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Hallo again to all.

The governing bodies of the Church of England and of the US Episcopal Church will meet this week. The '79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church' meets in Texas, and the General Synod of the Church of England meets in York. Other countries and provinces have governance bodies also, but to the best of our knowledge none of those are meeting this week.

We have observed though the years that the very concept of 'church governance' or 'church governing body' is lost on most people. Leaving out the early church, for which there are poor records and worse understanding, and from the middle ages, during which the church was governed by bishops and kings, many of whom had armies to help them govern, the modern notion of church governance is nearly invisible to most Sunday worshippers. Many Protestant churches are effectively governed only by their pastor. You can use a news search engine with search terms such as 'pastor private jet' to find story after story of pastors using their role as church leaders to amass great material wealth.

Until the 20th century, the Church of England was more or less governed by Parliament. The Church Assembly, later subsumed by the General Synod, was created (by act of Parliament, of course) with extraordinarily cumbersome rules of procedure that guarded against significant changes. In 1969, after replacing the Church Assembly with the General Synod and adjusting its rules and membership, General Synod became viable and has been reasonably healthy ever since. It meets thrice per year, so individual meetings are less intense than those of the US General Convention, which meets every three years.

The General Convention of the US Episcopal Church was created in the late 18th century as part of the process of separating the American churches from the Church of England after their governments were forcibly separated. Making sure there were no bishops in the American colonies enabled the Church of England to remain in control of colonial churches. The well-known first step in separating the two was the consecration of the first bishops in America, but more steps were needed to create a self-sustaining well-governed church.

The structure of General Convention was suposedly modelled on the structure of the US government, with two houses and an executive branch. This may well not have been intentional; the two Constitutions were written at the same time in the same place, by people who knew one another well. The US Senate has 100 members. The House of Bishops has about 300 members. The US House of Representatives has 435 members; the Episcopal House of Deputies has just over 900 members.*

The Episcopal Herald has a fascinating document 'What is a Deputy?' It ends with the question 'How many people in your congregation have even a vague sense of why General Convention matters to them?', suggesting that the answer is often 'zero'. That might not be as true now as earlier, but more people understanding would be better.

We think that the huge legal fights (mostly in North America) over church property between breakaway factions and the larger organisations from which they broke away could have been reduced or avoided if more church members had understood the rules of governance and understood why their priests and bishops did not own private jets. Vast amounts of money that could have been better used was spent on battles in civil courts, all of which so far have resulted in those courts recognizing and honouring the governance structure. In countries where the church buildings are all owned by the civil government and the bishops are all appointed by the civil government there is less chance of rebellious congregations believing that they can leave and take their church building with them.

If you want to follow the goings-on of the Church of England general synod, there is no better coverage than that in Thinking Anglicans, but the official coverage is not terrible. If you want to follow the goings-on of the US General Convention, you might want to reconsider whether you want to drink from a fire hose, instead waiting for it to end and for the torrent of analyses and reports that will follow. There will be official televised reports. Most dioceses will have day-to-day summaries on their websites, and the General Convention's own website will have links to information sources once things get underway. Or you could board an airplane to Austin, try to find a hotel room, and go see for yourself. The crowds will be big and the lines will be long, but the food is good in Austin.

See you again next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

1 July 2018

    *Given the recent governance dysfunction in the US, we need to pray that something similar will not happen in the Church.
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