​Archdeacon Brad Billings, the Vicar of St John's
Toorak, who moved the Parish Governance Bill
discussed at Synod October. in 2013.
 

​Melbourne's Anglican Synod made good progress on the biggest single item before it this year, new legislation on parish governance, at its second sitting on 17 October.

The legislation — replacing the 1987 Parishes Act and 1950 Representation of the Laity Act and amending other canons dating back as far as 1878 — is designed to consolidate and update measures ensuring good governance and management in parishes while retaining some distinctive and treasured Anglican ways of operating.

By the adjournment shortly before 10.30pm, Synod had reached the Committee stage of dealing with the legislation clause by clause and had adopted five of 19 amendments proposed by Synod members, while deferring another proposed change until its sitting on 18 October. Another 24 amendments remain to be considered.

Archdeacon Brad Billings, the Vicar of St John's Toorak, said in moving the Parish Governance Bill 2013 and Parish Governance (Transitions, Consequential Amendments and Repeals) Bill 2013 that the legislation was the result of more than two years of work and diocesan-wide consultations, which produced more than 200 written submissions and many more through other means.

He said the 1987 Parishes Act, for instance, reflected "a very different world, both within the Church and beyond it".

"Much that is in the Parish Governance Bill we are bringing before you is simply that which is necessary to sustain the operation of any parish in this Diocese," Dr Billings said.

Some of the proposed changes included renaming the parish vestry (meeting) as the parish council, making a statement about the Anglican understanding of the parish, removing the age restriction of 72 for churchwardens and members of vestry, and restricting churchwardens and vestry members to six-year terms before a compulsory one-year sabbatical to enable renewal and ensure succession planning.

Dr Billings said the legislation also provided a process for parishes to enter into ministry sharing partnerships, a "transparent and pastorally sensitive" process for parishes to come to an end and for a "supported parish" to ensure ministry was sustained in a place where it may not be possible to maintain the normal parish infrastructure.

"These two companion Bills seek to invest in the wider church -- through its instruments of governance and episcopal oversight and at local level through its parishes -- the legislative responsibility and ability necessary for good and accountable governance to get on with the task we are called to, to proclaim the Good News and make disciples," he said.

The Diocesan Registrar, Mr Ken Spackman, said in seconding the motion: "It is right that something as significant as the legislation governing the life of our parishes should have the gestation period of an elephant -- it's been over two years in the making! -- and it's right that it should be informed and shaped by our collective experiences, good and bad."

Mr Spackman said the Bills sought to modernise the Melbourne Diocese's approach to parish governance, "but also to preserve those elements of our past that create identity".

"Some parts have been renamed and remodelled to reflect more modern wording and practice while still preserving the core elements that have defined our practice to date," he said.

Mr Spackman said the legislation had several features, including much greater clarity of responsibility between office-bearers, the ability to adapt rules within certain criteria to better align the provisions to actual parish operation, clearer and more accountable financial and budgetary practices "and strengthened measures to deal with special circumstances and behaviour which may result in reputational damage to us all".

"Whilst much of parish life is harmonious, it is not always the case and the Bill includes new provisions for the resolution of disputes, recognising that grievances do arise from time to time and setting forth a clear process of consideration and mediation," Mr Spackman said.

The successful amendments substituted 30 September for 30 June as the end of the financial year; toughened the eligibility requirements for the parish electoral roll based on frequency of attendance at worship (by a vote of 257-227); altered provisions for churchwardens to be on the committee to choose a vicar; required the Archbishop to consult the vicar before making, suspending or terminating an appointment of clergy or authorised lay ministers; and required the Diocesan Council to adopt and publish a policy guiding it in deciding to waive the annual diocesan assessment (tax) on a parish.

A proposal by Ms Seak-King Huang of St Jude's Carlton on dealing with indemnity for parish officers was deferred for consideration until 18 October, on the advice of the Diocesan Chancellor, Mr Michael Shand, QC.

Earlier, Synod had considered amendments to its own standing orders rejecting one restricting when a quorum could be called for to the start of a sitting, rather than the current practice of being able to be called at any time.

Archdeacon Richard Condie, the Vicar of St Jude's Carlton, said in moving the successful amendment: "I don't think it's good ever to conduct our business without a quorum."

He rejected a "sub-optimal decision-making process" to get around the falls in attendance at Synod, particularly in its final sittings on Saturday afternoons.

Archbishop Philip Freier, in closing the sitting, called on Synod members to pray for those affected by the NSW bushfires, as well as the victims of the recent suicide bombing of All Saints' Anglican Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, for which a collection was taken.