EFAC Australia

Church Leadership

Last issue Jude Long identified important gaps between Indigenous Australians and the rest of
Australian society. Here she suggests some first steps for Christians who are keen to see those gaps closed.
Dr Jude Long is Principal of Nungalinya College, Darwin, NT

In my previous article I outlined the significant gap that exists between Indigenous Christians in remote communities, and mainstream English speaking Christians. This gap includes areas such as health, life expectancy, safety, literacy, and resourcing in Christian faith. Obviously this is a huge issue! This article attempts to explore some concrete things the church in Australia can be doing to help reduce this gap.

1. Awareness

Many people within the church are unaware of the reality of life for Indigenous people in remote communities. Few would have an understanding of the significant cultural and linguistic differences that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

This first step may seem obvious, but it is essential for the church to become aware of the diversity of Indigenous languages and cultures, of the history of engagement between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians and of the situation today. I think this is especially significant for our young people. There are a number of great resources available like “Australians Together” a four part DVD series that is suitable for small groups that can really help this.

Neil Bach reminds us of the life and impact of the Australian New Testament scholar Leon Morris ahead of the publication of his biography of this man who loved the gospel of Christ crucified.

Neil Bach is the author of a recently published biography of Leon Morris entitled "Leon Morris: One Man’s Fight for Love and Truth."

Sixty-five years ago the embers of a spiritual battle burst into flame. After a lecture at Cambridge University a young Australian courageously stood in front of a very great churchman.

‘I don’t think you were right in that, sir.’

‘Oh’ he said. ‘Why?’

I said one or two things.

‘Would you write that out for me?’

Between one lecture and the next the young man had a session with the churchman Michael Ramsey. He tried to explain to Ramsey that the scholar C. H. Dodd was wrong in eliminating propitiation from the New Testament. He thought the old boy was most interested. We know that young man. He was Leon Morris. He remains the greatest New Testament scholar Australia has produced. He wrote extensively about the cross of Christ, with his book The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross still a fantastic read, summarizing the truths of propitiation, redemption, covenant and so on that he unearthed in his Cambridge studies. In a new biography, soon to be published by Paternoster, called Leon Morris: One Man’s Fight for Love and Truth, I tell his life story and the impact of his teaching ministry.

Peter Brain considers the Report of the Viability and Structures Taskforce, produced for the 2014 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia.

Peter Brain, formerly Bishop of the Diocese of Armidale, is the Rector of Rockingham, WA.

This is a sad report. Not because of declining numbers, the precarious financial status of many dioceses, or the difficulty most dioceses have in attracting ordinands. Those anxieties for church members, local church and denominational leadership are real. The real sadness of this report is its failure to address, or even pose, the possibility that our problems might be theological. Could there be a failure to be clear on the nature of our calling, the content and power of the gospel and the primacy of the local church?

Time after time the Report suggests that our problems stem from the fact that the number of nominal Anglicans is declining. In all the years of being a Christian it has never occurred to me that my ministry should be restricted to Anglicans. As long as there are people who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour our Lord calls us to take the gospel to them because they are perishing. People who are not members of other local Christian churches are our mission field too.

Could this be the result of a far deeper and more serious problem? A failure to be on the same page as Jesus in regard to the content of the gospel and its power to save sinners. The Report nowhere speaks about this matter. On a couple of occasions it makes the assumption that we are Christians by virtue of our baptism. Apart from having no Biblical warrant, honest reflection would keep us from this folly. Not only does it ascribe to the sacrament a power it cannot possess, robbing the Holy Spirit of his wonderfully life changing work, but the fruits and habits of baptised uncommitted Anglicans betray their need for conversion.

The focus of the Report is on the diocese. Indeed the report, in response to the tragic problems caused by some of our members in improper sexual behaviour, suggests that we ought to be one national church. Whilst the reasoning — that people and governments don’t understand our diocesan diversity — may be laudable, it is an approach that can only move us further away from the coalface of healthy and vibrant local churches. This betrays a misunderstanding of where real growth, healing and discipleship takes place.

