Fostering a mission-shaped culture of hope
SYNODArchbishop Philip Freier’s address to the Melbourne Synod, Wednesday 14 October 2015
October 15 2015
Let me first acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations, the traditional owners of this land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
Welcome to this third session of the 51st Synod of the Diocese of Melbourne.
And I commence with these words of prayer in the Woi Wurrung language that were first sung as a hymn at the Merri Creek School over 150 years ago.
Pundgul Marman, bar marnameek
Nerrembee borun, yellenwa nulworthen bopup Koolinner
‘O God, Lord God bless your Aboriginal people always’
RECONCILIATION ACTION PLAN
Firstly, I make three comments about Reconciliation.
Since we met for the special meeting of Synod in June we have proceeded with the launch of our Diocese’s RAP or Reconciliation Action Plan at a service here in St Paul’s Cathedral on 30 July 2015. The Reverend Helen Dwyer has been appointed as Aboriginal Reconciliation Liaison Officer. We will hear more about Helen’s work over the next couple of days.
Secondly, in the reordering of episcopal responsibilities into three new episcopates I am glad that here has been a generous reception of three Woi Wurrung words to name each episcopate. They are named Marmingatha, Jumbunna and Oodthenong. The meaning of these three words when taken together, reaffirm our vision statement from Colossians 1.25, ‘Making the word of God fully known’. These were chosen in consultation with Aunty Di Kerr of the Wurundjeri people, and use her ancestral Woi Wurrung language. Marmingatha, means “supreme being” and was used as the name for God by the first Christian Missionaries to the Wurundjeri people, Jumbunna means “proclamation” and Oodthenong means “gathering”.
I don’t want to make too much of it but the usage of both the word ‘episcopate’ as attributing to all of the responsibilities of the ministry of a bishop and these three Woi Wurrung words signify a fresh engagement of our ministry with all that is past and all that lies before us. By linking the word episcopate, with these three Indigenous words meaning ‘Supreme Being’, ‘Proclamation’ and ‘Gathering’ I want to develop this concept of ‘episcopate’ as a more dynamic concept than we might encounter from dictionary definitions. We are not about conquering territory or even occupying it with our structures in some sort of Christendom model. Instead we seek to bring the whole ministry of God declared in Jesus Christ to people who otherwise would not know the mercy and grace of God in Christ.
Thirdly, I share with you an ongoing burden. I remain exercised by the failure of our nation to remember the 30,000 Aboriginal people who died defending their land in the frontier wars that accompanied European settlement of Australia. I look forward to the day when we can make a proper recognition of their heroism and love for this land by a suitable commemoration. I have been in conversation with the Dean about how we might lead the way with a memorial in this very Cathedral.
BISHOP JOHN HARROWER
As you know from our liturgical commissioning in the Synod Eucharist Bishop John Harrower commenced as Bishop assisting the Primate earlier this month. Bishop John’s support will help me in managing my duties as I serve the national Church and in my ongoing leadership of our Diocese. I warmly welcome Bishop John and his wife Gayelene back to Melbourne and to ministry amongst us.
REVIEW OF STRATEGIC DIRECTION AND STRATEGIC ENABLERS
As we are in the last session of the 51st Synod, I will focus on some of the milestones of the period of this synod and our present challenges. We, as an elected body of lay representatives and of clergy office holders, are responsible for the wider mission of our church and we have taken some bold steps. We have commenced a process to mission shape our structures and focus on growth, we have registered our diocese as a Corporation, we are driving a growing multicultural ministry and we are changing the culture of our Diocese to be permeated with a culture of hope. We face many challenges: budget constraints, increasing compliance requirements, responding to the several Royal Commissions and Parliamentary Enquiries, the changing requirements of our parishes regarding ministry towards families and youth, facilitating multicultural ministry and improving infrastructure. We have also been faced with political, economical, environmental and social challenges as a community. I don’t want to dwell on the challenges at this point excessively but they have been and will continue to be demanding.
I take this opportunity of personally appreciating all who have been in the centre of this work – our Registrar Ken Spackman, my Executive Officer Naomi Nayagam and all of our diocesan staff. I especially thank the members of Archbishop in Council and its Committees who make an enormous contribution to many of the achievements from behind the scenes. Amongst these volunteers, our Chancellor, Deputy Chancellor and Advocate contribute enormously to the quality of our processes and decision making. Thank you all, in your parishes and ministries, for embracing the challenge to ‘Make the Word of God fully known.’
