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Vicar's Report

Annual General Meeting
Sunday, November 20, 2005

As we gather on the day of the eighth parish Annual General meeting that I have chaired here at St Peter's Eastern Hill, I give thanks for this year that is past: for those who have given their all and then some – for the whole team of people in every aspect of the life of this community of faith have worshipped, prayed, offered service and care and worked very hard and long. This city Anglo Catholic church here in Melbourne has in these difficult times for both Church and State even more of a responsibility and a task. We bear witness to the living tradition that is ours to share and to celebrate. We seek to grow in this faith, to enrich and to develop our understanding of how we might live it out in our circumstances and in these times. Perhaps most particularly, we seek to be a welcoming and hospitable healthy community. We are followers of Jesus Christ who take care and joy in fine worship, good teaching, outreaching service. We try in every way we can to articulate an approach to the Christian faith that reflects the generous gifts of God. We honour and celebrate the wideness of God's mercy that embraces us all. We are called to be an alternate voice and to offer leadership and hope when some with different views of the church and the ways of God are happy enough to write our tradition off. We are here and we are growing.

It is therefore a special pleasure to be able to draw our attention to both the growth in the figures for the acts of communion over the past year and to the 12% increase in the actual giving received. These are very basic indicators that are always of some help in gauging the health of a community of faith. We remain one of around 20 parishes in the diocese who would average more than 200 through the doors on any given Sunday. Our acts of communion remain close to the highest in the diocese. We are continuing to welcome growing numbers of people who are new to St Peter's and who like what they find. We are together a most varied group. That brings with it pastoral issues that demand sensitivity as well as the organisational reality that comes with parishes that are larger .There are matters here that can be helped by careful and honest discussion and mutual respectful awareness.

Our Anglo Catholic tradition has various strands. We have them represented within our community. Our different Sunday masses, our various devotional and study groups and the different ways we each care to get involved in the life of St Peter's reflects this. Some might above all be looking for a place of prayerful peace. Others may be looking for a place to roll up the sleeves and do some good works. Some will be ready to take on the world and engage fully in the issues and disagreements of the day. Others would by disposition much prefer to circle the wagons and lie low. Some would be far happier if nothing was to change from that which they themselves first knew and loved. Most of us would be distressed at the state of the Church in the wider world.

But all of us honour and love the worship and the quiet beauty that has brought us here and we do that in the grateful knowledge of the generations of the faithful in whose places we kneel and sit and stand. None would deny that St Peter's Eastern Hill is a very special place precisely because of the tradition we have received and the way we continue to receive it. If this church was pretty much the same as every other Anglican parish church, there would be no particular reason for us to survive, let alone to thrive. But we are not pretty much the same as every other Anglican parish church. We celebrate our difference and we willingly also take on the responsibilities that our historic place in the life of the Church in this city places upon us. Of course that can best be done when we ourselves are in a position of strength and are in good heart.

Some of what is happening here at St Peter's represents a time of generational change and consequent transition. This is altogether normal and necessary but it is never entirely easy and often involves the sadness of parting. Each year some of our parish community go to God and we are diminished by their loss. In this past year I would particularly honour Peter McWhinney and James Walters. They will not be easily forgotten.

This year two of our churchwardens are retiring: Lis Prideaux and John Liversidge. Lis will be continuing on vestry and continuing with her wonderful work in charge of the church flowers. John will be having a well-earned rest from his enormously demanding labours, particularly relating to our property. The parish owes a huge debt of gratitude.

In the vestry itself, we will have a good balance of old and new faces. Four new members of vestry will replace three who have not stood again and one who has died. There is an equal balance of male and female in the 12 members. I am very pleased to say that John Taaff will be continuing with his responsibilities as Vicar's Warden and his work in the fundraising area. He has worked tirelessly. He will be joined by Rachel Ellyard and Gavin Edwards as churchwardens for the new year. Our treasurer David Pacey has kept a steady professional hand on our finances. He too is continuing. Warren Collins our Parish Administrator is a calm and genial pivot to the parish operations. Carol O'Connor continues to be our most excellent Bookroom Manager. Grantley McDonald and Linda Kent have led our fine music. The team that makes it all happen here goes on: Alan and Margaret Luggs and Joyce Bruce and so many others in catering, Peter Bryce and the servers, Adam Blackmore in the sacristy, Gary Long in the grounds, the Breakfast Program every day, Jan Gordon-Clark and the ISS, the Icon School – and we all know there are many more.

