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Synodical Action in Sydney

By Robert Allwood

From "Correspondence, Documents, etc.", The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. XII (No. CXL), February, 1859, pages 63-72.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2008



THE following lecture was delivered at Sydney, on Monday, October 25, 1858, at the Quarterly Meeting of the St. James' Parochial Association. It occupies a large portion of our space, but we hope not unprofitably. Sir Wm. Denison, the Governor of the Colony, was in the Chair. Mr. Allwood said--

"My Christian Friends and dear Parishioners,--Having been requested to make you acquainted with my views on synodical action, I have felt it to be my duty to comply with your request; and I now propose to offer you such information on this subject, which is so generally occupying the thoughts of the members of our communion, as I have been enabled to gather for myself from a careful consideration of the practice of the early Church, as well as of the existing systems of synodical action which are developing in the present day.

I approach this subject with considerable embarrassment, because I am conscious that the conclusions at which I have arrived are not in accordance with those generally held by friends for whose opinions I entertain very great deference.

[64] This consciousness has made me pause before giving expression to my convictions, but the more I read and reflect upon the question, the more convinced I am of the soundness of my conclusions, and however embarrassing it may be, I feel that it would be a want of faithfulness to you, and an act of moral cowardice on my part, to shrink from avowing them, with the strong persuasion that I entertain of their truth and importance.

I have always looked forward to the discussions and differences of opinion which would necessarily attend the consideration of this question with feelings of anything but satisfaction.

I am, constitutionally, one of the quieta ne movere school--that is, I would rather bear a little ill, the extent of which I can foresee, than by agitating for a change, run the hazard of having to bear something far heavier. But, in the present state of the question, I should be shrinking from my duty if I were to remain silent; and although the difficulties which will attend the inauguration of our Synod cannot fail to be very great, I look forward with hopefulness to their being overcome by Christian forbearance and moderation, by inviting that free expression of opinion from others which we claim for ourselves, and, above all, by giving to those who differ from us credit for being actuated by as much honesty of purpose and earnest desire to promote the welfare of the Church as ourselves.

On the present occasion, when called upon to initiate proceedings upon which, humanly speaking, the prosperity of the Church in this colony must greatly depend, I am sure that you will agree with me that it is the duty of all who may be called upon to take part in this very responsible work, to look very carefully to the soundness and security of our foundation,--to examine and to decide for ourselves--to take nothing upon trust, nor to give our sanction to any scheme or proposition, merely because others have done so, or because long usage may have thrown around it a certain amount of venerableness, but to prove all things, and to hold fast only that which is good.

On the subject before us, I think, very little can be gathered from the practice of our Fatherland. The state of the Church in England differs so materially from the branch of it in this colony, that I am at a loss to see how a precedent can fairly be drawn from it. The Church in England is inseparably connected with the State. It is interwoven with every part of the British Constitution. Its privileges and rights and customs have been gradually developed during a long series of years, and by concurrence of circumstances which have no bearing upon, and cannot apply to us in this colony.

We are a branch or daughter of the Church of England. All that is Divine in her we claim and enjoy as our heritage. Her scriptural Liturgy and spiritual worship as set forth in our Book of Common Prayer; her orders of bishops, priests, and deacons, as observed from the Apostles' time,--these are our bonds of union with her, and I most earnestly pray that the hour may never arrive when any unholy parricidal hand shall be lifted up amongst us to dissolve or disturb this union.

[65] But all that is human in her--all those privileges and powers which parliaments and kings have granted her within the realm of England,--all that mediƦval custom and long usage have permitted her, and which are day by day undergoing most important changes,--upon these we have full liberty to entertain and express the opinion how far they are, or are not, compatible with our social condition in this land.

It will, I think, be our wisdom to look upon the difficulties with which our parent Church is beset as a beacon of warning to ourselves, and from the experience of the dangers to which she is exposed, to avoid the rocks upon which she has fallen.

Under the open attacks of her enemies from without, and from a certain amount of dissatisfaction from within (arising, I believe, from that defect in her constitution which effectually prevents free and untrammelled action on her part), we see her at the present day earnestly, but almost hopelessly, struggling to adapt herself to the changing scenes and spirit of the times; and there are amongst her most devout and thoughtful members, numbers who would rejoice to possess that freedom from the bondage of State fetters which we enjoy--the liberty which I contend we have to deliberate and decide upon all those measures which may appear to us the best adapted to extend the limits and promote the edification of our Church, without let or hindrance, or permission of any earthly authority whatsoever.

