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From Whitby to Sydney— a Tale of Two Synods

by Susan Hooke, Member of Sydney Synod

The important issue at the Synod of Whitby 664AD was to determine how to calculate the correct date of Easter. The problem: the Irish were using a lunar table prepared by Victorius of Acquitane on a 95 year cycle; the Roman missionaries in England, the up to date and more accurate tables of Dionysius the Small.*

The discussion was reasonable when it was realised by both groups that more united them than the details that divided. The English date was accepted by all. How friendly—how Christian. The Synod achieved its objectives.

Susan Hooke

Susan Hooke

Fast forward to Synod of Sydney 2018. Despite what you may think and hear, our Synod is not a debating society or a talkfest or a glee club or a boys brigade or a Bible study. At times you would be excused for thinking it was all of the above. Our Synod is our parliament, created and governed by legislation of the NSW Parliament.

The Anglican Church of Australia Constitutions Act 1902 states: it is the role of Synod to make ordinances concerning all matters and things of order and good government of the church... no ordinance or rule is to be in contravention of any law or statute in force for the time being. The Anglican Church of Australia Constitution Act 1961 attaches our Constitution which states in Fundamental Declaration 3 : The Church will ever obey the Commandments of Christ. Matt22: 37–40 '...thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all they soul and with all thy mind... thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.'

The next verse, which I consider links the commandments to our governance states, 'on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets'. This verse cannot just be considered retrospectively, it must apply to future laws and actions as do the two commandments.

With over 480 members, Synod is an unwieldy group meeting once a year. Much of its work is delegated to Standing Committee, an elected body of Synod Representatives, meeting monthly. Standing Committee relies for much of its input from a further layer of delegated committees.

Did our Synod comply with its governing Acts? Not completely. Did we show love for all our neighbours? No. Did we achieve stated objectives? Not all. Was the discussion reasonable? Not all.

We have increasing problems with our Synod: an overloaded agenda; inadequately prepared background material; members wasting time with irrelevancies. Issues are not approached with the due diligence required under our legislation.

For example, we did not get time/opportunity to:

  • Interrogate the budget for the next three years to understand why Moore College is receiving $1.3m-1.5m over next 3 years when it has reserves of $11m.
  • modify the Large Receipts Policy to enable parishes to deduct reasonable expenses from all property before the imposition of the 15% levy.
  • obtain satisfactory answers as to why a committee was trying to find an explanation in the Bible as to whether women in 2018 can sit on boards of Diocesan institutions and committees.

To be fair, there were a few excellent presentations. Canon Sandy Grant and Kara Hartley's Policy on Responding to Domestic Violence could not be faulted. It was presented clearly and passed without need for clarification. The time wasting arises where presenters have not done adequate homework, where Standing Committee has not picked up errors and ambiguities.

We have as much need for good governance as our banks. The consequences of failure to meet high standards can be equally devastating. We know that from experience. We need to rethink our structure. All members of Synod have a responsibility to press for better outcomes.

Why could spectacular outcomes be achieved in Whitby and not in Sydney? Do we understand that more unites us than divides?

Perhaps, the big difference between the two Synods was that Whitby had a hostess—St Hilda, Abbess of Whitby. Perhaps Sydney should look for a saintly hostess.