DIOCESE OF WANGARATTA
40TH SYNOD – 3rd SESSION
3 – 4 June 2022
The Right Rev’d Clarence E Bester
11th Bishop of Wangaratta
Theme: The God of Hope
Acknowledgement of Country:
On this, the third session of the Fortieth Synod of the Diocese of Wangaratta, I would like to acknowledge the Bpangerang people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elder’s past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge the First Nations People throughout the Diocese where all those here today live and worship. I am very conscious that I am from another country and even now, as a citizen of Australia, I express my thanks to those who welcomed us seven years ago and commit myself to the work of reconciliation and treaty, as well as the commitment of the Diocese to the Uluru Statement from the Heart which was affirmed at the 3rd Session of the Thirty Ninth Synod on 30 August 2019.
Welcome, Farewell and Expression of Thanks
Since the second session of the Fortieth Synod, the ongoing challenges of the Covid pandemic have necessitated postponements, yet we have been able to action much of our Ministry Plan – highlights will follow.
In August last year, following the retirement of the former Registrar and changes to our Diocesan operational structure, we appointed Mrs Julie Torpey to the dual role of Bishop’s Registrar and Diocesan Finance Manager and refined the role of Ms Fiona van Bree to Assistant Finance Manager and Office Administrator. I welcome them in these new roles as we continue to review our operational system to serve the parishes and people of the Diocese in the best way.
We have also been blessed to welcome three clergy to the Diocese since November last year: The Rt Rev’d Dino Gabriel serving in the Parish of Benalla, The Rev’d Mario Hendricks serving in the Cooperative Ministry arrangement between the Parochial District of Alexandra and Yea and The Rev’d Moira Evers serving the Alpine Anglican Church.
More recently we welcomed The Rev’d Catherine Carden and The Rev’d Lesley Lewis after their ordination as Deacons, now serving at Rutherglen/Chiltern and the Alpine Anglican Church respectively and, at the beginning of this year, the new Chaplain to Cathedral College, The Rev’d Dr Mark Mickleburough.
Last year last year we farewelled School Chaplains – The Rev’d David Jones from Cathedral College Wangaratta who retired and The Rev’d Bryn Jones who served at Trinity Anglican College. At the beginning of this year The Rev’d Eden-Elizabeth Nicholls took early retirement, and we farewelled The Rev’d Mitchell Porter who has joined the Chaplaincy Team of the Defence Force. In the next few weeks, we will farewell The Rev’d Paul Hobby, who will be moving to the Diocese of Tasmania.
Sadly, we also farewelled through death The Rev’d Graeme Brown, who most recently served as locum at St John’s Alexandra and The Rev’d Michael Moulder and his wife Kathleen who died within days of each other following a tragic car accident.
I do welcome all of you from the length and breadth of the Diocese and those who serve us far and beyond and bid you a very warm welcome to this, the 3rd session of the Fortieth Synod.
I welcome The Rev’d Canon Dr Bob Derrenbacker who will do a presentation on Theological Education later today and who is our Guest Preacher at our Synod Eucharist this evening.
Between Sessions, our Ministry Action Plan & Diocesan activities
As mentioned above, postponed plans were inevitable but, as we were about to engage further with our Diocesan Vision and Mission statements and the ‘out-rolling’ of our Ministry Action Plan and Parish engagements, we finally managed to gather about 80 people for the Canon Lyall Turley Memorial Lecture and Diocesan Ministry Conference in February. This was the first opportunity we have had to engage with a larger group of people and to report the findings of last Synod’s discussion regarding our Ministry Action Plan. This Synod provides us with the opportunity to further engage and to share with one another what is happening within each ministry unit, as well as to celebrate our ongoing work as the people of God throughout the Diocese.
I have also had the privilege of engaging with several Parishes, Parish Councils and Clergy and will continue to do so over the next few months in exercising of a ministry of visibility, availability and presence as outlined in my first Synod Charge in 2020. This year alone I will have been able to pastorally engage with each Parish on a Sunday, as well as creating other opportunities to engage with Leadership teams.
Our Ministry Action Plan and Vision Statement is ‘To WALK in the Way of Christ’ and now we have added…’and to journey with each other’. With the Covid delays we have only been able so far to meet at St Paul’s Church in Wakati Creek where about 40 people attended. We look forward to our next gatherings at Tallarook, Jindera, and Rushworth later this year.
