Theme: The God of Surprises
Acknowledgement of Country:
As we meet today for this, the first session of the Fortieth (40th) Synod of the Diocese of Wangaratta, I acknowledge all Aboriginal people, the traditional owners of the various lands on which we meet throughout the Diocese and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
Today I also acknowledge my own indigenous heritage within the context of my previous country of residence and identify with the pain and suffering of all those who have experienced the loss of land and the challenges of having their culture, heritage and language disregarded. I also affirm my own commitment to the work of reconciliation and my support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart which was endorsed at Synod last year.
It is my hope that, as the Anglican family within the Diocese of Wangaratta, we will continue to acknowledge on our pew sheets, publications, vision statements and especially at special Parish or Diocesan events, the original custodians of this land and celebrate our unity as God’s people as we celebrate our one-ness with all creation.
Introduction, Welcome and Expression of Thanks
Today is my sixth Synod in the Diocese of Wangaratta and my first Synod as the 11th Bishop of Wangaratta and I welcome you all to this first session of the Fortieth Synod. I especially extend a hand of greeting to those who have joined our ranks since our last Synod, from overseas and
locally, in The Rev’d Jerome Francis from the Diocese of Cape Town South Africa, The Rev’d David Kerr and The Rev’d Emily Payne from the Diocese of Melbourne, together with their families where they have accompanied them. Welcome also to lay Synod representatives and others who are joining for the first time.
It is a rather strange Synod because of the uncertainty in preparing for today as to whether we would be able to meet in person or would have to use the Zoom application. It is a strange Synod because we have no other special guests to welcome and Synod has really been in progress for a few weeks with all our pre-Synod Zoom meetings. It is a strange Synod because we were due to meet in May, then in September and now we are finally meeting today.
It is also strange because, in all our lay and clergy pre-Synod meetings I asked for special consideration so that we would not require elections, despite this being an Election Synod. Given the changing circumstances during these unprecedented times, I hope we can
contribute to this ‘bare-bones’ Synod in the most efficient, simple and easy way, given that the second session of the Fortieth Synod will, God willing, take place towards the middle of next year.
Yes, it is strange, because additional people who would normally be in attendance would be Clergy with Permission to Officiate (PTO) who are entitled to attend and speak but not vote and many others who would normally wish to sit in the Visitors’ Gallery. If these were different times, we would have done it the normal way, but I believe, given the restriction on numbers and other rules, we are doing the best we possibly can.
Since our last Synod, we have also had the retirement of the 10th Bishop of Wangaratta, The Rt Rev’d John Parkes, and we give thanks to God for his ministry during his eleven-year Episcopacy. We wish him and Margaret well in their retirement.
Last year at Synod we were privileged to have the Melanesian Brotherhood present and as part of our Diocese. Through the reality of Covid 19 and the missional challenges within the Shepparton Parish and community, the brothers have relocated to the Diocese of North Queensland and will soon be working in the Torres Strait on Thursday Island. We are grateful for the ministry of the Brothers and wish them well in their new context.
The God of Surprises
I have chosen as my theme for this Synod Charge the concept of ‘The God of Surprises’, as I begin to share my hopes, dreams, thoughts and vision for my own episcopal ministry and hopefully on how we can collaborate together as the family of God in the Diocese of
Wangaratta over the next few years. I base this on Mark 4:35- 41 and specifically verse 41 – ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’.
This passage refers to a time of great uncertainty and fear for the disciples. They were faced with a great challenge in what they thought was about to happen to them. They thought that they were about to die and accused Jesus of not caring. At that moment they lacked faith, even though they
often journeyed with Jesus, experiencing Jesus’ transforming and all-embracing love. What a surprise to them when Jesus uttered the words, “Peace! Be Still” and all happened according to his words. Here they discovered that, with Jesus in their midst, all will be well, for God is always present even when we think that God is asleep.
