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Vicar's Report

Annual General Meeting
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I am pleased to be able to present this report as I now move into the twelfth year of my incumbency of this parish of St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne. This has been a year when, as we began it, we had little idea of what the global financial crisis would bring. We knew certainly that there would be a significant reduction in what we could expect to receive from our parish investments and many of us were concerned about what it would mean for our own personal circumstances. It was expected that all this would have an impact on out life together as a community of faith. All things considered, we have been very fortunate.

But equally we moved into this time with the recognition that the Church is here for the bad times as well as the good. This is a pastoral and a spiritual truth that we do our best to live out here. We have had particular reminders of this in our parish, both in our response to the terrible bushfires of last February and in the number of funerals of people very dear, as well as personal trials that some of us have experienced. And of course so far as good times go we have had them too: our celebrations of the major festivals, our great gathering on the annual occasion of our patronal, our ongoing joy at the flow of new births and baptisms from our own worshipping families right here, some marvellous musical occasions, the beauty of the liturgical offering generally — just to name a few.

We continue to give thanks for those who take the care to remember the parish by way of bequest and the support of our various activities and outreach. Special mention is appropriate of the generosity of our late regular 8 am mass attender, Richard Johns. The final arrangements have yet to be completed, but this gift will have ongoing benefit for generations to come. In the short term this has meant that we have been able without difficulty to proceed with the replacement of the nave roof slates this coming summer and that we have been able to accept the Commonwealth Heritage project partial grant for that task that we received a couple of months ago. More importantly still this bequest will most definitely mean an expansion of the scope of ministry that we are able to offer to the wider community and in keeping with our agreed parish vision statement and our strategic plan.

I do commend the strategic plan document that is being circulated along with these annual general meeting papers. It is not a full description of everything we presently do or offer but it does represent a considered and careful identification of ways in which we would seek to grow or develop what we are doing and being. Each of the major topic areas involves a consideration of what is and then what might be. How all this develops will be up to us together over time, with a particular responsibility falling upon those who will be elected as wardens, and office bearers and vestry members in the elections that are to be part of this meeting. (A copy of this 'Statement of Priorities' can be downloaded here.)

But before any strategic statements we start with some givens. We start here for instance with the pre-supposition of daily worship and prayer and service in the context of community. The daily opening up of this church, inviting our many visitors to come on in, brings them into a space which does in its own quiet and beautiful way make this abundantly clear. No matter what the pressures might be that come from this city location, may this never be a church that has its doors resolutely locked except for the advertised times of major worship.

As it is, our door is indeed open. This is a place that is loved and cared for because it is a place of our God who loves and cares. People see that and respond to it. We as individuals have done so in our various ways. Most of us come with some degree of 'spiritual hunger'. We seek to continue to grow in our faith. We do, to use that phrase of Rowan Williams that I so enjoy, seek 'God in company'. We are looking in these areas of the spiritual life for guidance or mentoring, direction or encouragement. That is all very much in the tradition of the offering of this central city church. The most recent development in our ministry team with the arrival of Bishop Graeme Rutherford is a most welcome indication of our desire to grow in this area.

I am very conscious of the fine team of people, lay and ordained, stipendiary and volunteer, who are at the centre of the life of this place. We know and God knows who that is. Together we make sure that The Hill more than ticks over, very much more, and this is something to be profoundly thankful for. It is not always easy or smooth and as I said at the beginning, this year has had its share of extra pressures. Some have now been at these tasks for a very considerable time; others are new and fresh to the challenges. We of course need the gifts of each category. It is not too much to assert I think, that most of us would say that our lives are the better for what we connect with here. Those who exercise these responsibilities great and small are offering a very fine gift to every one of us. An indication of at least some of what I am describing is included in the whole range of various reports included in these Annual General Meeting papers.

My particular thanks then go to the churchwardens John Taaff, Rachel Ellyard and Geoff Lavender, to Warren Collins and Anne Wuttke, to Peter Swindells, to Carol O'Connor, to Joyce Bruce, to Adam Blackmore and Peter Bryce and Bruce Kellett, to Katherine Barnett, to Julian Clarke, Andrew Raiskums, Sue Skillington and Linda Kent, to Liz Prideaux. Thanks as well to John Weretka, Fr Chaplain Soma and Robert Whalley who have now moved to different pastures. My warm thanks too to my other colleagues in ministry here, Fr Matthew Healey, Fr Tat Hean Lie, Fr Tom Brown, Sr Avrill and Sr Jenny, as well as Fr Grant, Fr Lawrie and Fr Neil. That is altogether quite a team and it is just the start of it.

We give thanks to the God who has called us into being, who sustains and who guides us, now and always.

Fr John Davis

Some extracts, addressing some of the issues of this past year.

Kebletide Address, Castlemaine, 5 July 2009.

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 as has been seen very recently in the purported setting up of an alternative Anglican province in North America, complete with an archbishop. It is happening within the Australian Church nationally, even though things have seemed to be pretty quiet lately. There is a General Synod coming up in Melbourne next year. It is happening too at the diocesan level wherever we are.

If the crisis in the wider Church continues to unfold, people are going to be forced into making very difficult choices. Some will choose in disgust or despair to give up the whole enterprise. Some might I suppose decide that the evangelical position is correct. Some though will be looking for parishes, groups and living traditions within catholic Anglicanism, that can speak strongly and clearly with a different voice and with a generous heart and spirit, despite all that is going on — looking to handing the torch of this fine vision to a later generation mdash; to burn brightly again in better times.