Our main theme for the first of the five years of our Ministry Action Plan is Lay Ministry Training and Invigoration. This is underway through our Diocesan Ministry Course being held over six full day sessions from April to June. Twenty-three of our laity signed up for this course and we are well served by lecturers from Trinity Theological College in Melbourne and other local resources and experts. Our motto for all our activities in our Ministry Plan is to present an SRA-model: Simple, Realistic and Achievable. During August this year we will have a two-day intensive session on Lay Training, as well as two Regional Conferences on all aspects of Lay Training in October in the North and South of our Diocese.
This year in March we also celebrated our 120th year as a Diocese, commemorating the Enthronement of the first Bishop of Wangaratta, The Rt Rev’d Thomas Armstrong. This was preceded by a picnic lunch at Bishop’s Lodge and high tea in the Cathedral grounds following a service of Thanksgiving. This was also the first time we have been able to gather so many at Holy Trinity Cathedral since my Enthronement Service.
How great and wonderful it is that we have been able to achieve these few things together and I look forward to the Ministry Action Plan presentations tomorrow, which will be preceded by a report and followed by directions into the future. I am very grateful that we do not only table what we hope to do, but that we action our intentions, which serve as an inspiration to so many. Having made our plans, we must follow through constantly, step by step, to achieve them. May we continue to Walk in the Way of Christ and journey with one another as we explore further how we will contribute to the invigoration and revitalisation of our congregations and communities.
THE GOD OF HOPE
Over the last two sessions of the fortieth Synod, I explored the themes of the God of Surprises and the God of Possibilities. There is not a day that goes by where I am not surprised at all the possibilities and opportunities before us. I, along with all our clergy, as with Christians throughout the ages, have responded to the call from God felt and heard in our hearts and confirmed by the Church to serve as Deacon, Priest, and some as Bishop. I am also cognisant that the ministry of the Church involves the whole people of God, the laity with whom we share in the Priesthood of all believers. Personally, from my baptism at 7 weeks old, through occasional attendance at Sunday School and Church, to when I stood at the altar aged 14 to confirm the promises made at my baptism, there was a constant sense of hope that my life would be shaped in the way of Christ. These stages marked affirmation and reaffirmation that I was the beloved of God, with whom God will hopefully be pleased one day.
As I continued in the life, mission, and ministry of my local Church, I became disillusioned, as the Church seemed to have forgotten its mission and ministry and was so obsessed with things temporal that it seemed as if things spiritual were reserved for worship in a few hours on a Sunday. Yet there was a hope that those associated with and participating in the life of the Church would understand that it was not only about them as the Church of God, but that it was about the God of the Church.
This happened at a time of great upheaval in a country where people were discriminated against for being different. Yet still there was a hope and belief that change would happen and that we would embrace it for the greater good of all people. Though many despaired for years, there was always this hope, offered by modern day prophets, including the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, whose life we celebrated and death we mourned last year, as with prophets of old, that God would bring about renewal and that the dignity of each person would be restored. What was so wonderful and affirming to me, as a young developing Christian, was the fact that the Church of God was at the forefront of these issues, proclaiming that hope to many. This led me to fall more deeply in love with the God of the Church and the Church of God and all I wanted was to serve the Church of God and the God of the Church.
Like those before me and like many others, I wanted to preach the gospel of hope to those who would despair; I wanted to work towards the affirmation and inclusion of all God’s people and I so much wanted to see the Church of God remaining faithful to the God of the Church who brings about renewal through those whom God calls to be God’s hands, feet, eyes, ears and heart, in the words attributed to St. Teresa of Avila.
As a youngster, in searching God’s word for guidance and spiritual enrichment, I have also come to understand the contextual development regarding the canon of scripture, the interpretation of scripture and the many conflicting passages which became clearer through undertaking theological studies and ministry formation.
This has helped me to better understand the God of the Church and the all-inclusive, all-embracing, all-affirming, all-loving and all-accepting Jesus within the gospel. It has also helped me to deeply express my love towards all people with the understanding that we are the Lord’s, that we all belong to Jesus. This has brought me great hope and, for the past 26 years of ordained ministry, I have always held this dear to my heart and tried to bring this kind of hope and empowered service to all of God’s people, irrespective of person.
