Anglican Diocese of Armidale

The Anglican Diocese of Armidale exists to glorify God by introducing people to Jesus and helping them home to heaven.

 

Presidential Address Synod 2018

Appreciation

Ministry for Christ takes place within the fellowship of the Body of Christ.

A Bishop performs his task best in a context of loyal relationships, surrounded not by “yes” people but by the best of mature Christian brothers and sisters.  In this regard I am a very fortunate Bishop, chairing

a thoughtful Diocesan Council and Ministry Council, enjoying the wise counsel of my Registrar Christopher Pears, my personal assistant Geoff Hearne, the Vicar General Brian Kirk and the regional Archdeacons. I wish to acknowledge their labours for the Lord and offer my appreciation.

To these I must add the significant assistance given the Diocese by

Mr Paul Chapman, Mrs Sam Brennan, and Miriam Newall.

 

I wish also to honour those servants of Christ who have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the solid foundations of this Diocese upon which we build.

 

I begin by noting with appreciation the work of our departing Chancellor, Keith Mason AC, QC.  Keith has given tireless support to our ministry over many years and I pray that he will always enjoy the fellowship of this Diocese.

 

I draw attention to the 60th anniversary of the ordination of Bishop Ray Smith, who with his wife Shirley has made significant contribution to the work of our Diocese.

 

Each year brings with it the wrench of separation that comes with death and we remember the lives and contributions of Mrs Betty Chiswell,

the Rev. John Dowe, and Mrs Irene Finch who was the Registry secretary.

 

I also wish to acknowledge the pain experienced by those within

the Diocese who have lost loved ones since last our Synod met.

 

With the departure of Keith Mason, I want to welcome the newly- appointed Chancellor of the Diocese, Michael Easton Esq.  Michael is a self-employed Barrister with chambers in State Chambers in the Sydney CBD.  He has worked in industrial relations and employment law

for 28 years. 

He is the Deputy Chancellor of the Sydney Diocese, a member of General Synod and has chaired the committee responsible for redrafting the Discipline Ordinance.

Michael is a 46-year member of St Luke’s Anglican Church, Miranda, married with three children and a dog and loves the Lord Jesus Christ. Please make him welcome.

 

Personal

2018 has personally seen the celebration of another big zero birthday. Sixty years on I rejoice to be Christian and I rejoice that all my immediate family equally find their joy and significance in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. My rejoicing is, and can only find its proper place, in Christ, to whom this sinner along with his family runs daily for protection from what would otherwise be our divine judgement. It is to God’s Word we turn and on our knees we pray, living each day in the victories Christ has won on the cross, resting in His undeserved mercies and grace, awaiting and expecting His return. I am encouraged by my children’s growth in Christ, inspired by my wife’s service of the church, and together we are being built up in Christ by the precious fellowship of the saints we so enjoy and of which the Christians of our Diocese are a part.

 

Ministry

It is fair to say that in a Diocese like ours, my inability to achieve what

I think is needed is obvious. Daily I am reminded of my inadequacy, expecting and wondering if someone else might do a better job and occasionally finding people who would like to confirm my suspicions.  However, God is daily reminding me that His grace is sufficient for me.

 

Not meaning in any way to trivialise the need of others at this time of rural trial, Bishops can experience drought in personal achievement being humbled by circumstances, struggling without resources, being taught to repent and to trust in One greater than myself. It is surprising what a drought can produce and if I could harvest a crop of repentance and faith every day of it, I would in fact be wary of better seasons, when it rains achievements in my own strength.

As purple shirts are of no more consequence than shirts of other colours,

I suspect that I am no different from the common or garden variety of clergyman who struggles to till the hard dry ground of human hearts where the soil seems less than receptive - the same clergy who lie awake at night moved by the harassed and helpless flocks for whom they have responsibility. To all who are called to Gospel ministry I would remind you that true success is our faithful commitment to the God-given task of preaching the Word in season and out of season, being active in prayer, loving the saints, prioritising the proclamation of the gospel, being active in the mission of making disciples...  leaving the results to God, whose grace is sufficient for us.

 

I am an emotional Christian committed to the truth.  In fact I am not sure how you could be any other kind of Christian.

 

Spurgeon wrote “It’s a horrible thing for a man to be so doctrinal and cerebral that he can speak coolly of the doom of the wicked.

He experiences no anguish of heart to think of the ruin of millions of people. That’s horrible. I hate to hear the terrors of the Lord proclaimed by men whose hard facades, harsh tones, and unfeeling spirit betray a sort of doctrinal dryness. All the milk of human kindness is dehydrated out of them. Having no feeling himself, such a preacher stirs no one.

People sit and listen while he keeps to dry, lifeless statements until they come to value him for being sound – founded in truth – and they come to be sound in the same way and just as dry.”

