Diary of a Synod n00b

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Session 3

Well we’ve finally come to the end of the first block of Synod. When I first saw the dates I wondered why they were split across two weeks… Now I see the advantage. I’m absolutely exhausted and I’m only a uni student, so I can only imagine the toll it takes on those who work full days before coming in! 
Also, the break will also give us time to reflect on the issues discussed and those to come.

Tonight there was a considerable amount of debate and some passionate speeches along with some colourful personalities.
One thing that I’m impressed by is the level of laughter at Synod.
While, at times, some of the comments could be interpreted as bordering on contempt for Synod, frequently the periods serious discussion are often broken up by light hearted remarks, often between folks who have been colleagues and friends for some number of years.
For me though, the scary thing is the frequency with which I join in with the laughter. Whether it be a joke about policy, or the procedures, or whatever it may be, what scares me is that I get it. And that I myself find it to be funny.
In my opinion this is entirely not appropriate for a 22 year old… :p But I digress.

As is procedure (and rightly so!), we started with a devotion by Canon Rick Smith, who led us further into the book of 1 Peter, reminding us that whatever our circumstance we are chosen, special and loved, that each person of the trinity is intimately involved in the salvation of our souls, that the grace shown us at the cross underpins every act of ministry, and he concluded by reminding us that “It’s not about strategy, governance or politics. It’s about God!”
I love the devotion at the start of session. I think there might perhaps be a tendency for us all to think we’ve heard it all before, but having such faithful exposition of the scriptures as the first thing on the agenda allows us time to ensure our minds are firmly fixed on the purpose for which we convene these meetings.

The minutes were then signed and some questions answered. This time notably fewer questions were deemed out of order which was good, and we again saw the power of this new form of question time to efficiently manage our limited time. Answers to questions provided us with a range of information such as proposed parking arrangements, number of planned church plants by the Department of Evangelism and New Churches, figures from the Finance and Loans Board and the expected recommencement date of distributions from St Andrew’s House.

As usual no petitions were passed, so questions were presented. During the questions, one of the askers began with “G’day Peter”. I’m not quite sure if this is entirely appropriate (although no one raised the issue). It seems to me that this shows a lack of respect for the office (although surely none was intended). I just took a flick through the business rules and found that remarks should commence with “Mr President”, but at the same time I also found rule 4.2 (3) which states: “If the President stands, all other members are to sit and remain seated until the President sits down.” Now, I’m not suggesting that this rule to be enforced to the letter, but my point is that at times I’ve noticed the Synod relaxing formalities (at one point a mover made reference to the attractiveness of their seconder!). I don’t think it has become an issue so far and I’m sure the Archbishop will cut it off long before it gets out of hand, but it’s something to bear in mind before we are too far onto the slope of informality.

Members then gave notice of motions before we moved on to the call over, during which we welcomed the establishment of the Priscilla and Aquila Centre, acknowledged the Education Think Tank and it’s publication of 'New Perspectives on Anglican Education', we thanked God for the ministry of Ian Keast and the AEC, and declared our opposition to abortion “in light of the San Jose Articles”. We recognised and commended the use of the REAP journals.
We also formally welcomed Harbour Church and after doing so, we prayed for them and their ministry. 
I found this quite encouraging as it was another chance to stop and recognise the purposes for which we were meeting, and also the chance to join together in thanking God for some of the amazing work He is doing within our Diocese.

We then passed the Archbishop of Sydney Solemn Promises Amendment which, after the discussion yesterday, was done with reasonable quickness.

We were next presented with two motions concerned with changing the status of the Provisional Cathedrals in Wollongong and Parramatta to Regional Cathedrals. The motions were accompanied with explanation which helped me to see the value of the cathedrals in their local areas. These buildings are great expressions of Anglican (and more importantly, Christian) presence in these regions and their prominence within the community is demonstrated by the services they provide it and tendency for the local media or government to go first to them for a Christian voice. It was also good to hear that the people of the region have a sense of ownership of ‘their cathedral’, regardless of how often they attend, which I think provides much opportunity for spreading the word in those regions. The motions were passed with great enthusiasm and we also heard with surprise the news of redevelopments in Parramatta that will result in the cathedral having a prominent place within the busy CBD.