This is going to have to be an expression of our inheritance of catholic Anglicanism that offers again generously renewed life and hope in the faith. The communities of faith that express this will be representative of all the generations alive today, not just those of us glimpsing something of the vision splendid from long ago. The nurture and the sustaining of vocations to all aspects of ministry is of course essential.

From a sermon, July 12th 2009. 'Watching, asking, learning, growing.'

Out of a diverse group of individuals can grow a group, a community. Out of disbelief can come faith, out of a lack of direction can come purposeful service. This is the language of covenant, of relationship, of the community of the people of God. The Scriptures are full of this language. For God's people are given grace and strength and help in time of need. Together, not as a collection of individuals, but together: sharing, supporting, encouraging, receiving, even a very small and inconsequential group can be given new heart and strength. They can step out again on that journey which is the way of being God's people, wherever they find themselves. People will look at them, people will look at us, and want to see something of God.

Week by week, the Scripture readings make the point that the lives of believers are to be shaped and expressed, not merely by that which is intellectually expressed in appropriate dogmatic forms that remain in the head, but rather by concrete actions of love. This is about the acceptance and recognition of God in Jesus Christ. This flows into discipleship. This finally reshapes lives. It is in lives shaped in prayer, nurtured in worship and characterised by loving service with a special care for the weak, the vulnerable and the marginalised that we see best exemplified the model that is presented to us by Jesus. Often the priorities lived out by Jesus seemed at odds with the priorities of the world around — an upside down gospel of expectations. But then the ways of the regular world so clearly do not work out, so often.

The great reforming times in the life of the Church, those great upsurges of renewal and reconsidered response to the radical implications of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth have been times of great turbulence and no little distress. We are in such times again. Today's gospel asserts that the best resource is utterly simple and bare. Francis received and lived that same message in his time. In the midst of all of this, there has always remained the never-changing challenge, put before a largely skeptical Church and world, of these fundamental gospel propositions and imperatives of other-regarding service and compassionate care — out of love for the Lord and out of his love for us.

The on-going issue of same sex relationships and the Church. 1st August, 2009

At the beginning of Lent in 2007, the meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion pushed the issue a stage further. The Lambeth Conference held late last year was boycotted by about a quarter of the bishops because of the continued presence of the bishops from the US and Canada who had supported and participated in the consecration of a bishop in a committed same sex relationship. Now last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury has produced a reflection on the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church and the resolutions agreed to there which anticipates a 'two track' Anglican Communion based on this Presenting Issue. In March 2007, St Peter's Eastern Hill re-affirmed an earlier 2005 position along the following lines:

Broadly speaking, substantial differences remain on quite basic issues as to what is church and who is church and how encompassing is God's love and grace. There are obviously going to be differences in the life of the Church in say North America as compared to Nigeria. The question is how do we deal with that fact. Unity has been maintained for now, but it comes at a significant cost.

The presenting issue relates to honesty and integrity about same sex relationships. Much of the surrounding discussion is deeply saddening and more than a little offensive. We are part of an institution that internationally is deeply divided. The lightening rod for that division just happens to be this. But it is indeed about us all, as a community of faith. Consideration of race or class is no longer possible in the acceptance or otherwise of a person as a Christian. Gender and sexual orientation remain contentious. Any open consideration of this painful time must include the acknowledgement that for a substantial proportion of this parish and the wider Church, this is actually very personal. On Lent 4 2005, when this issue was starting to gain momentum, the then clergy team and churchwardens issued a statement that included the following:

"In a century's time this will look as sad as earlier schisms over slavery or race.

At stake is the inclusiveness and justice of a gospel that preaches and lives out the love of God in Jesus Christ — one who himself reached out in love and care to the foreigner, the outcast and those on the edge.

St Peter's Eastern Hill, the Anglican parish church of Melbourne since 1847, condemns this growing and dividing intolerance and affirms the proper place within the Church of all people, gay or straight, who are seeking to grow in integrity, faith and service. Your current parish leadership reaffirms that statement now."

The Strategic Planning meeting of our vestry plus a wider group of those exercising responsibilities and ministries in this parish has now in July 2009 reaffirmed our commitment to the inclusiveness and welcome of what we offer here, including to those who are the subject and object of this current sad and bitter debate.

A new Roman Option? October 23rd, 2009.

It is not quite that simple as The Age would have us believe (front page October 22nd): 'Australia's Anglo-Catholics rejoice as pope offers a return to the fold. '

"Anglo -Catholics Also known as "high church". Strongly ceremonial, with incense and bells. Do not accept ordination of women and gays. Some will join Rome."

As any of us who are part of this CBD anglo-catholic shrine church of St Peter's Eastern Hill Melbourne will know, many or indeed most here do accept the ordination of women and gays, but actually our top priority is offer worship as this wonderful tradition does, to be of service especially to the needy and to be a generous and welcoming community of faith.

As someone who has served on the national Anglican Roman Catholic Dialogue for some 15 years and who is well aware of the high level of agreement on so many areas that have formerly been matters that divide, I can only say that what would truly have been a matter for rejoicing would have been a mutual ecclesial recognition of orders, with all that would flow from that.

The Anglican tradition of liturgy and prayer, the developing Anglican governance embracing all the people of God in a dispersed authority, the seeking to balance Scripture, reason and tradition — there is a whole ecclesial culture here that is not easily either transferred or dismissed.

May God bless those for whom this is helpful but meanwhile St Peter's Eastern Hill continues: Anglican, catholic and welcoming.

Fr John Davis


Topical Articles

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 Lay presidency
 Catholic Anglicanism
 Women bishops

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