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Dedication Festival 2006

Sunday 6th August, 2006
Janet Crawford: Address in the Parish Hall after High Mass

I am honoured to be asked to speak to you today, and also rather nervous. I come as in some sense an outsider, a New Zealander who has been in Australia only since the beginning of the year, an Anglican certainly but one with little experience of the Anglo-catholic traditio which is so much a part of St Peter's history and identity. Indeed in New Zealand I would have to travel far to find a parish like St Peter's because the Anglo-catholic movement has never developed in New Zealand to any significant extent.

So why am I at St Peter's at all? I heard about it, and about a number of other parishes soon after I arrived in Melbourne and was looking for a place to worship. St Peter's sounded a little too far from where I live – and a little too "high".

But I came one Sunday, because a Franciscan brother who is a friend of mine was preaching – and I've continued to come, most Sundays. Why? The simple answer is that I found here a place of
Soul-stirring liturgy
Challenging preaching
Fine music
Warm care and welcome
Concern for issues of peace and justice.

As you recognize, these are all attributes of St Peter's as described on its website. I found also a church with a rich history and as I am a historian of course I found that attractive. The history is not only rich; it was sometimes stormy. Life at St Peter's has not always been easy for clergy or parishioners. This history has been well-documented by Colin Holden and others. It is also visible in the buildings, from the marble font given by Joseph Latrobe to the recent icon screen. This afternoon I'm going to touch on just a few points that seem to me significant and hope in doing so to whet your appetite to learn more.

One hundred and sixty years is a long time in Australasia and St Peter's is in fact the oldest Anglican church in Victoria and the first to be consecrated. The foundation stone was laid on 18 June 1846 by Joseph La Trobe, then Superintendent of Port Phillip and later Governor of Victoria. That foundation stone is lost somewhere under the the church and the hill which was then surrounded by bush is now in the middle of a busy city.

Almost from the beginning St Peter's was identified with the Catholic revival in the Church of England. In 1855 Henry Handfield became vicar, after being curate for four years. He died while still in office in 1900, having served the whole of his forty-nine years of ministry at St Peter's. Handfield was influenced by the Tractarian or Oxford movement, begun in England by Keble's famous sermon in 1833. Handfield took the daring step – for those days – of introducing a male choir robed in surplices, the first such choir in the colony. This action annoyed the bishop so much that he did not visit St Peter's for seven years! Handfield was also responsible for many changes in the interior of the church, including the innovation of cross and candlesticks on the altar. Ladies of the parish made beautiful hangings for the sanctuary and banners for processions, all of which firmly identified St Peter's as Anglo-Catholic.

Handfield was followed by Ernest Selwyn Hughes, vicar from 1900 to 1926. Hughes was a prominent exponent of ritualism in worship and many of his innovations in the worship and sacramental life at St Peter's were controversial. St Peter's figured frequently in the news and was the subject of much critical comment. A poem published in The Argus in 1906, the year in which Hughes introduced incense at high mass, was titled "Awful Happenings on the Hill" and the writer left no doubt as to his attitude:
      If you want a feast of horrors you can get your very fill
      If you come along on Sunday to St Peter's on the Hill.

Ernest Hughes was succeeded by Canon Farnham Maynard, vicar for thirty-eight years from 1926 to 1964. Maynard was Melbourne's leading Anglican radical, an Anglo-catholic and also a Christian Socialist. His concern for the community, especially for the poor and marginalized, had its roots in the doctrine of the Incarnation which he understood as challenging all that degraded human dignity in any way. Like his predecessors Maynard stressed the importance of the community of faith, built up by worship and sacramental life.

It seems to me quite remarkable that from 1855 to 1964 – over one hundred years – St Peter's had only three incumbents: Handfield for 45 years, Hughes for 26, Maynard for 38. (I understand the present vicar does not intend to stay as long as any of these!)

Of course since 1964 there have been other vicars, vicars with significant ministries, but I think much is owed to these three, who set St Peter's so firmly in the Anglo-Catholic tradition and under whose leadership the parish grew and developed.

In singling out a few clergy I do not want to overlook the role of lay men and women, the thousands who have worshipped here, been baptised, married and buried here, and the hundreds who have served the parish and the wider church with their time and talents. At one time there was a team of forty servers and this has always been an important role. There have been choristers, musicians, teachers, vestry members, synod representatives, benefactors, embroiderers, flower arrangers, cleaners and many others who have contributed to the life of St Peter's in different ways. There has also been a long connection with overseas mission, especially in New Guinea, where a number of St Peter's parishioners served.

For a long time men and women had separate roles, something which was not questioned as it was the common practice in society as well as in the church. Change came slowly and in 1957 St Peter's was in fact one of the first parishes to have women members of the vestry, although it was only many years later that it had a woman synod representative.

Margaret Robbins has written about how women struggled for a place in the sanctuary. It was not until 1996, in its 105th year, that St Peter's accepted women servers at high mass, a change that was overwhelmingly endorsed in a secret ballot. Ten years later, in 2006, women are actively and visibly engaged in all aspects of St Peter's life, including in the sanctuary – but I suggest that there is still some way to go before men and women are full and equal partners in the whole ministry of the church.

It is obvious that in 2006 we live in a world that is greatly different from that of 1845. The Christian world too has changed greatly in the last 160 years. Christians everywhere face new challenges; Anglicans face particular changes and difficulties both internationally and locally. What sort of a parish is St Peter's at this critical time? What sort of future lies ahead? You will each have your own answers to these questions, your own hopes and visions for the future. It seems to me that St Peter's is a parish that is in good heart, that it shows many signs of life and growth, that it is a community that gathers in the name of the Lord. It is a community that gathers, worships, prays, studies, celebrates on a hill.

When I think of a church on a hill two images come to mind: one I see as essentially defensive, the other as open and inviting. Durham cathedral in the north of England is an example of a defensive church. The castle and cathedral sit together on a high hill, both built with thick stone walls, formidable and enclosed, offering safety from enemies and security in a dangerous world. There are churches and parishes today which while not physically built of stone and set on hills seem to be defensive: ready to raise the drawbridge, slam down the portcullis, man the battlements, prepared to fight off all enemies and reluctant to admit those whose loyalty is not proven.

Ely cathedral offers a different image. Set in the midst of the wide, flat and featureless fenlands, the light of Ely shone like a beacon in the dark, guiding travellers, giving hope to the lost and weary, a visible reminder of God's presence in the world.

Liturgy is important, music is important, preaching is important, tradition is important – but the church exists not for itself but for the world, the world in which Christ became incarnate, the world for which he died. How will St Peter's relate to this world in the next 100 years?


Topical Articles

 Ministerial Priesthood
 Lay presidency
 Catholic Anglicanism
 Women bishops

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