Presidential charge to the Synod of the Diocese of the Northern Territory

Bishop Greg Anderson’s Charge to the Synod of the Diocese, Friday April 17th, 2015.

Bishop Greg's Synod Charge April 2015

Welcome to Synod. This is the 33rd time that people of the Diocese of the Northern Territory have come together for this kind of meeting since 1968, when we began as a diocese.

We meet like this because we are a fellowship of churches that belong together and that work together.

We belong together for at least four reasons. 

First, we are followers of Jesus. This is the most important thing that unites us. We represent churches that are followers of Jesus. So we want our decisions at synod to give glory to Jesus and to strengthen our witness to him.

Second, we come from Anglican churches. In a place like the Northern Territory, being Anglican means different things to different people. However being Australian Anglicans at least means that we believe clergy and lay Christians should hear from each other as we make decisions together, on our synod, as well as in parish councils and diocesan institutions. Being Anglican gives our church services a distinctive shape which highlights both our connection with the church throughout the ages, and also our desire to engage with the world today.

Third, we have the shared heritage of being together in this diocese that has existed for nearly fifty years. Not many of us have been here long enough to remember its beginning, but our shared history does provide reasons we why do certain things. We do not have to keep doing things the same way for ever, and in fact an important part of synod is making decisions about change. But where we want change, it helps to know what was there in our history before we arrived, and what stories lie behind some of our traditions.

Fourth, we belong together because we come from the Northern Territory. We have certain differences from other places – we are still a frontier, a growth edge. Like other growing edges, we have innovation, energy, people who are drawn to adventure, big population turnover, a big mix of cultures, a certain distrust of law and authority. These characteristics can be good or bad for our witness to Jesus, but it is helpful to understand the cultures we are in, as we try to engage in our world for the gospel’s sake.

Our business as churches is to celebrate what God is doing in the world, and to draw attention to it. We do this in many ways. We do it as we come together for our church services, hearing from the word of God as it tells us about God’s character and God’s actions, and as we respond together to that word. We do it as we share the good news of Jesus with others. We do it as we demonstrate what God’s coming rule looks like by working towards a society where pain and evil are done away with.

What we do in synod may seem disconnected from all that. But the decisions that we make are for the purpose of improving the way we engage together in our business as churches. One of the big matters we will be talking about is Anglicare, which expresses on a big stage the values of God’s kingdom. Because of our history, we also connect with other Anglican fellowships in some of the ways we act. The result is that we have decisions to make at this synod that are the result of what the national Australian synod has sent in the direction of the 23 dioceses in Australia, including us in the Territory.

Anglicare incorporation

Our main reason for meeting now, six months earlier than we would normally meet for synod, is to deal with the matter of the separate incorporation of Anglicare NT. If Anglicare is to be separately incorporated, it is easier if this is done close to the end of the financial year. If synod approves the incorporation of Anglicare, there is enough time between now and the beginning of the 2015-2016 financial year for the various consequential steps to be worked through. The matter of Anglicare’s separate incorporation has been thought about for at least the last ten years, but was raised in a focused way at our previous synod in 2013. Since then, a working group has put great effort into systematically preparing the details of what needs to be done for incorporation to occur.

Anglicare is a precious part of the Northern Territory Diocese. Its roots are found in the St Mary’s Family Services dormitories for Aboriginal children in Alice Springs, which began in 1946, and in the outreach program of St James’, Sanderson that was developed by Revd Greg Thompson when he was the rector there in the mid-1980s. These programs developed into Anglicare Central Australia and Anglicare Top End, which were merged into Anglicare NT in 2002.

Anglicare NT has grown enormously and now has over 300 employees plus many volunteers, staffing more than 85 different programs, with a budget of over $23 million. Each program demonstrates the shape of God’s new world, where there will be perfect justice, perfect peace and perfect relationships, by providing pathways for broken people to move towards greater wholeness in this world. We hope that Anglicare, as part of our diocesan family, can also point people to the world beyond the current one, the new world that we are waiting for. That is the only place where all brokenness will find full healing.

Anglicare NT until now has existed as a body inside the Diocese of the NT. Their bank accounts are held by the diocese, the cars, furniture and equipment they use are owned by the diocese, and their governing board is appointed by Diocesan Council. But there are some big weaknesses in this arrangement. First, the government now requires bodies that receive government funding to be incorporated in a way that Anglicare NT currently is not. Second, Anglicare has more resources than the diocese for managing its business, and it makes more sense for it to have greater authority to do that. Third, if something bad happened to Anglicare (God forbid), the liability would fall to the diocese, and the diocese would not be in a position to cope with this.

