​Read the Archbishop's Charge 2012

Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, has apologised for the hurt and loss suffered by the victims of forced adoptions in the Diocese of Melbourne.

Speaking in his opening address to the Diocesan Synod in St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, last night, he said that the story of the Melbourne Diocese “must be open and honest about our faults of the past. We have made mistakes. Mistakes are normal in the story of any organisation but some behaviour looks very different with the passing of time. Forced adoption may have seemed right to some people at the time it occurred, though the pain and grief of the victims, parents and children, should have been hard to ignore. 

"I am sorry for the hurt inflicted on those involved and the loss they have suffered. Today a different understanding of family relationship and of the ability of single parents helps us to see forced adoption as simply wrong. On 25 October I will be present at the Victorian Government’s apology for past adoption practices.”

He said that he welcomed the State Government’s parliamentary inquiry into other past wrongs.

“Some behaviour is wrong whenever it occurs. Any instance in the past, or present, of abuse of children or adults by a member of the clergy is wrong. Unquestionably wrong. Today we have a robust organisation and infrastructure to deal with allegations of abuse. Professional handling of allegations of abuse is critical but it can never put right the fact that abuse has occurred. I welcome the Victorian Government’s Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations. I assure you that we will not rest on our laurels but will learn from this Parliamentary Inquiry and do all we can to continually improve our practice of child protection and complainant response.”

He also expressed deep regret about the treatment of Indigenous Australians.

“With great sadness we look back on the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders by the European settlers. Despite advances in effort and thinking the Indigenous people of our land and of our diocese do not enjoy equal access to Australian society.

“I have initiated the registering of our diocese with Reconciliation Australia, to commence the development of a reconciliation action plan, the aim being simply to ‘turn good intentions into actions’.  I acknowledge projects within the diocese that have earlier reported to Synod, the Indigenous Ministries survey presented here in 2010, and the Indigenous Ministry Steering Committee’s work that have led us to this point.”

In reflecting on press reports and commentary that had depicted the Melbourne Diocese as divided and fractious between 2006 and 2007, the period spanning the Archbishop Election process and his first year in office, he said the Diocese of Melbourne “is part of the Church of Jesus Christ against which even the gates of hell will not prevail. How can any of us feel that it is anything other than a privilege and a blessing to serve Christ’s mission through his church in any way open to us? That is how I felt then and those feelings have not diminished."

"I hope that you have also grown in that sort of confidence. Speaking personally, I feel assured that we are engaged in the vital mission of ‘Making the Word of God fully known’, the mission which God has revealed through Jesus and empowers by the Spirit for the reconciliation of all things in Christ. We are confident in the love of Christ to heal and save humanity.

“There was more strength about what was happening in the Diocese of Melbourne than observers seemed willing to notice or admit, and that was only six or seven years ago. Sure we are a diverse diocese but that does not equate to being divided or directionless! Uniformity does not of itself provide a better basis for mission.

“In conversation with ordained and lay leaders who respond to God’s call to work in Melbourne, it is often Melbourne’s diversity which has attracted them from interstate and overseas to discern a call to our diocese.”

He added: “We are not monochrome and that is part of our strength! We must resist any impulse that means we trust each other less or have diminished confidence in each other as fellow members of the Body of Christ. To do so, [in author Francis Fukayama’s terms], is to impose a ‘tax’ on all we do, to limit our flexibility and to impose a straightjacket on the living and dynamic Body of Christ. At Synod we deal with the legal apparatus that describes our formal relationships but these can never be a replacement for the living, mutual and trusting impulse between us. I hope that even in the midst of the formality of this meeting and this space you can build that intuition of mutual confidence with people who worship differently and even use different words than you as they account for their faith.

"Six years on the diocese has in any case moved forward, as all healthy organisations do… I want to assert the importance of understanding and celebrating the Melbourne diocese of the early 21st century. It is a story that, God willing, will remain as God’s story until the culmination of all things.  It is the future of the kingdom of God that draws us on.

“We are all part of the story! Many of you joined the diocese earlier, others like me in more recent years, but since before 1847 when this diocese was founded there had been a story of faithful Anglicans advancing the work of the church in Melbourne and Geelong…

“… Bishop James Grant in Melbourne Anglicans: the Diocese of Melbourne says that in the later decades of the twentieth century Melbourne was viewed as the most comprehensive of all Australian dioceses. Comprehensive and diverse are descriptors of a rich depth of human experience as servants of God.

“And so today our diversity is represented right across the greater Melbourne region; small parishes, large parishes; from the city and in the urban fringes; multi-ethnic; traditional and contemporary worship, contrasts in style but we are Anglicans for the world and of the world. People ‘understanding each other’s story’. Even the use of evangelical and catholic as descriptors of polarised positions in the church is better understood by seeing them as different ways to describe the one vocation of the Church of Jesus Christ which is to share the whole of the Gospel with the entire world…

"… I am grateful to God that I serve as Archbishop of Melbourne and am privileged to lead a diocese which at its heart is faithfully seeking to be following in the steps of Jesus as we minister within the parishes and in the community…

“… An overarching narrative of 21st Century western society is the decline of Christianity. We can make that our narrative if we wish, the disappearing Church, but it is defeatist…

“… We are called into communion with God to be faithful followers and to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This task is no less urgent or compelling of our best efforts than ever before. I give thanks for the energy with which we are undertaking this challenge…”

Dr Freier said the story of the Melbourne Diocese “includes innovation, diversity and encouraging a willingness to try new ideas. Melbourne’s contribution to the Anglican Church of Australia has been and remains an important one.

“In the story of the ordination of women, Melbourne has a foremost position. In 1976 the Melbourne Synod called on the General Synod to ordain women to all three orders. The first women deacons in Australia were ordained here in St Paul’s Cathedral in February 1986. Our diocesan Synod subsequently voted to ordain women as priests and more recently as bishops. In this place in 1992 two services of ordination saw the first women priests in the Diocese of Melbourne, an anniversary we will commemorate on the afternoon of Sunday 9 December with all welcome to be part of this celebration.

"I am delighted to lead a diocese which has played such a vital part in bringing about the ordination of women.”

He added: “The story of Melbourne’s last two years is, amongst other matters, a story of our Vision and Strategic Directions, ‘making the Word of God fully known’, throughout the diocese… Some of you have been integrally involved ever since, others following developments as news has come to you. Some of you may not appreciate the fantastic start we have made to implementing all six strategic directions. It is a good story – not Jack and the Beanstalk with a huge growth shooting up overnight but of sowing the seeds, planting on good ground, beginning to water and fertilise and observing the first fruits emerging…

“… Our vision is part of the story of Melbourne, as was the vision of previous generations. Right now it includes pilot parishes with coaching for the leaders; it includes the start of the Bishop Perry Institute for Ministry and Mission with its training programs and research; and it includes strategies for property development to match mission growth and the building up of endowment funds to support this. I am greatly impressed by the work of many people who have brought us to where we are now, two years from the start of the implementation of the vision…”

Dr Freier concluded his address with a call “to renew and revitalise the story of Melbourne. If we preach faith and hope in Christ, but talk of decline and dissatisfaction, we miss the glory of the living Christ in our parishes and agencies and the wider community. I am not blind to those ways in which we fall short, but there is so much about which to feel confident in our Diocese…

“… All of us are part of the story. Let us tell the story of a Diocese which is abundant in its diversity, trusting of one another in our fellowship, making the Word of God fully known and trusting in our God who through Christ has prepared the future of a new humanity.”

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