​Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne Dr Philip
Freier addressing the opening of the Synod
of the Melbourne Anglican Church on 16
October.

Photo: Kit Haselden

 

Introduction

I welcome you to the start of the 51st Synod of the Diocese of Melbourne.

In doing so I acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations, the traditional owners of this land, and respect their custodianship of this land upon which we meet.

Using the words of prayer in the Woi Wurrung language first sung as a hymn at the Merri Creek School more than 150 years ago: 

Pundgul Marman, bar marnameek
Nerrembee borun, yellenwa nulworthen bopup Koolinner
‘O God, Lord God bless your Aboriginal people always’

Theology of place

It is important for a faith community like ours to be concerned about the reconciliation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The psalmist tells us, ‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity’ [Psalm 133.1 (TNIV)] and from Romans 12.18, ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’ (TNIV).  Reconciliation is a Christian imperative.

As the Revd Dr Djiniyini Gondarra wrote in his 1988 essay, ‘Father you gave us the Dreaming’,

‘We, the Aboriginal people, are a gift to the land and to the people who come here. You who have come these last 200 years are also a gift to us. Justice, honesty and genuine reconciliation is the result when we have respect and honour for one another.’

Most of us accept that Indigenous Australians see land as culturally and spiritually significant. For the pervasive non-Indigenous Australian culture, land is more often a commodity to be bought and sold or the source of mineral and agricultural prosperity. Christianity speaks of a very different understanding about land, one that we do well as Christians within our non-Indigenous Australian culture to hear afresh.

Salvation history shows us how, at the salient points of creation, fall, incarnation and redemption, God affirms the significance of the created world and our place in it. Christian theology is relentless in its affirmation of God as the creator of all things. With the psalmist we affirm, ‘O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.’ (Ps 104.24).

Psalm 115 is emphatic that God is both the creator and the one who seeks a living relationship with us his creatures. [‘May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth.’(Ps 115.15)]

The destiny of the people of Israel is always understood through inheritance of the Promised Land. Whether in anticipation, realisation or lament - the Promised Land is the anchor of Israel’s hope. Displacement and exile from it was the surest evidence of the favour of God departing their community. This view, that all peoples have a place in the world and that place is God-given, is affirmed in Acts 17.26: ‘From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live’. Land matters to us and to God, it is given as a primary source of blessing. We are called to live in it, to care for it and to share it with reconciled relationships.

Theology of parishes

I have often felt over the past seven years a close connection with Bishop Charles Perry and his aspirations as the first Anglican bishop of Melbourne. I am the 12th successor to his office. Through the happy circumstances of our interest in celebrating anniversaries, I have attended the celebration of many sesqui-centenary and other events in parishes that he founded or for church buildings that he dedicated or consecrated. To give just one example, on Tuesday 9 December 1862 Charles Perry consecrated St Mary’s Church in North Melbourne. Contemporary reports reveal that Perry’s sermon was short and an exposition of the text of Genesis 28.16-19, the passage in which Jacob receives God’s blessing in a dream and awakes to exclaim, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

Separating a building from profane and common uses, accepting it on behalf of God and devoting it to the worship of the Holy Trinity, is exactly what Perry intended for St Mary’s and many other places. It is what his successors down the years have intended as we have consecrated buildings as places where the new creation is evidently at work, not just the old law of sin and death. For us to convince our neighbours or sceptical workmates that there is something qualitatively different about this place where we meet today, or any of the consecrated buildings where we worship, is likely to stretch our own capacity for belief, let alone for those who do not share our reverence.

Yet, we would be wrong to think that the only significance of such places was in the sentiment of people like you and me, for whom it matters. This is the diametrically opposite position to that intended by Charles Perry and those who gathered with him on the many events of dedication or consecration of his own day and the many such events that have followed. They said words in that consecration service that declared the sanctity of such places to be objectively true. It would not be just a matter of opinion or sentiment but true in fact that these places of worship were forever claimed back for God out of a fallen creation.

Just as the history of the world without Christ trended away from the recognition of its creator, so a new history of salvation and redemption is declared in our consecrated buildings as an anticipation of the renewal of all things.