 

I pray that God’s Spirit protects us all from becoming like this, as the days we live in should rightly arouse all sorts of emotions.

 

To this end, 2017-18 has brought a heightened sense of sorrow and dread concerning our nation, our denomination and the Church generally.

Sadly, the issues remain very much the same as those I spoke to in 2017 and while it may be tiresome for you to hear them again, it is not tiresome for me to keep reminding you. 

 

Giving rise to this sense of sorrow and dread are the outcomes of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Same-Sex Marriage vote, issues surrounding gender confusion, the ongoing push on abortion and euthanasia, the prevalence of domestic violence, the moral failure of and disillusionment with political leadership and a sense that the faith we express is increasingly marginalised and despised. Exemplifying this last reality was the response of one parent whose son was mistakenly given a brochure on SRE by the school. The mother said, “Luckily my son didn't read the brochure as it contained phrases such as 'Christian SRE begins with the understanding that we were created by a loving God, who calls us to fullness of life'”.

 

I was staggered by this statement when Janene read it to me and my grief was palpable. What have we as Christians been doing or not doing that

the love of God and the life He offers can be seen as poison?

What is happening in a mother that she considers her children in danger from the love of God and the life Christ offers?

 

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse  

The General Synod Ordinances brought before this session of Synod indicate the impact of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The legislation represents the best efforts of our church to achieve a common national approach in relation to child protection.

 

Our denomination has not fared well under the Commission. It astounds me that a church governed by the Word of God could find within its ranks perpetrators of such despicable acts, but worse, leaders who failed in their duties to act in Biblically reasonable and responsible ways regarding abuse, irrespective of the era in which they lived.

 

Our own Diocese has to deal with past abuses and must do so in accordance with public expectations. To this end we will enter into the National Redress Scheme and exercise our accountability to those genuinely the victims of past abuses within the Diocese. I personally struggle with redress being financial but it would seem there are few other options that adequately address the pain felt by the victim.

As the Diocese makes redress, the full extent of the abusers’ actions reveals that the whole community is abused by them in some measure.

 

This will inevitably affect us financially but our prayer must be for the victims’ repair. I have in the past offered a profound apology to those who have suffered abuse and willingly do so again. Sadly, defending the Church against those who would groom individuals and communities is not easy and while seeking to live in unity, trust and love we must be ever vigilant, trained and equipped to meet the challenges of protecting children and the vulnerable.

 

It is worth noting new legislation. Sexual touching of a child under 10 carries a penalty of 16 years’ imprisonment. Between 10 and 16 the penalty is 10 years. Common grooming behaviour attracts a penalty of

12 years’ imprisonment if the child is under 14 and 10 years if the child is

14-15.  To drive home the necessity of our Diocesan Safe Ministry Training and compliance, a “Failure to Protect” or “Failure to Report” offence is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment.

 

Same-Sex Marriage

No one would be surprised to hear me express disappointment at our nation’s decision, November 2017, to amend the Marriage Act to include same-sex unions. Regionally, the sad circumstances of a compromised political leadership meant that our representative leadership fell silent in the debate. Before we complain about such leadership it is worth remembering that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse also exposed us to the charge of hypocrisy, when speaking on matters sexual. 

 

Perhaps most disappointing has been the surrender of members of our churches to the mood of the age rather than the Lordship of Jesus. At the very least this makes questionable one’s Christianity. It is a warning to all pastor teachers that our congregations may listen to sermons, but find it difficult to extricate themselves emotionally from the environment in which they live to rest in the environment of God’s Kingdom truth.

In this regard, prayer for God’s people to trust God’s Word is of paramount importance. 

 

No one would be surprised by the suggestion that the Christian capital of our past has been spent and that God and His people have now been pushed to the fringes of society. The question is what we intend to do about it. 

 

We must not retreat into ghetto gatherings of legalists and moralists, but in repentance and faith offer ourselves as living sacrifices, going into the world as grace-filled servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, holding out the promise of His love to all while not compromising His truth.

This marriage debate exposed much more sinister concerns, revealing the dark underbelly of worldviews that would, if necessary, violently silence public debate and free speech and play the victim if it would help their agenda. Those who promote euthanasia and abortion are no less strident in challenging those who would argue.  

 

I am not moved emotionally simply because my views on life, or human sexuality, differ from those of others. I am moved by two things - the glory of God and the abandonment of God’s good intentions for us. That sounds cerebral more than emotional, but if I am to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and love my neighbour as myself, I can’t help but grieve the despising of God and the subsequent damaging effects that has on my neighbours.

 

Perhaps the greater tragedy, which comes with many intertwining emotions like sorrow, anger, regret, compassion, is that the helpless and harassed have wolves masquerading as shepherds, both here in Australia and abroad.

 

 

 

 

GAFCON

It is difficult to express the tangled emotions of grief and anger that follow the failure of the Instruments of the Anglican Communion to be faithful to our formularies and the truth once delivered to all the saints.

