A Report on the Sydney Anglican Synod 2006

Report to parishioners of Holy Trinity, Dulwich Hill
of the 47th Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney

by Leigh Bottrell


The following report, while obviously initially intended for members of our parish, is reprinted here with permission, in the hope that it might achieve some good.


Fellow Parishioner

This, I warn you, is a highly personal memoir. You may not agree or like one jot of it, or you might agree with at least some of it.

Whatever, this is my own work, written after due prayer that He who has watched over my gift of communication for many years – my Holy Editor-in-Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ – should “give me the words and let them come out through my fingers on the keyboard.”

Background

I was elected by unanimous vote of fellow Holy Trinity, Dulwich Hill, parishioners to represent the parish at this year’s Synod. A signal honour, to be sure, as nobody else wanted the job.

This was my first – and last – appearance at a Sydney Synod. My previous synod experience was as a young journalist covering (if imperfect recall has it correct) an Australian General Synod in Hobart many, many years ago.

Again, if memory has it right, Cranmer was elected Archbishop at that synod. Or, perhaps not . . . did I say it was a long, long time ago?

Attendance

My attendance record at this year’s Sydney Synod was not entirely spotless.

Some synod sessions clashed with business meetings that I was obliged to attend as a company director: one of the number of important outcomes of these business meetings is the possibility of directing much-needed funds the way of Holy Trinity, to help with on-going parish work.

In the context, I believe this to be a more satisfactory result for our parish than anything that transpired at synod.

Observations

The following observations and opinions are mine alone, and are offered after due reflection, and reference to the pile of official documents distributed for Synod, as well as my few scrawled notes. The facts are the facts.

The scene. Rigidly legalistic in style and content, with business papers and agenda items presented as virtual faits accomplis by the formidable church bureaucracy and supporters of the “ruling party”, ie the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, who presided over meetings.

In some ways, there can’t be a lot wrong with this approach, I suppose. Otherwise proceedings could end up in a shambolic series of shouting matches. Yes, some decorum, some good order and discipline, a touch of the birch and the lash of a silver tongue never did any simple soul any harm, say I . . . Ah, but it would have been nice if more than a few token “anti-ruling party” voices were heeded, or even heard.

The grey, parliamentary-style management of proceedings was occasionally brightened by a quick quip from the president – sometimes a witty self-depracation, even. He is an engaging fellow, and a very adept room-worker. I found him more interesting to study than the remaining 500 or so in attendance.

Generally, though, the level of “debate” and the “cut and thrust” of disputation was at the level of a Banco Court hearing on a sultry summer afternoon in Melbourne, circa 1953. Courtroom “banter” at its deadliest.

Not surprising, though. For, fully half the synod participants seemed to be lawyers of various standing – including a judge or several. The rest were either clergy or academic lay people with self-accorded boasting rights on matters of arcane ecclesiastical importance.

The overall result was frequent pathetic bouts of trivial point-scoring or attempted intellectual one-upmanship on a point of order, or a dissection of the minutiae of a sub-section of a sub-clause of a confabulating part of an Ordinance that had already been worked, re-worked, pulled-apart and held up to the light by the Standing Committee.

Thus, I have to say that synod for me was essentially a rubber stamp to be applied to matters which had already been decided. And, at the same time a show-place for those whose earnest piety, their alacrity to pray for some (any) recently-deceased diocesan worthy, and their evident and undoubted great intelligence, was over-shadowed by their sad desire to be judged smarter than the average bear in the woods.

Such boys (and girls) used to be bullied on their way home from school. Maybe they still are. Perhaps that’s their problem in life now. And why it was that all save a few “new boys and girls,” such as your diligent(ish) corres-pondent, seemed to know each other from several Synods past, and might look rather askance at a new-comer’s name tag and parish of origin.

Hmmm. Dulwich Hill, eh. Dave Smith. How is Dave? Jolly good. (Nervous facial twitch).

A hill of beans?

So, what did it all add up to? What did Synod rubber-stamp during the five days of, er, deliberation?

