Ordinary Sunday 19: 8th August, 2004
Fr John Davis, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill
1846 Foundation stone laid by Charles Joseph Latrobe
1847 The unfinished church is already used for worship
1848 St Peter, Melbourne dedicated by Bishop Perry, August 6th.
A few weeks ago I was asked to be the guest preacher for the 151st anniversary of the Welsh church in Latrobe Street. The tradition there is Presbyterian. The Welsh language is very much part of a religious and cultural package that is greatly loved and cherished. And they certainly can sing, with great vigour. There is only one other such church remaining in Victoria Sebastopol near Ballarat. Time was especially in the country, when many of the churches would have been described in that ethnic specific way; the German church, the Irish church, the English church. Closer to the times of first settlement, such strong cultural ties in with the religious traditions from home, are always very important. Think of Macedonians or Serbs, Lebanese or Vietnamese in this last generation. A big question comes: when do such groups start to look more to the new land rather than the old? If the use of a language is involved, the change is even more obvious. What differences does that make and is something particular and special lost in that transition. I was very struck by how important the continuing use of a small and at one time threatened language was to this group, who like us come from all over the city. That, and the Calvinist understanding of the faith and the church that is theirs, is what has kept that community going. Distinctively different; something worth travelling to.
On this our own 156th anniversary of the dedication of this Anglican parish church St Peter, Melbourne, placed on this eastern hill of the city we reflect on what continues to bring people together here and we give thanks. This is a church unmistakably of the catholic tradition of English Christianity; it is a gathering place, an example and an encouragement for those who value this tradition or who want to explore it. It is a base for care and outreach to the wider community. There is much to be cherished here, much to be passed on to the next generation; developing, evolving, renewing, finding new hope and new life, even in times and circumstances that are threatening and unfavourable. Remember how we describe ourselves in the front of our mass book and on our website now with over 56,000 visits?
St Peter's Eastern Hill is a city church, placed on the eastern hill of the city of Melbourne, behind Parliament House and across the street from St Patrick's Cathedral. It is what is often called a 'shrine' church for Anglo Catholics:
a place of prayerful quiet beauty and daily masses. We attract visitors from all over the world and parishioners from all over the metropolitan area.
Being part of St Peter's Eastern Hill, means sharing in the solemn beauty of worship in the High Mass on Sundays and the great festivals, assisting with breakfast for 30-50 homeless, six days a week, or enjoying the vigorous bustle of our Children's Church program. It means being challenged by our Institute for Spiritual Studies or our adult Christian education offerings as well as being nurtured in regular gatherings of our Anglo Catholic devotional societies.
For at its best, St Peter's is a place of soul-stirring liturgy, challenging preaching, fine music, concern for issues of justice and peace and a place of warm care and welcome, a community gathered in the name of the Lord.
Five or six generations have had this place at the centre of their religious life and there are the signs all around us. Those of us who know this place well would be able to share our particular favourites: the plaque for assistant priest Fr James Cheong "Father rare and dear", the New Guinea Martyrs' window, the memorial for Sophie Latrobe, the Mezaros stations of the cross medallions in the Lady Chapel could be mentioned. Our church building and fittings speak to us especially of the very long ministries of Canons Handfield, Hughes and Maynard between them well over a century. And in every generation there have been the most remarkable succession of utterly committed lay people, some eccentric, some saintly, some great fun, some less so, who, as clergy have come and gone, have remained the backbone of this community of faith.
Some others are touched by this place at a certain stage in their lives and never forget, even if life takes them elsewhere. I had a phone call yesterday about a person, now in her 90s, who hasn't been part of the congregation here since the 1940s, but who wants to 'come home' in death. She was "Miss Spring 1930" in the major parish fundraiser of that year and earlier had attended the parish school. She was married here and had her children baptised here. Her diaries, I am told, speak warmly and vividly of the St Peter's of those years. I will do my best to get copies for our archives, since she also has good photos of clergy and people and events from over 75 years ago. But when the time comes, of course in our St Peter's way, her coffin will stand at the head of the nave, covered by our fine St Peter's pall and flanked by those six large standing candles. We will in the future, remember her name in our year's mind prayers, each year on that date. Another part of the St Peter's story finds its place.
But another equally valid part of the St Peter's story is the admission to First Communion last week of 10 of our children's church. That is about parents as well as children. It is about a nurturing of faith and a growing of understanding; it is about the building of community. All of us who were present at the 9.30 mass last week were delighted as these children took this very significant step and did so with such clear seriousness and reverence.
So a Dedication Festival does get you thinking not only about the past and the stirring examples of pioneering generations, but also about the future and what we all can do about ensuring that it has as much going for it as we can possibly see to. That is a stewardship type issue; offering the best of our skills and gifts in the corporate task of being St Peter's in this time, so that the St Peter's that will undoubtedly be still a part of the life of this city in the next generation, will still be seen as a place and a community of people with something distinctive to offer. An Anglo Catholic city church has that responsibility. And isn't it good to be able to show all the necessary indications that we are still alive and kicking. A dusty old museum piece does not need to be taken into much account. A vibrant community of faith that is seeking to grow and extend its ministry and service to the community around it most certainly does. It is good to be able to surprise by what we do and who we are, those who would deny that our expression of the faith has any life left in it. It is good to claim with assurance that we do offer a way in the Christian life that is rich and creative and challenging. And this way, because of our size, our location, and our tradition is going to have some points of difference in approach and emphasis that will suit some very well and others not at all. Anglican Melbourne needs places like this. Melbourne needs places like this, reaching out across a few boundaries.
Our community of faith in the Church and the world as we now find ourselves does indeed face substantial challenges. We have a number of choices, but I myself do not consider that the best response is one of defensive fortress building, or as it were, a 'circling of the wagons' waiting for the hostile attack. Rather let us be positive and confident that we do indeed have much to offer and much to share. Let us be unapologetic in our outreach and our engagement with the community around us. Let us rejoice in the spiritual, liturgical, cultural and pastoral richness of this living and unfolding tradition of ours and generously welcome those who are new to it. They are likely to be our best messengers!
The Lord be with you.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.