by The Revd Peter Manuel | Rector, Subiaco and Clerical Secretary, Perth Diocesan Synod
Truth is Symphonic is the title of a book by Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar which is referenced in a work I’m currently reading by Welsh Baptist theologian Craig Gardiner, Melodies of a New Monasticism: Bonhoeffer’s Vision, Iona’s Witness. Gardiner develops the idea that the church is ‘polyphonic’ not ‘monophonic’, and Christ is the cantus firmus (Latin: ‘fixed song’). Polyphony is ‘a style of musical composition employing two or more simultaneous but relatively independent melodic lines’. Thus Christ is the pre-existing ‘song’, the cantus firmus, and the church the melody lines weaving in and around Christ. This is a musical analogy similar to and doubtless influenced by St Paul’s analogy in 1 Corinthians 12 of the ‘body’ of Christ’.
Christ is the ‘head’, Christ’s is the ‘body’, Christ is the one who makes divine sense of the complex and often contradictory creatureliness of the world. There is only one Truth, God. And we can only ever know an aspect of truth because we can never see the way God sees, the way God hears, the way God knows.
October is synod month. Well, not this year. I have been asked to reflect on Synod. This will cause some of you mirth. I remember one Synod when, in the Synod edition of the Messenger, I made three appearances in the photos. I think I sat in on that Synod for about half an hour but enjoyed the socializing and eating. Synod has been a necessary evil and mandated obligation for me since 1986. I have found it tedious. And I am not alone. I just left it to the keen people. I didn’t encourage parishioners to stand for election. It has mostly seemed like an enormous waste of time. If I’m going to waste my time I want to waste it in ways that I enjoy.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am committed to the Church as an institution. I believe that it is established by God. So I make the occasional forays into being involved. I’ve served on Diocesan Council, I’ve been a Nominator, I chaired the Examining Chaplains, I was on the board of Perth College and was deputy chair of the YouthCare board. I was also chaplain and then chair of CEBS the Anglican Boys’ Society. I did all of this because I am committed to the Church, the Body of Christ.
But Synod seemed such a waste of time.
That is until legislation came forward with which I disagreed. And I realized that I had done no preparation and didn’t understand the legislative process. I started to get involved. And 30 years after becoming a member of Synod I finally stood up and spoke.
My epiphanal moment was when I realized that the two days of Synod each year are the only days when the Diocese belongs to the people, not to the hierarchy, not to the Trustees, not to the Diocesan Council. It belongs to us. And we should guard and protect that. That is why I stood to be Clerical Secretary. That is why I do preparation and talk to others and work hard to make a difference. That is why I want to encourage the best people I know to stand for election to Synod.
The Church is symphonic, the church is polyphonic. And the moment we forget that or allow it to become monophonic, it ceases to be true to Christ. Let’s all get the best people onto Synod. Let’s all be the best we can for Christ and his church at Synod.