22 March 2023

New church laws for clergy may spark cultural change

The crowd on the final day of Synod 2022. Image: Elspeth Kernebone.

Kirralee Nicolle

18 October 2022

Discussion of church laws governing clergy drew attention to the struggle for viability many parishes face, a Melbourne diocese leader says. 

Discussion of the Clergy Bill took place on the final day of synod proceedings, with 28 items brought forward for amendment, some of which were later withdrawn. 

The bill’s mover Bishop Alison Taylor said the review was the first of its kind in more than 50 years. She said changing times had brought a larger number of clergy in the diocese, new requirements for government compliance and challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: Clergy legislation ‘out of date’ with current needs, undergoes review

“The Clergy Bill is legislation that we urgently need,” she said in her address to Synod. “What we have at present is a patchwork of law, much of it out of date.”

Bishop Taylor said the bill was drafted over several years by a varied panel from a wide range of church backgrounds within the diocese, including consultations with the public in 2019, 2021 and 2022. She said the group drew on the content of legislation from other dioceses in Australia and the Church of England. Bishop Taylor said there was a lot of fierce debating to ensure the legislation provided as much balance and fairness as possible.

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She said it became clear to the group that many parishes were facing financial difficulties, particularly because of COVID-19. Bishop Taylor said this meant in some cases clergy may face retrenchment, but that the new Clergy Act now had provisions for retrenchment packages.

Bishop Taylor said other challenges faced by parishes included the need for greater compliance measures across the board. She said these included issues of property maintenance, child protection and the safety and security of Melbourne Anglican Diocesan Corporation employees. Bishop Taylor said other changes included the introduction of a centralised payroll system and the option for parishes to have intentional interim vicars, something which could not have happened under previous legislation.

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“Through this bill, there is a recognition that a number of our parishes are having a struggle with viability,” Bishop Taylor said.

“It will be changing in significant ways the culture of how we’ve been managing things in this area.”

Bishop Paul Barker was the seconder for the Clergy Bill motion. He said key differences resulting from the bill being passed will likely be procedural changes.

He said the new laws in Clause 13 of the Clergy Act regarding the removal of the retirement age for clergy may mean changes for priests he knew.  

“There could be some clergy who keep going past 70,” he said.

“It may mean that a couple who have already retired will come back from retirement.”

Reverend Colleen Arnold-Moore of Oakleigh Anglican Church brought forward several amendments to the bill, including one which was passed by Synod. This amendment ensured that clergy reviews would occur 36 months after commencement in one’s first parish rather than the proposed 24 months.

Read more: Motion on biblical marriage withdrawn, Day 2 of Melbourne Synod

“I really felt that the two-year mark wasn’t enough,” she said.

She said when first starting out as a priest, it took her three years to feel settled in her role, but recognised that for others, their experience may have differed.

Ms Arnold-Moore said she felt that all clergy should be invested in the legislation which affects them, but that she felt the process had been a highly consultative one.

“My two central questions were only about a very small portion of the legislation,” she said.

Read more: Some synod questions ‘manifestly out of order’

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