Synod Day 2: The real issues


Day 2 of synod was a remarkable day, but not for the reasons I expected.

Last year’s synod was one of high emotion, as was the year before. Our financial issues lead to a breakdown of trust between different people and internal organisations. Day 2 of this year’s synod could easily have been one in which these raw emotions exploded once again.

But instead, we saw that the Spirit of God has been powerfully at work. Trust was being rebuilt as people listened to one another, and compromised. In the end, a motion that had the potential for so much division and conflict ended up being passed overwhelmingly.

This is not to say that everyone agreed on the particular way forward. Part of the beauty of the synod process is that everyone is able to have their say. Serious questions about the resolution of our financial structures and future directions remain:

1.     Should we sell Bishopscourt?

2.     While it is commendable that the Endowment of the See (which funds the Archbishop, Assistant bishops, and their offices) has reduced expenditure significantly in recent years, are further cuts required?

3.     How does one balance a prudent investment mix with sentimental value?

4.     How would we transition to a ‘Central Investment Management Board’, how would it work, and is it even desirable?

If one came seeking a resolution to these particular issues, they would have been disappointed. But Day 2 of synod was significant for the way in which we conducted ourselves. Key players and members were gracious to one another. Good humour was in. The Lord is bringing the right kind of expertise together. And an important part of the process that has been established is that there will be continued dialogue and listening to one another.

It is not the kind of day that any secular organisation would expect, for the foundation and difference that the Lord Jesus was clearly evident – and without being dismissive of difficult issues.

We have learnt a lot.

The Rev Raj Gupta is the senior minister of Toongabbie Anglican Church, member of Standing Committee, and Mission Area Leader of the Parramatta Mission Area. He is also a partner with the 'Exploring Effective Ministry under God' team, and currently undertaking a Doctor of Ministry at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDs).

Comments (12)

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  • Sandy Grant
    October 12, 11 - 12:04am
    Raj, thanks for blogging about Synod, and good call about the atmosphere and the wise way forward that was pretty widely agreed, even though we might not all agree about specific outcomes yet.
  • Sandy Grant
    October 12, 11 - 12:06am
    By the way, I appreciated all the comments in that debate/discussion, and especially various input from Commission members. But I thought Simon Pillar's comments had an absolute crystal clarity and incisiveness to them. Wish he was here last year!
  • Raj Gupta
    October 12, 11 - 12:29am
    Agreed Sandy - Simon Pillar's contribution was incredible. How helpful it is to benchmark our situation with others. I praise God for bringing such experts into the mix.
  • Huntly Gordon
    October 12, 11 - 12:40am
    I agree with Sandy, Simon Pillar was very impressive and spoke with clarity.

    I wonder, however, whether the portfolio mix of the Harvard and Yale endowments is directly applicable to Sydney? I recently saw data that indicated that over the last 20 years property has returned 12% per annum vis-a-vis the ASX which has returned 8%.

    There was also comment about the dearth of finance industry talent in the Sydney Diocese. I suspect the ranks aren't quite as thin as we think. I attend a small parish on the North Shore and there are three or four senior finance industry people. And we're just a small parish.

    Maybe the Diocese should consider conducting an audit of its parishioners?

    I can think of one fellow who is on the boards of several public companies in the financial services and insurance industries. He's never been approached by the Diocese ...
  • Sandy Grant
    October 12, 11 - 12:53am
    Huntly, assuming such a man is solid on gospel convictions and character, which very much sounds like the case, why not sound him out and suggest his name to the relevant people. See what his rector thinks, get a brief informal summary CV together for him, and speak to people in diocesan organisations such as Laurie Scandrett, or Robert Tong, or Mark Thompson on the ACL, or draw the name to the attention of Dr Selden, the Registrar and the Archbishop's Assistant, or to the Diocesan Secretary, Rob Wicks, who could direct you to the right places. Each such person's network only goes so far. So we need all Synod members and other interested church members to be playing a part in encouraging good people to offer to serve, and getting them into a position where they can be known so as to be asked and elected or appointed.

    In my view, a simple audit asking parishes to supply a list of people in particular jobs with particular skills probably won't quite work, because it is 'bare'. That is, it tells you little about the person's character, convictions, skills, experience level, interests etc. It really needs to personal networking and recommendations.
  • Sandy Grant
    October 12, 11 - 1:35am
    Huntly, I apologise for the tone of my last post, which tends towards assuming that you would not have already taken steps to recommend good people. That was wrong of me.
  • Dianne Howard
    October 12, 11 - 9:05pm

    Can someone tell me what Simon Pillar actually said?
    It's hard to work out from the article.

    cheers Di
  • Huntly Gordon
    October 12, 11 - 10:38pm
    Di, I can't recall precisely what Simon Pillar said, but it was words to the effect that the Diocese is heavily overweight with relatively illiquid real property assets e.g. St Andrew's House.

    Whereas the world's best performing endowments, those of Harvard and Yale Universities*, have circa 10% in property, the Diocese has about 37%. [Someone please correct me if that latter figure is wrong].

    *The Harvard and Yale endowments have returned 7-9% over the last 10 years despite two significant financial crises i.e. the Dotcom crash and the GFC.
  • Raj Gupta
    October 12, 11 - 10:45pm
    The essence of Huntly's comments are correct.

    Simon Pillar's point was that the best performing endowments in the world (those that have produced the best return as well as maintaining or even improving the real value) comprise 9% and 10% real estate within the portfolio. By comparison we have 37%.
  • Huntly Gordon
    October 12, 11 - 11:01pm
    Returning to Sandy's comments ... Everyone knows that you're a gentle soul. No offence taken.

    While I wholeheartedly agree that Gospel convictions and character are vital for our clergy and lay leaders (Bible study leaders, Sunday school teachers etc.), I wonder whether enough emphasis has been placed on business and financial acumen and excellence with previous appointments to the G.A.B.?

    I recall at the Synod debate on the GFC in 2009 one fellow saying, "We prayed before every meeting of the Board." While this is entirely admirable and shows a great dependence upon God, nonetheless some unfortunate decisions were made.

    If I'm having open heart surgery I want to know that I am in the hands of a top flight cardiac surgeon. He might be a Christian, he might not. Otherwise it might be Glory just a little sooner than expected!
  • Craig Schafer
    October 13, 11 - 3:42am
    Just to clarify that the board member who made that comment regarding prayer before meetings had also run the Asia Pacific operations of a large, well known and successful finance services organisation and sat on a number of corporate boards.
  • Dianne Howard
    October 13, 11 - 4:35am
    Huntly, Raj

    Thanks for feedback. Much prefer to hear about Synod from friends than find out info from the wider media.

    cheers Di