​Professional standards and the progress of the diocese's three-year Vision and Strategic Directions program dominated the first full business session of this year's Melbourne synod on Thursday night, 18 October.

Synod passed amendments to its Professional Standards legislation, with debate focused on a separate and less formal process of resolution for complaints against church volunteers than for groups such as paid church workers.

The Chancellor of the Melbourne Diocese, Mr Michael Shand, QC, told synod the amending legislation introduced a number of limited changes to the Professional Standards Act 2009, which came into effect two years ago, including bringing the definitions of "bullying", "emotional abuse", "harassment" and "spiritual abuse" into line with episcopal standards and introducing the concept of "excluded conduct" -- the conduct of a person acting in good faith, reasonably and in the normal and lawful discharge of their duties and functions.

Mr Shand said the proposed changes relating to complaints against church volunteers required that they be made in the first instance to the relevant Church authority -- in the case of a parish, the vicar or priest-in-charge -- with the assistance of the diocesan Director of Professional Standards.

"It is based on the policy, biblically founded, of providing an opportunity first for a complaint to be dealt with at the local level," he said.

But under a draft protocol, if the complainant or respondent church volunteer were aggrieved with the decision of the local church authority, they could then apply to the Professional Standards Committee.

Mr Shand said a complete review of the Act and its operation would be undertaken in 2013 or 2014.

But a Melbourne representative on General Synod, Professor Jenny George, opposed the amending legislation. Procedures to handle complaints against church volunteers needed to be as rigorous and impartial as for anybody else, she said.

"People can suffer just as much by the actions of a volunteer as by those of a church worker," Professor George said.
She said to add a judicial role to a pastoral role was to ask too much of clergy.

Mr Shand, in his speech in reply, said the proposed changes affecting complaints against church volunteers "in no way" intended to weaken procedures but were designed to offer a measure of flexibility in cases involving church volunteers.

The Diocesan Advocate and Chairman of Committees, Dr Ian Gibson, warned synod of the significance of the legislation it was considering because of its effects on the reputations and livelihoods of people, the potential for involving significant legal matters, the need for the wording to stand up to "stress testing in the most public ways" and its effect on the reputation of the Anglican Church.

The legislation passed both houses of synod, clergy and laity, on the voices.

Earlier, synod heard a presentation on the Diocesan Vision and Strategic Directions 2011-13 to Make the Word of God Fully Known.

Archbishop Philip Freier said the work involved was hard and that people involved had reached some "crunch points".
"There has been throughout this, and right from the beginning, a real commitment to this being a matter of prayer, that we must enter deeply into the heart of God's love...," Dr Freier said.

The Archbishop said the Melbourne even of 30 or 40 years ago was an entirely different community to the one now and the things that might once have seemed obvious and simple were not immediately transferable.

The Revd Robyn Boyd, Vicar of the Church of the Ascension in Burwood East, said the coaching by the Coordinator for the implementation of the Vision and Strategic Directions program, Mr Ken Morgan, had been "one of the hidden gems" of the pilot program. She said Mr Morgan had helped her to be more accountable, focused and pro-active.

Mr Morgan told synod the program was intended to help parishes bear fruit for generations but that it required them to take risks without any guarantees.

Synod adopted a motion that commended Archbishop Freier and Mr Morgan and invited the Diocesan Council to consider prioritising investment in this work beyond 2013.

The mover, the Revd Simon Koefoed of St Alban's parish in Hamlyn Heights in Geelong, said the coaching and team training through modules delivered by the Bishop Perry Institute had been of great value in leading his parish towards growth through mission.

Mr Koefoed said the Pathways training module had been "incredibly useful" in progressing people in spiritual maturity.

"With it, we were able to analyse our existing ministries and then build a clear and integrated relational pathway, whereby a person who is a stranger to the Church and Christ can become a fully devoted fo/llower of Jesus and a highly committed participant in the life and mission of the Church," he said.

The Revd Dianne Sharrock of All Saints' Mitcham, said: "On a personal note, the mentoring provided by Ken through the program has been invaluable to my personal development as a priest. He has helped me think through issues and programs in a more holistic way."

Synod also conducted a call-through of motions in order to expedite business by passing uncontested motions. One it dealt with this way was on gambling reform, proposed by Bishop Philip Huggins and seconded by the Revd Canon Dr Stephen Ames, which encouraged the Federal and State Governments to persist with gambling reform, including that relating to poker machines, and reaffirmed that vulnerable individuals and families affected by problem gambling "need our best support".

Another, moved by the Revd Mark Hood of St John's Highton, was a motion reaffirming synod's support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, urging continuing bipartisan support for the funding of the NDIS and recognising the role of agencies, such as St Laurence Community Services, in implementing the scheme.
 

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