What hope for the future was brought to the people of Israel by Jeremiah (chap. 23), reminding them of the judgement of those who destroy and scatter the people of God. Here the prophet encourages the care and nurture of people and the raising of a wise and righteous king who will facilitate such a process.
What hope arrived for the many who despaired and who lived under oppression and those who felt like outcasts when Jesus came and brought about healing, wholeness, forgiveness, and empowered service to all.
What hope came for women suffering under patriarchy, when the first to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection was Mary Magdalene.
What hope there is for the many who are faced with difficulties, dangers and ill-health, to know that there are those who care, those who will bring hope and make a difference through their presence, through the offering of their prayers and bringing a little light amidst the darkness.
For this is the hope which the God of Hope offers to all of us and who calls us to share that hope with others. What is life without hope? Faith is ‘… the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ (Heb. 11:1). And so, it is about hope as a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.
I do hope that all our congregations will take on board the goals and priority areas that they have set out for themselves and that, as a Diocese, we can work together as bishop, clergy, and people for the common good of all for “All our hope on God is founded”. (Robert Bridges 1844-1930, based on Joachim Neander 1650-80)
This is the hope I have for all our Parishes, for our Diocese, the Anglican Province of Victoria and for the Anglican Church of Australia as we become the Church of God after the image of the God of the Church. I do believe that we can bring hope to all through our concerted efforts and collaborative ways of working together as we stick to our Ministry Action Plan and Vision ‘To WALK in the Way of Christ and to journey with each other’, as we hold onto the hope we have in Jesus Christ and remain faithful to the gospel of Christ and the God of Hope.
Recently I have written to all in our Diocese expressing my personal reflection on General Synod, the way it is and, on the way ahead. As with everything else, Covid delays meant the anticipated GS 18 set for 2020 was postponed to this year. What I omitted to say in my letter is that the 2020 General Synod plan for using the ‘Open Space’ program, which would have allowed opportunity for more participation, interaction, and debate, was unable to occur, so the proceedings continued under the then rules of General Synod Standing Orders. I will not be repeating the content of the letter but invite you to be part of the report back on General Synod that will be presented by our Clergy and Lay representatives with input from members of our Legal Team on Saturday after lunch.
What I would say is that we are the Church of God who need to serve the God of the Church and who need to bring hope and empowered service to all within God’s world. The last almost three years have been difficult for me personally, especially when I received communication at the beginning of this year telling me that others were not prepared to share at the Lord’s table with me and that I was out of fellowship with some within the National Church. At the bishops’ meeting in 2020 and 2022 and at General Synod I was ignored by some bishops; I, and our delegates, were frowned upon and ignored by some because we are from Wangaratta. I have been part of the Church of God since birth; I have struggled with many concepts of Church life which later became clearer; but never have I witnessed such behaviour that distorts the image of the Church, which is called to love God, love neighbour, and even love the enemy.
I am, however, grateful to the many I have only heard of but never met, who affirmed my leadership and the support of many who know that our mission is to redefine, re-establish, redesign, redevelop and restructure our ministry according to the way of Christ. This is the Christ I hold on to, whose gospel I will proclaim and the one in whom I have hope for the Church and the world.
We will, of course, as Clergy be meeting soon and, through our professional development days, navigate how best we will further engage with one another and build a collegial structure as we continue to minister to all of God’s people despite all the challenges that we encounter.
New Scenarios & New Opportunities
Understanding the complexities in our Diocese regarding our smaller Churches in our regional rural context, there is no doubt that we have many challenges facing us as a Church and Diocese. A model of ministry based on the English style of a Church for every place is now proving even more challenging and, with regional population decline, lower church attendance and general lack of interest, we will probably see more of our smaller congregations dissolving. Since our last session of Synod, we have deconsecrated three Churches and I suspect that a further 3-4 will be deconsecrated within the coming months.