If synod approves the new arrangement, Anglicare NT will be a separate body recognised as having its own existence and completely managing its own business. It remains part of the diocesan family because in legal terms it is a company limited by guarantee, and the single member of the company is the Synod of the Diocese of the Northern Territory. That means that the synod (or Diocesan Council representing synod) is the only body that can change the constitution of Anglicare. The governance structure includes that the Bishop and Registrar of the NT are directors, with some Board members directly appointed by the synod and all others ratified by Diocesan Council on the recommendation of the Board. Anglicare must report to the Synod at least once per year. The proposed constitution follows a framework that includes the same Anglican values that were set out in the existing Anglicare ordinance. Although the Anglicare budget is far bigger than the diocesan budget, Anglicare and the Diocese have committed themselves to neither side being financially disadvantaged by the incorporation.

I believe we will need to keep working with Anglicare so that it is clearly seen as a Christian agency based on Christian values and working to illustrate and give a foretaste of God’s rule in all its fullness. Under the new arrangements, I believe that Anglicare will be not be any worse off in that regard, so the case for approving the incorporation is very strong.

In many ways, the incorporation of Anglicare does not change the ministry that Anglicare is actually involved in on a day-to-day basis. But the focus on Anglicare at this synod provides us all with the chance to think how our parishes and the members of our churches might form stronger links with Anglicare, for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ being shared with more people.

There are two parts to what is coming to synod for the incorporation of Anglicare.

First, we are being asked to change the church law that set up Anglicare NT, and which at present governs it. In other words, we are considering the Anglicare NT (Amendment) Ordinance 2015. This is a change to a church law, and so we follow the pattern of lawmaking that is used in our Australian parliaments.

Second, we are being asked to approve the new constitution for Anglicare, which sets out the rules that the incorporated Anglicare would operate by. This is not a change to church law, so it will be addressed by a simple motion in synod. It is a Motion Without Notice because the final meetings of the current Anglicare Board and the Diocesan Council that ratified the new constitution were held after the cut-off date for Motions With Notice. Like all Motions Without Notice, synod is asked to give permission for the motion to come before it. The proposed constitution comes with the approval of the Anglicare Board and Diocesan Council, after all the work that has been done on it by the incorporation Working Group.

Strategic planning

In 2010 the diocese developed a strategic plan that was intended to guide our ministries into the future, with a sense of all working together for the same goals. I sense that in the time between Bishop Greg Thompson leaving and my arrival, there has been some anxiety about whether I would be on board with the plan or would want to do things differently. I believe that the strategic plan is very sound, with its four focus areas of 1) indigenous ministries, 2) ministering communities, 3) resources, education and infrastructure and 4) missional partnerships. The challenge is to work through in each area how to do what needs to be done. Another way that I am thinking about what needs to be done in the diocese is to think about six planks.