At my ordination as a priest I was reminded that I never cease to be a Deacon and therefore I never cease to serve. Over my almost 25 years of ordained ministry, I have always held to the belief that Christ is best served in serving others. Here we refer to all those whom we encounter on life’s journey, especially the lonely, the poor, the vulnerable, the emotionally challenged, the stranger, the refugee and those who feel that they do not belong, because they are, or feel, different from others.
I have experienced this God of surprises throughout my entire ministry. I have witnessed and experienced many transforming moments in the exercising of a ministry of availability, visibility and presence. As a Priest, I believe that my task is to lead people into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God and with one another. Yes, I will celebrate the ‘sacrament of great unity’ in the body and blood of Christ, baptise and preach and even be a focus of unity within my own congregational setting, but there is no better moment than bringing comfort to those who mourn, friendship to those who are lonely, acceptance to those who feel rejected and a lighter moment to those who feel the heaviness of what life and our present day context sometimes cause. I have often said that I do not want to be remembered for successful fundraising events or building achievements within a Parish or Diocesan context, but hopefully for making someone else smile or feel special, even if just for a moment.
The God of surprises continues to act to this day and, as God’s agents of transformation and change, if we allow ourselves to be open to experience this, we will be surprised by what will happen when we continue to engage in this ministry of availability, visibility and presence and prioritise the things that are most essential in our ministry. In a saying attributed to St Teresa of Calcutta ‘Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love’.
Having ministered in South Africa for almost 19 years and, despite having spent time in the UK, Germany and France and being convinced that God was calling me to the northern hemisphere, in 2014 I was once again surprised. I knew many people in well respected and influential positions, but what a surprise when a previous Diocesan Archdeacon of the Diocese of Wangaratta responded to me less than an hour after I had written to the former Bishop of Wangaratta and my life was never the same again!
I was offered two further interviews in the ‘land down under’, including another ministry opportunity in a picturesque coastal setting within the Bunbury Diocese. I was well on my way but, once again, this God of surprises led me to the bush, among the gum trees and rivers
and far away from the ocean which I love. Michelle sent me on a mission to find a place with a beautiful beach with surfing opportunities, but, upon return, having found that place, I was once again surprised when she told me that ‘God made the bush, the outback and
the lilies of the field’ and that is where we needed to go. Another surprise, even though the three boys voted NO!
It should be no great surprise that the one whom the wind and sea obey is the one who we should obey in turn, allowing ourselves to be surprised by the one who calls us to loving service in faithfulness and humility. A saying that I have always held close to my heart… “Trust in God’s
purposes for sending you into the unknown”… would send me in another direction. It is the unknown, the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable, the uneasy which will bring about the surprise of your life. Having then just been told that it was not the custom within the Australian Church to elect a person from within the same Diocese as Bishop, God once again surprised me when I was called minutes later with the news that I was
elected as the 11th Bishop of Wangaratta.
Here I am today, walking every day with this God of surprises, who does not only call, but is also the God who strengthens us for ministry and service in and to the world. Here I am, still deeply and whole-heartedly committed to my work as a Deacon, a Priest and now as a Bishop
within the Church of God in Australia, a place which was never, ever on my radar. In preparing for the Enthronement service, it was suggested that I include a saying of St Augustine which, among other things, said… ‘For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian’. My privilege, joy and
delight is what I am with you and not for you. Here I am, still deeply and passionately in love with God, God’s people and God’s Church and all those whom I encounter daily. I do not know what surprises are in store for me, or for us as a Diocese, in what is to come, but I continue to trust
the God of Surprises who is with us and who will sustain us through the changing circumstances of our lives.
What a beginning to a new year; what a start to a new Episcopal Ministry, with the devastating bushfires described as the worst ever, destroying the beautiful landscape, life-giving trees, plants, insects, bird and animal life, as well as live-stock, human life and property in
Corryong and parts of the Alpine Region. The 2009 bushfires are what the former bishop had to deal with and the 2020 bushfire period was an inaugural and difficult event as I started my ministry, even before my consecration. I do not want to be the cause of any fire other than ensuring that we ignite the fire of the Holy Spirit amongst the people of God within our Diocese for the mission and ministry to which we are called.
