Facing the Future reflects the theological diversity and geography of this vast country, as well as different understandings about the episcopal role. The bishops who were invited to contribute were asked to be honest, to share their sense of perspective about where they currently are, and their sense of the way forward.
The book does not set out to be a rigorous piece of academic writing, but it does seek to give a significant number involved in the leadership of our church a voice that will give a clear indication of some options of the way forward.
Too often we have tended to make Christianity distinctive by separating ourselves from the world, rather than engaging in it. It is all too tempting to become an island in a sea of plurality.
It has been said, rightly, that the church does not have a mission in God's world. Rather God's mission has a church in the world. That is to say, God is the God who sends.
I believe that at present the Spirit is blowing to urge and inspire us to radically change from being 'Come To' churches to become 'Go To' churches.
It is my view that the green shoots of a new passion for mission are emerging. That makes our current era an exciting time to be part of the Anglican Church of Australia.
The Anglican Church in Australia is declining and aging, but there are signs of fresh hope and vitality. In Facing the Future, 22 Bishops across 24 chapters grapple with issues facing the Australian church and society. It is not meant to be a unified statement. Each bishop/writer picks up an area of their passion and all contributions are earthed in their local, regional and national context.
The result is a broad panorama of ministry challenges and opportunities. Some chapters describe church mergers, fresh expressions of church, leadership development and denominational structures refocusing on resourcing local church mission. There are contributions on theological education, Catholic Anglicism, liturgical practice and freedom, and parish and diocesan structures. Different bishops discuss the nature of rural ministry, multicultural ministry, military chaplaincy and schools as mission communities. There are some insightful narratives of ministry in an industrial city, dialogue from a place of conviction in a multi-faith context and encouraging the self-sustaining indigenous church.
I collect valuable questions so appreciated a few new ones to help with reimagining congregational life. Stephen Hale in his chapter on “Renewing Parishes” suggested these questions to develop a simple mission action plan:
* What are you trying to be accountable for? (To formulate long-term purpose)
* What really matters to this church? (To articulate a 3-5 year vision)
* What missional activities will you engage in? (To plan 1-2 year strategies)
* What are you goals for the next year? (To state present goals) (p.17).
Glenn Davies, as part of his appeal for “A New Compassion for the Marginalised”, says congregations can ask: “What’s going well in our parish? What’s not going well in our parish? What’s missing?” But more radically they can ask the same questions of their community: “What’s going well in our community? What’s not going well in our community? What’s missing in this community?” (p.230). These are excellent questions for churches prepared to boldly face the future.
My favourite chapter is John Harrower’s modelling of “a new openness for change” (pp.203-212). It seems the Tasmanian Diocese heard the challenge not to merely try to do what they have done in the past, but with more effort, but to look for a new way of ‘being church’. In the 1990s decade of evangelism, church attendance in Tasmania declined 30%. But in 2000, Harrower started as bishop with a mandate to be a mission bishop. At his first Synod he declared:
You elected me, trust me.
You elected a missionary, let us be missionaries together.
You elected an innovator, let us be innovators together.
You elected a change agent, let us change together.
You elected a missionary bishop, let us be a missionary diocese (p.205).
He shared a vision of “Every Tasmanian committed to Christ”, declared the diocese “The Missionary Diocese of Tasmania” and encouraged every Anglican to be a “Missionary disciple” (p.204). He promptly made a public apology to child sexual abuse victims, gave increased authority to rectors, prioritised recruiting new leaders, and farewelled some who did not come on board. Archdeacons became “mission support workers”, archdeaconries became “mission networks”, parish priorities became “Mission Action Plans” and bishop visits included “mission conversations”.
“Mission conversations” became a dominant metaphor and practice for diocesan life: leaders came together to discuss mission and how to join with what God was doing in their neighbourhood. The Bishop’s office resourced creative evangelists and invited schools and agencies to re-examine their mission. And the Bishop modelled honest evaluation by making public three external reviews of his work, to foster a culture of review in the diocese. When many things might divide a diocese, Harrower sought to focus everyone around missiology. This was an exciting chapter of denominational restructuring and resourcing for mission.
My second favourite chapter is Philip Frier’s “a new willingness to connect” (pp.213-221). In his first year as Melbourne Archbishop in 2007, Frier was intent not to get absorbed in institutional work and committees. So he went on a “Prayer4Melbourne Quest”, seeking conversations in universities, shopping centres, workplaces, online blogging and in his Federation Square Breakfast Conversations/ public lectures. I am inspired by Frier’s engagement with people in public spaces, and his intent to include listening to not just strong and influential voices but also those uncertain and troubled. The process helped him hear and engage crucial public issues, especially loneliness, justice issues, support for people with disabilities and their aging parents, fear of strangers, homelessness, indigenous Australians becoming more marginalised, the state of childhood, climate change and global poverty.
Freier and Harrower, Hale and Curnow, together with the other Bishops involved in this project, deserve credit for their listening, risk-taking, experimentation, permission-giving and theological reflection. For a post-Christian society, these mission-shaped postures are arguably at the heart of denominational leadership (cf. p.72). Hopefully the rhetoric is reflected in healthy and mission-shaped reality.
Facing the Future deserves a wide reading. It is an excellent resource for Anglicans interested in the future of their church, or those studying Anglicanism. But it is also a valuable and inspirational resource for those of us from other traditions but the same cultural context as we grapple with similar issues of leadership and mission at local, denominational and national levels.
Darren Cronshaw coordinates leadership training with the Baptist Union of Victoria and serves as pastor of Auburn Baptist Church.
Are markable book which is extremely thought provoking and should be a required read for all people in ministry. This collection of essays presents the vision, in startling clarity, of a number of the Anglican bishops of Australia, with a significant absence from the author list. It is not a text book or promotion of Church growth or Fresh Expressions or the next fad in Christendom and should not be taken as one but is rather an open hearted discussion on our faith journey into the future. This a book of visions of mission and growth without being narcissistic and closed to the ‘other’.
It is a book that is filled with God’s dreams in the Bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia which may be well known in their respective dioceses but are not necessarily proclaimed to the rest of the church in Australia.
What is so remarkable about this collection, for the current reader, is that it presents such a unified front from all sides of the Anglican church. The usual snipeing and pettiness that appears to be the norm between the evangelical and catholic extremes of the church are absent in this collection.
This book displays the ability of the church to build relationships cross-culturally, inter-denominationally and within the often non-Christian debates that occur within the confines of Anglicanism.
The passion and occasional angst of the Bishops in their ministry clearly comes across to the reader. The future as dreamed and imagined by our Bishops is not one that we should shrink from but rather one that we as Anglicans need to embrace.
If we are serious about our Christian faith then we need to join the dreams of our prophets and enable those around us to see those dreams become reality.
|Paperback. RRP $29.99|
|Stephen Hale & Andrew Curnow (editors)|
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