Synod adopts more flexible model for mission, abolishes diocesan regions

The synod has adopted a motion to make diocesan structures more "mission-shaped".

Changes to areas of episcopal care in the Melbourne diocese will offer a more flexible and thematic approach to mission planning and evangelism, and a way of responding to the challenges faced by the growth and expansion of Melbourne, Archbishop Philip Freier told Synod.

By Mark Brolly

October 20 2015Changes to areas of episcopal care in the Melbourne diocese offered a more flexible and thematic approach to mission planning and evangelism, Archbishop Philip Freier told Synod on 16 October, though he acknowledged that the replacement of previous structures caused disruption and uncertainty.

Dr Freier, speaking to a motion on making diocesan structures more “mission-shaped”, said archdeaconries would be the key building block of mission in the Diocese under the changes.

Under the changes, the previous geographical division of the diocese into Eastern, North-Western and Southern regions has been replaced by episcopates under the care of the three assistant bishops and with names drawn from the language of the local Indigenous people, the Woi Wurrung – Marmingatha (Bishop Genieve Blackwell), covering the inner city, especially along major transport corridors; Oodthenong (Bishop Philip Huggins), covering the northern and western growth areas in Greater Melbourne and Geelong; and Jimbunna (Bishop Paul White), covering parishes south of the Yarra and to the east, including the South-East Growth Corridor. Marmingatha means “being with the divine or supreme being”; Oodthenong means “gathering”; and Jumbunna means “speaking out” or “proclamation”. Together, they comprise the Woi Wurrung equivalent of the diocesan vision of “Making the Word of God fully known” through “gathering in the divine presence to speak out and proclaim”.

“The new areas of Episcopal Care have emerged from our consideration of the challenges faced by the growth and expansion of Melbourne and through a deep and unwavering desire to fulfil the mission of Christ,” Archbishop Freier said.

“In my mind one of the most important aspects of the change that we have initiated is to centre the Archdeaconries as the key building block of mission within the Diocese. Participants in the consultation process supported the idea of linking mission and structure and agreed that parishes and diocesan ministries were the ‘frontline’ of mission. The Archdeaconries as missional building blocks therefore seek to co-ordinate and support mission by creating a permission-giving culture that liberates resources on the ground where they are needed to evangelise and ‘make the Work of God fully known’. I envisage that this will be quite different to the approach to Parish Ministry and Chaplaincy Support that we have had in the past.

“Throughout the consultation process, participants expressed that they felt more connected to their local leadership – Archdeacons, Area Deans and in the case of chaplains, Diocesan based co-ordinators. This strong support for local leadership indicates the potential at this level for pastoral and missional leadership within smaller relational groups. This is what we are seeking to achieve.”

Archbishop Freier said ensuring healthy clergy were leading healthy congregations in healthy communities was a long-term aim, with health being measured in its spiritual, physical, social and psychological dimensions. Each clergy person was to have opportunities for continual personal development, coaching and learning, networking and peer contact and time for reflection and retreat as a matter of course.

“I feel confident that the restructured Areas of Episcopal Care offer a more flexible and thematic approach to mission planning and evangelism and our Bishops have taken to their new responsibilities with enthusiasm. I am also conscious that the change from past structures, which at many levels have worked well, is disruptive and uncertain.”

Responding to a question by the Revd Christos Kastaniotis, Priest-in-Charge of Christ Church Newport, Dr Freier said he had consulted with the Wurundjeri people of Melbourne about using local Indigenous names for the new areas of episcopal care and they were happy for the Church to be giving life to those words. The Wurundjeri were one of four clans of Woi Wurrung speakers living on country in what Europeans came to know as the Port Phillip region.

The Registrar, Mr Ken Spackman, said feedback across the diocese was that Anglicans wanted “streamlined, consistent decision-making and approval processes”.

“In particular you want clarification of authority and responsibility lines for approval across the system,” Mr Spackman said. “The experience of many is that the decision-making process is slow and cumbersome, proposals ‘get lost’ between individuals and committees or can be encouraged at one level and then squashed at another, leading to conflict and disappointment.  

“In seeking to address these key issues and in positioning Business Services to better support archdeaconries and parishes, we are planning to achieve a more timely, transparent system for decision-making with a primary focus on actions and projects that support mission.”

Mr Spackman said parishes were being encouraged to revisit their Mission Action Plans (MAPs), while those that did not have a current MAP were asked to adopt a revised mission action planning process to describe their missional intent and actions.

“Through a review of MAPs for their parishes, we expect Archdeacons will identify common missional objectives within their Archdeaconries and encourage the formation of mission cohorts between parishes as a means of support and encouragement,” he said. “This process is not dissimilar to the cohorts developed as part of the parish renewal program, although they will likely be based around common themes such as children’s and families ministry, for example.”

Mr Spackman said diocesan bodies also were being reviewed to become more mission-shaped.

“As with Parish Ministry and Support, Business Services has greater potential to identify and resource opportunities to assist parishes and reduce their administrative burden – thus freeing up resources for mission. It can do this by making service delivery more intentionally mission-focussed and less bureaucratic.”

