s145g00 Somerton Park 19/11/2000 Sunday 33b

"These great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." Mark 13:2

In our Anglican Church generally all Church property is vested in Synod. This system has evolved to avoid the difficulty of individual trustees dying, moving away or otherwise becoming unavailable to make decisions about the property. It has the added advantage that we have one model trust deed, constitution and ordinances which govern how things happen across the Diocese. Clergy and Lay people going from one parish to another know beforehand how things operate, how decisions are made, without having to learn a whole lot of new rules. Indeed I wonder how anyone going to those few churches operating under their own trust deeds would ever find out how things work, let alone be able to make a contribution. And I am sure it makes life much easier for Bishops and Archdeacons to know the rules when coming to parishes, rather than having to have a different set of rules for every parish. I rejoice that we here at St. Philip's are indeed under the Synod Model Trust Deed and not under one of the old private trusts. I confess some difficulty with the fact that the Mothers' Union in the Diocese of Adelaide remains a separately incorporated body. Still I did not seek the appointment as Diocesan Chaplain.

One of the consequences of our being part of the normal running of the Diocese is that for any alteration of the fabric of the Church, a faculty from the Archbishop needs to be obtained. Any fixture and fitting needs to have his (or her) approval.

Now there are a number of good reasons why this should be so. It means that a parish cannot arbitrarily and without consultation decide to knock down a building, for instance. One priest said it's a bit like, if tenants want to make a substantial change to the property they need to ask the landlord. And that is quite fair enough.

I think that the current view is that our Archbishop, with his undoubted gifts when it comes to things aesthetic, wants to ensure that worthy things are done to beautify buildings - rather than slap-dash things. And again this is a very worthy approach. We ought to do our best for God.

Another way of looking at the permission needed to be sought from the Archbishop is to ensure that due process has been observed before making a change. Inevitably when anything new is proposed, in all likelihood there will be some who will oppose the change. We are Anglicans after all! :-) We have a process of decision making in the parish designed to ensure that the views of everyone are listened to, and where possible, taken into account. But in the end a decision has to be made and some may well feel aggrieved. The faculty of the Archbishop is the certification that due process has been followed and the change can therefore take place. Here the role of the Archbishop can be mediatorial, and again this is useful, if legalistic. The reality is that legal matters attempt to sort out differing opinions. Whether they achieve compromise really more depends on whether individuals are prepared to be compromising or content to remain intransigent.

I think finally there is another unspoken use of a faculty of the Archbishop for buildings and fixtures and fittings, and that is to give a further degree of permanence to the buildings and furnishings. Another (supposed) way of achieving this is to give things as a memorial to someone departed. (I confess I don't know where the regulations concerning this are written - it's one of those unwritten rules the authority of which is unquestioned probably because it doesn't exist :-) It is simply not possible to give an item to a church, in memory of a dear departed relative and expect it will be accepted and used, quite regardless of whether the particular item is in keeping with the rest of the Church. I mean, conceivably one could donate a thurible to Holy Trinity North Terrace, but one would hardly expect them to use it :-) (Holy Trinity is the leading evangelical church in the Diocese).

Now it is reality of life that we all want to be remembered. There is a brick paver at the entrance to Brighton Jetty with the names of our family on it - along with many others of course. On the few occasions I go that way, I always have quite a time looking for it, amongst them all!

One of the things that often riles the older generation is graffiti - and yet graffiti is only a socially unacceptable way young people make their mark in society. Often young people cannot get meaningful employment. They are consequently unable to form meaningful relationships - living with someone 24 hours a day as unemployed people often are - kills even the strongest of relationships. The consequent depression leads some, not unnaturally, to drug abuse - yet still these people desperately want to make their mark in society. They want their lives to be recognized, and even if they are cursed by others, it is better than being unknown. Graffiti is one of the few ways some young people can "make their mark". So rather than allowing graffiti to rile us, we need to hear the pain and frustration that lies behind it. As the poet and prophet, Paul Simon wrote in 1964, (Sounds of Silence TTF 62): "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls And tenement halls". I wonder if we albeit quite unintentionally "cause" more violent crimes to be committed as we frustrate the efforts of these young people to be noticed as graffiti is so promptly removed?

Of course graffiti is removed. We who operate in rather more socially acceptable ways here, hope our memorials will last a little longer - we certainly take care and money to make that more permanent mark. But it does need to be said it will only be for a little longer. In the end, everything passes away. Even the magnificent pyramids in Egypt will eventually pass away. I suppose that will be delayed by assiduous restoration work, but pass away they must.

Even the "holiest" stones in the Temple of Jerusalem are not for ever, how much less the bricks and mortar of our lovely space for worship here. Even my "family brick" at Brighton Jetty will be gone in a generation or two at the most.

For the darker side to our memorials is when they are erected and so enshrined with permanence that no one else can make their mark, even if done in the same socially acceptable ways we have. While the work of those who restore the Egyptian pyramids is appreciated, the Church has no moral obligation to keep and maintain every gift and memorial ever given, world without end ... Amen.

 

If the Church was saddled with this, we could never redirect our resources to the places where people really need it. One has only to recall the angst generated when St. Margaret's Darlington was closed. It is very sad, because I have no doubt that the faithful few who attended there would have been giving more 'per capita' than people here and anywhere across the Diocese, yet still the Diocese could not afford to continue to subsidize their continued existence. I can still remember the level of giving and sacrifice in the poorer parishes in which it has been my privilege to minister.

 

I have no doubt that the growth of other denominations and the increasing number of people who no longer darken the doors of a Church are directly related to the permanence of our memorials, and of our reluctance to allow others to make their mark. How often is the minister of the congregation blamed for the lack of growth in a parish? I have little doubt that the real reason is the limited opportunities others have for making their mark that is the major reason people do not stay.

 

But please do not misinterpret me. I love this building as much as anyone here. Buildings and fixtures and fittings (just as music and prayer and administration ministries) are important. They are the ways you and I feel that St. Philip's is "my" Church in a quite different way to St. Judes' Brighton or St. Peter's Glenelg. But nothing is forever, and that is because other people are called by God to give, just like God has called us to do what we have done and continue to do. Some of these contributions will eclipse our own contributions, perhaps even rendering them obsolete.

 

How long would we stay in a congregation if the only contribution we could make is maintaining what someone else, generations ago, gave? If we would not do it ourselves, we cannot expect others simply to maintain our contribution, in the manner in which it pleases us to do so.

 

So rather than complain, we should rejoice that a generation to follow will consider this place "their" Church as strongly as we feel it is "ours". If we don't allow others to make their contribution, there will be no one to keep this place alive and our contribution will be lost even more irrevocably.

Of course it is not easy to accept that things do need to change. Actually I would say that those who torched the Church Hall at Clarence Gardens did that parish the greatest favour possible. To be able to bulldoze and start again with some insurance money to get things going, would be wonderful. It could bring new life into an aging parish, if it was allowed to happen, as new people suddenly appear ready and even anxious to help.

I was reminded, during the Melbourne Cup luncheon, how much fun those who were involved in the building of this church building, had. Remember those good times, and allow that we must try to replicate those conditions for others who come after in succeeding generations, to have a part to play, to have an offering to be accepted, and to share in the same joy that we experienced in those "pioneer" times.

So then we look at the possibility of things passing away, not with dread but with anticipation; for God continues to call others to make their contribution, here and in many other places, and that is good to see.

 

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