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Diocese of Sydney 50th Synod concluded

Lyn Bannerman

by Lyn Bannerman, Lay Representative for Christ Church St Laurence

The third (and last) session of the 50th Synod met over four days during 10–17 October. This was one day shorter than normal as all business was completed.

Synod commenced with a Communion Service in the Cathedral, and the preacher there, and the Bible study leader throughout Synod, was the Reverend Gary Koo, preaching from Ephesians. We all rejoiced with the day off but were sorry that the Reverend Koo's final study from his excellent series was not delivered.

A report on only a few selected business items follows. You can read the full Synod Proceedings on line. References below are to the text of that full record.

Refugees

(Resolutions 11/16 and 27/16—see Proceedings text at pages 43 and 48)

There were two resolutions:

  1. calling for greater efforts by our Government to enact changes to current detention arrangements, which impact on all affected, but especially children;
  2. seeking faster processing, especially of Syrian refugees; and
  3. thanking and encouraging Anglicare and parishes for their efforts.

Parishes are encouraged to consider sponsoring a refugee family under the visa sub-class 202(g) category (cost may be up to $25,000). The speakers were passionate in their concern about our country's treatment of refugees. One speaker had reservations about such motions being put as he had left the Uniting Church as it was "too political". This drew a response about our responsibility as a church to seek justice for all.

Domestic violence

(Resolution 24/16—text at page 47)

The seriousness of this issue was acknowledged, including the sad acknowledgement that abuse occurs within church communities. A Diocesan Domestic Violence Response Task Force is continuing work on developing policy and pastoral guidelines, and education, especially for clergy and others having to deal with these matters.

The view of the Diocese is that 'complementarianism', as taught at Moore College, is not a negative influence. This theology is that women are "equal but different", the male is the "sacrificial head of the wife" and women cannot be in leadership roles over men, such as being rectors. I have absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of complementarians denounce completely any abuse. But, I am told that, in some local churches, women may not ask questions (eg in Bible study) without their husband's permission. This is in itself abusive, being controlling and dominating behaviour.

Parental leave for clergy

(see Ordinance at page 198)

An Ordinance was passed putting in place frameworks for parental leave for clergy members (male and female) who are licensed to parishes. As ministers are not employed under the Fair Work Act 2009, they are not classed as employees. This Ordinance addresses that inequity.

Muslim neighbours

(Resolution 18/16—text at page 45)

A welcoming and respectful acknowledgement of our Muslim neighbours. Do read it.

Ministry growth in brownfields

These are existing parishes. This topic covers four related, but separate matters that came to Synod, which need to be brought together to grasp the implications.

Non-parochial forms of Anglican ministry

(Resolution 3/16—text at page 40)

The Department of Evangelism and New Churches Board (ENC) has oversight of this and increased funding is sought (funding source was not identified) to assist parishes in these ventures, aimed at reaching those who will not engage in 'church' as we know it: eg a gathered indigenous community meeting outdoors, or gathered group in rented premises; missional activities in public spaces; or ministries that meet in clubs, pubs, or even play groups.

Inter-parochial partnerships for church planting in urban areas

(Resolution 4/16)

The background to this is that 70% of Sydney's growth is predicted to be in existing urban areas. Church plants to accommodate this are proposed. Again the ENC has oversight and the Large Receipts Policy was identified as a possible funding source.

Community chaplains

(Resolution 12/16—text at page 40)

As 90% of Sydney is unchurched, community chaplains can help reach out into communities (beaches, pubs, ESL classes, nursing homes etc). Currently around 70 are employed; 1,000 is the goal. This involves a partnership of Anglicare, Anglican Deaconess Ministries, Moore College, and ENC. No specific funding has been sought yet. There appears to be overlap with Non-parochial forms of Anglican Ministry above.

