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Vicar's Report

Annual General Meeting
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

This is the 6th AGM that I have presided at as incumbent of the parish of St Peter, Melbourne. St Paul's well-known image of the community of the church being inter-connected and mutually dependent, just as the various parts of a human body, immediately comes to my mind.

I am very conscious once again of the importance of acknowledging all those; clergy, office bearers, staff, volunteers, parishioners and worshippers of all kinds, members of various groups, members of none, who day by day, week by week, or sometimes only grand occasion by grand occasion, would want to say that they are part of St Peter's Eastern Hill. In a place like this, there are many different layers of association for so many people. But any lively city church depends on an extraordinary degree of committed service from people who choose often to travel considerable distance past any number of potential alternatives. They do this, you do this this, because it is important to you and you value what is here. We in turn acknowledge and value you at an annual general meeting.

A typical day at St Peter's starts early with mass followed later by morning prayer. The resident clergy, Fr Neville Connell, Br Tat Hean Lie and myself are joined in that round by our team of associate priests. Fr Sam Ata lives here in Keble House with his wife Doreen and their wonderful family. There is also regularly Fr Lawrie Styles, Fr David Warner, Fr Alec Reid and Fr Richard Waddell. The breakfast program is by then in full swing, with often up to 50 homeless or needy people given a meal every day in the Hughes Room. The Lazarus Centre, both here and at the cathedral, operates with Deacon Bevil Lumson and team of volunteers, including a number from here. Emergency food is also provided, along with blankets – and a great deal of care. If it is Tuesday there will be a quick change of gear in that room, because:the members of the Icon School will be coming shortly and Bishop Bayton will be already there.

By the time the breakfast is finished for the day though, the Vicar's secretary, Glenda Heywood, will have been upstairs in our new parish office rooms for over an hour, at the best time of the day before the phone gets too busy. Philip Bewley might be there too. Churchwardens John Taaff, John Liversidge and Liz Prideaux clearly live here, though I am not sure where. There are tradespeople to meet, cheques to sign, flowers to buy and arrange, or fetes to organise. Money matters will be dealt with by treasurer David Pacey, with Colin Ferguson and Robin Briggs, as well as Peter Ondaatje and Peter McWhinney.

Other vestry members and parishioners will be doing their thing. Clergy will come and go. The vicar might be answering correspondence or dealing with many phone calls. Fr Neville might be deep in pastoral conversation. Br Tat Hean will be hard at work in the hospitals, Fr Lawrie will be starting home communion rounds. Carol O'Connor and some of her team of volunteers will have the Bookroom throwing wide its welcoming doors for another day.

Depending on the day, Margaret and Alan Lugg, James Walters of the catering team might be preparing something good. for another St Peter's hospitable occasion Joyce Bruce could, as well as preparing platters of nibbles, be scrubbing something to within an inch of its life. Gary Long our groundsman could be cleaning up some mess outside or mowing a lawn. A church sitter might be welcoming someone inside the church while Ted Williams dismantles and polishes a lamp or two. Adam Blackmore might be setting up for a special service or doing those things that a sacristan needs to do.

And there will be others around. Many, many people through the day will be coming in to the church to quietly pray, or just to be still in a busy world, or to look around at what is special to us and maybe also to them. They may be coming to mass in the lunch hour. They may be a school group for one of the vicar's guided talks or on a city walking tour. But it is very unlikely indeed that any of these, visitors or regulars to this fine old church, would be left in any doubt as to why we are here or what are we doing. Because in all this, the heart and the reason for it all is to be found right there in the church; right there at the centre of the High Altar. God with us.

A number of wider church and community groups use St Peter's as their base, either during the day or evenings. Certainly, come the evening, there could be another ISS seminar that Jan Gordon Clark and her team have organised. There might be a study group ably led by Robert Whalley or a pleasant shared evening meal in the hospitality of the vicarage. Bruce Kellett might be at home doing something creative with our parish website and making sure it is up to date. It is possible that our Children's Church team of Pat and Barry Draper and Julie Berry could be meeting at home for a meal to plan the content for the next monthly service.

