November: Synod Meeting 2011

November: Synod Meeting 2011

A lift conversation overheard in the week following the Synod in Newcastle focused on how good a meeting it was. Much of its success was attributed to the local hosts. The Hunter Presbytery should be responsible for organising future Synod meetings, was the acclaim.

The Newcastle Conservatorium was certainly a fine venue for the opening service and installation of the new Moderator — it always feels better when you fill the room. The event also attracted local politicians and representatives from other denominations (though some didn’t realise the significance of the event until it got under way).

“Local boy” the Rev. Dr Brian Brown will serve as the Synod’s 26th Moderator for the next three years. As he embarked on his “new and risky path” he made that the Synod’s theme, believing it would help the church stay true to its prophetic calling to hold spirituality and social justice together.

The risky paths imagery (from the Moderator’s position description) featured throughout the opening service and there was no escaping it during the Synod meeting at Newcastle University.

Synod General Secretary, the Rev. Dr Andrew Williams, is another who sees change ahead, nevertheless aware of how easy it is for pilgrim people to choose the wrong path.

Encouraged by the constant invocation to be risk taking, almost every proposal before Synod had proponents demanding Synod support it precisely because it was risky. It makes you wonder.

The Synod committed itself to implementing new structures and processes, moving to a more flexible structure of mission and ministry areas rather than divisions with boards, making executive directors accountable to the General Secretary as executive officer, and integrating support services.

There will also be a working group to review presbyteries, their number, how they work and how they share resources.

And the Korean Commission will become a nongeographic presbytery.

At what point does being risky become rash? Why can’t we just camp here and admire the view … or our iPad screens?

The difficulty faced is that the church is variously required to commit to change and to exercise caution. The circumstances — often circumscribing the church — have been described by the General Secretary as leading to a crisis/opportunity moment: key leadership changes, continuing financial strictures, ageing and declining congregations, and an increasingly regulated government environment.

Congregations not privy to Synod discussions and Hunter hospitality will probably continue oblivious to the considerable rearrangements in other councils of the church — until the Synod is required to implement another regulatory compliance, or a grant runs out or options for ministry support diminish.

Getting the church to travel the risky path together, caring and sharing, might be a challenge even Moses would decline.

Stephen Webb

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