|Letter to the Moderator||
The full horror of the Bombing at Peshawar has not really been publicised. Please could you strongly consider supporting this Fund Raising initiative for the victims by the Australian Association for Pakistani Christians (AAPC). (November 30, 7pm, at St John’s Anglican Church, Toorak. More details here).
Seventy children were orphaned, 20 of whom need to be accommodated in an orphanage. Injuries were horrific including to Kashmala, a beautiful 16 year old young woman who lost her right leg and sustained severe injury to the other leg.
Come and support us – the Pakistani Christian community is under greater pressure than ever and is reeling, but not defeated after this abomination. Hope to see you there!
This email was sent to me by Janette, who is both a near and dear neighbour of mine at Willsmere, and also office manager and parishioner at St James Old Cathedral West Melbourne, so her church is a neighbour of Mark the Evangelist as well.
The bombing at Peshawar was widely reported as an attack on Christians for no other reason than their faith. Read The Guardian report
I think this fundraiser is timely and focuses on the helping the victims, not fury about the perpetrators. It seems to me to raise the wider issue of what we “ordinary people” do when faced with injustice – or any situations beyond our control.
We can raise money and awareness, we can take issue in a reasonable but forthright way, and we can debate and discuss to ameliorate the loss and pain.
This unusually difficult issue of your newsletter has examples of all these responses. It all serves to show the effort that goes on behind the scenes, not just on particularly difficult issues, but every day to keep the wheels of Mark the Evangelist turning.
On your behalf may I thank Craig and members of the Church Council, particularly Heather Mathew, Alan Wilkinson and Ann Wilkinson, whose contributions have been most welcome to this thought-provoking issue of Mark the Word. (And Rod Mummery for yet again simply getting it online!).
Finally, Christmas is in our sights, and we aim to bring you a much happier, special celebratory newsletter in mid-December. You still have a week to contribute! I hope this music from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio may put you in the mood …
Peace, love, happiness,
Letter to the Moderator from Rev Craig Thompson
15 October 2013
I write in response to your “letter to the church” of October 9, received by all congregations, presbyteries and agencies in the Synod and, presumably, widely read in worship services on Sunday October 13.
It was a difficult letter to read – or more to the point, to understand – as it was not clear whether you intended to make an apology on the part of the Synod leadership and others involved in the accumulation of debt, or were expressing regret for the events which have brought us to this place. To be sorry that something has happened and to be sorry for it having happened – implying some culpability – are quite different things, and it is not clear in your letter which of these you intended. No one doubts that the Synod’s officers regret that the church finds itself in its present circumstances; it is the “why?” which is the pressing concern. The demand for “blood” – “who?” in place of “why?” – is rightly rejected, but it has been rejected in Synod communications in such a way that we have had all Lamentations and scarcely a hint of Jeremiah. This imbalance, characteristic of much of the publically presented theology of our church, is sensed well by those who hear it. Quite simply, while it is undoubtedly true that “we are all hurting today” this is not felt in the wider church as a reconciling truth. It cannot be heard as a reconciling truth because our situation has largely been presented through the Synod’s “pastoral response” as being along the lines of having suffered an accident or a natural disaster, such that no one is accountable and it is only to God that we need to be reconciled and not to each other.
