7 December 2022

2022 Presidential Address to the Melbourne Synod

Archbishop Philip Freier. Picture: file.

Archbishop Philip Freier

12 October 2022

Welcome to this session of the 53rd Synod of the Diocese of Melbourne in this the 175th
anniversary of the foundation of the Diocese.

I join you from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. Many will also be
joining from Wurundjeri land while others from the lands of the traditional owners of your
particular locality. Let us together, respect their continuing connection and custodianship for
land and water. We give thanks for their ancestral knowledge and thank God for the ongoing
right and responsibility of elders to care for this Country. Let us commit ourselves to work and
pray towards a more just settlement for all Indigenous people and pay our respects to First
Nations people amongst us.

Read more: Some synod questions ‘manifestly out of order’ | Live

I am greatly encouraged by the connections parishes are making to engage in their local
Council’s Reconciliation Action plan. This is fruitful work and I know how much this parish
involvement is appreciated. Canon Glenn Loughrey deserves our congratulations for the
important work he is doing through St Oswald’s Parish, Glen Iris in many aspects of First
Nations engagement. This is part of the parish’s strategic plan and through partnership with
ABM has provided online resources for schools, a Reconciliation Garden and Art Gallery – a
great resource for the diocese and wider community.

This year saw the death of Bishop Arthur Malcolm, an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of North
Queensland, the first national Aboriginal Bishop and personally for me a great mentor in my
journey of ministry discernment. I was glad to participate in his funeral at Yarrabah on 24
August this year as we gathered to give thanks to God for his life and witness.
Our world and our lives have changed as a result of the COVID pandemic. We have learned to
apply digital means of communication in meeting and in worship, both of which have been
applied to how we participate tonight. Time, and possibly the Northern Hemisphere winter,
will tell whether we are in a post-COVID era or a pause along the way of new variants of the
virus posing fresh risks. Even if some sporting and cultural activities have resumed with large
attendances it is also apparent that many other things, including church attendance remain
impacted by the pandemic.


I know that some amongst us have experienced the death of loved ones due to COVID over
these past years and were unable to travel for funerals or gather in a way that would have
better consoled them in grief. Others amongst us may themselves still experience the long
effects of a COVID infection.


Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent by governments in Australia to lessen the economic
impact of COVID, these funds will need to be met from future revenues. Tens of billions of
dollars were withdrawn from superannuation balances by private citizens which will mean
reductions in future superannuation balances on retirement. There will be a long future impact
on account of these measures. Without them we would have faced economic collapse and
social upheaval. With them we now need to recognise that many policy positions that seemed natural pre-COVID have forever changed. In a smaller, but still significant way, these same
disruptive forces to existing practices and expectations impact us in our life in this Diocese.
I suspect that historians of the future will find much fertile material from these recent times to
establish connections and causalities in ways that we can’t see, immersed in present events as
we are. We are generally a more anxious society, and anxiety has its corporate as well as
individual expression. The repeated Russian threat to use nuclear weapons in its war against
Ukraine, along with our increasing knowledge of how far we are along the path to irreversible
climate change both come to mind as reasons for anxiety. I suspect that there is a profound
uncertainty about modernity’s proposition of continual improvement in living standards and
betterment generally inevitably continuing into the future. Where we had thought that the
better angels of our human nature were at work in the international collaboration on COVID
vaccine development, production and rollout we instead have seen the emergence of the old
demons of hatred and conflict. Instead of the observance of a rules-based international order
we have the spectre of ‘might is right’, whether in Myanmar, Hong Kong, Ukraine or the other
places where the value of human life has been radically diminished by failure to ‘love our
neighbour’.


In a society like ours, that is increasingly proud of its secular identity, new narratives about
who we are as a nation seem to be in the process of construction. Time will tell how much
they incorporate the ancient wisdom of the Covenant people and the Christian communities
that emerged with them. Christianity has shared a long journey with many forms of polity and
governance. There is much that we can share in an open dialogue with those who are seeking
the shape the future directions of our nation. I can hear the ancient traditions of lament resonating with truth-telling about frontier conflict, a First Nations voice to Parliament, Treaty,
rules-based processes to deal with corruption and gendered violence. We each have within us
that yearning to be a better self and for our society to be the place for this transformed
humanity to be expressed. It remains to be seen to what extent a secular ideology can fill this
place of yearning. The ancient wisdom that we read in the Scriptures of the Old and New
Testaments cautions against naivety in imagining that a future made, as it were, by human
hands alone, can ever be the Utopia many secularists strive for.


