Halifax-Portal Lecture #3.
Rev'd Dr John Davis
Vicar, St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne.
Dr John Davis is the parish priest of Melbourne's historic central city Anglican parish church, St
Peter's Eastern Hill. Prior to this he was Archdeacon of Albury NSW. His academic field is
history. Published work includes the current standard work on the Australian Anglican Church
VICTORIANS SHOWING THE WAY.
CO-OPERATION, COVENANTS AND A CODE; THE ANGLICAN -UNITING CHURCH EXPERIENCE IN VICTORIA.
ABOUT THE CATHOLICS?
- Where is this coming from?
- The Uniting Church and the Anglican Church in Victoria..
Some simple specific examples.
Theological education, Toorak West Wodonga Melbourne City Churches - Way of the Cross
Strengths, limitations and difficulties.
- And now for something further.
Showing the way?
The Code of Practice: its contents and scope.
All this with the Uniting Church.
What might a deliberate expansion of this approach to include the Roman Catholic Church reveal?
Is a similar process of co-operation possible?
What might be the usefulness and encouragement flowing
from such a clearly outlined statement of official position?
The art of the possible yet influencing what might be.
1. Where is this coming from?
"Victorians showing the way" is a highly provocative title for an address given in Sydney. While
not my own, I can see that it could conceivably gather together a collection of devoted ecumenists
desperate for something new in these tired times. Alternatively it could gather together a group
of hard-nosed cynics convinced that nothing good could possibly come out of that southern Nazareth.
I am about to discover which you are. The sub-title reads "Co-operation, covenants and a code",
since that has been the pattern thus far. There just could be some indicators here for the rest of
us around the country.
Perhaps some personal background might assist in understanding where this speaker is coming from.
I was born and raised Presbyterian in South Australia, into a family with Presbyterian, Anglican
and Roman Catholic branches. My father remains an elder of the Uniting Church. The experience of an
Easter Vigil at St Francis Xavier's Cathedral in Adelaide at the age of 17 was decisive. As an
excellent example of the Divine sense of humour, the Mercy nun friend with whom I attended that
mass married a Canadian Russian of Jewish origin and no longer believes. I was to be confirmed
into the Anglican Church in Canada while a graduate student there and later to be ordained deacon
and priest for the Anglican diocese of Melbourne. Prior to that, Assisi, Taize and anglo-catholic
London had been formative: Regular continuing contact with the Church both in Europe and North
America is part of my continuing reshaping. I trained for the priesthood at Trinity College
Melbourne within the ecumenical United Faculty of Theology. I have been part of the national
official Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, AUSTARC, since its inception. I have played an active
part in ecumenical bodies or associations of clergy wherever I have served.
I thank the organisers of this lecture series for the opportunity to reflect on matters of
importance for Australian Christians in a forum that is new to me. The invitation has encouraged
me both to review my own ecumenical experience and pre-suppositions and to explore in much more
detail than I otherwise would have, some recent developments in ecumenism in Victoria. It needs to
be said that my main personal interests and involvement have been in the area of Anglican Roman
Catholic dialogue. My heart is there. The most acute disappointments have been there. Yet I am a
son of the Kirk. The richness of Australian ecumenism demands engagement with the religious
cultures of the major traditions of the Faith represented here. Our three traditions still hold
the allegiance of the great majority of Australians with a Christian affiliation. What we can do
together can still have a significant influence on the forward direction of our society as a whole,
moving into territory unknown.
The Halifax-Portal lecture series flows from a desire to honour the ecumenical vision and
conviction of great individuals of another generation; in particular those two greats of the
European Anglican and Roman Catholic dialogue of some 80 years ago. While Halifax and Portal did
not expect the impossible, they believed that things could and should be better than they were.
Their vision was both corporate and individual. They were ahead of their time. They also had to
confront quite hostile variants of approach within their own denominations. And in all that, there
is nothing new under the sun.
In the best Australian tradition, these lectures in a very real sense bring us together to honour
something that actually was a failure. Heroic and valiant failures have a resonance with a society
that for instance so recently honoured 85 years of the Anzac tradition. Large crowds testified to
the endurance of the power of visions of what might be, even taking into account the existence of
terrible opposing odds. Received wisdom that 'it can never work, it will never be achieved', does
not necessarily dismay. And that which is at first an apparent failure, may well in the longer
term prove not to be so. Christians meeting in the space between Easter Day and Pentecost perhaps
do not need to be reminded of that truth.
