A sermon by The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Daniel 7:1-3,15-18, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31

This weekend marks the conclusion of our Festival 150 year. What a year it’s been beginning with the magnificent and exciting service of the First Chords as we welcomed back and commissioned the Cathedral Organ. None of the eight hundred or so people here on Advent Sunday night are likely to forget the experience as we sang our hearts out to the accompaniment of those rich and vibrant chords flowing from the pipes. We have gathered together in worship as Cathedral community and family; we have invited hundreds (possibly thousands now) into this sacred space to view its history, to listen to, and participate in, glorious music; we have rung bells and given interviews, laid a stone in the ground marking 150 years since the foundation stone was laid; we have wrestled with what it might mean to be the church in the future; we have grappled with our impact on the earth and our lived environment, our neighbours near and far; this weekend has seen our sacred space transformed and used in three quite different ways.

Last Friday night tens of thousands of dollars were raised at the AnglicareSA Cathedral dinner – money which will be used to benefit those most vulnerable in our society, offering grace and dignity to them. Last night people floated across the floor in a sequence of colour, movement and music – co-ordinated and together, yet each one an individual in their own right. Tomorrow many of us will gather at Government House to be received by His Excellency Heu van Le and Mrs Le – a good reminder that we do not live and move and worship in isolation but as part of a wider community, here in Adelaide, in South Australia. But now we gather, as we do each Sunday, each day, to worship God in our sacred space– familiar yet different in the ‘empty cathedral.’

Of course it is not empty at all but somehow womb-like. Reflecting the images in our newest stained glass window, the Magdalene Window, we are entering a period of gestation as we wait on God and the leading of the Holy Spirit into the next chapter of Cathedral life.

Our theme this Festival 150 year has been Celebrating the Past, Imagining the Future. We have certainly celebrated – no doubt about that. Let me pause a moment to say thank you – thank you to you all but thank you especially to Pauline Brooks who has done such a good job as convener of the Festival 150 committee and given of herself tirelessly and with an abundance of joyful enthusiasm. Not able to be here today I nonetheless wish to publicly record my appreciation for all Pauline has done and been. And thank you to all whose individual and gathered contributions have made the year one of such festival. Festival 150 could not draw to a close at a better time than the Festival of All Saints. As we give thanks to God for all those who have gone before us, both known and unknown, I acknowledge you as God’s saints in this place. We are not perfect, at times far from it, but we are saints whose enthusiasm and commitment and sheer love for each other makes St Peter’s cathedral ‘home’ to so many.

But for all that, it’s the future that intrigues and disturbs and challenges me – as I hope it does you. For a church community that is not constantly on the move, like the people of Israel when the pillar of cloud or fire burned bright in the wilderness, is a church that will die. Give us imagination, purpose and grace as we step into the future – this is the prayer we have prayed all year. What might is mean? What might it involve? What might we be called to?

In the immediate future I expect next year to be something of a Sabbath year – a time to pause and rest a little as we draw breath. In saying this I recognize the irony for we already know we are facing staff changes with Leonie Hempton retiring, and the Reverend Wendy Morecroft moving on to a new ministry in school chaplaincy. The appointment of two new members of the Cathedral Staff has already been announced and we are looking forward to welcoming both Anthony Hunt, as Director of Music, and the Reverend Peter Jin as an assistant curate, along with their families, early in the new year.

The Care of Creation Seminar held in September underlined the urgency of being much better stewards of the earth than we have been to date. In just the last few days I have seen stories in our local news about bird habitat in the Barossa fast disappearing, and the threatened extinction of water pythons further north following the devastating floods and drowning of so many dusky rats. On the positive side is the success of rodent extermination on Lord Howe Island. In a small, but symbolic way, the sale of our eco shopping bag, with the slogan “protecting the future” is a reminder to minimize the use of plastic in our daily lives.

In the next year or so we need to continue to build on the work of conserving our built heritage for future generations. During the Easter season next year we will again have scaffolding in the chancel, this time reaching to the very tip of the Lantern Tower. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, somehow, we could find the money to get on and do all the conservation work required, rather than picking away at it piece-meal. Who knows?

In August I raised the prospect of us matching the $25,000 a year from the Archbishop to enable the payment of a full curate’s stipend (double what we currently pay). There has been an encouraging response but there is still a way to go. It is never too late to begin to contribute to the finances of the Cathedral in a prayerful, generous, even sacrificial, way. Use the Planned Giving cards that are available. On Tuesday work begins on finally making a proper residential flat above the Cathedral Office – zoned as such way back in 1993! New curate Peter Jin and his family will live there.

Further ahead there is the need to continue to nurture future generations – our children and grandchildren (I can now say that with a greater understanding!). But it’s not only children – some of the older people might need to give up leadership positions to make way for those who are younger, perhaps moving on into different ministries. We proudly claim to be inclusive – but what does that mean? And what will it mean tomorrow and tomorrow? A greater openness to those who identify as LGBTQIA, as Aboriginal, as those of no faith who are searching, as those who are new to Adelaide – growing apace as it is into an ever more multi-cultural city? I suspect there needs to be far more of the sort of gathering Canon Jenny and I attended last Wednesday when leaders from a multitude of faiths came together and listened carefully and respectfully to each other’s faith stories.

The Archbishop has challenged all in the Diocese to ‘grow the church’ and to pray for that. What does this mean for this Cathedral? And how do we become more of a reconciling force and place when the divisions within our Anglican Church are apparently becoming more marked, more entrenched? What does it mean to say “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church”? In recent years we have spoken often of My/Your/Our cathedral! What more can we do to make it truly that for the Diocese and our city? There is already significant work being done on a re-imagined, remodelled Cathedral precinct. As Cathedral people we want to ensure we are at the table when the important discussions take place about redevelopments moving north from the Riverbank precinct. A Cathedral tram line is among the suggestions being mooted. We are all too conscious of an aging population and the very specific ministry needs of so many of us as the age demographic shifts. The Church is one of those unique organisations that tries to cater for people of all ages – and mostly does it well. In the not too distant future you, as Cathedral people, will need to sit down together and think seriously about a new dean to lead us into the future.

What about the longer term future – the five, ten, twenty and more years ahead? How can we position ourselves well in that scenario? My own belief is that St Benedict offered a timeless answer to that question when he emphasized the need for Obedience to God (real listening to, and acting on, the voice of God), Stability in our Faith in Jesus Christ, and the openness to continual conversion prompted by the Holy Spirit. To truly live these three – Obedience, Stability and Continual Conversion – in a creative balance, there needs to be intensive training. That means we must be disciplined in our prayers and worship, disciplined in our study of the scriptures, church history and theology – drawing on the resources already available to us and others yet to be thought of. This sort of study may be likened to the in utero nurturing a mother gives to her yet to be born child.

Above all we need to be true to the two great commandments commended to the Church by Jesus himself – to love God and to love our neighbour – and to do so in the model of service offered by Jesus when he washed the feet of his disciples during the Last Supper. We live, as every generation of Christians has lived, in an exciting, if unsettling, time to be a Christian, and I am reminded once again of the adage that the Christian Church is always only one generation away from extinction!

O God – give us imagination, purpose and grace to step into the future with you – knowing we do so, not alone, but in the company of all the saints who have gone before us and are yet to come. To God – creator, redeemer and giver of life – be all glory. Amen.