A Tale of Two Synods

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Reports from 2 diocesan synods here in Australia. The first, is more detail on the Gippsland synod. The Diocesan Newspaper June edition has a large report on the whole synod, including an entire page dedicated to the sexuality debate.

Click to access GippslandJune2012HS.pdf

There’s quite a bit of detail in it, but worth pushing through since it has commentary on much of the debate. Essentially there was a choice put before the Synod to either note or endorse the Bishops’ Protocols. The Synod ended up passing the following resolution:

 That this Synod receives Protocol 15 of the Australian Bishops’ Conference dated 13 March 2012 and notes the agreement of the bishops in the Australian Church that they accept the weight of 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 and the 2004 General Synod resolutions 33, 59 and 61-64 as expressing the mind of the Anglican Church of Australia on issues of human sexuality.

Motions expressing support or adherence to the protocol were not passed. The commentary in the Gippsland Anglican is comprehensive and helpful for getting an overall sense of how the debate went. It’s fair to say that most speakers were generally supportive of Bishop McIntyre’s stance. Of most note was the following:

 Rev. David Head, of Heyfield parish, spoke against NM/4 and to some extent NM/5 and NM/6, particularly addressing the interpretation of homosexuality within these motions and opposition to same sex marriage.

“I do not have the choice and I find the interpretation of homosexuality an offensive statement,” he said. “I do not experience myself; I am. I do not have a homosexual orientation, I am a homosexual. “I find that most people do not want to listen to me. The word homosexual is not used in scripture; it is a word  derived not more than 100 years ago,” Rev. Head said. “I have been a minister for 30 years and I ask why anyone could say God has not blessed my ministry.”

Up until now Rev. Head, who was, remember, the priest that Bishop McIntyre licensed late 2011  – an event which precipitated this current crisis, has remained silent.

Conservatives of various stripes on synod also spoke.

 Rev. Janet Wallis, of Leongatha parish, spoke in favor of all three motions. “I stand before you as a woman who has been broken by the practices of this church,” she said. “I have spent my entire adult life reading and reflecting on the issue of homosexuality but I still believe it is wrong. I still walk alongside homosexual people and offer them the love of God. “I support all three of these motions. I support adopting policy and I support further discussion.”

Rev. Tony Wicking, of Bairnsdale parish, spoke in favor of the motions but said he felt fearful about these issues.

“I support all the motions. Yesterday, I heard the pain of David Head, the passion of Jenny Ramage and the heartache of Janet Wallis,” he said. “My fear is that we are here to proclaim the Gospel of God and I would like to have had more debate on the scripture. We have here more of a feel good debate. “I think we need to go deeper than what we have. Certainly, society does change and we must keep in mind the Word of God is relevant yesterday, today and tomorrow.

“My second fear is the role fo[sic.] the bishop [Bishop John McIntyre]. I support his right to appoint but he seems to have acted unilaterally without knowing the mind of Synod,” Rev. Wicking said. “Until we as a Synod, as a Church, are able to make a decision on this, it disturbs me the bishop will act unilaterally. “The thing these motions are saying to the bishop is ‘hold off until we have made a decision’ and to avoid the bishop acting unilaterally.


Further south, over the sea and far away lies the island of Tasmania. The diocese of Tasmania had it’s own Synod this past week. Although there is still no online record we’ve been sent details of a very different motion was passed there:

That this Synod notes with gratitude to God the strenuous and gracious efforts of the Bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia to develop, at their March National Bishops’ Conference, a set of protocols on human sexuality.  These protocols, which “express the common mind of the bishops as determined by consensus at our National Meeting” are to be reaffirmed annually at the Bishops’ Conference.

