Reflection by Rev’d Mary-Anne Rulfs

“What’s Synod? And how is it relevant for me?” 

Great questions! Ones we’ve all asked along the way. 

Synod is the meeting of the whole Anglican church in a diocese. We belong to the Diocese of Brisbane – aka Anglican Church Southern Queensland. That’s Bundaberg to Coolangatta, and west to the SA and NT borders.  A diocese is under the care of a bishop. 

Archbishop Phillip Aspinall has led Anglicans in our diocese since 2002, navigating the stormy waters of the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Child Sexual Abuse and its aftermath; the same-sex marriage debate; decline in church attendance; reconciliation; and many other complex and demanding social justice, biblical, cultural and theological issues with which our church has a responsibility to engage. Archbishop Phillip is the President of Synod, which met last weekend.  He says: 

It’s a huge privilege to be involved in Christ’s mission in this diocese along with so many faithful, gifted and generous people.

To better understand the scope of Synod’ work, here’s a snapshot of our diocese: 

Derived from Greek, meaning “together” and “journeying, on the way”, Synod gathers representatives from the whole church to meet, pray and journey together, discerning priorities and the way forward. Clergy and lay representatives from every parish and church agency (schools, Anglicare, St Francis Theological College, hospital and prison ministry, diocesan business office etc) comprise the 400+ members of Synod. 

I attend Synod as Chaplain at Coomera Anglican College.   

Anglican Church Robina parish reps are Hope Nakagawa and Frank Esteveo, along with Rev’d Stewart Perry. 

Some thoughts from Stewart re Synod 2019:

As a church we need to talk, struggle & wrestle together with the big issues… and we need to work out how to do this well. Synod demonstrates how we sometimes get this right & sometimes get this wrong. Yet it clearly demonstrates our commitment to this necessary hard work.

As the church universal & the Anglican Church specifically, we face some challenges as we position ourselves to answer the commission of Christ. I am encouraged that others are thinking deeply & creatively about how we do this. We should also be aware that increasingly, other parts of our church are turning to our parish for wisdom, insight & encouragement. This is both humbling & a responsibility we should not take lightly.

A welcome change at Synod 2019 was using Open Space Technology for conversation and debate. Open Space uses self-organisation. Participants create and manage their own discussions in parallel sessions around one theme of strategic importance, which was: 

What is God calling us to be and to do, at this time?

People identified topics they wanted to discuss, and others joined in. It worked pretty well… 

  • Synod members initiated agendas relevant for their communities, increasing ownership of and engagement with discussions and debate. Open Space accommodated a wider range of discussions than a traditional sitting of Synod. 
  • People with conflicting views – eg about same-sex marriage – sat together and dialogued respectfully, honestly and constructively. People sensed a changed dynamic when Synod resumed in council – generally more empathic and respectful during passionate debates.  
  • Open Space concluded with people identifying conversations ‘to be continued’ as working groups or discussion networks, with an open invitation to all to participate. I’ve joined a conversation about chaplaincy as a model for ministry as the church take Christ’s mission into our secular, pluralist world. 
  • You can participate in these discussions too! Recorded as a Book of Proceedings, discussions are available on the diocesan website. See the link below. 

My final thoughts about Synod 2019? 

The issues facing our church are very important, yet potentially divisive. Nothing new there! It’s time for listening to gain understanding before we speak with arrogance or certitude regarding our firmly held views – about gender diversity, same-sex marriage, climate change, reconciliation, the future nature of parish or school ministry, and that old chestnut, what the Bible ‘says’… Letting go of the need to be ‘right’ and holding on to Jesus’ imperative to ‘love God’ and ‘love our neighbour’ with heart, soul, mind and strength and to make disciples can hold us in good stead, especially if we recognise that to listen is the beginning of love. ‘Listening’ in prayer might be a helpful first step. 

Henri Nouwen reminds us that Christian leaders can easily default to the pathway of power because it’s easier than doing the hard work of love, which requires humility. 

I welcome the diversity of views and experience of people throughout our diocese and beyond. There is always something new to learn from Scripture about who God is and who we can be when we allow our lives to be shaped by the Holy Spirit. For example, hearing a transgender person share the challenges and joys of their journey in Christ, I am better able to make decisions about how our schools can offer hospitality and provide a safe place for transgender students to flourish.  

Synod business is not secret business!  The proceedings of Synod 2019 are available on the diocesan website, and I commend them to you. You might be surprised – and challenged.  

What and who is God calling us to be and to do, at this time? 

To help us on our journey of discerning together, our Diocesan Prayer: 

Living God, creator, redeemer, strengthener;                                                                                              enliven, guide and strengthen your Church in all you send us to do.                                                                By your Holy Spirit enable us to grow – in faith, in service, in generous giving;                                       and add to your Church new disciples so that your saving, reconciling, recreating work may go forward, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Go well,  Mary-Anne Rulfs 


You May also like

Scroll to Top