Stephen Hale & Andrew Curnow (eds)

Facing the Future: Bishops Imagine a Different Church

Melbourne: ACORN Press-2009.

ISBN 090828490X

"The result is a broad panorama of ministry challenges a-opportunities. Various chapters describe church mergers-fresh expressions of church-leadership development a-denominational structures refocusing on resourcing local church mission."

I am a Bapti-pastor a-denominational researcher-but am eager to learn from what God is doing in other streams of the church-a-as an Anglican by backgrou-a-upbringing I was keen to read Facing the Future a-get a glimpse to some of the signs of fresh hope a-vitality in the Anglican Church in Australia.

Stephen Hale at the time of publication was changing from being Bishop of the Eastern Region of Melbourne Diocese to returning to local parish ministry as vicar of -Hilary"s Kew. Andrew Curnow is Bishop of Bendigo. As editors-they invited together 22 bishops across 24 chapters to grapple wi-issues facing the Australian church a-society. They do not deny that as a denomination the Anglican Church is declining a-aging. A-they do not prete-to be producing a unified statement. But each bishop/writer picks up an area of their passion a-points in positive directions-a-all contributions are earthed in the writer"s local-regional a-national context.

The result is a broad panorama of ministry challenges a-opportunities. Various chapters describe church mergers-fresh expressions of church-leadership development a-denominational structures refocusing on resourcing local church mission. There are contributions on theological education-Catholic Anglicism-liturgical practice a-freedom-a-parish a-diocesan structures. Different bishops discuss the nature of rural ministry-multicultural ministry-military chaplaincy a-schools as mission communities. There are some insightful narratives of ministry in an industrial city-dialogue from a place of conviction in a multi-fai-context a-encouraging the self-sustaining indigenous church.

I collect valuable questions-a-so appreciated a few new ones to help wi-reimagining congregational life. Stephen Hale in his chapter on "Renewing Parishes" suggested these questions to develop a simple mission action plan:

• What are you trying to be accountable for? (To formulate long-term purpose)
• What really matters to this church? (To articulate a 3-5 year vision)
• What missional activities will you engage in? (To plan 1-2 year strategies)
• What are you goals for the next year? (To state present goals)

Glenn Davies-as part of his appeal for "A New Compassion for the Marginalised"-says congregations can ask: "What"s going well in our parish? What"s not going well in our parish? What"s missing?" But more radically they can ask the same questions of their community: "What"s going well in our community? What"s not going well in our community? What"s missing in this community?". These are excellent questions for churches prepared to boldly face the future.

I recently returned to the volume to remi-myself what it said about theological education a-leadership development. Stephen Picka-contributed a chapter "Theological Education: An Anglican Way of Wisdom". He argues for a pa-beyo-any dichotomy of practical field training versus academically excellent theological reflection-a-instead advocates for seeing theological education as about drawing people into a circle of learning wisdom for the sake of the mission of God. This invites the academy beyo-a sole focus on clerical training-but investing in the discipleship of the whole people of God. It invites linkages beyo-theological education-to other wider disciplines of the university. Says Pickard: "The study of theology can no longer be caged within an ecclesial confessional ghetto-not can it be reduced to an interesting exercise in comparative religion in a pluralistic culture. Indeed-theology may have much to contribute within the modern university in the recovery of an earlier ideal of the academy as a place for an interdisciplinary wisdom."

Furthermore-Picka-challenges colleges not ju-to offer field education as a parallel subject-but to integrate formation a-reflection-in-action across the curriculum. A-he upholds a high view of a college as a learning community to help people pursue practical wisdom in a variety of contexts " during a-after their formal college studies.

My favourite chapter-however-was John Harrower"s modelling of "a new openness for change". It seems the Tasmanian Diocese hea-the challenge not to merely try to do what they have done in the past-but wi-more effort-but to look for a new way of "being church". In the 1990s decade of evangelism-church attendance in Tasmania declined 30 per cent. But in 2000-Harrower started as bishop wi-a mandate to be a mission bishop. At his fir-Synod he declared:

"You elected me-tru-me.

You elected a missionary-let us be missionaries together.

