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Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 5

9 February, 2014

This week I have been attending the Anglican Summer School at Trinity College Theological School; what a blessing it has been. The delegates came from all over Victoria, with Bishop John Parkes and Bishop Andrew Curnow in attendance with clergy from the Bendigo and Ballarat Dioceses. It was an international conference too; one of the first people I met on arrival was a New Zealand priest who I trained with in Auckland at St John's Theological College in the 1990s. We all filled the beautiful Trinity College chapel on Monday evening, and the choir treated us to a full choral Evensong, followed by a homily from Archbishop Philip Freier.

Prof. Andrew McGowan delivered the first lecture on "The Eucharist as Gift." He challenged an understanding of the mass as "deadly altruism" or "sacrifice for sin" in the narrowest sense, and opened up for us the diversity of words in the Hebrew Bible that we translate as "sacrifice." For example, there is minhah in the story of Cain and Able (Gen. 4), olah in the stories of Noah (Gen. 8) and Abraham (Gen. 22), pesach in the Exodus story of Passover, qurban in Leviticus, and the sacrificial blood rituals around the Mercy Seat (kapporeth) on the Ark of the Covenant. Similarly in the New Testament understanding of sacrifice, and in our modern Eucharistic practices, there is a breadth of symbolism and meaning that might best be summarised as "gift": the offering and receiving of bread and wine, the giving of alms and the call to justice, the giving to God of praise and thanksgiving, the receiving of the real presence and God's love.

Our keynote speaker for the week was American theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, a prolific writer and currently the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School. His opening lecture was on the topic of "Theology and Ministry" stressing the importance of "teaching people to speak Christian" in a culture that increasingly doesn't. He noted that as an active Christian "you are not just a social worker ... you come bearing the gift of Christ." Our ministry, both lay and priestly, is "slow work in a world organised by speed." He noted that, "non-violence requires great patience ... Christians need to be taught to resist speed."

Ours is not an easy age to be followers of Christ, and it is not an age where private religion works any more. As Christians we need to take seriously the call of the gospels to be political. Hauerwas said, "in the shadows of a dying Christendom, the challenge is how to recover a strong theological voice." Drawing on the philosopher Iris Murdoch, Hauerwas talked about the task of theology as recovery of a lost language "the business of word care", "saying what we mean using the words of the past." This is no ivory tower discipline: "practical theology can't be separated from theology ... it is about learning how to be a full and good human being." The stark truth of the matter is that "today as Christians we are at sea." There is no quick-fix, the task is huge, and it is a task that is not just for the theologians, the priests, or the professionals; it is something we are all called into. "We live in a world of people who don't have anything to do ... only emptiness ... as Christians you have been given a great gift, you have been given something to do!"

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster



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