AT THE SECOND ORDINARY SESSION OF THE 55TH SYNOD OF THE ANGLICAN DIOCESE OF TASMANIA
LAUNCESTON | 28-29 JULY 2023
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
The pastoral concern that dominates the Letter to the Hebrews is that the recipients will not drift from their faith. While they had been Christians for a long time some were beginning to slip away from their original commitment and practice. It seems that they may not have even been aware that this was happening – a bit like an untethered boat drifting away from its moorings on an ebb tide.
The church was under various pressures: false teaching, challenges from inside and out, practices that had become more important than the faith and teaching on which they were founded, not to mention general forgetfulness. And each one of these posed a threat to them continuing in the faith they had inherited.
2000 years have passed and things are pretty much the same! Our church today is also facing many challenges both within and without and we also need to beware that we do not drift. Inside, the pressure to adapt and change our gospel, the complacency born through forgetfulness, and the practices we have become accustomed to being uncoupled from the teaching and doctrine on which they were built. Some of us just get weary with what the old BCP calls “the changes and chances of this fleeting world”. We get tired in our ministries and churches, especially when they are so slow to see results, and we get worn down and our confidence is diluted.
From outside we are pressured by a world that is changing at a rapid rate. Expressive individualism, where truth resides in a person’s own psychological self, has become the norm. Questions of identity and authenticity are constantly in our faces. The world is increasingly polarised: from the relatively mundane Stadium or No Stadium, to the more significant Yes and No campaigns around the Voice to Parliament, where “cancel culture” simply cuts off those with whom we disagree.
We would be naïve to think these things don’t affect how we view ourselves and those around us, and what we believe. The church tries to adapt to the world, and respond to its internal pressures, and sometimes we find ourselves in the position of the Hebrews, of drifting away from our faith. We stop letting the main thing be the main thing, and resort to politics, worldly arguments, and acquiescence to the spirit of the age. We see it in many denominations, not least of which parts of our own Anglican Church, that have ceased to be distinctively Christian and just sound like echoes of the world and its values.
So let us heed the exhortation and warnings of the writer to the Hebrews – to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. The answer to the changing world is not to change with it, but to hold fast to what we know to be true. To stick with Jesus and his good news for the world. To pay the most careful attention … to what we have heard about Jesus, so that we do not drift away (Heb 2:1). To fix our thoughts on Jesus. (Heb 3:1). To see to it, … that none of [us] has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. (Heb 3:12). To hold firmly to the faith we profess. (Heb 4:14). To throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and to run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus. (Heb 12:1-2). It’s all about Jesus and keeping him in the centre of our gaze.
Today I want to apply this faith, this gospel, this Jesus focus, onto the various matters that are before us. Because Jesus and his word is the core business of our church. It is easy in an address like this, to speak about a range of social and political issues, but unless we apply the gospel lens to them, we will just be a clanging gong, echoing the moralism of the world. You see our vision for the Diocese of Tasmania is to be a church for Tasmania, and that means we do want to say something about the Voice to Parliament and other Aboriginal matters, we do want to say something about homelessness, and sexual identity, and societal challenges. We do want to say something about the church and particularly the life of the Anglican Church around the world.
But the second part of our Vision tells us what our unique contribution is. We want to be a church for Tasmania, making disciples of Jesus. And it is the Jesus part, the discipleship part, the gospel part, that is our unique contribution to these questions. We won’t tell you how to vote in the Referendum, but as a church we will clearly articulate what the gospel has to say, to help us think about how to respond. We won’t have an opinion about the Stadium and the football team, but we ought to be able to express what the gospel says is important to take into consideration. We ought to have some prophetic things to say about what the gospel means for our life together and our life of blessing in the Tasmanian community as we seek to be disciples of Jesus. Because we want to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
The Lord Jesus reigns over his church in Tasmania. He is faithful to us as we are faithful to him. His promises are sure and certain. We can stake our lives on him. He is our compelling vision and his gospel is the only plan for the world.
Aboriginal Matters and the Voice to Parliament
I want to acknowledge that we meet today on the lands of the Stoney Creek people, and come together as a Synod from all corners of lutruwita/ Tasmania and the lands under the historic custodianship of the palawa / pakana people. We acknowledge their elders past and present and any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here present as an expression of our respect for their heritage and culture. We commit to continuing to walk together in relationship.
