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Matters vital to the life of the church (Nov 2005)

The 11th Assembly will be asked to grapple with the notion of just what is vital to the life of the church when it meets in Brisbane next year.

Clause 39 of the Constitution has been at the heart of debate in the church especially the direction that the Assembly refer “matters vital to the life of the church to Synods and Presbyteries for concurrence.”

While the current interpretation of the constitution is that the 280 plus elected members of the Assembly decide if a matter is vital and should be referred, the NSW Synod has suggested a new way forward.

The NSW Synod will bring a proposal to 11th Assembly in Brisbane to amend clause 39 of the constitution so that Synods and Presbyteries are able play a part in deciding what is vital to the life of the Church.

The proposal, if passed, will allow Synods and Presbyteries to tell the Assembly when they felt a decision was vital to the church life. If three of the five Synods and at least half of the Presbyteries agreed within six months of an Assembly meeting that a matter was vital, it would be referred to councils for concurrence. The Assembly decision could then be revoked if the majority of Synods and two thirds of Presbyteries did not concur with the Assembly decision.

The NSW Synod proposal has been referred to the Assembly’s Church Polity Committee ahead of it being brought to the 11th Assembly.

The full text of the proposal is:

That the Synod propose to the Assembly that clause 39 of the Constitution be amended:-
1. By renumbering current clause 39 as 39(a).

2. By inserting the following clause 39(b):-

“39(b) If, within six months of the close of an Assembly meeting, not less than three Synods and at least one half in number of the Presbyteries shall notify the Assembly that they consider that a decision made by the Assembly at its meeting is a matter vital to the life of the Church, the Assembly Standing Committee shall:-

(i) seek the concurrence of the Synods and Presbyteries with the decision of the Assembly in such manner as the Standing Committee may determine; and

(ii) if a majority of the Synods and at least two thirds in number of the Presbyteries notify the Assembly within the period specified by the Assembly that they do not concur with the Assembly decision, take action on behalf of the Assembly to revoke the Assembly decision if the decision can be revoked.”