The Seventh General Synod of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (HKSKH) was held at St. James’ Church from 5 to 9 June. A total of 24 motions covering a wide range of matters were presented to the General Synod. The only motion that was not carried by the General Synod was Motion 8, which proposed amendments to Canon 4 of HKSKH about the election of diocesan bishop. The remaining 23 motions including the ones relating to HKSKH Church Policy Paper and the development of mission churches into parishes within five years were carried by the General Synod either in their original shape or in amended forms.
Because all motions presented to the General Synod touch on all levels of HKSKH, ranging from Provincial structure, policy, amendments to the Constitution and Canons, and liturgy, members of the General Synod paid close attention to each and every motion. Their seriousness were reflected by the active and lively debate at the meeting sessions and can best be illustrated by the debate on Motion 12.
Motion 12 called for the annulment of the institution of Mission Churches and the windup of all mission churches within five years after the passing of this resolution. The motion also proposed that at the expiry of the five-year period, a mission church shall become a place of worship affiliated to its nearby parish unless it is able to fulfill the requirements of a parish and has applied to be recognized as such within the five-year period.
Presenting the motion, the secretary of the Standing Committee, the Revd Canon Peter Douglas Koon, told the synod members that the purpose of the motion was to change the status quo of mission churches with the hope that they could develop into new parishes. He said that if a mission church failed to become a parish it would become a place of worship affiliated to its nearby parish. Clergy of the nearest parish would be assigned to that place of worship to look after the worshippers.
It was also proposed that Canon 28 of the HKSKH be repealed. As a result, mission churches and mission church councils set up under the Canon would also be abolished. Fr. Koon drew the members'' attention to the fact that Canon 28 only provides for the setting up of a mission church without mentioning its dissolution. However, he pointed out that some mission churches had to change because of the circumstances that they faced. The change called for was also the rationale behind the motion. Archbishop Paul Kwong called on members not to focus on the fading out of mission churches, but on how they could be developed into parishes.
Some members speaking on the motion noted that mission church becoming a place of worship affiliated to its nearby parish would be better equipped for evangelization and pastoral care, thus benefitting both the clergy and the faithful. On the other hand, other members believed that the Standing Committee’s proposal of converting mission churches into places of worship not only harmed and ignored the emotion of the faithful but also discounted the contributions and sacrifices of the mission church congregations. They claimed that the proposal had not taken into account the geographical and other circumstantial factors impeding the growth of a mission church into a parish. Other members speaking on the motion expressed the hope that parish and parishioners would make their best efforts with one mind and one heart to assist mission church to become a parish.
Some speakers on the motion tried to understand it in the context of theology. Noting that the goal of evangelization by the faithful was Missio Dei, they could not find that the motion had ignored or discounted the efforts of mission church congregation members and their ministry because the ministry of mission church congregation members was God’s mission as well. On the contrary, they said, the motion, if passed, would pool manpower and other resources for the effective development of the mission churches into parished.
After discussions, the motion was amended to the effect that all dioceses be required to take appropriate measures to assist all mission churches under their auspices to become parishes within five years after the passing of this resolution, and that Canon 28 of HKSKH be repealed and all ensuing Canons be renumbered accordingly, and that all dioceses be required to amend their respective constitution to give effect to the above change. The amended motion was put to vote and was carried by majority.
Liturgy is a very important feature of Anglicanism. As a result, members of the General Synod paid particular attention to motions related to liturgy. Motion 13 proposed to delete Paragraphs 16.2 and 16.3 of Section 16 of the Constitution of HKSKH and to vest the House of Bishops with the power to approve, amend, continue or discontinue of any forms of service. In other words, after the passage of the motion, the Standing Commission on Liturgical Matters will be authorized or directed by the House of Bishops to revise or scrutinize forms of service.
Motions 18 to 23 were presented by the Standing Commission on Liturgical Matters, asking the General Synod to adopt the Marriage Service Rite II (both the Chinese and the English Versions) as the authorized rite of this Province; the Marriage Service Rite III (for marriage between the baptized and the non-baptized) (Chinese Trial Version) as an approved Trial Version for use until the conclusion of the Eighth General Synod; the Marriage Service Rite IV: Blessing of Marriage (Chinese Version) as the authorized rite of this Province; the newly revised Funeral Service Rite II (Chinese Trial Version) as an approved Trial Version for use until the conclusion of the Eighth General Synod; the respective Chinese Trial Version of the Rites for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, and Easter Vigil as approved Trial Versions for use until the conclusion of the Eighth General Synod; and the Initiation Liturgy Rite I (Chinese Trial Version), the Initiation Liturgy Rite II (Chinese Trial Version), the Initiation Liturgy Rite III (Chinese Trial Version) and the Initiation Liturgy Rite IV (Chinese Trial Version) as approved Trial Versions for use until the conclusion of the Eighth General Synod.
In response to some members’ concern about the elegance of the diction in the forms of service, Bishop Andrew Chan assured the General Synod that the Standing Commission will continue to examine the texts and to revise wherever it is necessary.
Among the 24 motions, Motion 8 was the only motion that was not carried at the General Synod. In this motion, the Standing Committee moved to amend Canon 4 which is related to the election of diocesan bishop, including the eligibility of candidates, electoral procedures, composition of the electoral college, a minimum ten-year serving requirement, and the time frame for the election of a diocesan bishop. Many members speaking on the motion opposed to the composition of the proposed enlarged electoral college which would comprise all priests and deacons licensed by the Province, the lay synod members of the diocese concerned and the lay members of the Standing Committee of the other dioceses. They argued that such an electoral college would undermine the autonomy of the diocese concerned in electing its bishop.
Motion 8 also proposed that in the event that a diocese fails to elect a bishop within two years, the General Synod shall have the ecclesiastical authority to elect a bishop for the diocese concerned. Should the General Synod also fail to elect a bishop subsequently, the House of Bishops will appoint a bishop. Some members saw such proposals as moves to usurp diocesan powers, while others had reservations about the two-year time frame.
The motion also required that a cleric who is interested in becoming a candidate but cannot serve at least ten years if elected can only be nominated as a candidate provided that all the members of the Nominating Committee agree unanimously to such nomination. However, the threshold for such a candidate to be elected as a bishop is a three-fourths majority in each house of the diocese of those present and voting, which is higher than that of those candidates who can serve at least ten years, being a two-thirds majority in each house of the diocese of these present and voting. Many members believed this two-tier requirement is discriminatory and may cause division among the clergy. The result of the ballot on the motion was 28 ayes and 28 nays. Because the ballot result was a tie, the motion was not carried.
Meanwhile, Motion 3 proposed to increase the number of members of the General Synod by amending Section 10 of the Constitution of the HKSKH and paragraphs 1 and 2.1 of Canon 2 the HKSKH. Following the passage of the motion, all licensed clerics having served in the Province for not less than three years shall become representatives for the House of Clergy of the General Synod. The number of lay delegates to the General Synod is increased from 15 from each diocese and 2 from the Missionary Area of Macau to 30 and 5 respectively. The only qualification required for the lay delegates to the House of Laity of the General Synod is having been a registered member of one or more parishes of the HKSKH for not less than seven years and having served the diocesan synod he/she belongs to for not less than one full term. The motion was carried with an overwhelming majority.