We do then honour a heroic and valiant failure. Worthy Christians of an earlier generation met to
further an honourable cause; that of the reunion of two separated but closely related Christian
traditions. They did not succeed. In these addresses we seek to keep something of that vision,
that dream alive, in order that we may sustain and nurture something to be handed on to future
generations when the times may be more encouraging. For the moment though, sadly, this is a vision
that remains more of a hope than a reality.
The talks we honour, as we know, emerged out of the fallout from the 1896 condemnatory Papal Bull
Apostolicae Curae. It declared Anglican orders to be "absolutely null and void". (This still
stands in a place worthy enough to be recently adverted to in official curial pronouncements
regarding the various levels of Roman authoritative statements).
Lord Halifax was of that anglo-catholic stream of Anglicanism for whom Apostolicae Curae remained
and remains a matter of acute distress. So is this speaker. The celebrated Malines Conversations
of the 1920s eventually concluded as just that: conversations. They were important. But nothing
structural or institutional was to flow until the ARCIC rounds of our own times.
Always in these matters there is the potential counter-weight of alternate vested interests,
prejudice, fear or distaste. Certainly too there is the perceived obligation to honour the
revealed truth as it had been received, even though that unfortunately means recognising and
naming what are seen to be the errors of others. These discussions and conversations are not
easy, if they are to get anywhere past warm fellowship and easy courtesy into a serious
assessment and consideration of the issues that divide or at least have divided. And new
dividing issues emerge, just when the dust appears to be settling. And on it goes, furthering
the cultures of difference.
Some three generations after Malines when the time was clearly not right, we are gathered in
quite another place and with an even broader ecumenical agenda. The times are not particularly
marvellous now. We do indeed need more than a little tonic. Serious encouragement and
refreshment is required. We need to search out and discern the signs of what might be capable
of 'showing us the way forward' in this generation. We are all in danger of becoming tired and
After so long when so much that was positive ecumenically continued to happen, we meet in an
overall context of increasing rather than decreasing expressions of difference between at least
some Christians. This is of course disappointing and somewhat depressing for those of us who share
some ecumenical dreams. Some increasingly sharp points of difference can be found to apply between
our Churches. How has this climate change come about? There are of course a number of identifiable
variables. The course of ecumenical relations between my own Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic
Church provides illustration enough. A generation ago, when most of us were cutting our ecumenical
teeth, everything seemed to be moving in the other direction. Now a subtle but distinct barrier
appears to have been reached. Depending on where you are in the country this can apply to and
within the Uniting Church too. It is a very mixed and often sad bag.
It also most clearly and deeply applies within Churches. And we need go no further than the
Anglican Church of Australia to find abundant examples. Any vicar of St Peter's Eastern Hill
Melbourne speaking in Sydney is certainly acutely aware of marching to quite a different drum. The
quite open and extensively reported differences between Anglicans at the highest level in recent
weeks offers us a clear illustration. The newly elected Primate, Archbishop Carnley of Perth,
expresses things and quite possibly believes things rather differently than does the Archbishop of
Sydney. And being Anglicans, they talk about it. Many prominent evangelical Sydney Anglican leaders
lay and clerical have received national publicity and heavy media coverage for their quite explicit
and open criticism of the Perth-based liberal catholic Primate. There are utterly different and
opposing ecclesial cultures within a denomination. Quite apart from traditional churchmanship
differences, no Australian Anglican is unaware of the most severe institutional strains relating to
for example women bishops, lay presidency or human sexuality. Divisions here cross churchmanship
So this is the very difficult context in which this Anglican presumes to come to Sydney to speak to
an ecumenical group in an encouraging way about matters dear to our ecumenical hearts - like
positive ways forward! Quite obviously we Anglicans ourselves in fact have more than enough to get
on with. Halifax Portal lectures are required for Anglicans alone! And soon. Every ecumenical
pressure ever experienced has already been tried and tested within Anglicanism. But we Anglicans
cannot let matters rest there, absorbed or concerned only with our own disarray.
Ecumenical interaction demands sensitivity. It is more than a little useful to know where you are
coming from before you head off towards where you might be going. It is about attitudes and
awareness. This is to do with mutual respect and humility. It is to do with theology,
ecclesiology and with history.
In a recent discussion about the Pope's memorable formal apologies offered earlier this Holy Year
to past sufferers of mistakes in belief and practice by the Catholic Church, the conversation moved
from the Inquisition, anti-Semitism and astronomy, or contemporary distressing pastoral breakdowns,
to those aggrieved still not apologised to. There are after all, a number of current matters of
high controversy that could in the fullness of time be seen in the same dispassionate light. Will
current Church positions on divorce, the ordination of women or the married, even the acceptance of
homosexuality for instance, eventually in another generation be seen differently? Who knows?