I understand that you have sought to tread a very narrow line between the official position that “no single person, committee or presbytery is entirely at fault in this situation” and the demands from the wider church for a giving of account. Strictly speaking, in terms of the processes under which, we tell ourselves, we operate, no single individual, committee or council can be held accountable. We seek to be a conciliar church and the decisions regarding Acacia College from its conception to its closure (and since) passed through all the required channels. Strictly speaking, each congregation, through its freedom to participate in (or, at least, nominate for) the various councils of the church, had a role in the decisions which led to the investment in Acacia College and the resolutions concerned the incurred debt. And yet it is also the case that there are significant imbalances in the decision-making and regulatory processes of the church. There is a relatively small group of people who have the time, wherewithal or favour to move in the leadership circles of the church which sign-off on projects like these. It is also the case that congregational and presbytery decisions are generally regulated by Synod policy in a way which does not apply in reverse. In the case of my own congregation, a recent large defrauding of Hotham Parish brought significant criticism from Synod officers, the demand (not met) for the sacking of Hotham Mission’s Director and the punitive withholding of Parish funds by the Synod. The fraud was perpetrated by a clever criminal under the nose of a negligent auditor – all hidden from the Parish leadership – but the Parish (now the congregation of Mark the Evangelist) leadership was held to account for the loss and continues to bear the blame. By contrast, in the case of Acacia College the losses happened in broad daylight, and no one is to blame. These imbalances are replicated in many stories of different scale throughout the Synod’s (region) dealing with the Synod (office), and a sense of cover-up in communication with the wider church does not help. (Why, for example, has the full text of the President’s ruling not been communicated to the wider church with its interpretation by the Project Control Group, but only the legalese of its conclusion? It’s just not a good “look”). The decision to insulate Synod reserves and the ministries they fund from the debt-reduction funding has further exacerbated a sense of “us” and “them” in the church, communicating as it does that what the Synod funds from its capital resources is more important than what local congregations fund from theirs. In any particular instance this may be true but as policy it is not, even if it is all God’s work.
On the imbalances which led to the current strategy for delivering ourselves of the debt, there is the matter of how long it took to advise the church of the size of the debt, and then gather to deal with it. My own disengagement with the Synod and its meetings in recent years – for which I am now sorry – was largely on account of a sense that most things which mattered had already been decided prior to the meetings which were to confirm them. Despite the fact that budgets and visions and reviews and such things are presented for consideration and confirmation (or otherwise), it is typically either beyond the competence of such a council as the Synod to assess properly or – more importantly – to propose alternatives in the space of a Synod or Standing Committee meeting. In the case of the proposed divestments, the Synod officers who presented it had the benefit of months of focussed work and in reality had only to wait until the Synod meeting needed to end and a decision needed to be made for the initial proposal to be accepted largely intact. Many other much more nuanced approaches might have been developed had the matter not been left to debate on the Synod floor, for disparate voices on the Synod floor cannot construct a financing model. The “Synod” (meeting) did not, then – in any real sense – decide that this was way the way to go; the Synod office’s structuring of the problem and processing of the debt-reduction proposal were such that there was nothing else to be done but to acquiesce to the current funding model. (Mutatis mutandis, the same might also be argued for the investment in Acacia College in the first place). I cannot help thinking that panic and fear of exposure ruled the day in the approach taken by Synod leadership in dealing with this and that we are now bearing the pastoral cost, in addition to the monetary cost of the debt.
This process aside, the mantra which drove the hard push for a quick decision and rapid payment of the debt was the size of the interest bill which is required to be paid. We discover now that the actual cost of divestment may be as much as $21million, four times the maximum interest which would have to have been paid on the debt for two years (and in fact, more, as the interest burden would be reduced over the two years). The economic rationale of this is staggering. Given the cost of this particular approach to covering the debt, it is mind-boggling that the process of debt extinction could not have been extended over a longer period in order to allow for a much more nuanced and economically informed treatment of the debt. Are we so unfree as to not to be able to shift our divestment plans on this, even now, as the scope of the impact of the divestment becomes ever clearer? And the cost, of course, is much greater than the dollar value: the distraction of Synod personal and local ministry by the impact not only of the debt but of the way it is being handled is very high. The loss of credibility on the Synod’s part will also prove very high. This, in connection with the impact of the divestments on local income, will likely see the benefits of the highly questionable “future sustainability fund” itself largely consumed by the consequent reduction in Mission and Service contributions. Every reduction in mission and service giving – of which the Synod may expect there will be many – will consume the interest income from the new liquidity fund. We may end up being no better placed than we were before the $7million+ was lost, for all the pain suffered in the meantime.
The view from the pews, and probably most pulpits, is that a proper accounting has not yet been forthcoming. The sense “out there” is very strong that serious mistakes were made by Synod leadership in the lead up to the Acacia college closure, and continue to be made in the process towards extracting ourselves from the present predicament.