We were formed as a diocese in 1847. In God’s grace there has been a great crowd of faithful witnesses to our Lord Jesus Christ who have from then to the present day laid the foundations for Anglican ministry in Melbourne and Geelong. Since we last met in June I have participated in a number of anniversary celebrations and the opening of new buildings. In that short time I have been involved in the dedication of a new chapel at Korowa Anglican Girls School, buildings at Janet Clarke Hall, St John’s Highton and Christ Church Essendon. I was glad to bless the new clergy holiday apartments at Cowes. There were Centenary celebrations at St Thomas’ Langwarrin, 150 years at Stephen’s Mt Waverley and 165 years of Anglican ministry at St Paul’s Westmeadows. This is only a brief account of what has happened just in my diary let alone in all of your diaries since we met at the special session of Synod in June. My diary is just a small slice of the continuing initiative and endurance in ministry that is a very regular part of the experience of the people and bishops of this diocese. We build our own lives as Christians on the life and witness of all those who in their day and circumstances shared and lived our common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
These are challenging times for the church but also full of opportunities. Melbourne and Geelong are growing rapidly, including growth from those who have migrated from interstate and overseas. The population growth of our city stretches the capacity of all entities – government included. The provision of infrastructure, service and facilities is much thinner in the growth areas compared with more established areas. If this growth is happening too fast for Local, State and Federal Governments to keep up with, imagine the challenges we face in ensuring that we have presence and ministry in these growth areas.
Our task is to use our limited resources as effectively as we can, so that we can be proactive in new and growing communities. What an encouragement to see some established parishes coming forward to support the growth of ministry into areas that reach beyond their strictly parochial responsibility! We have seen this generosity at work with St John’s Diamond Creek working to establish the ministry at Mernda and Glen Waverley parish taking the initiative of working with Bishop Paul in the establishment of ministry at Officer. St Hilary’s Kew and St Jude’s Carlton have been active in giving birth to new ministries at Merri Creek and Kensington respectively. I think that you know that City on a Hill Authorised Anglican Congregation has initiated new ministries at Geelong and High Point. St John’s Camberwell has invested in the growth of the Indonesian ministry there. I am delighted to say that the list goes on!
The mission minded policies that the Archbishop in Council of the 50th Synod put in place means that we have the possibility of redeploying financial resources from redundant property into the property and buildings needed for new initiatives: new initiatives in growth areas as well as in established parishes. Those policies guide the deployment of resources from the Church Extension and Development Fund or CEDF as we usually refer to it. Through that means we have purchased a house as the first stage of the church planting initiative at Mernda. Moreover, just this year we have settled on the purchase of land for a church and ministry centre. At Officer we purchased a house from CEDF funds. The growth of this ministry has meant the fledgling congregation has moved from only meeting at the vicarage to joining at a larger site, a kindergarten for its meetings and worship. Memorably, the church celebrated their first baptism service. Among its ministries, the work at Officer, known locally as ‘Harvest’ has a missional community intentionally seeking to create a place of belonging and discipleship.
We do not have a reliable means of funding the operational side of ministry initiatives apart from the partnerships I mentioned and the resources that can be released locally. For this reason we must build our financial endowments as well as manage our growth of costs effectively. In this way we can reach a place where we have both capital and operational resources to deploy for these initiatives. Our budget polices and the Mission Shaped Structures review will, I believe, move us further towards this position. I recognise that we are coming off an historically low base of financial resources for these purposes compared with some other capital city dioceses. The challenge remains. We are addressing it.
We have some good examples of deploying CEDF resources as grants in combination with parishioner giving and loaned funds for the expansion of older church facilities to meet growth area demands. St John’s Cranbourne is a good example where an entirely new worship centre has been constructed in relationship with the historic church. The development of the old parish hall into a top-class community centre is nearly finished. I mentioned earlier St John’s Highton where better parish facilities will help its outreach into the Geelong growth areas. St Mary’s Sunbury is well-advanced with plans for a complete redevelopment of the parish site as a base for outreach into that part of the growth corridor. St Thomas’ Werribee continues to develop its precinct redeployment plans on this financial model. Other examples could be given. This is a sound strategy. We will continue to invest in the transformation of the ministry of churches swallowed up by urban growth, into new centres that will be springboards for further growth. This strategy is not without its demands on the generosity of the parishioners of these parishes and on the leadership of the clergy who serve both the needs of current members and lead outreach into these new communities.
The contribution of the Anglican Development Fund, the ADF, remains significant, although largely unheralded in these initiatives. During the 2014 to 2015 financial year it is estimated that just the saving on interest that resulted from borrowing from the ADF compared with borrowing from commercial banks resulted in a $400,000 benefit. $225,000 of this benefit was attributable to parish loans, $100,000 to the work of the Anglican Diocesan Schools Commission and $75,000 to initiatives within the broader diocesan activity arena. Lending rates from ADF are at a record low of 4.75% and a new green loan product is available without the need for deposit support for loans up to $30,000 for capital expenditure to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. Please continue to give ADF your confident support and encourage your parish treasurer to take advantage of the cheque account facilities offered by ADF and move all of your deposits to the ADF.
I want to look at one of our initiatives, the parish renewal program in two parts ; firstly where we are up to with this work operationally, and secondly give a summary of a research paper that evaluated its effectiveness.
Parish Renewal: Operational news
I am encouraged that nearly a quarter of the parishes of the diocese have taken part in the two-year parish renewal program led by Ken Morgan and Carol Clark, 46 parishes in all! 26 parishes have graduated, and 17 are currently involved, 3 others withdrew before the conclusion of the two years. The program helps parishes understand their present situation and develop strategies to reach our vision of ‘Making the word of God fully known’.
The first cohort in 2011 was among mid-sized churches with weekly attendances of 70 to 120. The 2012 cohort involved larger churches with an average of 130 to 150 people attending worship each Sunday. The 2013 cohort consisted of family-sized churches with attendance of 35 to 50 people. The bigger churches found growth easier, as shown in numbers and percentage terms. Small churches gained a significant number of new people measured by those who began coming during the program and attended at least three times a year. The smaller churches often lost more people through death, incapacity or moving on to residential care, than the new people who joined. There remain real challenges for these family-sized churches growing beyond 50 and reaching a weekly attendance figure of 70 that generally means full-time clergy ministry is more likely to be supported. Because of these challenges we are trialling the extension of the parish renewal program to a three-year period rather than concluding participation after two years.
The Parish Renewal Program, is organised around the concept of ‘Pathways’. This is about discovering if there are the necessary elements in a parish to enable the transitions at their various stages from no involvement with Christian faith or the Church, through to active discipleship. The program encourages clergy and parish lay leaders to analyse their situation and discover how their activity contributes to such a Pathway, or alternatively may be unlikely to contribute to discipleship growth. An important learning through the parish renewal program is that churches that deliberately narrowed their mission focus as a result of this approach and specifically targeted their resources to those purposes grew more consistently than those that did not. Pathways has provided a common language to talk about the church as a community-in-mission, intentionally reaching out to the unchurched, and goes well beyond aspirations of merely being a welcoming community to those who come, important as that is, and hoping that will be sufficient.
Leadership is generally acknowledged to be a point of leverage in most fields of life, it is perhaps even more important in parishes in our task of proclamation of the gospel and the gathering of communities for worship and outreach. This is embraced in the parish renewal program through coaching, which has generally been well received and has helped increase vitality in parish ministry.
Research and the Bishop Perry Institute
Secondly we are carrying forward research on the parish renewal program. Another plank of the approach that you have confirmed at previous synods has been about fostering research on topics that are likely to have an impact on the vitality of mission and ministry in our diocese and more widely. I was very interested to read some of the findings of the research carried out through the Bishop Perry Institute by Richard Trist, Dean of the Anglican Institute at Ridley College. Richard’s research shows that the parish renewal program has had a positive impact on average Sunday attendance. Parishes that were growing continued to grow, while those that were static or in decline began to grow, particularly attracting families and children.
Richard sets out to find what missional effectiveness means and how it can be measured, and what impact the pilot program made in the life of the parish and the leaders, especially those being coached. He also asked if the program worked better within particular church traditions or socio-economic contexts.
He found that all the parishes studied experienced significant changes. The benefits included new programs to connect with the wider community, new strategies to welcome newcomers, and restructuring leadership around pathways to discipleship. The parishes were also able to improve integration and ministry with people from other cultural backgrounds, and re-examine how they used the parish buildings for mission.
Judging from National Church Life Survey findings from the parishes before and after the program, it helped improve parish health and vitality in four ways. It inspired and empowered the leadership, it made service more practical and diverse, it increased willing and effective faith-sharing, and it improved intentional and welcoming inclusion.
Richard concluded that the parish renewal program has been highly effective in encouraging and improving missional engagement. The evidence for this conclusion is found in the growth in average Sunday attendance, in new initiatives to connect with the wider community, a new focus and intentionality for clergy and developing skills and gifts among lay leaders. He found that there have been positive changes to the “missional DNA” of the parishes, with more members willing to share their faith and welcome newcomers. His report along with other important other research is available on the Bishop Perry Institute website.
I am sharing these key findings for two reasons, firstly to reflect on the positive impact and see how we can continue this effort, and secondly to emphasis the important role of research conducted by theologians in our Diocese. Feedback is essential for us to learn and improve. I am keen to look at this parish renewal program through a sustainable lens where parishes who are part of the program are empowered to share, learn, train and take on a leadership role. This will also connect to our new culture of mission shaped structures.
The missionary challenges we face now and in the years to come, together with the rapidly changing nature of Christian ministry and the context in which it is conducted, are calling for new thinking, and some new directions, in the way we select, train and deploy clergy. Already a range of initiatives are taking shape, in consultation with the training colleges and others concerned. We expect these initiatives will result in the development and implementation of significant changes to the training and formation of new clergy over the course of the next two years.
Shaping the training and ministry experience we provide to candidates and their alignment to vocational pathways to ministry is important. The vocation to be a parish priest remains at the core of our program. The new model being developed will seek to be capable of adapting training, ministry placements, and ultimately the deployment of clergy, more clearly in line with the discerned vocation of the candidate – whether that is to a parish setting, in forms of pioneer and other innovative ministries, in chaplaincies of various kinds, or to the distinctive diaconate. This reflects the diversity and variety of the ministries already present in our diocese, and which will be, increasingly evident, and needed, in the years to come.
It is possible, as part of the initiatives being contemplated, that longer apprenticeship-style ministry placements may be introduced, whilst also retaining shorter placements in different ministry contexts to reflect the diversity of the church and its ministry. The intention will be to ensure our candidates, and our future clergy, are prepared as adequately as possible for the ministries they will have, and for the rapidly changing nature of both the church, and the context in which we conduct our mission. Rigorous processes will continue to be applied, of course, in regards to the selection of candidates for ordination, and the academic standards and requirements will continue to be high. The initiatives being explored will have the further aim of seeking to add to this - equally rigorous processes and standards in regards to both the actual experience of ministry provided to candidates, and to the formation of candidates as persons in ministry.
We are fortunate to have some informative research available to the Synod about vocational and other matters for clergy ordained in this diocese between 1970 and 2013.
One further initiative that warrants brief mention in the context of theological education, is the now well developed plan for the introduction of a diocesan program of professional development next year. To be called Ongoing Ministry Development, a suite of training opportunities will be offered for both clergy and laypeople in a variety of areas of ministry - such as, leading and participating in services of worship, music, pastoral care, preaching, and others. The development of this program recognises that all involved in Christian ministry, laypeople and clergy, are called to continuous lifelong learning. We are to improve the gifts and abilities we have for the advancement of God’s mission in the world.
Multicultural ministry as a strategic emphasis in the Diocese of Melbourne has its origins during the episcopate of Archbishop David Penman and in particular with the launching of the report A Garden of Many Colours in 1985. I consider our multicultural ministry as something that we ought to celebrate. In less than a decade, the number of congregations where a language other than English predominates has nearly doubled, from 23 in 2007 to 43 today, with 70 clergy. Together they account for a fifth of all worshippers in the diocese each Sunday, and the number is growing fast. This ministry is one of the four strategic directions we are following, and was the subject of a clergy conference last year on the church in the Asian century. We need to affirm cultural diversity, celebrating it where it exists and encouraging it where it does not. Walk around this cathedral on any day of the week, and you cannot help but see the immense cultural diversity of this marvellous city. You will also see the great openness of people from all of these cultural and linguistic groups as people kneel here in prayer and meet faith in Jesus in the daily proclamation and celebrations of this place.
