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Our Churches

Archbishop Freier

The Most Revd Dr Philip L Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne and Primate Anglican Church of Australia, delivered an address to the Missions Conference at Trinity College on Thursday, 11 February 2016. The theme of the conference was Life in Abundance, and in his speech, Archbishop Freier spoke about three important elements for how we go about proclamation and loving service in God’s name: Relationships, Gathering/Community and Prayer.

Welcome to Melbourne and to Trinity College for this important conference on Mission and Evangelism. Life in abundance, our theme that echoes Jesus’ promise in John 10.10, is also a profound starting point for our Lenten journey.

Yesterday at St Paul’s Cathedral, I presided at an Ash Wednesday service that included the imposition of ashes on the forehead of any who chose to come forward to mark their Lenten commitment in that way. ‘Remember O mortal that you are dust and to dust you shall return’ has to be chilling in the hearing of the one receiving the sign of the cross in ash as well to the one ministering that mark of our Lord’s death and passion. Who knows the haunting fears about death that are elicited in those words or the attitudes of denial that are confronted? In those words we have the seeds of realising our human mortality as well as our significance to God.

Jesus’ promise of abundant life in John 10 is made in direct contrast to the works of the enemy of our human nature. ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ John 10.10.  At the very least the misery that afflicts the world should alert us to seeing how different God’s way revealed in Jesus is for all humanity. Your reflection on this promise through the grid of the Marks of Mission will, I hope, open your eyes to the possibilities of a different world that we are called to inhabit in Christ. The Marks of Mission are introduced on the Anglican Communion website with these words:

The first mark of mission, “to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom” was identified at ACC-6 (the sixth meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in 1984) with personal evangelism. It is really a summary of what all mission is about, because it is based on Jesus’ own summary of his mission (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:18, Luke 7:22; cf. John 3:14-17). Instead of being just one (albeit the first) of five distinct activities, this should be the key statement about everything we do in mission.

This is a good assertion to sit with over the course of this conference as you engage with the material presented and discussed. I am grateful to the Anglican Board of Mission, Anglican Overseas Aid, Anglicare Victoria, Benetas and the Brotherhood of St Laurence for partnering with Trinity College Theological School in bringing this conference to fruition. Your engagement with thinkers from these six expressions of the rich life of the Anglican Church of Australia as well as other internationally significant speakers promises much food for the mind as you bring your context into these days. Shared meals and worship add to the formation, if even only for a time, of the kind of community that Jesus called into existence around his disciples, the kind of community from which they were sent to carry his word to the world. Even in the sending, they did not go out alone but in companionship emphasizing, once again the importance of community not just in the New Testament but for us and for all time.

In January, I was in Canterbury for a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion. There have been many words written about that meeting before and since and the interested amongst you have probably developed your own view of the meeting and its outcomes. Like your conference here, but on smaller scale, we gathered with fellow primates knowing some and not others. Amongst those present some were veterans of several previous meetings and about half of us there for the first time. There were many reasons for apprehension as we all entered that week in Canterbury together. Ultimatums were being expressed and it was easy for fears to be fed by all the commentary and speculation as we gathered. Several things were different to what the politically minded had expected and they are all very relevant to our theme over these next few days. First of all there had been a great investment in building relationships by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He had visited each of the primates in their own place, stayed with them in their house, eaten with them at their table and prayed with them. Secondly the very act of gathering in Canterbury Cathedral, having the first session of our meeting given over to prayer and fasting, and just experiencing that vast and ancient space had a power on each of us rather like the words I quoted from the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, ‘Remember O mortal that you are dust and to dust you shall return’. It became evident that each was being called to a vision that was bigger than any preconception just as we were being called to real personal engagement across difference. The third was the commitment to prayer on a daily basis through the Morning office, Eucharist and then Choral Evensong in the Cathedral.

In a post Christendom world each of these elements is very relevant for how we go about being bearers of God’s purposes in the world, how we go about proclamation and loving service in God’s name.

1.Relationship

Firstly, there is little doubt that we must be in authentic relationship with others to receive the gift of their trust and the space that opens itself to the encounters that we call evangelism, discipleship and formation. We know that acts of loving service, if they are to be truly Christ’s presence, need to have that same character. It is too easy to attempt to exercise power by withholding relationship, or making it conditional on agreement or similarity. Our Saviour broke bread with his betrayer only hours before his arrest and trial, even in the times when the disciples were at their personal or corporate worst Jesus endured and loved them. Ultimately, he gave his life up on the cross for them. You won’t agree with every view expressed in this conference. In one way it will be very good if you run up against some people you don’t easily find agreement with over these next days, if you do examine your own motivation. 1 John 4.18 is a good place for any of us to commence that personal scrutiny, ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.’ If truth be told, a great deal of our timidity and ineffectiveness in mission and evangelism can be put down to fear.