This failure has been the catalyst to what is now known as GAFCON,

the Global Anglican Future Conference. 

 

In mid-June the Reverends Tory Cayzer, Dub Gannon, Phillip Brown along with our retired Registrar Ron Perry, his wife Robyn, Janene Lewers and myself attended the third Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem. In a fresh commitment to proclaim Christ to the nations, GAFCON launched nine strategic networks to advance the mission of the Anglican Church. These are: Theological Education, Church Planting, Global Mission Partnerships, Youth and Children’s Ministry, Women’s Ministry, Sustainable Development, the Bishops’ Training Institute, Lawyers’ Task Force, and the Intercessors’ Fellowship.

To explain something of the history behind GAFCON, in 1998 the Lambeth Conference, one of the Instruments of the Communion, moved Resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality which was agreed to by an overwhelming majority of the Bishops of the Anglican Communion. This Resolution affirmed the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19 that there are only two expressions of faithful sexuality: lifelong marriage between a man and a woman, or abstinence. At the same time, it described homosexual practice as “incompatible with Scripture” but called for pastoral care for same-sex attracted persons. It rejected both the authorisation of same-sex rites by the Church and the ordination of those in same-sex unions.

 

Then, contrary to this Resolution, in 2003 Gene Robinson, the first openly gay and partnered Bishop, was consecrated and installed as Bishop of

New Hampshire. Subsequently Canada and Scotland have endorsed same-sex marriage in contradiction to the Resolution.  In response, there has been a marked failure of the Instruments of the Anglican Communion (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Meeting of Primates and the Lambeth Conference) to deal with this breach of trust and collegiality.

 

More recently the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has passed a motion that permits the blessing of same-sex marriages. I have written to the Archbishops involved, expressing

my disappointment and the impairment of our fellowship with them.

The decision of their General Synod, which is contrary to Lambeth 1.10, our Anglican formularies and most importantly the Holy Scriptures,

has led to some of our New Zealand brothers and sisters having to leave the now apostate church and establish new Anglican communities of faith. GAFCON is supportive of them and I have offered these faithful Anglicans our support where we can.

 

I know and expect that there are those who hold episcopal office in Australia who will push to change our stance on matters of human sexuality and marriage. Should they succeed, division is inevitable.

What should we do? The answer is simple and it is to not give up.

Keep preaching Jesus Christ, introducing Him to others. God is sovereign over the hearts and minds of people and He will bring new birth, establishing faith and drawing His elect to Himself.

 

Beyond the troubling circumstances that gave rise to GAFCON, many new ministry initiatives and opportunities arose for the proclamation of Christ to the nations. One such opportunity fell to our Diocese through an introduction to Bishop Denny of Port Moresby, by Peter Jensen and Peter Tasker. With our partnership in Malaita ended, the Rev. Tory Cayzer has taken up the opportunity to investigate a partnership similar to the one we enjoy with Uganda. Tory and I intend to visit Bishop Denny at some point and I commend this to your prayers.

 

Our Diocese

Partnerships are always important and that is no different for us as a Diocese.

 

Schools

Before this Synod will be reports from our Schools. While relationships with the Schools in the past have seen some rocky times, it remains for

us as a Diocese to help them achieve their aims in advancing the Christian education of young people. The Schools do not wish to be hindered in their capacity to grow and the Diocese desires synergy in order to advance its own goals, while avoiding the kind of risks that led to problems in the Bathurst Diocese.

 

To this end I note the willingness of the Diocesan Council to partner with Calrossy in the purchase of 280 Moore Creek Road.  This will afford the School room to grow and the Diocese the opportunity to establish a new church to meet the needs of this growing area.

 

In partnership with The Armidale School (TAS), a motion will be brought

to this Synod with a view to amending the Mortgaging Ordinance that presently limits the ability of the school to borrow. This will allow TAS to further the work of the school but, as I expect the discussion will reveal, remove any risk to the Diocese.

 

Anglicare

I am very pleased that Anglicare Northern Inland (ANI) has secured a future through its amalgamation with Anglicare Sydney. It was not a simple journey but the staff of ANI have conducted themselves admirably and I can’t express sufficient appreciation for the work of Larry Apthorpe. It is early days, but our churches have every reason for confidence and partnership with Anglicare Sydney. I commend Mrs Claire Dunlop, the newly appointed regional manager, to your prayers.

 

Drought

The realities of drought have brought significant stress to many and tears to others. It is a stress that will only continue for many, through an incomeless next 12 months and longer if rain does not come. Isolation will not address this but friendships and partnerships may offer some assistance.   

 

We often complain about the big cities forgetting the rural world, but city populations have been challenged to partner with our rural communities and give generously. That partnership and generosity will suffer if those

in need are too proud to receive the help offered. It is commendable to be concerned for those who are worse off than ourselves, but equally commendable is an honest humility that can receive some help and say thank you when others offer it.

