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A drought is coming …of Holy Communion

Google a Sydney Anglican website, look under “staff” and the chances are that you will find a bloke called a “minister”, “senior minister” or “pastor”. Look up the regulations and you will find that clergy are called “priests” or “presbyters” and “deacons”.

The pewsitter finds it interesting that the old titles have mostly vanished from everyday use. This is partly out of discomfort with the title “priest” which sort of implies that Jesus gets sacrificed again and also because the terms sound a bit antiquarian.

But underneath the titles our local clergy use day to day the old ones still exist: priests or presbyters are allowed to be in charge of churches, licensed to baptise and run Holy Communion. Deacons traditionally were priests in waiting, sort of like P-plate clergy.

A radical change in policy has changed those roles here in Sydney. Don’t worry – it is a good change but not as well known among pewsitters as it deserves to be. 

Think of it like a railway journey – Sydney Anglicans have our own stations of the Cross. Being a deacon used to be like a trip from town to Macdonaldtown, the “blink and you miss it” rail station close to Moore College. You were there before you noticed, and it wasn’t much of a trip anyway.

But now to be a deacon is like heading off to a major station like Hurstville or Chatswood or Penrith – it’s a real destination and the trip could take some time. You don’t have to go near Moore College on the way – the new sort of deacon won’t necessarily have a uni degree. You can start the journey from Sutherland (where the Anglican Youthworks College is). But not from the pewsitter’s station at Croydon (home to SMBC). I am sad about that.

A wide variety of ministries from youthworker to chaplain can be recognised as long-term deacons.

Local churches still pick their own staff, whether ordained by the diocese or not. But the deacon label gives diocese-wide branding and will help people have a career in their ministry role, and move around.

The pewsitter thinks that it is an exciting change that should grow gospel work by encouraging a more diverse bunch of ministries.

But like many good things, there is a catch.

Up till now a large parish might have several priest/presbyters, with one of them in charge – sometimes called a “rector”.

Under the new policy ministers will become priest when they are considered ready to take charge of a parish. Only the senior minister will be a priest/presbyter.

The problem is that deacons can’t “do” Holy Communion. One church plant went a few years without the Lord’s Supper as they had no priest/presbyter. Parishes with more than one site and simultaneous services will have real problems organising Communion.

The diocese is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Either we need to find a way to give deacons the power to do Communion – and at present difficult-to-change church law prevents this. Or we need to go back to priesting clergy who are not in charge of parishes.

Otherwise there will be a drought of Holy Communion coming to a church near you.


Nov 2006 Knowing how to die

One Friday afternoon, a few weeks ago, my friend Peter had a close brush with death.

He did not find Kerry Packer while he was away. But he did find peace and a new determination to follow Jesus.

“You know that bit in the Psalms,” he says, “about walking through the valley of death and not being afraid? Well, it’s true”.

“I was at peace. I knew I was being looked after.” That was during an ambulance trip through peak-hour Sydney traffic. Then to the local hospital and across to the RNS Hospital, followed by a quick operation to unclog his coronary artery.

He’s telling his story to a few of us, in a work meeting room. You know the sort of place. All glass and metal. Today I am a chair sitter. As he describes his drama and the peace he had during it, we think of our colleagues through the glass.

“But if you didn’t have Jesus, how would you cope?” he says.

Peter makes it clear that it wasn’t a blithe confidence that things were going to be all right medically. It’s obvious that at that time he did not know.  Instead it was an assurance that things would be well, whatever the outcome. He doesn’t sound relieved that he’s talking to us in the office Bible study group so much as refreshed in his faith. The office hippie has found peace, man.

Thin and lithe looking, Peter does not look like the obvious candidate for a heart attack. Everyone on his floor was, well, floored when it happened. He wants to fix the lifestyle things that made him a target.

“I gave up smoking, cold turkey, that Friday afternoon.”

“I can make myself, am going to make myself, 10 years younger as the doctors suggest. But I want to fix the spiritual things too.”

At this point it sounds like a normal cautionary tale. But then he says, “If it happened again I know I would not be worried.” He means it. The Valley of Death holds no fear for him. He’s been there, and he knows that Jesus was there too. 

“I wouldn’t recommend a heart attack to anyone,” says Peter. Then he does. “I’d rather have it than not learn what I have learned.”

At this point I know I am in the most important meeting in all 27 floors. Whatever corporate shenanigans are being done in this corner of the CBD, this little band of Christians are the ones who know how to die, and therefore how to live. 

Dec 2005: Clergy what not to wear

Your pewsitter was taught at early age that staring at other people was RUDE. But all of us make a big exception. Ministers. We stare at them for up-to-forty minutes a week. Unless you are one of those keen types – usually to be found in university churches – that take notes.

If truth be told we spend some of that up-to-forty minutes a week wondering why on earth the minister chose that shirt, or that tie or whatever.

At Moore College students are sometimes told to dress just a little smarter than the congregation. Those of you reading SC when you shouldn’t can take a peek now. If THAT’s smarter than you, then boy are we dags.