Indigenous prior ownership

I hope that you can see from this brief sketch that we are almost alone amongst people of our culture, in making a spiritual claim about land and its significance. To the extent that we see our places of worship as the early dawning of the new creation, we earnestly seek that reality to grow more and more in the life and circumstance of the people and places amongst whom we witness and live. We make similar - but not identical - claims about land and its spiritual significance to the kind that are more commonly recognised amongst Australia’s Indigenous peoples, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. We must be concerned about reconciliation.  

Reconciliation action plan

The Diocese of Melbourne is developing a RAP, a Reconciliation Action Plan. On 29 May 2013 in National Reconciliation Week we launched the commencement of our RAP. I signed our statement of commitment, giving 29 May 2015 as the end date. The RAP working group is leading this initiative in documenting the current activities in parishes and other ministries of the diocese and in planning the journey of practical actions the diocese will take to build strong relationships and enhanced respect between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians. Put simply, a RAP turns good intentions into real actions, the ‘respect and honour’ that Djiniyini Gondarra argued was the foundation for ‘Justice, honesty and genuine reconciliation’.  A presentation on the RAP to Synod is listed for just after lunch on Saturday.

The word incarnate

Charles Perry’s consecration text, ‘This is none other but the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.’ is readily received by Christians as true of Christ as well. He has called us to life in himself and into life as part of his body, the Church.  Perry’s aspiration for the Church to be present in the communities of Victoria of his day was relentless. There have been tidal flows of energy during different periods since then but the same imperative has shaped the presence of the Church in all of the communities from which you have come. Even the short history of the City on a Hill fresh expression of Church for 25 to 40 year olds has seen this essential DNA of ‘presence in place’ start to express itself with new communities anticipated at Geelong and in the western suburbs of Melbourne. The planned Merri Creek Anglican Church is also part of a recovery of place for people in the northern suburbs who have formerly worshipped elsewhere. I am grateful for Bishop Philip Huggins and Archdeacon Richard Condie for working through the issues raised for the existing parishes where these initiatives are planned, especially so that we avoid any implications that such initiatives are occurring in some sort of ecclesial and missional ‘terra nullius’.

The word preached and proclaimed

Our Diocesan vision is a response to the challenge of Colossians 1.25, To Make the Word of God fully known. The ‘Word of God’ is of course Jesus Christ himself. We know about him through the written word of Scripture and we proclaim him through all of the relational and communicative means open to us.

Our Churches are places where the sacraments of the new covenant are celebrated by the people whom God has gathered through Christ. They must also be places from which the proclamation about all that God has done in Christ goes out to people near and far.

The vision

Over the next ten years we need to be setting up ministry and mission in the Diocese of Melbourne for the next fifty years. The diocese is well placed to achieve this. We have a present opportunity to re-imagine the Anglican Church in Melbourne and Geelong and put in place the mission shaped structures and strategies that will make the Word of God fully known. From the time of the early church, that has been the compelling narrative for Christians.

What we have learned – past initiative

I honour the past and the vision and initiatives of bishops, clergy and laity which have led us to this place. As I am acutely aware, Charles Perry arrived in Melbourne and commenced his pastoral and strategic leadership, setting the diocese up for the 1800s and beyond. Aspirations for making the Word of God fully known in the diocese stem from that time! Successive bishops and synods  have laid further foundations. The early 1960’s were a significant period for the direction of Australia, its institutions and not least of all the Anglican Church. It was in 1962 that the Church of England in Australia finally, after decades of discussion, adopted a constitution to bring the Anglican Church of Australia into being and sever the constitutional links between Australian Anglicans and the Church of England. It was also the year when the book, “Immigration: Control or colour bar? The background to ‘White Australia’ and a proposal for change” was published. I will return to this.

My reflection of Melbourne is but a seven year one. For many of you it is much longer as you identify significant events that have shaped us. Let me remind you of our recent history:

  • Our resilience throughout the global financial crisis when we restructured the financial affairs of the diocese to deliver balanced budgets while seeking to build our endowment of capital funds
  • The good humour characterising our interaction and Synod debates, even within disagreement. We have an environment which seeks to foster appreciation and collegiality among all Anglicans of the Diocese of Melbourne
  • The 2011-2013 diocesan vision with its six strategic directions was endorsed three years ago by Synod. We said we would put these directions into practice and we have done so and they are bearing fruit. You will hear more of this positive program of parish renewal on Friday evening
  • Know that it is being done and it can be done!  We hope to normalise what has been the pilot program, extending it into many other parishes
  • The Bishop Perry Institute for Mission and Ministry is still virtual, that is existing institutionally only on a website, but already it contributes to the learning and training for the current pilot parish program.