  1. Encouraging evangelism. St Paul describes the good news of Jesus as ‘the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes’ (Romans1:16). Many Christians today seem to shrink back from sharing the good news, because we often hear the Christian message ignored, mocked or fought against. Sometimes we feel that other Christians share the good news in ways that are offensive or insensitive, and this can limit our own willingness to witness. We might hope that just by living lives of love and generosity as Christians, people will see something in us that recommends the gospel, and it is certainly true that our words are undermined if our lives are not worthy of the gospel. But despite these obstacles, we continue to have a story that is good news for all people. It is easy for lots of Christian time to be taken up doing ‘church business’, and there is certainly a lot of church business to do. But we must not lose sight of the fact that just getting people along to church is only part of the work of evangelism. We believe that it is God’s purpose to rescue lost people, and that the rescue tool is the good news of Jesus. So we have the privilege of sharing that good news wherever we are – in a sense regardless of whether people come to one of our churches. But as people understand that what God is doing is making one new family out of diverse humans, as they see the Anglican pattern of expressing this – hearing and seeing God’s word, joining together in prayer, balancing tradition and change, holding a fellowship together across the diocese and across the world – there are good reasons for believing that our churches are doing something worth inviting people to.
  2. Cross-cultural integration. The Northern Territory has people from many different cultures. What is unique in the Northern Territory is the high number of Aboriginal people from places where ancient languages and traditions are still strong. In our diocese nearly half of the parishes are in those areas. God is making a new family from people from every different language and background. Our Anglican churches in the Territory show this by demonstrating acceptance and respect across cultural boundaries. We have the special privilege and responsibility of showing respect across the Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal boundary. There are four main languages spoken in the Top End Aboriginal parishes, with many more spoken in the parishes along the Stuart Highway. A lot of work has been done to translate the Bible and develop Christian resources in Anindilyakwa, Kriol, Kunwinjku and Wubuy. We hope that the complete New Testament might be available in Kunwinjku before our synod meets again. There is more work to be done in strengthening remote parishes, and helping them face the changes that continue to affect their part of the world. We can be thankful to God for the work of the Ministry Resource Unit (which is for the whole diocese, but has a particular focus on indigenous ministry), with Revd John Hewitson as Ministry Development Officer, and Nungalinya College, in their complementary training roles. All humans live within a culture. It is only when we have a cross-cultural experience that we are forced to see that our own values and behaviours are not universally shared. The same is true of our Christian experience. As we are open to learning from what our Christian brothers and sisters in other cultures hear as they listen to God, we have the opportunity of evaluating our own way of being Christian. I hope we can do this more and more in this diocese. One challenge that is not easy for an English speaker like me is to use the kind of language that is clear to everybody. When we are in cross-cultural conversations, a lot of effort is needed to be aware of the words we are saying and whether those listening to us will understand them. This is perhaps the first step in having strong working relationships across the cultural boundaries in the diocese.
  3. Strengthening diocesan institutions and partnerships. I have already talked about Anglicare. There are other institutions that the diocese shares in as well, particularly Kormilda College and Nungalinya College. All these institutions do hard and helpful work. We have the opportunity to develop further the links between the diocese and these institutions, through regular prayer for them, encouraging visits (in both directions), sharing of information, and personal contacts. Outside the diocese, we are also part of many partnerships. We have people working in our churches who are supported by CMS, BCA, MU Australia, Scripture Union, AuSIL, National Home Mission Fund and other entities. We are grateful for this support, and we need to keep thinking about how partnerships like this can grow and develop. With all partnerships like this, we need to find the balance between what we would like to do, and what is possible to do with the people and money available. Some people have a great gift for dreaming up new ideas, and it can help us to give them freedom to do this. Other people have a gift for evaluating and implementing ideas that others generate. We need to use our overlapping gifts with humility and generosity, seeking God’s wisdom in these matters.
  4. Reviewing diocesan structures. Much of what we do in the diocese is inherited from the past. This is appropriate, because traditions have been sifted by time, and often, the worst is left aside and the best is retained. But we need to keep doing this sifting and sorting so that the balance between tradition and innovation is in a good place. There are some particular areas that could receive attention. One good example is synod. The Anglican synod pattern is usually to have about twice as many laypeople as clergy. At present in the synod, however, there are almost equal numbers of laypeople and clergy.  I hope to address this imbalance before the next synod. The way our synod works is modelled on British parliamentary practices. Our church laws are presented the same was as laws in parliament, with First Readings, Second Readings and Third Readings. There might be good reasons for keeping this tradition, but there might be good reasons for looking at other possibilities that are closer to the decision-making processes in other parts of our lives. There are many other diocesan structures that need reviewing, including the language our policies are expressed in, the kind of committees that we have overseeing various matters, the training programs that exist across the diocese, the licensing of various ministries, working out what financial contribution different parishes should make to the whole, ‘safe ministry’ requirements, and many others.
  5. Community interface. It is vital that churches connect with the communities we are in. Because of the heritage of the Anglican church in Australia – almost like an ‘official’ church, there are also opportunities that the bishop and other church leaders have to connect with our community leaders, in government, business and the media. I hope that as a diocese we can continue to grow our connections with these people. As Christians, we believe that God’s way is the best way for societies, individuals and the earth. In a democratic and pluralistic community, it is important that Christians do not feel shut out of debate about important issues, but that with gentleness and respect, they offer their contribution. We need to think carefully about the way we express ourselves, so that what we are saying can be heard and understood – this is often more difficult than it sounds.
  6. Encouraging leaders. One of my hopes as bishop is that I can encourage our church leaders, particularly the ordained clergy, but also lay leaders, in their challenging work, which often seems complicated and wearying, and sadly, often filled with administrative tasks where people would prefer to be engaged in more direct ministry.  There is a range of tools to help people in ministry to keep being focused and strategic as they go about their work. The NT has a high turnover of population and so it is easy for good ideas in the corporate memory to be lost. As we think about church leaders, we should ask God to raise appropriate people to fill the clergy vacancies that exist in the diocese. We should also ask for God’s guidance as we consider what new initiatives it might be helpful to have alongside our existing ministry structures.

