The Synod of Victoria and Tasmania submits the following as an amended version of Proposal 42. Changes are indicated with underlining.
That the Assembly
1. direct the Standing Committee to establish a process which will enable a wide-ranging analysis of the fundamental governance needs of the Uniting Church in the 21st century;
2. (a) authorise the Standing Committee to establish the terms of reference for the review which shall include specific reference to the place of synods and presbyteries in the life of the Church; and
(b) request that recommendations, including but not limited to, the potential divestment, merger or dissolution of synods or presbyteries be brought to the 15th Assembly in 2018.
The Basis of Union (Paragraph 15) iterates that “responsibility of government of the Church belongs to the people of God by virtue of the gifts and tasks which God has laid upon them” and “The Uniting Church therefore so organises its life locally, regionally and nationally…”.
As outlined by the Presbytery of Illawarra, the existing system of Presbyteries, Synod and Assembly is becoming problematic. Synods and Presbyteries both carry approval responsibilities and oversight for mission and governance as well as finance and property matters within their bounds. The role of Presbyteries in relation to providing pastoral oversight, encouragement and stimulation of Congregations is important; however, Synods provide a conduit for distribution of commonwealth, education, training and knowledge-sharing.
Synods through the Property Trusts (established by state legislation) provide a legal identity for the Church and a framework to operate and interact with the secular world (state compliance requirements, taxation obligations etc). Due to this, the burden of risk for all councils and institutions within the state is carried by the Synods. This also results in the Synods being acknowledged by other councils as the funder of last resort and point of escalation for dispute management and exercise of discipline.
In light of the Major Strategic Review being undertaken by the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania (which incorporates a comprehensive review of its structures), and similar discussions occurring at a national level; the Synod recommends that any review on the councils of the Church needs to encompass the sustainability (in terms of identity, purpose and priorities) and feasibility of maintaining both local and regional councils in the changed context of the 21st Century that the Uniting Church finds itself in, and therefore the review should include both the councils of Synods and Presbyteries.