Bishop Richard Condie has had since March 2016 to find his bearings in the Diocese of Tasmania, and to take up the challenges of episopacy. This article is adapted from an address he gave at the 2017 General Synod EFAC Dinner, where Richard offered an account of his joint endeavours in collaboration with his clergy and people.
In June 2017 the Diocese of Tasmania launched a new vision for our future ministry together, but it would be a mistake to think that this was a new beginning. It is rather the fruit of a longer journey that began back in 2000, when Bishop John Harrower was appointed Bishop of Tasmania. He had a vision for ‘every Tasmanian committed to Jesus Christ’’, and declared the diocese to be ‘the Missionary Diocese of Tasmania’, with every Anglican challenged to live as ‘a missionary disciple’. He brought in a new era with new patterns of Christian community, an expectation of missional leadership, a stated aim to be willing to take risks for the gospel, a missional ecclesiology, and a deep culture of permission giving. The mood in the diocese moved from ‘no’ to ‘yes’; from what was, to what could be; and from maintenance to mission. It was a time of huge change in the make-up of the clergy and in the embracing of lay ministry. John also cleared up the mess of historic child sexual abuse and internal dysfunction. He really brought in a new season of health and vitality. I can recommend following a bishop who is a missionary! Perhaps we could make bishops out of more returned CMS Missionaries to go and sort out the dioceses of Australia. So, fast forward from 2000 to 2016, and the diocese was ready again for a new phase, open to new leadership. I have never been in a place so open to being led, so appreciative of direction, and so receptive to ministry. All of which I put down to these foundations which had been laid.
A New Vision
I have had a long association with St Jude's in Carlton which has a history of strategic planning. Back in the 1990s Peter Adam used to say that it was only St Jude's and the Soviet Union that had a five year plan. So in the first 12 months in Tasmania I set about developing a plan for future ministry there. I began with my own observation, that the Diocese of Tasmania desperately needed confidence for the future. They had been hammered by sexual abuse scandals, the Royal Commission, and rural decline. And so I began to talk about confidence in God, confidence in the gospel, confidence in the Scriptures, and confidence in the Church itself. In the third week on the job I gathered the clergy together and I asked them what they thought the Diocese needed. The answer was disciple-making and evangelism. We really needed to find ways to make and grow Christians. And of course we needed leadership.
About this time The Vine Project came out from Matthias Media. It was a Godsend for us because it articulated a strategy about how to disciple people. Not just that we should do it, but how we could do it. So that year I bought a copy for every clergy person in the diocese, and we devoted our clergy conference to it, teasing out the practical implications for our parishes. After all this listening I wrote a draft vision for the diocese, and took it on a roadshow of consultations and focus groups. It was written and rewritten many times in the light of this feedback.
In June 2017 we launched our new vision: A church for Tasmania, making disciples of Jesus. That is, we want to be a church that is for Tasmania, for the benefit of those outside the church. We want to be for it, not against it. For business, government, arts, media, education, healthcare, families and individuals. We want to see each of these areas flourish. But with this is the conviction that the unique contribution we can make is making disciples of Jesus. There are many good things we could do as a church, but if we are not making disciples, and we are not really being the church; not really doing what we can do to be a church for Tasmania. As important as indigenous issues, euthanasia, climate change, refugees, the definition of marriage, and domestic violence are, they must be in response to and as a consequence of the gospel call to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Usually vision statements have a statement of values, but we wanted to make ours a statement of convictions. Five convictions drive our vision:
- Jesus Christ is the head of the Church…
- And he has sent us to make disciples…
- By word, prayer and service…
- Supported by fruitful godly leaders…
- God being our provider, and us stewards of his gifts.
The mission is fourfold:
- To build a network of confident, flourishing parishes;
- To develop partnerships with Anglican agencies and schools;
- To grow missional chaplaincy in hospitals, aged care facilities and prisons; and
- To be a people of blessing in our communities.
To accompany this mission we set a new standard for each of our parish centres. Each one should have: active disciple-making pathways; active ministry to young people and families; transformative public worship aimed at discipling; a transparent culture of safety for all; avenues of intentional prayer; a commitment to world mission; and leadership for well-trained, biblically orthodox clergy.
Let me tell you some things that have happened over the last year. We began by employing a Director of Ministry Development. This was based on the principle of putting your best resources into the biggest opportunities, rather than the biggest problems. The Director is to focus on helping parishes achieve growth and vitality. Stephen Carnaby, a local clergy person with a strong track record of leading change, joined the team in this role. We try to quarantine him from the problems so that he can focus on ministry development.
