Melbourne’s Anglican Synod contemplated its own future – and that of the way the Church prepares candidates for ordination and provides continuing professional development for clergy – on its third night, Friday 19 October.

Synod commended a review of its own size and composition that proposed that lay parish representatives be in proportion to full-time equivalent ministry staff in each parish. It endorsed the principle that its House of Laity should have at least as many members as its House of Clergy and asked the Diocesan Council, which meets regularly between sessions of Synod, to bring recommendations on clergy representation to next year’s Synod with a view to introducing new representation in time for the 52nd Synod, which is to meet from 2016-18.

A member of the Diocesan Council, Mr Colin Reilly, said in moving the proposal that the review committee had, for the time being, set aside the question of clergy membership of Synod until it received legal advice. But the committee wanted an indication from Synod that it was on the right track, he said, and noted that the motion did not yet finally commit Synod to anything.

Mr Reilly, a parishioner of Christ Church Brunswick, outlined the history of Synod representation, noting that for much of the 20th century, there was on average about three members for every parish. With changes to lay representation since the 1970s, there were now four Synod members per parish – with the total membership of Synod peaking at just over 900 members in 2000.

Professor Jenny George, seconding the motion, said the committee was keen, when examining lay representation, to ensure that whatever method was used was transparent and fair, “not likely to give undue incentives or opportunity to game the system, that it was easily auditable and simple to understand and implement”.

“Our proposal is that each parish will have a minimum of one lay synod representative,” she said. “Parishes with at least two full-time equivalent ministry staff will be allowed to elect two lay representatives. Parishes with at least three full-time equivalent ministry staff will be allowed to elect three lay representatives and so on.

“We believe that our proposal is a good system that makes sense, would be easy to administer and meets the criteria requested by last year’s Synod for a smaller, more representative body that is closely correlated to the number of Sunday worshippers.”

Fr Ian Morrison, Priest in Charge of Holy Trinity Surrey Hills and Mont Albert, complained that the proposal was “nothing but a sell-out to the well-heeled parishes who can afford multiple staff and who seek to dominate this diocese”.

But the Revd Dr David Powys, Vicar of St John’s Cranbourne, said Synod owed it to the committee to honour the hard work it had done by supporting the motion. “I don’t think it’s a class war at all,” he said. “It’s a matter of ecclesiology.”
Fr Jeff Parker, Vicar of St James’ Dandenong, said the best Synod was not the biggest Synod.

Ms Janis Lampard, a lay representative of St Columb’s Hawthorn, expressed concern that because of their big numbers, “we are somewhat disengaged as laity” and wanted to affirm the motion.

The motion was carried on the voices.

Synod also received a report, Suited by their learning, it commissioned two years ago from the Melbourne Anglican Diocese Committee to Review Theological Education, Ministerial Formation and Continuing Professional Development (MADCORTE). It referred the recommendations to the Diocesan Council and asked the council to report progress at Synod’s meeting next year.

Ms Dianne Shay, a General Synod representative who proposed the motion, said education and formation of clergy were priorities for the Diocese.

She said parishes should be encouraging their clergy to take their annual 10 days’ study leave because there were long-term benefits from clergy being challenged in their thinking.

The Revd Dr John Capper, Dean of the ecumenical United Faculty of Theology in Parkville and Assistant Priest at St John’s Diamond Creek, said theological education and the ongoing formation and education of those in ministry were part of the “sustained and enduring substructure” of churches that lasted and stayed strong.

Dr Capper cited the story of David Lual, a South Sudanese refugee and now a Melbourne ordination candidate, who had done a great deal of theological education and frontline ministry in a refugee camp in Kenya.

“He was offered ordination, but at about the same time he also heard that he and his family had been accepted to come to Australia,” Dr Capper said. “David refused ordination.  When I asked him why, he told me: ‘I knew that Australia was a different place, with different standards and different needs.  I didn’t think that I would be properly prepared for ministry in Australia, so I wanted to do my theological education there.’

“Some candidates come from traumatised backgrounds, some from local professions.  Some come from other churches or other dioceses.  Some come with a deep understanding of Australian culture and society, some come with very little.  Some are eligible for government assistance, some for none.  Some speak excellent English, some speak it well, given that it is their fourth or fifth language, and some have little facility.  The needs of each are different.  We need to retain and sometimes retrain our own systems to assure the best outcomes for all.”

A motion encouraging parishes to develop strategic ministries to the children and families in their local community and commending the work of the Diocesan Children and Families Ministry Facilitator, Mrs Dorothy Hughes, won unanimous support.

The Venerable Stephen May, Archdeacon of Maroondah and Vicar of the Anglican Parish of Mt Dandenong, said Jesus put children are at the centre of Christian ministry, not on the periphery.

“Therefore as the motion set before you now states, children’s and families ministries are strategic for the ongoing life of the church, not merely because of their importance for the future of the church , but because the church is not really the church without children and their families,” Archdeacon May said.

Synod also endorsed a motion proposed by Bishop Stephen Hale and the Revd Canon Dr Evonne Paddison, respectively Chairman and CEO of Access Ministries, expressing thanks for the dismissals of challenges in the High Court in relation to school chaplains being religious workers and in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that the provision of Special Religious Instruction (Christian Religious Education) in state schools was discriminatory.

Australia’s successful bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council prompted a motion proposed by Bishop Philip Huggins, of the Northern and Western Region of the Diocese, that congratulated the Australian Government on the result, affirmed the strong statement by Archbishop Philip Freier in his Synod Charge about the situation in Syria and Egypt after the Arab Spring and encouraged the Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr, and Australia’s diplomats to use the UN position to pursue the humanitarian needs of people in that region and the protection of religious minorities, including the protection of the Christian Churches in the Middle East. This motion also won the support of Synod.

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