceses with smaller parishes in remote parts of the country. “We still have churches that we can only travel by boat … We’re not afraid of change for efficiency. But I would urge you to consider not just the numbers and business side of it. We’re a relational body,” said Mary Ann Boote, diocese of Saskatchewan.

The governance working group told Synod members that they were only being asked to approve the motions on first reading and that there would be an opportunity to discuss them at the provincial and diocesan level between now and the next General Synod in 2010. They were also reminded that the review of the church’s governance had been mandated by the 2004 General Synod.

Robert Falby, a member of the working group, also said that one of the motions “does not deal with anything other than (eliminating) a duplication of rules.”

Canon John Steele, diocese of British Columbia, urged Synod to approve the motions, saying that failure to do so would set back by three years the timeline for allowing a conversation on governance to begin.

Wendy Newman, diocese of Niagara, echoed this sentiment, saying, “I think we need to give our heads a collective shake. I’m a new member and I’ve worked for the non-profit sector and other areas and I have never, in any dimension of my working life, seen anything like the difficulty we’re having now. We need to ask ourselves, are we a church of committee or commitment?”


  • 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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