Annual General Meeting
Sunday, November 18, 2007
There have been 10 incumbents here at the parish of St Peter Melbourne since 1848. Leaving aside a dreadful year in 1851-2 when we had three, this has been a parish where vicars have come to stay — in the case of Canon Handfield for 46 years and for Canon Maynard 42 years. I am now in my 10th year.
The past year has most notably seen us celebrating the conclusion of our 160th anniversary at a patronal festival honoured by the presence of 7 bishops including our archbishop as preacher and all living previous incumbents. It was indeed a most inspiring occasion enjoyed, along with the following dinner, by a large crowd of parishioners and friends. Our newly refurbished Parish Hall was filled beyond capacity. Our church with the newly polished floors gleaming and every possible corner renewed, prayed in and inviting, was truly a delight. Of course it remains so. This Anglican Parish Church of Melbourne since 1847 has a role that is different and complementary to that of the great cathedrals. Our much more domestic scale is less overwhelming to be sure. Our open prayerful welcome is here every day, beyond all our various services. Our strong ecumenical connections, particularly through the Victorian Council of Churches and the Melbourne City Churches, mean that this is from time to time the preferred venue for important gatherings across the Christian traditions and now tentatively even across the faith traditions. We give thanks for that. Across any differences of tradition, it is very possible to respect, discern and appreciate a beautiful place of prayer and worship.
But of course a place without people would be very sad. Across the generations people from near and far have made this their main place of worship. Over and above this, there are many who give of their time and talents to an incredible degree and together with the clergy and lay ministers who serve here, make St Peter's what it is at this particular time. In the broadest sense, this is the ministry team — the total ministry of care and service and the offering of skills and gifts. This is all brought together and then held together by a common shared sense of call and response: in the first instance from God, but also maybe from someone tapping us on the shoulder and saying 'what about you?'. That might be me, it might be one of the churchwardens, it might be someone next to you in your favourite pew. All of us, both stipendiary and voluntary, seek to bring and to offer the best that we can in demanding tasks for a wonderful purpose. Our whole community is grateful for this and is enriched by this.
The offering, the acknowledging and the receiving of these skills and gifts has to be constantly renewed. We know for instance that most of our funerals here are of people known and loved within our immediate community of faith. In the last nine years we have buried more than the equivalent of a well attended Sunday High Mass and yet our life goes on. We do indeed grieve the loss of dear ones so important to us, as we also grieve departures through transfer, retirement or major illness or accident. But however these gaps may occur, we are also in the position to affirm and gives thanks for the providence that continues to bring much valued newcomers (or perhaps old friends coming back again) to enrich and invigorate our life together. We have dreams and visions — we all have these — and St Peter's Eastern Hill is the sort of place where some of these become possible, individually and together.
It is hugely important that the ministry team in that broadest sense brings together and uses the best range of resources and opportunities we have at our disposal. There needs to be leadership and mentoring and encouraging. There needs to be attention to gaps or developing needs, as well as the repairing of mistakes or breakdowns in communication. It was ever so. Week by week we will be reminded of why we are actually here, as we seek to grow in our relationship with God in Jesus Christ and with each other.
In the context of acknowledging the service and the gifts of so many, each year we give thanks in the context of this Annual General Meeting. The wide-ranging reports included in these papers give an indication. Churchwardens, treasurer, sacristan, as well as those who see to our flowers, our Parish Hall and our hospitality, are at work, week in week out. We warmly acknowledge all that they have done. Parish Office and Bookroom are at our heart through the week. Gallery and sanctuary are filled with committed talent of the highest order on Sundays and festivals. Where would we be without them all? The whole ministry team, both living here on site or beyond extends the ministry of St Peter's Eastern Hill into home, hospital, university, wider diocese and Church, and wider community. We give thanks for all this and for all of them.
But in the tradition of a conductor at the end of a concert nonetheless wanting to draw attention to a few orchestral players in particular, so I would like to make particular mention of five of these. The first is to draw attention to the remarkable contribution over so many years of Margaret and Allan Lugg in the area of catering and hospitality. The second is to mark the new ministry with young children week by week at the 9.30 am mass led by Katherine Barnett. The third is to commend John Taaff in his chairing of the St Peter's Eastern Hill Melbourne Charitable Foundation, a most pivotal part of our future. In the 'watch this space' department, the fourth is to draw the attention of the parish to the already much appreciated contribution of Rachel Ellyard as an up and coming lawyer at the diocesan and national church level. The fifth is to acknowledge the altogether outstanding nature of the ministry here over four years of Fr Craig D'Alton.
Because of Fr Craig's early departure to connect with the new northern academic year, there are ministry changes that will take until the New Year to come into effect. We have been asked by the diocese to take up the responsibility of sharing in the formation of new clergy for the good of the whole Church. The diocese considers that this place has much to offer in such formational experience, even as we have ourselves this year delighted in the acceptance of our own Philip Bewley for ordination next February, and been encouraged by Alex Ross' first steps in the 'year of discernment' towards ordination. As I said a couple of weeks ago, how wonderful it would be if every year we could have at least one person offer and be accepted for ordination from out of this community. And as I said then, please consider.
Also in the February ordinations our new curate will be made deacon. His name is Chaplain Soma. He is just completing his studies at Trinity College and currently has a parish placement at St Alban's. This fine man is in his early 40s, and is married with four children ranging in age from 2 to 19. He came to Australia from Sudan some 5 years ago. He will bring us many gifts and we can offer him much. The appointment will be for two years. We are able to bring financial support for this out of our parish Klingner bequest, for the training and formation of clergy. I am also able to announce the related appointment of another experienced associate priest, Fr Matthew Healy presently serving at West Wangaratta, also in his early 40s, who will live on site in the upstairs Keble House flat, to complete our reconfigured ministry team, along with those who are already with us and continuing. Together these are very exciting developments in our ministry and our potential outreach.
Over the last ten years or so, parish communities in this diocese have been encouraged to reflect on their life together and to come up with agreed goals and vision statements. This year we have embarked on a third three year cycle with a Vision Statement for 2008-2010 that is included in these papers. If you put these successive three statements side by side they are most instructive. The first was a pretty nuts and bolts affair, the second was somewhat aspirational but it became descriptive and now the third is both a statement of where we consider we might be coming from and a challenging vision of where we might yet go, as a community of faith, as this city church. A lot of work and consultation went into this. It now is up to us together to see over the next three years to what degree this too will become descriptive. The particular goals that your leadership team, clergy and lay, are wholeheartedly committed to, are listed in the second part of this statement, which is as follows:
As Christians we are called to love God and our neighbour. In the next three years we commit to—
Serving the wider Church as a place of ministry training and Christian formation;
Ministering to people across all age groups;
Embracing the gifts of all within our parish community;
Involving ourselves more fully in the life of our City;
Speaking out on significant issues, including social justice and the environment;
Honouring our historic responsibility to witness to an inclusive catholic faith in the diocese and the wider church.
As I commend this vision to you, I give thanks for the year that is past and look forward to what is to come.
Fr John Davis
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.