For the first time in LCA history, General Pastors Conference has been held several months before General Convention of Synod. The ordination question is considered so important that church leaders wanted pastors to have opportunity to properly explore the proposals coming to Convention and to give Synod ample time to consider their theological advice. General Synod will meet in convention from 29 September to 4 October.
Traditionally, General Pastors Conference is held immediately before General Convention of Synod. Providing theological advice to General Synod is a primary function of the triennial pastors conference. Due to the earlier meeting date, this year will be the first time the pastors’ advice will be published in the Convention Book of Reports.
Gathering at St Michael’s Lutheran church and school at Hahndorf, South Australia, from 7 to 9 July, around 280 pastors devoted almost all the conference sessions to discussing the proposals to General Convention relating to ‘Women and the Call to the Office of the Public Ministry’ (known popularly as ‘ordination of women’). Before them were sixteen congregational proposals to Synod in relation to the issue—fourteen supporting the ordination of women and two asking Convention to affirm the current teaching of the LCA. The pastors were not asked to vote on the issue but to express their assessment of the proposals.
‘GPC is an advisory group rather than a mini-Synod’, LCA Bishop John Henderson explained. ‘Voting on the proposals will be the responsibility of the Church when it gathers as Synod.’
Though consensus on the issue was not reached, the pastors were able to agree that the proposal from St Peters Indooroopilly, Queensland, in support of the ordination of women, should ‘be used as the basis for dialogue and debate on this matter at Synod’. This recommendation forms part of General Pastors Conference’s advice, which in the first instance is relayed to General Church Council. This does not presume, however, that the matter will be put to the vote by Synod.
The College of Bishops, meeting immediately after General Pastors Conference, added the following commentary on the new format used during this conference: ‘While traditionally we have mostly engaged in debate, speaking for and against formal proposals, this time we used a speaking-and-listening dialogue in groups of three or four’.
For the plenary sessions, pastors sat at round tables rather than in lecture-style rows, and at other times they met in small groups of four around the school and church for more focused dialogue. The table format will be used also at General Convention of Synod for at least some of the plenary sessions, in order to promote active listening and dialogue.
Pastors attending the conference received a copy of the Ordination. We’re Listening dialogue booklet and DVD—resources which may assist in congregational dialogue activities. Congregations not represented by their pastor at General Pastors Conference may request a copy of the booklet and DVD from the LCA National Office: firstname.lastname@example.org, 08 8267 7300. All congregations are encouraged to participate in dialogue on the ordination issue prior to General Convention, and to pray. Resources are available here.