There is continuing silence as well, I for instance observed, on that matter of Anglican orders.
My Uniting Church friend next to me quietly nudged me with the reminder that really that also
remains the position of the Anglican Church in its official attitude to the orders of the Uniting
Church. Of course he has a point. We will return to that.
For the time being it needs to be noted that the Anglican Church (by formal General Synod canon
in 1973) welcomes those who are communicants of other Christian traditions to make their
communion, including of course members of the Uniting Church. It is also worthy of
acknowledgment that some perhaps many Anglicans would have difficulties about the reverse action.
Questions of orders, episcopal ordination, intention and so on emerge, just as they do between
Roman Catholics and Anglicans. This topic of intercommunion will be the focus of the next
address in this series.
These areas of great ecumenical sensitivity are here for very sound theological, historical, and
ecclesial reasons. True. They are often in place to affirm, uphold and protect that which is
honoured, (such as the priesthood or the sacraments) as being of God and necessary to salvation.
Our task remains to discern and make clear what we can and should do together. It is indeed to
discern and make clear what more we might do, against the day when the Lord's great prayer for
the unity of all God's people might be more completely lived out . We also continue to look to a
time when that dream of the reunion of the Churches which so inspired those who names are
honoured in this lecture series might be fulfilled.
So what encouragement can the experience of the Uniting and Anglican Churches in Victoria offer
us? How might we all, including the Roman Catholic Church here in Australia, carefully but
steadily go forward together?
2 The experience of co-operation in Victoria.
My time of service in the Church is not so long as to be venerable and not so unusual as to be
remarkable. Yet just in the normal course of events, the contact and impact of co-operative
ventures in this generation has been quite unavoidable and formative. This needs to be said and
recorded. Of course our denominations continue with much that is institution specific. But what
we already do together, almost as a matter of course, needs to be both honoured and assessed.
For instance, from my own experience I can at once, from a time span of some 25 years, readily
produce examples of co-operation in areas as diverse as
- Theological education and teaching
- Parish level formal covenants, including joint enterprises and social outreach, as well as
occasional worship and groups.
- Parish level sharing of buildings and ministry
- Vibrant ecumenical associations of churches and some not so vibrant.
The fact that this is not exceptional at all is an indication of how far we have all come in the
last few generations. No doubt similar examples could be furnished from across the country. It
is significant that three out of the four areas above were tripartite: Anglican, Roman Catholic,
When I was weighing up questions of vocational direction in my mid 20s it was not only the size
and diversity of the Diocese of Melbourne that attracted. It was also the reputation of the
already well-established United Faculty of Theology in Parkville, operating out of the colleges
of the University of Melbourne under the academic auspices of the Melbourne College of Divinity.
Numerous other similar associations have since been developed. The three foundational traditions
represented in that consortium are the Uniting Church Theological Hall for Victoria, the
Theological School of Trinity College, with structural connections and responsibilities for the
Anglican province of Victoria, and the Jesuit Theological College.
Any educational experience is likely to be a bit of a curate's egg, but it is worth remembering
that there are whole generations of church leaders who have now been formed in the ecumenical
context of shared learning, teaching, praying and socialising. It may not have been central but
it was certainly integral. It must be making a difference. There is a clear recollection of
some very fine individuals of other traditions; fellow students, fellow teachers, the impact of
their faith, their manner of living, their learning and their inspiration.
My first curacy after ordination saw me in St John's Toorak, as it happens, right at the time when
one of the earliest three-way Anglican, Roman Catholic and Uniting Church parish-based covenants
was being worked out. Three large and well endowed south of the river Melbourne congregations were
placed within about a kilometre of each other. There were three quite different liturgical
traditions. Three quite similar collections of people with much in common though, developed an
ecumenical association which has endured. It featured very well attended combined occasional
services of worship that were non-eucharistic as well as numerous study groups. A particular
project was the establishment of a combined churches opportunity shop, well located in the Toorak
Village. It just had to have some of the best shop stock in the city. It continues to this day to
provide significant funds for social outreach projects from each of the traditions. The operating
covenant between the Toorak churches remains an extremely good example of the low-key art of the
possible. It flowed initially from the evident good will and mutual respect between the parish
clergy and a sufficient number of influential laity.
