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Archbishop of Canterbury: Visit to Australia and New Zealand

Posted on: August 20, 1997 11:37 AM
Related Categories: Abp Carey, Adelaide, Australia

Archbishop of Canterbury's address at the Provincial Sesquicentenary Celebrations, Paradise, Adelaide Wednesday 30 July 1997 at 19.30 hrs

What a wonderful occasion this is. How good it is to be meeting in Paradise! I am absolutely delighted to be with you this evening for this great celebration of 150 years of worship, witness and devoted service of Christ in South Australia. Thank you, Archbishop Ian, for inviting us to be a part of his. I was especially struck this evening by your National Anthem, which I have, of course, heard before, but I found the element of welcome in it particularly heart-warming : "For those who've come across the seas; We've boundless plains to share"

Well, I haven't had much opportunity to see many of the plains, although I have seen a car park - what an excellent and imaginative project that is a Warradale - and I have seen some of the wool which must come from the plains. Nonetheless, the welcome has been very warm, and I have seen already signs of a Church which is very much alive and well. So this is a worthy celebration of your life over 150 years, but also, I hope, of your life today.

Archbishop Ian was kind enough to send me some material which he prepared on the history of the Church in South Australia. From that I have learnt that when Bishop Augustus Short arrived here in 1847 to become the first Bishop of Adelaide, he was also Bishop of South Australia, Bishop of West Australia and Bishop of the Northern Territory, and what is more he did his utmost to visit the people all over this huge region - although he never reached the Northern Territory. What an extraordinary adventurer. Not perhaps an image that one naturally associates with a Bishop, but I can think of no better description of this man - a true adventurer for the Gospel. Of course, I'm sure the historians will be able to tell us about his weaknesses and failings. But it is clear to me that this man came to the Great South Land of the Spirit, filled with a vision, and the energy to try to fulfil that vision. For that we should thank God, and seek inspiration for our own mission and witness.

The story which unfolds from there, whilst not without its darker moments, is one of extraordinary philanthropy, especially on the part of Angela Burdett-Coutts - and as Archbishop Ian says, "South Australia was an absolute world leader in the whole concept of Synodical government" agreeing a form of Government which has been called the Consensual Compact of Adelaide. So the Church quickly developed a way of ensuring that clergy and laity had a proper involvement in the affairs of the Church Governance.

But equally important has been your Church's commitment to the Aboriginal people of Australia from early days, a commitment which I know remains today, with a number of significant issues still trying to be resolved. That tradition of standing alongside those who have been mistreated and disadvantaged is a very significant tradition, in which Bishop Short clearly stood, and it is at the heart of the Gospel. And we should not forget the significant work in education and social care which continues to this day, and which we have seen a little of over the past couple of days; I would especially like to commend the venture at St Columba College. If ecumenical relationships have sometimes been strained, then there can be no better place to begin collaboration than with children of Primary age. I hope these are the roots of real and lasting collaboration in the sphere of education.

So from wonderfully committed and adventurous roots has sprung a Church which has real cause to give thanks, as it looks back, and to ask "how may we learn from our forebears as we seek to plan for the future?" Well, we have been doing that quite a bit in England this year, because we are celebrating the 1400th Anniversary of the arrival of St Augustine of Canterbury, and also the death of St Columba of Iona. Augustine was, of course, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and made a hazardous journey from Rome to England at the behest of Pope Gregory the Great. He was a very human saint. He and his followers lost courage along the way, and Augustine returned to Rome to plead with the Pope to allow them to go home. The Pope gave him short shrift : "My very dear sons", he wrote, "it is better never to undertake any high enterprise than to abandon it when once begun." The mission continued, and Augustine and his followers had an enormous effect in re-establishing Christianity in parts of England which had been ravaged by successive invasions by heathen tribes of Europe.

