2024 Synod Presidential Address

Bishop Richard Condie’s Presidential Address to the Third Session of the 55th Synod of the Diocese of Tasmania, which was held in Launceston on 14 and 15 June 2024.


What are we doing when we meet for Synod?

One answer was provided by the Bishop of Newcastle at its first Synod on 15th August in 1856. After his introduction and welcome Bishop Tyrrell said: “I would desire to unite in fervent prayer, that our consultations may tend to render our beloved Church more and more efficient in winning souls to Christ”.[1]

What a great vision for a Diocesan Synod meeting – that it would unite in fervent prayer, and that its business would lead to the church being more and more efficient in winning souls to Christ. I wonder if that is your aspiration for these next days together?

It is easy isn’t it to get consumed with our business – finances, redress, safe church communities’ legislation, and even social issues that are so important to discuss, that we lose sight of our core business. Our very reason for being the church in Tasmania is to make disciples of Jesus, or in the language of 1856 – “winning souls for Christ”, and if the outcome of our meeting together, is not that we are more effective and efficient in this task than we were at the beginning, then we are wasting our time together.

I am convinced that the work we do in those important areas, will set us up for better and more efficient discipling-making, but only if we keep the end in mind. Only if we direct our debates and amendments and discussions to the right ends, the core business of our purpose, of making disciples.

There is no doubt that making disciples is a tough challenge in 21st century Australia. The rise of secularism that claims there is nothing out there at all, a disenchanted world where so-called science reigns supreme and matters of faith are relegated to the personal and the private. A world where belief in God is contested, is seen as unlikely and at best optional for the unenlightened few, is not an easy place to be a Christian.

Coupled with that is a culture that is hostile to Christian understandings of identity and family life. The evidence of declining church attendance and shrinking congregations. Many church communities with few or no children or young people, paints a very depressing picture.

But before we get too weighed down by this, and too consumed by the challenges of Christianity’s waning influence in the West, let us remember that it has been forever thus.

Listen to these words from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians:

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. [2]

You see the message that we proclaim – that Jesus Christ lived and died and rose again, to deal with human sin and offer us forgiveness and the promise of new life and then to shape our identity and behaviour, has always been a difficult message for some people to swallow. For the Jews it was a stumbling block – they could not believe in a messiah who suffered and died on a Roman cross. That was a bridge too far, an unscalable mountain, an insurmountable obstacle to belief.

For the Gentiles, like our own society, it was just foolishness. The notion of sin and judgement was madness to them. The notion of a god-man who dies in the place of sinners to bring them new life, was nonsense, foolishness. And in Paul’s day, just as our own, many rejected the message and continued to live in their sin and self-satisfaction.

But the promise of 1 Corinthians 1 is that the same Gospel which is a stumbling block to those who would prefer to earn their own salvation by good works, and foolishness to the secular humanists, remains the power of God and the wisdom of God for those whom God has called. As foolish as the gospel might seem to the world, it is actually wiser than anything else the world dishes up, and its apparent weakness is God’s great strength in bringing us to life through Jesus. The gospel is still contending “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.[3]

In his book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The improbable rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, Alan Kreider makes the point that the early church grew by being like yeast, fermenting away in a hostile culture. Bit by bit, inch by inch, person by person, the decency, love, compassion and wisdom of the people of God began to permeate the hostile society with the truth of Jesus, to the point that the whole Roman Empire became “Christian” in just 300 years. Perhaps we are in a patient ferment season once again.

There has been a spate of discussions in recent days about various societal ills – family violence, youth crime, inequality in society, the cost of living, and so on. Just a couple of weeks ago I was listening to the radio and found myself shouting at it again. One of our ABC presenters was lamenting the presence of racist behaviour in our cities and towns. He said, once again, “What is the answer to this problem?” and “How can we solve it?”. And again, I found myself saying to the radio in my car “Jesus”. “The answer is Jesus”.

And it’s true, isn’t it? The answer to racism is not re-education, it is not getting upstream of the problems and teaching parents respect to hand on to their kids. It’s certainly not religion, that if only people came back to church and followed the rules, we’d be free of these things. But the answer is “Jesus”. THE person in history that broke down the dividing wall of hostility between people of different races, who brings people from every tribe and nation together, is Jesus.