The second and third largest migration groups to Melbourne are from India and China, and both are well represented in our multicultural congregations. Three non-English language congregations were opened this year, including a Mandarin-speaking congregation here at St Paul’s. It became the ninth Chinese congregation in the diocese. These multicultural groups form Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking Chinese congregations, Tamil and Malayalam congregations for people with a South Indian background, plus Indonesian, Pakistani and Karen congregations. Sudanese people are catered for in congregations speaking five different languages, and there are also Samoan, Tongan and Maori groups. A ministry to French speakers has commenced at St Mary’s South Camberwell. Still more multicultural congregations are being planned for and coordinated by the Reverend Glenn Buijs. Meanwhile, we are also planning to help the existing congregations with governance and finance as they work towards integration with the wider life of the Diocese.
Planning the reorganisation of the diocese to shape it better for mission has commenced and I anticipate this to be a process of about two years. This will involve cultural as well as organisational change.
I think that many of you here will be aware of the way episcopal responsibilities are now distributed. Bishops Paul, Philip and Genieve carefully worked through the options in discussion with the Archdeacons and developed the parish responsibilities for each episcopate. Chaplaincy ministries have also participated. I am grateful for Archdeacon Jan Crombie accepting the responsibility for being the Senior Staff member liaising with Health and Criminal Justice Chaplains and for Bishop Lindsay Urwin’s eagerness to have the link role for School Chaplains upon his return to Australia and recent induction into the incumbency of Christ Church Brunswick. What has been developed is the result of an intentional process involving extensive consultation. I summarised the extent of the consultation in the President’s address at the June synod so will not repeat it here. Naturally enough change has produced some discomfort, as well as hope and optimism, but I am confident we will have a more streamlined and effective diocese to strive for the goal we all share – advancing the Kingdom of God. We must not lose sight of the fact that these practical structural reforms have a spiritual goal.
We have worked to integrate the roles of Bishops, Archdeacons and Area Deans better. They are working together with clarity and mutual reliance. Another priority has been to provide structures so that the Assistant Bishops can give more focus to strategic missional leadership and greater pastoral engagement with clergy. We have already commenced leveraging the skills of the non-territorial Archdeacons as they work alongside the territorial Archdeacons on identified parish renewal initiatives. This improved use of talent will free our senior clergy leaders from some of their administrative responsibilities in the areas of property and finances to allow them to focus on missional leadership. We are soon to finalise the revised position descriptions for both Archdeacons and Area Deans and have started recruiting with these new goals in mind.
The wellbeing of clergy is an important priority for the diocese and I have been keen to see this area of focus developed. A healthy, mission-shaped church needs well-equipped, confident and healthy clergy. I have consulted widely to understand the needs and gaps, and some themes have emerged. We have developed a framework for clergy wellbeing that has seven dimensions: spiritual, physical, social, financial, governance, learning and psychology. The available resources have been identified and even as this proceeded we found that people quickly identified new resources once they saw the framework. A new model of governance was also set in place, where the Assistant Bishops and the Area Deans work together to advocate for strong clergy wellbeing outcomes. Archdeacon Brad Billings is coordinating this initiative as well as reviewing clergy appraisal and continuing education processes.
Recently the bishops made wellbeing the topic of both clergy conferences held this year. Session topics at the Point Lonsdale Conference which was attended by nearly 100 people included: “Clergy wellbeing, what I have learned so far”, “Human beings and the human Jesus in the drama of salvation” and “Social cohesion”.
In terms of physical needs, I was delighted to bless the recently completed clergy holiday units at Cowes. The units provide a place of rest and refreshment for clergy and laypeople across the diocese. This facility is in addition to the Point Lonsdale accommodation that also forms part of the Rose and Latham Trust that underpins this aspect of our clergy wellbeing efforts. Once again, we have these great facilities because of the generosity of church members from an earlier generation. This is a great blessing and the Diocese has stewarded this inheritance well. We are privileged to have this opportunity of offering holiday accommodation at a greatly reduced price compared with similar commercial properties.
