Bishop Rob’s Diocesan Synod Address 2015

A copy of the address from the Bishop of the Diocese of Riverina, Bishop Rob Gillion from the 2015 Diocesan Synod…

Members of Synod, I welcome you today in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to the sixty second Synod of the Diocese of Riverina. We meet in the context of worship, fellowship and discussion as we seek the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Challenged to commit ourselves anew to the task of mission as we are called to be God’s people in our everyday world. I am indeed most grateful to the Cathedral Parish for being our hosts for this weekend especially for the team led by the Dean and his wife Shanti.

This is a triennial Synod and I want to acknowledge those who have served in various capacities in the past three years. To those who will be elected and appointed for the incoming three years I offer my thanks and prayers in advance. I want to thank those who managed the Diocese in the absence of a Bishop, especially the former Diocesan Archdeacon Ed Byford, and Administrator of the Diocese, and for the previous Archdeacons, Robert Murphy, Paul Kumasaka, David Bond and Brian Ford. Also I wish to thank the retired Registrar Clive Jones for his faithful service.

I have appointed the Dean as my new Administrator, who will now be responsible for the Diocese in my absence. I know he will have your full support.

Now together this Synod is invited to look to the future and I bring with me a vision I caught from my ministry as the Bishop’s Officer for Evangelism in London. I want to offer a 20/20 vision focusing of course on our situation in the Riverina. A prayerful plan for the next five years, to be regularly reviewed.

We share a vision of a Church in Riverina that is:

  • Christ-centred and outward looking.
  • Compassionate in serving communities with the love of God the Father.
  • Confident in speaking and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Creative in reaching new people and places in the power of the Spirit.

Last year, as I started my episcopal ministry among you, I was determined to do three things: to look, listen and learn. In so doing, I have visited every parish in the Diocese, enjoyed a Clergy Retreat, a Clergy Conference, and in August looking forward to a Diocesan Conference (formally RAMS) for clergy and laity from each parish, including LLM’s  from across the Diocese. I have attended a Bishop’s Conference to discover the rich diversity of the Australian Anglican Church, and several Consecrations and visited all the parishes as I said, if not all the churches. I have also had the delight of Janine my wife’s company, keeping me safe on the road, and connecting with everyone in the parishes with her cheerful and positive personality. We are in it together. So much so that Janine is leading her own clergy spouses conference in parallel this weekend, focusing on supporting Parish ministry with prayer.

What emerged from these travels and encounters has been a vision of what God is doing among us and where that is leading us. I have written about this in the Four Rivers, on the website, through teaching and preaching. I have shared the vision at Council meetings and among Clergy and LLM’s, and appointed a brilliant new young Registrar who is wise beyond her years, and we have a set of clergy who have promised their support. 

There have been suggestions in the past that the Diocese of Riverina is not a viable entity and it should be subsumed into another larger Diocese. I am determined of course to work in close partnership with neighbouring Dioceses, and further afield if possible, but I am determined that the diocese of Riverina remains unique and proves to be the place every one wants to support and serve!! So to the Vision!!

It begins with God.

What is God’s vision for His church? To answer this we need to go back to the beginning of the church in the New Testament. In the Book of Acts, a template is laid of what it is to be a living church.

In Acts 2.42-47 it describes the early church.

‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the people. And day by day   the Lord added to their number those who were being saved’

Here we see the marks of a living church.

A living church is a learning church, with servant leadership, teaching and preaching from the Scriptures.  Its members read and reflect on the Scriptures daily in order to grow in the faith.

A living church is a caring church. Those early Christians loved and cared for each other. Their lives were marked by generosity.

A living church is a worshipping church. Their worship was formal and informal, reverent and joyful. The quality of their worship acted like a magnet and drew others in through word and sacrament.

A living church is an evangelising church. The early church reached beyond themselves into an uncertain world. In fact in only thirty years the early church changed the world for all time with the message and love of Jesus.  Think what we can do in five years or more!

God’s vision of His church has to do with relationships. For me it’s family, extended family, a place of safety and challenge. A family forever looking outward to encourage others to recognise their place in the Community of faith. I am also determined where possible that we should work together ecumenically with those who share the same passion.

This is God’s vision for the church, our church and the churches in the Riverina.

Vision is about seeing clearly, seeing things as they are and seeing ahead. Opticians talk about 20/20 vision, meaning clarity of vision which the average person sees at 20 feet or 6 metres. Having looked at God’s vision for the church in the New Testament and having listened to what came out of the conversations with clergy and laity on my travels, I want to offer you a 20/20 Vision for the church in the Riverina. The 20/20 Vision looks something like this:

Each local church should be a community which nourishes growth through worship, the Scriptures and prayer.

Each local church should be welcoming, caring and generous in raising and resourcing ministry and mission.

Each local church should be a place where ministry and mission is for all: clerical and lay, young and old. People should be trusted and trained for service and encourage both those seeking ordination and those serving in lay ministries inside and outside the church. (I particularly encourage signing up to Bishop’s Diocesan Conference (formerly RAMS) for inspiration for leadership).

