Australian Anglican Church General Synod

Today marks the start of the Australian Church’s 15th General Synod. I’m one of the Sydney reps. Since Qantas decided to cancel my flight and make me wait an extra half hour, let me fill you in on all the excitement we can expect.

Today’s business [pdf] includes the Presidential Address by the Primate, Phillip Aspinall, Archbishop of Brisbane. A lot has happened since the last General Synod; GAFCON, the Consecration of women bishops, and (most recently), an Appellate Tribunal decision on Diaconal Administration. In a sense, Aspinall’s address may set the tone for General Synod. He can clearly signal to us that he wants us all to get along. Alternatively, he could mark out what he thinks are positive and negative moves in the Australian Church. If that’s the case, expect Sydney to get pigeon-holed as being divisive.

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As business progresses, guests will be welcomed. Again, here is a small issue of controversy. The Primate has invited Clare Amos, director of theological studies at the Anglican Communion Office, to give the morning BIble Study talks. Naturally, when the invitation was announced a number of people objected – from Sydney and elsewhere. Their contention was that the Primate had made their participation in the Bible Studies impossible since, on theological grounds, they could not accept the teaching ministry of a woman in a mixed congregation. Unsurprisingly, the Primate didn’t change his mind.

Down the line, other issues are going to be addressed, most notably the extent of power that the General Synod has to impose costs on individual dioceses. The ABC explain

Most significantly this week, it has become known that Sydney have put in train a process that could split the national Anglican Church by limiting the capacity of the General Synod to have any effective influence on whole sections of the church in Australia, and restoring to Sydney much of the independence they enjoyed prior to the adoption of the 1961 Constitution. The Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia, Dr Philip Aspinall, has taken the extraordinary step of writing to the Attorney General of NSW, the Shadow Attorney General and the Director General of the Department of Justice, seeking their assistance.

Archibishop (and Primate) Philip Aspinall’s letter advising General synod standing committee of the situation is here.

In 1961 the various diocese’s of the Anglican Church of Australia came together under one constitution as the Anglican Church of Australia. Next week the church’s governing body the General Synod, gathers in Melbourne for its once evey three year meeting, three years that have witnessed momentous upheaval in the International Anglican Communion, over women, gays and church order. To what extent will those tensions be played out in the Melbourne meeting? On the surface it appears to be a typically Anglican show with apparent calm on the surface matched by some frantic paddling underneath.

International divisions in the Anglican Communion, are broadly reflected in the Australian church by the classic divisions of low, middle and High. High being Anglo-catholic in sentiment; Middle, the broad church (latitudinarian)way; and low, the Reformed, or Calvinist evangelical. For years the Sydney diocese has regarded its Calvinist Reformed principles as being non negotiable, and disputes have flared over Sydney’s leading the opposition to moves regarding the ordination of women and the place of homosexuals in the church. Already there are rumblings from some, threatening to boycott Bible studies and preaching by a woman, Dr Claire Amos, who happens to be the Director of Theological Studies for the International Anglican Communion.

What Sydney proposes is to ask the NSW Government to amend the Anglican Church Property Trust Act, so that any financial measure proposed by the national body would have no effect until it is also passed by the local NSW body. This would be much the same as the governments of any of the states of Australia, having a right of veto over Commonwealth levies in their state. In law they may remain part of the whole but in practice, they have divorced.

The Anglican Primate, Philip Aspinall, states, ‘…this proposal is one tantamount to altering or circumventing… the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia without following the specified processes of the Church’, and that, ‘The church as a whole has had no notice of the proposal, and has therefore lacked any opportunity to consider the implications of such a change’.

Why have Sydney proposed such a radical course of action and how is it viewed by the wider church? What’s its connection if any to the wider tensions in global Anglicanism. To discuss these matter, we are joined by Robert Tong, one of the leading lay members of the Sydney Diocese as its deputy Chancellor. We are also joined by a leading Melbourne lay member, Robert Fordham, former deputy premier of the State of Victoria, and a former member of the International Anglican Consultative Council.

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All in all, it’s going to fun wink

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