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Vicar's Report

Annual General Meeting
Monday, November 22, 2004

Firstly, I wish to record again my warm thanks to the whole team of people who work so hard here. For some like Glenda Heywood and Fr Neville Connell we say thank you for a job well done. For some like Warren Collins, Fr Craig D'Alton, Sr Valmai CHN, Philip Bewley, Robert Whalley we say welcome in new responsibilities and thank you. For many like John Taaff, John Liversidge, Liz Prideaux, David Pacey, Peter Oondaatje, Colin Ferguson, Fr Tat Hean Lie, Carol O'Connor, John Weretka, Julian Clark, Fr Colin Holden, Jan Gordon-Clarke, Margaret and Allan Lugg, James Walters, Joyce Bruce, Peter Bryce, Adam Blackmore, Gary Long, assisting clergy, vestry members, choristers and musicians, volunteers and supporters of every continuing kind, we say thankyou for keeping up the good work. Without you all, it is just not possible.

This is the seventh Annual General Meeting during my time as the incumbent vicar of St Peter's Eastern Hill. We are moving together into that potentially very productive period of a longer incumbency when it is really possible that the whole team of people involved and concerned with the ministry and running of a parish community of faith can, as it were, find their stride – work together harmoniously and well. This is a wonderfully positive thing. And it is happily the very opposite of a small and threatened group defensively moving into protective mode, when so much about the Church as a whole is disappointing or bewildering.

This then is not just a question of the smooth running of an operation – though of course that is a splendid thing to have. It is not just a way of finding the lowest common denominator that will leave the pre-existing members of a small private club in a state of contentment until eventually, tired but happy, they go to God – though of course we must care and support each other as well as we can. It is not about circling the wagons and waiting grimly for the attacks that will come. It is not about asserting that any new ways of declaring and celebrating old truths are never going to be possible. What are the times saying to us, as we review our life as a parish?

Carpe diem is a Latin motto about taking the opportunity that is presenting itself – 'sieze the day' it says. Behind it is a presupposition about assurance and hope, about leadership and confidence. And also it is about a degree of determination.

In some senses I was actually delighted a few weeks ago when the Dean of Sydney's headlined observations from that conference in England about the Archbishop of Canterbury and King's College got such substantial coverage. It has really helped to focus the issues and to make clear the choices. As I said at the time, this is just going too far for the rest of us to be remaining compliantly silent.

But a dismissing ridicule is nowhere near enough. We need to be looking actively to offering clear alternatives. In times like these and in a Church like ours, I have to say that means some very clear burdens falling on the shoulders of that group of people who at this time make up the community of faith that is St Peter's Eastern Hill. And that starts with me as the incumbent vicar.

If we are silent now and offer nothing (except just to keep things nicely ticking over), then we will be failing badly. There is leadership, there is teaching, there is example, there are different models of faithfulness and discipleship. If those of us who happen to be here have the courage and the quiet confidence to try to take it on, these are some big gaps that we just might be able to address, if this is the place I think it is. If there are those of us around who would wish to declare for a different approach to what it is to be an Anglican Christian to that for instance of the Dean of Sydney, then we are indeed going to need to stand up and be counted. We need to encourage others of a similar view to join us. Silence is consent and resolute division on second level issues is weakness.

First that means getting our spiritual act together ourselves. It means being very serious indeed about being followers of Jesus Christ. It means intentionally working on our relationship with God in Jesus Christ in prayer, worship, service, teaching, and a sense of community as we have grown to develop, to love and to understand these things, within our Catholic tradition. We need again to claim and to offer our strengths. We need to consider how we here can better do this. That is a challenge for the Vicar, it is a challenge for the whole ministry team, it is a challenge for every one of us here.

We are in the middle of what is developing into a major battle for the very soul of what it is to be an Anglican. It is happening at a world level. It is happening within the Australian Church. It is happening in the diocese of Melbourne. Internationally, much depends on the reception of the recent Windsor Report, which offers a way forward emphasising and reinforcing the mutual interdependence of the 44 provinces that make up the Anglican Communion. It is still certainly possible that there could be a major split in the Anglican Communion. Choices will have to be made and priorities determined.

There are immediate presenting issues and there are more basic underlying ones. The fundamentalist extremism that is represented so well by the Dean of Sydney – what he does, what he says, what he turfs out of that cathedral, what he teaches, who he will have nothing to do with – also presents the rest of us with a clear representative choice. Does he speak for us? Is this cut and dried, so very black and white understanding ours? Is this the God, the Church, the community that is ours?

Is it just possible that in the year ahead we will be moving into such a time when we ourselves are going to have to seize the day and exercise much more actively the responsibilities we have as the central city anglo catholic church in this diocese? I think it is. In other words, are we able to afford the luxury of being only or primarily concerned with ourselves, just as we are? That was never the St Peter's way, surely.

And is it just possible that for whatever combination of reasons, we are actually now in the happy position of having a very good and growing team – right across the board of the dozen or twenty key people here who have willingly taken on these tasks – ordained, lay, voluntary, paid. Are we now in fact actually ready to take this challenge on? I think we are.

Firstly, we have a very good leadership team in place. Clergy and lay collegially together is a vital strength. Now for the first time at least in the last six years we are also potentially moving into a much better financial position. That is a second strength. We now all have a clear challenge to continue strongly in this direction and finally and decisively to move out from under that overhanging financial shadow, that year by year has loomed in the background. We give thanks for the generosity that is now making this possible. This is a blessing and again, potentially, a clearing of the decks for renewed responsibility.

A third and crucial factor must be an ability and a willingness to articulate and live out a clear and authentically attractive faith. Clergy and people share this obligation. Finally there is that core continuing task that is all about the building of community, in the context of our tradition, that is living and creative and inspiring. These are four key factors that will shape how we address the year that is ahead.

It is then a matter of all of us here at The Hill having a growing and renewed common sense of direction and purpose – of who we are and what we stand for, and what it is that we want to share and offer. This, perhaps like in the 1920s or the 1940s, will again be in the context of division and confrontation within the Church. This again is a time when St Peter's needs to develop a sharp clarity of position and to articulate the clear choice on offer.

In the first instance we here at St Peter's Eastern Hill need to continue to stand and work well together. If we have our act together as a community of faith when so much that is dear or central to our understanding is under assault, then others will be more encouraged to join with us. We need a continually replenishing critical mass of committed people. So of course there are implications about welcoming and supporting those who will be checking us out. Others will want to join us, if we present an attractive option.

If the crisis in the wider Church we have identified continues to unfold, people are going to be forced into making choices. Some will choose to give up the whole enterprise. Some may agree wholeheartedly with the Dean of Sydney. Some will be looking for somewhere strong enough to offer an alternative. It could well be here, by active and deliberate choice. So are we ready? I think so.

The Lord be with you.

Rev'd Dr John Davis


Topical Articles

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 Lay presidency
 Catholic Anglicanism
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