At the risk of opening myself to the criticism of pride or grandstanding, the Report, whilst acknowledging the low ratio of ordained pastors to census Anglicans, the availability of ordinands, the healthy financial position and the numbers of attenders of Sydney and Armidale Dioceses, never posed the question as to whether there may be a correlation between these facts and the kind of theology and ecclesiology practised and held in these two dioceses. I would imagine that any secular investigation would be very happy to have a city and a rural diocese by which to compare what is going on. I hasten to add that neither of these dioceses would be content with either the size of congregations or with their rate of growth. But they are there and there are clear differences between these dioceses and others. They provide an opportunity that was missed by the Report to compare, contrast and enquire.

The emphasis of these two dioceses on the authority of the Bible gives to their pastors and members a confidence in God and the content of the gospel. The fact that Jesus is Lord and that repentance towards God and trust in Jesus form both the content and call of the gospel means that false hopes (like you are saved because you are baptised, good, spiritual, sincere) are consistently exposed and the sure hope based on God’s grace to us through the uniqueness of Christ, his substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection, confidently held out to all. The emphasis on the life of the local church, where converts and seekers are drawn into its fellowship, provides a context for these gospel realities to be observed, tested, proved and learnt. The diocese can nurture and encourage this ministry (and must do so) but the diocese will never be a viable substitute for the local church.

As one who has returned to parish ministry after 12 years in diocesan leadership I am rediscovering the privilege but also the challenges of this coal face work in evangelism and pastoral care. It is in a warm hearted and gospel focussed local church that those hurt by past sins might regain confidence. Those of us who are committed to evangelical truths have no right to be proud, smug or self- confident. We do however, have a mandate from our risen Lord to be confident in him and the gospel he has entrusted to us. We are part of a denomination that is struggling and asking questions. The Report is honest at this level. However the Report does not encourage us to find any answers from God who has so graciously called us to build his church through his gospel.

The Report of the Viability and Structures Task Force is General Synod 2014 Book 8, and is available at www.anglican.org.au/general-synods/2014/documents/books/book%208_for%20website.pdf.

Jude Long shares some insights about some of the crucial issues for Indigenous people in the remote parts of Australia

Jude Long is Principal of Nungalinya College, Darwin, NT

We hear a lot today about closing the gap between Indigenous and non–indigenous Australians. Government policies are developed, and decisions are made about how we (usually meaning non-indigenous people) are going to do that.
“The gap” has become a shorthand way of describing the inequalities in Australian society between the first and second peoples of this country. The gap exists across Australia, but it is very different for urban Indigenous people compared to those in remote communities. I can only talk from the context of Nungalinya College where most of our students come from remote communities across the Top End and down into the Centre of Australia.

Health Gap

Here is a story to illustrate the health gap for people in remote communities. We had a student come in to an intensive with a sore foot which had been burnt in a fire. Her community did have a clinic but it was currently closed because a 14 year old girl had committed suicide by hanging herself outside the clinic and so everyone was too scared to go to the there. She showed her foot to our staff who thought it smelled not so good so took her along to the hospital. It turned out that she had gangrene and had to have 3 toes amputated.

Life Expectancy Gap

Essentials asked Mark Durie how they went about combining three parishes into a team and how it worked out.

1. Which parishes did you combine and why?

St Catharine's South Caulfield, St Clement's Elsternwick, and St Mary's Caulfield partnered together for three years from 2012-2014. The three parishes are located next to each other in the inner southeast region of Melbourne. We partnered together in order to help launch a new young adult congregation at St Clement's and renew the parish of St Catharine's.

2. Can you give us a simple overview of the process that led to the parishes agreeing to combine?

At the start of the partnership the three churches, although next to each other, were in very different situations.

St Mary's had previously declined through the 1970's and 80's, and for a time its future had been in doubt. However the launch of a contemporary service in the early 1990's led to the development of a thriving congregation which today totals around 160 people, including many young families. For the past decade this community has been growing steadily.

St Catharine's was a small suburban church with a good site and a strong community with a wide variety of ages, but its congregation was small and for decades it had been a struggle to keep the church open.

St Clement's site is well located on a busy main road, but during a long incumbency it had gradually declined to a congregation of around a dozen mostly elderly regulars. Like St Catharine's, St Clement's was being sustained financially by a property lease, but its human resources had reached the point where it was unable to renew itself.
The Diocese, through our local Archdeacon, Brad Billings, invited three neighbouring parishes to consider partnering with St Clement's to assist it to find a new direction. St Mary's proposal was to plant a young adult congregation in the evening at St Clement's: the church site is in a prominent position at the end of a busy shopping strip which attracts many young adults. St Mary's proposal was received favourably by our regional Bishop, Paul White, who invited us to include St Catharine's in the relationship.