Last year I showed mathematically that, though there will be great sentimentality, the reality is that we will not be able to sustain the active ministry of these smaller congregations if we take the actual cost of ministry into account. Our Ministry Units now cover larger areas and cooperative ministry arrangements are the only way we can afford the services of a full-time cleric. Many might see this as a failure on the part of the Church to sustain the livelihood of each congregation but, with rising costs of insurance, the maintenance of buildings and the ongoing costs of ministry, we do not have much of an alternative. Even when we explore models of ministry relating to Local Ordained Ministry and Lay Readers, the associated costs for ministry within a church building are almost the same. In some cases, we have seen a wonderful collaborative arrangement between different denominations in the sharing of resources, ministers of religion and worship space, fostering the image of a church as the gathering of the faithful to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. It will make so much more sense, when there are a few small congregations from different denominations in a smaller community, that they synergise together. As with our Cooperative Ministry arrangements, each group will retain their own identity, though I hope that one day we will look beyond ourselves and work towards the common vision and mission of the Church as bearers and sharers of the good news of Jesus Christ and our joint efforts in making disciples for Jesus.
A new opportunity is the establishment of Common Fund 4 (made possible by the addition to our Parish Governance Act of section 7A: 120: A-H at last year’s Synod) to manage the use of funds from the sale of redundant lands in Parishes/Parochial Districts.
At the discretion of the Bishop and Bishop-in-Council/Corporation, with protocols in place and considering the needs of the Parish (including already incurred/short-term future capital costs), a percentage of the proceeds will go into Common Fund 4 where mainly the interest will be used for ministry and mission, or capital development within the Parish or Diocese. The rest of the proceeds from the sale will go into the Church Extension Fund where it will be applied for Diocesan purposes (as already occurs). The relative percentages are not fixed and will be decided by negotiation. This will require a Plan of Action, time frames and targeted outcomes to ensure a result that will foster future growth in a particular area.
Following my time at Lambeth, we will arrange to meet and discuss these matters with the Parish Priest, Churchwardens and Treasurer of each Parish or Parochial District in time for budget preparation for the new financial year starting on 1 October. I do hope that tomorrow’s sharing by our parishes will be the springboard, as we engage in an intentional discipleship programme with a renewed vision and hope for the future. I am presently engaging with an organisation who might assist us to work towards the revitalisation of our ministry and hope to engage with a few of our parish clergy in the coming weeks.
Michelle and I will have the privilege of attending the Lambeth Conference from the last part of July until 8 August. The theme for the Lambeth Conference is ‘God’s Church for God’s World’ and I have also been privileged to be part of a few pre-Lambeth Bishops’ conversations via zoom. Please pray for all those who will be travelling to and attending the Lambeth Conference. Please observe Trinity Sunday, 12 June, to pray for the Conference at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
As within the Anglican Church of Australia, there are also tensions within the world-wide Anglican Communion and we pray that we will be able to maintain the unity we are called to have in Jesus Christ our Lord, respect our diversity and work towards the common good of all people. I personally look forward to this opportunity, which I hope will enable me to bring back something to the Diocese that will further enhance our mission and ministry.
Safer Church and Professional Standards
It has been a very taxing two years, even with Rev’d David Still, in his new combined role including part-time Safer Church Officer, trying to sort out Ministry clearances in each Parish. There has been resistance, resignations, and lots of retaliation to a process that enhances a safer ministry by us following the recommendations of the royal commission and the guidelines of the Council for Children and Young People and the Child Safety standards as required.
As a Church, we need to ensure the safety and security of our children and vulnerable adults, and we will not stop short of doing what is right and will not cut any corners for the sake of those who do not want to comply with our Lay authorised guidelines and protocols. It is incumbent upon us as a Church, difficult though it may be, to work towards a better system for the safety and security of all.
This year will mark the next cycle for lay ministry clearances, with the new cycle for elections and appointments with effect October. We have structured a group of Safe Church Officers into a network arrangement to assist us in ensuring that clearances will happen before any one is elected or appointed to any position, as well as clearances for ministry in every parish. There is no doubt that this will be taxing, and I would expect that all Clergy with oversight in Parishes will assist this process, as I will ultimately hold them responsible for their own Parishes. More information will be shared in due course.
At this session of Synod, we will welcome a team from Kooyoora who will present their program of Professional Standards. Bishop-In-Council/Corporation have enlisted the services of Kooyoora as the next Directorate for Professional Standards for twelve months and we look forward to our association while we get used to a more collaborative way of working with the other dioceses, especially Melbourne and Bendigo Dioceses who are members of Kooyoora.
