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Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 29

21 October, 2018

This week all Diocesan clergy and lay representatives have been gathering for the Third Session of the Fifty-second Synod of the Diocese of Melbourne. On Wednesday our Archbishop delivered The President's Address. I have included selected extracts below, but you may wish to read it in full: download a copy here...

Welcome to this third session of the 52nd Synod of the Diocese of Melbourne. And I commence with these words of prayer in the Woi Wurrung language that were first sung as a hymn at the Merri Creek School over 150 years ago: Pundgul Marman, bar marnameek Nerrembee borun, yellenwa nulworthen bopup Koolinner (O God, Lord God bless your Aboriginal people always).

Last year I outlined the preliminary findings of the Actuarial Study on the extent of our financial responsibilities for Redress of Child Sexual Abuse in the Diocese. This modelling, ahead of the introduction of the Federal Government’s National Redress Scheme estimated our liability to fall somewhere between $12.2m and $21m. Our accounts for the 2017 financial year have provisioned $14.4m, a responsible liability based on the information. I am pleased that the Archbishop in Council has reached the in-principle decision to dedicate an initial capital amount of $8m to which $2.5m will be added annually for the next five years to give confidence that redress payments can be honoured.

You have all been involved over the last 18 months in the processes to enhance Child Safety within the church. This has arisen out of the Government enacting Child Safe Standards that apply to our institutional setting, and also through the Synod legislation that came from the 2017 General Synod, which this Synod adopted last year. You and your parishes are to be commended for the work that has been undertaken in parishes and other ministries as we have implemented the Child Safe Policy and Code of Conduct. I know that this effort has been significant and not without its share of challenges. Cultural change of this magnitude is always difficult and I thank you all for your perseverance and determination to get this right. The Diocese is committed to the establishment of Child Safe-Compliance officers in parishes in support of this cultural change.

Greater Melbourne and Geelong continue to experience urban growth with our population now exceeding five million. Our strategic goal of a ministry presence in each community of 100,000 people has been given a boost by the Melbourne Anglican Foundation committing $250,000 as seed funding for Church planting initiatives in the urban growth area. This is a fund that is open for your contributions and, even though our budget is tight for the next few years, there is much good that we can do by generous giving to the Foundation for this purpose. As much as there is a financial need here there is also the need for people with a real heart for ministry in these new communities to come forward and commit their own effort to this cause.

Both the number and quality of aspirants and candidates for ordination continues to be strong — there are currently more than 30 candidates for ordination and around the same number in the discernment program. We are, however, always in the situation of needing to encourage vocations, the harvest remains plentiful and the labourers, by comparison, few. I am pleased that we will debate a motion encouraging clergy and parishes to embrace a Vocations Day. This follows on from the motion moved last year on this subject by Bishop Brad. I expect to be ordaining at least 17 new Deacons in February next year, and we will have another large ordination of Priests next month.

The Federal Parliament moved quickly after the conclusion of the postal ballot on same-sex marriage to amend the Commonwealth Marriage Act. The Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017, became law on 8 December last year. This is a significant cultural change in our society. The legislation provides for ministers of religion to only solemnize marriages according to the principles of their denomination, which for Anglicans means that clergy are only authorized to officiate at a marriage between a man and a woman. Naturally enough the commitment of love and self-sacrifice to each other in marriage is very personal commitment as much as it is a key relational building block of our society. Christianity will be seen by some as a central plank of the hetero-normative culture that has criminalized homosexual people and their behaviour and still doggedly resists change. For others it is a first order concern to uphold the received teaching of the Church that marriage is only open to people who are heterosexual in their attractions and relationships. It is easy to see how this becomes a very personal and sometimes risky conversation when people disagree. It is no wonder that suggestions about continuing conversation are met with circumspection.

Archbishop Justin Welby has made the case for what we might call "good disagreement". He says, "We are one because Christ made us one, in spite of our disagreement. The koinonia of the Anglican Communion holds within its unity, difference and deep disagreement. It is by staying together in our disagreement that we bear witness to Christ as our only source of Communion. Deep disagreement may well make that certain communion less visible and more strained, but if communion is indeed the irreversible achievement of the Paschal Mystery, nothing we can do can break it. If the Church is called to be the sign and servant of God’s design for the communion of all under the Lordship of Christ (Ephesians 1), then maintaining communion at a time of serious disagreement becomes an evangelical witness". We need to approach the items on our Synod agenda that open up this significant concern and different points of view with prayer and confidence in the deep Communion to which we have been called in Christ. Kindness in thought and speech towards those with whom we disagree will undoubtedly be a great virtue in our life together in these next days.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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