Report from Synod
Behold how good and how lovely it is:
when families live together in unity.
It is fragrant as oil upon the head,
that runs down over the beard:
fragrant as oil upon the beard of Aaron
that ran down over the collar of his robe.
It is like a dew of Hermon:
like the dew that falls upon the hill of Zion.
For there the Lord has commanded his blessing:
which is life for evermore.
From Friday 9th April to Sunday 11th April 2021 the 114th Synod of the Diocese of North Queensland met in Townsville. On Friday evening we met at the Cathedral of St James for the Synod Eucharist, Presidential Charge, and procedural matters; on Saturday and Sunday we met at The Cathedral School.
It was a full agenda dealing with some weighty matters. This report summarises the most important discussions. A full list of the substantive resolutions of Synod is attached to this report. The Presidential Charge, which gives (in great detail) much of the underlying discussion is on the Diocesan Website, under https://www.anglicannq.org/bishops/synod
Thanks almost entirely to historic sexual abuse claims, the Diocese is under great financial stress. Without the historic sexual abuse claims we would be making a modest surplus every year. However due to several years of large payouts the Diocese no longer has any cash reserves. We have taken many measures to reduce costs: we now have one of the smallest Diocesan offices of any Diocese in Australia. But even with these measures, we are now compelled to sell properties to pay claims as they come in. Synod recognised this sad reality, and passed a motion authorising the Diocesan Executive and Council to sell further properties as required.
At this stage it is envisaged that we will need to sell a number of properties over the next eight years; they will be properties not required for church purposes but which are returning an income through rental. This will be done in such a way that any affected parish knows at least six months out that the property is to be sold. At this stage it is likely that we will not need to sell any properties actively used for church purposes, but sadly there are no absolute guarantees on this. All the real property of the Diocese must be held against the possibility of paying future historic sexual abuse claims.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Autonomy
Synod passed two motions to set up autonomous ministry councils:
• North Queensland Anglican Aboriginal Ministry Council
• Meriba Maygi Zageth Anglican Council (Torres Strait Islander Ministry)
In addition, their liquid assets (including the community stores and all donations and other income) will be held in separate incorporations similar to those of the Anglican Schools: the Diocese will appoint the Boards in consultation with the Councils, but will not be the beneficial owner.
It is well over time for autonomy and the ministry councils will oversee the ministry in their regions and other matters of regional significance, as well as making recommendations to the broader church on matters affecting their ministries. They will be able to use the surplus from their incorporations. Note that this is not independence but autonomy – no one will be abandoned and all will remain part of the Diocese and the broader church.
There is a great deal of uncertainty and concern about euthanasia or Voluntary Assisted Dying, for which legislation will soon be put to the Queensland Parliament. Synod condemned such legislation, but recognised the need to put to the legislature proposals for a conservative approach to such legislation, and the broadest possible provisions for conscientious objection. In particular, there is a need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to be able to opt out of the provision of VAD as a community, including their local health services.
Blessing of Same-Sex Unions
A motion was passed asking that ministers not be allowed to conduct orders of service for the blessing of same-sex unions, and that places of worship not be used for such purposes. Another motion recognised that all are welcome in our churches, regardless of many distinctions including sexuality, gender and marital status.
Therefore this Diocese continues to hold to a conservative position on the blessing of same-sex marriages and same-sex unions. However subject to that limitation all are welcome and all pastors should pastor to all without any other discrimination except those of law, ethics and professional standards.
Gafcon and Realignment
Gafcon is now a significant grouping within the Anglican Church of Australia and within the broader Anglican Communion, and therefore it is appropriate that its goals and methods be open to scrutiny. Last December it published a document called Commitment 2020. In response, I sent Gafcon a letter in March which was tabled at the Bishops’ Meeting later that month and which generated some conversation. These matters were discussed at Synod, though without any particular resolution. Nevertheless it was healthy to discuss some of the tensions developing in the Diocese and in the broader church.
Since then the Chair of Gafcon Australia, Bishop Richard Condie, has sent a response to my earlier letter, and asked that it be circulated to those to whom my original letter had gone: namely the Diocesan Council and clergy, and to the Australian Bishops. I have taken this to be an invitation to an ongoing discussion in an open manner, which is a good thing given the importance of Gafcon in the Australian church. I have therefore distributed Bishop Richard’s letter as requested, and also my response to it. I am grateful to Bishop Richard for the courtesy and grace in his response. Undoubtedly the church will benefit by nuanced and gracious discussion.
The original documents of Gafcon – the Jerusalem Declaration 2008 and the Letter to the Churches 2018 are to be found on the Gafcon website. Copies are also included in the Presidential Charge. The other correspondence is to be found on the Diocesan Website at https://www.anglicannq.org/bishops/synod
• Commitment 2020 (Open letter from Gafcon Australia to the Australian Church)
• Letter in response from Bishop Keith Joseph to Bishop Richard Condie dated 5th March 21
• Letter from Bishop Richard Condie to Bishop Keith Joseph received evening 11th April 21
• Letter from Bishop Keith Joseph to Bishop Richard Condie dated 23rd April 21
Procedures for realignment are current being drafted to assist any group of parishioners considering realignment, and once approved by Diocesan Council will be distributed.
There are also a couple of administrative issues that are being followed up from the Diocesan Synod.
Synod Travel Expense Equalisation is a provision whereby those coming from remote areas who incur high travel expenses are reimbursed from funds provided by ministry units in the closer areas. In this way all ministry units pay the same cost for travel to Synod. Accordingly, a reminder that Synod travel expenses for flights and ferries only need to be received by Wednesday 5th May to be included in the Synod Equalisation process. Please send expenses for flights and ferries only to firstname.lastname@example.org so that the equalisation can occur. Any accommodation, taxis etc are a parish expense and are not included.
Ministry Units within the urban area of the city hosting the Synod are determined to have nil travel costs; Ministry Units from outside of the urban area of the city hosting the Synod will have their travel costs based on a direct road trip from the town of their main Church centre (or equivalent) to the city where Synod is held and return. The Diocesan Registry will use the RACQ trip planner to assist with this calculation. The travel cost will be based on one vehicle per Ministry and the kilometre rate being as per the Australian Taxation Office guidelines.
This year was an election synod, meaning that the various boards and bodies of Synod were elected. Please click here for a list of the election results, augmented by appointments made by the recent meeting of Diocesan Council from willing volunteers. You will note that there are still a number of vacancies, and I invite nominations for those vacancies for consideration by Diocesan Council.
Thanks to all who attended Synod and contributed: I know that for many of you it was a big ask of your limited time, and I am grateful that you gave up your time to serve our Lord in this peculiar way. Whilst discussion was often frank, it was on the whole dispassionate, polite and courteous. Thanks also to those who supported Synod in so many ways, especially the staff of the Diocesan Office, the Cathedral and The Cathedral School.
If there are any queries or comments coming out of this Bishop’s Bulletin, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend Dr Keith Joseph
Bishop of North Queensland
Sexual Abuse contact line: 1800 242 544 or 07 3835 2216