The Church is to be considered under two aspects:--In her Divine, and in her social position.

In the former, in her doctrines and ministry, she is Apostolical and unchangeable; in the latter, she is designed to adapt herself to the social condition of the people among whom she dwells.

With the former, it would be rebellion against the Great Head to interfere. In regard to the latter, I feel not only at liberty, but morally bound, as a dutiful son, to give my best efforts to do all that in me lies to enable her to accomplish the great end for which she was commissioned.

It is in this spirit, not one of presumption and self-conceit, but rather of self-distrust and of deep anxiety to discharge the responsibility that I feel laid upon me, that I approach this subject, and ask your attention to the remarks which I am about to offer upon Synods in general, and upon the proposed Diocesan Synod in particular.

[We omit, for want of space, a very important part of the Address, in which Mr. Alwood shews that in the early Church "nothing of moment was resolved upon or sanctioned, without the advice and concurrence of the general body of believers."]

It is not within my province to trace out to you how gradually this primitive order ceased--how, step by step, as the relations between the Churches became more complicated, and differences on questions of doctrine and Church communion arose, the clerical prevailed over the lay element--how the clergy, who had dispossessed the laity, fell under the power of the bishops, and the bishops of the West under that of the Pope.

[66] At the Reformation, the cupidity of princes, the thirst for plunder on the part of the nobles, the want of information and ignorance of ecclesiastical matters of the laity, made them powerless and indifferent, and the lawyers transferred as a Divine right to the Crown the supremacy over the Church, which had been usurped by the Bishops of Rome.

In our own Fatherland, the laity have lost their rights, and the consequence is, that when the Church is spoken of, by nine-tenths of the people, the bishop and clergy are supposed to be meant; and together with the loss of their rights, as a general rule they have looked upon themselves as relieved of all responsibility, and only here and there are to be found faithful men, fully alive to a sense of their duties as responsible members of the household of faith.

It may, perhaps, be said the Church of England has her Synods--her bishops and clergy meet in Convocation, and the lay element is represented by the House of Commons; but, whatever amount of truth there may have been once in this observation, the absurdity of putting it forward in the present day needs scarcely to be shown, when the House of Commons is composed of men many of whom are the avowed enemies of the Church, and when no bishop can call together the clergy and laity of his diocese, to take counsel together for their mutual guidance and edification, without subjecting himself to the legal penalties consequent upon an infringement of the royal supremacy.

Now, with the knowledge and experience of these facts, what shall we do? What will be the prudent and wise course for us to take in this Diocese, when called together to consider the constitution and provide for the more efficient working of our Church? Shall we, with our eyes open, give up our freedom, and voluntarily subject ourselves to a yoke which our fathers at home find so galling, so calculated to restrain and check the onward progress of the Church? Shall we, without any of the privileges enjoyed by the Church of England, hamper ourselves by her disabilities--disabilities from which the members of all other communions are disenthralled? Or shall we, without weakening in any degree those ties which unite us to her--the ties, I mean, of doctrine and common worship--use the liberty which we possess, to frame such laws and regulations as shall be most suitable to our own wants, and the best adapted to our social condition; such as, while they shall restore to the laity their proper rights, shall at the same time invest them with their proper responsibilities; which shall make them feel that they are the Church, and, being so, are deeply interested in its welfare, and accountable for its good order and government; and that their clergy are the ministers to them of God's Holy Word and Sacraments, not exercising lordship over them, but taking the oversight in a fatherly and loving spirit, as those who watch for their souls--taking counsel with them on all subjects of mutual concern, and committing to them the charge of all matters of temporal interests in the free and confiding spirit of the Apostles? 'Look ye out from among you men of honest report, whom we may appoint over [66/67] this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.'

I will now offer a few remarks on the bill which has been proposed for giving legislative authority to our Diocesan Synod.

Towards the close of last year, upon the Bishop's return from Melbourne, the Clergy were called together, to consider whether it was or was not expedient to initiate Synodical proceedings by legislative enactment.

Some difference of opinion was entertained and expressed upon this point, but eventually all present concurred in a resolution that it was desirable that a very short enabling bill should be passed, a bill of one or two clauses, empowering the Church to transact its own business. Such a bill might have been drawn up in half an hour by two or three of the Clergy present; but it was proposed and agreed that it should be delegated to the Chief Justice, and Sir William Burton, gentlemen who, from their long acquaintance with the state of the Church in the colony, and from the zeal they had uniformly shown in promoting its best interests, were regarded by all present as well qualified for the work.

