“We are an Easter people. Ours is an Easter faith.”
Hymn-writer/poet Bill Wallace’s evocative words offer an interesting start to a Dean’s report to Vestry. It’s unusual for the Vestry meeting to take place after Easter Day, so let me make the most of the opportunity. The first thing I notice is that he writes in the present tense – “we are”. This is not a backward-looking, former-days-wishing approach; it is today, this week, this year that we are an Easter People. As we meet today for our Vestry meeting – yes to look back over 2015 – we do so knowing that all that has happened in the past shapes who we are today and will be tomorrow. We are, today, an Easter people because of the past: God’s love expressed through creation, God’s dealings with the individuals and communities we read about in the Bible, in Church History, and from our own and others’ experiences. Our worship today is what it is because of the first Easter Day, and all the Easters in between. While Easter today was and is shaped by the first Easter, the context is quite different, the needs and challenges and opportunities today are not the same as in 33 AD or indeed even 2015 AD. We are an Easter people.
Easter, as we know and have just experienced, comes at a cost. The pain and suffering and death of Jesus was real; just as the pain and suffering and, at least in a metaphorical sense, death experienced by any community is real. We have known our fair share of that in 2015. On an individual level there are those of the Cathedral community who have experienced illness, long months of treatment, family break-down, the death of a loved one and the loneliness that follows. As a community we have seen people come and go, some because their work takes them elsewhere, or is completed here, others because of creeping old-age and the difficulty of keeping up with the travel and other challenges of continuing to be part of the Cathedral family. As a Diocese, just when we thought we were coming out of a long and costly decade following the devastating revelations of sexual abuse within our midst and by our own, the summons to appear before the Royal Commission sitting in Hobart brought new stress to the Archbishop and Church Office Staff. But we are an Easter people.
2015 had its share of change, challenge and opportunity. Let me highlight just a few of the things that crossed my plate last year. Cathedral 150 began like one of those giant fireworks that soar into the night above the Adelaide Oval. We had already begun thinking more widely than simply the need to repair and restore organ and Cathedral, to include the precinct on both sides of King William Road. An approach by the Architectural School at Adelaide University saw 60 final year students crawling all over the precinct and then sitting down at their computers and generating some, at times whacky, but mostly innovative and interesting, ideas of what a future of the Cathedral precinct could look like. Talks at both City and State level took up some of these ideas; a sub-committee involving Cathedral and Diocese was formed; tentative feelers were put out to a number of private companies seeking potential partnerships. It feels at times as if the sky rocket has burst and the bright colours faded; until we change the metaphor to that of a daffodil bulb with its brief splash of colour and then long dormant, but growing phase.
It was made clear to me on my arrival as Dean in October 2012 that staff changes would be inevitable. 2015 proved to be the year when they happened. Let me pay tribute to the significant service of Shirley Gale, Dennis Falland, David Fearnside and Rosie Hamilton, all of whom ceased to be on the payroll of the Cathedral last year. After a short eighteen month curacy, the Rev’d Grant Moore accepted the invitation to become parish priest of St Cyprian’s Church. Two organ scholars, Alana Brook and Alexander Payne, took off for Europe to work and study. At this meeting two people who have held extremely important voluntary positions will step down from their responsibilities: Di Nicholls after five years as Chair of the Property Committee and Deputy Chair of the Cathedral Council, and Darryl Farnham after many years of faithful, and at times for him frustrating, service as Convener of the Welcomers. Thank you all. Farewells segue into welcomes, and we have welcomed on to the Cathedral Staff Josh van Konkelenberg as Principal Organist, and Andrew Victorsen, responsible for Communications and Events. Kate Palmrose’s work has evolved and looks far more like the job description she was given at the start of her employment four years ago, well before I got here. Let me pause and say thank you to those with whom I work so closely day by day: my clergy colleagues Jenny Wilson and Lynn Arnold; those in the Office, Kate and Andrew, and our indefatigable cleaner Sally and groundsman Stephen; the music staff led so ably by Leonie Hempton and supported by Josh, Mark and David on the organ, and Andrew Chatterton as deputy director of music. Easter people need a strong support base to undergird their faith and living.
