Yesterday morning, some of us from this parish, and many hundreds of people from other parishes, as well as visitors from around Australia and beyond, witnessed our new Archbishop making a commitment to God to lead this part of the universal Church as the chief shepherd of the flock. And he wasn’t the only one who made a commitment in the Perth Concert Hall. Near the beginning of that service Archbishop Roger was presented to the congregation and the congregation, on behalf of all of us in the diocese made a commitment to him. This is what was said:
“We, the people of this Diocese, recognise you as our Chief Shepherd. We pledge to you our loyalty and prayers and our diligence in the task that is both yours and ours.”
So just as Archbishop Roger made a commitment in the service, so did those who represented us there – a commitment that we would share with him in the task of building up the church and connecting with the wider community around us.
In our Anglican ecclesiology, (in the way that Anglicans understand the church), every congregation in the Diocese belongs to the Bishop (or in our case the Archbishop). He is the head pastor, the head shepherd, of this Church here in Greenwood – not just the building, but us – the community. He represents God to us, and he has the responsibility of caring for us here, as a shepherd cares for his sheep. Now because of the size and complexity of the Diocese of Perth, the former Archbishop appointed Regional Bishops to care for the people in various parts of his diocese on his behalf. Bishop Brian acted on behalf of the Archbishop because the Archbishop couldn’t be in this region and in other regions at the same time. But of course even if the Archbishop had only one region (which he doesn’t he has four in this diocese), he wouldn’t be able to be here every week to do all the things which are necessary for maintaining and growing our life together. He is the chief shepherd of the flock, but the flock meets in various different places at the same time, so he can’t be everywhere.
Some of you will have noticed that since my arrival here, there have been a few minor changes to the way that our worship space is laid out (just a few!). Those of you who have been looking carefully will have seen that the number of chairs in the sanctuary have been reduced to reflect the number of people who sit in the sanctuary during our worship – and if more people are willing to take part and sit up there, then we will be putting them back again. I know that one of things which has concerned some of you, has been the fact that I now sit in the big chair which was until recently reserved for visits by the bishop. I want to assure you this morning that I am not sitting there because I am pretending to be the bishop, but rather in a very real way, I am sitting there to keep it warm for him! I say the mass here, because he isn’t able to be here: when he is here he does those things himself, because it is his church. So just as the Archbishop in some way represents for us the love and care of God, so I represent the ministry of the Archbishop here, because he can’t be with us.
That is why when Bishop Brian commissioned me at the start of May, he said in that service, “receive this charge [this responsibility] which is both mine and yours, and accept the care of this parish and congregation.” What I do here is an extension of the bishop’s care for you, if he could be here he would do it himself. But he can’t be, at least not all the time. Now the words which Bishop Brian said to me when he commissioned me here, aren’t altogether different from the words which the congregation said in their commitment to Archbishop Roger yesterday morning, because just as I share in the ministry of the bishop here in this place so do each of you. The commitment which the congregation made yesterday in the Concert Hall on behalf of us all, was a commitment to work diligently to undertake the mission of the church, knowing that the responsibility for this ministry (at least in this parish) is both the Archbishop’s, and mine, and all of yours. W hat we are trying to do in this Parish, as we seek to continue to establish ourselves as a Ministering Community, (a community in which we are all ministers) is simply to live out that commitment.
We have come to realise, in a way which hasn’t always been remembered by Anglicans in the past, that the mission of the Church is all of our responsibilities. Not just the bishop’s, and not just the parish priest’s. Later in our service those who have been called to special ministry in this church for the coming year will be making a commitment to God to fulfil that ministry, and we will all be making a commitment to share with them in that task. This is a weekend of commitments. Those who were appointed at our meeting as Ministry Co-ordinators, have not been appointed to assist me as the Parish Priest in the work of the Church, they have been appointed to be responsible for that ministry, on behalf of the bishop. That means, that when we are considering together how to develop our systems for caring for each other, Doug Burrows (our Mutual Care Ministry Co-ordinator) will be sitting in the bishop’s chair on his behalf, and not me. And when we are talking about developing our Children’s ministries, and our youth ministries, Caroline Quinlan will be sitting in that chair sharing with the bishop the work of leading this church in that ministry area… And that will be true for all of our co-ordinators.
There was a time, when we as Anglicans believed that parish priests contained within themselves all of the gifts which were necessary to fulfil the mission of the church, perhaps with a few helpers here and there. Well, my dear friends, I am a clear testimony to you all, that not all priests hold all of those gifts. The principle reason for us ordering our common life in this way, is not to do with money. We have set a budget for this year which if we achieve it could have funded a full time priest. But paying a priest full time would leave us no money at all for resourcing the mission and work of God in this parish. And it would be extremely unlikely that that priest would bring with him, or her, all of the necessary gifts for all of the ministries of the Church. The leadership of this Church is pressing forward with this concept of shared ministry because we believe that it is right for us, not that it is financially convenient. We believe that being a member of this Church is not a hobby, it is a way of living. We believe that we have within this community all of the gifts and the skills which are necessary for us to carry out our core business of being the church, being good news to our parish.
If we need some justification for all of this, we need look no further than the Gospel reading which we heard this morning. When Jesus commissions his twelve disciples to go out and do the work of God, he does not send them as his assistants. He gives them authority to do the work that needs to be done, because he has recognised in them the gifts which are necessary to complete the tasks ahead. He tells them not to take with them anything more than the basic necessities, because it is God working through them, who will complete the task.
This community has raised up a group of leaders like those disciples, who have all of the necessary gifts to allow God to work through them to accomplish God’s mission in this parish. They go forward today, as Wardens and as Parish Councillors, and as Ministry Co-ordinators and as Convenors of our maintenance group and of our sacristy, and as our representatives to Synod, confident that this community has seen the call of God in their lives. The disciples were sent out by Jesus to begin a new work for the Kingdom of God, and we are commissioning leaders in our own community today to do the same; confident that God has called them, and trusting in God alone for the gifts and skills which are required to complete the new work which begins this morning. These ministries will now be under the responsibility of those who are to be commissioned, but they are the work of us all. Which is why I am asking today that at the end of the service we all sign a message of greeting which will be sent to the new Archbishop tomorrow affirming the commitment which was made yesterday morning at his service of welcome – our commitment and loyalty to the new Archbishop, and our commitment to do the work of the Gospel in this parish in partnership with him. These are the words of that commitment:
“We, the people of the Anglican Parish of Greenwood, in the Diocese of Perth, recognise you as our Chief Shepherd. We pledge to you our loyalty and prayers and our diligence in the task that is both yours and ours. We look forward to welcoming you to your church in Greenwood.”
This is a weekend of commitments: yesterday it was the Archbishop, and in a few minutes time our leaders will make a commitment to God to carry out the work to which they have been called. And we will all make a commitment to share in these ministries. And at the end of the service I invite you all to express that commitment by signing the message of greeting to the Archbishop. As Jesus gave authority to his disciples, so today authority passes to those who have been called to lead us here in this church, to share with our new Archbishop, and with me, in the ministry and mission of his church.