Some discussion was had on the matter of ordinances relating to the Relinquishment of Holy Orders, which essentially lay out how a person may be ‘defrocked’. The gist of the motion was that the new system we had put in place to come into line with the rest of the country wasn’t working for us and so we were going back to our previous system which had worked just fine for our purposes. [edit 13/10] An amendment to the 1994 ordinance added a clause involving the Director of Professional Standards in the process to certify people to the Archbishop. This passed with a little objection, but relative ease. Comment by Sandy Grant (see comments below): “We did not actually pass the Relinquishment of Holy Orders matter. Rather, just before we got to that point, Mr Blake QC moved a procedural motion that we defer the matter and get further advice about whether going back to the old ordinance for this procedure might inadvertantly undermine potential for proper child protection. We ran out of time to complete that debate, so will return to it (the procedural question) some time next week.” [/edit] 

At this point we considered a motion to change legislation to include the Anglican Assistant Director - Chaplaincy as a Synod representative in reaction to their not being called by the Archbishop under Part 7. Whilst I’m sure most people in the room agreed with the motive behind the question (namely giving synod representation to chaplains in hospitals and prisons), the debate was framed around the issue of membership to synod in general. It was felt that allowing this motion would throw open the floodgates for all number of motions attempting to add more members into the body. Dr. Selden raised the point that the synod was ‘Basically a house for parishes’, meaning that further appointments of members of organisations might water down the control the individual parish has over the running of the diocese.
In the end, the house seemed satisfied that the Archbishop would appoint a similar person to the synod under part 7 and that CEO’s were in most cases apt representatives of their organisations.

Over dinner I got to sit down with our incoming Senior Minister (nice to finally have someone to talk to about how these issues affect our parish!), after which we returned for what were always billed as being somewhat of the ‘big ticket items’, those being motions relating to funding principles and the Parish Cost Recoveries.

During the debate on Funding Principles and Priorities (the actual motion simply noted the draft statement and urged synod members to make submissions to standing committee), we were reminded that we need to keep a long term view in mind when planning. While I think everyone would agree that this is wise, there is a variety of opinions on what that view should be. 
The point was raised that we shouldn’t develop an ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality, but rather work together looking at the bigger picture, not seeing our church’s funds as our church’s, but as property of the diocese (and in effect, the greater church). We were then asked to consider to what extent the priorities of the report align with the properties of the mission of Christ. To me, this is a very difficult question to answer as our system isn’t exactly set out in the word and people have a varied opinion of how ministry is conducted within the diocese (top-down vs. bottom-up), but, in principle, it is rather simple. 
Dean Jensen reminded us of how we came to be in this current set of circumstances (which we had previously been reminded were not ours by right), noting that over the last quarter of the last century ‘the priorities committee didn’t have priorities’, referring to the relative abundance of funds which meant a lot more could be resourced ‘from the centre’, with the recipients perhaps spending more than they ought to have.
And this model was the essence of this debate and the one that followed (that model being the ‘from the centre’ vs. ‘into the centre’ ie. whether the central endowments funded the core activities of the diocese and the parishes funded themselves, or whether parishes chipped in for the core work of the diocese).
The debate on what should be classed as ‘Anglican Essentials’ intrigued me. In the report, these are such things as the Archbishop and membership of the Australian Anglican communion. While I get the line of reasoning for this categorisation, that being these things are essential for being Anglican rather than essential for carrying out ministry as Anglicans, I (and judging by discussion most of the Synod) would feel more comfortable if we were to rename the categories and under essentials place things such as our training colleges, Evangelism Ministries and New Churches, etc., while relegating some of the more administrative tasks to a category closer to ‘necessary evils’ than essentials. Two more things that came up in the debate that I found to be insightful comments were the idea that we need ‘a church planting committee, not a property buying committee’ in ensuring a mission shaped budget and also, in relation to the management of the EOS, that getting ourselves back into a comfortable financial situation would mean ‘that we have an EOS that won’t have to sell Bishopscourt, so that they can sell Bishopscourt’, which is to say that if they can be given some breathing room they can proceed with the sale not as a distressed vendor, but as an entity with time to negotiate a good deal. (although, as I typed that I wondered within myself of the correctness of ensuring we’re in a comfortable financial situation. Yes, it is right to remain good stewards of our resources, but there is something to be said for times of hardship in deepening our reliance on God’s provision. One thing I struggle with when dealing with reserves of this magnitude is the thought that perhaps we could be putting these assets to better use for the gospel in the right here and now. So far, the arguments always come down to ensuring we don’t burn through inter-generational capital to fund our gaps, but I can’t help but feel we’re building up barns for which we’ll be held accountable. Even so, I think I still hold the opinion that we should be using these assets to generate income while maintaining their real value as capital for future generations)