THE person in history who solves the curse of domination in the sexes bringing men and women together in mutual respect, is Jesus. THE person in history who brings together rich and poor, those who have plenty and those who have too little, is Jesus. THE person who gives us a vision for a thriving planet where the creation is cared for and nurtured to the new creation, is Jesus. THE person who shows us the ideals of human dignity and respect, which is the real answer to youth crime, is Jesus.

As Paul says in Galatians 3 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. [4]

If we are all heirs of the promise, all of the spiritual seed of Abraham, then we come together as one family, without hierarchy or privilege, with loving respect of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Where in the world, apart from God’s beautiful ideal community, can people of every race sit together as brothers and sisters, where men and women can be treated with equal dignity, where violence could be shunned in place of love, where true human flourishing could take place? Where else could people of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations find welcome and community without fear, than in this community of the redeemed?

Oh yes, we, the church often fail at these things. Women are still oppressed in churches. Family violence has the same prevalence in church as it does in the wider community. Gays and trans people have been excluded from our midst. But it should not be so, if we followed the teaching and example and moral vision of Jesus.

I saw a lovely quote recently of the kind of church that Jesus wants. It went like this:

“You got hammered at the bar on Saturday but came to church on Sunday….

You can sit with me. You’re right where you need to be.

You’re a drug addict but came to church on Sunday….

You can sit with me. You’re right where you need to be.

You’re divorced, and the last church you attended condemned you for it….

You can sit with me. You’re right where you need to be.

You’ve had an abortion and it’s slowly eating away at your heart, but you came to church on Sunday….

You can sit with me. You’re right where you need to be.

You’ve been unfaithful to your spouse but came to church on Sunday….

You can sit with me. You’re right where you need to be.

People don’t come to church on Sunday for you to sit in the pew and quietly judge them because you feel that you’re somehow better than them.

People come to church because in their deepest, darkest, most painful moments, they heard about a man named Jesus who could save their soul and they’d like to know Him.”

We are a community of sinners saved by grace, and we have a better story for the world.

It is the story of Jesus, and while it might sound like foolishness to people around us, and while they might want something more spectacular or self-driven, we are called in our generation to tell the better story of Jesus and his love. To proclaim the glorious gospel that is the power of God and the wisdom of God for the world, and live it in such a way as to bring ferment and change from within.

We have been well served in recent years by a number of books on this theme. Tom Holland’s magnificent tome, Dominion: The making of the Western Mind Or How the Christian Revolution Remade the World is one. Holland is an atheist and an historian. He knows his ancient sources, translates original languages and writes a pretty compelling sentence.

His extraordinarily well-documented thesis is that the central values and priorities of modern, Western, secular culture have actually come from Christianity. He writes: “To live in a western country is to live in a society still utterly saturated by Christian concepts and assumptions.”[5]

Our values of human rights, the equal dignity of every person, the intrinsic value of the poor and weak and the necessity of caring and advocating for them, the belief that love is the greatest virtue, that forgiveness is possible, that there are moral absolutes, that some things are good and some things are evil— and particularly that oppression of the powerless is wrong – all have their origin in one place; from Christianity, from the teaching of the Bible.

Holland argues that Christianity revolutionized sex and marriage, demanding that men control themselves and prohibiting all forms of rape; that Christianity elevated the dignity of women; and that those who make arguments based on love, equality, tolerance, and compassion are borrowing fundamentally Christian ideas. Christianity changed the world.

A similar argument can be found in Australian Glen Scrivener’s book, The Air We breathe: How we all came to believe in freedom, kindness, progress and equality. To this list he adds compassion, consent, enlightenment, and science, all of which he argues are the fruit of Jesus’ ministry and teaching. Pre-Christian societies, and even those today without Christian foundations, do not teach these things. Jesus speaks a better word to our world.

Last year’s Christian book of the Year both in Australia and the US, was Christopher Watkin’s massive Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s unfolding story makes sense of modern life and culture. Now while I am still working my way through it, I have heard him speak a number of times. His thesis is that the biblical vision helps us with a better theory for the big issues of our world – power, race, politics, ecology, multiculturalism, the arts, capitalism and so on. Jesus, through the bible’s grand narrative, speaks a better word to our world.