One of my good friends in College found himself at the same time curate in Wodonga. I was later to
serve nine years in next door Albury. The Wodonga parish includes within its boundaries the
Emmanuel West Wodonga joint Uniting-Anglican congregation. It was set up in 1978 under a formal
covenant between Diocese and Presbytery. It has had its share of frustrations and difficulties.
Changes in denominational leadership have brought cooler or warmer winds. The resultant
congregation is in some sense neither fish nor fowl, as it were. Perhaps indeed the early decision
to have the one congregation served by each denomination week about, denied too much the important
differences of ecclesial and liturgical cultures. Two parallel congregations joyfully celebrating
their denominationalness in shared facilities is not as visionary, yet it is the more common
experience. Getting on for thirty years later, the full potential of the West Wodonga model is
perhaps yet to be experienced. Nonetheless, a fine and spacious building beyond the reach of
either tradition functioning alone stands in that still expanding suburban housing area, and
everything that is done from there speaks loudly to the wider community of joint enterprise and
Ministers' Fraternals, associations of clergy, or combined ecumenical associations of clergy,
religious and laity from a particular area have been around for a long time. Some work very well.
Some are almost insufferable. Some these days struggle with the tensions that might well be
compared to those existing between the so-called old economy and the new IT economy. There are
certainly places where there are stresses between the old well-established blue chip denominations,
which like our own traditions have been here since the First Fleet and the newer somewhat more
venture and speculatively based Christian bodies, particularly within the pentecostal traditions.
Tensions can emerge in different approaches to Christian education in schools or youth work for
instance or broader questions of civil religion. Some of us are more comfortable about that than
others. But such ecumenical associations can work. There are examples from all across the country
of co-operation, shared works, shared worship and study, shared witness. Again much depends on
individual personalities and individual priorities.
My current involvement in the Melbourne City Churches in Action - the association of clergy and
laity from the churches and cathedrals of the Melbourne CBD provides a very up to date
illustration. It relates to last Good Friday - just a month ago. In what I imagine to be a first,
the Melbourne City Churches are working together on what is at once a substantial commission for
public religious art, a venture in ecumenical co-operation and a potentially powerful public
statement of ecumenical Christian witness.
For the first time for the City of Melbourne itself, that is downtown, a public outdoor Way of the
Cross this year followed a route through the city streets on Good Friday. The Way included
stations at both cathedrals, the central Uniting Church of the city, two Lutheran churches, the
central Catholic church, the city Anglican church, the central Baptist and Churches of Christ, the
Salvation Army and several others. A sunny clear autumn day saw a substantial crowd perhaps
growing at times to well over a thousand people. While that is heartening, it is not that
exceptional you might say. Afterall, similar Good Friday walks happen all over the country.
What is different is that by next year the Melbourne City Churches hope to have in place along
that same route their commissioned permanent 14 bronze cast stations set on substantial stone
plinths. Tourists and pilgrims alike will be encouraged to walk the Melbourne Way of the Cross.
Heads of Churches will be encouraged to make that a must for their Good Friday morning. This year
already across the city, service times were adjusted to allow for this common expression of faith
This then is a positive story about Christians together. As well it is hoped that this will be a
lasting statement of an ecumenical vision and witness to the Easter story as unfolded in the
Scriptures. Anna Mezaros, who has the commission, is 28. She is the granddaughter and niece of
two earlier generations in multicultural Melbourne working in bronze. The existing plaster
moulds are striking and compelling. The prime initiative for this whole project came first from
a minister of the Uniting Church. It has the active and positive participation of each of our
We all have stories like these to share. That is my point in drawing attention to them. So often
in history the obvious and the unexceptional is left unspoken, unrecorded. With a change of
emphasis and time, they could then even be forgotten. Some our continuing examples of
ecumenical co-operation are very simple and quite modest in scale. Yet they speak. In the
context of the often turbulent and abrasive earlier history of denominational interaction in
Australia they need now to be claimed, remembered and noted. There is so much that we are and
have now habitually been doing together as a matter of course for decades, that must not be lost
3 Showing the way?
It is therefore important to record where we actually are and what has been officially agreed.
This needs to be set out in a way that is both clear and which also invites the inspection and
the re-consideration of any of the more obvious gaps.
A quite important step in this process has been taken recently by the Anglican and Uniting
Churches in Victoria and this in turn has provided me with the central suggestion that is to flow
from this address. The two denominations in Victoria have been involved in a process of
assessment and evaluation. The step taken is cautious and careful, but it has happened. It is a
step forward. The result is published in "The Trinity Declaration and Code of Practice for local
co-operation in Victoria between the Anglican Church of Australia and the Uniting Church in
Australia". It was produced for the approval of both Churches dated August 1999. The simple
title is "Code of Practice".
