Archbishop Glenn Davies has used his Presidential Address, delivered within days of the 500 year anniversary of the start of the Reformation, as a rallying call to stand firm in proclaiming the gospel. (download full address in PDF)
Dr Davies started his address with the traditional acknowledgement to aboriginal people and the told the Synod “While we have much to regret in the establishment of a British colony that dispossessed the Aboriginal people of their land, and led to the destruction of Aboriginal culture, we do rejoice in the ministry of people like Richard Johnson and Thomas Hassall, who reached out to the indigenous population of their day with the gospel of God’s love. That task continues to be our first priority—a gospel for all people.”
“I am not sure what activities were taking place in the Sydney basin 500 years ago, but in another land and among a foreign people far removed from Australia’s shores a young monk was nailing 95 propositions on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. He too was concerned with the gospel of God’s grace, which he saw as being distorted and corrupted by the teachings and practices of the Roman Church.”
The Archbishop went on to congratulate Sydney churches for celebrating the Reformation anniversary. “We cannot assume that our own people, let alone the general population of Sydney, fully understand the significance of the Reformation upon the church of God, grounded in the rediscovery of the authority of the Word of God. Every opportunity that we have to shine the light of the gospel into the darkness of our society ought to be welcomed with open arms.”
Dr Davies referred to the recent census and a rise in the ‘no religion’ category. “The 2016 census data indicate that Australia is a religiously diverse nation with Christianity remaining the most common religion at 52% of the population, compared with 88% a mere fifty years ago. That more than 30% of the population now declare themselves to have no religion is a sobering statistic. Hence the mission field in our own diocese, let alone the nation, is wide open.”
The Archbishop foreshadowed discussion during the Synod about the goals of the Diocese Mission 2020 statement. “Our vision is to see Christ honoured as Lord and Saviour in every community. That starts with each one of us, in whatever community God has placed us.” Dr Davies said three of the five regions, Wollongong, North Sydney and Georges River are planning regional missions between now and 2020. “Do pray for these special opportunities for gospel proclamation, as it is only by the Spirit of God that people are converted and become disciples of the Lord Jesus. For it the gospel that our society needs more than anything else, as Luther knew well. May it be the passion for each one of us to glorify God’s name, or in the words of the Reformers: Soli Deo Gloria (glory be to God alone).”
A Changing World
The Archbishop spoke of the challenges confronting society including, but not only, same-sex marriage.
The Diocese is a founding partner of the Coalition for Marriage, the group leading the No case. The Diocese of Sydney, along with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, Marriage Alliance and the Australian Christian Lobby make up the major partners, but since its formation a further 80 organisations have joined in common cause.
"The Standing Committee has also enthusiastically backed our participation in the Coalition for Marriage and has taken the bold step of drawing down one million dollars from the Diocesan Endowment to promote the ‘No’ case. Brothers and sisters, the stakes are high and the cost is high. Yet the cause is just and it is a consequence of our discipleship to uphold the gift of marriage as God has designed it—a creation ordinance for all people. Dr Davies said he would “make no apology for encouraging all Australians, especially Anglicans, to vote ‘No’ in this postal survey. I believe that a change in the definition of marriage is unwarranted, not just because it is in opposition to the teaching of Scripture and our Lord himself in Matthew 19, but because I believe marriage, traditionally understood as a union of one man and one woman, is a positive good for our society, where marriage and the procreation of children are bound together as the foundational fabric of our society, notwithstanding the sad reality that not all married couples are able to conceive. Moreover, I consider the consequences of removing gender from the marriage construct will have irreparable consequences for our society, for our freedom of speech, our freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. It is disingenuous to think otherwise, given the evidence to the contrary in Canada, the US and the UK.”
The Presidential Address then moved on to efforts in State Parliament to liberalise abortion and introduce assisted suicide. “I have written on your behalf to our parliamentarians expressing my opposition to each of these Bills, as they both demean the value of human life, whether at its beginning or its end. Abortion and euthanasia abandon the truth that all humans are made in God’s image and therefore all life is precious in his sight. Indeed, this fundamental doctrine affects all of our dealings in life. It also motivates our evangelism, that his image-bearers might be forgiven and restored to the glorious inheritance God has promised for his people. Our social awareness and social activism in these arenas is a natural extension of the honour we give to those who bear God’s image, and therefore is an essential part of our mission, in keeping Christ’s commandments.”
The Archbishop spoke of two major reports to come before the Synod on Domestic Violence and Sexual identity.