Moving on to the Parochial Cost Recoveries Ordinance, which is essentially the levy on parishes for certain operations carried out by the centre. I’ll start this section by mentioning something Dr Scandrett raised at this point and that is that the ‘Parochial Cost Recoveries are intended to pay for what is directly the cost of maintaining the parish’. The problem is, however, that our debate was around what is a cost of the parish. The ammendment sought to introduce Membership and affiliations costs for general and provincial assessments, a one-third share of the maintenance of the diocesan archives and support for a parish accounting system, as well as an increase of the share parishes paid for the PSU. Some argued the figure paid under the amendment would be less than in the previous year, however this is neglecting the fact that last year’s recoveries included a levy to cover EOS shortfalls. Others tried to remover the three new charges completely (an amendment which was voted down), while others moved motions to allow parishes to donate more than was required of them! While initially not seeing the value in the archives I have since come to see the advantages to the parishes and hence have no real objection to their being included.
One of the issues that I had with the amendment on first reading was a lack of understanding as to why we should foot the bill for affiliation with general and provincial synod. The President’s address and debate on the first day helped me to see some of the benefits but I was still unconvinced. Then Canon de Jersey pointed out to the synod that people walk through our doors sometimes simply because we’re Anglican. Our affiliation ensures we can still use the ‘Anglican brand’, a brand which (at least for now) is still respected within society and which has a rich history of which we should be proud. Yes, footing the bill for such an increase hurts, but I think that, like a number of speakers said, we need to start getting better at paying our own way.
Unfortunately though, the flip-side of this coin was revealed in the form of parish budget cuts. Although there were jokes about reducing expenses on flowers, sooner or later the lack of funds will mean we may need to start cutting back on ministry. It was pointed out that it is most likely our student ministers who would be the first to go. Essentially saying that ‘the first to be hit will be the pool from which we will draw the ministers of the next generation’. Obviously this is not a compromise we should be willing to make and so, if we don’t want to cut ministry and we don’t want to burn capital, we’re left with the problem of finding where else we can cut costs. We’re assured that those in the centre have taken great measures to ensure funds aren’t being spent unnecessarily, but I am sure there are more avenues for ensuring this. Hopefully the report’s we’re receiving can lead to the creation of structures that lead to greater accountability for the spending of money once it’s apportioned, but I think for now it is up to the individual parishes to ensure they can do the best they can with the resources they have, relying on God’s sovereignty in providing for our needs and for the things necessary to ensure His gospel continues to be proclaimed faithfully within this diocese and throughout the world.

All in all I have greatly enjoyed my first three days of Synod. I have felt God answer my prayers in terms of familiarising myself with the procedures and the issues at hand

Filed under Synod Anglicanism Formality Mission funding

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