Australian bushfires, amongst other things, was one reason why Australia was never on my radar. In 2009, I watched scenes on TV of the ravishing Australian Bushfire while in South Africa and said that I will never go to Australia, but here I am. Yet another surprise. What I have experienced through this event is the resilience, the support, the care and commitment of people to be of service to one another. I have seen the love and oneness with the earth encompassed in human relationships and generosity – clergy and laity throughout the Diocese and beyond standing together, working with secular organisations to show the gospel in action – to interrupt their own lives to donate, counsel, provide, house and to bring hope, exercising the motto of ministry which I will forever hold onto, a ministry of availability, visibility and presence.
I want to express my sincere thanks to the many who gave unselfishly of their time, their money and their expertise and those who assisted greatly and sacrificially through that difficult time, including those who travelled to our most affected communities to bring some economic and relief support. I pray that this road to recovery may restore the human dignity of all those so deeply affected by the bushfires.
News, reports and concerns about what is called Corona Virus or COVID-19 would soon set us on a different pathway. This was once again something that would be unlike anything most of us would have seen in our lifetime, but can be equated to the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic that unsettled our world. How unsettling too for us as a faith community, as my consecration on 22 February just preceded changes to our normal practice as Church but, thank God, we were still able to gather on 23 February in great numbers to witness and be part of my
installation and enthronement as the 11th Bishop of Wangaratta, followed by good food and fellowship.
One of my first tasks as Bishop was to announce the temporary closure of Churches in March, when many already felt that it was not safe to gather – this enabled us to help curb the spread of this virus, which has not only taken us by surprise, but shaken the very essence of our humanity. I was a new bishop who hardly had a moment to engage in the ministrations of my episcopal office when I had to navigate a new way of connecting with all throughout the Diocese.
The real challenge for us was having an Easter like never before, being unable to celebrate the holy mysteries, the Triduum in all its rich spiritual and liturgical expressions. We could not join for corporate worship, but still found ways of being together. We were challenged to do and be Church in a rather unusual fashion, but somehow, we have reached more than the usual number of regular attendees. We have been given a new platform through which to navigate our ministry and were able to bring many within our Diocese together without travelling long distances. Through this, we have been able to reduce the carbon footprint and contributed significantly to the safeguarding, integrity, renewal and sustainability of creation. Many of you are aware of my passion for this part of our mission, but now is not the time to expand upon this, simply to encourage you to keep it in mind in all that you do.
Bushfires and COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, but with the wonderful change of restrictions being eased, I still encourage each one of us to be vigilant, to be careful and to move slowly and at all times to do the right thing and that which will ensure our safety and well-being as a first priority. Church will always be here as God is always here, as expressed in a communication to the Diocese dated 7 October, “The Church of God has always been in existence and will continue to exist well beyond our lives”. It is good to connect in person, but we will ensure for all the best reasons that we connect through the Zoom application also so that we can be together even when not in the same place. Thankfully, it is looking more and more hopeful that we will be able to have something resembling our normal services at Christmas, although still with the required safeguards.
Challenges and Developing our Ministry Plan of Action
I have discovered that the Diocese has had two strategic action plans, the second of which I was a part at its tail end. Various activities for the regeneration of growing the Church, with initiatives like back to Church Sunday, the National Church Life Survey, different measures for church vitality and the vision and mission statements were often embedded in long, wordy and hopeful statements which, for many, probably became difficult to understand. I can justify this statement because, as the previous Archdeacon for Ministry Development, I assisted some of our Parishes to re-work, re- engage, re-write and re-develop their strategic plans and to turn them into simple Ministry Action Plans.
