Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Smoke and mirrors

Wonderful people become muffled and domesticated once they convene in Synod, says Kelvin Wright.

Kelvin Wright  |  12 May 2010

The Anglican Church is full of extraordinary people. I sat with some of them today, and ate with others and and dined with still others of them in the evening.

I could mention them by name but the inspirational ones probably wouldn't speak to me afterwards and neither would the ones who for one reason or another I left off the list, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

But all around me in General Synod are intelligent, reflective people; people who have had amazing encounters with God; people who have lived out interesting and complicated life stories and who now give of themselves in Anglican parishes and chaplaincies and offices and commissions from one end of the country to the other.

So it might be a reasonable thing to expect that when these extraordinary people gather together to pray and to act, extraordinary things would happen, right? Yeah, right.

Any organisation is more than the sum of its parts. All groupings, large and small, take on a sort of personality or character of their own which is bigger than the sum of the individuals which make them up, and who am I to think that the Church of Aotearoa/New Zealand/Polynesia should be any different?

The wonderful people who surround me in the church are somehow muffled and domesticated once we convene together in Synod.

The demands of General Synod require that we act in certain ways, speak in certain ways, and avoid certain observations and topics of conversation. Of course, this is not always true. Some things happened on the floor of Synod today which were wonderful.


Chilling presentation

We heard, for instance, a chilling and professional presentation on the effects of alcohol in our society. We made some decisions about what the Anglican Church might do about that, politically: this certainly falls into the wonderful category.

Even more wonderful, we all personally pledged to be aware of our own drinking patterns and those of the people we love, and to hold each other accountable until we meet again.

Similarly, we talked, too briefly, about the environmental changes that are affecting all of us, but particularly those of us who happen to live on Pacific islands.

During the day, I was also party to several informed, intelligent, honest, vulnerable conversations about key issues in our life together; conversations which moved me closer to solutions for the many problems my own diocese is facing.

However, these conversations occurred as we stood drinking coffee or sat together to eat. When we gathered in the big room with the archbishops sitting up on a platform wearing purple cassocks, we acted a little differently.

Mostly we negotiated and caucused and tried to outguess one another. We are a large group and there are significant sums of money to be distributed, on which some members of Synod depend for their livelihood, and for which some members compete with others.

Some things were said and some things were done on the floor of Synod which seemed, to me, designed not so much to convey truth as to win advantage for one group or another.

In the end it was a sobering day and one in which some truly principled and inspirational decisions were made, because we have in our church some truly principled and inspirational people.

But it was a day in which we spoke and acted with a great deal of consideration for the political realities of the organisation which we form. We were often guarded and savvy, and we were, ultimately, the poorer for that.

We have some difficult decisions ahead as an Anglican Church, and yet when we act together we seem, all too often, to act not as we are capable of but rather as a thin, smoky shadow of ourselves.

PS: This is not exactly what I first wrote. I came home from dinner, wrote up my account of the day, realised I couldn't possibly post it, slept a little, woke and rephrased it all in a more palatable (ie guarded and savvy) manner. The mitre weighs heavily, even when I'm not wearing it.