As a COVID-shortened Synod opened in Sydney and the delegates prepare to elect a new Archbishop, the Administrator, Bishop Peter Hayward has covered plenty of ground in his Presidential Address.
The one day Synod - postponed from October last year - got underway on Monday, May 3, at the International Convention Centre in Darling Harbour - a venue suitable for the more than 600 delegates to meet with COVID-safe practices.
Bishop Hayward, who is the Administrator until a new Archbishop is inaugurated, gave the traditional Synod report which covered areas such as indigenous ministry, COVID, relations with the National Church and evangelism. (download a PDF of the address)
I also sense there is a greater willingness than ever before across the Diocese to support and share in ministry among and with Aboriginal people.
Bishop Hayward gave a brief history of Anglican engagement with ministry among aboriginal people leading up to the establishment, in 1996, of the Sydney Anglican Indigenous Peoples Ministry Committee (SAIPMC). The committee has links with work going on in the inner city, Western suburbs and Wollongong areas. "Links between the Indigenous churches and other churches and ministries have more recently developed, and some of our Diocesan schools have established Aboriginal campuses." Bishop Hayward said. "SAIPMC has worked hard at developing a partnership model between the Indigenous churches it supports and local parishes. As Campbelltown, Nowra and Minchinbury Parishes partner with Indigenous Churches, other Parishes are encouraged to formalise partnerships." He also spoke of the urgent need to raise up more indigenous leaders. "I am excited and confident in God that SAIPMC now has in place some fundamental structures, predominantly the initiatives of its Aboriginal members as to what they see as being appropriate for ministry to Aboriginal people in the Diocese. I also sense there is a greater willingness than ever before across the Diocese to support and share in ministry among and with Aboriginal people."
Face to face engagement with one another is still the priority for God's people.
The post-COVID era
Bishop Hayward said the time had given us opportunity to consider what God is doing in the world. "For the Christian convinced that God's sovereign providential care rules the world, randomness evaporates," he said. "Most importantly, we are reminded that God answers prayer. As a diocese, we have committed during the last 14 months to asking God to show his mercy in halting the pandemic so that lives would not be lost and in enabling a vaccine to be successfully developed. God is answering our prayers."
One of the staples of the COVID period, Internet Streaming of church gatherings will likely be an ongoing tool used by most churches. "It can be the new front door for non-believers to observe the Church and to hear the gospel. It enables shut-ins to maintain a connection with the Church they belong to in a way not previously possible. The downside of streaming is that it can easily pander to a consumer mentality and lead to casual attitudes towards attendance and commitment. It is likely online meetings will be useful in some areas of church life, such as the occasional small group leaders catch up, the unexpected wardens or parish council meeting, or the provision of an evangelistic course. Most significantly, the limitations of our screens have reminded people of the importance of the gathered community as an expression of belonging. Face to face engagement with one another is still the priority for God's people."
What our society needs from the Anglican Church is a way of understanding the challenges of our day while holding to firmly held beliefs lived out in a clear and compelling way.
The National Church
"Our engagement with the National Church is because we desire gospel outcomes across the whole of Australia," Bishop Hayward noted. "In its constitution, the National Church has the capacity to bring the blessing of gospel salvation to many in Australia. Our continued involvement in the National Church is because it is committed to orthodoxy in its founding documents.'
Bishop Hayward said the challenge of the past few decades has been a significant decline in the confidence people have in religious institutions.
"In a fascinating article entitled "The case for Wooden Pews", Yuval Levin looks at the crisis of trust in religious institutions in America and two different ways religious institutions have responded. The first option is to soften the demands of traditional religion where they are at odds with the spirit of the age – softer pews, so to speak. Levin argues this is a mistake because the very thing that has eroded trust in religious institutions is their failure to form and develop people who will live the message they believe with integrity. This is of interest because it counters the oft-stated suggestion that the religious institution will be strengthened if it adjusts to the broader cultural forces it is facing. What our society needs from the Anglican Church is a way of understanding the challenges of our day while holding to firmly held beliefs lived out in a clear and compelling way."
Bishop Hayward also spoke of the Diocese's involvement in GAFCON Australia, the global Anglican Future movement. The involvement, he said was "a consequence of the reality that the commitment to truth and mission may require different approaches to future Anglican ministries. Our desire is to support orthodox and faithful churches and to encourage dioceses to maintain fidelity to the word of God and to share God's love in mission together."
The Synod was told of the evangelistic opportunities of the COVID period and what the Bishop called the "overall accumulative gospel work of the Diocese".
"People are being converted in our churches. The move to stream church meetings has enabled people to have a new front door to share the news of Jesus. Numerous zoom meetings with Christianity Explained type groups have now been possible."
But Bishop Hayward also reflected on the factors hindering evangelism.
"As has long been the case, it is the pursuit of comfort, materialism and worldliness. Very easily, the dream and ambitions the world offers deaden the conviction of the gospel. Into this is fed a contentment that the Church is doing well enough in a time of growing hostility to the gospel so that there is little expectation of evangelistic fruitfulness. Overlaid on all of this is the sheer busyness of life, which means sustaining evangelistic relationships is hard. That is a realistic overall picture of what is hindering evangelistic growth. It is a reminder that all Christian endeavour is spiritual."
...gospel work progresses ...in the hospital visit to bring God's love in a dark moment; in the invitation to share in another's life when they are at their happiest or at their saddest; in turning up to teach Scripture and speak of the Saviour Jesus because you love to serve the children at your local school...
A new Archbishop
Bishop Hayward ended by referring to the Special Election Synod, which begins on Tuesday, May 4.
"For Synod, this is a significant responsibility, and this has been expressed in prayers over the last month. By the end of the week, God willing, the Diocese will have an Archbishop-elect. Having completed this solemn responsibility, members of Synod will return to the churches and ministries you each represent. The Archbishop will be a name widely known, and his role understood."
"However, the Diocese's gospel work progresses in the myriad of normal and largely unnoticed activities that occur day by day and week by week—in the hospital visit to bring God's love in a dark moment; in the invitation to share in another's life when they are at their happiest or at their saddest; in turning up to teach Scripture and speak of the Saviour Jesus because you love to serve the children at your local school. Whatever our circumstances, we are united in our determination not to grow weary in doing good and commit ourselves afresh to joyfully preach the gospel, knowing that Jesus is with us to the very end of the age."