Statements are good, plans even better but, unless executed with objectives, actions, timeframes and outcomes connected to them, the best statements and plans will have no effect. The reality is that our Mission as the Church of God is always evolving, but even so, we know that we share in God’s mission and Jesus’ ministry as fully expressed in the challenges that Jesus set for his disciples and all of us. The calling, training and equipping of the twelve disciples (Matt 4:18ff; 9:9; 10:5ff; Mark) the calling and return of the seventy (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20) and
the dominical command (Matt 28:19) are the very foundations on which our mission and ministry need to be built, as well as the central aspect of our faith as expressed in the wonderful commandment to love God and neighbour (John 15:12-17) as previously defined.
Reflecting on the sermon I preached at my Installation and Enthronement, I believe we should always endeavour to keep things simple and real by being available, visible and present. A Church Community that does not embrace the community in which and for which it exists, despite the
challenges, is a disengaged church and does not reflect the concept of how a Parish in an English context refers not only to a territorial entity, but to the people of its community. The concept of Parish in this way resonates deeply with me, as the South African Theologian, David Bosch, suggests
that ‘the Church is the experimental garden of the new humanity’. (Bosch, Konig & Nicol 1982:15 Open Letter to the Dutch Reformed Church) William Temple, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury, also said ‘The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the
benefit of those who are not its members.’ (‘Letter from the Archbishop of the West Indies’ in Theology (1956), vol. 59. Understanding this, we can clearly see that the role of the Church and that of its mission is overwhelmingly for the sake of the world.
This intrinsic and interactive connection should present us with a pattern for our collaborative ministry, mission, outreach and evangelistic approach. It is not so much about a program of Back to Church Sunday, Renew, Alpha, Decade of Evangelism, Partners in Mission,
Intentional Discipleship, which was the latest Anglican Communion developed program, or the Lambeth Conference, now 2022, theme: “God’s world for God’s Church”. It is about keeping it simple, keeping it real, making it achievable and returning to the basics. It is not
something that needs to look good on paper or a poster, but something that can be achieved when we offer a ministry of hospitality, humility and simplicity.
The reality is that we have complicated the system of gospel sharing and good news- bearing. It seems we have focussed so much on establishing procedures and protocols in our ecclesiastical arrangements, that we have placed maintenance above mission, money above ministry
and meetings above worship. I believe that we also seem to be placing a greater emphasis on things temporal than things spiritual, as we
leave the latter to the individual and focus on the former as a collective. I would like to encourage ways of further developing our spiritual growth, both individually and collectively.
It is my hope, as a Diocese that has been challenged and watched by the Diocesan Financial Advisory Group (DFAG) in regard to our viability and sustainability, even as we remain on the watchlist, that we do what we need to do in order to show that we can and will make a difference. There is no doubt that there will be challenges, but I have often said that challenges create opportunities and, if we show we can move beyond mere viability and sustainability, and prioritise those important missional approaches even within challenging times, the God of surprises, through our concerted efforts, will bring about an even greater surprise.
As one who is a bishop for you, I would like to walk with you, talk with you, pray with you, worship with you as we engage in a mission strategy to re-develop, re-design, renew, refresh and refocus the ministry within the Diocese so that we can ‘re-birth’ our ministry. This will not
happen overnight, it will take time, but I believe that it can be done. Here I am talking about a simple plan, but one that can be effective and which will be able to define an achievable outcome in each of our contexts. It will have to be business ‘unusual’, like the ‘new normal’ we often
reference. What we need to do is to ensure that we become part of the ‘growing process’ and not just aim to manage decline. It would also mean that we will have to move away from the ‘I’ syndrome and work hard towards the ‘we and us’ syndrome because we are all in this together. We cannot remain just Parochial, we will have to think Diocesan, missional and look beyond ourselves; what we have and how we have been doing things for the past many decades needs to change. As the Church exists for the world, we need to understand that, in our context, we need to exist for one another and be partners in mission as we remain faithful to the God who calls and equips and the God who continues to surprise us. This work will not be my doing alone, but what I hope we will achieve together.
