DIOCESE OF WANGARATTA
41ST SYNOD – 1st SESSION
2-3 June 2023
The Right Rev’d Clarence E Bester
11th Bishop of Wangaratta
Theme: The God of Transformation
Acknowledgement of Country:
It is my joy to welcome you all for the fourth time to the Synod of our Diocese, as we meet for the first session of the Forty-First (41st) and for the elections to the various synod committees as defined in the Synod Election mandate. As we come from various parts of the Diocese and there are quite a few first-time attendees at Synod, I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting on the land of the Bpangerang people and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. During this session of Synod, as a Diocese who affirmed the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2019, we will have an opportunity to hear The Rev’d Canon Prof Uncle Glenn Loughry who will address us on the Voice and upcoming Referendum, sharing his thoughts and experiences and helping us to understand what all of this will mean to those who will exercise their freedom of choice in the coming months.
A Year in Review
Since the third session of the Fortieth Synod we have engaged in a Ministry Action Plan that has produced much fruit as expressed in our Diocesan Vision and Mission Statement: ‘To WALK with Christ and to WALK with one another.’ Unquestionably there have been challenges – the year has been extremely busy with various local, diocesan, national and international activities. As a Diocese, in relation to the goals that we have set for ourselves, we have been extremely blessed with what we have achieved together. Undoubtedly there are areas we still need to work on which I hope to address through this Synod Charge. I do invite you to carefully read the report on our Ministry Action Plan and to give thanks to God for our faithfulness in small matters which has shaped our collaborative ministry as the people of God.
How beautiful to have had the opportunity to visit almost every Parish and Church as we continue to slowly emerge out of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as to attend to many pastoral commitments, training opportunities and the celebration of our lives together. The ongoing intentional conversations with our Parish Leadership Teams have once again re-affirmed our effective communication methods, indicative of our collaborative style of ministry. Our Diocesan Facebook Page contains many pictures of events relating to the Bishop’s Ministry and interaction throughout the Diocese and beyond, which is another way in which we journey together, even though not physically together.
Bishop’s Lodge has also become a place of gathering for the Diocese and for some Community events and it is wonderful to see the strengthening of relationships through this. The photographic journey throughout the Diocese and the generosity of welcome to Bishop’s Lodge is made possible through the hospitality and generous ‘all invited, all welcome’ concept graciously offered by Michelle Bester.
The known and the visible needs to be juxtaposed with the ‘not known’ and behind the scenes activities which include many other pastoral engagements, times of preparation for various activities and services, building of relationships, many different meetings, as well as the responsibility associated with the office of a Bishop and the never-ending challenge of conflict resolution. The statistics of my latest google timeline for 2023 so far have me travelling 25,191 km. within seven Countries or Regions, 228 Cities, 1057 different places – which equates to 63% of a trip around the world. I am however grateful that I can still exercise a pattern of ministry which makes me visible, available and present.
Clergy Movements and Appointments
Since the last session of Synod, The Ven Neil Hicks moved to Wangaratta West & The Warbys and we have extended his working days in the Diocese to facilitate our ever increasing property matters. We also welcomed The Rev’d Melissa Clarke to the Parish of Mansfield from the Diocese of Bendigo following the retirement of The Ven Emeritus Catie Inches-Ogden. Following the appointment of The Rev’d Canon Alan Kelb as Priest-In-Charge of the Parochial District of Tallangatta, we also welcomed The Rev’d Matthew Healy and his family back to the Diocese as he took up the challenge of leading the largest Cooperative Ministry arrangement in our context. More recently we welcomed The Rev’d Elwyn Enos and his wife from Mumbai in India as the new Priest-In-Charge for the Parish of Yarrawonga. The Rev’d Andre Du Plooy took on the challenge of the second largest Cooperative Ministry arrangement between Euroa, Longwood, Murchison, Rushworth and Violet Town following his move from Kilmore and The Rev’d David Kerr was recently inducted and licensed as Priest-In-Charge of the Parish of Kilmore.