The Assistant Bishops met with me and the Area Deans to consider social aspects of wellbeing. We heard the grassroots concerns and have been able to plan a suite of resources to provide support. The Area Deans shared many working models of peer support groups, where the clergy of the deanery meet for prayer, reflection and information sharing. Most deaneries meet monthly, where some meet over lunch and others in the evening. I urge all clergy to be part of their deanery activity and proactively engage in deanery peer support led by the Area Deans.
It is apparent that deaneries are ideally placed to act as centres of pastoral care and prayer. As Bishop Philip told the June Synod, Area Deans have a clear role. He said consultation has shown the need for good mentors and spiritual direction for clergy, and also for honest conversations about the difficulties facing the church and clergy.
The diocesan plan for clergy wellbeing will grow as additional resources are developed and as we refine our understanding of the challenges.
MISSION SHAPED REVIEW OF DIOCESAN OPERATIONS
To provide the best mission-shaped structures significant strategic changes were introduced this month as an interim change process. The entire structure reflects a significant change in pursuit of the objectives endorsed by this Synod in June. We are modifying internal structures into three ‘Mission Shaping’ tasks led by Archdeacon Brad Billings, Ken Spackman and Naomi Nayagam. They will carry out these tasks at least until the end of 2016 in addition to their substantive roles which I envisage will continue to occupy about 40% of their time. Brad’s role is enlarged to become Director of Theological Education and Wellbeing. Ken Spackman in addition to his statutory role as Registrar and responsibility for Budget will take responsibility for Parish and Ministry Support. Naomi Nayagam will add Director of Business Services to her responsibilities in my office. This means that we have fresh eyes looking over all aspects of our diocesan operations and contributing to the shaping of the management and reporting structure. I trust this will be more settled by the end of next year with some elements of mission shaping continuing in to 2017.
Now here’s something you might not have expected! One change you may welcome is a review of all diocesan-led meetings so that we can halve the time required! How about that? This will free up time and resources to focus on mission.
The review of diocesan-led meetings will be accompanied by the planned review of the Vision and Directions strategy.
MELBOURNE ANGLICAN DIOCESAN CORPORATION (MADC)
I am pleased to inform you that the MADC was registered this month with the three founding Directors, the Chancellor, the Advocate and myself. The founding Company Secretary is Ken Spackman. The founding directors will remain in those roles until the initial Members Meeting, when new Directors will be elected after consideration of a skills matrix. The MADC implementation is being rolled out as a project with a plan focusing on governance, finance and payroll and necessary technical support from IT. The Audit and Risk Committee have played a crucial advisory role in helping us weigh the options during this time of transition. We are on track for a staged implementation commencing on 1 January 2016. This is an important step in the life and work of our Diocese for all of the reasons discussed at the Synod this time last year and at our June special Synod.
Some of the strengths we build on are our rich heritage, our excellent human resources and expertise, and our drive to reform to achieve our vision. At the same time, we need to recognise some of our weaknesses and work towards improvement. We have many challenges and constraints related to budget, demanding schedules and prioritisation of our work.
There are opportunities of which we can take advantage: our potential role in the growth corridors, policy reform and resource allocation for schools, prisons and health facilities, and being a voice for the voiceless especially for the marginalised and struggling families. A number of recent studies including from Anglicare Australia show how the living standards of the poorest people in our society are declining. We also need to be mindful of the turbulent political scene, challenges of climate change, economic downturn and the ever increasing social problems of family violence and drug abuse.
We are in uncharted territory in relationship to our dealings with government at many levels. I thought that it was remarkable that the State Government announced without any consultation that Special Religious Instruction was being eliminated from class time from the beginning of the 2016 school year. It was even more remarkable that this announcement was mentioned in passing in a media release from the Education Minister James Merlino about introducing, “respectful relationships education into the school curriculum … to support students to learn how to build healthy relationships, understand global cultures, ethics and traditions, and to prevent family violence.” I wrote to the Premier expressing my disappointment with the decision and the lack of consultation that had led to it. Even the main provider of SRI resources, ACCESS Ministries only learned about the decision the day before it was released.
