Annual General Meeting
November 20, 2000
This is the third AGM I have attended as incumbent of St Peter's, reviewing the second year of our time together here. It is an opportunity to consider, to evaluate and to learn from what we have experienced. We then look forward to the emerging shape of things in the year now started.
St Peter's is in a time of transition. For some time now the older generation, which has so valiantly served this city church, has seen some significant thinning of the ranks. It is the challenge for this and every congregation to attract and keep those who would care to identify who are part of the younger and middle years. This needs to be a priority for us too. There is much that is encouraging here as well as much more that could be done. It is a huge challenge for the Church as a whole. There are therefore generational changes in the lay leadership that will be negotiated over the next few years as a new younger group takes up the torch. New generations have always in their turn taken on the responsibilities and joys of worshipping God in this place and in this tradition. The best option is a healthy mix, with the tasks and burdens broadly and willingly shared.
I would see it as a particular need at St Peter's now to encourage a larger proportion of the considerable numbers of people who worship here from time to time, to make a more active and regular commitment here. There are so many competing options on a Sunday; so many other demands on time and energy. But if too many have that second level of concern and commitment about what happens here and who is to do it, then this like many another city church, will find itself languishing.
St Peter's is a place that is expected to offer leadership, encouragement and example. It is a leading parish church in the Anglo-Catholic tradition in this country, richly gifted and blessed through the generations since the 1840s. But it has never been an easy place, comfortably endowed and unchallenged. Our whole movement has been buffeted over the last 20 years or so by divisions and differences of approach. These have been fiercely argued. Catholics of integrity have opted for extreme conservatism and extreme radicalism, as well as something in between. Liturgical change has been a matter of great sensitivity, though not in recent times here. St Peter's is a place where a visitor may reasonably expect to find the liturgy carefully and reverently offered, with fine music and a ceremonial that expresses the western catholic tradition which we honour. The preaching is expected to be challenging and thought provoking. The words and the forms of our worship are clearly Anglican. We use the current Prayer Book of our Church in a shape and manner that would still be readily recognisable to our forebears. Worship is at the centre of our purpose and our life.
The maintenance and the development of a genuine sense of a community of faith here is ever the challenge. Clearly there is no real sense of geographical community or specific demographic catchment that is identifiable and able to be worked. There are also always visitors or those who wish to sit quietly in a back row. Many of our regular parishioners would see it as a virtue that St Peter's does not have many of the traditional groups such as guilds or men's groups that in other places and times would have been considered basic. But those groups also do a lot of work in parishes and provide networks of necessary support. Maybe we can be considering some new ones in addition to what we do have here. Because we are scattered over a very large area in terms of where we live, it is very difficult indeed to gather this community other than on Sundays. As the congregation ages, this is even noticeable as a factor for the major weekday festivals. It is not easy.
We have not had an easy year in areas of staffing, security and finance. This has meant added substantial pressures on the rest of us, both clergy and lay. There are real and increasing problems relating to what is happening to the central city, including crime and homelessness, that certainly impinge on our life here. Those who live here face it every day. It is getting noticeably worse. A series of burglaries and break-ins, including the quite brazen removal of so many of the copper downpipes from the church over several nights last month, has been very stressful. There is constant demand for emergency attention and service night and day. Each day we serve breakfast to a considerable number of the homeless and the marginalised. The security of this precinct and those who live here will be an on-going concern for the new vestry. This whole issue was a substantial factor in the sad departure in August of Steve Clarke, our excellent Children's worker and much else, after a July break in to his van, even though behind locked gates. Steve's excellent work for Children's Church over seven years was honoured at a farewell lunch.
We changed our financial reporting system over to something that is quick and accessible during this year. But it took much of the year to get into place. The emerging increases in expenditure and decreases in income were thus not available to the vestry until very late in the process. This will not be so in the future and we are grateful for the huge amount of work that has gone into this changeover.
But without a substantial increase in income, the present staffing levels are no longer sustainable. It is essential that there be another priest resident on-site, with transport, as well as the vicar. This will be so again from January 1st with the arrival of the new assistant curate, Fr Neville Connell. He will at last replace Fr Andrew Tasker, who left us in June. The other staffing levels have had to be reviewed. Fr Philip Gill, who has been a part time part of the clergy team for many years, will be ceasing his half time stipendiary payment from the parish at the end of December. We are actively working to find an increase of available chaplaincy funding at least in part to compensate for this. Fr Philip's valuable work over two days a week at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute for instance, was a support by this parish for ministry to the wider church and world that we can simply no longer afford. I am delighted to say that Fr Philip will stay as part of our non-stipendiary associate clergy team. It is anticipated that Fr Colin Holden's valued current half time stipendiary ministry will continue for the forthcoming year, or be adjusted to a limited degree. Perhaps an ideal and sustainable level of paid clergy staffing for St Peter's is something around 2.5.
