Dean-elect, Canon Greg Jenks, is just back from the 2017 conference of Australian Anglican Cathedral Deans in Bendigo.
"This was a most remarkable and transformative experience," reports Dr Jenks. "Meeting other Deans from around the national church was a deep blessing, but the levels of trust demonstrated as Deans reflected on their professional and personal challenges was simply stunning. This was a profound experience as colleagues shared their own journeys of faith and ministry. It was a humbling experience to share and one that has profoundly shaped my own outlook as I prepare to begin my ministry as the Eighth Dean of Grafton next month. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to participate in this gathering, and can already sense its deep impact on my own life, my own faith, and my own ministry."
The following report, first published on the Melbourne Anglican web site, reflects some of the discussions at the conference as Deans reflected on our Cathedrals' ministry with children and families in the aftermath of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Cathedrals across Australia are growing, Australian Anglican Deans report, but need to focus their mission activities to reach children and young people. Twenty Cathedral Deans from across Australia met at the recently-refurbished St Paul’s Cathedral in Bendigo, Victoria, at the invitation of Dean John Roundhill. In their discussions on mission and evangelism among children and young people they were joined by the Revd John Deane, executive director of the Anglican Board of Mission.
Many of the Cathedrals across Australia report growth in congregational attendance countering a nation-wide trend, in which the number of Australians identifying as Anglicans has plummeted. The Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, said: ‘Cathedrals in Australia are growing in spite of nationwide trends. Here in Melbourne we have experienced a 30% growth in congregational attendance over the past five years. Our Cathedrals are places that naturally draw people in, to begin conversations about faith and discipleship’. Dean Loewe reflected: ‘At St Paul’s many of our worshippers first came through our doors as visitors. Our intentional program of making visitors welcome, and explaining our faith through the beauty of our building, provides the first invitation to come and find out more about Jesus Christ, and what it means to follow him’.
Some Cathedrals have extensive ministries to children and young people. The Dean of Geraldton, the Very Revd Peter Grice, reported: ‘Our priority has been to invest in ministry among young people: our youth and families’ minister works across our congregations, links up with state schools and now our local Anglican Grammar School’. Dean Grice added: ‘Particularly in rural areas we have natural contacts and opportunities for mission with our local community through our families’. St James’ Cathedral Townsville has reshaped its worship program to place children front and centre, Dean Rod MacDonald told the conference: ‘We are passionate about ministry with children. We have a crèche, as well as special area set aside for younger children and their parents. Every third Sunday we hold a special children’s worship as our principal service’. Dean MacDonald encouraged Deans to take their children’s worship outside their buildings: ‘Last month, we went further: we took our Cathedral down to the beach and worshipped there. One of the children said to me afterwards: “This was the best service ever”.’
The Australian Deans welcomed Dean Matthias Der from St John’s Cathedral Hong Kong to their conference. St John’s has a structured families’ program that reaches some 150 young people each Sunday. Dean Der explained: ‘We have a structured children’s program that reaches toddlers, pre-schoolers, primary school children and a junior church for children aged between 8-12. Our programs are delivered in English and Chinese and centre on teaching children and young people about the Bible, our worship, and Christian living’. Asked about the reason for the strong attendance, Dean Der said: ‘We intentionally resource a group of volunteers to run our program and to support parents in nurturing children in their own homes in their faith journey’.
The Australian Deans affirmed that in order for children’s ministry to flourish, strict safeguarding procedures would need to be adopted across Australia. Some Cathedrals have employed safeguarding officers to ensure compliance. The Deans were encouraged that General Synod will be considering adopting nationwide child-safe standards, compliance and professional standards protocols. Dean-elect of Newcastle, the Revd Canon Katherine Bowyer, said: ‘It is so important that Cathedrals and parish churches are safe places for vulnerable people and children. But we not only need to be safe places but need to be seen to be safe places by the wider community’. Canon Bowyer said: ‘We call all Anglicans and especially our General Synod to express clearly that we have heard and learnt from survivors, their families, and the Royal Commission. We are serious about child safety’.
The conference brought together Deans from across Australia: 20 of 23 Deans were able to be present. Senior Dean, the Very Revd Dr Peter Catt, said: ‘The Deans’ Conference is a rich, life-giving and collaborative experience. We enjoy a deep commonality in the midst of our theological diversity. The level of support and encouragement that we experience at the conferences means that attendance is always high. This year we enjoyed the presence of two women Deans and a woman Dean-elect for the first time in the history of the Australian church’. Deans next meet at St Andrew’s Cathedral Sydney, at the invitation of Dean Kanishka Raffel, from 2-7 August 2018.