On Sunday 22 October, General secretary Rev Heather den Houting presented the report of the Synod Standing Committee (SSC) to the 33rd Synod.
The report outlined the significant strategic work done since the 32nd Synod to give substance to the Together on the Way process and Priority Directions of the church.
Underpinning the work of the SSC was the identification of the four Key Change Initiatives— measurable commitments which will guide the committee’s decision-making over the next three years.
“We came up with what we believe were four initiatives that needed to be resourced, in consultation and with the collaboration of the presbytery ministers: strategic locations for potential churches, multicultural church, effective First Peoples engagement and, what does ‘one church’ look like?” said Heather. “What do we mean when we ask that question and how is that manifested in our community?”
In her presentation Heather highlighted some of the risks and challenges ahead, including leadership, governance and the impact of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, including redress, civil litigation and principles of payment matters.
“We cannot ignore the impact of the historical child sexual abuse in the church and the consequence of making sure that our churches are safe places now for all people,” said Heather, “So we look backwards in order to ensure that our future focus and future planning is responsible and rigorous as possible. But remember, the historical claims against the church will continue. If we think that we have seen the end of this, we are deluding ourselves. This will have a significant impact on our resources.”
She also pointed to changes in the traditional model of congregational giving as the funding source to support the activities of the Synod.
“The data is clear. Our aspiration and our hope means that new forms of church will not operate as old forms of church. So what does that mean in terms of being a state-based Synod and a national church? All of these are things that need to be addressed and dealt with.”
The need for leadership in this time of transition was clear, she told Synod.
“We committed to invest in leadership development. We began to think about how to manage change in a large and complex environment, [and] we started to be strategic about how we might best use our resources, and we knew that we only could focus on the future, guided by the wisdom of the past.”
The SCC has approved the new Leadership Development Framework and received presentations from participants in the Leadership Development Program currently underway in the Synod.
On the subject of governance, Heather said “Our current governance structure is built on a model of church from 40 years ago; that includes the nature of our boards, committees and commissions. Are they fit for our future … we need to check every part, and say, does this still work?”