Each local church should be world looking, visible and active in the community and beyond in pursuit of justice and peace.

Each local church should be connected in prayer and partnership with each other and the worldwide church.

Each local church should prioritise its young people so as to pass on the faith to successive generations.

Diocesan administration and structures should be relevant, accountable, representative and supportive of the local church. Diocesan resources should be released to this end.

Both myself and our new dynamic Registrar are working to this end alongside our distinguished Chancellor and very experienced Diocesan office secretary.

This 20/20 Vision is a journey of what we want to be and look like by the year 2020 and beyond.

How will it be realised?

Stewardship

At our Clergy Conference, and at Bishop in Council we focussed on what makes a healthy church, focusing of course on evangelism and mission we were convinced that building a firm foundation financially completed this particular trinity. The challenge was to look at working together on a stewardship programme, which would be co-ordinated throughout the Diocese and delivered by all the parishes at the same time. We agreed that in March of next year we would offer four weeks exploring what it means to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us and how to share them and build on the response. It is just the beginning of course as at the same time focused on mission and evangelism.

Mission

So the second challenge is to restructure the Diocese for Mission rather than be driven by financial challenges. If we get the first challenge of healthy stewardship of God’s gifts which focuses on time, talents and treasure in the name of Christ we will be making the path straight to pursue mission and evangelism. Then in consultation with clergy and parishes as a whole I am convinced we will remain a spiritually and financially viable diocese. ‘

‘Growing healthy churches’ is a process of expressing the life of Christ through the local church. It is an initiative I progressed in the London Diocese, but was not a Bishop. I would love to ground it in the life of the Church here and fulfil its potential.

Evangelism

The third challenge is to introduce opportunities to introduce the wider community to Jesus through teaching courses like Alpha, Emmaus, Credo or Pilgrims. All courses to inform, educate and entertain the ideas of faith in Christ, linked with Mission Weekends to strengthen the faithful to fan the flame!! I would hope to encourage such opportunities to be available in each parish in the coming years.

I am offering to perform a one man show entitled ‘the Christmas Visit’ during Advent imagining what it would be like if Jesus turned up at our Church for Christmas. I shall be presenting it in theatres and churches around the Diocese, as a catalyst for conversations about Christ and our Christian Faith! Flyers are available for distribution at the back of the hall and on the website. Venues, provisionally at present are the Cathedral, Urana Bowling Club, Leeton Theatre, and Broken Hill at a venue to be decided. I will hope to offer a couple of performances in each venue if it seems viable. I would love to offer versions of the performance in different ways to any parish who would like to invite me. I have presented this performance in churches, schools, theatres, prisons internationally under the auspices of the Archbishop’s College of Evangelists.

Theological education

Finally, to encourage life long learning and training for licensed ministry, and others who are interested, we are hoping to establish a theological study centre at our Cathedral in Griffith. The Dean and I have been in conversation with various theological colleges with a diversity of approaches, in working with us to provide long distance learning as well as face to face seminars at the Cathedral. I am determined that the Cathedral takes its rightful place as the Mother Church of the Diocese especially in this 60th anniversary of its Opening and Dedication.

As your Bishop, I will continue to share the vision and encourage a response on the ground. All this will not happen overnight; the issues will be considered, discussed and prayed through together.

It is the direction in which we are going, over the next five years to 2020. This is the Vision, the 20/20 Vision.

I wanted to quote from Bishop Sydney Linton’s presidential address of 1901 as he looked forward to the 20th Century, and Bishop Bruce Clark in 2001 as he looked forward to the 21st century. Heaven knows what the Presidential Address will look like for the 22nd century!!

First, Bishop Sydney Linton (apologies for the lack of inclusive language).

‘”Truly it is said that the clergy make the Church; but on the other hand it is the laity who make the clergy believe me. Why is it so many of us, beginning with high and holy ideals at the time of our ordination, sink down more or less into apathy or lethargy? It is because we find so little response very often in country places, so low are the demands for the service of religion. So that after a time men sunk down to the level of what is required of them, and then, very likely, further still. But surround the minister of the Gospel with a people who know what the privileges of religion are, surround him with a council and with a community who know what it is to join in common acts of worship, who know what it is to transact all together the affairs of religion, and all those best and noblest aspirations will be buoyed up and supported and maintained. Truly that and that only is the effective reform of the Church, which moves us once again in making all men understand that it is the whole community of Christians who are a priestly Kingdom, coordinating with Bishop and clergy, the laity, in the great Synods; the laity side by side with the clergy in the transaction of the affairs of the diocese; and last, but not least, in the parish itself, the laity, the council of the parish, side by side with the parish priest.”

