A (small) insight into the CofE’s legislative process
In our August post Legal developments – July General Synod we noted that the July Synod had given First Consideration to a number of items of draft legislation including, inter alia:
- Draft Amending Canon No. 36, (Of the vesture of ordained and authorized ministers during the time of divine service, Of the burial of the dead). This will amend Canon B 8 (Of the vesture of ordained and authorized ministers during the time of divine service), following the Revd Chris Hobbs’s private member’s motion to make current forms of vesture non-mandatory, and Canon B 38 (Of the burial of the dead) to allow use of the normal burial service for those who have committed suicide and the unbaptised.
The next stage in the legislative process is the Revision Committee Stage, when it will be considered clause-by-clause, together with any proposals for its amendment. On 14 September, the CofE published the following comments which had been made to the Revision Committee:
- The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
- Clive Scowen
- Brian Wilson
- The Revd Canon Priscilla White
- Dr Michael Todd
- The Revd Canon Dr Simon Taylor
- The Ven. Dr Jane Steen
- Br Thomas Quin
- The Revd Neil Patterson
- The Ven. Luke Miller
The publication of communications such as these provides an insight into one aspect of the development of legislation in the Church of England, and illustrates the range of churchmanship and the practical issues that need to be taken into consideration in the further development of this draft Canon.
The very Anglican term “seemly” in paragraph 6 attracted a number of comments, viz.
“6. Where a minister adopts a form of dress other than vesture of a form specified in this Canon, the form of dress so adopted must be seemly and must not be such as to be indicative of a departure from the doctrines now contained in the formularies of the Church of England.”
Andrew Nunn observed, “[t]he term ‘seemly’ is impossible to define and will be impossible to defend. It is entirely subjective and that is of course the intention”, adding “what is seemly in large middle class evangelical congregations may not be seemly in working class churches”; this has strong echoes of the comments made by Thesiger LJ in Sturges v Bridgman, (1879) 11 ChD 863, who stated that “what would be a nuisance in Belgrave Square would not necessarily be so in Bermondsey”.
However, the one aspect which featured strongly in most of the comments was the necessity to separate the issues on vesture from those on the burial of suicides. The Ven. Dr Jane Steen commented:
“[t]he pastoral consequences of the two are of very different degrees of seriousness. Further, and more importantly, although the Church of England attaches no doctrinal significance to currently permitted vesture (Canon B8 1), it has attached considerable significance to the burial of those who have taken their own lives while of sound mind. It seems inappropriate to try to combine two matters of such different weight. Concerning that part of Amending Canon B36 which deals with vesture, I submit that, when this is redrafted as a separate amending canon, thought should be given to the use of the words currently found in Canon C27 to describe what would be acceptable dress”.
Other noted the controversial nature of the “vesture” component in comparison to the burial of suicides “which commands the overwhelming support of Synod”. As a former Clerk of Bills, Frank observed “[t]he Canon may be OK in GS terms but something like that would never be allowed in the Commons: a bill with two such disparate purposes – if it ever got past the Clerks in the first place – would almost certainly be divided into two bills by order of the Speaker”. Indeed.