Columba was a different sort of person, but his mission, which had a much more peripatetic style than Augustine's, had a remarkable effect on Scotland and the North of England. Indeed, the monks of Lindisfarne - which was founded by St Aidan, one of Columba's missionaries - spread out to cover a great deal of England, travelling on their own, preaching, baptising, living extremely simple and ascetic lives. Bishop Short would, I think, have found much in common with them.

Of course, Augustine and Columba, and may other heroic figures in those early centuries were dealing with a very different world from today. There was little sophistication in post-Roman Britain, although, as you know, some of the artwork and literature of that period is quite exquisite. Travel was immensely difficult and dangerous. Lone travellers feared for their lives, and paganism was strong and aggressive. So, indeed, were some to the Christian missionaries.

But some things, perhaps, are not very different. People are people. The Gospel is the Gospel. Although we often talk about a spiritual thirst out there in the world, it has never been any different, and the Church has always struggled to find the right way of meeting those needs. Part of our calling, as our ordinal puts it, is to proclaim afresh for every generation the faith which is uniquely revealed in Holy Scripture and set forth in the catholic creeds.

So if from time to time we struggle to find the most effective way of preaching the Gospel, we are not alone. It has always been so. But may I be so bold as to offer some reflections on three aspects of our common discipleship to which we all need to pay attention. And in doing so, I would like to draw on that remarkable poem by Kevin Hart which has just been read.

Firstly, then, have confidence in God. The Gospels reveal to us over and over again a God who is with us. That indeed is the heart of it all. That is the transformation which takes place from the Old to the New Testament. Although the prophets kept trying to tell people that God was with them, that he did not desert them, there are repeated examples of loss of confidence.

In Jesus, God demonstrates his presence. It is an unexpected presence. It is an presence which truly transforms the contemporary understanding of God. Here is a king who is born in poverty, a king who sups with the poor, a king who rides on a donkey, a king who is crucified amongst thieves. In the worst moments of English history, monarchs and aristocrats were granted a more respectable execution than the common or garden criminals. But not Jesus Christ. So this is a God who is not only with us, but who goes to the ultimate extreme of human suffering to express that love and commitment.

But there is more than that. Solidarity without hope is of little lasting use. Love is all very well but to what does it lead? The Gospel story is just one example of the answer. It leads to blessing. It leads to abundance from so little. It signifies that we each have the capacity to offer ourselves, and that that offering will be transformed by God.

Kevin Hart's poem opens with those arresting words : "To Christ our Lord, My only friend". He goes on to express all the doubts, of course, with which we are afflicted from time to time, but don't you get a sense of how, just when he is wondering - almost withdrawing from his faith - Christ makes himself known. Jesus takes the initiative, but he needs a willing partner. In the Gospel it is a hungry crowd and doubting disciples. In the poem, it is a sense of loneliness and morbidity : "When I am alone in the cool of the evening you comfort me. When I think of all the Dead beneath you open your hand and show them as stars beginning to rise".

This leads into my second point: we must seek the transformation of the Church. Renewal begins with us and that means the Church. It means clergy for whose ministry I continue to give thanks. There is never effective Church life without faithful, spiritual, prayerful leadership by the clergy. I am not among those who knock the work of faithful priests and ministers. Clergy who are faithful for Christ; ministers who have a vision for growth, a love of people and a desire to share the faith with others are central to the Church's future. We affirm them today.

This applies to lay people too. The ministry of the Church is too important to be left to the clergy and each one of us is required to share in the work of the Church. I am probably not alone in saying that if it were not for godly lay people in the Church I joined as a teenager, I would not be here today. And so, for us all the challenge to attend to our own personal relationship with God is fundamental to the mission of the Church. We need to be ready and waiting for his initiative. We must nurture our prayer life, our quiet time. For without that, how can we ever be ready to respond to the initiatives which God is taking? How easy it is for us to become completely immersed in an endless round of meetings, meetings and more meetings. I do not want to decry good administration or indeed the importance of keeping the institution running smoothly. Indeed, I am sometimes called rather dismissively in England, the Managing Director of Church of England plc because I believe in good management. But the Kingdom of God is not going to come, I fear, in a meeting! Let us not allow ourselves to be seduced into thinking that to be eternally busy is to come closer to God either as individuals or as a Church.

