By Archbishop Philip Freier
3 May 2023
I recently came across the Melbourne diocesan magazine for December 1990. It was the special edition about Archbishop Keith Rayner’s enthronement as archbishop but also included an article about parish vitality, the number of parishes and the changing demography of Melbourne and Geelong. Archdeacon Alan Nichols was quoted as saying, “I believe we are at a critical point in our history and in our place in society, with congregations barely maintaining themselves, but aging, yet with increasing numbers offering for ordination and remarkable opportunities for starting new parishes in the development corridors around Melbourne. We are in the process of experimenting with new forms of church planting appropriate to different subcultures.”
These prescient thoughts show the long journey that our church in this diocese has been on over several generations, as it has sought to balance present activity and future aspiration. The “Reimagining the Future” resource that has been available in Melbourne now for the past couple of years is the present focus in this endeavour. Alignment of capital resources and ministry opportunities remains as much our concern as it was then, more than three decades ago.
The 1990 article spoke of the great increase in the number of Melbourne Anglican parishes between 1961 and 1986, from 192 to 240, at the same time as the percentage of Anglicans in the census dropped from 30 per cent to 17.8 per cent for the Greater Melbourne area. The same aspiration at work over this period, starting 60 years ago, continued through the 1990s as it does today.
In March this year, we welcomed two presenters from the Church of England to speak about the “Leading your Church into growth” initiatives that have been developed there, particularly informed by the work of Archdeacon Bob Jackson. People from 54 of our parishes attended this three-day training event. This was very well received, and attendees left feeling encouraged to pray and work for growth in the life of their parish or other ministry context. As simple and obvious as it seems, the emphasis on making prayer for growth part of our parish life was received as an encouraging and energising insight. It is also true that, our human nature is readily informed by what is happening around us and needs to be constantly reminded of the divine and eternal truths that challenge our limited human perspective.
In our journey beyond Easter, through to the Ascension and Pentecost, we have ample opportunity to get the right focus of attention to the overriding purpose of God’s actions in history revealed in Jesus. The Holy Spirit fills us with confidence in our part in this big purpose of God to gather, restore, heal and release the people of God for mission in the world.
“God of mission, who alone brings growth to your Church, send your Holy Spirit to give vision to our planning, wisdom to our actions, joy to our worship, and power to our witness. Help our Church to grow in numbers, in spiritual commitment to you, and in service to our local community, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”