ONE big issue dominated Synod 2013 – although there were many other reports and memorable moments – and that involved the two pronged report brought by the Property Board. The first revolved around the aftermath of the closure of Acacia College. The second centred on two proposals relating to the financial sustainability of the Synod, post Acacia College.
Rev Ros McDonald was the chaplain at Acacia College from the period prior to opening as a school to its closure. She gave a reflection on the life of the college, affirming the role it played in the Mernda community, and the heartache and anger that followed the Standing Committee decision to close.
“When we as a Uniting Church believe that we are faithfully engaging in mission, it is a bitter blow when a project fails,” Ms McDonald said in her report.
“However, nothing can take away the day-by-day, moment-by-moment quality interaction between staff and students over a period of three years.”
She urged the Church to have the courage to come humbly before God, to reassess and to prayerfully continue in mission.
The organisation that provided the independent review of Acacia College also addressed the Synod.
PPB Advisory director, Nicholas Martin, said the key issue which contributed to the closure of the school was a failure to have a single point of ownership, which contributed to poor project governance, reporting structure and process.
The Property Board has adopted the four recommendations and is working closely with other boards, committees and councils of the Church to ensure compliance.
The financial sustainability discussion was first presented by the chairperson of the Property Board, Rev David Parker, on day 1 of Synod.
It continued in working groups on day 2, went to facilitation, came back for further discussion and debate on day 3 and, after a number of amendments, was passed by agreement after 3pm on the final day.
Many people stood before the microphones to address the Moderator and the Synod. Some expressed great sorrow or anger at decisions relating to Acacia and sought an expression of contrition and lament. Some expressed grief at the need to sell real estate to repay loans. Others welcomed special circumstances, believing it would start freeing the Church from the burden of property maintenance and property surplus to requirements.
People who had never addressed Synod before – rural voices, multi-cultural voices – as well as the more familiar faces, stood patiently, waiting for their turn at the microphone.
At the conclusion of speeches there might be a sea of orange cards, or a variety of both blue and orange.
The Moderator sought permission to extend the meeting by an hour as discussion continued. The Moderator checked the pulse of the Synod, took the members through the Manual for Meetings and sought to determine whether the meeting was moving towards a common mind. Those who still had blue cards were asked if they felt their views had been expressed and had been heard.
What started as proposal 16 and ended as proposal 38 (whereby Synod declared that special circumstances existed to initiate the sale of real estate and requested Standing Committee to undertake a major inter conciliar strategic review of the Church) was passed by agreement. The accompanying proposal, proposal 20, which outlined the divestment principles which would guide the sales process was passed by consensus.
These are both significant resolutions which will impact the life of the Synod for the next 18 months to three years (and beyond). A pastoral letter from the Moderator was sent to all congregations in the days following the Synod. The Property Board has already begun work on the governance framework that was outlined in proposal 20.
Resources will be made available to assist congregations and institutions of the Church work through these changes. A website will be established to provide a communications channel, including questions and answers, within the next month.
The Synod of Victoria and Tasmania is preparing to undergo seismic change, let us pray that we can do this on the way together.
By Penny Mulvey