This week’s final reading from the preaching of Jeremiah speaks on failure and forgiveness in two ways relevant to our situation. The first is the experience that “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” – an evocative image for interpreting our present situation and the tension between the Synod and the Synod. I do not think that anyone would like to see in our present situation a quick application of the verse which immediately follows this one, but that’s Jeremiah for you! The second, more important aspect of Jeremiah’s declaration concerns the new covenant. The text as it stands is all very “theological”, in that it speaks explicitly of a covenant between God and his people. Such a reading, while it has its place, risks limiting the significance of the new covenant to the “spiritual” relationship between God and the people. The new covenant must also have an impact on the relationship between the people themselves, as brokenness in this relationship was part of the critique which Jeremiah’s preaching brought to Judah. We continue to relate to one another through law carved in stone – Regulations, Risk Management, Resolutions, Councils, Project Control, Strategic Reviews – and so our hearts are cold. I wonder what Jeremiah’s heart-law, taking into account everything else of which he reminds us, would look like in the life of a church like ours, at this stage. Whatever the forthcoming “all church strategic review” might deliver to us, it will not likely be such heart-law. Strategies and reviews are stone-law. Yet such a reconciliation is what we need; we need a new covenant between the Synod and the Synod. And, if Jeremiah is right, it will involve judgement, confession and forgiveness on a much wider scale than will be comfortable for many of us. There is no new covenant without Babylon.
Dan, I do not envy you in the role you are having to play in all this; the ministry I anticipated exercising in my new placement is also now being significantly reshaped on account of the divestment decisions, although I have the benefit of being only “the messenger”. Doubtless you have also not needed yet another epistle to wade through; it is just that, after holding off from weighing in on all this for so long, I felt that I could not not write it.
You have my thoughts and prayers.
Yours in Christ,
Divestment of Two Gatehouse Street Properties Under ‘Special Circumstances’
Church Council met with Robert Elkhuizen (Presbytery Minister Administration) and Simon Watters (Chair Presbytery Resourcing Committee) on Thursday 7 November. Yarra Yarra Presbytery had appointed liaison teams to meet with all affected congregations and Robert and Simon were the Mark the Evangelist team. To lead into this discussion, a set of key issues was identified on behalf of Church Council and shared with Robert and Simon in advance. This summary report follows the issues raised.
Discussion continued after Robert and Simon left the meeting. Church Council decided on several steps including:
Church Council Update
Church Council resolved that the Project Control Group will go into abeyance until further notice from the Church Council.
Church Councillors* welcome your queries and feedback on any of these or other matters.
* Gaye Champion, Belinda Hopper, Wendy Langmore, Gus MacAulay, Heather Mathew, Rod Mummery, Tim O’Connor, David Sutherland, Craig Thompson, Alan Wilkinson, Ann Wilkinson.
Notice re Church Services
Advent 4 (Dec 22): a service of Advent readings and Carols
All other December and January services will be as normal, at 10am
Christmas Bowl Appeal for 2013
What is the Christmas Bowl?
The Christmas Bowl began in 1949, when the Rev. Frank Byatt placed an empty bowl on the table during Christmas dinner and asked his guests to contribute the cost of their meal, in order to support refugees escaping the devastation of World War II.
Today, the Christmas Bowl continues to be an ecumenical church appeal, with more than 2000 churches from 19 denominations getting involved around Australia. Each church brings a varied history of place, experience, and theology, but we share a common faith and belief that the future of Christians in Australia lies together.
Together, churches raise almost $2.5 million annually through the Christmas Bowl, which provides much needed assistance to people affected by conflict and poverty around the world.
This year, Mark the Evangelist’s appeal in support of the Christmas Bowl will be launched on the first Sunday of Advent, 1 December. Individual donation envelopes will be available for your use. On Christmas Day, the offerings at the worship service are donated to the Christmas Bowl.
Please consider how you are best able to support this wonderful ecumenical appeal.