At the expiration of nine or ten months, the bill now under consideration, styled the Bishop's Bill, was sent to each of the Clergy, drawn up, as I am given to understand, by a gentleman of high legal attainments, but who had not long arrived in the colony, and consequently could have but little knowledge of the state and feelings of the members of the Church.

The result is, that we have now before us a bill consisting, not of two or three, but of twenty-three sections--not limited, as was agreed upon by the Clergy, to a few enabling clauses, but deciding upon vexed questions of discipline and government, upon which there are serious differences of opinion, and which called forth, in 1852, the opposition of the largest meeting of the Laity of the Church ever assembled in this colony.

I object very strongly to this bill.

1st. Because it is a departure from the simple form of bill to which the Clergy unanimously assented in Sydney last year.

2nd. Because it enters into and legislates upon questions on which the members of the Church are not of one mind, and which will require long and serious consideration before they can be satisfactorily arranged.

3rd. Because questions such as those entertained in this bill, affecting the government and discipline of the Church, are such as ought not to be discussed and decided upon by gentlemen who are not members of the Church of England, as is the case with many in the
two Houses of Parliament.

Many of the intelligent and earnest members of our Church are of opinion, that we ought to hold our Synodical meetings irrespectively altogether of the Legislature, as is the case in the neighbouring Dioceses of Adelaide and New Zealand; and there is very great weight in the objection to the interference of the Legislature; but, [67/68] on the whole, I think it expedient to initiate our proceedings by a simple bill, as a kind of starting point. I think this expedient, although not necessary. And if we concur in this, all that we shall require is a short enabling Act, such as the one introduced in Canada, such as the one to which the Clergy assented last year.

In regard to the principal questions which will be brought before us when assembled in Synod, I feel that I should not be acting towards you with the candour which you have a right to expect from me if I did not state to you my opinion clearly and unreservedly.

1. The right of a Bishop to preside in the Synod of his Diocese is a fundamental law of the Church. The presidency attaches to his office. I do not see how there could be a proper Diocesan Convention without the Bishop at its head.

2. With regard to the question of the veto. I am of opinion that if in any instance the Bishop shall see reason to differ from a resolution concurred in by a majority of the Clergy and Laity, he shall be at liberty either to express the reasons of his dissent at the time, or to put them on record, and to require that the question shall be reconsidered at the next annual meeting of the Synod, when a majority of two-thirds of both orders shall be necessary for its adoption.

3. I am of opinion, further, that a standing Committee, with similar powers and duties as those in the several Dioceses of the American Episcopal Church, should be elected by ballot, to consist of an equal number of clerical and lay members. The standing Committee to be a Council of Advice to the Bishop, being obliged to give advice when requested by him, and being empowered to advise him when its members think it expedient; and during a vacancy in the Episcopate, or the absence of the Bishop from his Diocese, to supply his place, as far as possible.

4. I am of opinion that, in order to avoid centralization, the several parishes of the Diocese should be legally incorporated--i.e. trustees should be appointed by the parishioners, who should be a body corporate, for the purpose of taking care of the temporalities of their several parishes.

5. With regard to clerical offenders. On the equitable principle that every man should be tried by his peers, I am of opinion that eleven presbyters should be elected by ballot at every annual meeting of the Synod, as a court of triers, and that the accused should have the liberty to select five, who shall constitute the court.

6. I am of opinion that the Clergy and Laity should meet, and debate, and vote together as one body; but that it should be competent to anyone to require that the vote shall be taken by orders, when no resolution shall be considered as carried which has not a clear majority of both orders.

7. I am of opinion that a Committee, on education generally, and on education in the Church of England schools particularly, should be immediately elected by ballot, to consist of equal numbers of clerical and lay members.

8. With regard to the appointment to benefices, I am of opinion [68/69] that, to all parishes whose Minister receives a Government stipend, the Bishop should present; but where the parishioners maintain their Minister, they should have the right of presentation, subject, of course, to the Bishop's rejection upon sufficient cause being shown by him.

9. I am also of opinion that, in accordance with the ancient usage of the Church, the Bishop appointed to preside over a diocese should be chosen by the clergy and laity of the diocese over whom he is to preside.

Closely connected with this question a very important legal decision was given last year in the Queen's Bench, on which I think it right to offer a few remarks, as the case has already excited much attention, and called forth several letters in the public papers.