We also established a Pathways program which is being rolled out in parishes across the diocese. It aims to help parishes work out what steps they need to have in place so that people can move from being outside the church to being disciples of Jesus. The parishes that have embraced this are already seeing growth. At the date of writing nine parishes have been through the program, and there are plans for more to join in the year ahead. We have seen growth in the use of evangelism courses, both The Alpha Course and Christianity Explored. The new rector of Wynyard ran three Christianity Explored courses, involving 60% of the congregation and some outsiders. Now all of them are in Bible study groups for the first time ever in the life of the parish. We put a small portion of the proceeds from sale of property into a New Ministry Development Fund. We managed to gather up enough to put a full-time rector into the parish of Circular Head. God has really blessed this ministry over the last year and a half. It has grown from about 20 people with no children to having over 90 people in the congregation a few Sundays ago, along with a thriving children's ministry.
We have been pouring effort into our clergy as well. We now have well-established cohorts of clergy in different stages of ministry: emerging leaders, new rectors, senior ministers, ‘fourth quarter’ ministers, chaplains, and so on. These are peer learning opportunities that allow ministers to gather together for tailored learning, with people of the same stage of ministry. Almost every full-time clergy person now has a ministry coach, and we have trained up a dozen local coaches to support them in their ministry. God in his kindness has allowed us the opportunity to plant two new churches in Tasmania in the last 12 months. Partnership with BCA has enabled us to plant in the southern beaches south of Hobart, and in Brighton, one of Hobart's northern working suburbs.
One of the delights of living in a small place like Tasmania is the opportunity to make a contribution to wider Tasmanian community life. As the Bishop, I have been able to have op-ed pieces in the paper on the atonement, during the Dark MoFo Festival in 2017, and more recently on redress. I been able to contribute to community debates about euthanasia and the redefinition of marriage. It is an extraordinary opportunity that we are trying to embrace with both hands. Of course there are many challenges as well. Small churches that are struggling along in places where there is decline and the loss of industry. And we now have the challenges of funding redress, with painful property sales. But all in all we feel like the Lord is blessing this season of ministry.
I recently had the joy of reporting to our synod on this vision. We have been measuring parish performance around the seven areas that we expect our parishes to attend to. It is a simple tool of giving a red, orange or green light, against each of the criteria. I'm pleased to say, that with only one exception, each of the areas showed positive growth over the last 12 months. The old adage, ‘you measure what matters to you’, has helped keep us focused. I'm very grateful to God for calling me into this ministry in Tasmania, for laying such wonderful foundations through Bishop John's ministry, and preparing such a fertile field for the growth of the gospel. Please pray for us as, as we pursue our vision, to be a church for Tasmania, making disciples of Jesus.
You may have seen media reports about the measures the Diocese of Tasmania is taking to acknowledge and make restitution for evils uncovered by the recent Royal Commission. Bishop Richard Condie explains the approach his diocese is taking and why.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has done a great service to our country. With compassion and courage, it exposed the dark secrets of sexual abuse in institutions including in the Anglican Church. The Royal Commission shone its light on the Diocese of Tasmania and we are thankful for their work brining to light the evil deeds of the past. We may never know the full extent, but perhaps up to 200 children were sexually abused and assaulted by clergy and leaders in our Diocese. This is a tragedy of monumental proportions. We, like many Dioceses, have done much to address this in the years since we began to acknowledge what had happened. Many years before the Royal Commission, we began to put our house in order. We have worked hard on the selection, training and accreditation of our workers, and more recently working on full compliance with their recommendations. The Diocese of Tasmania is particularly in the debt of our former Bishop John Harrower who worked tirelessly in this area, commencing his ministry with a formal apology to survivors. Right across the Australian Church we should remain grateful to the Royal Commission for exposing the breadth of this blight in our history. They have held us accountable and shown our sins for all the world to see.
It is right and proper for us to make amends for these sins. Making restitution for wrongs is a Christian idea. It first appears in Exodus 22 where if a man steals an animal and if it dies or is sold, then he must make amends by repaying 4 or 5 times the value. Or if he borrows an animal and it dies he shall make full restitution to the one from whom it is borrowed. The stand-out example in the New Testament is Zacchaeus, who when he encounters Jesus, pledges to repay four times the amount of anything that he had extorted out of vulnerable people as a tax collector. So the notion of providing redress, to in some way make restitution for the wrongs committed in the past, is our Christian duty. Providing redress payments to survivors of abuse in our church, will provide a measure of restorative justice for those survivors. It will show them the recognition that they deserve by our acknowledgement of the wrongs committed to them, and that they will find the emotional and financial support that they need.