Considering these appointments and the gift that we have from The Rev’d Gunnar Rippon, who serves as ‘House for Duty’ Locum in Charge of Numurkah & Nathalia, we officially have no vacancies within our Diocese. Despite this situation, I still get quite a few enquiries, especially from people from overseas looking for ministry opportunities within this Diocese. At present, only two clerics within the Diocese has been in the same Parish for just over 9 years and 14 years respectively, with the next one down having just completed 5 years and continuing within the same Parish.
The God of Transformation
Over the past three years I have developed concepts from my own ministry experience, spiritual and theological reflection and understanding of who God is to me and how God ministers through us as we minister to one another. I have spoken about the God of Surprises, the God of Possibilities and the God of Hope to get us into a frame of mind that, inasmuch as we have a part in all of this, it is all about God.
The ministry that we exercise is not our ministry, but a ministry to which we believe God has called us all. The Church context within which we minister is not our Church, but it is the Church of Jesus Christ. The ongoing mission of the Church, though we are part of that, remains God’s mission in God’s world to God’s people. The Fifteenth Lambeth Conference theme, entitled ‘God’s Church for God’s World’, confirms that it is all about God. We are the Church; we are the World; but we are God’s Church in God’s World.
When one considers the development of ministry as well as the theological understanding and expression of the Church over many years, we can begin to understand a God who brings about Transformation through the ministry of God’s people, especially as we seek to understand the bible in its context and also in our context. Mission and Ministry is at the heart of the gospel as Jesus called, trained and equipped his disciples for ministry and service in and to the world. The pattern of ministry for Jesus is described best in the concept which I hold on to, where we are called to be Visible, Available and Present. In the biblical missionary period we see the concept of disciple-making as a core initiative: it is the ministry of Jesus being present with people that makes all the difference. Undoubtedly there have been moments for Strategic Initiatives or, as I would prefer, Ministry Action Plans, to ensure we remain true to the gospel directive, but making disciples is more than just leading people to Jesus. It is about seeing, understanding and loving the whole and accepting others as those who are uniquely created in the image and likeness of God.
The development of the Church in the early centuries, along with subsequent theological debates, has created an understanding of a church that deals mostly with structural and operational matters. It is difficult to deny that the very essence of who God is, and how God calls us to love and share that love, sometimes seems to be secondary. We can’t avoid administrative matters, but these need to serve God’s mission so that, within and outside the church, God’s transformational power and the good news of the gospel are obviously at work bringing about change.
God continues to transform and calls us to share in that transformation. In fact, we are to be agents of transformation and angels of healing in God’s world and God’s economy. The reality is that, as agents of the God of Transformation, we need to bring wholeness and empowered service to all as we minister in God’s name. We need to be the change that we want to see within our world, society, and church.
It is therefore important to develop initiatives within our ministry that will bring about renewal and a sense of excitement through our worship and service.
But how do we develop a ministry that will bring transformation, renewal, joy and excitement?
Firstly, worship is not and should not be an ecclesiastical showcase, but an experience – where we as worshippers gather to offer praise and thanksgiving to the almighty God. Leading and participating in worship, in whatever way, should have as a priority the expression of our devotion to God who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Secondly, we need to remain faithful to the God who is faithful to us and our worship must be transforming, renewing and exciting. Though guided by the rubrics within our Prayer Book, there is much space for creativity, participation and exploration within our given framework and, of course, with the necessary permission from the bishop.
There are many characteristics, marks, or signs of a healthy Church that have been developed over time, but I believe that what should be included is the kind of ministry pattern that I described in my first sermon to the Diocese on the day of my enthronement and installation. I referenced that, in as much as we are the gathered community, we also need to be the scattered community so that we find ourselves where the people are and, through our interaction and discipleship initiatives and the sharing of the gospel within their context, be able to lead others into a deeper and more profound relationship with Jesus Christ.
