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Church law reform moves forward

The General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland convened from 8 to 12 November 2021 at the Turku Christian Institute and decided to approve its comprehensive reform of Church law. The General Synod’s Committee for Legal Affairs offered a report that differed from the Church Council’s proposal regarding confession. The Committee report proposed that the section on confession be included in the Church Act, whereas the Church Council proposed it be included in the Church Order instead. The Committee report also included a dissenting opinion to the effect that Church law reform should proceed in accordance with the Church Council’s proposal.  

After a lively discussion, the General Synod voted on whether the confession should be included in the Church Act or in the Church Order. As a result of the vote, the reform will now move forward, dealing with the issue of confession in the second section of Chapter 1 of the bill for the new Church Act and in a more detailed form in the first section of Chapter 1 of the Church Order.

For the renewed Church Act to pass, the General Synod must consider the matter twice, and the second round must end in approval by a qualified majority. In this case, the General Synod passed the bill almost unanimously, which means the bill will be sent to the Finnish Parliament.  

The reform is the result of a lengthy process of preparation. The General Synod approved a Church law reform bill the first time in 2018 and sent it to the Finnish Parliament, but the Constitutional Law Committee found problems with the bill and returned it to the General Synod.  

When passed, the Church law reform will introduce more structurally coherent Church legislation that will be clearer to its users. The new Church Act will replace the current one, which originally entered into force on 1 January 1994.  

Central Church Fund must save additional million 

The General Synod approved both the Central Church Fund’s budget for 2022 and its action and economic plan for 2022–2024, and it took decisions on the Central Church Fund’s budget balancing plan. 

According to the General Synod, the Central Church Fund’s finances must be balanced by the start of 2023 so that the Central Church Fund payments and operating profits cover all Church Council and cathedral chapter operating expenses and depreciations. Spearhead projects must be planned to ensure that all costs are fully covered by annual income from Church investments.  

After the Church Council’s budget balancing plan and other identified savings are laid down, the Church Central Fund must find further savings totalling approximately one million euros. To balance the Church's finances, the Church Council must begin co-determination negotiations for financial or production reasons. 

The Committee for Financial Affairs is allowing the Church Council’s potential personnel cost savings to be extended to 2023 and 2024. For this reason, the Central Church Fund’s budget deficit for 2023 is allowed to reach a maximum of 300,000 euros. 

The Church Central Fund will receive 118.9 million euros from the Government in 2022. Of this, 109.5 million will be distributed among the parishes in proportion with each municipality’s population.  Approximately seven million will be used for upkeep of parish buildings and items of cultural and historical significance, and a further two million will be invested in the maintenance and development of the Church’s membership data system, Kirjuri.

Included in the Central Church Fund’s budget is the strategy implementation programme the Church launched in 2021, along with a new translation of the Old Testament into a mobile environment as a new project. Some 3.4 million euros are reserved for spearhead projects and other non-recurring costs, such as synodal meetings and parish elections.

Additional godparents for adults proposal moves forward  

The General Synod decided to ask the Church Council to prepare a proposal on amending the Church Order so that baptised adults could be granted a maximum of two godparents after baptism if there was a special reason for doing so.  

At the moment, only children can be granted godparents after baptism. The proposal suggests that the right to additional godparents be extended to cover all baptised members of the Church. This right would only be applied under special circumstances and if it is requested by the baptised person or their parents and approved by the vicar of the parish in question.  

The committee that processed the matter saw no theological or other reasons not to grant baptised adults additional godparents after baptism. Not only are these godparents not required to be present at the baptism, but they can also help the baptised person grow in their faith and walk alongside the person on their spiritual path.