Responsible stewardship of people and resources and property is something we all desire. As we meet, the final preparations are being made for the occupation of the upstairs flat in Keble House in early December by Fr Ted Cosens and Caroline his wife, already welcome members of our congregation. The Mission to Seafarers will be also using space upstairs in the parish hall building. Zadok and the Revd Jim Barr, a good friend of St Peter's, formerly from the Collins Street Baptist Church are also occupying space upstairs. This will all produce substantial and welcome income. All parts of the precinct will have to have their use reviewed in this way.
Chaplaincy support for ministry at our several neighbouring large hospitals is a developing and large part of the ministry offered from here, both lay and ordained. A new model supported by the diocese is being trialed here and is working well. We are already doing good things at St V's and the Peter Mac in combined lay and clergy teams, including the vicar, Fr Philip, Margaret Robbins and Tat Hean Lie. Well done to those involved. I would hope that we could in the future offer a very effective support base for more such ministries here, attracting the necessary outside funding and using our facilities and our prime location to the full.
In the area of children's and young people's ministry we wish to build on the foundations already laid. There are some wonderfully committed people here who have much to offer and to share. It is the longer term hope to extend beyond the present one Sunday a month, but that at least will be maintained and strongly supported. If we are to encourage the effective involvement of parents and families in the overall life of the parish, something more is needed. At the moment it is vital, but not having the impact it might. Jeanette Acland, diocesan Children's Ministry Officer, has accepted my invitation to take up this work as Children's Church team coordinator from February.
Another area of parish life with enormous potential is the Institute for Spiritual Studies. The program is diverse and stimulating. Most of the people who come are from outside the congregations of St Peter's. There will be much on offer again next year. The chairman, Jan Gordon-Clark, and the team do a magnificent job. This is an aspect of the sort of area - intellectual, spiritual, theological and social action - where St Peter's has so much to offer, and indeed where so much by way of leadership is expected. Our Bookroom, so expertly steered by Carol O'Connor, now so attractively and prominently located right on the busy street frontage and doing very well, is most important. It speaks of who and what we are. So does the high standard of our music guided by Chris Cook, assisted by Kieran Crichton. "Apostrophe" too is a valued part of what we offer. It brings together much that is important to consider at leisure. The parish website attracts consistently higher visiting numbers than that of the diocese. It is lively and regularly updated. Simon Milton is central to this. It is an increasingly pivotal part of our communication of what we believe and stand for. So to the committee, the manager, our musicians, the editors, the webmaster and team, our warmest thanks are due.
Overall then it is a question of discerning where and how we at St Peter's can make a decisive difference to the diocese and the city and the lives of the people who come in contact with us, because we are here. This is the radical challenge for our Christian discipleship here in this place at this time. We can do better. We can do more. Complacency or an easy ride into a slow yet genteel decline is not really an acceptable option.
It remains for me to record my most grateful thanks to all those who have worked so hard for St Peter's in so many ways during a difficult and in parts bumpy year. Very practical but essential things like catering, brass or flowers or grounds or cleaning or mending, sidesperson's duties, liturgical reading and praying, church sitting, parking supervision, Bookroom rosters, banking, folding of pewsheets, supply of groceries for the food cupboard, helping with breakfasts. Much of this is behind the scenes. Included in this, is week by week tireless work from so many, including Rhonda Graham, Allan and Margaret Lugg, James Walters, Gary Long, Joyce Bruce, Colin Ferguson, Ted Williams, Margaret Robbins, Jean Henderson, Joyce Newton and Pat Mills. Fr Colin has taken a particular concern for the vestments and the works of art in the church. More upfront are servers and choristers and also quite essential to what we are. There were also numerous one-off occasions. A mission fundraiser was a great success, there were social and fun gatherings, and our year under review includes the most amazingly productive fete ever - an absolutely brilliant effort, led by Helen Drummond, Rosalind Neville, Steve Clarke and team.
This then is a place that can only operate well as a functioning team. At the heart of it all, the churchwardens and vestry carry big responsibilities. There is always much to deal with. We thank them: Helen Drummond, Stuart Hall and Robin Briggs, warmly for all that they have done through hard times, and very particularly our new treasurer, Sophie Gordon-Clark. Our stipendiary clergy; Fr Colin Holden and Fr Philip Gill, and our associate clergy; especially Frs Holland, Styles, Helms, Warner and Jobling, have carried a big load. To the Director of Music and his team, the Vicar's Secretary, Glenda Heywood who is central to the daily operations, the sanctuary team led by Peter Bryce assisted by Warren Collins, our sacristan Adam Blackmore, the children's ministry team, both in the church and in the hall, and all the others who work to make this place tick: to all who carry and share the various responsibilities here, we offer our most grateful thanks.
Together we are the people of God here; all of us who worship or visit here for whatever reason and with whatever degree of commitment - together we are St Peter's.
We look forward to the year to come.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.