Synod members have voted to support a landmark ordinance which will see churches pay a levy to facilitate the purchase of land in ‘greenfields’ sites around Sydney.

Debate on the ordinance which includes in 2013, a levy on all churches to be calculated at 2.24% of their net operating receipts for 2011, ranged from whether it should be voluntary, how much it should be, and the length of time it should be in place.

The ordinance was moved by Peter Kell, and seconded by Bishop Peter Hayward.

In his opening speech, Mr Kell explained the need to raise funds for future church sites. “We are faced with an enormous challenge with the proposed growth in the south-west, north-west and Illawarra regions of the diocese,” he said. “The challenge is for us to meet the provision of sites particularly in the ‘greenfields’ areas. In general terms we have almost nothing in these areas where almost 1 million people are going to choose to live in the next 40 years.”

The levy will raise around two million dollars, which will be used by the Mission Property Committee (MPC) to purchase land in new suburbs around Sydney. Before debate on the ordinance, synod members heard a presentation from the MPC’s Geoff Kyngdon, which explained the importance of ‘getting in early’ to secure prime land in new development areas, at a reasonable cost.

Mr Kyngdon used the example of Oran Park Town in the south-west, where the MPC was able to purchase land for a church in 2009, in close proximity to the town centre. Mr Kyngdon said that it would be impossible to purchase the required land now. Oran Park Town will have a population of 25,000 in 2020.

In his speech seconding the ordinance, Bishop Peter Hayward also spoke about the necessity to be forward thinking. “These areas are rural paddocks, undeveloped farm land and populated by cows,” he said. “It’s hard to see the need as urgent, [but] unless we are negotiating very early on, at the beginning of the planning process, we will miss out completely. Unless we have money upfront very early on, it will never happen. We need to be acquiring land five to ten years out, prior to anything actually happening.”

Bishop Hayward also spoke about the necessity to raise funds from churches. “Our collective responsibility to advance the gospel is imperative,” he said. “We need to invest in infrastructure for future generations. [If we don’t do this now] future generations will wonder why, when we had an opportunity, we did not act when we could. The levy is a practical example of our generosity to them.”

There was some opposition to the ordinance in principle, with synod members believing that churches should not be forced to pay the levy. “It seems to me that it is not an act of generosity when a levy is placed on people,” said the Rev Kerry Nagel of Narrabeen. “Rather than an act of generosity this seems to be a coercion of people… you will do this.” The Rev Fergus Semmler, of Dural, countered “Very few Anglican decisions are made by consensus. They are often decided higher and agreed to later… We are not bringing coerced, we [the synod] are deciding. It’s our money and our city and it is our decision.”

The Rev John Bales, rector of Greenacre, spoke about the need to be actively reaching out to people moving into Sydney. “This motion is a no brainer,” he said. “There are going to be millions of people moving into Sydney and it is our responsibility to take the gospel to them. We need to put men and women on the ground to do that and the only way we can do that is by buying land, if we don’t do it now, it won’t happen. We need to take the gospel to our city and we have to do that together.”

An amendment to reduce the levy on provisional parishes with net operating receipts of under $100000 to 1% was defeated. The ordinance also includes a parochial cost recovery charge which is calculated by the number of ministers a parish has and funds ‘parochial network costs’ which include risk management programs, safe ministry programs as well as clergy superannuation and long service leave.

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