The preface of the Code notes that this document has emerged from the deliberations of a joint
working group. The task was defined. The objective was to "encourage new co-operation between
the churches and (to) affirm that which was already taking place in a way that was acceptable
across the whole of the state". The last phrase is of very considerable importance, given for
instance the churchmanship diversity of Victorian Anglicanism.
This has not been an easy road. The preface is honest enough to record that "many attempts at
ecumenical co-operation at parish level fell down for a whole variety of reasons, almost always
leaving a legacy of hurt and misunderstanding. This has been particularly true in Melbourne
Diocese". An identified emerging goal was for a "more co-ordinated response" from the Anglican
Church "in terms of what was possible" to the Uniting Church. Reading between the lines, the
process was difficult.
The 54 page document consists of a preamble, a statement of principles, and then a set of
guidelines and forms of co-operation. There is a full and helpful appendix, particularly
designed to help those of other traditions to understand the technical terms and the religious
dialect of the others.
This is a Code for local co-operation. From the beginning it is made clear that the Code "does
not intend to trespass" on the matters of national level dialogue relating to "eucharistic
sharing and the recognition of orders". That has to sorted out at that level. But the Code
intends to offer clear "guidelines for co-operation between the two churches at the level of the
local parish and congregation". It "sets out norms", "frankly begin(ning) where we are".
Section 9 deals with different understandings of the Church. It contains the dry observation that
"co-operation is to be a pursuit of the art of the possible". In a nutshell, that phrase sums up
the thrust of the document. At one level it is a statement that would do Sir Humphrey Appleby
proud. But at another level it is actually what makes this approach worthy of deeper
examination. It attempts to tell it how it is. That can be uncomfortable. But forward movement
will not be possible without that directness. A very clear and honestly direct illustration of
that principle for instance is included in section 19:
"The Uniting Church in Australia recognises the orders of the Anglican Church. The Anglican
Church of Australia does not currently recognise Uniting Church orders and neither the dioceses
nor the Province of Victoria have the power to change this."
It cannot be said that hard issues were not squarely faced there.
The bulk of the document though then goes on to expand on the very wide range of existing and
officially possible forms of co-operation. This is listed under the headings of hospitality,
shared buildings and shared activities. The Code then deals very extensively with shared
ministries and pastoral care and the implications and responsibilities flowing from them.
That there are some creakings and groanings arising from the very nature of the working group
that produced this first statement, should come as no surprise. And yet the production of this
Code stands as a significant ecumenical development. It is a potential first step to something
more ambitious and broader in scope. The members of the joint working party and the Church
authorities who have been supportively behind this time-consuming work deserve great
A question emerges. Does this approach deserve wider application? Have the Victorians hit on
something potentially very helpful here? Do we have here a provisional template that could be
offered to Anglican and Uniting Christians on a state or even national basis around the
And could it be the foundation of something even more directly relating to our common concerns
bringing us together in a lecture series such as this?
Taking it further then in this Halifax-Portal context, do we dare to think that such a careful
and constrained model of statement indicating just where we are, might be possible for
Australian Christians of not only the Anglican and Uniting traditions, but also including the
What are our chances? After all, the most obvious difficulty; the hard and disagreeable work
of being prepared to face and declare remaining and existing differences in belief and practice
in matters of ecclesiology and eucharistic sharing has already been faced. It is there for all
to see. Perhaps it is worth a run.
AUSTARC, the national Anglican and Roman Catholic dialogue here in Australia, several years ago
collected examples of Anglican Roman Catholic co-operation from around the country. It was
illuminating, both for what it included and what it did not. This extends from all sorts of
local level interaction right up to the formal Covenant enacted between the two dioceses of
Ballarat. So some of the work has already been done. If it was thought to be useful, this could
Existing and continuing examples of Anglican - Roman Catholic co-operation could very likely
be found for most of the identified categories listed in the Victorian Anglican-Uniting Code
of Practice - but this is an assumption that needs to be tested. Are there for instance
shared buildings between Anglicans and Roman Catholics? What is actually happening in small
isolated rural communities? Is the same thing happening in deprived areas of our inner cities?
Does the situation differ from diocese to diocese? Are the faithful responding now
ecumenically or denominationally? Are there shared ministries, perhaps particularly in
chaplaincies for institutions and other sector ministries? Most significantly, to what degree
and at what level are these arrangements officially endorsed? That is the key.
