Synods and governance: courting irrelevance

The Church Times has a lead article that gives a sort of meta-view of the most recent General Synod in York and its functioning. Many of their observations are true of both our American General Convention and, to be honest, any church-wide meeting these days:

“Any governing body may fall under the condemnation, at some time or another, that it is little more than a talking shop. The charge is most likely to stick to the Synod when it seeks to express the Church’s mind on moral aspects of current affairs. The complaint comes most often from those who wish the C of E to keep its nose out of politics. But there is also, of course, a grain of truth in Giles Fraser’s suggestion in his column this week that there is something ridiculous about addressing the world when it is not listening. Our staff occasionally hear speakers warn that a Synod pronouncement is likely to get such-and-such a sensational headline in the daily papers, knowing that they are the only press reporters left in the gallery to hear it.

The Synod’s precursor, the Church Assembly, was once, and probably more than once, described as full of ‘elderly bores’. The age profile of the Synod — and there is indeed difficulty in getting busy younger people to stand for election — is not necessarily relevant to the quality of the debate. Sometimes a debate can be dominated by one or two members who would be told in a less gracious forum to ‘get a life’. But routine topics can take an unexpected turn; and speakers take heroic pains to make bread-and-butter business endurable. This group of sessions offered few thrills. There was, for example, a long clause-by-clause revision of draft legislation. But it concerned marriage in church, which is an aspect of pastoral work and outreach about which there are strong feelings. Not all will like the result; and few will be impressed to know that the matter had been under consideration since 1999. But there would also be complaints if new rules were imposed without a proper legislative process.”

Read the rest here: Church Times – Sins of the Synod

Giles Fraser’s article offers a warning to the Church of England that should resonate with Episcopalians as well. Two paragraphs worth special attention:

Reading Alastair Campbell’s diaries on the train back from another depressing General Synod made me wake up to the similarity between old Labour and the leadership of the Church of England: both are more concerned to please their own activists than to reach out to the country as a whole.


The reality is that millions of people couldn’t care less what we say or think. They don’t care about covenants or gay vicars: they want the Church to speak about life and death, about love and grace, about justice and hope. And because we are not speaking about it, they will go elsewhere.

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