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The General Synod ended with a lively discussion about the future of the Church

The General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland convened from 3 to 6 August 2021 for its first meeting week of the year held at the Turku Christian Institute.

The General Synod decided on the integration of the Church Institute for Advanced Training and the Church Research Institute. The primary aim is to enhance the impact and creation of value for parishes by intensifying the interaction and collaboration of these functions.

The meeting discussed and approved the financial statements. Among other resolutions, the meeting approved corrections to the new edition of the General Gospel Book and confirmed the updated procedures of the General Synod. A member proposal on strengthening the role of prayer was moved forward to the Bishops’ Conference.

The final meeting day saw lively discussions on various topics, such as the streamlining of the parish union model and the need to involve younger generations in the activities of the Church.

Because of the coronavirus situation, the General Synod had been postponed from May to August, and only the Synod members, those with the right to be present and speak, and the employees whose duties required presence attended the meeting week. The sessions were streamed online. The General Synod will convene for its next meeting on 8–12 November 2021.

Rapid and bold actions are needed to involve the younger generations

The General Synod approved the report of the Futures Committee, which urges the Church to take immediate action in response to the major challenges for change as described in the four-year report of the Church for the period 2016–2019. Based on extensive empirical data, the four-year report of the Church discusses the overall changes that have taken place in the religiousness of the Finnish population and within the operating environment of the Church.

According to the Committee report, it is necessary for the Church to profoundly renew its activities and to endeavour to better involve all of its members. In particular, the Futures Committee raises the need to connect with the Millennials and Generation Z members. ‘The future of the Church must be viewed through the eyes of the Millennials and the generations succeeding them’, states the Committee report.

The General Synod will forward the Committee report to the National Church Council to be taken into consideration in the development of the Church activities and the preparation of the report on the future of the Church. The Committee report will also be sent to the Diocesan Councils for information and discussion. In addition, it was decided that the National Church Council shall prepare the four-year report of the Church for the period 2020–2023.

The new proposal on marriage is forwarded to the Constitutional Committee

The General Synod decided to forward the much debated member proposal including ‘a request for the Bishops’ Conference to prepare a proposal on marrying and blessing same-sex couples’ to the Constitutional Committee. The topic was discussed on five occasions during three days, with a total of 68 addresses during the discussions. In the voting following the discussions, 62 Synod members voted in favour of forwarding the proposal to the Committee and 41 members voted against its further processing. Signed by 44 Synod members, the proposal presents that the General Synod request the Bishops’ Conference to prepare for the General Synod a proposal on the marrying and blessing of same-sex couples.

The Bishops’ Conference has previously, upon assignment by the General Synod, surveyed alternatives to solve the prevailing conflict over the concept of marriage.

The member proposal on strengthening the role of prayer advances to the Bishops’ Conference

The General Synod decided to forward the member proposal on strengthening the role of prayer to the Bishops’ Conference for information and further measures. The proposal requests that the Bishops’ Conference deliberate on various means to strengthen the role of prayer in people’s lives and to encourage individuals to engage in prayer in new ways. In addition, the proposal requests that, while preparing the synodal meetings of the clergy, the bishops consider how priests and other parish employees might find more space for spiritual growth and prayer and how people could be invited to a common prayer.

The General Synod approved the financial statements for 2020

On 5 August, the General Synod confirmed the financial statements of the Central Church Fund for the year 2020 and approved the National Church Council’s proposal for the accounting of the result of the financial year. The deficit of -10,379,086.86 euro is added to the surplus/deficit of the preceding years, thus reducing the amount of own capital in the balance sheet.

The financial statements of the Church Pension Fund for 2020 were also approved. The year 2020 was profitable for the Church Pension Fund. Net investment income at current values was 7.5 per cent in 2020. The real income of the portfolio, 7.3 per cent, exceeded the target set in the investment plan for real income, 3 per cent.

The year 2020 signified a poor financial result for the Central Church Fund, both in terms of the amount of the deficit (-10.4 million euro) and the reduction in financial resources (-7.8 million euro). The result is explained by the extraordinary support awarded to the parishes and church organisations, which amounted to 4 million euro, and the decision not to charge the service fees of the Church Resources Agency. ‘These measures were initiated in order to assist the parishes and church organisations in dealing with the sudden pandemic situation. Retrospectively, this financial support appears to have been highly significant for the recipients in this urgent situation’, concludes the report of the Financial Committee.

There is a structural deficit totalling approximately 3 million euro. The report of the Financial Committee points out that the finances for the shared and joint operations of the Church have not been brought to a balance as required by the General Synod. The report calls for a balancing plan. Accordingly, the National Church Council shall draw up a plan to bring the finances of the Central Church Fund to a balance from the year 2023 onwards, in other words, the revenue from the central fund fees shall cover the operating expenses and depreciations.

The General Synod decided to request that the National Church Council provide the November 2021 meeting of the General Synod with a report on the excess of the budget for the ‘New space’ (Uusi tila) project concerning the property at Eteläranta 8, Helsinki, as well as on the management of the project.

Environment, equality and communications: proposals will be further processed by the committees

The proposal concerning the assessment of environmental impacts was forwarded to the Administration Committee. After voting, a decision was made to request a statement on the matter from the Financial Committee as well. The aim of the proposal is to make environmental and climate issues an integral part of the decision-making of the Church and to ensure that the decision-making is supported by adequate information.

The member proposal on the modification of the ‘Church in Finland’ (Kirkko Suomessa) brand into an ecumenically and informatively more appropriate form was forwarded to the Futures Committee. The proposal presents that the Church should abolish the ‘Church in Finland’ brand and replace it with a more informative and ecumenically sustainable expression. Local parishes and parish unions would also be encouraged to act accordingly in their communications.

The member proposal on drawing up a functional equality and non-discrimination plan was forwarded to the General Committee. The proposal presents that the General Synod request the National Church Council to draw up an equality and non-discrimination plan in order to promote equality and non-discrimination within the activities of the Church of Finland. The plan should include a survey on the current situation concerning equality and non-discrimination within the Church as a whole, including the exercise of religion, and suggestions for the necessary actions to promote equality and non-discrimination. The General Synod requires that the plan also includes a model equality and non-discrimination plan for the use of the parishes.