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St Paul's Cathedral congregations win voting rights

Calls for Australia to be generous to refugees, and for parishes to act on poverty, environment, at second night of Synod

Worshippers at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne.

PHOTO: Janine Eastgate

By Mark Brolly

October 21 2016Melbourne's Anglican Synod has endorsed proposals to reform the way St Paul's Cathedral is run, replacing the 138-year-old Cathedral Act that pre-dates the existing cathedral by 13 years with new measures to reduce the size of its governing body, enfranchise its congregation and update professional standards for clergy and lay staff and volunteers.

The vote – in St Paul's on 20 October – followed the Dean, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, telling Synod that Cathedral congregations had grown steadily in recent years, with attendance at Christmas services almost doubling from 3000 worshippers in 2011 to almost 6000 last year. Sunday congregations grew by 3.5 per cent in regular committed attendance in 2015, Dr Loewe said.

Weekly English language classes and worship in basic English and Mandarin had ensured that newcomers could hear the Gospel in their own language and come to faith in Jesus. The numbers of adult baptisms and confirmations at the Cathedral had doubled in the past 10 years, he said.

St Paul's, which attracts about 400,000 visitors a year, faces considerable challenges in the next 10 years with construction of Melbourne's Metro Rail, including an underground station, beneath Swanston Street. Construction is due to begin early in 2017 and be completed and operational in 2026.

The current Cathedral was opened in 1891, replacing an earlier St Paul's church. Melbourne's first Anglican cathedral was St James' Old Cathedral, now in West Melbourne, but from 1839-1913 located near the corner of William and Little Collins streets.

“We know that we are good at inviting others to learn about the Gospel,” Dr Loewe said. “We are good at welcoming newcomers and enabling them to share the fellowship we enjoy.

“But we have not yet enabled our members to belong in terms of governance... We have no electoral roll and no mechanism formally to recognise membership.

“The Bill before you remedies this. It establishes a roll, a general meeting with all the transparency of governance that entails, and it provides for regular elections of two full canons – rather than lay representatives with no vote – by our congregants.

“When I consulted our congregations on the Bill before you, our members were delighted at finally being recognised. We already expect our congregants to contribute a significant proportion of our annual budget through annual giving. But we have not yet given them a vote on our governing body. This equates to taxation without representation and with your support we can remedy this tonight.”

The Chancellor (chief legal officer) of the Diocese of Melbourne, Mr Michael Shand, QC, told Synod that the legislation reflected contemporary thinking in various respects.

Mr Shand said its preamble acknowledged the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as traditional owners of the land on which the Cathedral was built. The Bill also specified the mission of the Cathedral community; adopted more contemporary governance procedures modelled on what Synod had enacted in previous years for the diocese as a whole and for parishes; addressed the size of the Cathedral's governing body, the Chapter; strengthened the links between the Chapter and the different Cathedral congregations, which includes one worshipping in Mandarin; and recognised the special trusts on which the Cathedral land is held.

“Chapter considered that it would be beneficial to reduce its size, presently 24 members, while maintaining the balance in its membership between clergy and laity and an appropriately representative basis through the means of appointment or election,” he said.

“The result... is a body of 18 members: the Archbishop, the Dean (elected by Chapter), eight canons in Holy Orders (two appointed by the Archbishop and six elected by Synod), and eight canons who are lay persons (two appointed by the Archbishop, four elected by Synod and two elected by the Cathedral congregations).

“... In the context of the current review of our professional standards regime and the ongoing inquiry of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse, the Bill recognises the need in our Cathedral legislation for closer attention to matters of professional standards and fitness for a role, office or position in the Cathedral,” Mr Shand said. “These measures are for the protection of the community, particularly for the vulnerable, and are intended to assure the community of reasonable grounds for confidence that the Church and its people can be trusted and respected as it goes about its mission.”

The legislation met some resistance, with Ms Jill Batterbury of St Faith's Burwood moving three amendments – all but one of which was defeated.

Ms Batterbury said that the Bill was welcome as part of the process to modernise diocesan legislation, and it was appropriate for the Cathedral to have grand ambitions, but in some respects the ambitions in the legislation were too grand. She referred to a clause on the Cathedral's mission “to seek to transform the City of Melbourne and the wider Diocese into communities where people can come to experience, know and love God in Christ Jesus”, warning that a future dean could rely on this clause to “compete” with an archbishop.

“While the Cathedral plays a unique role in the Diocese, this does not mean that the Cathedral is the Diocese,” Ms Batterbury said.

But by the end of the night, the Cathedral Bill 2016, transitional legislation and the Interpretation of Diocesan Legislation Bill 2016 all passed the houses of clergy and laity on the voices, without going to a count. Legislation giving the Synod's authority to a new private leasing arrangement for the Cathedral Chapter House was adjourned after passing the committee stage, during which bills are dealt with clause by clause.

'Let's do it generously': Motions on refugees, environment

Synod also considered several motions formally, without debate, on refugees, the environment, poverty and parish partnerships.

A motion seeking an increase in Australia's annual refugee intake to 30,000 – and commending the Federal Government on its 2015 undertaking to receive an additional 12,000 refugees from Syria – was adopted formally.

The Vicar of St John's Cranbourne and Christ Church Tooradin, the Revd Dr David Powys, said in proposing the motion that Australians had become preoccupied with people in offshore detention and were “in a great muddle” about the refugee issue.

“This motion is saying, 'Look, now that we're almost through the muddle, let's focus on doing the best possible thing for the greatest possible number of people that are going to benefit most... and best fit in with our Australian society,” Dr Powys said.

He said there were many former refugees who had settled really well in Cranbourne and now was the time to permanently lift the refugee intake.

“Australia can do this. Australia has been generous in the past with refugees. We got ourselves in a muddle, we're now nearly through that muddle, let's do it really well, let's do it generously...”.

Dr Sally Burt, a member of the Diocesan Council and parishioner of Holy Trinity Williamstown, said there were many ways parishes had changed their practices to reduce their impact on the environment. But she said cost pressures parishes faced sometimes restricted their ability to make changes.

The motion adopted by Synod commended the Cathedral and parishes on initiatives taken to minimise their impact on the environment, as well as the Anglican Development Fund for offering parishes a “green loan” scheme to assist them with small and medium-sized projects such as installing solar panels or water-saving measures.

Parishes urged to act on poverty

A chaplain at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the Revd Dr Michelle Trebilcock, proposed a motion, formally adopted, that urged Anglican parishes and agencies to develop informed and compassionate responses to poverty.

Dr Trebilcock said the Brotherhood's research in partnership with the Melbourne Institute suggested that more than one million Australians suffered from “deep social exclusion” through low income, limited work experience and a lack of connection to community groups or social activities.

“To our shame, older Australians, women and people living with a disability are grossly over-represented in this group of deep social exclusion,” she said. “More than half of people living with long-term health conditions and nearly half of all people aged over 65 in Australia are experiencing deep social exclusion.”

Parish partnerships affirmed

The Venerable Jan Crombie, the Archdeacon for Parish Partnerships, sponsored a successful motion acknowledging the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Diocese for developing a collaborative approach to parish partnerships and encouraging parishes to engage with the program to help discern community needs and explore how to help develop the flourishing of communities.

“The key shift in collaboration is naming the starting point as the need of the community we are part of, and how together we can serve that need,” Archdeacon Crombie said. “So it is not about program matching or what we can do for each other; rather mutual discernment of hat we notice together, as Christ notices need, being realistic about our capacity to help but also being imaginative in what resources we can access to make a positive difference.”

Synod resumes on 21 October at 7pm and concludes on 22 October.