Before we meet again our nation will have gone to a Referendum on the Voice to Parliament. The “Yes” and “No” Case statements are in the mail to us. Like many of you I have been saddened by the increasing polarisation and demonisation of each side of this debate. I suspect we are, I am sorry to say, in for some difficult debates and further division in our national life in the next few months.
As Christians we believe that all people are created in God’s image and have dignity and value. We believe all should be respected regardless of race or ethnicity. Those of us who have come more recently, have benefitted from the dispossession of Aboriginal lands and our buildings, homes and churches are built on them. There is generational deprivation for which we ought to make amends. We ought to be deeply saddened that this part of our community has lower life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality and disease, higher rates of suicide and fewer opportunities than the rest of Australian society. The problems are deep and complex, and many have been working for a long time to address them. We should keep at this important work in whatever way we can.
We also know that the gospel has great power to unite. Paul has a dramatic illustration of this in his letter to the Ephesians where he says that Jesus is our peace, making the two groups, Jew and Gentile, into one by destroying the barrier between them, the dividing wall of hostility. The Church is a place where everyone enters by the same door. We all alike are saved by grace, nothing of our own works or ethnicity, and are united into one new humanity by our common salvation. We know that the gospel transforms all kinds of communities and has been the mark of transformation in many Aboriginal communities. We know that the hope of indigenous Australians is in Jesus. And we know that the coming of the Spirit recorded in Acts 2 at Pentecost, foresees the gospel hope being shared in every language and reversing the curse of Babel and the scattering of languages and races.
We also know that Christians are called (in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2) to respect our governments and to participate in the ordering of society. So it is our Christian duty to take a serious interest in the referendum question and our thoughtful and prayerful participation in it. It would be great to see our churches wrestling with the issues in a mature and godly way.
I want to remind you that in 2018 we commenced the year in a season of lament and repentance for our past failings as a Diocese. As part of that we lamented our history with the Aboriginal peoples of Tasmania, repented of our misdoings and committed ourselves to reconciliation. As a Diocese we have been working on building relationships with Aboriginal Tasmanians as an expression of that gospel reconciliation. We have previously given our endorsement to the Uluru Statement from the Heart as an expression from the Aboriginal people of Australia of what they want in reconciliation. And while we know their views are not unified, this seems to be the position of the majority.
The Bishops of the Australian Church earlier this year welcomed “the invitation from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia in the Statement from the Heart to continue the journey of reconciliation”, and they urged all Australians to engage seriously with the referendum question. They commended a number of resources which can be found on the General Synod Website, and I also commend them to you.
From a theological perspective alone it is common to make an argument for voting “yes” to the referendum. Acknowledging the first nations peoples in our Constitution is itself a statement of the truth and we are committed to truth. Giving a voice to people who have often been voiceless, and taking bold steps to try and address the systemic disadvantage of some in our society is in line with the scriptures’ commitment to the poor and marginalised. Yet the decision about the way to vote in the referendum is not a theological question alone. We may choose to vote “no” if we think that the mechanism of the Voice is practically unworkable, or are concerned about the longer term implications for the Constitution. We may be unsure because of the lack of details available at this time.
Whatever we choose, let us commit to praying for each other and discussing with each other as we seriously consider the referendum questions, that true reconciliation in Christ might come, and that we take up our responsibilities in relationships with Aboriginal Tasmanians around us. As we do this, let us respectfully listen to their voices as we determine how we will vote.
Anglican Church Matters
Since we last met, the Anglican Church around the world has continued to experience tensions over its reading and application of the Scriptures especially as they apply to human sexuality and same-sex marriage. We have one item on our agenda about the Church of England and there is sufficient background material there for me not to rehearse the details in this address. Save to say that many have been shocked at the Church that faithfully brought the gospel to so many parts of the world, clearly stepping away from biblical orthodoxy in this matter. Many Synods and Bishops have expressed the same sentiments as in Motion 28 and I commend it to you. Real questions about the leadership of the Anglican Communion now need to be asked as even the Archbishop of Canterbury has acknowledged.
Some ministers and church congregations in Australia have found they can no longer receive the authority of their bishop due to public departures from the historic teaching of the church. You will know that Gafcon Australia (which I chaired until April this year) established a new Anglican ecclesial entity known as the Diocese of the Southern Cross. This was a pastoral response to those whose consciences would not allow them to stay within the Anglican Church of Australia and still allow them to be Anglican in doctrine and practice and remain connected to the wider Anglican world.