Well, you read all the good stuff in the newspapers, didn’t you? Or saw and heard it later on television and radio. Including:

  1. Peter Jensen says more blokes ought to go to church. Sure.
  2. Women can’t be ordained because it is against Scripture. That a fact?
  3. Large licks of Anglican church property won’t be sold off to fund expansion into newer parts of Greater Sydney. There’s $450 millions of it out there.
  4. Disciplinary Ordinances (“Faithfulness in Service”) covering child abuse and sexual misconduct apply to all clergy and lay workers, and suspicious conduct and known offenders must be reported. About time.
  5. After some years of agitation, it was agreed to allow two Aboriginal representatives to attend future synods. Also about time.
  6. Growing Anglican communities at Ashbury, Strathfield (St Andrews), Wilberforce and Annandale were reclassified as parishes in their own right. Good stuff – keep up the good work. Should be more of it.
  7. Confirmation is not, and should not be, a requirement for communicant membership. If you say so.

But what about this?

Perhaps more to the point, though, is what Synod didn’t rubber-stamp – because the issues were not presented? (And unless a radical make-over is accomplished of representation at future Sydney Synods, to produce a less-enervating and more widely-discerning atmosphere, they probably still won’t be presented).

These are some of the things I would like to see encouraged, robustly debated and passionately considered in my future absence from the ranks of the vote-fodder parish representatives at Sydney Synods.

  1. Improved episcopal, financial, physical and human resources support for battling parishes in old, non-trendy, once-strongly “Church of England” parishes such as ours, where good people working long and hard at ground-level (even, let it be said, underground!) are achieving unsung wonders with young people, families, old folk, the disadvantaged, the addicted and disparaged.
  2. Firm, unequivocal and unafraid support from Anglican leaders and otherwise irrelevant church spotlight-hoggers for those “in the trenches” who are labouring to build bridges between Christian and Muslim communities.
  3. To this end, it must be remembered that Middle-eastern Arabs comprise only some 30% of the diverse Muslim community in Australia, and their medievalist muftis do not speak for the 70% majority of men and women, who come from 30 different countries and represent as many branches of Islam. And further, that the great majority of Lebanese Australians are Christians.
  4. Inclusive Anglican parishes, such as Holy Trinity, Dulwich Hill, which accept and welcome all people as part of the Body of Christ – no matter their social standing, their occupation, their skin colour, their country of origin, their sex(es), their educational attainment or lack thereof, their knowledge of Scripture or their imperfect grasp of the liturgy, or which football code and team they support – are regarded and treated equally in the wider Anglican communion as more smugly “superior” or “nicer” church communities.
  5. A bending of the rigid and legalistic parliament-style protocols and language of Synod. Obviously, church Ordinances need to be couched in unambiguous terms that stand up to legal scrutiny. But the over-powering sense of being a spectator at some sort of turgid court-room or late-night Senate point-scoring game for the delectation of privileged insiders is what must keep many potentially active participants from the real world away from Synod.
  6. Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Great Friend and Wise Counsellor, was scathing in His criticisms of the Pharisees and Sadducees (and the Scribes!). Their self-serving rigid orthodoxies and double-standards of behaviour and attitude, the unmitigated hypocrisy inherent in their dealings with “the great unwashed,” were anathema to Him.

    This being the case (for those so inclined, look up supporting Scripture), perhaps it is time for leaders, down-line clergy, bureaucrats, apparatchiks, cadres, zealots, intelligentsia, teachers and influential lay workers of all churches and faiths today to examine their souls, their intent and motive, in the same light that Jesus shone on the leaders of the temple 20 centuries ago.

  7. More blokes turning up at church on more occasions than the Christmas carol night and their daughter’s (first) wedding. If points 1-6 above are acted upon, maybe they will. Maybe…

Conclusion 

Well, anyway, who am I to write all this stuff?

Just a bloke who two years ago started turning up every Sunday, with his wife, to an inclusive Anglican church at Dulwich Hill. A beat up old church with no spire still, but wonderful stained glass windows and a heart-stopping pipe organ. And a feisty priest with a busted nose and limpy leg who, first day there, proudly showed us around the youth centre and gym which he supported by getting into the professional boxing ring with all-comers. And, too, where they were immediately welcomed as members of a loving family, among which they could satisfy their spiritual hunger and partake of Holy Communion as well as morning tea.

The Lord is manifest in the people and the work of Holy Trinity, Dulwich Hill, and other down-in-the-trenches parishes like it in unfashionable parts of the big city. We are indeed the Body of Christ.

I thank my fellow parishioners for letting me see and cogitate upon the workings of Sydney’s diocesan parliament in all its splendid meaninglessness.

Rosebery Sydney
November 1, 2006

Leigh Bottrell
Journalist, Company Director, Parishioner and Synod Representative, Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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