Proposed Synod Canon attracts debate

Proposed Synod Canon attracts debate

This year’s proposed Synod Canon included a number of changes made by the Structure and Function of Synod Sub-committee (S&FSS), which were designed to improve how Synod works for the diocese.  A proposal to change how lay representatives are elected attracted a lengthy debate.

In seeking to improve the connectedness between Synod representatives and the life of their mission units, a motion was put that would change the Diocesan Synod Canon to strongly encourage mission units to elect one of their churchwardens to the role of lay Synod representative, with no obligation on either the mission unit to do so, or the churchwarden to stand for election.

The proposed change attracted mixed responses, with some opposing the measure on the basis that such a suggestion should be in a schedule or an attached job description, rather than in a prescriptive document such as the Canon.  There was concern that such a suggestion would also put talented people off from standing for election, for fear of being overwhelmed by the workload of both a churchwarden and a Synod representative.

It was also expressed that the method for determining lay representation based on the number of FTE stipendiary ministry staff in a mission unit was unjust, as some mission units cannot afford to or have chosen not to pay their clergy.  However it was noted that discussions were held in regional pre-Synod meetings that addressed this issue.  It was also acknowledged that this was not a perfect solution, and that the issue should remain open.

An amendment was moved that would include vestry members in the suggestion as to who might be elected as Synod representatives.  It was noted that Vestry members perform quite a different role to churchwardens, and perhaps this would not be an appropriate way to gain better representation of mission units at Synod.  The amendment was lost.

The representation of young adults was a topic of discussion as well.  A young adult member of Synod proposed an amendment that would allow an additional lay representative per mission unit who is under 35 years old at the time of appointment.  However there was concern from another young adult member that asking Synod reps to commit to membership of their Vestry would place too much demand on young adults and make Synod a less desirable leadership option for them.  Further comment was made that the subsequent motion (Motion 11), which if passed would extend Synod representative terms to two years, would also limit the ability for young adults to be involved.  A young adult and lay representative from Palmerston North opposed the amendment on the grounds that he is perfectly able to represent his mission unit as a young adult, in one of the current lay representative positions available.

A response was made to concerns about overloading our young adults, saying that to lead at the strategic level required of Synod without being able to commit to two years would be difficult, rendering members without the mana or credibility to perform their functions.  The speaker spoke in support of the amendment.  Another member also in support spoke of how she was nurtured by her elders as an 18-year-old Synod representative, and later a member of the then-Standing Committee.  She was one of the instigators of young adult observers at Synod, with the hope that they would be inspired to stand for election – yet the reality is that youth and young adults are still under-represented.  She told the Synod: “if we’re talking about growth and culture, we’ve been talking about it longer than our current bishops have been here.  It’s been our dream for years.  But our dream is not our reality, so I encourage you to vote for the amendment.”

A group of youth representatives encouraged Synod to consider other ways of including young adults.  These included allowing young adult representatives to not need to be young adults themselves, and establishing young adult positions on an archdeaconry basis rather than for every mission unit, as is the case in the Diocese of Christchurch.

The amendment was lost, however Bishop Justin acknowledged that there was a need to include more young adults, and endeavoured to continue the discussion with the Diocesan Council.

The motion to enact the Diocesan Synod Canon 2017, which would encourage mission units to appoint churchwardens as Synod representatives, was carried.  The motion to enact the Canon to amend the Mission Units Canon 2016, which would extend Vestry terms to two years, was also carried.

Official minutes of Synod will be made available once approved by the Minutes Committee.