I would like to express my thanks and that of this synod to Mrs Claire Sargent, who served this Diocese as Director of Professional Standards over many years and wish her well in her future endeavours. Details about Kooyoora will be forwarded within days and any contact or matter regarding Professional Standards should be made through them. As they have a large team and a variety of expertise, I am hoping that we will be able to expedite matters more easily.
Anglican Schools in the Diocese of Wangaratta
Two weeks ago, I blessed the site for the new All Saints Anglican School in Shepparton. This is an exciting project of the Anglican School Commission and the Chief Executive Officer, The Rev’d Peter Laurence, will say more later over a video link. The School in Shepparton will be the fourth Anglican School within the Diocese and we look forward to 2024 when the first students will start their educational journey in Shepparton. We will also hear from the School Principals about developments in the other three Anglican Schools and look forward to welcoming the new principal of Trinity Anglican College, Dr Adrian Johnson, at the beginning of the second semester. One of the highlights at Cathedral College Wangaratta was the consecration of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd and we look forward to this space being used for spiritual nourishment for students and staff through the ministry of the Chaplains.
In a world with such easy communication methods and the networking of so many people, opinions are shared on various platforms that, firstly, are the opinion of only one individual, but then lead to responses and arguments. No doubt people have their opinions about different matters, and all will not necessarily agree, but some opinions can be hurtful, disrespectful, and out of place when it involves matters where differing opinions lead to arguments that could be avoided.
This is such a sensitive matter that I would not dare to tell anyone how to share their opinion and what to share but, when it comes to an official Parish page, I would want to encourage everyone to be more sensitive about what we share. Knowing that we serve people from differing opinions is something that we need to respect. Even when we do not use an official Parish page, our personal comments, and our known association with the Church or Diocese, can wrongly imply that our opinions represent that of the Church. I have enquired about various social media policies and will be asking Bishop-In-Council to adopt a policy for our Diocese following interaction with the Clergy. I flagged my intention at our first Clergy Development Day in February and will action this as soon as possible. I will also be grateful for any further assistance and advice regarding this matter.
Ministry: Models and Options
Last year I mentioned exploring the concept of Local Ordained Ministry and have joined forces with the Diocese of Melbourne who are looking into the mechanics of this. I have received material from them and will further the conversation to see how this might occur in our own Diocese. I will be talking to both those who are interested in exploring this model of ministry and those considering the ministry of Lay Reader. Again, I do not want to do something just for the sake of doing it but want to ensure that we do it well and appropriately for our circumstances. It has been difficult through this Covid pandemic to give full attention to the many matters that need our attention, but I am sure that we will navigate a process that will work best for us within the Diocese as we re-embark on a ministry pattern and establishing training models that work well.
I hope that we will be able to continue with the programs and plans that we have set out for ourselves and focus on key areas leading up to and beyond the forty-first synod in 2023 – these will include Women’s Ministry & Gender-based Violence, a month of compassion including social justice issues and Creation Care. Ongoing Lay Training will move to Parish or Deanery level with options for some activities on Diocesan level and there will be theological options and opportunities that will be presented later.
Conclusion & Thanks
I still consider this ministry among the people of God in Wangaratta to be a great joy and privilege.
I do thank God for all of you and the many who serve our Diocese well as Clergy and Laity within their parishes, as well as our retired clergy and all family members of our clergy. It us great to have many who volunteer their time and share their expertise through the various ministries, boards, and committees.
I am well served by our legal team whose advice is invaluable and today I give thanks to God for the work of our Deputy Advocate and Chair of Committee, who is stepping down from this position.
Our financial reports indicate the positive contribution from our Diocesan Treasurer and Registrar and Finance Manager who work very well as a team and who keep me updated, informed and knowledgeable about a subject that is not my forté.
Finally, I express my gratitude to God for the love and support of Michelle, who ventures with me throughout the Diocese and who has opened our home to all and keeps us informed of the bishop’s engagements through the good that social media can offer.
And so, I thank the God of hope who brings hope, encourages hope and who is hope to all.
The Rt Rev’d Clarence E Bester
Bishop of Wangaratta