And Bishop Bruce Clark in 2001

“At the Induction Service of Canon Bob Done, the Reverend Ken Day preached a very engaging sermon where he spoke about Gods call to mission and the way he empowers us to meet the challenges of the contemporary world. Two of the gems he offered us were, after the disciples preached it often ended in a riot. After we preach we usually have a cup of tea, and he reminded us of the seven last words of the Church – ‘Weve never done it that way before. Our God is a God of new beginnings, a God who calls us to leave our comfort zones of church, parish and individual lives and to step out in faith, using our gifts, inspired and empowered by his Holy Spirit, to be his pilgrim people, his Church in the contemporary world.  In the words of Bruce Prewers prayer we truly are An Odd Mob, but we are the people of God, the Body of Christ. May we share his peace and give him the glory.

An Odd Mob

Loving God, we are an odd mob. We thank you for the widely different types of people and expressions of faith which constitute the membership of your church in this century.

We give thanks for those who appear born to express faith through rigid creeds and behaviour.

We give thanks for others who seem destined to follow Christ among the innumerable questions and doubts.

We give thanks for members whose faith appears to be a profound childlike simplicity, unhurried and unworried.

We give thanks for those who seem unable to find one satisfying word with which to describe you, yet whose

faith is constantly renewed by a wordless awe in the presence of unnameable love.

Lover of diversity, God of all souls, continue to give us the grace to treasure each other with all our oddness and to use these differences as we minister to the diversity of people who share this twenty first century with us.”

Let us then give thanks to those who have preceded us in this Diocese of Riverina.

I now want to return to the present, and thank various people.

We said farewell to some of our clergy including Brian Ford from Broken Hill who has moved to the Newcastle Diocese, and Shannon Smith to the Melbourne Diocese.

We welcomed Helen Ferguson as Deacon to minister in Broken Hill, and Fay Fraser as Locum to Ariah Park, Ardlethan, Barellan Weethalle, and Barmedman. I also want to acknowledge Fr Glenn Maytum’s willingness to offer a Locum position at Broken Hill which has been so valuable.

I want to acknowledge the mission of our Four Rivers Bookshop under the management of Helena Hicks. It is a valuable Diocesan resource, and much appreciated by the parishes, clergy and LLMs

I want to thank our Registry team for their service for the Lord. I make an appeal to all to support and encourage them in their demanding work. We are privileged to have such a team in the Diocese.

Our Chancellor, John Eades, this year President of the NSW Law Society, our Registrar Michelle Catanzariti, the youngest in the Australian Anglican Church (probably in the whole world.) A special thanks to our Diocesan office secretary, and my PA, Coleen Light who is such a fountain of wisdom and knowledge about the Diocese and its workings and personnel.  Also I must add thanks to an unsung hero Wesley Hall our Diocesan Accountant and Auditor who goes above and beyond his duties. Their tireless work on our behalf is considerable and appreciated. To the many who contribute and colour the life of the Dioceses, on Councils, Committees, and ministries – we say thank you for your devoted service.  I want to repeat the thanks I offered at our blessing of the oils and renewal of ordination vows during Holy Week, which highlights my gratitude to you all.

‘Today gives me as your Bishop the opportunity to thank the laity, especially our Registrar and our LLM1s and LLM2s (locally licensed ministers) for their presence in the Diocese and for all that they do to build up and sustain the Church. Thank you for your perseverance and for the sign you give to all of us of total dedication to the values of the Gospel. And I thank you, my priests and deacons, who are in a very special way co-workers with me in the building up of the Body of Christ in this Diocese of Riverina. I want you to know that I very much appreciate all that you do in serving the people you have been sent to serve, and for and the help and support you give me in fulfilling my task as Bishop. I thank you all for striving day by day to be faithful to Christ and the vocation he has given to you.

So lets give thanks today to the God who has given us his only Son to be our Way, our Truth and our Life, and who has blessed us in so many ways; to God who has given us the gift of each other in all our uniqueness and variety, in all our strengths and weaknesses, in all our joys and sorrows. We ask him to give us the grace and strength to continue our journey together, strengthened by the grace of the sacraments, firm in our faith in Christ, filled with hope and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to follow him wherever he may lead us, stepping faithfully into his footprints.  Praying we might be anointed and truly blessed by God our Father from head to toe! Amen’.

I have been focusing much of this address on Vision. I leave you with words from Proverbs 29:18 in the Old Testament. They are words for our time from ‘The Message’:

‘If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But if they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed’.

In this 21st century there is a need for the Church to communicate the Good News in appropriate ways. We have made a start with our newly furbished website, thanks to our new Registrar. We need to look seriously at ways of using social media to our advantage. Work in progress!

In the beginning was communication; God chose to communicate with us through his Son Jesus. He is God’s plan for the spiritual evolution of the human race. God so loved the world that he was generous and communicated himself to us through his gift of Christ and the Holy Spirit and the Revelation he brings for our Salvation. We need to be effective messengers of God’s Good News.

I am mindful of every Diocesan Synod Secretary’s plea to keep to time, I end there with the words of St Ignatius of Antioch in mind – “a Bishop never more resembles Jesus Christ than when he has his mouth shut”.  So I am all ears to listen and act on the business of the 62nd Synod of the Diocese of Riverina.

Remember “Every day is a gift from God how we live it is our gift to him.”

– Bishop Rob Gillion

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