Thank you to those of you who have served on the Cathedral Council and its various sub-committees, and as Synod’s people over the last three years. A special word of thanks to the members of the Executive Committee who have offered listening ears and wise advice – Wardens Stephen Matthew and Joe Thorp, Treasurer Kevin Stracey and Deputy Chair of Council Di Nicholls. I am pleased to advise that Joe Thorp has accepted my invitation to continue as Dean’s Warden and, should he be elected, Stephen Matthew is prepared to serve one more year as People’s Warden.
One of the hallmarks of being Easter people with Easter faith is that it is to be shared. A cathedral is uniquely placed to do this and we have sought and used every opportunity to do so. An iconic building such as we are blessed with, with its commanding position and soaring spires, invites people to come inside. A wide range of concerts and special services – from school carol services to diocesan ordinations, commemorative events such as that held last ANZAC Day marking the centenary of Gallipoli, to the very different worship led by some of the Pentecostal music groups before the Adelaide Prayer Breakfast, a formal white napkin black-tie dinner for Anglicare SA, a glorious flower festival and provocative art exhibitions – all of these invite people into our Cathedral. All speak of an Easter faith held by Easter people. None of them just happens. Thank you, one and all, you who turn out week by week, month by month, to serve at the altar, welcome the visitors, staff the tills, make the tea, arrange the flowers, clean the silver and brass and pews, ring the bells, sing the hymns, sweep the leaves and, if I may be permitted to use a catch-all phrase, make us who and what we are, an Easter people.
What of 2016 and beyond? That’s always a good question, especially given this morning’s Gospel reading from John 21. The life of the church is never static. Last year the Cathedral Council engaged in two Saturday morning workshops aimed at teasing out some strategic thinking for the future. Working under the broad sub-headings of worship, education, music and mission a number of foci emerged – including the need to be more intentional in our engagement with young people (and it would be an interesting exercise to discover what this meeting means by ‘young’), enhancing our education programmes to make a visiting scholar/theologian a regular feature, the introduction of an annual retreat, exploring possibilities for an annual music festival and much more.
Clearly the fund-raising for the restoration of the organ will be a significant agenda item this year, and I am pleased to report that we are very close to agreeing on the finer details of the contract with Harrison and Harrison Organ Builders. Permission has already been given by Diocesan Council to enter into a contract by paying the deposit thus locking in the work scheduled for completion by the end of 2018. Those who have been around the Cathedral for the past forty or so years may find it hard to believe that we have come so far on this project! Now the real money needs to be found and a very competent group of people charged with the fund-raising is working on this. Nick Jaffer of Global Philanthropic will be engaged to assist with some strategic thinking and tactics.
When I consider the clergy staff/people ratio and the resultant work load, St Peter’s Cathedral, with a full time equivalent of 2 stipendiary clergy, is grossly understaffed. Research in the ‘industry’ suggests that eighty people is about the maximum number a single priest can cope with. Our ratio exceeds that by a long way. A challenge for us all is to find the money, and then the right person, to offer at least another 0.5 stipended position by the end of 2016. This money can really only come from the regular generous and sacrificial giving through our Planned Giving scheme, and I encourage those of you who are not Planned Givers to consider becoming so.
One of the exciting things about being dean of a cathedral is one is never quite sure what the next conversation or email will bring. I have mentioned my reliance on, and thanks to, members of staff and council, it remains for me to thank you, the people of St Peter’s Cathedral, for a challenging, growing, fulfilling year past and excitement as we strive to grow into our calling as Easter people. Christine, Viva and I look forward to continued blessings in your presence and with your love and prayers – so necessary and appreciated.
We are an Easter people, ours is an Easter faith.
Our fears have died, we rise to dream,
to love, to dance, to live.
Christ is risen, risen in our lives.
One final comment. Late last night word came through that a significant change in our Diocese is to be announced this morning. We will get to that shortly.