What Parish Clergy need to consider, is that they are licensed by the Bishop to a Parish – it is this Parish, congregation and community that they serve and where they exercise their ministry to foster the work of change and transformation, advance the gospel and make the
difference in the lives of all those whom we encounter within life’s journey and all those who are entrusted to our care. The work within the Diocese will only be strengthened because of what we are able to do in the Parish and Parish Community. I know that many of our number value
offering opinions on various social justice and other related issues, but even this should happen grounded in the context of where we serve and alongside those whom we serve. There is a lot to do, but charity begins at home.
In saying this, I am not suggesting we do not tackle issues that deeply affect us, but I hope that this will be a process of sharing our energy through the work of our Social Justice Committee which started with great ‘gusto’ a few years ago. The membership was high and now we only have four
people trying to cover so much. Here we have an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and do what we can with our available human and
The reality is that our congregations are tired, many of them elderly and we have seen that, in some cases, when certain people leave a congregation due to retirement or down-scaling, the future viability of that congregation is threatened. Two of our Churches will probably be
deconsecrated soon and we will need to have intentional conversations on how the ministry of each Parish or Parochial District will unfold and develop over the next few years. Many love the concept of the building and the maintenance thereof and will put lots of energy and spend
lots of money on buildings, without conceptualising a ministry action plan focusing on growth areas.
Here we need to navigate a plan of action as, for many of our congregations, the survival kit over the last few months has been ‘Jobkeeper’. I fear that, as from Easter 2021, it will be an entirely new ‘ball game’. Strategies will have to develop so that we can move from
‘surviving’ to ‘thriving’ mode, as we express our ability to make the difference.
In moving to practicalities, there will be changes and different emphases. Clergy are called for and tasked with building ministry, mission and outreach in their context. Together with parishioners, they will best know what is worth trying, what empowering, training and resources
are needed and how the outcomes will be assessed and celebrated. I will surely be part of those conversations when I visit parishes over the next year.
I, along with Diocesan staff and committees, will consider how restructuring might streamline the way we do things to avoid wasting valuable time or money. It should be borne in mind that, for the first time in a very long time, the 2020-21 budget is a surplus budget.
One of the most vital contributions to the re-structuring program is another quality on which I pride myself and that is effective communication – intentional conversations and absolute transparency. This trait should not be reserved for a select few, but apply to all of us who are
part of the Diocese of Wangaratta. Trust building and respectful interaction will be essential ingredients in our relational involvement as we try and reflect the biblical image of the Church of God described as the ‘Body of Christ. (1 Cor 12:12ff) We all need each other and we are
in this together and once again, ‘together, we can make a difference’. I will be your bare-foot bishop (though I prefer sandals) and will endeavour to uphold the concept that ‘Christ is best served, in the serving of the neighbour’.
Partners and Mission
Within the Diocese and during these unprecedented times we have still been well served and supported by the ministry of our Mission Agencies, like the Australian Board of Mission, Anglicare Parish Partnerships, Loaves and Fishes, The Bush Church Aid and the
Christian Missionary Society. I am told that this Diocese used to have good collaborative initiatives for mission giving and I hope that we will be able to rekindle that flame which once made this Diocese stand out. In the redeveloping of our Mission Plan, I hope we will engage with all these agencies, both Anglican and ecumenical, to see how best we can support one another and navigate a plan for what will work for the Diocese. I know that many competing organisations will flood our letter boxes around this time of the year seeking donations and, for struggling Parishes within the current economic decline and unemployment as a result of COVID restrictions, it will be a long road to recovery. We might want to prioritise and not bite off more than we can chew and hope that this is an initiative that we can all work on together.
Amidst the Parish Ministries, we also have Diocesan initiatives and Committees who, despite the present situation, have served the Diocese well. The Mothers’ Union used to be a ‘force to be reckoned with’ but, over the years, age, health concerns, leadership and continuous
engagement have affected members and they have become less able to be involved. Yes, it is a worldwide organisation with excellent objectives, but without succession, strategic and innovative ministry planning in such a widely geographical Diocese, it might be difficult to
achieve some of the outcomes.
