A much meatier session today in terms of legislation and discussion, but everyone seemed in good spirits and it didn’t appear as dry and dull as everyone had been warning me it would.
After a reminder from 1 Peter 1 about the importance of remembering that we are in Christ and therefore strangers in this world, we got to hear the answers to the questions that had been submitted (but not asked!) in yesterday’s session.
Even though I don’t have anything to compare it to, I think the new method of questions is a very helpful one and is of great benefit to the efficient running of Synod. One thing I noticed, however, was that a number of questions were skipped because they were in contravention of Business rule 6.3 which states (among other things) that questions should not: "(a) contain an assertion, or (b) express an opinion, or (c) offer an argument, or (d) make any inference or imputation, or (f) seek a legal opinion. (e) be expressed in language which, in the opinion of the President, is disrespectful or offensive…" etc. These questions were rightly thrown out, but I can’t help but feel that if they were to have been asked in full from the floor yesterday, then maybe these issues would have been picked up then and there by the President and the question reworded. I don’t think this oversight is enough to outweigh the benefits of condensing the time, but I think perhaps a mechanism should be put in place to avoid such things happening.
The questions (and answers) on the whole, though, were helpful and form a very important part of the operation of Synod.
Motions after this included the decision not to adopt the Anglican Communion covenant. Some interesting debate ensued at this point, most of which seemed to revolve around something that wasn’t actually the topic of discussion. I was disappointed to hear someone express an opinion in favour of gay marriage which was framed by an argument riddled with errors in scriptural exposition. From the nature of the comments, it seemed to me that people thought we were addressing the issue of remaining a part of the Australian Anglican Communion, when in fact the motion at hand was whether or not to oppose the adoption of a document filled with numerous failings (See p. 12-17 for the covenant and p. 7-9 for a theological response and objections).
Other reasons put forth for the opposition to this covenant were that it is not the appropriate way to deal with our current relational problems and that it, quite frankly, just wouldn’t work.
In the end, the document was resolutely opposed, but this will certainly not be the end of discussions on the matter.
We then moved through the paper to the Solemn Promises Ordinance, which sought to alter the wording of the assent which a minister to be ordained gives and covers such things as doctrine and formularies. A very helpful rewording, which seeks to provide some clarity to assist candidates to have a better understanding of what they’re assenting to.
The principle opposition at this point was to the requirements of candidates to assent to the 39 articles, at which point I noted a number of people clutching their copies of Michael Jensen’s recent book on the articles. I read this book a while ago (and highly recommend it!) but to me, the objections came more from a misunderstanding of the solemn promise and the articles. (Articles cited were 8, 21, 37 and 39). Some points were more valid than others, but I feel that for the purposes of this ordinance (which essentially just rewords what is already practice), the objections weren’t all that founded. I think though, that there was great merit in the motive behind these objections, which I saw as a concern for candidates having a clearer idea of what they’re assenting to. I think that if their years at Theological college and the advice given during the process didn’t prove sufficient for their understanding of the declaration, then perhaps thought should be given to the creation of an explanatory document which would assist candidates in this process. Before getting [even more] bogged down in the specifics of the debate, I’ll point out two things that I took away from parts of the debate. The first was the reminder that before all forms of creed, doctrine or formulary, comes the authority of scripture. This was reflected in the reordering of the schedule to place scripture (and then doctrine) at the top of the promise. The second, was the clarification of something I had been wondering myself, that being the ‘big C vs. little c’ debate in the word C/catholic. I had always associated ‘Catholic’ with the Roman Catholic Church and ‘catholic’ as synonymous with ‘universal’. During the debate I was reminded that in the context of these promises (and our doctrinal statements and creeds), that whether big C or little c, the word refers to one holy, apostolic church.
After dinner we had a short question time concerning the Mission Property Committee projects, followed by a discussion on our acceptance of the Archbishop’s Strategic Committee on Structure, Funding and Governance’s report. No doubt there would have been a much longer discussion were it not for the pre-Synod briefings, but nevertheless there was still a decent amount of discussion, especially in relation to the suggestion of liquidation of assets. The amendments to the motion were helpful, however, interestingly the first two were withdrawn on the grounds of assurances the their intentions were already the intentions of standing committee (each duly minuted :p ), with the fourth being rejected on the same grounds. Amendment 3 was passed with the support of the original movers, which in my opinion was a good decision given the wisdom contained within the responses of various bodies to the report.
On the topic of liquidation of assets, I am still unsure of where I stand. Comparison was drawn to the endowments of Harvard and Yale, which have weathered the GFC exceptionally thanks to the diversity of their portfolios which contain ~10% real estate, compared to our ~30-35%, as well as the liquidation of some assets to cover shortfalls in order to meet their distribution requirements. This was cited as justification for using similar means to meet our current needs. I am still unconvinced as to whether selling off assets to cover short-term needs is the wisest move considering the more long term picture. I share this view with (amon others) the ACPT who, in their response to the commission’s report, wrote that such actions would “deplete inter-generational capital further to cover short-term expenses” (p.37).
This does not mean, however, that I am altogether against the sale of assets. It is obvious from looking at our assets that there is more than $25m tied up in non-income producing assets which could be sold and put to better use. But this may not be the most prudent course of action at this time given the climate and the governance issues this commission was set up to investigate. Whatever the case, it is clear that something needs to be done to generate the required income, but in my opinion this should not come as a product of the loss of real capital.
(I should also add here that it was during this debate that I was reminded that Standing Committee aren’t some heartless corporation out to grab money from churches, but that they themselves are made up of the rectors and parishioners of parishes. For me it was a helpful reminder during discussions of levies).
By the time this was over, most were ready to head home, but we squeezed out a few more ordinances, including the equivalent rewording of the Archbishop’s Solemn Promises Ordinance. I can’t help but feel though, that the final two motions were rather rushed and, had they been presented at the beginning of the night, might have attracted more attention and debate. (Maybe we should consider all motions as though it were almost home time!)
Before wrapping up, I’d like to say a bit about the committee stage.
Despite being described as ‘strange and pedantic’, I actually rather appreciate it and found it logical and easy to follow (perhaps that says something about me :s ). As a committee, we work through the proposed ordinance one clause at a time under the direction of a chairman as opposed to the President, proposing and discussing amendments seemingly on the fly, before finally coming up with a final wording which is wrapped up as a report and ejected back into the regular Synod for it’s moving. Even though I may not be able to explain the mechanics of what is going on, I found it easy to follow along with what was happening (which caught me thoroughly by surprise!).
After 2 days at Synod I have to say that I am most definitely enjoying the experience. It could be that I have an surprisingly high tolerance (read: love) for the bureaucratic, but I have found synod to be a beautifully balanced mix of encouragement, gospel focus, doctrinal affirmation and nit-picking bureaucracy.