The Diocese of the Southern Cross now has 7 congregations across Australia from North Queensland to Western Australia. Interestingly some of these congregations have been established as ministers have left the Uniting Church of Australia to become Anglicans under this banner. That this has become necessary is a huge tragedy for the Anglican Church of Australia. But it is a great cause of thanksgiving, that there is a parallel jurisdiction for congregations to remain truly Anglican in Australia and many of these congregations have been blessed to quickly become vibrant, growing churches proclaiming the gospel. I hope that the Diocese of Tasmania will continue to express its fellowship with these authentic Anglicans.
I also pray that God would continue to call us and all Australian Anglicans to repentance in any ways we have departed from the scriptures and see a godly and unified Anglican church restored. The Anglican Church is a great vehicle for gospel ministry and where it remains true to the scriptures, we see churches growing and strengthening. Sound doctrine, even when it is at odds with the prevailing culture, leads to gospel growth.
There are some significant financial matters in our Synod papers today. Our forward estimates continue to forecast an overall deficit for our operations that is funded from capital, especially in our Ministry Support budget. This capital is a finite pool and we will eventually expend the funds, curtailing what we can achieve. Our obligations to fund redress and civil claims for historic child sexual abuse will require us to spend investment reserves from various sources including the New Ministry Development Fund, to make sure we can meet our commitments to this restorative justice. All of this is very sobering and cause for further thought.
Our finance committee and internal finance team, the Registrar and the senior leadership team along with the Trustees have been working really hard on these things. Tough decisions need to be made, about how we manage our resources and about what we can afford to do. We are also going to need a strategy to replace some of the capital so that we have ongoing sources to fund things like our new strategy in children’s and youth ministry, and the training of our ordinands.
Now I am mentioning this not scare you, nor to provoke debate about the Estimates or to undermine the proposed way forward for Redress, but simply to highlight the magnitude of the task that is before us, and to remind us of a few things.
In the next 12 months at least we are going to need to invest time and effort in addressing the long term financial sustainability of the diocese. We need wise stewardship of our small resources, and that is probably going to require some hard decisions and tough choices. But make them we must, as we have been called to steward what is entrusted to us. We need to work together on a new plan. At the very least we need to work out ways to invest in future leaders, to build up our investment corpus for the training and support of ordinands, for youth and children’s ministry support, and for trainees. I hope we can establish a bequest program so that Tasmanian Anglicans might consider leaving money in their wills for this training and resourcing of the future. We know that well trained godly leaders are the key to our growth.
In all of this uncertainty and challenge I want to reiterate that we are confident in God. I am certain that God will honour our faithfulness in responding to Redress. We are spending this money because we believe in the necessity of restorative justice, and providing a measure of support to those who have been mistreated and sinned against by members of our church. God loves that commitment to justice. But more than that, I am convinced we can trust him to lead us in the right way. The Psalms say “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills” – nothing is outside his ownership. He is the great provider and we can trust him to meet all of our needs. That doesn’t mean everything will be rosy. He may take us very low indeed to make us more dependent on him but he has promised that he will build his church and provide for us. We trust him and look to his hand for all things.
The Year Past
After last year’s Synod we established a couple of working groups and continued work with others to carry forward our mission.
Our Church planting working group – Multiply Tas – has continued to work away under the able leadership of Jamie Bester and with the help of our partners City to City. They are now working with 10 different parishes across the Diocese to help them establish new congregations. The Parish of Wynyard has been quick out of the blocks with a new Sunday afternoon congregation which is a great delight to see. We are looking forward to more of this new work to emerge next year.
City to City worked with a small group earlier this year to develop a church planting strategy for the Diocese. By the end of 2024 we hope to see one brand new missional church planted in collaboration with others, and two more new congregations in existing churches. To do this we are going to have to pray, develop some strategy for planting, share the vision, and discuss models of collaboration. The longer term goal is to see a movement of church planting within the Diocese that is contextual and strategic, undergirded by prayer seeing hundreds of Tasmanians won for Christ. It is such an exciting Vision which will bring life and vitality to our mission.