Ever since most Sydney ministers gave up wearing robes they have had a problem. What not to wear?

Sydney is a city of tribal costume: the studied casual of the eastern suburbs or the advertising agency look, CBD Zegna sharp. Northern beaches boardies. North shore rugby sports coat with leather elbow patches, T-shirt and jeans. Or just plain dorky like your columnist.

The tribal culture changes fast. In the CBD for example you can plot to the day when the fashions in ties change. There was a period of a few weeks some years ago when bottle green ties were the go. Then suddenly green was so last week.

Making my usual pretence of actually researching this column I called up the Fairfax photo library for one Peter Jensen. An exquisite irony emerged really fast. He looks good in red robes because bright colours look good on him. His complexion means a dark business suit is not always the best look for him on camera.

Our leader captures the clergy dilemma, looking medieval is ridiculous in modern Australia but working out what is the modern version of monks robes – humble but neat – is not that easy.

A minister I know has a style consultant. It helps. Of course if every Sydney minister took another bloke shopping it might lead to colourful rumours. “Does my face look Calvinist in this”?

There is something wonderfully unworldly about our clergy in sinful Sydney. The “empty display and false values of this world” are what this town is good at.  So our Diocese should wear as a badge of honour our clergy’s unworldly attire.

The alternative of a fashion conscious clergy is too awful to contemplate. It would be enough to make me turn Baptist again.

Nov 2005 Synod is not the real thing, folks

A better offer came the way of one of our Synod reps and in a temporary lapse of taste parish council sent your pewsitter instead. So I got to try out the comfy chairs in the Wesley Centre, Pitt Street, where Synod meets deep underground.

It was a real shock. Synod is very professional/middle class, old and very white. I live a sheltered life and it is not often I come across this type of crowd. Not at work, church, or on the train.

Now, as someone who celebrated his 100th birthday party this year (together with my twin), I can’t afford to be anti-old. Sending your elders to Synod might even be biblical.

But it was the whiteness of the crowd that got to me. It felt like I wasn’t in Sydney. Many of my fellow pewsitters were not there.

From some well-meant-but-revealing speeches it was clear that the “house” considers itself as made up of the “well educated”. “The poor” were outsiders.

Fair enough, five days of Synod meeting in the afternoon and evening in the CBD does serve to select the membership somewhat.

“I’m glad we’re [a] provisional [parish]”, one rector I sat next to at random told me. “I only have to find one Synod rep. In plenty of parishes Synod rep possies go begging.” No, it wasn’t a North Shore parish.

One day the tidal wave of reform may get around to changing Synod to make it look more like the Diocese. I hope so, because “synod” simply means meeting. It should include all the sorts of people we are; no longer Anglo yet Anglican.

In the meantime we should be grateful that Synod keeps a lot of lawyers off the street. They do useful things, like tightening sex abuse regulations so that charges will stick, or loosening rules to let independent congregations join with us.

The meeting rules resemble parliament’s; they are more your Gothic cathedral than your shelter shed. Synod is roughly the size of the British House of Commons or the US House of Reps. But better behaved.

The scariest thing is that I am the sort of guy who might memorise the “rules of Synod” for the fun of it and get to enjoy Synod. 
But my church is too smart to send me more than once.

In short, Synod is both imperfect and impressive. A French general once said “C’est magnifique. Mais ce n’est pas la guerre”. Roughly translated it means the parish is the real thing, folks.

Why own goals do not matter

Billy* grabbed the ball, and rushed two-thirds of the way down the basketball court. He evaded the opposition, and even members of his own team who got in the way. He flung the ball accurately and scored. The crowd cheered his first goal ever. Even the opposition cheered. His coach was smiling.

It was an own goal. Billy followed it up with another. The crowd cheered that too.

The story got around that the coach had been trying to give Billy the courage to shoot a goal for nearly two seasons. It was a real achievement; we were all pleased for Billy.

It didn’t matter that it was a major tournament. In Special Olympics, courage and persistence are cheered. The perspective is different from the so-called normal world, because each person is valued.

The disability world is a lot like church. It’s half-hidden from the community and it has trouble explaining itself to our wider society. It’s subject to prejudice, and a lot of people work in it sacrificially.

But the disability world is one of the most unevangelised groups according to Operation World, a textbook on mission.

This pewsitter sees a deeper similarity between the disability world and our community of Christians. In church we are always playing in the Special Olympics. In God’s eyes we lack so much, none of us plays very well, the best of us only understanding the basic parts of the game.

This particular occupier of a pew space has always thought that ‘stuff-up’ is a better working theory than ‘conspiracy’ for what goes on at church. You see, if the church drove a car it would be allowed to park in the spaces painted blue near the doors of the shopping centre.

So finally this column gets round to Connect 09. This pewsitter thinks that Connect 09 was always going to be a hard sell in the pews. Evangelism generally is – I mean the practice of it, not the theory. The fact is that most pewsitters have not heard of Connect 09 yet, because details about it have been slow to emerge.