I say all this because I want you to have confidence that what we are doing as a church is right and good. We are trying to proclaim Jesus afresh in our generation, to speak that better word, and so win disciples for him, followers of him, people who live their lives for him. We do that because we believe that Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God”.  We are convinced with the apostle that the so-called “foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

I have been reminded of this recently in hearing testimonies of people who have come forward for confirmation. Adults who have encountered the life-giving words of Jesus afresh, teenagers who have taken on the promises of their parents for themselves and turn to Christ and declare to the church their desire to follow him. I saw it at the Leaders in Training Camp back in April where 40 of our teenagers gathered for an amazing week of studying the bible and learning how to be leaders in the church. I even came across two 15 year-old boys in one of our rural churches a few weeks ago who, while their parents are not believers, felt drawn to go to church to find out more about the Christian faith.

Yes we can point to the decline of church attendance. We have many stories of churches that are smaller than they were before Covid. We can get discouraged that no-one wants to hear our message and that we are marginalized or forgotten and sometimes ridiculed. We can tell ourselves that the world thinks our message is foolishness. But God reminds us constantly that his message is the power and wisdom for the world.

Many of our Parishes are grappling seriously with the business of change, living into our diocesan value of transformation. It is pleasing to see some places trying new things and being innovative in mission to reach their local communities. I was recently in one parish with a mission team from the Sydney Missionary and Bible College as they were proclaiming Jesus. We are planning a mission in the southeast next year with some Moore College students. We have just spent the month with dozens of people doing a course on Everyday Evangelism in a few of our Hobart parishes. I know of many places where Alpha and Christianity Explored have become part of the regular life of the Parish. I know that all of our ministers are working really hard to lead for growth and gospel proclamation. Some places are gaining real traction in revitalisation, with one church over 80% full every Sunday.

That is why we are committed to fulfilling our Children’s and Youth Ministry Strategy that we launched at Synod last year. The fantastic work done by the team in developing that strategy is continuing. We have conducted workshops on children’s and youth ministry, supported trainees, and are holding a new Diocesan Children’s Ministry conference in the middle of this year. This year we are also holding our first combined young adults’ event in July. How great to see more young people coming forward to be trained, youth ministry interns across the diocese, and camps that are full to overflowing each summer, with two brand new camps next year.

It’s because Jesus is the power and wisdom of God that we continue our work with Anglican Schools. I am so encouraged by the faithful Anglicans who serve on our boards, striving for our Schools to stay true to their Christian foundations. Our Chaplains and Christian teachers do a superb job in representing and teaching the gospel among the young people and staff of the schools. It was wonderful to confirm 9 young men at the Hutchins School last year, and to continue to visit and connect with students and staff in all three schools.

It is because of our commitment to Jesus that we continue to provide chaplaincy in our hospitals and prisons. Pleasingly Anglican Health and Welfare now provide chaplains for all four major hospitals in the state, with a growing number of specialist chaplains there and in the prison system. These chaplains represent Jesus to people at points of great need and vulnerability. It is such a privilege to show his care and his better story for people when they need it most.

It is because Jesus provides a better story that we continue to partner with Anglicare in their important work of providing assistance to vulnerable Tasmanians and advocacy on their behalf. We joined with them in advocating for the mandatory pre-commitment card for poker machine use during the recent state election. It is pleasing to hear stories of parishes working with Anglicare to care for people in local contexts. I’m glad to commend to you the Anglicare Winter Appeal which was launched just a few days ago. Gifts of money from Tasmanian Anglicans and parishes would be welcome as would donations of food and personal items to be included in care hampers. Your Rector should have more details about this and how your parish can get involved.

It is because of Jesus that we are a Diocese committed to Church Planting. The Multiply Tas working group has been continuing to work on this through the last year. It is our hope that in the next year or two we will plant new congregations in the Hobart CBD, in the burgeoning and under resourced suburb of Brighton, and in the growing edge of Launceston in Legana. We are also exploring how to reach the growing multicultural communities in the northern suburbs of Hobart with a potential plant. We know that prayer is foundational to this, and so later this year we will launch a regular prayer meeting for a church plant in Hobart, and a small group of people are already getting underway to pray for something to emerge in Brighton. If you are interested in either area, then please let us know and start to pray that God will move.

