Called to be a people of hope
Primate brings message of encouragement to Synod
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Archbishop Dr Philip Freier, delivered a call to unity along with a strong message of hope and encouragement in his sermon at the Synod Eucharist in All Saints’ Cathedral on Friday evening, September 9.
“I ask for you to give your help and loyalty, your forgiveness and your prayers for any failures that you perceive,” he said.
Drawing on the Gospel reading from Luke 6, he said it “calls for us always to look towards Jesus, and see him at the very centre of what we do and what we aspire”.
“Despite all that’s happened, our Lord calls us to be a vibrant, lively and passionate community of Christian believers. Let’s together use the present challenges as a unifier, not as a divider.
“We are the Body of Christ, and Paul in his letters speaks often of the life we are called to live as that Body. In Ephesians 4 he writes, ‘Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’”
He acknowledged that it could be easy to feel disheartened, “as if human failings will inevitably mean that God’s purposes are frustrated”.
“But the history of salvation is the history of God overcoming the obstacle of human limitations, up to and including the sending of God’s own Son, and we are called to be a people of hope.
He pointed out that the words, ‘Save us from the time of trial’ in the Lord’s Prayer, address this very issue.
“Hope is when we look with the eyes of faith to what God has promised,” he asserted. “Hope calls us into the present reality of God’s promises, the promises that we know are therefore certain in God’s future and can be witnessed now: the promises of that future, when a victory over sin and death is fully manifested in Heaven and on Earth.”
The Primate said that everything that we can see around us, in the world and the church, needs all the hopefulness that God can stir up within us.
“We need to be beacons of that kind of hope: a living hope, a hope in the living God’s presence amongst us in all the communities where we are placed.
“The pressures of discouragement, of disappointment are so great in people’s lives; they are so great in the daily news that they hear, the things they read, every time they turn the television on some awful shock scene – why wouldn’t people otherwise, unless we proclaim the purposes of God in our communities, think that what they see is all there is to the future?
“But we proclaim a future which is different because it’s God’s future, a future which, lived in God’s sight and God’s presence, is a transformed future, a hopeful future,” he said.
Archbishop Freier also addressed the Synod as it met in the Kelso Church and Community Hall the following morning, when he assured Synod that Bathurst was not the only diocese that has faced a significant financial challenge.
He offered four examples of dioceses that had encountered major debt problems, and noted that in all four cases the debt had involved new schools. However, he added that Perth, Sydney and Brisbane had all managed to establish schools without jeopardising the financial security of the diocese.
He said his own diocese of Melbourne had established a school seven years ago, and the debt had peaked at about $12 million – “the top end of our appetite for risk” – and the diocese was contemplating starting another school in about three years.
“Of course, we’re trying to do that in one of Australia’s fastest-growing urban areas, and pretty much all the others I’m going to talk about had all tried to do this in rural cities.”
He said the Diocese of Wangaratta had invested all its internal resources in establishing a school in a small country town before trying to borrow more money, which they were not able to do. However, they also had a successful school in Albury-Wodonga and another school in Wangaratta, and they were able to transfer the ownership of all three institutions, and the debt, to the Western Australian Diocesan Schools Commission. This has enabled the diocese to continue, but with a much smaller endowment.
The Primate said that Grafton Diocese had gone through “a fairly enthusiastic school building phase”, establishing schools in Tweed Heads, Ballina and Grafton, but through “a combination of both governance and administrative failure” had run into “very significant issues of unpayable debt”.
This situation was compounded by large redress payments to victims of abuse at children’s homes, with the result that the diocese has had to sell property to clear its debt and obligations.
In order to fund development of several schools, the Diocese of North Queensland had borrowed heavily against a large beach-front property north of Cairns that had been bequeathed to the Diocese. However, when the time came to sell the property they found it was encumbered with environmental caveats which greatly restricted development – and therefore greatly reduced its value.
Around the year 2000, the diocese was able to transfer the debt back to the schools, in exchange for them becoming separately incorporated, and this has significantly relieved the financial pressure on the diocese.
Bendigo Diocese had borrowed heavily in the early 1990s to expand the capacity of its boarding school, with the hope of attracting international students. The debt swallowed the diocesan endowment, which meant Melbourne Diocese had to help fund the office of the next bishop.
“But this has a happy side,” Archbishop Freier added. “Under some good leadership – and it’s taken almost 25 years – they are now at a stage where they have reinstated some of their trusts, including their Bishopric Endowment, and I think there is a confident ministry there. Bishop Andrew Curnow has brought down the age profile of the clergy, they’ve developed some innovative approaches to ministry.”
“So I’m coming to a view that the journey of recovery is certainly possible, but it is a generational journey,” he said. “It’s not something that you recover from quickly.”
Combined with the loss of moral authority that the church was experiencing through revelations of child sexual abuse, Archbishop Freier noted that “the wind is not blowing behind us, to make the responsibilities we have in proclaiming the Gospel simple or easy”.
However, he maintained that the Bendigo story showed that recovery was possible.
“It’s good, in your thinking about planning, to think that the decisions you are making will mature over a generational span,” he said. “Our greatest gift is our human resources – human resources are essentially the most creative thing God has given us.”