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Vicar's Report

Annual General Meeting, 2006

It has been a year of very considerable achievement for this central city Anglo Catholic parish church of Melbourne. Community building, improvements to our parish plant and growth in faith are set in the context of the priorities of daily worship, prayer and outreaching service. This is what we have been about and somehow or other it is working. In times that are not particularly encouraging, when the wider Church faces many difficulties of direction and identity, this city church is consolidating and growing. We have much to be thankful for.

First, I myself am encouraged and greatly heartened. I love being here. I think we have more good things to do and share together. In some senses, I consider that we are really only just beginning. We have indeed finally and decisively broken through the financial constraints that have bound us. New parishioners continue to join us, even as much-loved friends have sadly died. A momentum is slowly building that is both apparent and contagious. We have a great leadership team, clergy and lay. The operating model we use is that collegial one of a team, enlivened by the common vision and hope we share. This upward cycle in the life of this parish is by no means complete.

We are at a point then of review and reconsideration regarding the use of our plant, the application of our resources and the emphases of our ministries, the use of our skills. A church like St Peter's offers an enormous range of things — sometimes already very much challenging our existing resources of staff and funds. And the expectation is always for more or better. Some discussions have been held already in the Melbourne City Deanery regarding the possibility of a shared or co-operative ministry — playing to existing strengths perhaps — across some of our parishes. People looking for 16th century polyphony would not go to St Jude's Carlton for instance, but they might come here. Obvious areas for this could be in children's or youth ministry, even as we ourselves move into a new cycle of very young children within our weekly congregations, with potential implications for what we might do with Children's Church, which is at least now once a month only. Our looking to a weekly creche next year is a most encouraging step there, but it still needs people who are actually prepared to get in to share the load. So we could go on. The exciting thing about all this is the steadily growing resource base that we do have here — people and financial — even as the parish leadership carefully considers what is key to the implementation of our Vision and where we at St Peter's Eastern Hill can make the most effective contribution, in the application of our ministry resources.

I do draw our attention to our Parish Vision statement 2005-2007, which is included in our AGM papers. This three-year plan bears careful reflection. We are in the process of moving from aspiration to implementation in all these key areas. Our new vestry will have a key role in this. It is interesting to compare the current vision statement with our earlier first steps on this path: they were concerned with immediately achievable and practical matters. Now we are looking at deeper issues of community building and identity clarification — all the more significant at a time when the wider institution could be seen to be faltering.

A healthy community of faith clearly in the Anglo Catholic tradition set in the centre of a large city most definitely has a role to play well beyond its own immediate needs. We have responsibilities and demands for encouraging example and leadership based on the ways we choose to live out our congregational life, in turn flowing out to the wider diocese and beyond. Insofar as our own house is in order, we can do this all the more effectively. In the last year there has been a significant and growing contribution from St Peter's in this way, not the least during the election process for our new archbishop. St Peter's has always had a close connection with our immediate context in the central city. This means good ecumenical relations, good relations with the Diocese, it means entry into Parliament and significant ministries in our neighbouring hospitals and now again to university students and staff, all actually within our formal parish boundaries. The personal resources that are available here at call because our ministry team actually lives where it works, is also an important part of the strength of this place.

We are heavily involved in the planning and preparation for Emergency Response for the CBD. Our understanding of the call of the gospel means wholeheartedly supporting and providing for those in need right around us. The daily breakfast program for the homeless receives substantial support from the parish itself — both people and financially. Our facilities are also daily used by a variety of church and community groups at little cost. The Bookroom is a huge asset and resource. Our various parish programs for education and information and inspiration reach out to an audience well beyond ourselves. Other events of hospitality or entertainment are regular and this will no doubt increase with the continuing improvement of our facilities that is now becoming evident.

The fact that the church is open daily for prayer and worship from early morning to evening is in itself a great and continuing gift to those who live and work around us or who may simply be visiting or looking. Every day mass is offered and prayers lifted up. Every day here our church is a place of peace and quiet. Spiritual oases are very valuable. And then, bringing all this together, we ourselves come from all over the metropolitan area and beyond, Sunday by Sunday, feast day by feast day, to join in the worship of God that is the sustaining heart of all that we do.

May I offer my warm thanks and gratitude to the whole ministry, administration, support and service team here. The churchwardens: John Taaff, Rachel Ellyard and Gavin Edwards and treasurers David Pacey and now Katherine Presley, have put in a huge amount of time and effort. As well, we thank the retiring vestry. Warren Collins is at the centre in the Parish Office, assisted more recently by Philip Bewley and Anne Wuttke. We thank too Carol O'Connor and her Bookroom team, Alan and Margaret Lugg and the catering team, Adam Blackmore sacristan, Peter Bryce and the sanctuary team, Grantley McDonald, John Weretka, Julian Clarke and Linda Kent and the choir team, Liz Prideaux for the flowers, Jan Gordon-Clark and the ISS committee, Joyce Bruce, Helen Drummond, Bruce Kellett, Andrew Fisher and Colin Ferguson for their particular contributions and very many more. The St Peter's Icon School's remarkable gift to the parish of the 12 panels in the new iconostasis in the church is a lasting offering. So was Kate McGuire's gift of the restored nave floor. Helen Edwards, James Walters, Peter McWhinney and Graham Joyson were very generous in bequests that will enable us to do so much. Many parishioners have been very generous financially, wonderfully so.

Between them in their various contributions to the life of the parish, Sr Valmai CHN, Fr Tat Hean Lie, Fr Tom Brown, Fr Graham Sawyer, Philip Bewley and Robert Whalley have enormously enriched our community life. They carry a large pastoral and ministry load at little or no direct cost to the parish — though our accommodation resources have been put to good use. Our other associate priests are of great help. Finally, I give particular thanks to Fr Craig D'Alton, assistant priest: his very many gifts and abilities have been fully mobilised for the great benefit of the parish. All of these fine people, named and un-named, are a pleasure to work with. Maybe that is part of St Peter's secret.

All things being well and with the approval of the new archbishop, I am looking forward to a further five years of service here as the incumbent, to take me through to retirement in March 2012. We do after all tend to take the long view here at The Hill and longer incumbencies are indeed the rule rather than the exception. However, the records of vicars Handfield, Hughes, Maynard and Taylor will remain untouched, even as my own service here comes shortly to exceed the time of my two predecessors. I am convinced that parish ministry is best served by the positive developments that longer incumbencies can bring. It takes time for all sorts of reasons. I can also reflect in all honesty, that at times this has not been the easiest of places to have responsibility for. The demands and expectations are high, yet so are the rewards, when things actually start to come together. That is where we would appear to be now. I give thanks daily for that. So it is with thanksgiving and confidence for what lies ahead that we go onwards to our 160th anniversary celebrations next St Peterstide, in good heart.

Fr John Davis
Vicar


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