Synod rules that women must have equal representation on diocesan council

Archbishop Freier makes a rare intervention in a Synod debate to urge diversity on diocesan governing bodies.

Melbourne Synod on the final day of its 2018 meeting at St Paul's Cathedral, during which it made the historic decision on gender equality.

By Mark Brolly and Chris Shearer and Steve Cauchi

October 21 2018 

Women are to comprise half the membership of Melbourne’s diocesan council after Synod endorsed a legislative amendment calling for three ordained women and three laywomen to be among the six clergy and six laypeople elected to the body.

The move came during debate on the Archbishop in Council Bill on 20 October and the amendment – proposed by the Revd Canon Matthew Williams, Vicar of St James’ Old Cathedral in West Melbourne – was carried immediately after Archbishop Philip Freier made a rare intervention in a Synod debate.

The council decides on temporal matters along with the Archbishop between annual meetings of the Synod, which has clergy and lay representatives from the more than 200 parishes in the diocese. The legislation, which was adopted as amended, reduces the size of the Council as part of contemporary governance measures.

Archbishop Freier rebuked Synods over a number of years for failing to follow his lead in trying to diversify those involved in the governance of the diocese.

“On different occasions, I have nominated all women… all people from non-English-speaking backgrounds and I’ve been dismayed that you, the members of Synod, when it comes to the ballot, have not seen (fit) to pick up that lead at all,” Dr Freier said.

He said “excellent people” he had nominated had failed to win electoral support and urged Synod members to resist following how-to-vote guides produced by groups within the Church.

“So if you are serious, I think this is to be welcomed but to me there is a danger from my observational experience of this being a part-done reform because there are a lot of other hidden factors in the operation of Synod that means there’s a lot of inertia.

“So I just want to share that experience because I have been quite active over several of my appointment periods to try and change that culture and I am disappointed that the effect of it was not seen in the elections produced by the subsequent Synods after the personal contribution of people for three years.”

The Chancellor, Mr Michael Shand, QC, also supported the amendment, saying it represented a definitive affirmation of the equal status of women in the governance of the Church.

“It would send a strong signal and a very welcome signal to the wider community that in political, corporate and other spheres of life so much more can be done to promote participation by women,” Mr Shand said.

Canon Williams, in proposing the amendment, said that while people may be concerned about quotas because they were worried that there would not be enough talent on offer, Archbishop in Council “is least in danger of this problem” among diocesan bodies. He also responded to those who during the debate raised the absence of minorities in the Church’s governance.

“But I do want to stress: women are not a minority group… they are actually most of us and they are not most of the voices, and I think we should fix that,” he said.

Archbishop Freier said that Melbourne’s newest assistant bishop, Kate Prowd, who was consecrated on 6 October, meant the diocese had two male and two female assistant bishops.

“It is good to have another woman in the team of bishops in Melbourne. I know from talking with some of the younger women clergy in this diocese that our ministry culture and practice is still experienced as shaped by and for men,” he said.

“I don’t think that we can be complacent about this and need to actively shape the culture of ministry in this diocese by having more women in senior positions of responsibility.”

  • The Melbourne diocese will join the #KidsOffNauru campaign following a motion passed formally, without debate or dissent, at Synod.

Brought by the Revd Chris Lancaster, the motion acknowledged the Australian Medical Association’s call to remove children from the island to safeguard their mental and physical health, called on Synod to support the current #KidsOffNauru campaign to remove all children from the island by 20 November, and welcomed initiatives of parishes and institutions to participate in the campaign.

The diocese will now join the more than 320 organisations and some 130,000 Australians who have added their voices to the campaign.

The #KidsOffNauru campaign, spearheaded by World Vision Australia, is calling on the Federal Government to bring the remaining 52 children held on the island to Australia by Universal Children’s Day, 20 November.

More than 60 children have been evacuated from Nauru since the beginning of the campaign in late August, mainly for medical treatment.

  • The diocesan budget deficit for 2018 is forecast to blow out to $1.8 million – four times larger than expected – with an “accelerating” rate of decline in the diocese’s overall finances, Synod was told.

Diocesan Registrar Mr Ken Spackman said the deteriorating financial picture had forced the diocese to “fundamentally rethink” how it would approach future budgets, with tough decisions ahead to trim losses.

A review is being conducted of the Diocesan Centre’s operations, which aims to save $300,000 in annual staff costs, while grants to Trinity and Ridley colleges – which prepare candidates for ordination – and subsidies for clergy insurance and curate superannuation costs are to be eliminated.

Mr Spackman said the main contributor to the loss was the reduction in the earning power of the diocese’s $26.6 million investment corpus driven by three factors – a transfer of $5 million to the Diocesan Centre; redress payments for child sexual abuse of about $1 million; and a delay in property sale contributions.

“The diocese cannot continue to operate in deficit and use reserves and capital to bolster a poor underlying financial condition,” he said.

  • The Synod endorsed a call from Melbourne Archdeacon Craig D’Alton opposing “Gay Conversion Therapy” and calling on the Government to ban it.

Archdeacon D’Alton’s motion backed the position of the Australian Psychological Society that “strongly opposes any approach to psychological practice or research that treats lesbians, gay men and bisexual people as disordered, and any approach that attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation”.

He said he had recently attended the launch of a report, Preventing harm, promoting justice: Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia, which documented the major psychological and spiritual trauma of those who had gone through this treatment.

“All the subjects in the report suffered suicidal ideation as they struggled to resolve conflicts between their faith and their LGBT identities. Every one of them. It is not going too far to say that these so-called ‘therapies’ can kill people,” Archdeacon D’Alton said.

  • Two motions on Synod’s business paper, on a form of blessing for civil marriages and on the Global Anglican Future Conference, were not put after motions from the Synod floor, though not before those proposing them – Archdeacon D’Alton, Vicar of St Mary’s North Melbourne, and the Revd Tim Anderson, Vicar of Holy Trinity Hastings, respectively – had given their mover’s speeches.

Another motion affirming communion with the Church of England was withdrawn by the Vicar of St George’s Malvern, the Revd Canon Dr Colleen O’Reilly.


For full reports of Synod, see November’s ‘TMA’, which will be available in churches on 11 November.