Report on Synod, October 2017
The first session of the 51st Synod met for five days during 9-17 October. Preparation for Synod required reading 600 pages of tiny typed text, as well as all pre-Synod advices and instructions. This year we failed to finish all business; a few members’ motions lapsed at 9:30pm on the last day. Synod commenced with a Communion Service in the Cathedral, and the preacher there, and Bible study leader throughout Synod, was Rev Ed Vaughan, Darlinghurst, speaking from II Corinthians. Excellent studies. However, my 10th synod and I’m still hoping for a Bible Study from the Gospels one year……
My report provides commentary on only a few selected business items which may be of particular interest. Read the full Synod Proceedings at: https://www.sds.asn.au/sites/default/files/2017.SynodProceedings.full.pdf?doc_id=NTUyNzU=
You will find in the Synod Proceedings (peruse its table of contents) the Presidential (Archbishop’s) Address, answers to all formal Questions asked in the House, all resolutions made, Canons/Ordinances adopted, and all relevant papers for items debated. Where necessary, I give page numbers below directing you to the full text of items to which I am referring, at the above web site. If CCSL readers cannot access the web, please speak to me to sort out.
Synod is not dour. Dead boring sometimes as we wade painfully through Ordinances’ texts, or lengthy policies. This year was particularly painful as there had recently been a General Synod and we had to decide if this Diocese would endorse Canons passed there – an important process as there are complex rules about Dioceses needing to affirm these before they become Church law. These Canons, and our own Diocesan Ordinances, are all essential to the good governance of our Church, so in there we hang, with lollies. Fortunately, the President has a fine sense of humour and the light moments are always welcome, such as when a poor mover of a motion gets lost in the complexity of legal words needed at that point – the Archbishop’s rescue is always kind, funny and artfully relaxing in an otherwise very awkward moment. Which reminds me, apropos of nothing, a light moment we enjoyed (while inwardly groaning) was the report of someone going into a jewellery shop to buy a cross on a chain and being asked: “Do you want a plain one or one with a little man?”
Canons that were debated included ones relating to Safe Ministry to Children; Episcopal Standards re Child Protection; and Holy Orders (Removal from the Exercise of Ministry). All adopted. See list of Canons at page 3 (contents table).
I have commented below on a few debates on Ordinances/Policies/Reports; others not commented on included: p.254 Report on Lifelong Professional Development Guidelines for Clergy (excellent, but noting that our parish has for some time properly looked to this issue for our clergy); p. 546 The Assistant Ministers Ordinance (how to move an Assistant on with far more grace, and fairly, than has sadly happened in some parishes). See Contents p.3 for more.
Questions Formal questions (ie not during debate but put formally each day, and answered the next) are used for gathering information/updates on a wide range of topics and are worth perusing (see pages 13 – 54). Many, like Peter and I, use this opportunity to get more information for possible debating points.
Two of possible interest are: Question 50 page 43 concerning “Proposed redress scheme arising out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse”; and, on a lighter note, Question 65 at page 51 on whether it is now official diocesan policy for patron saints of parishes to be given redundancy notices? Go read the answer for yourself.
There are a large number of appointments to Boards and other Committees made by Synod. For example, this year, Synod members from the South Sydney Region (us) had to elect 2 members of our Regional Council to Standing Committee. This year four members of the Council stood. Our Region convincingly elected Rev. Andrew Katay (Rector of Ashfield/Five Dock/Haberfield) and Rev. Justin Moffatt (York St.). So, why am I highlighting this? The Anglican Church League (ACL) has managed the outcome of all elections, through a how to vote card, for years now. This is the first time I believe for many years that Synod (our Regional members) voted convincingly against the ACL card. Were we seen raising our glasses to that at dinner?