 

Our Diocese, in partnership with Anglican Aid, has received financial assistance for those who are in need. We want to offer help to those

most in need in a way that does not humiliate. If you are someone in need, or know someone in need, please approach your local clergy person or the Registry directly and we will seek to be of assistance. I have found the sale yards and agents to be fertile ground for encountering those in need.

 

Parishes and Special Districts

Partnerships are also crucial for us as a Diocese. This becomes obvious when the Diocese cannot attract ministry prospects coming out of Theological Colleges, when there are not enough clergy to fill parishes and when Special Districts can no longer afford to sustain a clergyman.

These realities are not uncommon in all rural Dioceses. Even BCA is feeling the effect.

 

At the May 2018 Diocesan Council meeting the following motion was passed unanimously: Recognising the significant legal and theological exposure to the Diocese posed by Special Districts that are struggling with compliance, Diocesan Council encourages the Bishop to allocate responsibility for oversight of a Special District, for the purpose of legal and theological compliance, to a nearby parish where a Vicar presides.”

 

I wish to thank those affected by this decision, but the motion itself raises some very real questions: for example, what defines a Special District, when should a Special District cease to be such and what measure would determine such a change, is there a better model of ministry and what ministry oversight should then be offered?

 

I believe the time has come for us to make changes to our Diocesan map, by which a number of our Special Districts would become branch churches of a larger parish centre nearby. We have for a long time sustained Special Districts in the hope of changing circumstances. With no prospect of such changes, greater pastoral oversight and care needs to be provided.

 

The Parish Governance and Administration Ordinance 2015 outlines a process for boundary alterations to accommodate amalgamations.

In each case where this might take place, a consultation meeting would occur with respective parish councils and the outcomes be conveyed to Diocesan Council, which will make final determinations.

 

Such boundary changes would entail the rationalising of administration under an elected parish council. Clergy in those larger centres will be charged with the responsibility to ensure the care of such branch churches and accountabilities would be written into clergy appointments to ensure this occurs. 

 

Larger centres will also be given the responsibility for the training and equipping of Curates who will have special responsibilities for the branch churches.

 

I recognise the danger of such changes could be a loss of heart in the Special District or even additional load for some in the parish.

Our Diocesan vision to see Christian community in every town, the accountability of parish Vicars to care for such communities and the faith and purpose of Christians themselves should be a counter to any loss of heart. In fact, where partnership is one of united, mutual love, the benefit of such changes could relieve some of the administration, compliance and ministry burdens and bring new and refreshing opportunities.

 

I am not unaware of PAMDC’s motion regarding a travelling Chaplain and expect the debate on this issue to be a helpful one. While not offering my opinion on the travelling chaplaincy I can see no conflict between what

I am suggesting and what PAMDC might propose. Should the PAMDC motion gain traction with the Synod, I would expect that such a chaplaincy would be active in its consideration and preparation for such changes across the Diocese.

 

Conclusion

I am an emotional Christian but not one whose emotions are disconnected from his mind.  Indeed I don’t know how you could be any other kind of Christian.

 

So with emotion and mind at work together, I wish to end with a word of thanks to our magnificent God who sustains us in His work. A work not of temporal service but of eternal significance.

 

A work put in place from the fall of man in Genesis, to bring about the redemption of people and a groaning Creation. A work that looks forward to a new Creation, where sin is no more and where God’s people with Christ Jesus will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of our Father.

 

It’s a work not born out of the attractiveness of man, nor some deep-felt need for man to fill a void within God. This work is given birth through the sovereign will of our Triune God and is governed by His rule over all things. He is ruler, Lord, King, Master and the supreme authority over all and the only safe place to LIVE is within His will. Here and here alone is the reason that God must not be trifled with.

 

Every age needs to be reminded of this truth.

 

We need to be reminded that God does not stamp with approval our greed and lack of generosity, our cursing lips and gossiping tongues.

He doesn’t sanction false teaching, careless teaching or acquiescing silence from the pulpits of His Churches, in Bible Studies or youth ministries.

The disasters that follow laziness are a sure sign that He does not bless that. He doesn’t play the acceptance game that offers no correction to

sex before marriage, de facto relationships, same-sex unions and so much more.

 

There is no place in the Kingdom of God for those who will sin with a high hand and there is no place for those who silently surrender to the spirit of this adulterous and sinful generation. And in the midst of drought there can be no expectation of rain where there is no heart for repentance. Prayer meetings for rain are not the essential requirement of our times, for its coming may relieve the temporal problem but leave us with the eternal one, where the drought of hell’s judgement is never moistened.

 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s get our minds and emotions centred and be introducing people to Jesus and helping each other home to heaven.

 

Rick Lewers