The National Redress Scheme
In a 2015 report the Royal Commission recommended a National Redress Scheme for all institutions. Their hope was that an accessible, independent, fair, accountable, and efficient scheme would be established to allow as many survivors as possible to access redress. It was acknowledged that many survivors would not want to contact the institution in which they had suffered abuse, so it was vital to have an independent scheme. Thankfully the Federal Government announced a scheme along the lines of this recommendation in November 2016. It began operation on 1 July this year and will run for 10 years. The Redress Scheme will provide payments of up to $150,000 assessed on a case-by-case basis, a provision for legal costs, and up to $5,000 towards counselling. It will also provide an option for survivors to receive a direct response from the institution in the form of a personal apology. The Anglican Church in Australia has given its full support to the National Scheme and has developed a company which will provide the vehicle by which Anglican institutions (dioceses, schools and agencies) can join the scheme as a group. Many of these organisations have already indicated their willingness to join such a company and the national scheme.
The Challenge for Tasmania
In some dioceses the prevalence of child sexual abuse has been greater than others. Sadly this was the case in the Diocese of Tasmania, and as mentioned above, we may never know the full extent of the damage done. But we do know that for every survivor who gave evidence at the Royal Commission who had previously come forward to the institution in which they were abused, there were two more who had never been to the institution. This indicates that the size of the problem is much bigger than we first imagined. We had already provided redress through a Diocesan scheme called the Pastoral Support and Assistance Scheme to 55 survivors of abuse. If our Diocese follows the Royal Commission pattern we could have 150 survivors, and maybe even more, who might come forward to an independent scheme. With an estimated average payout of $76,000 from the Scheme, and those previously provided a payment under our old scheme being able to re-apply, the estimate of our liability under the new scheme could be in the order of $8 million. That is the mid-point our actuaries predict, but it could be as high as $14m or as low as $6m. The estimates coming in from other Dioceses around Australia are truly chilling. While the larger wealthier metropolitan Dioceses might be able to fund their liabilities out of operational budgets, unless many of our rural and regional Diocese take some radical proactive action, their liability may have catastrophic effects on their future financial viability.
I have been arguing in Tasmania that we have a collective responsibility to address this. The Diocese as a whole must respond to the challenge of funding redress. Without the cash reserves to fund it, we have had to turn to realising our assets to make sure we can meet our obligations. In June our Synod decided to divert 25% of our Diocesan and Parish investments from the previous sale of property, and 25% of the net proceeds of sale of over 100 properties towards establishing a Redress Fund.
More than once during the lead up to the Synod people expressed to me that we should not have to pay for the sins of others that we did not commit. I understand when people outside the church feel this way, but I am disturbed when I hear it from people who are members of the church. My contention is that this comment shows a profound misunderstanding of the Christian gospel. The very heart of the Christian message rests on an innocent one who suffers for the redemption of many. Jesus Christ paid for the sins of the whole world, sins that he did not commit, so that he could provide restoration and forgiveness. It seems to me the costly sacrifice that the Diocese is making is exactly the heart of our discipleship. Every parish in the Diocese will contribute in a costly way, some by losing part of their income, some by losing a much loved building, and some by making direct financial contributions which will curtail the work of ministry. The Diocese will have to makes adjustments as well because the diocesan investments being levied have been supporting youth and children’s ministry and new ministry initiatives.
It is a costly business, but doing the right thing usually is. Jesus called us to “deny ourselves and take up our cross daily” to follow him. In various ways we are responding to that call. We do hope that preserving the balance of the proceeds of sale of property for Parish use, will mean that we can find new sustainable models for ministry in the places that lose buildings, and that the future sustainability of the Diocese will be secured. Already many creative ideas are emerging, but we are under no illusions that the days ahead are going to be easy.
One of our particular challenges is managing community expectations. Rural communities in particular are attached to their churches buildings and have a strong sense of community ownership, even if they never attend a service. This is intensified when a cemetery is attached to the church property. The level of community grief is understandably high. We cannot expect them to share a sense of collective responsibility for righting past wrongs.
A Spiritual Challenge
In some ways what is happening must been seen as a spiritual challenge for us. I believe that it is no coincidence that we learned of our redress obligations, and then realised the sacrifice we would need to make, just days after we concluded a season of lament and repentance for past wrongs. We had set aside Lent this year to acknowledge before God our failures to protect children, to keep families safe from violence, our misuse of power, and our failure to care for the first people of Tasmania. I had visited 45 of our 48 Parishes during Lent to lead a simple prayer meeting, and what I witnessed over those 40 days was quite profound. People owned up to the sin and failures of the past, and prayed about their resolve to address each area positively. It seems that God has called us to “produce fruit worth of repentance” (Matt 3:8), in this very particular way.
While it is incredibly hard, and the media attention has been intense, we believe God is in this; that he has called us to this moment of costly obedience, and that it is a direct result of our prayers of lament, repentance and resolve. Our prayer now is that survivors of sexual abuse will find healing hope and wholeness through our sacrifice, and that maybe even some will be restored to the Lord Jesus. Whatever the cost, and whatever the outcome, we are prepared to do what is necessary to follow him.