A Sermon by The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Psalm 5

Isaiah 59:14-21

Romans 3:22b-31

In forty eight hours’ time we will again be in the Cathedral for a choral service – this time on Shrove Tuesday – to keep our first Lenten observance. If you are wondering about the day and why it is not on Ash Wednesday, look no further than the rock concert featuring “Queen” playing across the road at the Adelaide Oval on Wednesday night.

In the course of Tuesday night’s service people will have the opportunity to come forward and receive the imposition of ashes – the mark of the cross is traced on the forehead using ash made from last year’s palm crosses. At least since the time of Pope Gregory, known as the Great, way back in the late 6th century after Christ, words from Genesis 3:19 have been used as the cross is formed: ‘Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’

But the origins of a period of prayer and fasting before Easter go back much earlier – to the time when most baptisms were held on Easter Day. The early bishops used the pre-Easter season as a time of intensive teaching of catechumens – those who were preparing to be baptized. We read of daily instruction in the days and weeks preceding the great three days of Easter.

This year, in St Peter’s Cathedral, two significant other things will be added to this service. In a simple, but I hope profound, gesture of acknowledgement of the suffering of so many in our State, and indeed across the whole country, ash from the bushfires on Kangaroo Island will be added to the ash from the palm crosses. In doing so we acknowledge the ongoing loss and suffering of people, the courage and sheer hard work of those who came to fight the fires and those who continue to help with the clear up work and the rebuild. We acknowledge those who have lost life, home, property and income; and the countless numbers of birds, animals, insects and all the others of God’s creatures destroyed by the fires. And, particularly as Anglicans, we acknowledge and pray for the Anglican communities on Kangaroo Island and The Rev’d Brad Henley.

The other thing that will happen in the course of the service is the dedication of a new bronze plaque. Placed in the narthex of the Cathedral, on a pillar just to the right of the main entrance doors, and so not to be missed, the plaque contains the words of the formal apology made by Synod in 2004 to survivors of child sexual abuse. This is being done at the specific request of the reference group that continues to meet regularly with Archbishop Geoff. Allow me to quote our Archbishop at some length. The words are those written to all clergy and members of Synod in his February 2020 pastoral letter.

Since I arrived in Adelaide, I have been meeting regularly with a small group of child sexual abuse survivors and families to explore ways which survivors can be assisted, and children and vulnerable people kept safe. One of the suggestions the group made was some kind of permanent memorial to acknowledge the child sexual abuse which has taken place in the context of the Anglican Church in Adelaide.

After significant consideration, the group suggested that the text of the apology made by the Synod in 2004 could be permanently displayed at the Cathedral as an ongoing acknowledgement both of the disastrous abuse and the Synod’s apology to victims and their families.

The Cathedral Chapter, the Cathedral Council and the Diocesan Council have given agreement to the proposal so a plaque with the Synod apology will be dedicated at a service of Holy Communion with the imposition of ashes on, very appropriately, Shrove Tuesday (February 25) starting at 6.30pm.

Adelaide Diocese has been and still is significantly impacted by child sexual abuse. Most of the victims and their families were members of the church as were the abusers. The damage from the abuse is ongoing to individuals and doesn’t lie far below the surface in parishes either.

The dedication of the plaque as a permanent reminder of the abuse and the acknowledgement of the abuse and repentance by the Synod is likely to be very significant for many people and we want to make the service known so those who would like to attend can do so.

I have really valued the assistance of the group with whom I meet and also the Dean for his very great assistance with this project.

Let me pause a moment as we hold before God all who have been abused in our diocese, our churches and schools, their families, friends and communities – all who carry the trauma with them for life.

And let me draw to your attention the Blue Knot Foundation – an organization specifically established to support those who have been abused as children. https://www.blueknot.org.au/Survivor/support

The plaque will serve as a reminder to all of the terrible betrayal of trust enacted in our Diocese, of the need to continue to act and pray with compassion for those whose lives continue to be affected by abuse, and to encourage us to work for the safety of all people, and especially the young and vulnerable.

Sadly, as we know all too well from recent news reports of events at an interstate school, it seems that not even all the Royal Commissions, safer ministry trainings, and plaques such as the one I have been talking about, will be fully effective in keeping children safe – but that is no reason to do nothing. Your Cathedral Council, along with all members of Staff and those who have responsibility for children and vulnerable people in our care, are committed to ensuring that, to the best of our ability, this Cathedral is and will be a place of safety to all. To this end all clergy and lay leaders (whether employed or volunteers) will continue to undergo Safer Ministry training and authorization, meeting the requirements of both church and state law.

But meeting the legal requirements will always be a second best. We need to go further and intentionally cultivate a climate of safety, a climate of Shalom, a climate of God’s wholeness.

Let me end tonight by taking us back to the words of Psalm 5, sung tonight to music by David Swale: “Lead me Lord in your righteousness…. Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord: you cover them with favour as with a shield.”

The 2004 Synod Apology:

 “That this Synod and we as members of it acknowledge with deep regret and repentance the past failings of the Church and its members. On behalf of the whole Church in this diocese we apologise unreservedly to those who have been harmed by sexual abuse perpetrated by people holding positions of power and trust in the Church. We apologise for the shameful way we actively worked against and discouraged those who came to us and reported abuse. We are ashamed to have acknowledged that we only took notice when the survivors of abuse became a threat to us.  We apologise and ask forgiveness for the Church’s failure at many levels to listen to and acknowledge the plight of those who have been abused, to take adequate steps to assist them, and to prevent abuse from happening or recurring.  We commit the Church in this diocese to listen to survivors of abuse, to respond with compassion to all those who have been harmed, both to those who have come forward and to those who may choose to do so in the future, and to deal appropriately, transparently and fairly with those accused of abuse and negligence.”

Shrove Tuesday 25 February 2020

6.30pm Choral Eucharist with the Imposition of Ashes

Dedication of a Plaque bearing the words of the 2004 Synod Apology to Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse in the Diocese of Adelaide.