It is not an overstatement to say that the resolution of the 2021–23 General Synod could have greater implications for the Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand than any other since Church Union in 1966. Everyone in the church is likely to be impacted in some way by the decision that General Synod 2024 will make about the 'way forward' in the decades-long ordination debate. You are sure to have questions. If you can't find your question (and answer) below, feel free to submit your question via the contact form below.
‘One church, two practices’ (Way Forward)
At the February 2023 in-person sessions of the 2021–2023 General Synod, a point of acceptance was reached; that is, we are not going to reach a consensus on the question of ordination and continuing the debate is likely to further fracture the church.
In an attempt to find a way forward that preserves the unity of our church, the General Synod asked the General Church Board and College of Bishops to work towards a framework that allows two practices of ordination: (1) men only and (2) both men and women. In essence, this proposal concedes that we will agree to disagree on the matter of ordination, but it also aspires that this disagreement is not a sufficient reason to divide us.
The exact wording of the resolution is:
RESOLVED: That General Synod direct the LCANZ General Church Board and the College of Bishops to:
- a) Work through the theological, constitutional, and governance requirements to operate as one church with two different practices of ordination and establish a detailed framework through which this could be accomplished, such as one or more existing LCANZ Districts becoming Districts that teach and practice the ordination of both women and men to the office of the public ministry or by establishing a non-geographical LCANZ ‘District’ that does so, and
- b) Submit the fruit of this work in the form of a proposal that should be discussed by the LCANZ General Pastors Conference for Convention of General Synod 2024.
- c) It is the expectation of this General Convention of Synod that both women and men will be ordained in a District of the LCANZ during the 2024–2027 synodical period.
The three frameworks are those that best fit the list of criteria agreed upon by the General Church Board and College of Bishops. That criteria was used in a rigorous assessment process to evaluate all submissions received. Based on the outcomes of that process, a shortlist was prepared for General Church Board and College of Bishops, and they also confirmed not only numerical analysis but also that the team’s comments and discussions on the frameworks were in alignment with the criteria. Ultimately, GCB and CoB approved each of three frameworks for consultation across the church.
Impact of changes
There is no definitive answer to that question – at least, not yet. The frameworks received from across the church have been evaluated via a robust and accountable process. The next phase will see three frameworks selected for a shortlist, and then they will be further refined to develop one preferred framework to be put to the Convention of General Synod in October next year. Until that work is done, it is not possible to say how quickly women might be ordained should the Convention of General Synod pass the Way Forward proposal. Updates will be provided as the project progresses.
We welcome your participation in the conversation. Keep alert to notifications from the Way Forward project team about opportunities to engage over the next 12 months. There will also be times when the whole church will be called to prayer as we move towards what is likely to be the most far-reaching decision a Convention of General Synod will make since Church Union. The best way to keep in touch is to sign up to Way Forward eNews. Click here to sign up.
Background to this conversation
Under the LCA Constitution, any parish can bring a proposal to a Convention of General Synod, so it is not possible to ‘ban’ this or any other conversation. Even if this could be done, it would not resolve the ongoing conflict over ordination, nor would it acknowledge the importance of this issue to many people in the church. We must dig deep and work hard together to find a way forward for the LCANZ that acknowledges, respects and cares for each other as brothers and sisters united in Christ.
Ordination of women
The first Lutherans in Australia were unfortunately marked by division. The first pastors, August Kavel and G D Fritzsche, disagreed on a number of matters and in 1846, they established separate churches. Further division led to more separate churches being formed. Victoria established its own church, and Queensland had two Lutheran churches. By the early 1900s, there were eight Lutheran churches in Australia, plus some independent Lutheran pastors.
In the early 20th century, efforts were made to bring unity. In 1921, five churches joined together. Another one joined in 1926. The final union in 1966 between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (ELCA) and United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia (UELCA) created the present-day Lutheran Church of Australia. It had been a long, hard journey, covered with much prayer, and there was great rejoicing when Church Union was finally realised.
General Synod and delegates
Article 7.1 of the LCA Constitution reads: ‘The power of the church shall be exercised through the General Synod, which shall be the highest constitutional authority of the church, with power to direct and control those to whom it has entrusted tasks or has delegated authority.’
In relation to the authority and powers of General Synod, Article 13.1 reads: ‘The church at a Convention of the General Synod may amend, alter, add to or repeal any of the rules, except Article 2 and Article 13.1, which shall be considered fundamental and unalterable in their intent and meaning.’
Thus, the Convention of General Synod is the LCANZ’s highest decision-making body. It alone has the power to make changes to the LCA Constitution, governance and teaching.