The protocols state that the Bishops:

i) accept the weight of 1998 Lambeth Resolution I.10 and the 2004 General Synod Resolutions 33, 59 and 61-64 as expressing the mind of this church on issues of human sexuality.

ii) undertake to uphold the position of our Church in regard to human sexuality as we ordain, license, authorise or appoint to ministries within our dioceses.

iii) understand that issues of sexuality are subject to ongoing conversation within our Church and we undertake to support these conversations, while seeking to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Further, this Synod affirms and endorses these protocols, and urges all Australian Bishops to continue to uphold them in their ministries, and the oversight of their respective Dioceses.

The motion was passed almost unanimously. I managed to get hold of the proposer, Rev. John Tongue of Ulverston parish. Here’s what he had to say,

We’d had fairly extensive debate earlier in the business on a motion relating to Same-sex marriage, where, though it passed in the end, there was a significant block opposed to that motion – calling on the Federal Government to maintain the current definition of marriage.  A number of people spoke of their being happy for the CHURCH to stick to its understanding of Marriage, but for Society to be given greater latitude in these things.  Interestingly, some of the few who did end up voting against my motion were ones who had argued this line!?!?

Hopefully, it’s not just a ‘motherhood’ statement (always the danger with just couching it in positive terms), but at least it adds the voice of one more Diocese as being in support of the current teaching of the church on human sexuality and ministry.

Indeed it does, and a stark contrast with Gippsland’s synod. Perhaps more dioceses will enter the debate in the weeks and months to come.

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  1. Andrew Reid

    The Melbourne Anglican has now published that protocols story it promised to publish.


    The money quote from Archbishop Freier is:
    “While these protocols have no legislative force, it is expected that our Bishops will abide by them, as an expression of the bonds of affection and unity that we share in the gospel and our collegiality in episcopal ministry.”

    1. David Ould

      thanks for the link, Andrew. Does that mean things might get awkward for known partnered homosexuals currently in ministry in Melbourne diocese?

  2. Andrew Reid

    I’ll be back in Melbourne in about a month, so I’ll get more of a feel for it then. What it should do is make things awkward across the whole of Australia – this is a national protocol. But as we’ve seen, some bishops feel more bound by the protocols than others. The TMA article presents the local Archbishop’s perspective. Did you notice how they combined it as part of a story about “All the Bishops’ protocols are being published”, rather than how Protocol 15 addressed the Gippsland situation?

    I think it makes it difficult for Archbishop Freier to ordain or appoint to a parish anyone in a known homosexual relationship. Whether it makes it more difficult to renew the licence of priests in known homosexual relationships, I’m not sure. I can’t see Archbishop Freier starting an “outing” campaign and I doubt Melbourne’s evangelicals will want to head down that path either. Archbishop Freier has probably “inherited” clergy in homosexual relationships rather than appointed or ordained them personally, as far as I know. My guess would be he will show leniency on licence renewal, but hold the line on ordination and new parish appointments.

  3. Sandy Grant

    I continue to make the point that although the protocols are worth something, it’s not a lot. And they represent a very catholic way of handling things, with the bishops being seen as a the centre of the action and the point of unity. But the protocols failed to address the breach that had already happened. In addition, why should they be necessary when we already have the much broader conciliar value of Faithfulness in Service, which represents the mind of laity, clergy and bishops? Why is a protocol of the Bishops more important than the code of conduct agreed by the whole Synod, both General, and in most cases, including Gippsland, local?

  4. Andrew Reid

    Hi Sandy,
    I agree with you that Faithfulness in Service (and related GS motions) is indeed a much broader and more widely accepted document than the new protocol. I think what the bishops were trying to do with the new protocol was address the specific issue of ordaining, appointing and licensing clergy in homosexual relationships. I think FIS covers all categories of church workers and all modes of appointment, but Bishop McIntyre believed only ordination was covered – not appointment of clergy from other dioceses or renewing existing licences. This protocol attempted to remove any doubt. However, as we have seen, Bishop McIntyre has decided to disregard that protocol as well. I wonder how he would react if some of the other protocols were breached, e.g. poaching of his clergy who had worked less than 4 years in his diocese, or church planting by another diocese within Gippsland?

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