I am pleased to report that we have three people now who are undertaking Church Planting Residencies as training positions, supported by City to City to develop their skills in this speciality. We would like to see more people joining this pathway to become the church planters of the future.
We know as we do this we will need lots of collaboration among our churches. Obviously not every church can plant a new church, but we can all pray, and some can support financially, and others can send people, and others can share resources so that together we can press into this exciting future.
“LOVE Diversity” is the name of our working group on thinking about ministering with and to members of the LGBTIQ+ communities. The group was formed after the Synod last year by people who are interested in helping us in this area of our life.
We decided on the acronym LOVE – standing for:
Listening to Stories
Valuing everyone and
Empowering Faith in Jesus Christ
and applying that to the diversity that already exists in our churches. LOVE Diversity.
We want to equip our leaders to help our churches to be communities of love, that joyfully and carefully express the Bible’s vision for human flourishing; that sexual expression is to be enjoyed in marriage between one man and one woman for life and that biological sex is integral to human identity. We want to be accepting of LGBTIQ+ people in the church without affirming sexual expression outside the biblical vision.
We have been working hard listening to stories of LGBTIQ+ people in our churches and their experience of discipleship. We have been working on a paper around the theological background to the issues that face the church. We have done some training with Living Faith, and thinking how we might include that training for others. We are working on some practical steps and a strategy for the Diocese which we hope to report on more fully at the next Synod.
Last year we decided we needed an Environment Working Group, to help us express our care for the creation. Unfortunately we have not got this off the ground as yet but are seeking interested people who might begin work in this important area.
I commend to you the report from the Family Violence working group. It is so pleasing that we have seen effort being put into the 10 Commitments for preventing and responding to family violence, adopted at last year’s Synod, and that groups and training have continued across the state. We are pleased to be working with the new Families and Culture Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia on this.
Anglican Aboriginal Relationships
As I have mentioned we have also continued to work in this vital area. It is pleasing to read in their report of the cultural awareness training that has taken place and the real efforts in parishes to build relationships. Recently the Cathedral have adopted a new acknowledgement of country that has prominence around those buildings.
Areas of Strategic Focus
Spiritual Leadership – this year we continued to focus on developing the spiritual life of our ministers and leaders knowing that our spiritual vitality is key to our effectiveness. We did this through the Bishop’s Training Event, the Ministry Leaders’ Conference and in a clergy retreat at the beginning of Lent.
Parish transformation – we are pleased that many of our parishes continue in the process of transformation, being revitalised for ministry to children and families, taking seriously our call to be a church for Tasmania and being more missionally engaged with local communities.
Of course central to our Vision is the day to day work of Parish Ministry. There are so many good things to give thanks for. Parishes that are faithfully serving their local communities, faithfully getting on with the job of disciple-making, faithfully loving the lost and caring for the saints, clergy who teach and preach and care for the flock. It is a great thing, and there are many signs of health and vitality across the state. We have a few vacancies at the moment and we would crave your prayers for ministers to come and join us in the work to support the faithful members of the parishes who are working for the Lord.
Children’s and Youth Ministry – I commend to you the Report on the Strategy for Ministry to Children and Young people in the Diocese that we will consider tomorrow. It is so encouraging to read of the amount of ministry already taking place. We know that active ministry to young people and families is a vital sign of parish health. We now need to put into practice the recommendations of this report in our Parishes and across the wider Diocese.
Chaplaincy – We love our chaplains who work in schools, hospitals, aged care facilities and prisons. We have continued to expand our chaplaincy offerings over the last year with Anglican Health and Welfare being awarded the state-wide contract for the Tasmanian Health Service. We’ve had new chaplains joining the team at the North West Regional Hospital, Mersey Community Hospital and the Royal Hobart emergency department. Along with the school chaplains and prison chaplains, this continues to be coalface ministry with enormous gospel impact in the wider community. We are so thankful to God for the dedicated team of chaplains across the state.