I don’t think that this is an isolated decision even though it reverses more than a century of constructive community engagement by members of our church in the government schools of our state. In entire areas where it might have been thought that the Church has constructive contributions to make to social policy we are sidelined. It is clear that the Church will sometimes have a different voice in these matters to others but not engaging that voice in the conversation is a retrograde step and will not add to community wellbeing and harmony. The proposed changes to the Marriage Act to widen its scope beyond marriage between women and men comes to mind as another example. It is the case that the formal teaching of our church is at odds with many in the community but it is still vital that we are involved in the discussion. The political climate does not seem to be amenable to making that space. It is undoubted that even in this gathering of Anglicans there would be a range of diverse opinions on this and other matters. I do not expect that the views of church members will all be the same on any contentious issue, but I am grateful for your support when I put the position of the Church forward.
I am very appreciative of the work of the members of our Social Responsibilities Commission. They have made submissions this year on Domestic Violence to the Victorian Royal Commission and on End of Life Choices to the Victorian Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee. I also remain grateful to the conversationalists who participate in the Breakfast Conversations now held on four occasions a year at Deakin Edge in Federation Square. Their willingness to join with me and to explore the kind of society we want ours to be, is a refreshing opportunity to examine issues in greater depth than often seems possible in the public media. I hope that it will be of interest to you to know that a range of these conversations has been made available as a book that will be launched during the lunch recess on Saturday. The relentless appetite of the 24 hour news cycle throws up issues one day and buries them in obscurity only days later. The polarisation of views and opinions encourages us all to trivialise the serious business of our common life as a society and to look only to the drama of personality and who has won or lost a decision. We all deserve better than this and we should all contribute to a better outcome than this.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse continues its work. It had, at the first of this month, held 4,164 private sessions with survivors of child sexual abuse and made 767 referrals to authorities including the police. A public hearing took place in September into Geelong Grammar School. The St Paul’s School, an Anglican school in Brisbane is one of two institutions that are the subject of a public hearing in November.
We have received early advice that a public hearing will take place in January next year on the complaints and redress procedures in Anglican dioceses. The report on Redress and Civil Litigation has been made public and the Royal Commission Working Group of the General Synod is in the process of framing recommendations for the General Synod Standing Committee on how the Church should respond.
The work of the Provincial Working Group on Professional Standards led by Bishop Andrew Curnow and our Chancellor Michael Shand QC, in establishing uniform legislation and a common corporate vehicle to deliver both professional standards and redress services will I believe be very valuable to the Church nationally. The company is still to be named, but perhaps something like ‘Anglican Church Standards and Redress Scheme Ltd’. It will provide a best practice process, independent of any particular diocese, of responding to complaints and assisting survivors of child sexual abuse obtain redress.
We hope that an interim redress scheme will be operational and available to survivors of child sexual abuse in the first half of 2016 in the Province of Victoria and hopefully in other dioceses and Anglican institutions later that year.
I also commend to you the Bills before Synod on Episcopal Standards as part of the Church’s commitment to be transparent and accountable in this area. They give effect to the resolution of General Synod in 2014 approving a model Episcopal Standards ordinance.
A CULTURE OF HOPE
St Paul said in Romans 5, ‘we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God’ and ‘hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’ Just from this brief reference it is easy to see that Christian hope is based only on the completed works of God in Christ. Christian hope looks towards the last things when Jesus comes with the new heavens and the new earth to fully disclose the completeness of his Kingdom. It is also personal and immediate, a gift of God through the Spirit to animate and fill our lives. Known within and looking towards the victory of God over all that is marred by sin, it is clear that Christian hope is no ordinary attitude of the human mind. Nor is it a delusion, a pretending things were otherwise than they are instead, it is a deep knowing and acting in the reality of the power of God and the purposes of God. That is why I want this culture of hope to permeate the life we have together. We are more than our weakness and our failures; we are new people in Christ! In the words of 1 John 3.2, “…we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
May our Synod be filled with this kind of hope as we look to the Spirit’s presence amongst us. May Christ work within and between us so that we exceed our limitations of vision to reach for great things in his name. May God the Father be glorified in all we say and do. Amen.
The Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne meets on the nights of Thursday 15 and Friday 16 October and all day on Saturday 17 October. For news from the meeting, visit http://tma.melbourneanglican.org.au/news