“Doing church” in the Northern Territory

We are not the only people who are aware of the challenges of ministry in relatively remote and less well-resourced places. In the Anglican Church of Australia, General Synod has established a ‘viability and structures task force’ which is thinking about ways that our ministry can be strengthened in the face of challenges. While they will come up with ideas and recommendations in the next months and years, our diocese can be proactive in its own right in developing new ways of doing ministry. Statistics on church growth show that on the whole, new church plants do better than established churches on just about all measures. The solution is not to close all our churches and plant new ones! However, we must be open to new possibilities and to see them as opportunities rather than threats. Are there ways that we can do church with technology? in fly-in-fly-out environments? with interest group niches? with tourists? Are there people with particular skills and passions who can come to the Territory for these kinds of ministries who will not be a burden, distraction, or competition for our existing ministries? It is worth investigating.

The way we do church is one of the most obvious ways that our balance between tradition and innovation is seen. I believe strongly that liturgy that is well done is a blessing for Christian people and at least intriguing, and maybe even convincing, for people who are not yet deliberately following Jesus. But what does ‘well done’ mean? I think it means that there is a balance between realising that we are in the awesome presence of the eternal God, and also expressing that we are gathering as beloved family. All of our services are occasions of celebration, because the saving God is with us, and we are the rescued people of God. They are also occasions of learning, encouraging, recommitting and being sent out with the good news. There is a balance between assuming that everybody present knows what we are doing and why we are doing it, and the helpfulness to visitors and regulars alike of explaining now and again the significance of a particular part of the service. Parts of our society and culture value variety and change, and other parts crave stability and heritage. There are ways that both can be achieved, and in an authentically Anglican pattern. It could be helpful to pay attention when planning services to the places where the prayerbook endorses variety (as just one example, on APBA p. 19 ‘these or other’, ‘these or similar’, ‘may be added’, ‘may be sung’), as well as thinking through what will help both newcomers and oldstayers.

Ministry requirements

In recent weeks, parishes received their annual request from the diocese for ‘parish returns’ – information about who had been chosen as wardens and parish councillors, who held lay ministry licences, and the parish’s financial report. Some new information was requested, and some new requirements were set out. The diocese tried to be clear about what was required in terms of Ochre Cards, police checks and safe ministry training, but the feedback from the parishes is that this has caused some confusion and concern. These changes were made in an environment where churches are facing much greater scrutiny than used to happen – because of bad things that happened in the past. The Royal Commission into the Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse is the most obvious example. It is important to keep in mind that we are not just seeking to show compliance with government legislation or keeping up with ‘best practice’ benchmarks for their own sake. It is vital that our churches are places where everybody is safe from abuse and protected from scandal, and that we can demonstrate that we are doing all that we can to give people confidence that we are safe places.  Another dimension is that people who are involved in leadership either up front in church, or behind the scenes, are clearly being given a degree of authority in our churches. For that reason, it is important for the congregation to be certain that they are worthy of this authority. I do not want the requirements to discourage people from engaging in ministry, and at the same time, we need confidence and safety. I have been appointed to the General Synod Professional Standards Commission, which gives me the opportunity of seeing what is happening across other dioceses in these matters. In some ways the national church, after years of effort, is still in the early stages of ensuring that our systems are adequate, both for dealing with bad things when they happen, and in seeking to prevent them as much as we possibly can. These are matters that we must continue to work on, and we can be thankful for the help we are receiving from some of the big city dioceses.

