Shared Governance: The Polity of the Episcopal Church

By Ragsdale, Katherine Hancock | Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Shared Governance: The Polity of the Episcopal Church


Ragsdale, Katherine Hancock, Anglican and Episcopal History


Shared Governance: The Polity of The Episcopal Church Edited by The House of Deputies Special Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity 2012. (New York: Church Publishing, 2012, Pp. 108. $22.00.)

Shared Governance is an excellent primer on polity for (adult) inquirers' classes and should be a must read for any new deputy to the General Convention or new member in any of the governance councils of the Episcopal Church. But that is just a happy side effect. This collection of essays compiled under the direction of former House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson is designed, primarily, "to explain why we believe it is essential to empower each order of ministry to take their place in the government of the Church" (101). This timely volume serves as a cautionary response to two challenges and as an arsenal for those who would rise to defend against them. The first challenge is rooted in international confusion about the polity of the Episcopal Church; the second stems from internal initiatives to reconsider, and perhaps reconfigure, that polity.

International confusion has arisen most notably around the Episcopal Church's (as well as other province's) decisions regarding the ordination of women, as well as gay men and lesbians, as priests and bishops and the church's participation in, and blessing of, same-sex marriages. Primates from elsewhere in the world have wondered why the bishops of the Episcopal Church, or even the presiding bishop alone, cannot dictate the church's positions on these matters. Essays throughout Shared Governance not only make clear that the presiding bishop cannot speak for the Episcopal Church in any way contrary to the decisions of the General Convention, but also how the authority and limits of that office evolved and why those limits are essential to the nature and ecclesiology of the Episcopal Church.

The second challenge arises from within the Episcopal Church itself. A quote from the late House of Deputies President Pamela Chinnis goes to the heart of the matter that this volume seeks to address: "More and more we see efforts to increase the role and power of the House of Bishops Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom from a church dominated by the House of Bishops" (103). …

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