But if the Archbishop had come up with a cut-and-dried detailed plan for how to connect in 09, we would have all cried ‘centralisation’. But he didn’t – at least I don’t think he did.

So some of us are still in the stage of finding out what it is and wondering why we have not been told more. He can’t win you see – he is in the Special Olympics as well.

The idea of Special Olympics is that everybody plays. So each reader is hereby appointed “Archdeacon for Connect 09” in your street. (You can use the honorific “Venerable” if you like.)
It’s up to you to join in the game regardless of handicap.

I am reliably informed that our coach will be watching the game, and will cheer us on even when we blunder. Like Billy, even our own goals will be made to count for good.

*Not his real name

You REPA what you sow

A “storm in a teacup” – a minor argument or fight – is sometimes useful.  It can help you see people in a new light. Consider the “storm in a teacup” that followed the proposal in a recentSouthern Cross that the diocese set up a College of Church Music.

One of our young-ish and trendy-ish rectors started to dream of how to set up such an institution in his church building. He’s the sort of bloke who uses jazz concerts as part of a mission week after all.

On the other hand the editor of the local magazine, The Briefing, Tony Payne, was moved to write a heavy-handed satire about the diocese setting up a football academy.

Tony is one of those whose immediate reaction was that a music academy would be a waste of money. The trendier mob think of it as a no-brainer to train better musicians – music is a good way to connect to people who need Jesus. All the people involved in our storm in a teacup are conservative evangelical types. They even like each other. So why the divide?

This pewsitter thinks that there might be a generational change here. Even to suggest this sounds simplistic and there will be heaps of exceptions, but please persevere. The Briefing is the house journal of the no longer young Turks who stormed the battlements of church house some years ago and finally took it over.  They are the people who rightly re-awoke Sydney Anglicans to church planting and the need for vigorous evangelism.

They are the new establishment. Once the critics of the diocese’s centralized apparatus they have become its masters. Youthworks and now Anglicare have set off in new directions with extra fizz.

But every generational takeover has an equal and opposite reaction (as Isaac Newton did not quite say).

While The Briefing, generation come to terms with turning the Titanic around, a new crop of ministers, newly put in charge of speedboats want to experiment and change things. Under the influence of examples of places like Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill church in Seattle where cultural edginess is married to conservative theology, good music is seen is vital weapon in the battle for young minds. 

The younger Turks have come of age in the church-planting era and they want to tease out NEW ways of reaching NEW people groups.

The establishment group was the impatient men of their time. Many of them were part of a ginger group with the cumbersome name “Reformed Evangelical Protestant Association”- REPA.

But last month’s Southern Cross reported a new group of ministers banding together to set up their own shared parish missions. They are not waiting for St Andrew’s house to organise it, they are impatient for mission. (And St Andrews house is probably cheering them on anyway.)

They may not all be so young, and they don’t sound so militant, but there is something REPA-ish about this new group. You might say you REPA what you sow.

Why I am not an Anglican

If ever there was a week to feel good about being Anglican it was this week, with the Anglican Communion moving to discipline the wayward American Episcopal Church.

But let’s imagine that things had gone badly. What if the liberals had captured the Anglican Communion last week and got control of everything Anglican?

Some things simply would not change: the gospel would have remained good news. God’s word would still be true in all that it affirms. The Lord Jesus would still be the only way to the Father. His death on the cross would still be enough to save even me.

On the downside, a lot of historic buildings might fall down. Moore College would have to buy a new campus – but we need to do that anyway. And while I don’t go to one of those flagship supposedly-hardline parishes, I’m sure we would leave our buildings and I would be stacking chairs in some school hall each Sunday.

The things that would change under my pewsitter’s nightmare are not the important ones. When ‘we’ve been there ten thousand years’ we won’t remember bricks and mortar. 
So let me confess (while the Editor is not looking). I am not really an Anglican.

Sydney Anglican means to me “I am an Anglican in Sydney”. If I lived somewhere else I might be a Presbyterian or get immersed in the Baptists.

It is something in my Christian DNA that I got from my adoptive parents. They grew up in the slummy part of London that Hitler improved. They used to be Anglican – until the local bishop decided that their evangelical church really needed a minister who would dress up, waft incense, and treat communion like a sacrifice. So they became Baptists.

“Go to the nearest church that teaches the Bible that you can put up with” became their motto. I can’t better it.

The great advantage about being Anglican is that there is nothing special about it. There’s no doctrine that is uniquely ours. We are plain vanilla Christians.

So this pewsitter is only pretending to be an Anglican. The strain has become too much, I must confess – but does that make me a catholic? My next column could be in a different paper! 
In the last few weeks some people really thought that the Anglican Communion was going to come to a sticky end.

Moore College student and noted blogger David Ould comforted them: “The thing to grasp is that the church is so much bigger than the Anglican Communion. Our unity comes from our common confession that ‘salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the lamb’ not by whether we have appropriate Episcopal oversight”.

To which the pewsitter says “Amen” (if that is not too Anglican).