There are many resources on offer. Google it, if you haven’t had a look!  Commissioning research is another feature of the Bishop Perry institute, the first major piece being a review of the pilot program. We await the insights this will bring.

Vision to come

I will launch the next three year vision on Saturday. The forward vision contains a new pilot program, with a focus on deanery based transformation. This new vision, approved by Archbishop in Council, sets out a three year ambition and builds a foundation for the diocese of the 2050s.

The vision continues to have a financial strand, necessary for us to achieve our aspirations.  I cannot sufficiently stress, however, how remarkable is the work of our Business Services department, the General Manager and his management teams, and the governance committees of Finance, Anglican Funds, Audit and Risk, Property, Building and the Anglican Development Fund. 

Without this very professional outfit, we could not fund ministry and mission. Congratulations to them all!

As I did last year I want to highlight the opportunities presented in having our own Anglican Development Fund, the ADF. It lends investor funds from people like you and me to parishes and other Anglican organisations at below commercial rates. In 2012/13, the benefits of the ADF from the lower borrowing interest rates are estimated to be:

  • $320,000 to parishes
  • $125,000 to the Anglican Diocesan Schools Commission and
  • $95,000 for Diocesan projects.

Additionally there has also been a direct payment of $200,000 to the Diocesan budget in December 2012. All this is only possible because of the confidence our investors place in the development of the church in this diocese by placing our funds with ADF. We are working with the new regulatory changes to see that this great resource can continue to grow and contribute into the future.

The Asian century

We are already thirteen years into what is being called the Asian Century, the rising importance of the Asian region in global affairs and the predicted concurrent decline in geopolitical influence of nations currently dominating the world stage. History has given prominence to our links with Britain, Europe and North America.

The Australian Church, however, has engaged also with our Asia Pacific neighbours – since at least the nineteenth century in what is now Malaysia as well as Burma, Korea, China and Melanesia to name just a few places of missionary and humanitarian involvement. I take this opportunity of congratulating Anglican Overseas Aid which was established in 1988 by Archbishop David Penman as the Archbishop’s International Relief and Development Fund, subsequently AngliCORD, and now celebrating its 25th anniversary!  

What should we be doing in 2014? The Diocesan Ministry Conference in July next year has as its theme Ministry and Mission in the Asian Century and we will further explore the implications for our vision and strategic planning. Early work has commenced for the establishment of a task force to examine the practical ways we ought to be engaging in the Asian century, not least the support and spread of the gospel to our neighbours in the nations of Asia and the Pacific.

Any focus on the world of today must note the imperative of current patterns of global migration and how this plays out on our coastline.  The asylum seekers in boats hoping for refuge in our country demand our compassion, action and prayer. Competing party political solutions struggle to take account of desperate people, abandoned by civil war and other turmoil. The message of Let’s fully welcome refugees, from the banner hanging even now on our cathedral, undergirds our collective effort to bring about a fairer, more humane solution.

Multicultural ministry

We are already a multicultural society, constituted by a diversity of people. In the words of Revelation 7.9: ‘There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’. The 50th anniversary of the ending of the White Australia policy is celebrated this year. It was a turning point for our nation. The Diocese of Melbourne continues to attract immigrants, more recently Sudanese, Karen, Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, Maori, Pacific Islander and Iranian, amongst others. What this means for the ministry and mission of the diocese has been translated in the Vision to specific objectives for the next three years. We are a multicultural church within a multicultural society. Some of us will choose to emphasise the distinctiveness of our language, culture and identity as essential to our faith. Others of us will find that the interaction in diversity of heritage and identity is where we become more deeply shaped in our discipleship. Our goal is to encourage prayer and Bible study in the ‘heart’ language of each, as well as providing the framework for the rich celebration of our diversity.

Working with each community to identify and equip ordained leaders has required some adjustment to our normal policies and procedures and is an example of our resolve to put mission in the centre of how we do things.