Domestic Abuse Policy (Paper at p.368)
In Synod 2013, a resolution was passed calling for the education of clergy in handling domestic abuse, after a number of harrowing stories of poor handling. Shockingly, some clergy were counselling partners to stay in the marriage, despite severe abuse. How to reconcile the theology of marriage (for life) with this appalling problem? The 2013 resolution resulted in this policy paper being drawn up, addressing the theological issues as well as providing a practical guide to clergy and parish workers on how to respond. This is a well-researched, sensitive and caring document full of excellent advice. A separate resolution (16/17 page 80) was passed concerning implementation of the policy. It is for implementation now but is to be refined and a final brought back to Synod for our blessing next year. Feedback from any interested person is welcome – write to the Standing Committee by 30 April 2018. Read the material if interested and/or have expertise or experience that could contribute to any further refinement.
The issue for me that I will be writing about, and on which I spoke at Synod, is the problem of the word “submission” which has been adopted in this Diocese as part of the Complementarian Theology. This theology, in summary, is key to keeping women out of leadership roles in the Sydney Anglican Diocese and is also expressed in the “complementary roles of man and wife” – sacrificial leader husband/submissive wife. I focussed on the incongruity between the excellent policy, which covers both emotional and physical abuse, and the retention of the word “submission” in the context of marriage, pointing out that current day definitions of “submission” equate to abuse. I argued that, if one adheres to complementarianism, then nevertheless the essence of such a marriage is still “love”, promised before God, one for each other, not control.
I did not want to derail this critical domestic abuse policy by side tracking debate onto all complementarian theology. I thank the drafters of the policy (Canon Grant and Archdeacon Hartley) for welcoming my contribution and helping me to determine the right moment when I should speak. My thanks as well to the Archbishop, who was very gracious in thanking me for the speech and who spoke about the importance of Synod as a safe place for all views to be expressed. Contrary to comment in the press, I did not feel ignored. The applause was strong and quite a number of people spoke to me later, grateful for my words. I know I was “heard”. I look forward to seeing any developments next Synod.
Synod issued a formal statement of “Grief and Apology” in regards to domestic abuse and how it has been handled in the past. See Resolution 17/17 (page 80).
Gender Identity: Initial Principles of Engagement (paper at p.173)
A lengthy report on Gender Identity was brought to Synod, and concluded with a recommendation advising church workers how to respond pastorally in this complex area, taking into account Scriptural teachings, medical and legal considerations. This advice is the “Initial (first cut, in a sense) Principles of Engagement”. (I do find the word “engagement” very disconcerting and intend to write to Standing Committee about that.) One may strongly disagree (as I do) with the theological interpretation which, in blunt summary, is that deviations from the male/female God given norm are the result of “The Fall” and only male/female sexual relationships or celibacy are the appropriate Christian road. But the Diocese has moved a long away in recent times; the reality of gender issues, which can be so painful, is no longer denied. The paper is well grounded in medical science, sweeping in its coverage, and highlights especially the distress caused by gender dysphoria which is fully acknowledged (ie “distress associated with having a psychological or emotional gender identity that does not match a person’s biological sex” page 215). If you are confused about the meaning of LGBTIQ, this is a helpful read and the drafters are to be commended. The Principles are loving, supportive and welcoming which is a long way from where many in the Diocese have been. Of course, for many of us, it is still deeply theologically flawed and may therefore be very hurtful, despite the progress. (Please be aware in this context that our clergy are available to assist and support.)
During the debate on the Principles, the drafters advised they have been challenged by the category of Intersex, on which they need to do more work. Intersex refers to people who are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies”. One can see the difficulty the drafters have – how does their theological stance deal with the reality of Intersex people?
A truly enlightened moment occurred, which is why I sound more positive than some others may, especially in the context of where this Diocese has come from. An amendment to the Principles was put forward in debate which declared, in summary, that “transitioning” (changing your biological sex to accord with your internal sense of identity) is a sin. No, that’s not the enlightened bit….! Two speakers, the most forceful one being Rev. Andrew Katay, called this out as a very dangerous proposition. What right do we have to declare a matter a sin when there is no such scriptural basis? Dr Mark Thompson (Principal of Moore College) spoke to the contrary but he failed to convince the majority of this highly conservative Synod. The amendment was voted down. We were happily stunned.