He commended the work of the domestic violence taskforce. “Sadly, domestic abuse in its physical manifestation of violence or in its psychological manifestation of spiritual or emotional manipulation seems to be on the increase in our society. Even more alarming is the fact that such abuse occurs in Christian families, and even clergy families, which should never be the case as it dishonours both God and his image-bearers. The report of the Domestic Violence Taskforce has done us a great service in developing a Provisional Domestic Abuse Policy and Good Practice Guidelines. The provisional nature of this policy will allow Synod members to provide their feedback, with a view to the final form of the policy being adopted by the Synod next year.”
“The second significant report concerns Sexual Identity. We have been well served by the Social Issues Committee together with the Doctrine Commission and other specialists in this area who have provided us with a theological and pastorally sensitive analysis of gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder. I trust you have read this report, despite the confronting nature of its topic. The image of God is at the heart of who we are as humans, both physically and spiritually, and so the current rise in gender confusion is a topic that demands careful investigation, especially for our schools,” the Archbishop said.
The Archbishop also provided an update on the Syrian/Iraqi refugee response being co-ordinated by Anglicare. He said there had been a total of 16 thousand arrivals and that three quarters of a million dollars had been raised to help support resettlement, while Anglicare had pledged a further 200 thousand dollars.
“Anglicare has been working closely with government agencies, diocesan organisations and local churches in the settlement of these refugees. Mobile pantries have been well received in the Bankstown and Liverpool areas, as have trauma counselling, ESL classes, complex settlement case work by Arabic speaking staff members, Early Learning Through Play (for children), distribution of Bibles in Arabic provided by the Bible Society, and material aid across the suburbs. Some of these refugees have been Christians, others have not. Yet our response has been equally as generous to all refugees.” Dr Davies said. “I encourage you to continue to welcome refugees and people seeking asylum into our communities and to seek ways to reach out in cross-cultural ministries and show God’s love both in practical help and through sharing the gospel.”
The Archbishop also made two major announcements on Diocesan matters. He revealed that land associated with St Barnabas Broadway had been had been reserved for the construction of an Archbishop’s residence and function centre.”This has been a very pleasing outcome for the diocese, as we are now able to construct a purpose-built residence for the Archbishop, close to the city, with suitable accommodation for guests and a function centre for larger gatherings. It is also anticipated that with a second storey on the function centre a further meeting room might be constructed for the parish’s ongoing ministry to university students as well as for other diocesan needs.”
Dr Davies also announced the appointment of Robert Wicks as the new Chief Executive Officer of the Sydney Diocesan Secretariat, effective immediately.
The Sydney Diocesan Secretariat (SDS) supports the mission of the Diocese of Sydney by the provision of a range of professional services to diocesan organisations and parishes.
Mr Wicks has been acting in the role for almost 12 months. He has had lengthy experience in diocesan management, having held the post of Diocesan Secretary since 2004.
The Archbishop spoke of the large amount of legislation coming before the Synod Session. In particular, he spoke of the canons (church laws) passed at the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia last month, which was to be ratified by each diocese. “While the Anglican Church may share different views on a number of issues, there is fundamental agreement concerning the importance of protecting children from abuse. Regrettably, our Church has failed children and other vulnerable persons in the past, through little screening of lay ministers and clergy, poor understanding of the effects of abuse, and inadequate training in knowing how to deal with both perpetrators and survivors of abuse. Although legislation is never the panacea for the evil of child sexual abuse, it is an important aspect of the Church’s response, as it can make provision for sanctions against those who mishandle allegations regarding such abuse. The canons before us will each need to be adopted by ordinance before they can come into force in the diocese. A number of representatives from our diocese have been involved in the composition of these canons and I am especially grateful to Mr Garth Blake sc, whose championing the cause of ensuring our churches are places of safety for all people, particularly children, has been a driving force in our national Church for many years. I trust the Synod will carefully consider each of these adopting ordinances with a view to passing them to demonstrate to our society that we consider the safety of children in our midst to be of paramount concern.”
Change the changing world
The Archbishop’s final remarks were a rallying call to mission. “Times may change, new questions may be formulated, new criticisms may be advanced, and fresh challenges will be encountered by the church in every generation, but by God’s grace the gospel will continue to be proclaimed. Our time in the second decade of the twenty-first century is no different, notwithstanding the significant shifts in community values and expectations that have evolved since the turn of the millennium, because we have an eternal gospel, as Martin Luther had. We too must stand firm for the sake of the gospel and the truth of God’s word, for we have a Sovereign Lord, who commands the seas and the waves, who will raise up every valley and lay low every mountain.
When our Lord returns, once again
..the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places made plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 40:3-5) That is our inheritance and our future—let us not lose heart, but trust in the promises of God and the return of Christ our King.
May that heavenly vision be before us as we attend to the business of Synod, so that what we do in this chamber may be pleasing in God’s sight and bring glory to his name.”