I hope that, in these important movements within the national consensus, Christians will be
allies with First Nations people in the constitutional change proposed to create a Voice to
Parliament. The presence of two members of the House of Representatives and four Senators
who are First Nations’ people in the 46th Parliament of Australia is a sign of the support in the
electorate that might be expected to extend to the Referendum anticipated in the current
parliamentary term.


I hope too that Christians will find common cause in the important work of changing our
culture to eliminate violence against women and other people who are over-represented in
experiencing harm. The efforts of our own Diocese in developing the Prevention of Violence
Against Women program is a good example of finding common cause at a grassroots level to
make an impact within our Church community and, through that, more widely. My visits to
Anglican Schools this year, including a Conversation about climate change, fill me with
admiration for the young people I meet. They are keen to be change agents for a better world
and declare their intention that this can start in their school and local communities. Articulate
and passionate about the principles of justice and equality that they hold to, I’m sure they mean to have an impact on our society now and into the future. They are a resilient generation
who endured long months of disruption to their schooling on account of COVID. The response
of their teachers and families to support them in home-based learning has been impressive.
It has also been impressive to encounter the resilience of our parishes as I have visited them
throughout the year. I don’t think that anywhere has simply returned to the pre-COVID
‘normal’. I have been conscious of services I attend on Sundays also being live-streamed or
otherwise made available by digital means. This was mostly not done before our enforced
lockdown released this new opportunity for creativity and connection across the parishes and
authorised congregations of our Diocese.


I have been glad to see the engagement with the ‘Reimagining the Future’ resources that was
circulated last year. This was supported by presentations at our 2021 clergy conferences. A
team is being put together to work with those parishes where this work has been slower to
get started and particularly with the parishes that have suffered the greatest diminishment
coming out of COVID. The Reimagining the Future project envisages four scenarios that are
open to any ministry. The first is ‘Recover’ or returning to the way things were and how they
were done before the COVID crisis. The second is ‘Reinvention’ where something new emerges
that may be quite different from how things were. The third is ‘Reframe’, where some things
will have continuity with the pre-crisis period, but other things may be introduced or added
whilst others are discontinued. The fourth scenario is ‘Release’ where there is no pathway
through the crisis in the current form and shape of what went before. Closing, partnering or
an entirely fresh start may be outcomes of the discernment of this scenario.

The Reimagining the Future team along with the Children and Youth Ministry team will largely
pick up the function of Parish Mission Resourcing and work together to give the best focussed
outcome of these resources that we can achieve. I am hoping that the initiatives before us this
Synod to develop a stronger focus on Children and Youth Ministry will gain your confident
support. We have achieved a lot, particularly in the strong take up of the Coaching program
led by Carol Clarke and I’m pleased that Carol and Stephen Delbridge will work together on
the rollout of Professional Supervision, one of the recommendations from the Royal
Commission and a commitment for Anglicans nationally made at the General Synod. The shape
of these initiatives arises from applying some of the Reimagining the Future principles to the
parish ministry support function of the diocese and I am grateful for the work of the bishops
and the archdeacons in bringing things to this point.


We are on a journey together that, for all the reasons I have mentioned, is challenging. Keeping
to the heart of our faith and confidence in God’s purposes is difficult enough in an anxious
age, I recognise that it is particularly difficult when it comes to decisions about the future shape
of any local parish ministry. I want the Reimagining the Future project to be a resource that
helps us face the big questions in a respectful way in each of our parish communities that it
involves.


Our Safe Ministry work continues as an important responsibility as we seek to ensure that the
Church is a safe place for all. Victoria has adopted new Child Safe standards which align
strongly to a consensus on Child Safety principles across the nation. These standards require
demonstrated plans and behaviours at all levels of the church and most of all at the grassroots
in our parishes and other ministries that conduct public gatherings. Immediately as I conclude my comments tonight we will listen to Liana Buchanan, the Principal Commissioner for
Children and Young People discuss the 11 Child Safe Standards and what organisations need
to do to comply with them. She has been in this important role since 2016 and has offered us
challenging as well as formative feedback on our own Child Safety efforts. It has been
emphasised on many occasions that a culture of child safety is one of the most protective
aspects that any organisation can develop. There is no part of our work where concerns for
child safety can be absent.


