​Melbourne’s Anglican Synod left it until just over an hour before its close this year before it needed more than its voice to show its mind on an issue.

Archbishop Philip Freier, as President of Synod, called for the first show of Synod membership cards on a proposed amendment during a debate on clergy stipends at 3.25pm on Saturday 20 October – 70 minutes before the assembly ended. The amendment was lost.

At 4.06pm, less than 30 minutes before Synod rose for the year, the first count of this year’s meeting was held on a proposed amendment during a debate on church planting (the establishment of new congregations across Melbourne and Geelong). This time, the amendment was carried.

Synod called on the Diocesan Council to review how the living requirements of clergy in the Melbourne Diocese were met, including the setting of stipends, recompense for travel costs, housing, superannuation, benefits, stipend continuance insurance and retrenchment.

A senior clergyman, the Revd Dr David Powys of St John's Cranbourne, said in his mover's speech that the fundamental way in which clergy remuneration and provisions were conceived had not changed very much in 30 years but "very many other things" about ordained ministry had changed very substantially. These included the dwindling proportion of clergy who were vicars, a reduction in ministry households where the stipend was the main source of income, the decline in clergy living in vicarages and church-owned accommodation, the increasing number of clergy in part-time appointments and the fact that women now made up a significant proportion of clergy ranks.

"Over the last 30 years, the total number of licensed clergy in the Diocese has remained the same, if not slightly increased, even though the number of people attending Anglican churches and the number of churches have been falling," Dr Powys said.

The proportion of attending Anglicans in the paid workforce is also falling. The same number of clergy are being supported, possibly more and more generously by a group with less and less capacity to do so."

In the motion on church planting that led to the only vote tally of the entire Synod, new ministries in the Diocese on the urban fringe and in the inner city were enthusiastically welcomed and Synod expressed its desire for more new congregations to be established across the metropolitan area, especially in the outer-urban growth areas.

The resolution asked the Diocesan Council to investigate best practice in other Dioceses and denominations for delivering flexible, innovative and effective church planting solutions in growth areas and to consider providing seed funding in future budgets for new ventures like these.

But a clause in the original motion for the Council to consider providing relief for new congregations from paying assessments (parish tax) to the Diocese for at least their first five years was removed by 178 votes to 137.

Synod also called on the Federal Government to place child asylum seekers in appropriate community care while their claims for refugee status were assessed; ensure the practice of sending unaccompanied minors to third countries ceased; reduce the rate of asylum claims by addressing human rights violations in countries of origin and disempowering people smugglers; ensure the processing of claims for refugee status expeditiously; and pursue policies aimed at strengthening regional co-operation and expanding protection of asylum seekers and refugees in the region.

The 20th anniversary of the ordination of the first women priests in Melbourne was marked with Synod giving thanks to God for their "faithful and fruitful ministry". A service is to be held at St Paul's Cathedral on 9 December to mark the anniversary.

Synod also commended Advance Care Planning as a process to help people make early decisions about their future medical care in order to honour the rights, values and beliefs of individuals and to relieve their families of later anguish related to uncertainty about these. Parishes, chaplains and church agencies were urged to raise awareness of this process and encourage its use.

Mrs Morwen Watkins, a parishioner of St Mark's Dromana and a registered nurse for many years, said 80% of Australians died under the care of health professionals but when the time came to make important end-of-life decisions, up to 70% of patients were incapable of participating in that decision.

"This can lead to suffering and indignity on behalf of the dying person whose end of life journey may be protracted with invasive treatments that they never wanted," Mrs Watkins said. "Many doctors, who have to make a decision, will -- with the best of intentions -- enact the default, which is to treat aggressively in order to preserve life as long as possible."

Synod, as is its custom on the Saturday morning of its annual meeting, considered the Diocesan Accounts for 2011 and the Diocesan Budget for 2013, which were presented by the Registrar of the Diocese, Mr Ken Spackman, and a member of the Diocesan Council, Ms Katherine Presley. Both financial statements were adopted on the voices.

Mr Spackman said the Diocese was on track to deliver a balanced budget in 2012 but faced continued financial pressure and had comparatively limited cash resources available to withstand that pressure.

“We have a budget that has been in recovery from the GFC for a number of years,” he said. “2012 is the first year where we have managed a balanced budget on a cash basis.’’

Mr Spackman said the Diocese had decided to increase its investment corpus by $8 million from the sale of properties that were surplus and not currently used for ministry purposes.

“Whilst we need to do more than we are in the area of urban renewal and expansion, we are governed more by organisational capacity than by capital constraints and hence this budget seeks to support the continued development of that capacity whilst supporting the mechanisms to achieve the required capital,” he said.

Synod also set aside time for three presentations – on multicultural ministry, Anglican schools and on property and the Church Extension and Development Fund. 

The property presentation centred on a DVD, Property: Growth and Renewal, which featured several Anglican leaders, including Archbishop Freier and Mr Spackman, filmed on location in growth areas around Melbourne and Geelong.

For full coverage of the 2012 Melbourne Anglican Synod, read November’s issue of ‘TMA’, available in parishes on 11 November.

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