1. What is the role of the Laity (those who are not ordained) in parochial administration?
Every member of the Church of Ireland who has reached the age of eighteen years and lives in the parish, or who attends the parish church, is entitled to be registered as a member of the general vestry, subject, if the diocesan synod so requires, to making a minimum annual contribution to church funds.
The general vestry of the parish meets annually to elect the select vestry which is the committee, chaired by the incumbent (rector or vicar) of the parish, that has responsibility for the administration of the parish finances and care of the buildings.
Every third year, the general vestry elects other officers, including the parish's representatives to the diocesan synod.
2. What is the place of the laity in the administration of the diocese?
The lay persons elected by the general vestries of all the parishes of the diocese, together with the clergy, sit on the diocesan synod. This synod meets under the presidency of the Bishop, and has responsibility for many aspects of diocesan life. For instance, it elects the diocesan council (comprising lay and clerical members) which is in a sense the executive committee of the diocesan synod. Every third year the diocesan synod elects the clergy and laity who will represent the diocese on the General Synod.
3. What is the General Synod?
The General Synod is the supreme legislative authority of the Church of Ireland. Clergy and laity of all the dioceses are represented there, and the General Synod can alter the constitution. The General Synod consists of two Houses: the House of Bishops and the House of Representatives, the latter comprising the other clergy and the laity.
The clergy and laity can vote separately on all questions if they wish to, and the issue is only passed if both clergy and laity assent to it.
The House of Bishops may, if it sees fit, exercise (after very elaborate procedures) what amounts to a veto. However in the century and a quarter since the General Synod was set up, this right has never been exercised.
4. What is the Representative Church Body?
Until 1871 the Church of Ireland was the Established or state Church of Ireland. Hence its name. When it was disestablished, it adopted a constitution and this in turn gave it government by synod. To act as trustees for the Church and to administer its financial affairs, the Representative Church Body was established by royal charter. This body comprises among its members all the diocesan bishops, with representatives of the clergy and laity from each diocese (elected by the diocesan synods). The staff of the RCB, like the staff of General Synod, is in many ways the civil service of the Church.
5. How do the laity participate in the appointment of clergy to parishes?
Normally, when a vacancy occurs in a parish, the Bishop convenes a meeting of a Board of Nomination consisting of clergy and laity representing both the diocese and the vacant parish. The board selects a name which must be supported by two thirds of the members for nomination to the Bishop. If the Bishop accepts the nomination it is he who makes the appointment, who institutes the new rector and to whom the rector makes his canonical vows.
6. Are the laity involved in the election of Bishops?
Yes, (except for the election of the Archbishop of Armagh, which is conducted by the House of Bishops alone). The election of Bishops to all the other dioceses is conducted by an electoral college, which has clerical and lay members elected by the diocesan synods.
This is a much simplified description of how the Church of Ireland structures operate. A reader who wants an authoritative treatment of the subject is referred to the Constitution itself and to J L B Deane, "Church of Ireland Handbook: a guide to the organisation of the Church" (APCK 1982) (please click here or here to view copies that may be for sale).
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