The wider Anglican community

One the wider Anglican front, synod members may be aware of some of the tensions that have appeared across the Anglican communion particularly in the last fifteen years. It is not the first time that there have been tensions in Anglicanism – in fact Anglicanism was birthed in tension, and has had experienced tension throughout its history. What is different now is the organisation of what might be called ‘the opposition’ (or which might also be called ‘historic Anglicanism’). There is a belief that the Anglican church in some places has abandoned its roots in biblical faith and practice, and that those who object have been persecuted by authorised Anglican structures. While Archbishops of Canterbury have tried to restore unity, their efforts have not been completely successful.  A group called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) grew out of the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) in 2008. This group represents a conservative view on the authority of the Bible, including what that authority means for matters of intimate human relationships. Last month, a branch of FCA was launched in Australia, at a conference attended by six Territory clergy including me. With this shake-up within Anglicanism, there are now Anglican dioceses and provinces that are recognised as Anglican by some other parts of the Anglican church, but not by all, and not by the Archbishop of Canterbury. These tensions in the Anglican church are represented in the Northern Territory, although perhaps less now than in recent years. The danger in the Northern Territory is that if the global divisions solidify further, our own tensions will increase. Being a small diocese, it is hard to imagine that we could ever support two parallel Anglican denominations, and so these tensions need to be addressed. I pray that a split will never happen. In the meantime, we continue with our work of proclaiming the new life that God gives us through our connection with Jesus Christ. I am convinced that our Anglican foundations authentically express that good news. At the same time, it is helpful for us all to maintain dialogue with others who have different views, because it is easy to resort to inaccurate pictures of exactly what others believe.

Further synod business

Apart from the Anglicare business, there are other matters that will come before synod, some are in our synod papers, others come without notice and we will be asked if we will allow them to be considered. Some seem fairly tame. Others may raise the emotions of some synod members and I hope that we can listen carefully to one another and come to a common mind.

Diocesan people

There have been a number of changes in the staffing of the diocese and our ministries since the last meeting of synod, and some other matters to report.

On Sunday March 15th, the diocese officially thanked Bishop Clyde Wood for his service as Administrator, during the time between bishops, which stretched so much longer than he originally anticipated.

We thank God for the contribution made by the following clergy that we have farewelled: the fifth bishop, Rt Revd Greg Thompson, Archdeacon Michael Godfrey (Fred’s Pass), Revd Anne Van Gend (Ministry Development Officer), Archdeacon Alan Courtney (Katherine), Revd Fan Ling Liaw (Palmerston), Revd James Howey (Alice Springs), Revd David Burgess (formerly chaplain at Kormilda College and then Palliative Care chaplain) and the defence chaplains Revd Lemuel Pearse, Revd Yogananda Juste-Constant, Revd Keil Maslen, Revd Michael Quested and Revd Jeffrey Jarvis. We were well served by locums Revd Dr Julia Perry and Revd Terry Booth.

We also farewelled Jackie Pearse who served as Registrar until the beginning of 2014, and we have recently received the resignations of the diocesan treasurer Marian Ah Toy, and diocesan council member Gill Wright. We are grateful for their work.  David Shinkfield concluded his time as principal of Kormilda College. We are soon to farewell Maurice Bastian, who has served faithfully as the Co-ordinating Chaplain at Royal Darwin Hospital.

We thank God for the lives and ministry of those who have died since last synod: Revd Nathaniel Farrell (Minyerri), Revd Jim Stacey (Katherine 1979-88) and in the week of this synod, Revd Tasma Viney (Palmerston). Just at the time of the previous synod Revd Peter Gundhu (Numbulwar) passed away, too close in time to synod for it to be reported in the presidential charge.

We have welcomed the following clergy: Revd Kevin Booth (defence) and Revd John Hewitson (Ministry Development Officer) and Revd Darryn Farrell who was ordained deacon in 2014; and Leeanne Zamagias as Registrar. I have appointed Very Revd Dr Keith Joseph as Administrator, and have appointed Mrs Lynne Bigg as an examining chaplain.

The beginning of my time as bishop has been made very much easier by the hard work of those in the diocesan office: Leeanne Zamagias, Jan Hemphill and John Hewitson, along with Keith Joseph as Dean. I am very grateful too for the loving support of my wife Annette.

In colour

Diocesan coat of armsFinally, you will notice a change in the diocesan coat of arms that appears on the cover sheet of this Presidential Charge. It is now in colour. We are the only diocese that has had a black-and-white coat of arms. Apparently it has never been an official coat of arms recognised by the College of Arms and so we are free to change it as we see fit! We are grateful to the Diocese of Adelaide, which provided the graphic designer to make it look more appealing in this way.

I ask you to pray for our synod processes to be carried out in a way that will be fruitful for the building of the churches in the Northern Territory and for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bishop Greg Anderson

You can see photos from the 2015 Synod on Flickr.