I have not even mentioned the rest of the ministry team. We are indeed blessed with the growing list of those licensed by the Archbishop for ministry at or from St Peter's Eastern Hill. And we are a varied group. Sr Valmai CHN is our pastoral worker, now in full time ministry quietly but steadily making a difference. Robert Whalley is now completing his first year of full time tertiary chaplaincy at Latrobe and RMIT and enjoying every minute of it. Fr Tat Hean Lie continues with his great work as Anglican chaplain at St Vincent's and Peter Macallum hospitals, Fr Graham Sawyer has taken on the Sunday 6.30pm mass with vigour, (replacing Fr Richard Waddell whom we thank), Fr Tom Brown SSM has had a very full first year with us, including two months as locum tenens. Our other associate priests Fr Lawrie Styles, Fr Alec Reid, Fr Sam Ata, Fr Stephen Miles, Fr Neil Fryer make the daily round possible. But above all, for talent and enthusiasm and sheer hard work, our assistant priest Fr Craig D'Alton simply cannot be beaten. I myself have now been Vicar here for over seven years. I think I am just getting into my stride! All of us are offering the best we can to this place. We all find encouragement and inspiration from what is going well and we will continue to do our best to fill the remaining gaps and deficiencies, welcoming as we do the help and advice of all who want to make this community of faith their own.

I commend the reports of the Annual General meeting to you for your careful reading. I have included by way of an appendix various passages from sermons that I have preached over this past year. They give something of a further flavour of the year and of what we are perhaps slowly in the course of achieving. There are a few things to reflect on and much to give thanks for.

May God continue to be with us in the year that is to come.

The Lord be with you.

Christ the King November 21

So how might we understand this 'kingdom of his beloved Son'? If we consider those many parables of the kingdom that the Lord himself taught, we see we are at once dealing with teaching about sharp glimpses of another, deeper truth, another reality altogether, that somehow can break through, even in our experience of the everyday and normal. They are stories of little shafts of hope. Sudden bursts of sheer joy. A whole new perspective; a new direction. Those parables of the kingdom are all about discernment and insight – ours of course, not God's. There may be a stirring of response. A kindling of a spark of hope. A slight lifting of the darkness of disappointment. A sense of the possibilities of new beginnings, even when it all seems so very unlikely. Coming to terms with these discernments is what we are challenged to do on this day, and indeed every day.

So then, are we ourselves able to be people of this sort of hope? Are we able to be like those in the parables of the kingdom, who have a deeper reality burst through, that somehow places all the rest of experience into a different context?

OS 5 February 6th

None of us is at the same place. No one has arrived at perfection, but together, through a community like this we can encourage and support each other. We can all seek to grow in faith and service and commitment. How good it would be if we could all share that type of thanksgiving that is actually contagious; that would in turn bring others to join us. This does in fact happen. Many of us here have come and have stayed because of that. And it remains a good question to ask ourselves on a regular basis: just how whole-hearted is our own thanksgiving to God? Does it really show? Does it make a difference?

St George's Day April 25th

It is clear to me that if we are not in good heart, either as individuals or as communities, then we will not be able to carry on and we will certainly not be in the position of encouraging others to join us. I am very happy to share some of this continuing search with you.

The area of preparation, training, equipment and support is in fact something we can all work at, according to our circumstances and needs. These two months are bringing together a number of significant and continuing strands for me that will, I hope, help me serve my parish and people better – and simply help me keep going as a priest of the Church at a time like this. I am in between a special and immensely encouraging gathering in London relating to 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Society of the Holy Cross which I have been a member of since the early 80s and a 17 day pilgrimage to Assisi with a group from the parish and some other friends, soaking in the spirituality and the peace of the home of Francis and Clare. As someone who is trying out the graces of the Third Order Franciscans, this will be a great gift as well.