The reality is that we do not need to go further than the communities where we serve, for they are often the ones who need to see, understand and experience the Church through the images of a loving, informing, embracing, forgiving and transforming Church. Unless we are able to offer these images as attributes of our faith, we will further distort the image of the Church, as our reputation hardly holds moral ground for many anymore.
Ministry across the Diocese
Following the acceptance of our first (since my time in the Diocese) Strategic Plan at Synod in 2016, I was amazed that there was a motion before Synod to explore the potential amalgamation or closure of the Diocese of Wangaratta. I found this difficult to accept as I had, then, just moved halfway across the world to a place where I believed God called me to serve. What made it more difficult is that we accepted a five-year strategic plan for our ministry together and the then Strategic Planning and Operational Team (SPOT) worked exceptionally hard to propose a plan to Synod which allowed us to embrace our future together.
Parishes were helped by the Diocese to develop their own strategic plans. Many of these ended up very similar and, in my time as Archdeacon for Ministry Development, many had to be rewritten so it was clear to parishioners just what was to be achieved in their Parish.
Our work within the Diocese I believe is one of Transformation and Change as we allow the God of Transformation to change our hearts and direction so that we can focus on the things at hand and to build our ministry together within the Diocese of Wangaratta. Through those intentional conversations with Parish Leadership Teams, we have seen the establishment of the Ministry Action Planning Committee and the work done over the past few years has enabled us to action so many things.
Workable Ministry Arrangements, Challenges & Realities.
We have seen the establishment of the Cooperative Ministry Arrangements in five parts of our Diocese and, happily, two have already reverted to separate arrangements. There is no doubt, with the ever-challenging financial situations in most Parishes and declining numbers of attendees at our services, that this ministry arrangement will have to be set up in more situations. This is not a mechanism of managing decline, but an opportunity to re-establish, re-design, re-develop and re-focus our ministry and appoint a full-time clergy person covering a wider geographical area. The establishment of Common Fund no 4, which has been set up so Parishes can use the income from the sale of redundant property, can also serve as an interim measure to assist us in covering some of our mission and ministry expenses. Sadly, some Parish Councils still see the need to spend more money on maintenance than on ministry. This is not a criticism, but a fact, as the faculties we are expected to sign sometimes make no sense when we hardly have any money to cover our ministry expenses.
I hope, where this happens, and where it is difficult to cover ministry expenses, that we will think carefully on how these ministry expenses will be met. Presently the Diocese covers the cost of four days for three Parochial Districts, shares ministry with two Parishes to enable a Full Time Cleric, but I can assure you that this will come to an end within the next 15 months. If we cannot sustain our ministry and do not want to embrace the Cooperative Ministry arrangement, full time ministry will become difficult within the very near future.
The reality is that the Diocese is paying quite a lot of money towards redress and we might be extremely hard-hit before the end of this financial or calendar year as we have already paid out about $250K since last September. As mentioned in our final meeting of Bishop in Council (BIC) last year and as per our April BIC meeting, our first property to be sold, to ensure that we have money to cover redress, will be 11 Waratah Drive.
Safe Church & Compliance
This is why it is so important for us as a Diocese to ensure that we are compliant in relation to all our Safe Church clearances and I once again call upon all our Clergy and Synod Representatives and Safe Church Officers to please ensure that all people in your pastoral charge with various roles and responsibilities have completed all the documentation and provided all the necessary checks. We are about to move to an online clearance system with Kooyoora and we will have to develop a new plan of action on how best this system will be operational, as our efforts over the past few years have been time consuming, expensive and very frustrating. Soon I will call for an evaluation of our present system and operational plan so that we can establish a workable system.
Challenges & Opportunities within Ministry
Since our last Synod we de-consecrated the Church at Bethanga and, if it were not for the issue of time, we would have de-consecrated another two churches – this will happen in the next few months. There is always a sadness when a Worshipping Community ceases its operation. With the sale of redundant property, the Diocese continues to retain a part of the proceeds which goes towards the Church Extension Fund and I am wanting to suggest that, for the first five Churches deconsecrated, we use these proceeds of sale to explore planting new congregations or re-planting existing ones.