Funding for urban renewal

(Resolution 14/16—text at page 44)

After lengthy debate, the final Resolution was a greatly modified version of the original. This proposal was the only one of the four proposals debated. The original motion had proposed grand plans to significantly increase the land levy, now imposed on parishes to assist buying property in new housing developments, plus a significant raid on the Diocesan Endowment, plus an early grab for funds from a proposed new Large Receipts Levy. In this way, it was proposed, an 'Expanding Churches for Expanding Communities Fund' would be created from which parishes could seek grants to expand/renovate/repair existing parish properties. It was proposed that this fund would be managed by a new Committee for the purpose, despite the existence of the existing Mission Property Committee, and the ENC.

There were a number of excellent speeches in the debate on Funding for Urban Renewal, including those by Bishop Michael Stead and Mark Payne (Diocesan Secretariat's CEO). They emphasised the need to maintain and preserve the Diocesan asset base, in its recovery phase after the 2008–09 multi-million dollar losses and while investment portfolios are yielding low returns.

However, other speeches revealed that there are those in Synod who seem not to have learnt anything from that financial crisis: eg: "We must throw millions at these urban renewal issues and trust God". That speaker cannot have been in Synod in 2009 when we thought about what God might be teaching us from the crisis and the chastened majority concluded, requiring little grey matter, that God does not reward profligate spending and irresponsible investment behaviour. Others speakers focussed with concern on the proposals to increase levies on parishes many of which are trying to support, from within, their own ministry growth plans. But one speaker put the view that parishes can cope with increasing levies, as it's like the GST—you just get used to it after a time.

All four of the above proposals raise obvious questions about uncoordinated ideas for growth and ministry in existing urban areas, especially governance of, and funding for, these. The final Resolution on iv) recognises these issues and creates the expectation that Standing Committee will bring more integrated funding proposals back to Synod.

At the same time, Synod received advice about parishes in highly socially disadvantaged areas with little to almost no income. It seems to me that there is insufficient expectation on parishes to resource their own growth plans. What happened to good old local 'fund raising'? Also, loans are available on extremely low interest rates at the moment. I am disturbed by the current mind set of robbing all St Peter's to pay a few St Paul's, rather than, at most, looking to help those parishes in very low socio-economic areas.

Same-sex marriage

(Resolution 26/16—text at page 47)

It had been planned that Synod's debate on this Resolution would be in the context of a plebiscite, but that was being killed off in Federal Parliament during Synod. Bishop Stead presented a draft a booklet titled 'What Has God Joined Together?' to assist Sydney Anglicans engage in the plebiscite debate in the community.

The resolution essentially encourages Sydney Anglicans to still engage in the ongoing public debate and democratic processes, using the booklet (final to be made available in near future) as our theological resource; at all times being courteous and respectful towards the LGBTIQ community. During the debate on this matter, Synod was assured that it is a safe place to express all view-points, but the elephant in the room was palpable—i.e. the media attention to the de-licensing of the Rev'd Dr Keith Mascord for his public stance on his Biblical understandings on, inter alia, 'same-sex marriage'.

Only two speakers opposed the overall direction of the booklet 'What Has God Joined Together?' which, in essence, concludes that sexual relations between same-sex people is a sin, and that marriage, as ordained by God, and as the Church formularies uphold, is between man and woman. If you are interested in an alternative perspective on same-sex marriage, read the essay by the Reverend Andrew Sempell in the Anglicans Together Journal (here).

Conclusion

Synod sessions are conducted with grace and respect. The Archbishop said in his Presidential address:

Yet our fellowship is not defined by our universal agreement on every matter that comes before this house. It is defined by our unity in Christ, our commitment to love him and to serve him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. This is the strength of synodical government, where opinions can be expressed without fear or favour, knowing that we are loved as members of a family whose ultimate responsibility is to our heavenly Father. I know that Synod has not always been like this, but I sense a growth and maturity in our debates and in our love for each other. May such love, even when expressed in disagreement be an ever growing characteristic of our sessions, indeed of all our diocesan dealings.