Leadership pipeline – We continue to see a refreshment of the leadership of Parishes in the Diocese. I noticed in a recent report from the NCLS that the average age of our clergy has dropped from 62 years of age in 2016 to 47 years of age in 2021. While this represents a loss of some of our more mature members of the clergy, it is also a sign of growth and health and the revitalisation of our leadership team. We were so pleased earlier in the year to see the ordination of 4 Deacons and 5 Priests into the Diocese and I am encouraged that we have 6 people discerning ordination at the moment. It is wonderful to see many women among them especially as we have recently celebrated 30 years of the Ordination of Women in the Diocese. Along with our trainees and young people attending leaders’ events across the state, the pipeline is looking pretty healthy. It is a long term proposition and we need to continually be on the lookout for young people who might give themselves to this ministry long term. What joy in leading people in the mission of Jesus. Please encourage ministry-minded people in your parish to consider the joy of vocational Christian ministry.
Partnerships – We have continued to work alongside the Anglican Schools and Anglicare in our partnerships with them. It has been so pleasing to see relationships grow and more alignment to be forged in some areas. These are vital relationships for us, and we continue to invest in them.
I didn’t want today to pass without acknowledging The Right Revd Dr Chris Jones, who last week celebrated 25 Years as CEO of Anglicare. We are so grateful to Chris for his faithful service at Anglicare and his wise leadership as Vicar General and across the Diocese. He continues to be an inspirational leader in Anglicare in Tasmania and across the country.
When I recently returned from my Long Service Leave, Bishop Chris and I were having a hand over meeting, and the first thing he said to me was what a great team we have in the Diocese Office. We are all served so well by the Diocesan team in the Registry and Bishop’s office.
I want to publicly thank our Registrar, James Oakley and his team, Assistant Claire Upton, Director of Professional Standards Annette Sims, Admin Team Elle Weissel and Tamara Auld, Safe Church Communities Coordinator Alan Reader, Accounts Team Audrey Chin and Carol Campbell, and Property Development Manager Judson Williams. The Episcopate Team, my Assistant Tess Delbridge, Director of Ministry Development Stephen Carnaby, Youth Ministry Development Officer Kristina Kettleton and AHW and Clarendon Executive Officer Luke Campton and Kelvin Todd who as a faithful volunteer, serves as the Bishop’s Chaplain. All these people work so hard to support and serve ministry on the front line and I am proud to work alongside them.
But I also want to pay tribute to the Ministry Leaders in the diocese, our clergy and lay ministers who serve selflessly. We have two gatherings a year, a day conference in the first half and a three-day conference in the second half. I always go home from those meetings deeply encouraged by the quality of the people who lead us. Our ministry leader team is exceptional in their dedication, their ability, their commitment to working out our Vision, and in our unity in the mission. Any visiting speaker we have had has commented on the unique thing that we have going here. Praise God for these leaders.
Our Synod is a good opportunity each year to stop and give thanks for what has been achieved and to look forward to what God has in store for us. I have come back from my leave with energy and focus keen to see us live into the future that God has for us.
I long to see our people continually revived by the Spirit of God as individuals. God doesn’t leave us as we are, and he continually works in us for our transformation. As Paul said to the Philippians, the one “who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). And if we allow him to do that work in us then he will also transform our churches and ministries as well. They will become communities of radical love seeking the lost and the hurt, the sinners and the saints, the poor and marginalised, the young and the old. We want to be communities that worship, communities that support one another and communities that reach out to the world.
This kind of transformation takes boldness, a preparedness to risk everything to surrender ourselves to God. We want churches and ministries, our agencies and chaplaincies to be courageous to do whatever it takes to reach their neighbours and friends with the life changing good news of Jesus. I dream of each of our ministries trying new things, seeking innovation, even sometimes failing as we work with everything we have to make disciples of Jesus.
This is going to be hard and we will need to persevere, to stick at it for the long haul. Anything worth doing takes grit and determination. So we want clergy and ministers and lay leaders to keep on stepping out even when the going is tough and the ground is hard and the road is long. Because we know that this is the only road to be on.
I can assure you as we do this hard long work, we will be replete with joy. When Jesus commissioned his disciples in the upper room the night before he died, in the midst of speaking about hardship and persecution and the leading of the Spirit, he said “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11) The pathway to complete joy is living in obedience to him.
And my hope as we do all this, is that we will be marked with generosity. Generosity in relationship to each other, across this great diocese and beyond. That what we have here will flow from parish to parish in collaboration and partnership, and that God will use us and the things we learn about mission here in Tasmania, to bless and encourage the wider church as we give it all away with glad and generous hearts.
Will you join me in all this so that God is glorified and his kingdom will come as we continue to be church for Tasmania, Making disciples of Jesus?
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.