A revised set of Principles will come to next Synod and all Anglican agencies, including our schools, which work with people with gender identity issues, are invited to provide comment to Standing Committee by 30 April 2018.
A motion that, in summary, offered an apology to all LGBTQI people, for past treatment of, and attitudes to, by the church and some church workers, was withdrawn on the last day as the movers acknowledged they had received feedback that some of its wording could still offend. This motion was well-intended and it will be brought back to next Synod. THANKS to our lay representative, Peter Hanson, who was one providing this feedback (in the corridor, as we say!) and he will be involved in the re-drafting.
Same Sex Marriage (report at p.310)
As you will know, Synod was presented with a fait accompli. Standing Committee voted to provide $1m from the Diocesan Endowment (money inherited by the Diocese from past generations) to support the media campaign by The Coalition for Marriage for the “no” vote on same sex marriage a few weeks before Synod met. The reaction of Rev’d Andrew Sempell (President of Anglicans Together) to this action is at http://sjks.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Sempell-response-to-1M-donation.pdf In Synod there were two failed attempts to have the matter debated. Archdeacon Deryck Howell moved that (in summary) Standing Committee be directed to bring an Ordinance to next Synod which would require Standing Committee to obtain Synod approval, in future, to any proposals for special drawdowns on the Diocesan Endowment, other than for asset acquisition purposes, using, eg, electronic voting between sessions. There was no debate as a motion from the floor that “the (above) motion not be put” received majority assent, immediately stifling the matter.
The second motion from Prof. Bernard Stewart, St Georges’, Paddington, sought Synod’s endorsement of the $1m decision by Standing Committee, to be resolved via a secret ballot. A clever move as a secret ballot achieves two things; no pressure from expectations of others around you; and an actual tally of the vote. (Most resolutions pass on voices or, if that is too close to call, a show of hands, or if that is too close, an actual count by the Secretariat of people standing – the later gives you hard numbers but does not overcome feelings of pressure. Secret ballot is rarely used except in very sensitive matters). Prof. Stewart was able to speak briefly to his motion, on a procedural point, in which he sought that the Synod business be specially ordered so that his motion would be debated after, and only if, the above motion of the Archdeacon’s was not carried. Prof. Stewart effectively reprimanded Standing Committee for not having brought this motion to Synod themselves – they should have sought our endorsement; it is not right that Synod members might return to their parishes without having had the opportunity to express their minds on the matter of the $1m. Bishop Stead supported the special ordering request, to bring the matter to Synod, and Synod agreed on voices. However a further motion from the floor, to the effect that Prof. Stewart’s motion “not be put”, was carried on voices. Stifled from the floor again.
Several other resolutions under this broad heading were passed without debate, being “Freedom to uphold marriage as a union between one man and one woman”; “Legal equality for LGBTI couples”; and “Promotion and protection of religious freedom.” (resolutions 35, 36 & 37 of 2017 – page 87)
Proposal for a Property Receipts Levy. (pages 342 and 364)
This one exercises wardens’ minds! For the fourth year in a row, Synod was presented with yet another version of a draft policy which aims to raise more money from parishes where they have “excess wealth” from income from “property”, now defined as “net” income from buildings and land (leases, licenses and/or sales), income from investments and income from businesses run by a parish. This all started back in 2012/13 when Standing Committee asked that work be down to get a more transparent and equitable approach than the current system of individual Ordinances, negotiated separately between parishes and Standing Committee, which relate only to leases and sales. Biblical principles (St Paul) of sharing one’s wealth have justified the growth of this draft proposal to all income sources described above. It is very regrettable that St Paul did not have the foresight to define what might be “net” income; he did say a community should not be “left hard pressed” as a result of sharing. Net receipts of less than $120,000 have been exempted; as one speaker highlighted, here comes the “creative” accounting….