Would it not be helpful to have one or two specific examples listed and succinctly described,
preferably from all around the country, for each of the possible or identified categories of
co-operation? The appendix could be very rich indeed.
And what about examples of co-operation that might exist across all three of our
denominations? Some hunting and gathering would need to be done. Our various ecumenical
affairs commissions should have ready access to the basic information. The question would
always be, what is now officially possible? Where is it now happening? The readers of this
collected and categorised information would then be left with some more interesting
propositions. Where might such things be happening? Why are they not?
What is being suggested here then is taking and developing this new Victorian model document
and seeking to apply it to the whole country, incorporating the official actual situation for
our three Churches. This would remain a statement of a Code of Practice of what already is
in place, with official endorsement. This expanded national Code would bring together the
ecumenical experience of our three traditions. It would describe what is now happening and
what is now possible. Gaps or inconsistencies could be seen for what they are. Differences
of approach or attitude to these ecumenical pressures, challenges or imperatives in various
parts of the country could be helpfully indicated, as necessary. This would in turn invite
comparison and reconsideration. It is obviously to be hoped that it would encourage further
co-operation. It would also be a statement of shared Australian Christian vision.
Even at the most basic level of collecting and sharing information, the bringing together of
such material could be of assistance and encouragement. That in itself is perhaps the most
important potential of this new existing Victorian Code.
There could be some here perhaps of a slightly fearful or cynical disposition who might want
to say that some of the examples of local co-operation quietly going on in these less
ecumenical times do not need any light shone on them, for fear that even they may be
discouraged or closed down. They should not fear. A national Code would not be focusing on
The purpose of the Victorian Code was to be very practical and mainstream; declaring and
describing only that which is official and approved. In that is it a very conservative
document. A national Code could be the same. It is precisely because of that caution that
the Victorian document provides a most useful potential model for wider application. It was
not in any way designed to frighten the horses. It is too early to know what impact it may
have. This response in this lecture this evening is part of the early process of reception.
If we were to go ahead with something similar but expanded on a national scale there would
of course be differences of approach that would become evident from various parts of the
country. There would be clear differences between Victorian and New South Wales, one
assumes. The ecumenical climate is perhaps different here. The production of an expanded
Code would certainly bring all that out but for the moment there is really much that many
simply do not know about.
One thing may definitely be claimed. It remains our broad experience that whenever the
Churches act together in a positive way, this is meet with the overwhelming approval of our
So here we have in front of us a proposal, a task, a possible way forward in times when
the ecumenical road appears to be bumpy. It flows from the hard work done in Victoria
between two of our Churches. It could yet be something that is done nationally by all
three of our traditions in a way that is both realistic and still forward-looking. The
Victorian Code is quite clear and explicit in encouraging the development of the
ecumenical vision. The language has a familiar and stirring ring: (Section 4)
"We commit ourselves to work together in the mission of Christ. As far as conscience and
church order permit, we shall seek
2. not to do in separation what we may do together, and
3. to do together what we are not able to do in separation."
This stands as an admirable statement of fundamental principle capable of broader
application. So there is a vision and an idea that is noble.
We also face hard practical realities. Across much of this country, institutional
pressures of decline becoming evident at least in parts of rural, regional and urban
Australia may just force some hardheaded re-examination. Just what are the possibilities
for an intentional, deliberate sharing of resources, both material and human, across and
between our denominations? Much of what has already happened has been to a degree forced.
The preface to the Victorian Code notes as much: "Significant co-operation at parish
level has tended to be driven not by ecclesiology or theology, but by a shortage of
resources, human and financial.... (T)he diminishing rural population and economy
provided an obvious breeding ground for ecumenical co-operation". Problems of property,
personalities and power will rear their heads. They always have.
There still remains the simple and continuing scandal of Christian division, re-enforced
by our fully and differently developed ecclesial histories and cultures. Our past is
separate, competitive, and adversarial. It has been reflected right up to our own day in
very well-documented expressions of denominational, regional, ethnic or class divisions,
prejudices and shaping perceptions. Just occasionally it is substantially to do with
doctrine. Every person here could give illustrations from their own family histories,
from their own lives. The Code speaks of co-operation.
Our purpose here is not to deny what has gone before but simply to ask, where might we go
from here? The Victorian experience of careful development: of co-operation, covenants
and now a Code, perhaps indeed might indicate a cautious but productive way forward
nationally, even now.