Cursillo is another ministry, whose members led and participated in a recent Diocesan Morning Prayer Service. Regular Ultreyas used to be featured in the Diocesan Newspaper and I hope that we will soon be able to navigate how the future of this ministry will be
strengthened within the Diocese. Like the Mothers’ Union, there is once again a need for a Ministry Action Plan.
Plans that started with excitement and many events have diminished over the last few years, even before the impact of COVID, with decreasing participation – I’ve already mentioned the Social Justice Committee and previous Strategic Operational Plans. This could once again bear
testimony to the need to do an entire ‘ministry overhaul’ which allows us to start this process afresh following this Diocesan Election Synod. It is my hope to call interested people together early in the new year and see how best we can navigate this. You know that this is my passion and,
as Bishop of the Diocese, I will continue to work with all ministries and parishes to achieve good outcomes.
I would also like to express my thanks for the ministry of the Diocesan Finance and Property Committees over the past year, as well as our Bishop in Council Interim Executive who worked tirelessly with us to deal with very important matters. These committees have
served the Diocese well and, as the newly formed Bishop In Council Executive Committee, we will continue the work of the former Finance Committee. I would like to express my thanks to those who have served this committee for many years. We will be looking at additional members for some of these Committees and to redraft their ‘frame of reference’ which will coincide with what we hope to achieve as a Diocese.
Anglican School Commission (ASC)
Notwithstanding the difficulties of COVID19, it was wonderful to welcome Nick Jones and family to Cathedral College Wangaratta at the beginning of 2020. Keith Willet became the principal of Cobram Anglican Grammar School mid-term and we continue to build relationships with the three schools within the boundaries of the Diocese. At a recent pre-Synod Zoom meeting we had online reports from the three principals and I look forward to engaging with School Council Members, teachers and students as partners, together with the ASC. We also recognise the outstanding contributions of former principals, Adrian Farrer and Steve Gale.
One of the most challenging activities over the past few years has been to help members of our congregation understand the importance of us as a Diocese within the Australian Anglican Church, together with all denominations, getting our Safer Church
practices in place. This requires all clergy, church workers, leaders and various participants in other ministries to ensure that all ‘checks and balances’ are in place and that we have filled in all documents and provided support documents for ministry clearances within the Diocese.
I am aware of many who have questioned, and those who refuse to participate in, this, even though we simplified the process at our 2018 Synod with a new schedule for Lay Authorisations. Less than this we cannot do, as we are required by the Government and the Anglican Church of Australia, as well as in the interests of children and vulnerable adolescents and adults, to ensure that we have satisfied all requirements.
I trust that we, as a Diocese, have followed all procedures and protocols with respect to clearances for ministry and remind you again that any of our number who are not cleared for ministry are not to proceed or be involved in any way until a clearance has been issued. This is hard but necessary and I encourage you to be in contact with The Rev’d David Still, our Safer Church Officer with regard to any issues that need clarification or for the clearance procedures. This is hard for me too as a ‘new kid on the block’, having to implement what should have been in place already, but I will not only do the right thing, I will be seen to be doing the right thing.
Future Synods and Gatherings
I started presenting this as a bare-bones Synod, but I hope that we will engage as soon as we are able to continue with our intentional conversations and innovative ministry action planning and the advancement of ministry as I described earlier. This will need
the participation of all of us and I want to ensure that our discussions will become practical engagement. I hope to offer ministry and service here within the Diocese of Wangaratta as Bishop for the next few years and we will have ample opportunity to navigate our collaborative plan as it unfolds. I want to stress that ‘less is more’ and I would rather do less and do it well, than to tackle everything under the sun and not achieve anything. Hopefully we will begin to look at legislative changes to some of our Diocesan Acts, but here I would also want to take it slowly as I want to try and work within the framework of ‘the spirit of the law and not always the letter of the law’. I hope that we will be able to ensure that mission will come before maintenance, ministry before money and worship before meetings. I would really love for us to move back to the basics, prioritise and do those things that make our ministry as lay and ordained more worthwhile, when we transform our world and society by simply being, as well as by doing.
