General Synod Day 3 – More bills, less lunch, less Jesus

David Ould reports on the third day of the Australian General Synod

As Day 3 draws to a close it feels like we’ve got lots done, but missed the most substantial issues.

As on previous days, we’ve continued to pass important bills including dealing with the remaining child protection issues, in particular setting up the means by which we can engage with a proposed federal redress scheme that the government will soon publish details on.

It’s becoming clear that we might run out of time to get all our business done, so towards the close of the day we voted (electronically, which synod seems to enjoy asking for now and again!) to reduce lunch from 90 minutes to a round hour.

As the afternoon kicked in we turned to considering issues surrounding future ministry, particularly two related debates around future structures and what are being called “pioneer ministries”.

The pioneer ministries debate was particularly engaging for me. As we heard about the need to being doing ministry beyond the Sunday service it seemed like some people were, for the first time, grappling with what many of us simply call “evangelism”. But even then the struggle to actually be clear on the overall aim was soon going to manifest itself. The motion itself was fairly exciting:

Pioneer Ministry

The General Synod:

a) acknowledges that patterns of faith and belief in Australia are changing and that the Anglican Church of Australia’s capacity to participate in God’s mission is diminishing when too many congregations struggle with vitality and outreach;

b) notes the ten-year anniversary of “Building the Mission – shaped Church” report in October 2006 and its call to build capacity for church planting and developing fresh expressions of church as strategies for mission and evangelism;

c) commends dioceses for undertaking a diverse range of initiatives at revitalising parishes, planting new churches and pioneering different forms of church for people who live in a changing culture;

d) recognises that the development of pioneer leaders capable of planting new churches or developing different forms of church remains problematic when little consensus about expectations for ordination and lay ministry exists nationally;

e) requests that the Mission and Ministry Commission:

i. convene a national network of pi oneer leaders engaged in revitalisation, planting and fresh expressions to meet annually;

ii. convene a national research network to foster the theology and practice of evangelism;

iii. examine how community-based chaplaincy and pioneer ministry intersect to create fresh opportunities for mission in a changing society;

iv. explore ways to provide for coaching and training support for lay and women pioneer leaders; and

v. seek to engage the annual Bishops’’ Conference in discussion about mission and evangelism in a changing Australia.

All fairly good stuff, but I felt that it could be even better. So I moved the following amendment:

after the words “The General Synod”, add:

“, captivated by the declaration of Christ that repentance for the forgiveness of sins be preached in his name to all nations”

Readers will recognise the language as being a direct citation from Jesus’ final charge to his disciples in Luke 24.47. Not controversial, surely? Well they were immediately passionately opposed by Rev Dr Dorothy Lee who essentially argued they were a reductionistic summary of the gospel. Perhaps she was persuasive, perhaps some elements of synod wanted an excuse to vote down something that came from Sydney, but either way the amendment was narrowly lost by 124 to 114.

It doesn’t bode well when a large segment want to vote down what many would think is a pretty reasonable summary of the gospel that motivates us to ministry. Or, at least, what Jesus himself thought was a reasonable way to summarise the gospel.

We cut lunch. And we cut Jesus too.

Tomorrow will most likely see debate of the marriage motions I foreshadowed yesterday. They’ll be heard by a synod where the atmosphere has perceptibly shifted.

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