General Convention will consider both major and minor changes to canons on ministry and discipline in Columbus.
The Standing Commission on Ministry Development proposes a new system for enforcing discipline on church leaders. Members call the current canons (rules), known as Title 4, adversarial, pointing to the use of presentment as a tool. They want to replace that with a system using mediation and fact-finding and seeking “restorative justice – reconciliation,” said Stephen Hutchinson, chancellor for the Diocese of Utah, who helped write the proposals.
The proposed changes would amend the canons to include laity for the first time. “The canons would apply to anyone, to everyone in leadership, said Catherine Waynick, bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis and chair of the task force.
The work was shaped by a theological reflection by the Rev. Pamela Cooper-White noting that the church’s catechism states that the ministers are all the baptized: “lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons,” according to Waynick and Hutchinson.
“The canons should offer a process that recognizes the responsibilities and accountability of the ministry of the baptized in our relations with another at all levels of the church’s earthly organization (in practical terms, encompassing both ‘paid’ and ‘volunteer workers’),” Cooper-White said in a reflection written for the commission’s report to the 2003 convention.
Said Waynick, “[The change] reflects our baptismal ecclesiology that all members of the church carry out the mission of the church.” Hutchinson said the existing mode of fact-finding is “a draconian system and expensive one,” explaining that it is based on a military justice model that does not reflect the church’s theology.
“The focus of the proposal gets away from punishment, and that is very liberating … We can be more of something we say we are as a church, and that’s a major step,” he said.
The proposed changes include listing standards to which individuals can be held accountable. Cases that cannot be resolved by mediation would go to a panel of discipline that would hear the case with “more transparency and accountability to the whole church” than the current ecclesiastical court system, Hutchinson said.
The panel can be a multi-diocesan group, which could save money and share expertise while reducing the possibility of conflicts of interest, Hutchinson said.
Another proposed change would end having General Convention consent to the elections of bishops that occur within 120 days before the convention. Normally, diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees give consent or not to such elections. Ending the 120-day consent process would involve changing the constitution and require approval at two consecutive conventions.