By Wei-Han Kuan
6 June 2022
Sometimes you have to look to the past to see the future clearly. 175 years ago Bishop Charles Perry was appointed to the colonial backwater of the District of Port Phillip. His consecration meant that the sleepy village, now with a bishop, would be redesignated a city within a diocese. So was born the city and Diocese of Melbourne. The discovery of gold here was still four years away.
Perry knew the challenge he was taking up. There were only three clergy in the entire district, one each in Portland, Geelong and Melbourne. After his consecration he made an appeal for funds to help provide more clergy for the 12,000 “spiritually destitute colonists” and some 4000 Aboriginal inhabitants of whom “no account had been taken”. Perry came with a heart for ministry and mission: pastoral care of the believers and evangelism of the rest.
Five clergy arrived in Melbourne with Perry. All evangelicals hand-picked to endure colonial conditions far away from Europe. Only two lasted any significant length of time. Then and now, gospel ministry is tough. I love Perry’s sermon feedback to the incumbent at Melbourne who predated him in the colony:
“I have made the above remarks … because I believe that the public preaching of the gospel is the most important part of a minister’s duty; and because I thought that the last sermon I heard you preach at St James’ might have been much improved … by a careful revision of the whole.”
Perhaps in 2197 Melbourne will once again be a sleepy village but I suspect its identity as a great cultural, educational and scientific research centre will have continued to evolve. There will be people here, whether they have come from a long time ago or just more recently. They will need to hear the gospel publicly proclaimed, clearly and powerfully.
There will be here the spiritually destitute or those marginalised of whom no account will be taken by most. Anglicans then, remembering our history, will no doubt find our hearts full of passion for ministry and mission: discipling believers into full maturity in Christ and bearing faithful effective witness to those still living apart from the Lord Jesus – especially the most marginalised and outcast in our society.
Then as now, this gospel ministry will be challenging and demanding. A special burden will continue to fall on those set aside as leaders in this work. Perry knew this when he preached his first sermon on these shores from 2 Corinthians 5:20, saying:
“… we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”
The sermon was entitled, “The Office and Duty of a Minister of the Gospel”. In it Perry outlined his view that private instruction and public preaching of the Word of God were the chief means of discharging that duty. Perry was clear on the content of that Word: “…if we preach not Christ, and him crucified, it will avail nothing to the salvation of our hearers.”
It will be the same in 175 years, although the context will be unimaginably different. There were no specialist children’s or youth ministries in 1847! There was no organised young adult ministry here before the CMS League of Youth in the 1930s. No one had heard of Zoom church meetings until very recently. But Anglicans who have responded creatively and energetically to changing times and continued to preach Christ crucified have endured and grown throughout our history. Well may we expect the same in the future, should the Lord tarry.
The Reverend Dr Wei-Han Kuan is executive director of the Church Missionary Society of Victoria, and author of Foundations for Anglican Evangelicalism in Victoria.