There is no doubt that there are growing areas within some of our regions and since we have parishes continuing within these districts, there are still opportunities to develop new Ministry Units. I am already in conversation with a Parish and some clergy to consider these possibilities with the appointment of a ‘Missionary Priest’. Earlier I said that we cannot just manage decline, we need to facilitate growth and identify those areas in the wider Diocese where growth can take place. We should not only see the interest of investments in relation to money, but also as opportunities just waiting for us. So instead of just subsidising parishes or sharing ministry with them to maintain the ministry of a full-time Priest, this possibility of a specialised ministry might just invigorate our collaborative ministry in the hope of what God offers to us. It is these kinds of initiatives that excite me and I hope in time that our clergy and people will be excited about this as well. There is the God of Surprises, the God of Possibilities, the God of Hope, who is the same God of Transformation who calls us to modify the expression of our core beliefs and our long-term behaviours to achieve the desired results. I am often reminded of Proverbs 29:18: ‘Where there is no vision, the people will perish’. I am therefore excited to see this new development become a reality and I hope that this will be in place by the beginning of the next financial year.
This almost once in a lifetime experience has really produced great fruit in terms of building relationships with bishops across the world. Other than joining Phase 3 of the Lambeth Conference a week ago, I also presented on the Lambeth Call on Reconciliation to the Diocese of Northern Indiana in the USA via Zoom and will be the guest preacher at the Convention (Synod) of the Diocese of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania USA during October. I reported much on the Lambeth Conference in the Spring 2022 edition of The Advocate but am very excited to welcome the Archbishop of Melbourne, The Most Rev’d Dr Philip Freier, not only as our Guest Preacher tonight at Synod, but also the one who will lead us through the Ten Lambeth Calls with the MAP Team, further facilitating the process of discussions in Deaneries on Saturday after morning tea. I am however very grateful to Michelle who has been described as a ‘true Lambeth Ambassador’ by Archbishop Philip because of her connection with so many bishops and spouses and her continuous networking. I am merely the beneficiary of her interactions and connections – Michelle has often been described as my greatest asset.
Establishing Links & Relationships
Other than my Lambeth Conference connections, we are also exploring Diocesan Links and Relationships with the Diocese of Port Elizabeth in South Africa and the Diocese of Polynesia in the Pacific and part of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. We have made arrangements to invite clergy initially from these Dioceses to come on sabbatical for a period of three months to explore ministry together and learn from each other. Our first sabbatical guest, here with us at Synod, is The Very Rev’d Sharon Nel from Port Elizabeth Diocese who is here to explore what that relationship could mean and how we will further develop it. I am hoping we will also send one of our clerics to Port Elizabeth to experience ministry in a different context as we establish this relationship.
In March, through my connection with the Anglican Schools Commission (ASC) and their Service Learning Program in Samoa, I was invited to attend the Consecration and Installation of the Most Rev’d Sione Uluilakepa in Suva, Fiji. This was a glorious occasion and the Archbishop and I have made a commitment to talk further about how we can strengthen the relationship between our Dioceses. One idea is for us to provide a three-month in-house training program with one of our experienced clergy in the Diocese and for us to send short term guest lecturers to St John’s Theological College in Fiji. I must admit that this connection to the Diocese of Polynesia brought back memories of my time in South Africa and the generosity of welcome and spirit I have received made me feel so much at home in the Pacific. I look forward to developing these two opportunities, as well as furthering connections with some Bishops we met at Lambeth, to provide our clergy with wider experience.
