The General Synod, the highest governing body of the Church, met in Honiara from 8 to the 14 of November 2014. It was the first time that the meeting, which is normally held after every three years, was held within a week instead of the normal two weeks. The General Synod gathers to deliberate on matters concerning the whole Church, as a province, as opposed to issues pertaining to each particular diocese which are normally dealt with by the respective diocesan synods.
Membership of the General Synod includes members of the Council of Bishops, clergy and lay representatives, representatives of the Mothers Union and members of the religious life orders of the Church. The Church representatives came from Solomon Islands, Vanuatu with also Church officials coming from New Zealand. At each meeting, members would discuss reports from the various provincial departments and activity centres, proposed changes to the constitution and canons of the Church. Motions relating to areas within the life and work of the church can also be moved and discussed. One of the other tasks of the synod is the election of members to the various governing bodies of the Church.
The various reports that were presented and discussed during the General Synod also include certain recommendations. Those that were agreed upon will be implemented by the respective departments or activity centres.
During the 2014 General Synod, the following 2011 draft laws were assented to after having being approved by the various diocesan synods:
- A law to repeal Article 7A & enact a replacement Article 7 A (Executive Council)
- A Bill to create a Draft Law to establish a Management Board
- To enact a new Article 10 (Council of Bishops)
- To amend Article 9 (The Work of the Archbishop
The above draft laws have now become part of the constitution of the Church.
A draft law to amend the Constitution- Article 6 that would have permitted women to the ordained ministry and passed by the 2011 General Synod only received the assent of three out of the nine diocesan synods and was therefore not approved. However, as will be seen below, the 14th General Synod agreed to another similar motion to amend the constitution which will then be submitted to all dioceses for deliberation in their next diocesan synods.
The General Synod also passed a couple of draft laws relating to proposed changes to the constitution. These include changes to representatives of the Mothers Union to the general Synod and changes to Article 6 to permit the ordination of women to priesthood.
A draft law to amend the constitution that would permit the establishment of the new diocese of Penama in the Republic of Vanuatu was withdrawn.This was largely because all the preparations required for the creation of the subject Diocese had not been completed. In addition, a motion was passed requiring that guidelines be developed for determining the preparedness and financial stability of a proposed new diocese to be created in the Anglican Church of Melanesia and criteria for the testing and assessment of any proposed new diocese.
A number of other bills were passed during the meeting which took effect immediately as they related to changes to the canons. The main canons passed include the following:
- The disciplining of ordained persons whereby the diocesan bishop may summarily dismiss a priest or deacon in cases of serious misconduct.
- A bill to increase the number of lay canons from four to five to cater for the increase in the number of dioceses from eight to nine. The number of clerical canons remains at four.
- A bill requiring that out of the lay representatives of each diocese to the General Synod, one of them must be a woman.
A number of motions were also passed, with the main ones being the following:
- That a strategic road map be created based on issues raised in the Archbishop’s charge and that this be implemented
- That the Church to consider seriously observing Sunday as a day of Worship, and to keep reminding its members to abstain from Sunday marketing starting from 6.00 AM to 6.00 PM.
- That the church should develop a process for determining the state of preparedness and financial stability of a proposed new diocese to be created in the Anglican Church of Melanesia and to develop criteria for the testing and assessment of any proposed new diocese.
- The synod also expressed its mind on the future membership of and time spent on General Synods as outlined in Article 7 and Title D, Canons 1 and 2 of the Constitution with the views expressed to be collated for the Executive Council and used as a basis for the drafting of required amendments for the 15th General Synod to consider
- The ACOM Education Departments have also been requested to negotiate with respective governments, either province or national governments to insert Christian beliefs in education curriculum, to allow Churches to teach Christian principles and values in schools.
- It was also approved that being a provincial institution, it is recommended that there be a Vanuatu clergy on the staff of the St. Barnabas Cathedral as a priest.
- The Executive Council was requested to consider the feasibility and other implications (including cost) of holding the 15th General Synod at Sarakata Parish in the DOVNC.
- The mission office of ACOM be instructed to prepare a statement on the ethos for the Anglican Church of Melanesia and submit the draft ethos statement to the first Council of Bishops meeting in 2015 for assessment and the Council of Bishops further submit it to the Management Board who will further submit it to the Executive Council in 2015 for approval, and thereafter, dissemination of the ethos for use in our Anglican schools, Rural Training Centers and communities.
The above is a brief summary of the things that were covered by the General Synod. For further information, anyone interested may have to consult the Minutes of the 2014 General Synod.