But here our inspiring choir might be preparing to practice. John Weretka, who has done so much to bring our music together again, and Mark Raczynski or Julian Clarke would be there, preparing the fine music for the coming week. If rather it happened to be the night for a weekday festival, then Peter Bryce and the serving team would be gathering in dedicated strength, and, as on any other festival day at St Peter's, worshippers would be gathering. All of us together – those who have been specifically mentioned this time in this report and those who have not – all getting on with being the church in this particular eucharistic community of faith, in the way that we know and love best.

The year under review has been a memorable one. In an uncertain world and in an uncertain Church, there remains very much to be thankful for and indeed to be proud of in this central city anglo-catholic church. Much of that revolves around the central core community of faith here: that collection of people for whom this is their spiritual home. In a number of quite important and particular challenges over this last year, that core group, that extends across all age groups, has truly shown what it is made of. There is no doubt that there will not be the easiest times ahead either. Therefore it is of crucial important that this parish and others like us are in good heart and that we continue to have the active desire to declare, to live out and to share the good things of God. Our tradition is a rich one. In this generation we, and those we can encourage to join with us, are the ones who have the responsibility to see that that tradition truly lives, now.

As I have said before. both here and in the context of my current leadership of our ecumenical partnership with all the churches in this central city area, we really have a clear enough choice in these times. We could circle the wagons, as it were, and become extremely defensive, withdrawing into ourselves and, with some degree of fear, lash out at all we oppose. That is one way. Or we can rather pick up that demand and utter reassurance of God in that psalm refrain: 'Do not be afraid: I am with you. I have called you by your name: you are mine'. Any group could go a long way with that, with cheerful, grace-filled, searching hearts. So that is another way, I would hope, a better way.

But without our continuing active searching out for the God who in every way is reaching out for us, and the consequent continuous building of the community of faith of all those of us who are doing the best we can, with who we are and what we have, we would be very hard pressed indeed. Let us never take for granted all that is here at The Hill to feed us and to nourish us in the spiritual life, in worship, prayer, study, service to others, good company.

Try making an extended set of visits to lots of other places while on holidays and see what you think. We can all do that. And I would think that most of us would return with a renewed valuing of those things that we do do well here. And to the extent that we might individually or together fall down in any of these areas, let us resolve to try further. We have much to do, always, but we have much already here to build upon too. In a climate and a context that is potentially hostile to much that this place stands for, a positive and quietly determined assurance that we indeed have much to offer and much to celebrate would be the message that I would like to join with you all in declaring.

I am very conscious that we have been able to achieve a lot together this year. We have also had to weather a storm or two. But this we have done, and I dare to say, done well. We were all enormously encouraged by the remarkable response to our special appeal this year. The great results are there for all to see in the complete and excellent refurbishment of a whole section of the Parish Hall building. Sophie Latrobe is honoured there. I would also wholeheartedly commend to us all the initiative of the Handfield Club: an association of all those who have included our parish in their wills. We need a secure and generous endowment to resource the ministry and the work of the generations to come.

I am though immensely grateful to the group of people who carry the greatest load here, both clergy and lay, paid and unpaid. I think especially of the churchwardens and Glenda, and those special people who are so basic to the ongoing day to day life of this community of faith that together we constitute. I am personally particularly thankful for those who offer me the support and care that I myself need if I am to be able to offer my best. I am happy to say this year that it is a pleasure to be a part of such a group.

But in the context of the events of July this year, I would like to pay special warm tribute to the work and ministry here at St Peter's of Fr Colin Holden, over 7 years. We give thanks for his dedicated service and we do look forward to continuing contact and connection. I would also like to acknowledge and give thanks for the more than three years that Fr Neville Connell has been with us here at St Peter's as a full time resident priest. He goes to a well-earned retirement at the end of January next. We wish him well. And we all give thanks for the growing ministry of Br Tat Hean Lie. Coming to us from another Christian tradition, he has truly blossomed. We rejoice in his forthcoming ordination to the priesthood and his continuing ministry amongst us and in the nearby hospitals.

So another year has gone by and there is another to look forward to. May God continue to bless us in our life together.

Revd Dr John Davis


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