The Lay Representative exercises a particularly important function within the structure of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
In considering the role of the Lay Representative, it makes sense to start by looking at what is said about the role in the Church’s formal sources.
(a) Canon 63: This is the specific Canon entitled “of the Office of Lay Representative”. That Canon states that every incumbency or joint incumbency must convene a meeting of communicants every year for the election of a Lay Representative. The function of that Lay Representative is stated briefly as ‘to represent that congregation in the Diocesan Synod’. Section 3 of the Canon also says that, unless the congregational constitution provides otherwise, the Lay Representative becomes an ex officio member of the vestry of the congregation. The Canon also requires that the Lay Representative should be a member of the congregation which elects them.
Taking Canon 63 and the Congregational Constitution together, the formal role of the Lay Representative is:
- to represent the congregation at the Diocesan Synod;
- to serve as a member of the vestry;
- to report to the congregation.
What might these mean in practice? Firstly, and obviously, attend the Diocesan Synod. Secondly, take an active interest in the business of the Diocesan Synod. That will involve a careful reading of the papers produced for Diocesan Synod. Thirdly, consider what the views of the congregation may be on the issues in question.
There is a duty for Lay Reps to report to the Annual General Meeting. This should take the form of a written report on the matters of importance which have been handled during the year and there should be an opportunity at the annual meeting for members of the congregation to ask questions or comment on the report.
There are a couple of other aspects of the formal role of the Lay Representative. The obvious point that when a congregation elects its Lay Representative it is not simply electing a representative to attend meetings of Diocesan Synods and similar gatherings. It is electing the person who will have a voice in the choice of the next Bishop for the Diocese.
Although the Lay Rep is elected to represent the congregation, as mentioned already, they are an ex officio member of the Vestry. That means that they are a full member of the Vestry and carry the same responsibilities as other members. Vestry members are regarded as ‘charity trustees’ for the purposes of Scottish Charity legislation. It is important, therefore, that the Lay Representative participates fully in all aspects of Vestry business.
The Councils are, obviously, smaller groupings, and therefore offer greater opportunity to speak and exchange views than might be the case in Diocesan Synod. Regional Councils may also be the place where there is a real opportunity for co-operation with other congregations, or indeed other denominations, in the local mission.
In terms of the Alternate Lay Rep, Canon 63 also requires the election annually of an alternate who is “entitled to exercise all the powers of the Lay Representative” in the absence of the Lay Representative from any meeting, and who is also an ex officio member of the Vestry.
Importantly, in the context of Episcopal elections, if the Lay Representative is unable to attend the Preliminary Meeting of the Electoral Synod and the Alternate attends instead, then the Alternate continues as a member of the Electoral Synod throughout the entire process. So, a congregation similarly entrusts to the Alternate at the least the potential role of Elector in choosing a new Bishop.