It appears that upon the vacancy of any benefice, by the promotion of the incumbent to a bishopric in the Church of England and Ireland, the Crown by the law of the land has the right of presentation to the vacant benefice.

The Rev. Mr. Harper, the incumbent of Stratfield Mortimer, was promoted, in the year 1856, to the bishopric of Christ Church in New Zealand. Upon this the question was raised, whether it belonged to the Crown to present to the benefice so voided, or to the Provost and Fellows of Eton College, who are the patrons of the living.

The case was argued before the Lord Chief Justice, and Judges Coleridge, Erle, and Crompton. In the course of the trial, the Lord Chief Justice is reported to have made the following remarks:--

' That the Attorney General must show that a colonial bishop came within the same category as an English bishop; that it was difficult to know what a colonial bishop was; that he had not the ordinary status of a bishop of the English Church.' And upon Sir Frederic Thesiger (the present Lord Chancellor) affirming that, although it was in the power of the Crown to create a bishop, it could not give him jurisdiction without the authority of an Act of Parliament, the Chief Justice observes, 'That he might have the title of Bishop, but could do nothing in invitos--in those unwilling to submit to him; that not the smallest effect could be given to his degradation of a clergyman in disentitling him from holding a benefice; that, like the Scottish bishops, his authority would be merely voluntary to those who chose to submit to it; that he had no jurisdiction; that he might give his advice to those who chose to submit to him, but that those who were unwilling could not be bound.'

And on delivering judgment, which, he observed, the judges had considered very deliberately, from the great importance and novelty of the question, he declares, 'That the Bishop of Christ Church, New Zealand, had nothing in common with the English and Irish bishops, except that he was a Protestant bishop, canonically consecrated, and holding the faith of the Anglican Church; and the decision of the Court was, That the declaration showed no title in the Crown, and that the right to present to the living was the same as if the vacancy had arisen by the death of the incumbent.'

[70] Now it has been declared by the highest legal authorities, both in this Colony and in England, that her Majesty's patent investing the bishop with jurisdiction and authority to appoint officials, is not worth the parchment upon which it is written. Whether this be the case or not, I am not competent to give an opinion; but, in common with the other members of the Church in this colony, we have a direct interest in inquiring and ascertaining whether our Bishop's patent is really what it professes to be, a document legally empowering him with certain privileges of jurisdiction and patronage; or whether it is, what it has been pronounced by eminent jurists to be, a mere string of words, conveying no lawful powers, and therefore without force or obligation. The question has been mooted and canvassed in the public papers; and it is impossible to shut it out from our consideration. It must be entertained and settled. I would gladly have omitted all mention of it, but it is right that the members of the Church should know the true position and lawful powers of their chief pastor, in order that they may consider and counsel how any deficiency, if necessary, may be supplied.

I feel relieved from some degree of embarrassment in alluding to this subject, from believing that the status of our present Diocesan is not affected by it, inasmuch as the clergy have recognised his authority as their Bishop, and the laity having concurred in it, he is as fully and rightly invested with the Episcopal authority as if he had been regularly elected by the clergy and laity of the diocese. But the question is not of his being our lawful Bishop, but of the jurisdiction and other powers which he exercises in virtue of the letters patent. These are the chief questions which I think it will be necessary to consider, when we meet together in Synod; and the opinion which I have expressed upon them is founded upon a principle, of the truth and importance of which I am daily more and more convinced, viz. that the Laity of the Church are, and therefore ought to be, as deeply interested in, and made responsible for, the due order and regulation of the Church, as the Clergy, the ministers of the Word and sacraments.

This I hold to be their right, and every attempt at legislation which seeks, either openly or covertly, to withhold this right from them in all its fulness, ought to be rejected. Such would be the consequence of the enactment of the bill before us, which under the guise of giving a veto to the bishop, places two-thirds of the administrative power of the Church in the hands of the clergy. I have ever been taught that the Church consisted of two orders, viz. Clergy and Laity, and that of the former there were three degrees, viz. Bishops, Priests, and Deacons; and I confess that it was with some astonishment that I have seen it put forth that there was a third order, viz. the order of Bishops, as separate and distinct from the clergy.

The putting forth of such a claim is, I think, very ill-advised; and how any one, with any acquaintance with early Church history, could do so, would have greatly surprised me if I had not read that on the same occasion the historian Mosheim was quoted as an advocate of Episcopacy, and an authority, in some degree, for the Bishop's veto.

