The Future of Episcopacy in the Church of South India

Statement of the Consultation organized by the People Synod at Vellore, Tamil Nadu, on 17th October, 2015 on the topic “ The Future of Episcopacy in the Church of South India” A Consultation was organized by the newly launched People Synod, in cooperation with the Abundant Life Movement, Vellore on 17th October, 2015 at Vellore, Tamil Nadu. The Consultation was attended by about 100 CSI members, both clergy and laity, from all the regions of the Church of South India. 

Background of the Consultation

It is well recognized now that the CSI is in a state of deep crisis. Issues relating to transparency and accountability in administration, autocratic and unresponsive leadership and wide spread allegations of corruption reported in the media, have begun to exercise the minds of a large number of members. In the matter of management of movable and immovable properties of the CSI, supposed to be the responsibility of the Church of South India Trust Association (CSI TA), a Company registered under the Companies Act, serious shortcomings have come to the attention of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs and the Department of Income Tax of the Government of India. The CSI TA is literally Reeling under investigations and show cause notices for serious violations of the laws of the land . The threat of an investigation by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office of the Central Government is looming large. First Information Reports ( the first step for criminal investigation) have been filed against several bishops in Police Stations of South India.

The most unfortunate thing is that the Episcopal leadership not only refuses to acknowledge the crisis and to take remedial action, but is embarking on a systematic attempt to distort the basic principles on which the CSI Constitution was framed. While the Governing Principles found in the CSI Constitution clearly affirmed that the Episcopal, Presbyteral and Congregational elements are necessary in the life of the Church in a well balanced manner, an undisguised attempt is made to make the Episcopal element , represented by the Bishops, more dominant, sidelining the presbyteral and congregational elements. To give constitutional legitimacy to this distortion, a set of amendments and byelaws is sought to be thrust on the people, vigorously pushed through by the Bishops led by the Moderator himself to get the ratification of the Diocesan Councils. Alarmed by this development and considering the protests that have emanated from various quarters, the Consultation was called to consider the future of episcopacy in the CSI.

Discussion

The participants listened to various speakers who analyzed the dangerous implications of the new amendments and byelaws, updated the present state of affairs on the attempts to expose the maladministration and corruption in the affairs of the CSI TA and the role of the People Synod in organizing groups of people to coordinate the protests of the people against the present dangerous trends in all aspects of the life of the Church. Members shared their experience of the autocratic and undemocratic functioning of the Bishops stifling the voices of the clergy and laity. The principles on which the CSI was formed as stated in the Basis of the Union, later incorporated in the Chapter on the Governing Principles of the Church were reviewed. The role of the Bishops, Elders and Pastors in the administration of the early Church and their equivalence and differences were considered. The fact that the CSI Constitution is unregistered making it difficult for people to legally challenge ongoing constitutional violations was highlighted.. After a detailed discussion, the Consultation came to certain conclusions.

Conclusions

  1. There is indeed a deliberate attempt to make the CSI fully Episcopal with the vested interest of centralizing power and authority in Bishops for personal gains, eclipsing the presbyteral and congregational elements.
  2. The historic Episcopate in a Constitutional form accepted by the Uniting Churches for the sake of Unity is being distorted beyond recognition. Instead of the Bishops performing spiritual oversight while presiding over the diocesan council, bulk of the administrative responsibilities have been taken over by them.
  3. The usurpation of powers by the Bishops coupled with the practice of issuing Power of attorney to the Bishops is the underlying cause for widespread corruption.
  4. The new amendments and byelaws should be rejected out of hand as they go against the pledge that was given at the time of Union that a) the United Church does not mandate any particular interpretation of Episcopacy and no such particular interpretation shall be demanded from any minister or member ,b) the CSI needs the heritage of each of the Uniting Churches(Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational) and each of those Churches will not lose the continuity of its own life but preserve that life enriched by the union with other traditions and c) that there will not be absorption of anyone of the traditions by the other traditions.
In the light of the discussions and the conclusions arrived at, the following Resolutions were passed.
Resolutions

Resolved

  1. That the People Synod should support and coordinate the resistance that is being shown in different parts of the CSI against the dangerous trend that is emerging in the CSI as stated above;
  2. That we whole heartedly support the attempts that are being made by Associations like the CSI TA Beneficiaries Association and individuals to expose the maladministration of the CSI TA and to seek the assistance of Statutory bodies to set right the affairs of the CSI TA in accordance with Companies Act 2013 and to bring to book the perpetrators of corrupt actions (Nehemiah needed the help of a non-Jewish King to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem)
  3. That the People Synod should take the initiative , on behalf of the People of God, to prepare a complete and comprehensive new Constitution in the form of a Scheme for administration and governance of the CSI reflecting both the intentions of the original founders of the CSI and the hopes and aspirations of the present members of the Church.
  4. That Partner Churches who are representatives of the Churches involved in the Union negotiations be apprised of these developments and the compelling circumstances which are forcing the people to take this step and seek their counsel.
  5. That in pursuance of Resolution 3, a process of consultation with all stakeholders be expeditiously started.
  6. That once such a Constitution/Scheme is ready, it may be placed before the people for their acceptance and support and the People Synod should explore ways and means of the possibility of getting legal status for it through registration under appropriate law of the land.


Dr. R. Jayakaran Isaac
11/1, Church Colony
Viruthampet, Vellore 632 006
Tamil Nadu, India Tamil Nadu, India
+ 91 94432 49422






Rev. Jacob Belly
31, Kandasamy Street
Kaundampalayam, Coimbatore 641 030
Tamil Nadu, India
+91 94432 13836






For and on behalf of the People Synod.

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