General Synod was held in sunny Maroochydore. If you’re going to have to spend five and half days in Synod sessions from 8.30am to 9pm this certainly helped to make it a better experience. On four of the mornings we met in table groups to join in the Daily Office as well as respond to the four Bible Studies delivered by Bishop Michael Stead (Sydney), Dr Matthew Anstey (Adelaide), Dr Dorothy Lee (Melbourne) and Dr John Dunhill (Perth). The group I led was animated and we had wonderful interactions as we engaged with the Scriptures and prayed together. This helped set the tone for the day and was one of the factors as to why I would say it was a good General Synod. The Primate chaired well in his relaxed but clear way.
Synod dealt with a lot of legislation: the Child Safe Canon; Episcopal Standards; The Redress Scheme; screening of volunteer leaders and many other matters. Substantial motions were passed: upholding marriage as currently defined; instructing the Doctrine Commission to produce papers on a range of issues related to human sexuality; giving an apology for domestic violence; investigating and possibly commissioning research on domestic violence in churches; child safety; assisted dying; gender balance on General Synod bodies; and the Reformation.
Matters related to the Royal Commission dominated proceedings. On the one hand Royal Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald commended the Anglican Church on leading the way in establishing comprehensive policies and procedures in relation to Professional Standards. On the other hand the flow-on impact of the National Redress Scheme was sobering to consider. Of the people who have had private sessions with a Commissioner only a third had had previous contact with the institution where the abuse occurred. The Commonwealth will operate the National Redress Scheme. Once an assessment is established with an individual the institution in which the abuse occurred will be invoiced for the cost of the payment to victims plus legal and psychological costs. Given that seven dioceses are currently assessed to be financially unviable, the flow-on impact of this will be massive in those dioceses, but in reality it will be substantial in all dioceses. The consequences of the sins of the past are being visited upon this generation.
Evangelicals had a good General Synod. At my first General Synod in 1994 there were only three diocesan bishops who were evangelical: those of Sydney, Armidale and North West Australia. Today it is a very different scene. All of the clergy and a majority of the laity elected to the Standing Committee as well as the Primatial Election Board were evangelical. Many long-term stalwarts of these boards didn’t seek re-election!
On the Tuesday evening we had 100 people at the EFAC Dinner. Given that the Dioceses of Adelaide and Brisbane had their own dinners this was wonderful response. Bishop Richard Condie gave a rousing address on his new Diocesan Vision. This, in fact, was probably the best speech given at the Synod!
My sense is that the future is going to be very challenging for all dioceses. Some of the structural changes that have been talked about for decades may be forced upon us. That, in itself, may not be a bad thing. God is at work in and through the Anglican Church. There is much to be encouraged about, but massive challenges also lie ahead.
Bishop Stephen Hale, Chair of EFAC Australia, judges this year’s General Synod a good one for Evangelicals.