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Anglican church governance: an exposé, Part II

In reading this post, please keep its age in mind.

In Part I of our investigation of local Anglican governance we found that our church had been established, by the Synod of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, so that members of the Anglican Church of Australia can be Anglicans within our area. And the parent, the Synod, makes the rules under which the children, our local church, and other ministry units in the Diocese, have to operate. And the principal set of rules from the Diocese on governance of a church is the Governance of the Diocese Ordinance (2000) (the Ordinance).

So it is to this document to which we now turn.

Governance of the Diocese Ordinance (2000)

What we find is that nowhere in this document is a constitution for a church mentioned. A constitution for something called a ‘parish council’, yes, but not the larger organisation, the church. This is because the Ordinance itself contains the provisions that would normally be in a constitution. For instance, provisions about leadership, membership, and meetings, and management of a ministry unit.

So why then, when a constitution for our church is not applicable in its Diocese, is there one? The answer is clear when one looks at the contents of our constitution: with the exception of one provision at the end, it is not about the operation of the church, but about the operation of the ‘parish council’. So it should more properly be called (Local) Anglican Church Parish Council Constitution.

This interpretation matches the Ordinance. Section 37 provides that

The administration, of a parish, including the constitution of its parish council shall be as provided for in this section…(emphasis mine) [section 37.1].

Therefore, if it were expanded to include more about how the parish should be administered, it could be called (Local) Anglican Church Administration.

For the governance of the church, then, we turn first to the Ordinance.   This is effectively the church’s constitution. (We will return to the ‘parish council’ in due course.)

Local church governance

Usually my first question in governance is, Who should make what decisions?

In the case of a parish in our Diocese that has a rector – and that is the case with our church – that rector, by an appointment made by the head of the Diocese (the Bishop), has ‘charge of that ministry unit’ [section 26.3].

But in our parish, this is not the autocracy that this implies, but a partnership:

A reference in this section to a person having the charge of a ministry unit means that the person is charged in partnership with the members of this Church in that ministry unit with the authority and responsibility under the Bishop for the work of this Church within the ministry unit to which he or she is appointed (emphasis mine) [section 26.1].

‘To have charge’ of something normally means, first and foremost, custody of or responsibility for that something. Note here, though, that the necessary authority goes along with the responsibility.

The fact that the organisation is a church means that the Ordinance, the church law, needs to emphasize spiritual matters:

Within the partnership the rector or chaplain who is a priest has, jointly with the Bishop, a special role of spiritual leadership and decision-making responsibility for the teaching, sacramental and pastoral ministry within the parish or chaplaincy unit [section 26.2].

Some decisions in the partnership, therefore, cannot be shared fully with the non-clergy (lay) members. (It is assumed that, although the rector only is mentioned, any other clergy on staff in the parish have a role in this responsibility.)

The licence

Presumably this special role is part of the licence that is issued to the rector by the Bishop. For while the rector is always a priest (one of the three orders of clergy in the Anglican Church), he is only a rector when he holds such a licence.

This licence contains a covenant between the partners. Although not legally enforceable [section 27.4], this covenant

set(s) out the objectives and expectations for the ministry of the licence holder in the parish or chaplaincy unit to which he or she is appointed [section 27.2].  

(As an aside, one wonders whether a member, being a partner, can see this document.)


Whoever has the authority, it is the members who bear the responsibility:

In accordance with the Constitution and traditions of this Church, the Diocese is, under the care and authority of the Bishop, the unit of organisation of this Church for carrying out its mission and ministry within the geographical area of the Diocese [section 5.1].

The members of this Church in the Diocese acknowledge, through the Synod, their responsibility for that mission and ministry [section 5.2].  

Whatever the governance arrangement, and the splitting or sharing of authority and responsibility, the backdrop is that the Ordinance says that Synod sought to establish a system of governance that, among other things, ensures that

those who direct the affairs of the institutions of the Diocese are accountable for their leadership” [section 3.1].

Summary – so far

So far what we have seen is that our local Anglican church is an unincorporated organisation established by the Synod of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, and run by the members in partnership with the rector according to rules set by that Synod.

In Part III we will see how this partnership is meant to work in practice.