The harm to people who have survived child sexual abuse is very great, we need to be
strenuous in our continuing efforts to ensure that harm is avoided. This year has seen much
activity in this area of Safe Ministry (child safety), both at a diocesan level and, as we will hear
later, at the state level. At the diocesan level the Safe Ministry Reference Group has continued
to meet, advising Archbishop in Council and working with our Safe Ministry and Inclusion
Officer. The Safe Ministry training resources launched last year have been used by over 5,000
clergy, lay staff members and volunteers who have each completed this training. Four diocesan
presenters have been trained and are running sessions organised by the Safe Ministry team as
requested by individual parishes. A new Safe Ministry Toolbox webpage went live last month
(September). Kooyoora continues to progress all clearance applications, investigates
complaints, working with parishes and AAC’s to manage Persons of Concern as well as being
available to give advice to parishes and AAC’s and the particular church authority in any matter.


At the state level the new 11 Child Safe Standards came into law on 1 July 2022. The
Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) has asked the Diocese for an action plan
for meeting these new Standards along with a risk management plan. Both of these plans are being developed with the assistance of 30 representative parishes/AAC’s. Suffice it to say that
we are in a highly scrutinised space with CCYP having statutory powers for regulation and
enforcement.


Thank you to all who exercise these Safe Ministry responsibilities in parishes and AAC’s. Your
diligent efforts and your commitment to ensuring Church is a safe place for children and
vulnerable people to freely hear the message of Jesus is acknowledged and appreciated.
As a diocese we have committed to be accountable for the failures of abusers who perpetrated
their abuse in church organisations and parishes. This is something that the financial
dimension of redress settlements seeks to recognise. The National Redress Scheme has
responded to 984 applications for redress from a range of Anglican entities across the country.
771 determinations have been finalised resulting in 598 offers of redress totalling in excess of
$30 million. National Figures for redress claims under the civil jurisdictions of the States and
Territories are not compiled in the same way but certainly exceed by a very large amount these
figures for the National Redress Scheme as they are not limited by the NRS $150,000 cap. We
must not lose sight of the human suffering that these numbers represent, the people whose
trust was betrayed by the very people they came to, seeking the life-giving knowledge of
Christ. Culture matters, and our shared commitment to compliance and reporting is an
important value that we all need to embrace without exception.


Organisationally, we have been able to meet our redress obligations without, so far, reaching
into the funds of individual parishes and authorised Anglican Congregations. Our approach of
meeting these responsibilities from central funds contributes in part to the deficit operational budget approved by Archbishop in Council. In all these things, it is important that we continue
to lament the failure to live up to the trust that perpetrators of abuse were given and the
inadequacy of systems to prevent these failures. It is important that we continue the trauma
informed response to survivors that has been developed by Kooyoora for the Kooyoora
Redress Scheme, the third channel for redress along with the National Redress Scheme and
civil litigation.


Our responsibilities for ensuring that our church is a safe place and safe community for all who
engage with us means that we have needed to develop a capacity for accurate and timely
monitoring of compliance. We have worked hard together to ensure that any reportable
matters of failures in child protection are elevated through Kooyoora so that they can be
reported to the Commissioner for Children and Young People within the three-day time period
required. Our policies that require safety agreements to be set with people of concern in this
child safety space is also another example of us all working together to produce a unified
outcome. This principle also applies in other areas of compliance to government legislation
and policies in the areas of employment, workplace health and safety as well as the charity
regulator’s requirements and now the State Revenue Office’s ruling on land tax amongst
others.


These changes have not, of course all happened at once but there has been a gradual
development of these requirements over the past decade. It is hard to imagine that this trend
will not continue. Information that may not have been required from parishes in the past is
now necessary and is required in an accurate and timely manner. These changes alone have
changed the nature of the information sought by our Diocesan administration from parishes and authorised congregations. It has also had the effect of changing in some areas the
relationship between parish and diocesan administrative levels. Matters that were once
unreported to the diocesan administration now need to be reported. Evidence of compliance
in the range of areas I have already mentioned is now required as a result of these changed
external regulatory requirements.


Continual improvement in systems, the kind of which we have seen in the roll out of a common
email domain are underway. I mention this here because it also invites us to recognise that in
all these areas, we need to embrace a culture of being in this together. Excellence in
compliance and reporting in one context is completely undone if there is neglect or a casual
attitude in another. The design of our processes aims to respect the responsibilities that are
best exercised at the local level. Once again, all of this has an important cultural dimension
and can only ever operate in an environment of commitment to the principles, a willingness
to apply them and to be accountable for the outcomes.


