The role of the Church Polity Reference Committee is to advise the Assembly, the Assembly Standing Committee and the General Secretary on the polity of the church in light of the Basis of Union, the Constitution and the Regulations of the Uniting Church.
Historically the Committee has been based in a particular Synod with corresponding members drawn from the remaining Synods. As will be noted from its current 2006 mandate (attached), the Committee is required to be based within the Synod of South Australia with a corresponding member from each of the other Synods. Until his election as President of the Assembly, Rev Dr Andrew Dutney was Chairperson of the Committee, and the Committee’s South Australian members were Ian Price, Kate Trethaway, Deirdre Palmer, Michaela Tiller and Stuart Cameron. These members continued into the following triennium together with corresponding members Gordon Ramsay (NSW/ACT) and Jenny Tymms (Qld). Stuart Cameron subsequently moved to Queensland. Following his election as Assembly President in 2012, Andrew Dutney stood aside from the Committee and Jenny Tymms was appointed as the Convenor. Alistair McRae (immediate past President) was added to the Committee. Terence Corkin (Assembly General Secretary) is an ex officio member.
The Committee had one request for advice during its current term of office. This was made by the General Secretary on behalf of the Legal Reference Committee on a matter arising from a request for a Presidential Ruling. The matter related to the powers of a Moderator in a context where the regulations offered little guidance. The Committee handled the request by email discussion.
There may be a number of reasons why the Committee’s advice has not been actively sought in recent years. Assembly officers and the Assembly Standing Committee may have assumed that sufficient experience already existed within the staff and within the current membership of the Standing Committee. Five members of the Polity Reference Committee have been either ex officio or elected members of the Assembly Standing Committee during this last triennium. This will not always be the case however, and the Polity Committee remains available to provide assistance as required.
It is more likely that during this significant time of change, upheaval, and experimentation across the church, matters of polity are being actively explored and tested (both directly and indirectly) in a wide range of contexts. The Church is in a very fluid and complex space: its structures, cultural expressions of church, and the powers and responsibilities of different councils are all under discussion by a range of task groups and committees in local, Synod and Assembly contexts. The nature of these issues requires conversation partners and processes that go beyond a simple request to the Polity Committee for advice. In many of these complex and contested areas it is also unlikely that a definitive response will be able to be provided.
It will be increasingly important as the Church continues to seek God’s guidance about its future, for Councils and task groups to be alert to the polity issues that may be hovering just below the surface of the matters they are addressing. Also important will be the willingness of members of the Church to actively engage one another in considered conversation about these issues, and to enlist the wisdom and experience of conversation partners from the wider Church. Such broader conversations will enrich discussions and potentially strengthen the processes and the outcomes that are subsequently developed. They will also help all parts of the Church to identify those polity matters that may require intentional and deeper exploration by inter-Synod and Assembly bodies, including the Polity Reference Committee.
APPENDIX A CHURCH POLITY REFERENCE COMMITTEE MANDATE
Responsible to: The Assembly
Reporting arrangements: The Assembly and the Standing Committee
Mission Statement: To advise the Assembly, the Standing Committee and the General Secretary on the polity of the church, in light of the Basis of Union, the Constitution and the Regulations.
1. To provide advice on matters of polity at the request of the Assembly, the Standing Committee or the General Secretary.
2. To initiate with the General Secretary, the Standing Committee or the Assembly consideration of issues and concerns relating to the polity of the church.
3. To assist other Assembly agencies (eg. Theology and Discipleship, Legal Reference Committee, National Secretariat) with advice on matters concerning the polity of the church.
4. To assist with the drafting of amendments to the Constitution and the Regulations, as requested by the Assembly, the Standing Committee, the Legal Reference Committee or the General Secretary.
Power to appoint: The Reference Committee has power to appoint working groups to operate within this mandate.
Membership of the Reference Committee:
- Chairperson, appointed by the Assembly.
- Five to nine persons appointed by the Standing Committee, following receipt of nominations from the Reference Committee.
- Chairperson and attending members to be resident within the Synod of South Australia.
- One corresponding member from each of the other five synods, appointed by the Standing Committee.
Approved by Assembly Standing Committee August 2006