Old ways ‘will not do’ for Anglicans in fast-changing cities, Synod told

Adaptive mission strategies are needed if church is to reach growing, changing populations.

The Revd Craig Ogden from Plentylife

A key issue for the future of the Anglican Church is not decline but community engagement: the Revd Craig Ogden from Plentylife, on Melbourne's
growing northern fringe.

By Mark Brolly

October 16 2015New expressions of Anglicanism are needed if the Church is to reach a rapidly growing and changing population in outer metropolitan areas and in medium- and high-density housing closer to the centre of Melbourne and Geelong, the annual Synod of the Diocese of Melbourne was told on 15 October.

Archdeacon Richard Condie of Melbourne told the Synod at St Paul's Cathedral that adaptive mission strategies were needed and that "the old forms of the way we have done things will not do for the next generation".

"Australian society is undergoing rapid change," he said. "The strong push to secularism, the marginalisation of the Christian voice in the public square and the shifts in demographic patterns in our cities in this Diocese are just a few of the challenges we face."

Vast new suburbs and sub-divisions in the outer metropolitan areas, massive urban in-fill in inner-city industrial land that developers converted to medium- and high-density housing that led to "vertical communities" rather than the horizontal sprawl of the past combined with a multicultural revolution that was changing the shape of the city were all challenges for the traditional parish-based model of the Church.

"We need as many pathways as we can find to provide churches in our growth corridors, in our urban renewal areas and middle suburbs and among ethnic groups if our mission is to keep pace with the growth of the city," he said.

"My hope and desire is that over the next decade, we will see lots more vibrant and new expressions of Anglicanism, more church plants and new congregations that represent the breadth of the diocesan life and our various cultural and ethnic groups.

"There are so many people to reach and we need more people to reach them."

Archdeacon Condie, who is Vicar of St Jude's Carlton, was moving amending legislation to the Parish Governance Act covering "Authorised Anglican Congregations" (AACs), which he said would provide good governance for ministry innovation so that new congregations could be encouraged and formed with confidence.

"It has a mixture of flexibility and accountability that hopefully will allow these ministries to flourish."

The Revd Craig Ogden seconded the motion and said the key issue for the future of the Anglican Church was not decline but community engagement. Eighty per cent of Australians were spiritually curious but would never set foot in a church or attend a church worship service.

Mr Ogden is Priest-in-charge of Mernda and Doreen Anglican Church, known as Plentylife, on Melbourne's rapidly growing northern fringe. He told Synod that Plentylife would mark its fifth birthday in February 2016 and would not have existed, and lives would not have been changed, without the support of the Diocese.

"This legislation supports new church initiatives in a clear and transparent way."

Ms Jan McCallum, of Christ Church Brunswick, questioned the relationship of AACs to existing parishes and said that if a new congregation or ministry were to exist in a geographical area of the Diocese, it should be designated as a parish with a responsibility to minister to all people in that area.

Archdeacon Condie said he understood the anxiety about new congregations being established within existing parish boundaries but noted that “innovation rarely comes from the centre”.

Debate ensued about the location of a congregation's worship centre, office and clergy residence -- and about what names such congregations could be called. One of the best-known AACs is City on a Hill, which has congregations in central Melbourne, Geelong and Maribyrnong, two of which meet in cinemas.

The Revd Tim Anderson, Vicar of St John's Healesville, said the Church "needed to be a bit edgy" and he didn't really care whether a congregation was called Metropolis on a Mountain or Village in a Valley. He noted that some parishes already had changed their names for "good and Godly reasons', citing GWAC (Glen Waverley Anglican Church), RAFT (Rowville and Ferntree Gully Anglican Church) and CHAWPAC (Croydon Hills and Wonga Park Anglican Church).

But the Revd Dr David Powys, Vicar of St John's Cranbourne with Christ Church Tooradin, said AACs were in some cases a means of transition for people and that they should be very careful "not to, in any way, discredit or despise the things that are really good about Anglicanism at its parish best".

Synod approved the legislation on the voices in both the houses of clergy and laity and applauded when Archbishop Philip Freier, as President of Synod, declared it passed.

The Synod also passed amendments to the landmark Parish Governance Act it adopted in 2013. Introducing the amendments, the Revd Dr Brad Billings, Director of Theological Education, said they followed feedback and suggestions from many people across the Diocese after two years' operation of the Act.

"I think it is fair to say that the amendments being introduced are not major, and that the Act as a whole has not required major revision," Dr Billings said.

Synod also:

* Formally adopted two motions on family violence, including a call to all parishes to consider ways they could reduce the level of violence in their own communities through education and participation in "active bystander" workshops, by speaking out against violence against women and children, and by establishing partnerships with Anglican agencies to provide resources for victims;

* Expressed concern about proposals to cut penalty rates for Sunday work to the level of Saturday work "ignoring the still widely held preference of the community for Sunday as a shared day of social rest, a shared day of worship for many, and the importance of extra compensation for those deprived of this, often amongst poorer members of the community";

* Urged parishes to use the submission of the Social Responsibilities Committee of the Diocese to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into End-of-Life Choices in discussions on the issues of treatment withdrawal, Advance Care Planning, palliative care and euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide;

* Expressed its great concern and disappointment about the lack of systemic commitment in the Diocese to advance a 2010 resolution to ensure full participation in the life of the Church by people with disabilities, their families and carers;

* Recognised "the current stresses and opportunities in rural and regional Victoria", called on parishes and organisations in the Diocese to establish relationships with parishes there, and commended the work of the Bush Church Aid Society; and

* Paid tribute to prominent church historian and advocate for women's ministry, Dr Muriel Porter OAM, who has resigned from Synod after 31 years.