Any synod seeking to evoke Special Circumstances in the future will be bound by a clear and prescribed process of consultation following a decision of the Assembly.
The Assembly endorsed a proposal which called on the synod or its standing committee to consult fully with all bodies which may be affected by a declaration of Special Circumstances, taking note of the purpose, functions, responsibilities and rights of those bodies as described in the Regulations.
Affected Church Councils and agencies must also be given the opportunity to respond in writing to the declaration and those responses must be seriously considered.
Special Circumstances allows synods to made decisions to sell properties without the usual level of consultation with required parties, however there was some concern that this could lead to a lack of consultation if the expectations were not made clear.
It follows a decision to invoke Special Circumstances by the synod of Victoria and Tasmania in 2013. The decision was made to sell properties to extinguish a debt relating to the failure of Acacia College.
In moving the proposal, submitted by the Presbytery of Port Phillip East, Rev Allan Thompson said while the move to Special Circumstances in Victoria and Tasmania was undertaken for good reasons, it led to properties, including churches, being sold which were used by congregations.
Mr Thompson said the perceived lack of appropriate and sufficient consultation with affected parties caused deep grief in some quarters of the synod. He said it was later conceded that the consultation had not been thorough enough.
“There was considerable pain caused by the perceived disenfranchisement as a result of the failure of the Synod to negotiate as it should have,” he said
Mr Thompson said the proposal was not asking for a repeal of Regulation 4.6.3 as it was recognised that the clause could be helpful if any other synod found itself in a situation similar to Victoria.
Rather, it sought to amend the Regulation in such a way as to minimise the risk of the level of pain experienced by some people in the synod of Victoria and Tasmania.
Mr Thompson said it did not require approval by congregation or agencies to a proposed sale but just ensured all involved were given sufficient time to make their considered responses.
“It is about one council of the church giving heed to another council,” he said.