We are, though, the living witnesses of a tradition that is overwhelmingly fearless. The great narrative of faith in Hebrews 11 and 12 is told to the end that ‘we may not grow weary or lose heart’ (Heb 12.3) ‘Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees’ the reader is told. (Heb 12.12) In case we’ve missed, it chapter 13 certainly tells us to get on with it! ‘Through Christ let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of lips that confess his name.’ (Heb 13.15) and ‘Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.’ (Heb 13.16)

2.Gathering, Community

We are called to be a community that lives its faith with sincerity and with an outward focus.  Strangely enough, living as we are in a post-Christendom world, we are very fortunate to have so many sites that are given over to the worship of the most Holy and Undivided Trinity. These are our Church buildings. Our parish churches may not have the scale or antiquity of a place like Canterbury Cathedral but they have every opportunity of being holy places of gathering for the seeker and ardent believer alike. Each place will have its own opportunities to speak through this presence to the hunger of many who live disconnected lives from God.

We need to tell the stories of Australian people of faith to our own community, to recover the importance of pilgrimage and holy places. I sometimes think that Australian Anglicans are far more rationalist in our approach to such things than people generally in our wider community. For at least the past six years, I have spoken to the deacon ordinands in Melbourne at their pre ordination retreat about James Noble, the first Aboriginal person to be ordained in the Anglican Church of Australia. I won’t repeat that address here, but suffice is to say that this man and his wife Angelina were remarkable exemplars of faith, courage and service to Christ and his church. Like many others they remain largely unknown, the places associated with them unvisited or neglected.  Charles Sherlock’s book, ‘Australian Anglicans Remember’ is great contribution to correcting this neglect and deserves to be widely read.

I am amazed at the number of people from all walks of life and faith whom I meet who have walked the Camino or some other pilgrimage in Europe.  It is human to have an appetite for this physicality of connecting with the story of faith and its holy people. This experience helps to frame how significant our life is in Christ despite our human frailty. ‘Remember O mortal that you are dust and to dust you shall return’ is not just about telling us that life is short. It also emphasises that life is highly significant and a gift from God. How wonderful, if we can discover this expression in our own land.

All of this matters only because we understand the significance and uniqueness of Christ in God’s loving purposes for the world. Without that anchor we are only left with a human phenomenon or kind of cultural expression that could just as easily pass from human history without anyone knowing or even caring.

3.Prayer
I believe that relationship, holy places, corporate worship and the disciplines of prayer provide the fertile ground for the Holy Spirit’s work amongst the people of God. It certainly seemed to be the case as we met together in Canterbury. We sought to find a place out of all of the well-known points of controversy where neither unity in Christ nor truth in Christ was compromised. It is interesting that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry, recently commented that the decisions of the meeting were ‘fair’.

Recovering real connectedness with the communities that we are called to serve is the foundation of the kind of respectful relationships were we have opportunity to speak about faith in Christ. Holy place allows for a contemplation of beauty and holiness that sits just outside of our rationalist grid of scepticism and despair. The prayer of the Church that goes beyond our own interior state of motivation to pray is the powerful reality of spiritual practice that needs to undergird what we do, what we say and how we serve in Christ’s name.

We see much theft, death and destruction in the world and even fear of its impact on our own shores. It would be wrong to conclude that this is any indication of the defeat of Christ, or his claims over the world. Wrong also, to imagine that we are not the custodians of the world-changing message of reconciliation and redemption or that our Lord’s gifts to us are weak and ineffective. Christ’s truth about people, which includes ourselves and the people amongst whom we live, is a vital truth that we are called to communicate. This in essence is what evangelism is, telling the Good News that in Christ this truth sets us free. Mission in its own way is the moment we move from private acceptance of the truths of God in Christ to owning them as public truth – for us and for others.

May your speakers, facilitators and worship leaders be inspired and fearless and most importantly be centred on Christ.
Please pray for the Anglican Communion and especially for Justin, Archbishop of Canterbury, as we move now to the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council during two weeks of April in Lusaka, Zambia. Pray as well for the bishops of the Anglican church of Australia as we meet together in South Australia next month. We all need the grace of the Holy Spirit to see God’s bigger picture and walk towards it.
God bless you in your time here.

 

 

 

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