It is because of Jesus and his radical view elevating the status and dignity of women and children that we are committed to working on eradicating family violence from Anglican churches in Tasmania. We do this by continuing to implement the 10 Commitments that we adopted a few years ago and educating and supporting clergy and lay people about this terrible scourge on Australian society. We want the teaching of Jesus to be a reality in our lives and so we reject violence of any kind, and especially in our homes and among family members. I am pleased to see the business item on our agenda about this matter.

It is because of Jesus that we continue to work to build relationships with first nations Tasmanians in a variety of ways. It is because of Jesus that we hope to finally get the creation care working group off the ground in the next 12 months, to show our commitment to being stewards of the environment.

It is because of the Bible’s call to us to repent and make restitution for our sins, that we are committed to providing redress for survivors of sexual abuse. This last year has been particularly challenging with the judgement in the Supreme Court. It has of course put upward pressure on settlements for civil claims against us. But participating in the justice system, and responding with compassion to those who have been hurt by the church in the past, is the right thing to do. We want to tell the truth in acknowledging the abuse that took place in our church in the 70’s, 80’s 90’s and early 2000’s and make restitution where possible. While we respect people’s rights to not make contact with us, the healing that is brought through direct personal apologies to survivors of sexual abuse is often very significant for those who take it up. We know that offering and receiving an apology brings forgiveness and freedom for those involved. God, in Christ, is in the business of reconciliation.

And of course, it because of Jesus’ care for the vulnerable and his desire not to put stumbling blocks in the way of his little ones, that we continue to be committed to a safe church. I think the work we will do this Synod on reviewing our safe churches legislation is gospel work. It makes the ministry we do safe for all people and builds confidence that people can find words of life in an environment that is free from any threat of harm. We must continue to be vigilant about this, vigilant about our training and screening and accreditation, so that we express Jesus’ care for the world and for his flock.

I want to finish today by speaking about Hope25. I am delighted that the Anglican Church of Australia has committed itself to the priority of evangelism in the next years of our ministry to the nation. I am also delighted that the General Synod Commission which I chair on behalf of the national church – the Mission and Ministry Commission has been charged with the responsibility of leading this season of Australia-wide parish-based evangelism in 2025. It is a privilege to be leading this work.

Just imagine with me for a moment what might happen to the Anglican Church of Australia if Anglicans across the country got on their knees to pray for their communities to encounter the hope we have in Jesus. Imagine every Parish Church, in every town and city and suburb, of every Diocese, in the big cities and in the small towns at the same time, the common theme of Hope in an Uncertain world, with common branding and promotional material, banners, flyers, posters, social media, email campaigns, spots on local radio, and ads in newspapers. Imagine all this backed up by the prayers of every Anglican, inviting the unchurched and dechurched, and the “never-thought-about-it-befores”, to come to a dinner, or a service, or a play group, or a fair, or a BBQ, or a wine and cheese event, where they are going to hear about Jesus and be invited to explore the Christian faith. Imagine then the people who might come to a short course, or an enquirers bible study, or a new Christian’s discussion group. Imagine what impact we could have, and the encouragement this will bring, and the joy in heaven when people come to faith.

I want to see all of this happening in Tasmanian churches – every single church having a go at evangelism, stepping out of our confront zones, praying to God for boldness and courage, and for real change in people’s lives. Could we do this with every other church in the country to proclaim the hope of Jesus in an uncertain world? Of course, our deep desire is that this is the strengthening of an ongoing culture of evangelism and proclamation for the Diocese and the Anglican Church of Australia.

We do all this because of Jesus. We do all this as a Synod because we want our diocese to make disciples of Jesus as we are a church for Tasmania. We do all this, so that we might “render our beloved church more efficient in winning souls of Christ.”

Would you join me as we pray:

Saving God, in love you gave your Son for the world.

Help us to be a Church for Tasmania,

as in obedience, we make disciples of Christ.

In the power of the Holy Spirit,

may our parishes, agencies, schools & chaplaincies flourish

and be a blessing to our communities,

in the name of the risen Jesus

who is with us to the end of the age. Amen


[1] The Diocese of Newcastle – A history A. P. Elkin, p.289

[2] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Co 1:22–25.

[3] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Eph 6:12.

[4] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ga 3:28–29.

[5] Tom Holland, Dominion, p xxv