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Vicar's Report

Annual General Meeting
Monday, November 25, 2002

I am now well into the fifth year of my time here at St Peter's as incumbent. The last year under review at this Annual Meeting of the parish has generally been very encouraging, though life here is never entirely easy or predictable. A central city church with sizeable gathered congregations and their pastoral needs, heritage buildings always in need of more than we can offer and the pressing demands of the homeless and the hungry all the time – such a place is always going to be challenging. It is. And we as a community of faith seek to rise to those continuing challenges. One of the key things is to try to keep our eyes on the main game and not to become distracted or to get our priorities out of balance.

We have to acknowledge both what we are not and what we are. We are not your 'normal' parish church. We are not a religious heart of a close knit community that is geographically small. We are mostly only interested in what goes on here on Sundays and the big festivals. We do not all bump into each other at the local supermarket, post office, theatre or golf course. We do not have large groups such as women's guilds or Mothers Union branches busy working on parish or local projects. There are no schools in this parish. Instead we have half the CBD and some beautiful parks and several major hospitals and parliament. So we do have really interesting and creative ties with those different bodies like the city, the parliament and the hospitals that a 'normal' parish church would not

And what an amazing ministry precinct we actually have here. Right on site we have three priests and one soon to be deaconed hospital chaplain. This is a place of hospitality and welcome. We have been especially delighted to welcome the Ata family from Melanesia. We welcome visitors and friends. The place is buzzing with activity. Because we have a large plant conveniently placed right here on the edge of the city centre, we are able to be the base for a number of activities and ministries wider than our own. So, at St Peter's can be found the wonderful diversity of the Zadok Centre, Ecumenical Housing, Good Friends counselling service, the Merton Centre, the Austral Salon and the Lazarus Centre, as well as a number of other community based groups. Some of these as well as our own parish projects offer opportunities for service or education or enjoyment to our own people as well as those from further afield. This is all to the good. And we have tried and true familiar friends. The Icon School and the Institute for Spiritual Studies have been strong parts of the ongoing life of St Peter's for more than 20 years. The 60s plus group taps into another strong tradition, with mass and meal enjoyed by all. Children's Church each month has been immensely encouraging this year, with more numbers than ever before.

All this plus the ever-improving Bookroom brings a steady stream of people here in addition to the very considerable numbers who come to the church each day to pray, to worship or simply to look around. And we have our own big occasions, more often than not associated with food and beverages or special visitors, or both. These very often find focus in our well-used parish hall surrounded by the splendid photos and engravings celebrating over 150 years of parish life. But if we are thinking of big occasions, who will ever forget for instance the visit of Archbishop Rowan Williams here last Pentecost, both for the ISS and for the festival? Our won close ties with the new Archbishop of Canterbury are a joy to us all. We know we are offering the best of St Peter's at a time like that and we rejoice in it.

But because we are an historic and well-placed city Anglo-Catholic church, we do as a matter of course get many visitors to our Sunday masses. And there are many other people who watch what we do and care how we do it. This is a place that is seen to be offering something special and particular in this Catholic tradition of Anglicanism within this diocese of Melbourne. We value this, we cherish this and we seek to build and to sustain and develop this, here at St Peter's. That is our task.

I would like to encourage us to focus on that which we particularly do well – and then to do it better, as best we can, trying to build on the structures of community that we already have. Three things I would like to put under special consideration:

  • Worship and the spiritual life
  • Hospitality and welcome
  • Outreach and care.
The first words of each of these I would suggest are at the core of what we do at St Peter's and this has probably always been the case. The following words in each case are always the growing edge, the area for further improvement. And again, this has probably always been so. But first we can rightly claim and acknowledge our areas of existing strength.

Worship of course is at the heart of what anyone thinks of when they think of St Peter's. Clergy and people together make this happen. Preparation is loving and careful at all levels. The church and how it looks, what is said and done and sung or played, what it looks like, how it sounds, how it is offered, who is there, what is proclaimed and honoured, how prayed, how celebrated – all this is worship. So this house of God, this place of prayer is recognised to be just that, and the most casual visitor acknowledges this. It is hard to imagine that we could ever give too much attention to this aspect of living. And the cutting edge is the continuing and ongoing growth in the depth and the integrity of our spiritual life, including attention to the structures and disciplines that we find help us grow.