All that I have spoken of requires trust, a virtue that is challenged by an anxious world. We
have also become a more anxious Church. Declines in Census numbers of Anglicans and the
pressures on our parishes are sure to provoke this response. You will have heard that two
parishes in Queensland have left the Anglican Church of Australia and aligned themselves with
former Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies to form a new church connected to a council
of overseas Primates. This is not the first place where this has happened and may not be the
last. As I have said in a range of forums, leaving a family is inevitably painful and has an impact
on those who leave as well as those who remain. All the historical evidence convinces me that
such moves, once made, are not readily undone and former unity is not easily or ever restored.

There are undoubtedly many layers to these developments and scholars have started to reflect
on the implicit ecclesiology and theology that is at work. I am confident in my membership of
the Anglican Church of Australia and through it of the Anglican Communion. I gladly
responded to the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury to attend the 2022 Lambeth
Conference and sincerely welcomed him to Melbourne this week. I am grateful for the
encouragement he gives us to be unified for the sake of the Gospel mission that Christ has
entrusted to his Church or in his words, ‘The heart of the call of God to all Christian people is
not that they are unanimous, but that they are united’.


The Archbishop of Canterbury has reiterated the position of the 1998 Lambeth Conference in
its resolution 1.10 on human sexuality. This resolution effectively affirms the Prayer Book
definition of Marriage as between a man and a woman and affirms that the church
membership of the baptised is not dependent on sexual orientation. It has not been without
tension applying this ‘settled opinion of the majority of the Communion’, but I think that the
Anglican Church of Australia has worked hard to give life to these two principles in our
corporate life.


Underlying the apparent issues of conflict in the Anglican Church of Australia, whether it be
about gender roles, church order or human sexuality is the force of the Constitution of our
National Church. In the most recent matter of whether the Canon Concerning Services could
lawfully, under the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia authorise a blessing of a
same sex marriage, the Appellate Tribunal confirmed that the Diocese of Wangaratta had
lawfully applied the Canon.

The constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia was a long time in formation and sought
to strike a balance between those things where uniformity was required nationally and where
diocesan autonomy in decision making should apply. The Appellate Tribunal was established
to consider and decide any questions that arose out of the Constitution and Canons of General
Synod. I don’t think that the generation of church leaders who agreed the form of the
Constitution we have today were at all naive about the differences in theology and practice
that existed amongst them. Those who agreed the Constitution had experience of the bitter
disputes within the Church in the first half of the 20th Century. These included the Memorialist
Controversy of 1937 and the Bathurst, ‘Red Book’ case that ran in various guises between 1944
and 1948. Indeed, the balance struck between national uniformity and diocesan autonomy was
very much at the heart of the form of Constitution they agreed upon and intended by that
balance to steer the church away from the risk of division. I also think that the Canon
Concerning Services shows this design in permitting authorisation at a diocesan level, for
services otherwise not provided for, but only after local consensus had been reached.
This understanding prompts me to reiterate the seriousness of the Oaths and Declarations that
the ordained make in taking up a role or office in the Church. To be bound by the Constitution
and Canons of the Anglican Church of Australia under solemn oath is a very serious
commitment. It applies as much to the liturgical practices required by the Prayer Book as it
does to the way we order our life through the Synod and its various legislative instruments.
Because I take seriously what it means to make such an Oath and live by it I am able to respect
the decision of anyone who feels unable to remain in the Anglican Church of Australia and
seeks membership of another church. That is an honourable choice for whatever reason it is
made.


Finally – Thank you all! I single out my Episcopal team, Bishops Genieve, Paul, Brad and Kate
along with the support we each have from those who work closely with us particularly
Executive Officer Ken Hutton, Registrar Malcolm Tadgell and General Manager Justin Lachal.
You will see over these next few days something of the work of the many others who give so
generously of their time and talents in various governance roles within the Diocese. I also
appreciate the Senior Staff team of Archdeacons along with the Chancellor, Deputy Chancellor
and Advocate. I thank the Dean and the Cathedral team for the way they have so calmly
responded with exceptional worship opportunities for the Diocese, Province and City in this
our 175th year.


The list of functions and ministries in the diocese is very great, just as it is in the most vital
place where ministry happens – at the grassroots. Thanks to you all in your own distinctive
place of ministry and worship for what you do in parishes, authorised congregations,
chaplaincies and in many other contexts. This is the vital work of the church as we seek to
‘Make the Word of God fully known’.


Bless you and prosper you as carry out this work and on us as we support and encourage it.
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide,
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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