Church to target growth areas, Synod told

Pioneer ministry, fresh expression, to play key roles

Bishop Brad Billings

By Stephen Cauchi

October 20 2017The Anglican Church will target population growth areas such as Melbourne’s outer suburbs with church plants and other ministry initiatives, Melbourne Synod was told this week.

The Parish Governance Bill Amendment was passed by Synod on Wednesday, allowing the Archbishop in Council to “authorise the formation of an Anglican ministry presence in an area of identified strategic importance”.

Assistant Bishop Brad Billings of Monomeeth Episcopate, who moved the motion, said the Anglican Church faced “very significant challenges” brought about by the “continued rapid growth of Melbourne and Geelong”.

“In his Presidential address to this session of Synod, our Archbishop spoke plainly and directly about this challenge,” Dr Billings said.

“What this amendment seeks to do is facilitate the establishment of an Anglican ministry presence in…typically, a new, or projected new, growth area on the urban fringes of Melbourne and Geelong.”

Dr Billings said the ministry presence would take the form of “ a new church plant, a fresh expression of church, or a similar such initiative”.

He said it was important that such initiatives were free of infrastructure.

“We clearly do not have the resources to purchase land and build churches in these new growth areas,” he told Synod, which is meeting at St Paul’s Cathedral this week.

New suburbs were “hard ground” with “few resources”, he said.

But what the Church did have were “people resources - that is, the pioneers, the ministry entrepreneurs, who have the God-given gifts to begin a new ministry.”

Dr Billings said that the Archbishop in Council would shortly publish guidelines including appropriate consultation prior to establishment, the purpose of the new ministry, support for the person leading the ministry, and arrangements for review.

“For many years, as a member of the Synod for more than 15 years now, I have heard pleas that we do something about the missional needs everywhere on the urban fringe and in the new growth areas of our diocese. This is something,” he said.

“It does not require a large capital investment - nothing like the investment that would be needed in terms of land and buildings.

“It simply seeks to create…an environment for pioneers to go out into the mission field and get to work.

“Because as we know, and as our Lord has said, ‘the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few’.”

The motion was debated extensively on the floor of the Synod, with many speaking out both for and against the bill.

Critics of the motion told Synod there was no mention of how the new ministries would work alongside existing parishes and authorised Anglican congregations. Nor was a time period proposed for the length of operation of these ministries.

There were no requirements for consultation with the new ministries, which would face liability and governance issues, the Synod heard.

The new ministries also faced the risk of being ‘half-baked’.

“There is reason to be concerned about such open-ended legislation,” said Suzie Ray, assistant pastor at Oaktree Anglican.

“There’s a lack of consideration…for those of us who already are an active ministry presence in the outer suburbs.

“It lacks consultation and appreciation for what’s already happening and doesn’t reflect partnership with what’s already happening.”

The Revd Margaret Hartley from St John’s in Epping said she strongly opposed the bill. “What about the current ministry which is already happening in these areas? I feel threatened as a vicar to think that anyone might just come in and begin doing ministry things in my parish.”

However, others supported the bill.

“If there’s too much restriction, the pioneers will not want to participate,” said the Revd Dr Peter Carolane of Merri Creek Anglican. “We need to keep it as flexible and free as possible.

“There could be more meat on the bones…but anything to make it easier is a good thing.”

Sister Elisa Helen of Christ Church in Melton said that the “current model of the church is struggling”.

“We need to be open to explore and experiment with different ideas and ways of growing and developing church,” she said.

“We need to free people up to explore of church that can actually complement what we’ve already got and help us to begin to see ways of moving into the modern world.”

Luke Nelson, lead pastor at City On A Hill Melbourne West, said that the population growth on the urban fringe was enormous. “It’s imperative that we do something,” he said.

“I really like this bill because it’s an attempt to really meet the needs of those who are moving [to the urban fringe]. There are so many people there - hundreds of thousands of people - who need to hear the gospel.”

Dr Billings, in response to the concerns raised on the floor of the Synod, said the proposed strategy was “new and different”.

“It’s a risk we need to take,” he said. “It does seek to foster and encourage beginnings. It needs to be flexible, it needs to be adaptable.”

The bill was passed by both the house of clergy and the house of laity.