Archdeacon Greg Allinson of Kew and Vicar of St Mark’s Camberwell said Anglicans “can no longer wait around in our nice buildings and hope that all the so-called Anglicans from the census data show up on some magical Sunday and join our church”.

“Neither can us Anglicans just work hard at our music or our sermons or our liturgy or all the things we do at church and hope that Christians from other churches decide that our church is better than theirs and so join us,” he said. “Let’s face it, even if there is some church growth out there a lot of it is transfer growth.

“But this motion is not about church growth. It’s about becoming mission-shaped. That we are called to be obedient to Jesus’ command (to go and make disciples of all nations).”

The Revd Peter MacPherson, Vicar of St Alfred’s North Blackburn and a former archdeacon, asked how progress would be measured. Mr Spackman said at the heart of the mission-shaped approach was an intention to drive “permission-giving” as local as possible, but also to hold people accountable for what they said they would do.

Berwick’s Vicar, the Revd Wayne Schuller, asked if parish assessments (the amount parishes pay to the Diocese) could be at least halved over the long term to increase resources available for mission locally. Mr Spackman said he was an advocate for cutting parish assessments but other budget changes were necessary first.

The Vicar of St George’s Malvern, the Revd Canon Dr Colleen O’Reilly, asked how the incorporation of the Diocese, adopted at a special Synod sitting in June, sat with the mission-shaped emphasis. Mr Spackman said the incorporation legislation had “quite a narrow purpose”.

Synod then considered legislation to repeal the 1997 Regions of the Diocese Act.

Mr Spackman said the repeal was necessary to achieve an organisational structure that was more flexible and organic, ensuring that change was able to occur more quickly and in response to future circumstances.

“The process of mission shaping is dynamic and Spirit-led,” he said. “We need however to consider the realities of our situation in Melbourne and Geelong. The community in which we conduct our ministry and mission has changed dramatically since our existing governance and structures were put in place, themselves derived from a much earlier world view. Demographics, social structures and the way people live, how they work and spend their leisure time have all changed. We need to adapt and change as well – carefully balancing both tradition against strong, purposeful and prayerful leadership, appropriate governance and best practice.

“There is much to be thankful to God for in the steadfastness of our history and traditions… But it is also true that to respond to the challenges we now face, a simpler, more organic, agile and responsive organisational structure is necessary. Indeed, for many years significant parts of the existing legislation have been ignored, presumably because they no longer contributed to the effective and efficient functioning of a modern Diocese.”  

Bishop White, seconding the repeal bill, said there had been a growing imbalance between investment of time and effort and the outcomes achieved that could look like “slavish compliance” with requirements that no longer fitted the life of the Diocese.

“This is a layer of administration and bureaucracy that can become a centre of gravity rather than a centre of energy for matching the needs in ministry and mission of the expanding and changing city of Greater Melbourne and Geelong,” he said.

Dr O’Reilly expressed concern that repealing the regions removed any provision for lay decision-making at the local level.

The Revd Dr David Powys, Vicar of St John’s Cranbourne with Christ Church Tooradin, urged that no more be removed from the regional structure than necessary because much wisdom had been behind the concept when first mooted in the 1970s.

“I have a bit of a hunch and my hunch is that we never gave enough resources to the regions to do the work,” he said.

The Revd Michael Flynn, Vicar of St Columb’s Hawthorn, said the views of the laity were protected under parish legislation and were evident at Synod. But it had been difficult to attract quality lay people to regional bodies because they had been consultative rather than decision-making bodies.

Bishop Blackwell said she had received consistent positive feedback about the proposed change and greatly looked forward to working with archdeacons and area deans.

The legislation was passed in each of the houses of clergy and laity on the voices.

Synod also:

  • Enacted model Episcopal Standards legislation approved by the Church’s General (national) Synod in Adelaide last year, replacing a diocesan act passed four years ago that had provided a basis for the national legislation;
  • Adopted a Diocesan Budget for 2016 that Mr Spackman said sought to support the Diocesan Vision and Direction strategy “to make the Word of God fully known” despite “headwinds” that had prevailed in 2015 being likely to continue next year;
  • Asked the diocesan Social Responsibilities Committee to prepare a final report for next year’s Synod on equal educational opportunities for all Australian children;
  • Encouraged the use of Pilgrim faith education material developed by the Church of England, the co-author of which, Bishop Stephen Cottrell of Chelmsford, was in Melbourne recently;
  • Urged those responsible for selecting, training and ordaining priests to discuss A Rewarding Life, a report from a survey of clergy ordained for the Diocese of Melbourne between 1970 and 2013 prepared by veteran vicar Dr Powys and a lay canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, Mr Colin Reilly;
  • Honoured the memory of more than a dozen former clergy and lay members of Synod who had died in the past year, including Melbourne’s first woman Bishop, the Right Revd Barbara Darling, and two centenarian priests, the Revd Elizabeth Alfred and the Revd Laurence Eyers.

Read November’s TMA for full reports on Melbourne Synod.