Some people misinterpret it when we take "time for God". Be that as it may. If we haven't got our fundamental relationship with God on a strong foundation then all else will fail. We will neither be able to nurture one another in our faith, nor will we be able to offer that transforming vision to our thirsty world.

Thirdly, if we have confidence in God who is with us, and are nurturing our relationship with him, then our own vision of the world will be transformed. You see, if we find God among us in the figure of Jesus then it must alter fundamentally the way we look at the world, and therefore the way that we engage in mission. And this is where, to my mind, Kevin Hart's poem leaves some questions. He speaks of the Christ who is always beyond - hiding behind a mountain, resting on the other side of a desert - enticing him onward, yes, but never quite within reach.

I want to say that we can, we do see Jesus. He is knowable. He is within reach of everyone. He can change the lives of those who seek him. But we also see him in the faces of those to whom we offer the Gospel, those whom we seek to serve. It is only when we realise that Christ is already there, waiting for us to recognise him and name him, there in the ordinary and the everyday, that transformation begins - both within ourselves and within those whom we meet.

There have been times, and your own church history will throw up some examples, when our evangelism and mission have been tinged with arrogance, and disrespect for peoples. This can never be a part of our Gospel. One of our former Bishops, John Taylor, wrote in his book 'The Christlike God' : "Civilisation is three-quarters reverence." He went on to say : "It is the almost universal loss of the sense of being in relationship with the otherness of persons and answerable to them as part of one body, the almost total loss, in a word, of community, which renders our present society and nation so inimical to a sense of God and so incapable of prayer. Restoring the realities of genuine relationship wherever and however that may be achieved is possibly the one valid form of evangelism left to us."

When Jesus took bread and fishes, in such small quantities and fed thousands, he was, in effect, saying "You do not understand the Glory of God in Creation. What to you is small, insignificant, ordinary and everyday, has within it the potential to speak of God's blessing."

In our evangelism we need to learn that lesson. It is not our mission, it is God's mission. It is not by our power that people are brought to God, it is God at work in them. We simply help them to see that. A church which understands that will be on the road to growth.

Let me quote to you from an article written by an agnostic recently in a secular journal. The article is entitled "I'm not a believer. So why do I go to Church?" The author writes: "Years into this relationship, the enduring motive for my regular pilgrimage is that the Church is the only place in the neighbourhood where it is possible to meet a local community from every conceivable background ... There is a genuine and open acceptance of each person in the congregation. Everyone is encouraged to contribute what they can, whatever its nature."

Has she become a card-carrying Christian? Apparently not, but she has found acceptance and value, and that is about reverence, and she ends her article by saying: "Perhaps we need to look more closely at what this institution, so beleaguered and little-valued by the majority, has to offer for a new way forward." (Melanie Howard in 'Keeping the Faiths', Demos 1997)

If that is not a statement of one who has caught a glimpse of the glory of God, then I don't know what it is. It shows the power of a Church living the kind of sacrificial and living life that we are all called to share.

So to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the Province of Adelaide. Thank you for your welcome. Thank you for all you are doing. Your celebration of 150 years of the Diocese of Adelaide is a marvellous opportunity for you all to reaffirm your commitment and confidence in God with us, to give thanks for all in your story which demonstrates that; and confident in his presence and his love you are equipped to call out, to proclaim the Good News of his Kingdom, and the transformation which he offers. How else could St Columba have set out from Ireland in 563 in a rudderless coracle with nothing but a Bible in his hand? How else could Augustine have so impressed the pagan King of Kent that Canterbury was the place to set up his Cathedral Church. How else could Bishop Short not have been completely overawed by the size of the task which was laid before him. These were true Pioneers, true adventurers in the Gospel, confident in the love of God. And that too is our calling.