Next week we will stay behind following the 10:30 service to elect a new Deputy People’s Warden and at least three Lay Delegates to Synod. Herewith, a crash course in Anglican governance.
It is said of the Anglican Church that we are “episcopally led” and “synodically governed”. What this means is that authority is a balancing act between the church’s ordained leaders—its bishops, priests and deacons—and the lay people they serve. So a bishop, who has oversight (from the Greek epi [over] and skope [sight]) of the church, offers leadership in the form of vision, guidance and doctrinal teaching, but relies upon Synod (a church council comprised of both lay and clerical representatives) to form the actual laws (called canons) that govern of the church.
This is a system of negotiated power. A parish priest, for example, has authority to preach the Gospel, teach the faith, and care for those in his or her care. But it is the parish itself—through general meetings and a governing board called Vestry—that must establish its own priorities, set its budget, and develop its own unique character as a Christian presence in the world.
Electing lay leaders in the church, then, is a vital way that the church remains the working body of the people, and not simply the playground of the clergy. At all levels of the church—the parish, the diocese, and the national office—it is the right and the responsibility of lay people … to govern.