Culture of hope

Fostering a culture of hope is a key direction for 2014 – 2016. For this to be achieved we will need to confront our own doubts as well as the certainties of those who declare that the decline of Christianity is inevitable. Our time is not unique in this respect. Surely we need to frame our hopefulness within the wider span of the biblical narrative. The people of the Babylonian exile were called to hope by the prophecy of Jeremiah and told that hope was God’s gift:

‘I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ (Jeremiah 29.11)  Do we suspect that God intends less for us?

Critical to the vision in our culture of hope is ‘People in ministry and mission’. Affirming people in ministry emerged as a key message through the numerous consultations held. I am glad that it did, since the bishops are always conscious of the lay and ordained members of our church and the decisive role good leadership and community harmony play in ministry effectiveness. What the consultation demonstrates is that we can never lose sight of how important we all are in God’s purposes. We are the greatest resource that God has provided to enable the effectiveness of his Church and its mission! You the clergy and laity, here at Synod and throughout the diocese, are our vital resources. 

People in ministry in parishes will be greatly aided, we expect, by the new parish governance legislation, the product of three years’ work and extensive consultation which comes before the Synod tomorrow night. The aspiration is to empower parish clergy, officers and vestries to work within contemporary governance that is efficient and effective. Our system works best when we have energetic communities of faith going about their mission within their own local communities. This is what the new legislation wants to encourage, as well as providing fair mechanisms for a new direction to be taken when that Is not the case.

We pray for Christ’s presence in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission is already disclosing a scale of abuse across a range of community organisations that most of us had been unaware of. Its work is not limited to just one point in time or one organisation so we should expect that this exhaustive process will provide recommendations that will make our community organisations and churches safer places for children.  I unreservedly express our abhorrence of any such abuse and our profound regret for harm done by any past or present member of the Anglican Church, clergy or church worker. We welcome the insights which will come out of the Royal Commission and from the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Sexual Abuse.

For more than twenty years the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne has established codes of behaviour, policies, protocols, reporting and record keeping to minimise the possibility of abuse. We continue to refine our practice and require all clergy and church workers to have professional standards training.  We are not perfect, but our goal is best practice. We pray for truth, for healing, for restorative justice and for reconciliation. A better, safer childhood for all Australian young people must be our hope.

The Anglican welfare agencies and schools are places of hope. The work of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Anglicare, Benetas, St Laurence Community Services, Mission to Seafarers and Lifeworks and many parish based initiatives brings hope to where people are. The Anglican Schools enable thousands of families to know about the gospel of Christ. I want to single out our newest school, Hume Anglican Grammar at Mt Ridley in Craigieburn. Since the last Synod you will have heard of non-government schools in Victoria and elsewhere which have closed, principally because they could not meet their debts.  I want to assure you that Hume Anglican Grammar is a school with quality leadership both in the school and in our Anglican Diocesan Schools Commission, the body which established the school. There is good business practice and careful monitoring also through the Diocese, through which loan funding was enabled.

With over 700 students from Prep to Year 12, Hume Anglican Grammar School is clearly meeting the needs of a large catchment area, providing a high standard of Anglican education, as do the other twenty three Anglican Schools in this diocese.

Hope

It is within a culture of faith and hope that we must communicate the gospel.  Christians are called to be people of hope – in my paraphrase of St Paul’s words from Romans 8: ‘Hoping for what we do not see and waiting for it in patience.’ (Ro 8.24, 25). We cannot see what the year 2053 will be like but I hope that our successors, and perhaps some of you here, might look back on the intervening period and observe the patterns of initiative, energy and evangelism that have been generated from this time.

Robert Leighton, the 17th Century Scottish Episcopal Archbishop of Glasgow wrote, ‘Hope is raised up and set on tiptoe to look out for accomplishment.’  A beautiful image of how we should be poised with anticipation to see the great works of God showing themselves amongst us!

Appreciation and closing remarks

Thank you all! To the very able and committed Council of the Diocese!

To my team of Bishops, Registrar, Dean, Chancellor, Deputy Chancellor and Advocate!

And to all of you, clergy and lay, who minister in this great Diocese of Melbourne.

Thank you to those amongst us who are attending Synod for the first time.  Synod, like all aspects of our life together as God’s people, can only thrive as it is renewed in each generation. Thank you, too, for those amongst us who have returned and who bring the experience of some or many synods with them.

So raise yourselves up on tiptoe to watch how this 51st Synod is part of a new beginning to ‘Make the Word of God fully known across Melbourne and Geelong.’

 

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