It so happened that the incumbencies of St Catharine's and St Clement's were vacant at the same time. The outcome of all this was that the three churches came together to partner for a three year period.

3. What does the new entity look like?

The partnership was created by two mechanisms, as laid out in a memorandum of understanding.

One was the appointment of a common incumbent. I was already serving as the incumbent of St Mary's, and was appointed as Priest-in-Charge of St Clement's and St Catharine's.

The other mechanism was a shared clergy team of four people who worked together across the three sites. I and RF, who were at St Mary's before the partnership joined up with Adam and Heather Cetrangolo, who came in from outside to focus on the church renewal and planting projects. The clergy took on evolving roles across the three churches as circumstances changed during the three years.
To simplify administration the clergy were paid through St Mary's, and the other two churches made contributions for staff costs according to the services they received. The three churches were in other respects formally distinct, each with their own vestry and wardens. Each church functioned separately, while sharing a staff team. However the congregations of the three churches came together for special events a few times a year, such as a Maundy Thursday passover meal.

4. What team (paid and volunteer) do you have and what do they do?

Each church's story is different. At St Catharine's the goal was congregational renewal. A small enthusiastic lay team led by a capable group of wardens welcomed change. Heather Cetrangolo took responsibility for worship, pastoral care, discipleship and developing a new vision - in short everything needed to grow the congregation - while I as priest-in-charge worked in the background with the wardens, looking after governance, budgeting, and property. There was much work to be done, changing service styles, discontinuing the organist's appointment - which the parish could no longer afford - and launching a new vision. Evangelism and discipleship programs led some on the fringes to come to faith and become committed members. A band emerged to support the launch of a new contemporary service. Exciting new programs such as a monthly community dinner proved a great success and helped bring new people into the church.

At St Clement's RF took on the task of assisting the existing congregation to grow in acceptance and support for the partnership. Under his experienced care they warmly embraced change, and the existing evening service was discontinued to make way for a new service. At the same time, while working at St Mary's for a year, Adam Cetrangolo was gathering a team of young adults to plant the new service at St Clement's. The new SALT service was launched in the middle of the second year of the partnership, and has drawn local young adults into the church. With a contemporary feel the SALT community has had the freedom to connect with young adults using forms of worship and discipling which appeal to its focus generation.

St Mary's community has continued to grow during the partnership. There are paid staff and a large team of volunteers involved in family programs such as Sunday School and playgroup. For the first two years Heather Cetrangolo, in addition to her duties at St Catharine's, also led a combined youth group based at St Mary's which drew young people from both St Mary's and St Catharine's. After a year of growth this work was taken over by a dedicated youth worker.

An unexpected parallel development during the partnership was the launch of a thriving Iranian congregation under the auspices of St Mary's. This arose from the work of an evangelist who became connected with St Mary's, and my interest in outreach to Muslims.

5. In what ways has it turned out to be a good idea? Has it been successful in stimulating evangelism and growth?

At this point the partnership is about to conclude.

From 1 October St Mary's and St Clement's are merging to form one parish, and St Catharine's will be standing on its own two feet with Adam Cetrangolo as the interim locum, while it continues its program of renewal, reaching out to unchurched people in its neighbourhood. The three church partnership gave St Catharine's new hope, and helped establish a base for the future. A good deal of enthusiasm exists in the parish to continue their efforts to grow the community.

A new service – SALT – has been established at St Clements, which is reading out to the young adults in our very secular and unchurched environment. An older dying congregation at St Clement's has been renewed in hope for the future as they have warmly embraced the emergence of SALT. Meanwhile St Mary's community has continued to grow and thrive, and has been blessed and enriched by a diverse staff team, with its varying and complementary talents.

St Mary's and St Clement's have merged into a multi-site parish in order to minister to all ages from the base of their complementary sites.

The partnership has been a fruitful training environment for two younger clergy, and enabled us to pool the gifts and experience of a team to achieve things which we would not have been able to do if we were working independently.

The final proof of what we have done will be apparent in the years ahead, as the many initiatives begun over the past three years continue to grow and bear fruit.

Dr Mark Durie, the Senior Pastor, and Pastor for the 10.30 am service at St Mary's, is a theologian, human rights activist,  and Adjunct Research Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology.