Within two years the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne will take all reasonable steps to divest its shares in corporations whose revenues from fossil fuel extraction or production exceed 20 per cent of their total revenue. So resolved, in an amended motion, the 800-strong Melbourne Anglican Synod, held in St Paul’s Cathedral from 15-18 October.
“Cheap coal is a myth,” Professor Kate Rigby, Chair of Environmental Humanities at Monash University, told the Synod. “While coal might have been cheaper [than renewable energy], this is only because its environmental impacts have not been factored into costing and because coal and other fossil fuel industries receive massive government subsidies.”
She said divestment was unlikely to harm the financial interests of fossil fuel industries. “The intention is rather to draw attention to the ethical questionability of continued over-reliance on what we now know to be dangerously polluting energy sources and to thereby encourage the transition to a cleaner economy… Divestment will also encourage companies that currently focus on fossil fuels to diversify… with a view to securing their own survival in the post-carbon economy.”
Synod heard several presentations – including one on the need to provide WorkCover for clergy, and another to consider how diocesan structures can be made more mission-shaped.
Regarding the first, because of a recent legal precedent, the Victorian WorkSafe Authority has advised the Diocese that unless clergy are insured through WorkCover and become “workers” for the purposes of the Act, a bishop may find him or herself personally liable for any workers’ compensation payments made by WorkCover. In order to address this, the Diocese intends to bring legislation to a special meeting of Synod in April next year, whose purpose will be to create an incorporated entity, which would then be nominated as the employer by the WorkCover legislation. Another major reason for incorporation, explained Ms Susan Foley, is the ability of this incorporated entity “to meet the recommendations arising from the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry and those anticipated from the Royal Commission into institutional child sexual abuse. It has been recommended that religious institutions be required to have an entity capable of being sued at law”.
In another presentation, Synod heard about plans to transform diocesan structures from ‘function-shape’ to ‘mission shape’, and to make the mission of the Diocese – ‘to make the Word of God fully known’ – the organising principle in every aspect of the work and ministry of the Diocese.
“At every point the question should be ‘Where is the mission of the church in this?’” said Paul White, Bishop of the Southern Region.
Ms Anne Hywood, who has been appointed as Project Manager, Mission-Shaped Diocesan Structures, said there would be widespread consultation about the proposals and a new model brought to the 2015 Synod for consideration.
Synod interrupted its normal deliberations at noon on its final day to give its members an opportunity to stand beneath the giant banner ‘Let’s fully welcome refugees’ that hangs from one of the cathedral towers facing Federation Square. Bishop Philip Huggins said that standing under the banner would send a “strong and beautiful message of hope” to refugees and be an act of solidarity with asylum seekers in detention.
The Synod had earlier voted to deplore Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, especially children, as contrary to Christian teaching and morality, and urged Anglican parishes and agencies to convey their outrage and dismay.
For full reports and extensive Synod coverage see the November issue of TMA (The Melbourne Anglican)