The Synod of the Diocese of Armidale is held just two weeks before Sydney’s Synod but timing is where the similarities end. The circumstances of this regional diocese are much tougher than those faced by city churches.
Gathering amid the worst drought in a century
The Synod gathered in Tamworth last month amid the worst drought in a century and with bushfires burning near Armidale. Major centres are approaching zero day – when they will run out of water – and surrounding rural districts in northwestern NSW have already become dust bowls.
Under such circumstances, city people may be taken aback by Bishop Rick Lewers’ Synod address, where he described the “great opportunity” facing the diocese.
“Everyone understands the plight facing our communities as the drought has become the worst in our history,” he said. “To make matters worse, fire has ravaged a number of areas in the diocese.
“I want to commend the resolve of our farming communities, both in town and on the land, and I am thankful that this Synod will provide us with the opportunity to pray for all who are struggling. I also want to express our gratitude to the many who have donated support and for those organisations like Anglicare and Anglican Aid who have helped.”
"I want to commend the resolve of our farming communities"
Major evangelistic program
The bishop went on to say that already more than $250,000 in drought relief had been distributed. In the midst of these hardships, the diocese has gone on the front foot and declared a major evangelistic program for 2020, with training for church members and prayer support for sharing the gospel.
“These are days of great opportunity for us to take the gospel of comfort to the people of our diocese and I look forward to 2020 as we focus on our evangelistic task,” he said.
"Take the gospel of comfort to the people"
Elizabeth Parker, the president of Mothers’ Union in the Armidale Diocese and a member of St Paul’s, Tamworth, said there has been growing interest in next year’s program.
“We had a great turn-up to evangelism training. Three weeks in a row we had 250 people attend on each of the three nights in Tamworth.”
Hundreds more turned out across the diocese for the training, which supports Armidale’s Diocesan Mission statement to “glorify God by introducing people to Jesus and helping them home to heaven”.
“I guess it is about preaching in season and out of season, and you hope that hardship will bring people to God but it doesn’t always,” Mrs Parker said. “The whole issue of 'Is God hearing our prayers when we pray for rain?’, ‘Does he answer?’ and ‘What does it look like when he answers?’ That's what everybody is thinking about.
"Is God hearing our prayers when we pray for rain?"
“We need to show care, articulate care, for people when things are hard, so that if God works in them they will draw the connection between our kindness and the God who motivates us.”
Bishop Lewers wants Christians to speak up as people ask such questions. “I have no idea why God has allowed such difficult times to beset us but I do know that it is an opportunity for all of us to consider our relationship with God, repent of our sins and seek his mercy.”