Reflections from General Synod
General Synod 18 was held on 8-13 May 2022 on the Gold Coast, Bishop Jeremy James and Elizabeth Smith share some reflections on their time there attending as delegates.
The Rt Revd Jeremy James tssf, Assistant Bishop
Over 260 representatives of the National Church, gathered at RACV Royal Pines Resort, on the Gold Coast for General Synod 18, from 8-13 May.
Because of COVID General Synod, which usually meets every three years, had not gathered for five.
We began on Sunday evening with worship in the Synod Eucharist celebrated by the Archbishop of Brisbane, The Most Revd Dr Philip Aspinall, with the Primate, Archbishop Geoff Smith, preaching. Archbishop Geoff spoke of prayerfully approaching Synod, seeking to maintain unity.
Each morning started with optional Eucharist in the resort Chapel, then Morning Prayer followed by a Bible reflection over the week on 1 Corinthians 3:18-6.20 in the Synod Hall.
We were fortunate to have a Chaplaincy Team of Br Christopher John SSF, Sr Julianna, Sisters of the Incarnation, The Revd Mandy Wheatley TSSF and Mrs Joy Freier. A small prayer room was set aside next to the conference room.
The things I noticed were:
Things move more quickly than in a usual Diocesan Synod. There is a considerable amount of pre-Synod reading to do, amounting to 800 pages, so the more preparation you have done, the more likely you will be able to navigate through the five days.
The business paper consists of bills, reports, statements and motions.
The bills, if passed, become canons, and are brought at the request of Standing Committee, or individual dioceses and a Bill for the Canon Concerning Services (Amendment) Canon 2022 was one of these.
The 50 reports are from bodies established by General Synod, for example the Doctrine Commission; the Family Violence Working Group; Anglican Representative (National Redress Scheme) Ltd; Anglican Diaconal Association and Rural Ministry Network.
There are also reports from bodies established independently of General Synod: Anglican Mothers’ Union Australia; Anglican Board of Mission; SparkLit. And from the wider Communion: Anglican Consultative Council.
This Synod also included the responses from 14 dioceses to the Protection of the Environment Canon 2007.
The motions were clustered around following areas:
- The National Anglican Family Violence Project chaired by The Revd Tracy Lauersen. In a following motion the Ten Commitments of Prevention and Response to Domestic and Family Violence in the Anglican Church of Australia were tabled for Synod members.
- General: Climate Change; Viability of Regional Dioceses; Anglican-Lutheran Dialogue; the Ukraine.
- Two statements as to the Faith, Ritual, Ceremonial or Discipline of this Church made under Section 4 of the Constitution, which were brought by the Diocese of Sydney. These statements included marriage as the union of a man and a woman; and the definition of unchastity.
- The 30th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women. This was passed, but without the amendment which affirmed that women who are priests or bishops properly exercise full spiritual authority as teachers and leaders of congregations and dioceses in the Anglican Church of Australia.
The Revd Dr Elizabeth J Smith AM, Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields
I have been a member of every General Synod since 2001, and an observer of many General Synod meetings for decades before that. I normally quite enjoy Synod, both nationally and here in our Diocese. I understand the processes and protocols, and I’m quite good at thinking on my feet.
I approached General Synod 2022 with more trepidation than usual. After a COVID-induced five year gap, we would be discussing the shape of our varying attitudes to same-sex marriage, which became legal in Australia in 2017, just after the previous General Synod. A lot has happened, both in society and in the Anglican Church, since then.
Of course, General Synod discusses many things beyond attitudes to sex and gender. There are financial reports and budget decisions, Bills for Canons for child protection and other nationally-important topics, and reports on everything from Defence Force Chaplaincy to the viability of small regional dioceses.
I found myself making quite a few speeches. We adopted an agreed statement with the Australian Lutheran Church, and I spoke about planning some ecumenical discussion groups in Kalgoorlie about what we have in common with our local Lutherans.
We discussed the findings of an Anglican investigation into the prevalence of domestic and family violence in our church communities, and agreed to fund more work in this area. I spoke about how an Anglican voice can say something important in the wider Australian conversation about respectful relationships.
We debated a rather narrow statement about single people in the church. I’m a single person, and I have strong opinions on this! I spoke against the statement, and in favour of better recognising the huge diversity of ways Anglicans live as single people, whether alone or in community, and before or after having been married, widowed, divorced.
And of course we debated statements and resolutions about marriage. Given our Prayer Books, Anglican clergy can currently only conduct marriages of opposite-sex couples. Some dioceses have approved simple forms of blessing for a couple who have been married under Australian law. Other Anglicans would like to stop this for everyone, everywhere. There are many wonderful Christian same-sex couples who are a blessing to all of us. I don’t want to send them away empty. The debates were difficult, heartfelt, and respectful. They will go on for many years to come.
I also moved an amendment to a motion, affirming that ordained women teach and lead with full spiritual authority alongside men. Shockingly, this did not pass. General Synod has gone backward on women’s ordination in the past 30 years. Perth, we need to speak up and celebrate the authority of our women who are deacons, priests, bishop, and Archbishop!
I also made one or two very short speeches about grammar in Bills and Motions! Authorized or authorised? Was or were? It matters!
Synods are places where small changes often have big consequences for our mission in the world. When you elect Synod representatives for your parish or organisation this year, please choose people who will be thoughtful, prayerful, in touch with the generous and hospitable spirit of our Diocese of Perth, and alert to the ways in which our in-house debates are heard and judged by the community around us.