Our parish has been a willing contributor, via the Ordinance approach, for some years now, but we have strong views, along with other affected parishes, about the lack of reasonableness in restricting very tightly what might be allowable deductions before “excess” is defined. Many questions were asked in Synod this year eg about deductions for sinking funds for all parish buildings not just the one for which income is received; also for expenditure on ministries; and the accounting complexity for local treasurers (volunteers) in arriving at the “net” figure. One parish rep. in Synod seemed to be in shock as it was only revealed, in answer to a question, that the policy would apply to “excess” income from a business run by the parish. Revealed almost by accident as it was not even stated in the draft policy.
This draft has been further complicated as it advises that those parishes with Ordinances may choose to stay with that approach, if the draft policy is problematic for them….. yet the policy was meant to be a replacement?? Further, in answer to Question 10 (page 19) the Secretariat revealed that it is unable to supply a list of parishes which currently have Ordinances and how much is therefore raised by these, and for which funds/organisations. This goes to the problem that Synod has never been given a business case for the need for the extra funds to be raised – we don’t even have a handle on the income from the current system we are meant to be replacing.
James Balfour, a Lay Rep. from St James, sought leave of the House to put an alternative proposal to Synod, before this draft policy was debated. His alternative was to scrub the proposal, with all its complexities and inequities, and raise additional funds via a “parish cost recovery” method – this is a well-worn, simple-to-administer path, equitable in its approach. Synod did not grant him leave to debate an alternative, regrettably in Peter’s and my view.
Clearly the drafters and Standing Committee are tired of the matter remaining unresolved and proposed via a motion that, after debate in Synod, Standing Committee would finalise an Ordinance on the matter, for implementation in 2018. I tried via an amendment to require the draft Ordinance be brought to Synod next year, primarily on the grounds that Synod must not abrogate to Standing Committee its responsibility on a matter, so fundamentally affecting parishes, and pointing out that we still had before us a seriously flawed, incomplete policy. Amendment lost.
But at least I got to speak. The time normally allowed for debate was severely curtailed. Like a number of other frustrated parish reps who wanted to speak, Peter Hanson was unable add to the debate. He had researched relevant papers and was ready to highlight that, while this was notionally about wealthy parishes helping others, he had found evidence of four or five extremely wealthy parishes which will be completely untouched by the policy. Why? But debate on the whole proposal was halted as it was late in the evening. There was much dissatisfaction being expressed quietly (corridor chat) as we left that the business was brought to the House late in the day, around 8pm, with the intention of the debate being guillotined. A number of members were standing to speak, planning to highlight different problems with the current draft, but a halt was called at 9:30pm. The motion was passed. Resolution 34/17, (p 36.)
Synod further resolved (42/17, page 89) that the money raised will go to the Mission Property Committee for expenditure on some unspecified property developments. One courageous gentleman did get to express doubt about the need to increase our capital base in the face of declining church attendance.
I have been asked to contribute to the drafting of the Ordinance by Standing Committee, I guess because of my critical comments of the draft policy. I appreciate that offer and I hope I can contribute constructively.
GAFCON and its activities. Resolutions 30/17 (page 83, and 45 & 46, page 89-90
If you are interested in our Diocese’s activities in GAFCON, including the enthronement of Bishop Lines, and the condemnation of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, read these resolutions.
Gender representation on Diocesan Boards and Committees
Answers to Questions 18 (p26) and 15 (p23) reveal very poor performance on this matter across the Diocese. Resolution 27/17 (p84) has called for a report to come to next Synod addressing this matter.
So that’s it for another year. As usual, a superb performance by the Secretariat in getting it all together and keeping it all on track. A final note – two delightful gentlemen from an inner west parish came up to me and said they never thought they would find themselves agreeing with CCSL, not once, but indeed twice, at Synod (on the “submission” issue; and our (failed) amendment to the Property Receipts paper.)
Thank you, Fr Daniel, for your wise counsel to us during Synod.
Lyn Bannerman, Synod Lay Representative for CCSL.