You elected an innovator-let us be innovators together.

You elected a change agent-let us change together.

You elected a missionary bishop-let us be a missionary diocese."

Bishop Harrower shared a vision of "Every Tasmanian committed to Christ"-declared the diocese "The Missionary Diocese of Tasmania" a-encouraged every Anglican to be a "Missionary disciple". He promptly made a public apology to child sexual abuse victims-gave increased authority to rectors-prioritised recruiting new leaders-a-farewelled some who did not come on board. Archdeacons became "mission support workers"-archdeaconries became "mission networks"-parish priorities became "Mission Action Plans" a-bishop visits included "mission conversations".

"Mission conversations" became a dominant metaphor a-practice for diocesan life: leaders came together to discuss mission a-how to join wi-what God was doing in their neighbourhood. The bishop"s office resourced creative evangelists a-invited schools a-agencies to re-examine their mission. A-the bishop modelled hone-evaluation by making public three external reviews of his work-to foster a culture of review in the diocese. When many things might divide a diocese-Harrower sought to focus everyone arou-missiology. This was an exciting chapter of denominational restructuring a-resourcing for mission.

My seco-favourite chapter was Philip Freier"s "a new willingness to connect" . In his fir-year as Melbourne Archbishop in 2007-Freier was intent not to get absorbed in institutional work a-committees. So he went on a "Prayer4Melbourne Quest"-seeking conversations in universities-shopping centres-workplaces-online blogging a-in his Federation Square breakfa-conversations/public lectures. I am inspired by Freier"s engagement wi-people in public spaces-a-his intent to include listening to not ju-strong a-influential voices but also those uncertain a-troubled. The process helped him hear a-engage crucial public issues-especially loneliness-justice issues-support for people wi-disabilities a-their aging parents-fear of strangers-homelessness-indigenous Australians becoming more marginalised-the state of childhood-climate change a-global poverty.

This is the Prayer4Melbourne that grew for Freier out of his Quest-a prayer that I have used in worship a-to encourage others to pray for our city:

"God of community,

we give you thanks for this beautiful a-vibrant city:

for its diversity of people a-cultural life,

for its industry a-commerce,

for its hospitals a-agencies of care,

a-for its places of learning-recreation a-worship.

"God of compassion,

we pray for all who live a-work in this city a-for those who visit here:

open our hearts to

welcome the stranger,

shelter the homeless,

befrie-the lonely,

care for the needy,

a-offer hope to those in despair.

for these your people.

"God of community,

Giver of life-of love a-hope,

Hear our prayers for the welfare of this city.


Freier embodies the task of denominational leaders that Bishop Alan Smi-describes for a post-Christian society: "The task of bishops in this generation is to create space where a vision of society that is about human justice can be nurtured a-articulated; where listening can happen; where experimentation is encouraged a-blessed; where new initiatives in mission a-evangelism are tried a-tested; where theological reflection on new development takes place" (quoted from God-Shaped Mission: Theological a-Practical Perspectives from the Rural Church in the book). I love that " it gives shape to part of my role as a denominational staff member a-"Mission Catalyst" in denominational leadership a-resourcing.

Archbishop Freier a-Bishop Harrower as writers-Bishops Hale a-Curnow as editors a-contributors of their own chapters-together wi-the other bishops involved in writing for this project-deserve credit for their listening-risk-taking-experimentation-permission-giving a-theological reflection. For a post-Christian society-these mission-shaped postures are arguably at the heart of denominational leadership. Hopefully the rhetoric is reflected in healthy a-mission-shaped reality wi-future transformations in church life.

Facing the Future deserves a wide reading. It is the voices of bishops as church leaders-a-so lacks voices "from below"-let alone local church leaders whether ordained or lay. But it is an excellent resource for Anglicans interested in the future of their church-or those studying Anglicanism. It is also a valuable a-inspirational resource for leaders from other traditions " albeit the same cultural context " as we grapple wi-similar issues of leadership a-mission at local-denominational a-national levels.

Previous versions of this review were published in Australian Journal of Mission Studies, Vol.5-No.1 (June 2011)-84-27 a-in W!tness 91:6 (Augu-2011).