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New man responsible for Synod in no hurry to ring in changes

Registrar Michael Urwin will oversee operations behind the scenes

New Registrar Michael Urwin hopes to help foster a spirit of cooperation in the diocese.

By Mark Brolly

October 15 2019When members of Melbourne Synod gather for their annual meeting this month, there will be a new person in charge of making sure all goes smoothly. But don't expect any dramatic changes to the Synod format from the new Registrar, Mr Michael Urwin, who will be overseeing operations behind the scenes for the first time since he followed Mr Ken Spackman – who remains CEO of the Melbourne Anglican Diocesan Corporation – on 1 July, when preparations for this year's Synod had already commenced.

“There is something to be said for observing how things operate as a new pair of eyes in terms of behind the scenes and then sitting down and reviewing, ‘Well, why do we do things that way? Why don’t we do things in another way?’” Mr Urwin told TMA seven weeks before Synod Opening Eucharist at St Paul's Cathedral on 16 October. “But also be very respectful of the nature of how Synod must work.

“And so really in this first period in my role as Registrar, I think it’s a bit early to be determining how things might change into the future.”

Mr Urwin may be new to the role of Registrar, but he is steeped in the life of the Anglican Church as the brother of two bishops serving in the diocese -- Bishop Kate Prowd of Oodthenong Episcopate and Bishop Lindsay Urwin, Vicar of Christ Church Brunswick -- a member of Archbishop-in-Council for the past six years, Chair of Anglican aged care provider Benetas, Headmaster of Brighton Grammar for 18 years, former Chair of the Diocesan Schools Commission, Vicar's Warden at St Silas' and St Anselm's in Albert Park until his appointment as Registrar -- and as a former Synod member himself.

“Apart from once when I reported on Anglican Schools, I think I’ve only actually gone to the floor microphone once in my time as a Synod representative and I have to admit, I was shaking like a leaf,” he said. “I ended up speaking for a fraction long and so I had to ask for an extension, which fortunately was granted ... But that made me understand how much courage it takes actually to go to the microphone because some of us are more articulate than others and some of us enjoy that spotlight more than others. But the basics of how Synod works, I think, are appropriate. I think we have to be mindful of how do we hear the voice of the silent majority.”

Other than his Synod duties, Mr Urwin's responsibilities include keeping accurate records and overseeing clearances for clergy and church volunteers, tasks whose importance was highlighted by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He is also due to take over responsibility for the Governance Secretariat -- which is responsible for the smooth and effective work of Archbishop-in-Council, which oversees the governance of the diocese between Synod meetings -- from Bishop Brad Billings.

Mr Urwin described growing up in Olinda and Mont Albert as “very normal” for an Anglican in the late 1950s until the mid-1960s, including obligatory Sunday school.

“Although it was never said, I think our parents felt that once we were confirmed, it then became our choice as to whether we were to have a continuing involvement in the Church. In actual fact, whilst Kate and Lindsay both kept their involvement continuously, other (family) members … really didn’t have much involvement once we were confirmed. Obviously I was attending and Anglican school (Camberwell Grammar) so there was an exposure to a developing understanding of Christianity and faith but pretty tenuous in many ways.

“To be honest with you, it was only when I came back to Melbourne to be Headmaster of Brighton Grammar that I really consciously and in a deep way re-engaged with the Church. And part of that, in reality, was the role of being headmaster of an Anglican school and Brighton Grammar is right next door to St Andrew’s Church, so I was a parishioner of St Andrew’s Church for a long time.

“It wasn’t just that that really began to confirm my faith, it was also participating in chapel services at school. I remember one moment in particular, Fr Graeme Brennan was our chaplain at the time, where in a particular service – and Brighton Grammar in those days had a compulsory chapel service for all boys in the Senior School once a week – and in one of the services, Graeme decided to do a meditation. As Headmaster, I sat in the Vicar’s seat, so right in front of the boys and very exposed, and I was thinking to myself: ‘This could be an absolute disaster. He’s going to ask the boys to meditate, everyone will close their eyes and then some boys will start making a few funny sounds.’ In that first time, I was on the edge of my seat waiting and nothing happened and in reality, I did not meditate myself. By about the third or fourth time, I realised I didn’t need to be anxious about how the boys were responding.

“I thought, ‘No, I’m going to do this myself’, and that was a significant moment for me because I suddenly began to hear the magpies outside the church singing and I realised then that I had perhaps become much stronger in my preparedness to embrace my own faith and part of it of course is, I think, a principal of an Anglican school needs to be a role model. My son, who attended Brighton Grammar, said at my farewell function the school gave for me: ‘My father as Headmaster, it didn’t matter whether he hit a note but at least he sang loudly.’ There were times when I thought I was doing somewhat of a solo, singing some of the hymns.

“Being that part of the face of what it was to be an active Anglican in a church was important for the boys to see but it was also important for me to demonstrate.”

His long career in education included a year in Nanjing, China, in 1982 - where he met and married his former wife - under an international teaching exchange program between the Victorian and Jiangsu Provincial governments, four years as Deputy headmaster of Brisbane Grammar, 14 years at his alma mater Camberwell Grammar and, since relinquishing the headmastership of Brighton Grammar, teaching Maths and Chinese part-time at Scotch College.

Mr Urwin's son David is also a teacher.

The role of Registrar is Mr Urwin's first job outside the education sector but he is clear about how he wants to contribute to the Church in Melbourne and Geelong.

“One of the interesting phases we’re in at the moment is trying to ensure that we’re all for the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, no matter what role we have,” he said. “That’s, to my mind in a sense, the umbrella organisation and it’s the cooperative endeavours that go on underneath that umbrella that lead to the success we need to have.

“And whilst I know there have been some issues and perhaps some tensions, one of the things I would like to do is to work to ensure that we actually have a spirit of cooperation to make sure that we share goals, we share aspirations and we work as efficiently as possible in achieving those goals.”