Hospitality we enjoy, or at least many of us do. The after mass conviviality is a particularly important aspect of life together for a collection of people that is so scattered otherwise. We very much enjoy our big meals and other social occasions. But these touch a smaller proportion of those who have contact with us, especially if they are held at a time other than Sundays. The growing edge here remains that of welcome – a welcome that goes beyond those we already know; a welcome to those who are new and who might be looking us over. Is this to be the place for them? That smile and that greeting may well make the difference.

Outreach by way of support for mission at home and abroad has always been important. In this last year this has certainly continued. Our substantial parish support for the Ata family is in turn a support for the Church of Melanesia. We have been blessed by this opportunity placed before us to be neighbours to this wonderful family. We have also continued with support to both PNG and Bali. But our biggest effort in time, plant and volunteers is here at home with the Lazarus Centre breakfast and emergency support program for the homeless and needy of this immediate area. Where this time last year we were feeding 8 or 10 at breakfast each day, now it is more like 40 or 50. Under the leadership of Bevil Lunson this continues to grow both here and at the Cathedral – all flowing from the seed funding received from the Commonwealth by this parish four years ago, now ably administered through Anglicare Victoria. The growing edge here is not in the programs themselves, but in the care that motivates them – seeing the needs, discerning priorities and then working out how best we may respond.

So these are three major aspects of our life together – perhaps even the major aspects of our life together. It would be good twelve months from now to consider again how these areas of existing strength have been even further strengthened.

AGM reports from vicars could become somewhat repetitive. So I will not go over in any detail this time my continuing responsibilities with the Melbourne City Churches in Action except to say that I thoroughly enjoy my responsibilities as Convener of that body. Our church has the reputation of being strongly involved in things ecumenical at the city and the state level. The same pleasure applies to my work with the Parliament of Victoria as a chaplain, the various hospital chaplaincies that we clergy share and my work with the Management Committee of the Trinity College Theological School and the diocese at General Synod and Provincial level. This all continues.

It is also very hard to start thanking individuals because then there are others who are potentially hurt because they are not specifically named as well. To do justice to all those who do all things there would need to be a roll call of at least 50 people. Even this not at all normal parish is like that too. So first, thank you to all who day by day and week by week keep this place ticking nicely and quietly over. To those who show little acts of kindness or encouragement when things are tough. To those who are ready to chip in and help and not just leave it for someone else. To those who notice and those who care.

Specifically I thank the clergy team – Fr Neville Connell and Fr Colin Holden and the wider group of associate clergy without whom St Peter's could not function the way it does: Frs Waddell, Ata, Warner, Cosens, Styles, Reid, as well as Frs Jobling, Holland and Helms. The churchwardens John Taaf, Robbie Youngman and John Liversidge and our retiring treasurer Peter Ondaatje and all the members of vestry. Glenda Heywood in the office. Barry Draper and the Children's Church leadership. Bp Bayton and the Icon School. Those who have helped with other administrative tasks such as banking including Colin Ferguson. Carol O'Connor and team in the Bookroom. The sanctuary team with Peter Bryce and Warren Collins and particularly our sacristan Adam Blackmore and now our verger as well, Tat Hean Lie. The music team through difficult times of transition: Chris Cook, Peter Nicholson and the choristers. The Catering group and this year particularly Joyce Bruce taking on a bigger load. Gary Long caring for the grounds and shifting endless chairs. Jan Gordon-Clark and the ISS helpers. Liz Prideaux with the flowers. Margaret Robbins and the church-sitters. Finally, I would also thank those who regularly attend the weekday masses – people like Joyce Newton and Jean Henderson or Marj Churton.

So then, we look forward to the year to come, with much to be thankful for in the year that is past.

John Davis


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