Individual parishes will be responsible for setting their own guidelines for the consumption of alcohol on church grounds after a new policy was passed by Synod last night.
While the policy recommended every parish ban alcohol from ministry activities of the church and from private and public events on church trust property, ultimate decisions about alcohol will rest in the hands of rectors and parish councils.
"... the minister and parish council of each parish be requested to: a) study the information in the report, and b) determine the parish’s own policy on the consumption of alcohol," the report says. Exceptions include: where "wine is provided as part of the Lord’s supper", "private activities in ministry residences", and "activities pursuant to a commercial lease of church trust property signed by the property trust".
The only imperative in the policy is that churches should follow the law of the state by obtaining a temporary function license for any event where alcohol is sold.
The motion presented by Archdeacon Deryck Howell sparked rigorous debate and was amended several times before Synod voted in its favour.
Synod heard a number of impassioned speeches by teetotallers, those who enjoy "the gift of alcohol", and those who have seen the first-hand impact of alcohol addiction.
The Rev Stephen Gibson of Miranda spoke against amendmending the motion, suggesting the power should rest with parish councils. "I think we sometimes need to be prepared to be misunderstood as a glutton and a drunkard as our Lord Jesus was," he said. "We sometimes need to do things that are a little ‘out there’."
Mr Gibson told Synod about the international beer tasting event he ran at his church last Friday night. Attended by 241 men, 170 of whom were non-churchgoers, he said it was "the kind of event where guys bring along five, six and seven guys from work."
The Dean, Phillip Jensen, outlined six problems he saw with the policy. Among his concerns was that the recommendations didn’t reflect the report. "The report indicates the enormity of the problem of the abuse of alcohol in our community and then recommends that we relax the diocesan practice on the issue," he said, adding Synod should be providing stronger leadership.
Bishop Al Stewart suggested church grounds should be safe places. "I definitely want to see Aussie men converted, I’ve dedicated my life to that. But our churches need to be safe places. And if you don’t know what I mean about a safe place in terms of alcohol, then I think you’ve lived a very sheltered life," he said.
At one point during the evening session Synod was asked whether it would like to ignore the policy entirely. But some were concerned about the lack of clarity with the existing policy if the motion was ignored.
Diocesan Secretary, Rob Wicks said that since November 2007 "no discernible policy" had been in place. "There are different levels of policy " the Archbishop has views on certain issues " but there was previously no discernible policy," he said. Synod agreed to continue the debating.
It was passed with amendments from Synod members including the Rev Sandy Grant, Bishop Glenn Davies and Mr Robert Tong.