Picture though a coming together of up to 700 priests and 20 or 30 bishops, including one extravaganza lasting all one Saturday at the Royal Albert Hall for 5,500 people. Picture highlights such as an outstanding address from the Archbishop of Canterbury on the priesthood of Christ, all in the end coming down to the absolute centrality of worship in intimacy of relationship with God in Jesus Christ. And that being delivered on the morning that he went to Rome for the papal funeral. Picture the very first act of worship of that international synod being the offering of Benediction in a packed very large St Alban's Holborn, wonderful music, dense smoke, shafts of light, the overwhelming experience of so many in one heart, one voice, one action, one reverence; so very conscious of the greats of the catholic revival who had served and suffered there. There could not have been any who were not in tears at the end. Picture hundreds of vested priests processing through the main street in Walsingham from Parish Church to Shrine, singing the pilgrims' hymn, watching for the odd snowflake. This is indeed equipping for what may lie ahead. This is encouragement, even if the experience is not directly transferable to the Australian situation. This is equipping, even if the context and the challenges are different for participants going home to somewhere in the UK or the USA or Sweden or wherever. I am convinced that the people of God do need the experience of grand occasions. Such mountaintop experiences can sustain for years, even as the plain is returned to.

But I have also returned to a regular working retreat shared with 10 priests. This is a group that has been meeting monthly for 4 years and which meets twice a year for more intensive retreat time. It has been of incalculable value to us all, vocationally, spiritually, personally. It is if you like, a spiritual support group that has become an intentional small community. We have actively encouraged the formation of other such small groups. I am therefore also convinced that the people of God need the experience of such simple but intensive small scale occasions, to be better equipped for what confronts us today. This does not just happen. It has to be worked at, hard.

Easter 5 April 25

Are either of these directions the way? Is this to be the Church and the community that is ours? Are we hearing anywhere the language of bridge building or bridge-mending? A middle reasonable ground is crying out to be taken, if it is not already too late.

If the crisis in the wider Church continues to unfold, people are going to be forced into making choices. Some will choose in disgust or despair to give up the whole enterprise. Some may agree wholeheartedly with the Dean of Sydney. Some may agree whole-heartedly with the rector of All Saints' Wickham Terrace and whatever new role he may seek to undertake. Some though will be looking for parishes, groups, living traditions within catholic Anglicanism, that can speak strongly and clearly with a different voice, and with a generous heart, despite all that is going on. Some group, some places, somewhere, anywhere, strong enough, brave enough together to offer and to stand as a legitimate alternative – handing the torch of this vision to a later generation in better times.

This is going to have to be an expression of our common catholic Anglicanism that offers renewed life and hope in the faith; in this more generous middle ground. Obviously, there are going to be some very loud and strong voices who are not going to be in that place. The extremes are writing the agenda. Anglican polarisation has now developed to such an extent that many who have managed to hold on this long may despair at finding anyone anywhere articulating a vision and an ecclesiology of the Church that they can at all recognize and identify with. In the context of a papacy of Benedict XVI, that is very sad. This is the very challenging situation we are in today as Australian Anglicans. A middle reasonable ground is the presenting challenge that is the desperate and urgent need of this day.

OS 10 5th June

So the example of Francis and Clare – both substantial, respected and well-known members of their community – is a very good reminder therefore it is not just abject rotters who get another chance with God in this call business. We are dealing with the broadest and most general of invitations and a very wide range of possible avenues for response, according to circumstance. It always remains first, a call to relationship with the one who is being followed: relationship with God in Jesus Christ. In the call of Matthew that fact of relationship was at once signified by the table fellowship, the sitting down together at a meal.

There is much hope for each and all of us in this gospel. There is hope and direction here for a Christian community that is more open and outreaching and generous. The open-heartedness to which we are called is both to God and to neighbour; it is in welcoming old friends and the new and the different and it is in welcoming the call of God to grow and to dig deeper into the things of the spirit. It is a reminder of the experience of the generations and the centuries that such things are possible. It is also an encouragement in hard times when it would be so easy to become dis-spirited to keep our eyes on matters of the most basic importance and to tread more lightly with those things that we cannot change or greatly influence.

OS 13 26th June

What we do know is this: The functioning families in the Christian sense that we actually see in the New Testament are, as it were, 'families of faith': people brought together in relationship because of their relationship with Jesus. There are countless examples of these, in Galilee, in Jerusalem and then scattered all around the Mediterranean world. The ties that bind them together are ties of hospitality and care, support in trouble – a common faith, hope and love. This development is indeed then much more about what we might prefer today to call 'community'. It may or may not be including relationships of blood or marriage, but it is certainly not restricted or confined to those with those ties.

