This essay is based on discussions held around table 12 (Melbourne Diocese) during the 2014 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia. It is offered here by way of a discussion-starter, primarily for General Synod members, and as such is focussed on strategy, not overcoming hurdles. Peter Sherlock, 1 July 2014.
Restructure the Anglican Church of Australia for the future:
National: Fundamental declarations, representative role
Province (6): Corporate governance and shared services
Diocese (50): Mission and ministry of the church, overseen by a bishop, empowered by a team of clergy, across a wide variety of activities and congregations
The Anglican Church of Australia faces critical challenges to its identity and mission. Reports to the General Synod on finance, viability, and unity, raise key questions about the capacity of the national church and its twenty-three dioceses to survive in their present form, or indeed at all. The evidence of these reports is a strong indication that dioceses are at risk of corporate failure, leading to an inability of the Anglican Church to fulfil its mission in large parts of Australia, and that the solution requires at the very least a ‘shared services’ approach to corporate governance.
This paper attempts to articulate the key questions and proposes a model that offers a solution. It does not address underlying issues such as theological difference or mistrust. Instead it aims to focus debate on specific proposals for new forms of governance. Further work would require attention to the circumstances of individual dioceses, distribution of clergy, and financial implications.
2. Questions and issues
2.1 How big or small should the various units of the church be? In particular, how big should a diocese be – a bishop and 20 – 30 clergy (the current rural model) or a bishop and 100 – 700 clergy (the current urban model)?
2.2 How much governance do we need? What would this look like at each level: parish / local; diocesan; provincial; national; global?
2.3 How can the church separate corporate matters (property trusts, external compliance) from spiritual matters (mission, pastoral ministry, education), while retaining its integrity?
2.4 Can a solution be found to these challenges that does not require major revision of the complex web of legislation, not only within the Anglican Church’s many parts, but also across the Commonwealth and State Parliaments?
3. A proposal
3.1 Dioceses: The diocese is the key unit of the church and is an apostolic, missional community. It is small enough for familiarity and big enough to inspire. The distinctive identity and mission of the church is undertaken through the dioceses. Each diocese has one bishop who oversees a team of 20 – 50 clergy. The dioceses are based on the existing rural dioceses and urban deaneries / archdeaconries.
3.2 Dioceses would be made up of a series of local congregations, some geographically based (parishes), others with specific mission purposes (agencies, fresh expressions, focus groups), some flexible, some temporary, some long term. The diocese would resource these diverse localised activities through the team of clergy empowering all the baptised under the oversight of the bishop.
3.3 Provinces: Corporate governance and compliance is undertaken at a provincial level, based on the original colonial dioceses. These activities would be temporal, relating to the church’s functioning as a twenty-first century institution. Resources would be lean but those necessary to do the job properly on behalf of the diocese. Areas of focus would include: shared services (finance, property), and government compliance (OH&S, insurance, workcover). Suggested Provinces: Perth (WA), Adelaide (SA), Melbourne (VIC + TAS), Sydney (south NSW), Newcastle (north NSW), Brisbane (QLD + NT).
3.4 National: The General Synod will be made up of the bishop, a clerical representative, and a lay representative from every diocese (around 150 people) plus a secretariat representing the corporate governance provided by the provinces (around 12), plus a Primate (a full-time national church role) and a Secretary (a full-time national church role). The national church’s role through the General Synod is to maintain the Fundamental Declarations as a framework for basic unity, and to provide a representative function nationally, ecumenically, politically, and internationally.
4. Implementation: How do we get there?
4.1 Assign responsibilities clearly and exclusively to each level: national, provincial, diocesan.
4.2 Focus on cultural and theological change, not legislative change. Drive this through a defined training program for all bishops, new and old (around 50?), including team-building and spiritual accountability.
4.3 Delegate corporate functions from the dioceses to provincial bodies where they already exist, or to the existing metropolitan diocese where they do not. Provide sufficient resources for these shared services to achieve their tasks but no more.
4.4 Affirm the rural dioceses, and in the urban dioceses establish the new dioceses through autonomous ‘regions’ by appointing assistant bishops, without legislation as a temporary workaround.
4.5 Reduce synods to small, high-level bodies, held infrequently to deal with major corporate change. Use standing committees or executive bodies for other corporate business. Establish diocesan visitations and conferences to further the mission of the church in each diocese.
4.6 Assess change in 2020 and if successful, formalise legislative changes where necessary to remove workarounds (number of dioceses, provinces, membership of synods, etc.).