ASC & School Developments
Our relationship with the Anglican Schools Commission (ASC) is now affording us the opportunity of another School, All Saints, being built in Shepparton, to commence in January 2024. We will hear more about this through our schools’ presentations. We also welcome Mr Jim Laussen as the principal of All Saints Anglican School and, since our last Synod, Dr Adrian Johnson has been licensed and commissioned as Principal for Trinity Anglican College in Albury. The development of the Eastern State Schools of the ASC has now necessitated the establishment of an Office which is located at no 3 The Close under the direction of Mr Tony Sheumack, the interim principal at Trinity Anglican College for the first semester last year. Our sincere thanks to the CEO of the ASC, The Rev’d Peter Laurence OAM and the Board of the ASC, of which I am now a member for their faith, trust and support of the Diocese of Wangaratta and we look forward to an even better working relationship in the future.
Season of Creation
Towards the end of October we will welcome The Rev’d Canon Dr Rachel Mash, Anglican Communion Environmental Officer and Coordinator of Green Anglicans to our Diocese. This visit will be in line with our Season of Creation program which we hope to start around the feast of St Francis with a Diocesan Service at Bishop’s Lodge, where we hope to plant 23 trees signifying the 23 Pastoral Charges within the Diocese. Creation Care is the Fifth Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion and is one of the Lambeth Calls that we will consider over the next few years. I am hopeful that our session on the Lambeth Calls, presented by Archbishop Freier and facilitated by our Ministry Action Planning Team, will highlight the importance of us engaging with this Call as a priority. We will be sharing more details in time and our Synod gift to you in the water bottles on your tables is a way to continue our process of reducing, re-using and recycling.
I am also hoping that, in due course, our Parishes will take action to reduce the amount of paper and the reproduction of services that are already in our Prayer Books and use the available resources as we have done in the past. I know that during Covid necessary changes were made, but we do have the opportunity to add our efforts to the care of the environment.
Ongoing Lay Training, Lay Readers & Local Ordained Ministry
We have been privileged to have the assistance of key individuals and lecturers from Trinity College Melbourne to present our first course for Lay Ministers & Lay Readers, as well as a follow up course regarding signs, rituals, symbols and ceremony. About 25 of our Laity completed the first stage of the course, with at least six so far being licensed as Lay Readers. Soon, for those who did the first part, we will present the second part – a local Preaching Course. It is also hoped that we will be able to engage in further plans with a well-established Australis Course which originated in the Bendigo Diocese for those who might consider the Local Ordained Ministry Program.
Two of our enquirers for Local Ordained Ministry will undergo a discernment process through the Diocese of Melbourne during the next few weeks, as our Diocese has joined forces with Melbourne until we can navigate this process on our own. There is no guarantee how this will unfold and I do ask patience as we ensure due process and best practice.
Women in Ministry & Leadership
Quite a few Australian Dioceses recently celebrated 30 years of the Ordination of Woman as Priests – our Diocese lags by half this time. It is still a wonderful occasion for celebration and I have called upon our Women Clergy to prepare for this celebration on 16 September 2023 with a service of Thanksgiving. Of our 23 active Licensed clergy, six are women and, out of the 20 clergy in Charge of Parishes, only four are women with a further 10 women who have a Permission to Officiate (PTO) out of a total of 33 Clergy with a PTO.
I have been actively engaged in trying to have a better Gender Balance but, as with Vocations and other professions, Clergy do not readily offer to work in regional/rural areas. I am hoping this will change over the next few years, but it is not something we can guarantee. We do however have the opportunity at this Synod, through the various elections to Synod and other committees, to correct the gender balance, although I would also want this to be based on the skill set of those who are nominated. With other leadership positions I will endeavour, through an appointment process, to narrow the gap and I hope that where clergy are electing their peers, they will consider a similar approach. I look forward to sharing in the September celebration and hope that we will gather in large numbers to give thanks to God for all those women in their various ministries in our Diocese and the many who served in the Diocese of Wangaratta over many years.
Supporting and Sustaining Ministry
Over the past few years, I have been actively campaigning for the establishment of Common Fund no.4 where we could use the income of a percentage of the sale of redundant land to assist with the support of ministry. In my previous work, as the Archdeacon for Ministry Development, I saw the frustration in parishes where this money was only to be used for capital work. I have often reflected on this with Parish Leadership Teams and have come to the conclusion that some churches will probably be the richest Church in the graveyard. I had really hoped that section 17 of the old Parish Administration Act, which was omitted in 2019 and re-inserted in 2020, and which included the sale of redundant land, would have allowed us to seriously look at the sustaining of our ministry expenses through the income of an invested amount.