As bishop of the Diocese, it is my hope, intention and sincere prayer to ensure that we remain together, as I am called ‘to maintain the Church’s witness to the resurrection, protect the purity of the gospel, proclaim Jesus as Lord, guard the faith, unity and discipline of Christ’s Church’ among other things. I am deeply aware of my commission in the exhortation and examination, especially as teacher of the faith, chief minister and pastor and my answers of ‘I will’ to the many questions I was asked before my consecration. I am also aware of the charge given to me at my ordination as a Deacon and Priest on which I often I meditate. Even in that glorious and humbling moment of being set aside for this special episcopal ministry, I hold dearly to the questions that were asked at the beginning of the service of installation and enthronement, to which I answered:
‘I am Clarence, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God, to travel with you in God’s service together.
I am Clarence, sent as bishop to serve you, to proclaim the love of Christ and, with you, worship and love him, with heart, soul, mind and strength.
I am Clarence and I come knowing nothing except Christ and him crucified and in weakness and fear and in much trembling.’
So dear friends, I preach Jesus and none other, this is my agenda!
Appellate Tribunal & Service of Blessing
At Synod last year, a vast majority of the Synod Representatives of our Diocese voted in favour of a service of blessing for persons married according to the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961. This was assented to by the then President of Synod, The Right Rev’d A John Parkes, which brought the regulation into law in this Diocese. The matter was referred to the Appellate Tribunal by the former Primate of the Anglican Church. In response to that, and upon a request from the Primate, I, as Vicar General, asked all our clergy to respect the processes of the National Church and, even though we were not obliged to, we agreed that we would not have any services of blessing until a determination and opinion were delivered. This all happened at a time when the former Bishop went on Long Service Leave until his retirement.
Two weeks ago we received the determination and opinion from the Appellate Tribunal, which is the Anglican Church’s highest legal authority. It released a 5-1 majority opinion that there is no contraindication for using the service of blessing for civil marriages, including that of same sex couples, as authorised at last year’s Synod. What was categorically stated by the Tribunal is that the Diocese has not gone against the teaching of the Church on any question of faith. It also re-iterated that this is not a service of marriage, but of blessing for those married under the Marriage Act as amended. This, in summary, means that the regulation which came into effect last year can now be used for its intended purpose. I stated then and re-iterate now that, within this determination, there are no winners or losers and this matter will continue to be a bone of contention within the Anglican Church.
Some within our Diocese, both lay and clergy, do not agree with the regulation. Clauses 5 and 6 of the Regulation, as well as an explicit statement by the former Bishop last year, state that no ordained person within this Diocese should feel compelled to do anything against their own belief and I would want to emphasise that again today. Equally importantly, please respect the decision of anyone else in the Diocese who holds a different viewpoint from you. As I continue in conversation on this topic and work to hold us together as a Diocese, I encourage you to do the same in your own parishes.
As a relatively new Bishop within the Church of God, who has not been part of previous discussions with other Bishops within the national Church, especially as General Synod did not take place this year, I would like to continue in conversation with them and the wider Church, wherever that may lead us. Recently, at a Bishops’ meeting, I expressed my feelings about this process and the fact that, following Synod last year, I felt alone in all of this, as I endured many insults and being blamed as a cause of division in the Church in Australia. I have not even had the
opportunity to share my thinking, but yet there are those who accuse me of advancing the legacy and ideology of others. I am one who can stand in my own right, but feel insulted and am deeply pained by the insinuation and insensitivity of others. Against this, I am extremely grateful
for those who have had a sympathetic ear and a generous heart and who understand something of the position in which I’ve been placed.
Through all of this, I believe in a God who does not push away but a God who draws us closer. I believe in a God who delights in God’s creation and who values each person created in God’s image and likeness. I believe in a God who calls us to transform and change
the world by sharing the generosity of God’s grace and all- embracing love with all those whom we encounter on our journey. This is the God I serve and will continue to serve.