Christian community starts with baptism, as we were reminded in this morning's epistle, and in Christ we understand that other very significant distinctions need to be put to one side. As St Paul famously noted in Galatians 3:28, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ". Such communities of faith in every generation and in any place can have much about them that can embrace this richer definition of family that we have been exploring. And also of course they can also be places of bitter disappointment and frustration, just like blood families can be. But this is where the New Testament witness leads us.

OS15 10 July

Forgiveness, acts of care and service, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, working hard for a more just society and a better appreciation of God's good creation – all of these we know.

But when a world falls apart or something truly terrible happens that is close by, that can shake all this. In this church, the sheer prominence of the crucifix on the wall behind me or the obvious centrality of the placement of the reserved sacrament in that tabernacle at the centre of the prominent High Altar, means that we have the clearest of invitations to bring not only the good times but also the very bad, right to the foot of the cross, right to the presence of the Lord. And the good news preached in this place, in season and out of season, always remains, God with us, God beside us as we are, who we are, where we are; in strength and in weakness, in life and in death, in fear and in hope.

OS26 26th September

We live in interesting times, as the Chinese proverb has it. Historically there have been worse times. In any case, these are the only times we are going to have. Historically, for generations or even centuries individuals and local congregations have got on with the job of being people and communities of faith even when, or maybe especially when, it was by no means clear what the future might hold and what form institutional structures might take. These ultimately turn out to be second level questions when it comes to relationship with God in faith and hope and love.

Meanwhile, while things may indeed be falling apart internationally or nationally, there is not much we can do about that. We can though do a great deal at the local parish and congregational level. God can be left to sort out the rest, in God's good time. We ourselves may well not see resolution or even be able immediately to recognise the new shape of it when it emerges. That is no bad thing. But as ever, when a newly invigorated Church of God does indeed come through this time of trial, it will be made up of numberless local communities, congregations, and parishes. We and those who will follow us here are a continuing part of this unfolding story. It is not by accident that the community of faith here in this city church is where we find ourselves now. Consider this in vocational terms, each one of us. How might it be for us if we reflected on our call to be part of a healthy community of faith here in this place and then together worked further on how we can better respond to that call, and to live it out? We are followers of Jesus Christ. Worship, ministries, growth in faith, prayer, welcome, service, care, support, team work and enjoyable companionship, easy hospitality and above all a generosity of spirit: these are the basic building blocks of what it is to be Church. We work with these building blocks where we are, as we are, encouraging others to join us on the way.

These as well are amongst the themes that we have identified in our 2005 parish vision statement. That sits on the parish website and this year some have come to join us just because of what has been articulated there, and also then the evidence of it that they can see in what we do here and how we do it. That is a big responsibility for us, but increasingly in these difficult times, week by week, there are going to be people here alongside us checking us out, hoping for the best, looking for a spiritual home base once again. We pray for the gifts to be up to that challenge.

OS 28 9th October

Big decisions here that many others have not made. Life directions and relationship with God, that so many think unimportant or just plain silly. Being part of the building of a community of faith, when there are so many evident institutional failings and so many of our family and friends can see no need or purpose. So much else that could be done – or perhaps just nothing at all – on every long and beautiful Sunday morning. We too then know something of this question of choice as well. But we are here. And just right now there is something increasingly encouraging about that.

OS 32 13th November

In Matthew's gospel, which we have been working through all this year, all these parables, all of this teaching about the nature of the kingdom of heaven has flowed on from the great Sermon on the Mount passages, and above all the Beatitudes. They are the keynote of the teaching that was given; these were to be the defining and recognisable characteristics of the followers of Jesus and the discernable gifts and graces that are theirs. So while there may well be persecution and abuse, and while the poor in spirit may indeed mourn and grieve yet there is the call for us all to be meek and merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers, hungering and thirsting after that which is right. We are assured that God blesses all these. They shall be comforted, satisfied, they shall obtain mercy; they shall be called the children of God. They shall rejoice and be glad and the kingdom of heaven will be theirs. This is both a whole approach to life and a generous understanding of God's approach to us. People whose faith and lives are shaped by this central part of Jesus' teaching, will in turn find their own Christian response to the needs and demands of these present times taking shape.

And we certainly will not be burying whatever we have safely enough in the ground and doing nothing with it. We can do better than that. Much better.

Rev'd Dr John Davis


Topical Articles

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