Following discussions with most Parish Leadership Teams, I have seen the excitement and the willingness to look at excess Parish land that could yet be made redundant and buildings that we no longer need. To help bring this about I have added an extra day to the Diocesan time of the Archdeacon to walk alongside Parish Leadership Teams to help them move to the point of having the necessary funds in place to support and sustain ministry. If this means that we have to amend section 120 A-H of the Parish Governance Act, I will call upon the Diocesan Advocate to help us put that in place, as this provided great possibilities in section 17 of the old Parish Administration Act.
What, however, is disturbing, is that there seems to be more interest in building renovations than investing some of our finances to support our ministry expenses. Unless we take seriously what I am proposing, I suspect that we will have fewer full-time clergy in Parishes, as we will soon no longer be able to assist parishes with covering some days of ministry. I have offered the cooperative ministry arrangements as an interim solution, but we simply cannot have arrangements that are too large to manage. Like within many industries, we will also have to let go anyone in a situation where we are no longer able to cover the cost of ministry.
I call upon all Parish Leadership Teams to carefully consider what should take greater priority, as they choose between the lesser of ‘two evils’ or the better of ‘two goods’.
The Bishop’s Registry since 2016 had six full-time staff (including the bishop) and one part-time staff member who was the editor of The Advocate. When I became bishop in 2020 we were four full time staff members. Later, and over the past three years, I appointed three people to take on at least two days work within the Diocese, also as a way to support some parishes with ministry short falls. With the retirement of the previous Registrar, we have managed with only three full time and three part time staff members. You can imagine the pressure that has put us under as we combined at least four full time positions into two full time positions.
The good thing that has come out of this is that we were able to produce a surplus budget in the past few years, but the toll it has taken on some of us is a burden too heavy to bear. Even though we have clearly outlined the position descriptions of each person working within the Bishop’s Registry, whether full-time or part time, we still find a lot of triangulation which has become almost unworkable.
Last year we engaged Bishop Andrew Curnow to assist us with a Registry Review and, though we have already implemented quite a few strategies, our next Budget will be aligned with the actual needs of the Bishop and the Bishop’s Registry to enable the smooth and effective running of our Office. I am very grateful to all our people for understanding the demands and now ask for your patience as we work through this process, starting with a staff review process within the next few weeks.
Last year, the Clergy of the Diocese were invited to discuss the use of social media, especially relating to the kind of posts that are shared from Parish Facebook Pages. We have discussed the fact that we do serve people of different persuasions and that we need to be cognisant of the vulnerability of others. This does not in any way mean that we cannot share or have an opinion, but that we need to be careful of what is being said or shared.
Bishop In Council adopted the social media Policy that can be found on our website but, since this is for clergy, I do ask our Lay Leaders to consider how best to express themselves, especially when using Parish Facebook Pages. The social media tool can be helpful or destructive. I, too, have been misinterpreted for a simple observation about a food court taken out of context. I yearn for the days when we could simply have a conversation with others about matters of the heart and not spread it all over a platform that can cause possible harm when not used considerately.
As I continue to reflect on my ministry, I am often reminded that I will never cease to be a Deacon. I will continue to serve God and God’s Church to the best of my ability as a Servant Leader, though the criticism and pain often associated with any office can be something that wears anyone down at times. I am therefore grateful for the prayers of the faithful for me, Michelle and our sons, Kian and Kyle. Above all, I remain humbled by God’s call to me, and the confidence of others, to serve as a bishop in the Church of God and as Bishop of Wangaratta. Finally, I express my gratitude to God for God’s sustaining power and for accepting me despite my human shortcomings.
The Rt Rev’d Clarence E Bester
Bishop of Wangaratta