I also recognise that I cannot tackle everything under the sun and that, as the body of Christ, we will not always agree on everything, but I pray that, as the Chief Pastor and Shepherd within the Diocese of Wangaratta, I will continue to point people to Jesus and will work with everyone to
advance the Kingdom of God in this place.
Knowing that, as Bishop, I am the focus of unity within our Diocese, I want to do everything in my power as Bishop here and as your representative to the National Church, to continue the conversation, while many other Dioceses, through their Synods, will navigate their own processes. I do not know how they will respond and what the effect of all this will be on the National Church, but know that there are various opinions and statements out there. I am committed to do everything to hold our Diocese together and to walk alongside
each of you in discerning God’s will for us. I do hope that you will honour my role as your representative to the Anglican Church of Australia. I do not believe that continuing in conversation goes against the decision of the Synod of the Diocese. I also do not believe that I am betraying the trust of those who have waited so long for this moment, as lawfully this service of blessing can be used by clergy who feel comfortable to do so, but the regulation also protects all those who feel they cannot.
I will have a difficult task ahead amidst all the other challenges that we face as a Diocese, but I would like to carry out the injunction in the Prayer of Consecration for Bishops (page 805 APBA) ‘to exercise without reproach the office of bishop, using its authority to heal and not to hurt, to build up and not destroy.’
Please continue to hold one another in prayer and pray for God’s wisdom and strength for me and my family, to whom I am grateful for their love and support, as we hold you and all others throughout the Church in prayer.
Conclusion & Thanks
Thank you for being part of the first session of the fortieth Synod and for all those who have worked tirelessly to make this happen and exercised great patience over the past few weeks. Thank you to our Team of Clergy and, where applicable, their spouses and, their immediate and
Thank you also to all members of Bishop in Council, the Bishop’s Leadership Team, The Archdeacon, The Dean and Vicar General as well as the Diocesan Trustees, Diocesan Treasurer, Financial Advisor, Director of Professional Standards, Safer Church Officer, all members or leaders of the various Diocesan Groups and Committees.
Special and most appreciative thanks to our Legal Team. Thank you to the Chancellor for his advice to me when I am so new to all these matters. It is good to welcome Clyde back to Synod today after the constraints on his involvement whilst also sitting on the Appellate Tribunal. Special thanks to the Diocesan Advocate for her advice to me and to the Synod of the Diocese and who, amidst an extremely heavy work schedule, continues to serve us well in the Diocese. Rachel has done an extraordinary job in the submission to the Appellate Tribunal, as well as the
subsequent response and has always been available to assist me to understand some of our canons and acts.
Sincere thanks also to our Deputy Advocate, Stuart Bett, for his work within the Diocese, as well as his support in legal matters.I want to express our sincere thanks to the Dean for all the arrangements in preparing the Cathedral for our use, as well as the arrangements around the Synod Eucharist. Please pass on our thanks to those from the Cathedral parish who assisted you in any way.
As one who has been part of the Registry Team and who now leads it, I must say that it is great to work with a team of people who know their work very well and who work so hard.
Thank you to the Registrar Timothy Williams who in many ways is a ‘fountain of wisdom’. We will be farewelling Tim following our Synod next year, but he will reduce his days of work from February, affording me the time to begin plans for the re- structuring of the Registry.
I also want to sincerely thank Julie Torpey who, now having worked with three Bishops, has much valuable practical knowledge relevant to both the Registry Office and the wider Diocese.
My grateful thanks also to Fiona Van Bree – she is the first friendly voice you hear when you call the Diocese and manages our Office very well, also keeping us connected through the Diocesan Newspaper.
Many thanks also to our Diocesan Treasurer Norm Kenny who has done a marvellous job, particularly this year, in registering the Diocese for Jobkeeper and ensuring we obtained the maximum benefits.
Much has been said, much needs to be done and the God of Surprises will continue to surprise us as we continue to trust in God’s purposes for our lives and as we talk, walk and discern together.
The Rt Rev’d Clarence E Bester
Bishop of Wangaratta