28 Jul The Ecclesiastical Route 4
4. The fix undone
Adherence to the ecclesiastical route has proven confusing in our churches. The confusion may even be considered a “bureaucratic mess”, to quote one church. Thus far we have reviewed what the issue is about, how GS 2010 acknowledged and described the inconsistency of practice over the years and decided to a fix by adding something to the Synod Guidelines.
In this article we will review why GS 2013 undid the fix of GS 2010 and begin to review what has happened since GS 2013 codified the ecclesiastical route.
The Revision Undone
GS 2010 had attempted to give clear direction by adding to the Synod Guidelines the following: “For all matters of the churches in common, individual churches may address proposals or other significant submissions directly to general synod with the requirement that all such submissions are sent also to each church in the federation no later than six months prior to general synod.”
GS 2013 received four appeals against this decision. It was argued (among others) that this guideline contravened CO art. 30. The issue was in part that the guideline indicated that “all matters of the churches in common” could be presented to a general synod while CO art. 30 stipulates that this is not the case for new matters.
GS 2013 agreed, considering “Synod 2010 attempted to clarify Article 30 CO by enacting Guideline 1.E for the benefit of the churches, but in fact it rendered the last paragraph of this article ineffective.” And so the guideline was removed.
A new approach
Rescinding a decision should have returned the churches to the situation that existed prior to 2010. As GS 2010 had denied the appeal and upheld what GS 2007 had done, it should have meant that CanRC are free to submit something to a major assembly without submitting it to the other churches. That had been the “majority” view at GS 2007, dubbed the “older” view by GS 2010.
Ironically, the result of GS 2013 was the opposite. The “minority” view of GS 2007, dubbed the “newer” view by GS 2010, became the approved practice. This is likely because GS 2013 considered, in response to one of the appeals: “having matters go through minor assemblies has worked well and will eliminate unnecessary matters before synod.”
It may seem pedantic but note that the word “matters” is not qualified by the adjective “new”. This could suggest that not only “new matters” but “all matters” need to go the ecclesiastical route. A review of actions of synods after GS 2013 in response to submissions from churches would support this understanding.
In essence it means that the “minority” or “newer” view is now understood to be the prescribed practice in the CanRC. Nevertheless, confusion (if not “mess”) persists.
The only way to prove that the confusion persists is to review what happened at GS 2016, GS 2019, and GS 2022. As readers may know, I served as First Clerk of these three synods. I was also the clerk of the two Regional Synods West that adopted materials to submit to GS 2019 and GS 2022 (hereafter RSW 2018 and RSW 2021). The clerk of a regional synod and the first clerk of a general synod is responsible for the acts of these assemblies. Thus he tends to keep a close watch on consistency in procedure.
As I describe what happened at these five synods, I will be doing so not only on the basis of acts, but also of personal experience.
For the record, I was also heavily involved in the submission of an overture authored by a professor at CRTS, our seminary. For the professor it was awkward to get the overture to reach general synod: only a church can place an overture on the ecclesiastical route. As a result, he requested two ministers, one in the east and one in the west, to set the ball in motion. I was the minister “in the west”.
GS 1016 had to deal with a report commissioned by GS 2013. In dealing with this report, it also took into consideration three “letters”, an “overture” from the Brampton-Grace CanRC, and an “appeal” from the Burlington-Fellowship CanRC.
The acts of GS 2016 indicate that both the “overture” and the “appeal” contained “proposals”, some of which were also found in “letters” from three other churches. GS 2016 deemed everything admissible and interacted with all 5 submissions.
Since the “proposal” of Brampton-Grace was, in substance, also found in letters from other churches, one wonders how helpful it is to consider Brampton-Grace’s submission an “overture” as opposed to a “letter in response to a report.” Just because Brampton-Grace called it an overture, and the convening church did as well, and GS 2016 did too, doesn’t mean it is an overture.
I mean: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck, even if someone calls it a goose.
By the way, the same is true for the “appeal” which, as summarized in the observations, is not an appeal but also a proposal and thus comes down to a “letter in response to a report”. In the end, GS 2016 adopted the “proposal” contained in the “appeal”.
Are you confused? I am.
GS 2016 also received an overture from RSW 2015. This overture had gone the ecclesiastical route, originating with the Winnipeg-Redeemer CanRC, and having been adopted by a Classis Manitoba and then RSW 2015. This overture consisted of two parts, referred to as “Overture 1” and “Overture 2”. GS 2016 rejected the overtures, considering regarding both: “The Overture does not contain a clear request for action, nor a statement that can be adopted.”
It would seem that Winnipeg-Redeemer, the Classis Manitoba in question, and RSW 2015 assumed that general synod would seize on the idea being proposed and decide on a format for implementation, maybe as synod met, maybe by way of a study committee. GS 2016, however, decided that an overture should not just propose an idea, but also a concrete format for the implementation of that idea.
The fact that an overture could wend its way along the route of the church order only to be deemed “incomplete” at its final station suggests lack of clarity not only with respect to process (they got that right), but also with respect to substance (they got that wrong).
Now, GS 2016 does not really give proof of a “bureaucratic mess”, just of “confusion” and maybe “naivety”. It’s very different where GS 2019 and GS 2022 are concerned. That will have our attention next time.