Opinion

Following where God's call leads

Former ADOM CEO Ken Spackman considers how the Anglican Church might emerge from the pandemic.

By Ken Spackman

October 9 2020Ken Spackman, who stepped down as Chief Executive Officer of the Melbourne Anglican Diocesan Corporation in August, tells Mark Brolly about some of the challenges, privileges and achievements of his time in the diocese, and considers how the Church, and Anglicanism in particular, might look when it emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Was there anything that surprised you about the Archbishop in working closely with him for 12 years, and if so, what? 

One of the genuine delights of the last 12 years has been the close working relationship and friendship that I have formed with both Archbishop Philip and Joy. I have found the Archbishop to be a person of great warmth and caring, a steadfast individual and someone of great intellect and drive. While we did not always agree on everything, our relationship was built on mutual trust and respect. This meant that he was always prepared to listen and respect my counsel when offered. Working closely with him I was uniquely privileged to see a man of significant faith and one who was shaped by that faith first and foremost, even in the midst of busy and at times manic human endeavours. His discernment as to where his time and attention was directed and the rationale for his actions were often most evident after the fact. These qualities and the obvious close partnership with Joy showed me what a life of service to others could look like when driven by an abiding love of God.

What were the most challenging times of your period at the diocese? Of what are you most proud?

It is my personal belief that God placed me in the role. I felt his strong calling to the role from the beginning, but it took the onset of the Global Financial Crisis a few short months into the role for me to understand why. That I was able to use my finance background and skills to steer the diocese through these early tough times and to see this as the beginning of a long road of cultural change was foundational to the many other challenges that we inevitably faced. 

There are many things of which I am proud to have played a small part, the culmination of which amount to a period of significant reform in the diocese. My work with the Synod and others on major legislative reform of governance, financial management and professional standards amongst others are enduring memories of modernisation and of creating frameworks for the operation of a modern church in the diocese for decades to come. To work alongside those with passion, energy and drive in these areas has been a highlight. To see these talents at work and freely given in the service of and for the good of the Church is humbling. 

Personally, that of which I feel most satisfied is my work with individual survivors of sexual abuse in a church context. I have been privileged to meet around 200 survivors and their advocates leading up to and following the Royal Commission. To hear their story, to tell them that they are believed and to offer an apology on behalf of the institution that I represented was always a profound and moving experience. I will likely never forget the courage and vulnerability of those that came forward after 20 or 30 years to seek redress. For many their trauma and experience at the hands of others irrevocably shaped the remainder of their lives and whilst nothing can undo what has happened, my satisfaction came from the change that I observed in them from the realisation that what had happened was not their fault and that their stories were believed. It almost always felt like the pathway to restoration and healing almost began at that juncture. While many have contributed to the regime that we now have in place, and whilst it is not perfect, a preparedness to redress the wrongs of the past, to the extent that we are able, provides the diocese with social licence for the future. Without facing up to the past, the institution cannot hope to speak into people’s future.

What are the most significant challenges facing the Church in the next 12 years?

In an ever-more connected world, where boundaries, physical or digital, are being swept away and we are inundated with information, choice and opportunity, the paradox is that the church is seemingly less relevant and yet at the same time never more needed as this avalanche consumes our every moment and we lose sight of meaning and purpose. Our challenge exists in being seen to be relevant in a sea of choices, demands and social norms. How we navigate the next decade and position ourselves under God will determine both the workers and the harvest. If we are to meet people where they are, we need to fundamentally challenge our own readiness for the task, lest we convince ourselves that it is their job to find us. 

What challenges and opportunities do you see emerging for the Church from COVID-19 and the recession it has created?

COVID-19 has radically changed the face of the Church the world over. The extent to which this change is permanent or temporary is yet to be seen, the extent to which we view this as an opportunity or hindrance will be in our next steps, the extent to which we cement new practices and outreach, even when we no longer have to will determine the lesson that we have learnt from it all. 

I worry that the church is waiting for “this to be over” and thus to pick up where we left off. In my view, society has changed and we must change with it, permanently and completely. Some parishes should remain digital, some should be both a digital and physical presence and some should close permanently to help fund those that remain. I worry about the stress and pressure on clergy and parish teams in the duality of a significant digital and physical presence and I wonder at the readiness of our diocesan Vision and Directions strategy to react to this new environment, particularly where there has rightly been a strong emphasis on survival. This cannot be survival at the expense of relevance and/or at the expense of people.

What needs to happen for Anglicans to live in unity with diversity over issues such as Scripture and sexuality? Are you confident Anglicans in Australia and elsewhere can do so? 

As a church we have always lived with tensions; in fact that is how the church has grown, through difference, debate and diversity. So while the challenges and issues are new, our way of resolving things and of being with one another, seems to me to not have changed much over millennia. This does not change the passion with which we debate, the ferocity and forcefulness with which opposing views are put, however I would hope that we would understand the humanness of it all in the midst of God’s plan for us. 

As a person of faith, how have you grown in the past 12 years and in what areas do you wish to do so in future?

It is hard to be involved in the diocese and not to be challenged in one’s faith! Twelve years ago, I asked a close friend whether I should take the job. His reply was that were I to do so, I would simultaneously see both the best and the worst that Anglicanism had to offer. I have come to appreciate the absolute wisdom of this advice, but on reflection, in my experience, despite it all, the good has outweighed the bad. I have treasured my involvement each week with the Bishops of the diocese; they have been a source of great encouragement and support, alongside the Archbishop, in my faith journey. As I conclude my work in the diocese, I will have more time to devote to lay ministry in Mallacoota and to completing my theological study, through which I trust that God will reveal his continuing plan for my future as he has faithfully done throughout the course of my life.

Why does Mallacoota mean so much to you? Is God’s presence more readily recognisable to you there?

Mallacoota has been our go-to place for a number of years. As small country town people we have sought sanctuary in the close-knit community and in its remoteness. Our presence during the fires in January 2020 and our involvement with the community since has convinced us that this is a new call on our lives. While there is much that my wife Anne and I have enjoyed about Melbourne and the diocese, it is also true to say that it has exacted a toll on us that now calls for a time of refreshment and restoration. 

We are transitioning to semi-retirement and I have accepted a role with the Bendigo Community Bank in Mallacoota, which I hope will place me in a prime position to play a significant part in the bushfire recovery of the town, which is starting to gather pace. Anne and I are also involved in the provision of accommodation in town and have hopes to expand this over time. 

For us both, the simple life, surrounded by the beauty of God’s natural canvas, allows us time to live, reflect and continue to exercise the pastoral giftings that we have been given. In that way, God exists in the faces of all that we encounter, in all that we seek to do and be and ultimately in who he would have us become.