The thing about Anglican synods is that we may spend time on the past (reports, accounts) and get stuck in details about the future (budgets, promises to take action on some issue of the day), but the real measure of a synod's significance, over the long term, is whether it offers a way or ways forward to a better future (formally through legislative change or resolutions, or informally through (say) the mood of participants, key appointments/elections to committees and boards).
So, last week we held our General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui in Nelson ...*
What happened? With the help of reports, of course, in Taonga, we can note:
The opening eucharist;
A day of being informed/educated/formed (i.e. wānanga) about knowledge in Maori culture (mātauranga);
As usual, something about our common prayer;
Appropriately, quite a bit of our conversation concerned the submissions to, recommendations to date of the Royal Commission on Abuse, and our responses to them;
It was a good occasion, of course, for meeting people. I met Dean Jay Ruka, a representative of the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki, for instance, for the first time. Already familiar colleagues and friends were there as well - Bishop Justin Duckworth, for instance, is another member of General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui to have a recent article about his ministry! One special guest was Archbishop Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne - Philip helped us out by chairing the key debate on St. John's College (due to our archbishops and other bishops being conflicted about various elements in the story of what has unfolded re changes to the governance of the College in the past year or so. Having gotten to know ++Philip during the recent Lambeth Conference it was lovely to spend time with him again.
I have discovered there is a not too bad photo of me on the Taonga site :)
Back to the key question posed above: did our meeting together chart some ways forward for our church? Here are three ways forward:
1. Our wānanga day on mātauranga charted a way forward for our church to develop a deeper, wider, better understanding of Māori culture and within that culture, what matters and why it matters, how the world is understood and how the world is engaged with by Māori.
2. Our debate about St John's College opens the door for our church to finally cease a regular cycle of reviews of the College and to begin a period of stability and calm for the College through many years ahead.
3. Our recognition of the impact of the Royal Commission on Abuse offers the possibility of a new future as the safe church we should have been but have not been.
BUT: what was not charted as a way forward was engagement with the future of our church as a church in statistical decline while being a church with an amazing potential future (for example, as a church positioned for the future of our bicultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic country).
I enjoyed this Synod. Despite some disagreements, we were in good spirits (marked, e.g. by some good humour) and it was noticeable that we kept talking to each other outside of the main sessions. Living with difference is key to visible, on the ground of this earth and this life, unity. I think we left Nelson for our home corners of God's vineyard in a good place.
*Incidentally, as we cycle through different hosts: Tikanga Pakeha (seven dioceses), Tikanga Maori (about every third synod), and Tikanga Polynesia (about every 10 - 12 years), it takes a while to return to a venue. The last time that General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui was held in Nelson was in 1994. I was not a member of the synod then but recall visiting it - I was then working in the Parish of Stoke, Nelson.