20 October 2010

Getting out the Vote...in the Church


I recently read a pastoral letter by the Right Reverend Brian Marsh of the Anglican Church in America's Diocese of the Northeast. (Read the whole letter here...) His Grace is addressing the issue of accepting or not accepting the Pope's corporate conversion offer. He makes a rather good point that it seems unusual to break apart a diocese or a parish in order to achieve the end of unity. Indeed, where is the unity there? This is a struggle that many Anglo-Catholic parishes and dioceses are going through right now.

What I am particularly interested in are his comments on parish voting on this matter. He suggests not putting it to a vote in a parish as such, but rather trying to seek a consensus. The reason given is that a vote turns the matter into a result of "winners" and "losers." I wish to commend Bishop Marsh on his wisdom here, and the advice is really good advice for the Church in general.

The Church is not, has never been, and never should be a democracy. I do not suggest she should be an authoritarian, tyrannical dictatorship, either. However, the concept of "theology by popular vote" or "liturgy by popular vote" simply doesn't work. A vote on the church picnic might be fine, but not on more lofty matters. This is why God gave us church leadership. I am not in favor of vestries making major parish decisions, and ADSW Canon Law also prohibits this. Church leadership must remain with those whom God has put in charge, viz. the Bishops as successors to the Apostles, and the priests and deacons working in concert with them.

A parish should not be allowed to devolve into a case of "us" versus "them" or winners and losers. This is one way disaffected people leave the parish, the diocese, or the church as a whole. Voting doesn't help. It is not possible that every member of the parish will agree with everything the parish does at all times, but those who disagree should still not be made to feel on the outside. The strong leadership of the Rector is needed to bring the parish into a consensus as much as possible, without compromising doctrine, canon law, or sacred principles. This is easier said than done, but then, nothing in our work is easy.