Anne Hywood | General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Australia
The Eighteenth Session of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia will be held from 8 to 13 May 2022 at the RACV Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast.
Usually that statement, confirming the date and venue of General Synod, is locked in not long after the previous session concludes. Planning commences and the General Synod Standing Committee and team at the General Synod Office work diligently to deliver the event at the time and place agreed.
Planning for this session, GS18, has been anything but straightforward.
The dates have changed three times and the venue twice. The original plan to meet in June 2020 changed to June 2021 and then May 2022. The venue moved from the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast. The Primate has issued a mandate, calling members to the one session, three times.
We all know why. The event, like so many others was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Preparing for a session of General Synod is demanding enough without having to take into account border closures, quarantine requirements, vaccination status, venue capacity limits and the impact of mask wearing during debate!
The environment has changed constantly and we have had to ‘pivot’, to use the language of the time, to find a way to meet together. Even when borders were opening elsewhere there was concern that the General Synod members of the three dioceses in Western Australia would still be unable to travel in mid-2022.
New projects took priority; participation by videoconference, electronic voting and online election systems, and the drafting of Bills to facilitate online participation, which of course had not been imagined when the Church’s constitution was written in1962.
Now, only a few weeks from the commencement of Synod it seems that all members should be able to attend in person. However, subject to Synod passing the required legislation, our work has not been wasted and full participation online will be possible if required.
While it seems that all our time and energy has centred on making the event happen, the real priority has continued to be the business of Synod.
Given developments in both Church and the community in recent years, issues associated with marriage, human sexuality and same sex relationships will be a focus of discussion. It is anticipated that the debate will fully explore the diversity within the Church on these issues.
An important focus will be a report on the work of the Family Violence Working Group, established in response to a resolution from the last session of General Synod in 2017. The report will examine the results of the Anglican family violence research project and recommend ways for the Church to respond to this issue, including the establishment of a new Commission for Family and Culture.
At the last session in 2017 a large part of the legislation program addressed the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The General Synod’s Safe Ministry Commission will introduce additional measures and report on the progress in implementing child protection initiatives.
The Public Affairs Commission, chaired by Dr Carolyn Tan, challenges the Synod to take action on climate change and reports on its engagement with government on the religious discrimination legislation and other issues.
To be expected the business before Synod will reflect the diversity of our ministry and our engagement with the community. As we come together for the Eighteenth Session of General Synod we bring with us the stress and uncertainty of the last few years. Let us pray that coming together we can set that aside, be encouraged and build upon what we hold in common.