[71] Mosheim is about the last witness I should have expected to have heard cited in favour of Episcopal claims, and I will let him speak for himself, and you will be able to judge what opinion he entertained of three orders in the Church, and of the Episcopal veto. In his Commentaries on the Ecclesiastical History of the first three Centuries, the forty-first chapter is entitled, 'Origin of Bishops,' and he thus writes:--'While the Christian Churches were but small, two, three, or four presbyters were found amply sufficient to labour for the welfare, and regulate the concerns of each; . . . but as the congregations became every day larger and larger, a proportionate gradual increase in the number of the presbyters and ministers of necessity took place; and as the rights and power of all were the same, it was soon found impossible for anything like harmony to be maintained amongst them, without some one to preside and exert a controlling influence. Such being the case, the Churches adopted the practice of selecting, and, placing at the head of the council of presbyters, some one man of eminent wisdom and prudence.'

Again, in the forty-third chapter:--'A primitive bishop was, as it should seem, none other than the chief or principal minister of an individual Church. He taught the people, administered the sacraments, and supplied the ailing and the indigent with comfort and relief. Associating the presbyter with himself in council, he inquired into and determined any disputes or differences that might subsist amongst the members of his flock, and also consulted with them as to any measures which the welfare and prosperity of the Church appeared to require. Whatever arrangements might be deemed eligible, were proposed by him to the people for their adoption in a general assembly. In fine, a primitive bishop could neither determine nor enact anything of himself, but was bound to conform to, and to carry into effect, whatever was resolved on by the presbyters and the people.' Again, c. 45, 'To the people belonged the appointment of the bishop and presbyters: with them rested the power of enacting laws, as also of adopting or rejecting whatever might be proposed in the general assemblies. In short, nothing whatever of any moment could be determined on or carried into effect without their knowledge and concurrence.'

These, I beg to observe, are not my sentiments, but those of a writer who has been cited as a witness in favour of the claim to an Episcopal veto; but I adopt them, with a few modifications, and am of opinion that the laity not only exercised these rights in the diocesan synods of the primitive Church, but that it will be impossible to withhold the exercise of them from them now, without estranging some of our most earnest and intelligent members, and by so doing crippling and injuring the Church.

I have been for nineteen years a presbyter in this diocese, and I have witnessed and deplored the evils resulting from the concentration of all power in the hands of one man, whether in those of my revered friend the late Bishop, or of our present Diocesan.

With every qualification to command the respect and win the affection of the Church over which he presides, with zeal and untiring [71/72] energies, and an earnestness in the cause of his Master, which compel the respect even of those who differ from him; with qualities as a man which make him beloved by all those who have the privilege of friendly intercourse with him,--how is it that our diocesan has failed to obtain the confidence and conciliate the good-will of all the members of the Church? It is, I am bold to say, mainly owing to the anomalous position which he holds, in not being merely the spiritual father, but the autocrat of the diocese. It is not the fault of the man, but of the position. Much of his valuable time, which might be devoted to the oversight and the furtherance of the spiritual welfare of the people, is consumed in discussing and deciding upon questions which ought not to come before him.

Trusteeships and secular duties and offices are imposed upon him, and embarrassing subjects are submitted for his arbitration, which bring him unavoidably into collision with members of his flock; and as there are necessarily two sides to every question, whichever way he decides, some will feel disappointed and aggrieved. He is, in fact, the Church,--exercising a power which, in the hands of an unscrupulous man, might, in a few years, so mar its features and alter its character, that our brethren at home might be at some loss to recognise us as a daughter of the Church of England.

We are at a very critical period,--one which calls for much prayerfulness, that we may be guided aright.

We have it in our power, humanly speaking, by a just and judicious and conciliating course, to unite the Church as one man, by investing each and all with their proper duties and responsibilities, or, by perpetuating a system which I believe to be at variance with the practice of the primitive Church, and ill adapted to our social condition in this colony, to alienate many of the long-tried and faithful members of our communion.

In concluding my lecture, I recur to the sentiments which I expressed at its commencement, and earnestly pray that in this very difficult question we may all be so influenced by the spirit of truth and concord, that, by mutual forbearance and charitable appreciation of each other's motives, and brotherly desire to meet each other's views, we may speedily enjoy the advantages which are likely to arise from a well-organised Synod,"

At the conclusion of the lecture, after a vote of thanks had been given to Mr. Allwood, the reverend gentleman said that, on receiving the Bishop's circular, he had consulted the churchwardens and trustees, and that a meeting of the seat-holders would be held on the following Monday, after divine service, to elect two delegates to represent the parish at the approaching Conference.

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