Twenty Deans of the Anglican Australian Church met at St James’ Cathedral Townsville, North Queensland, from 4-9 August 2016. On Sunday, 7 August, they joined in worship with the Cathedral community and the Mission to Seafarers, marking Sea Sunday. The Dean of Bathurst, Anne Wentzel, and the Dean of Bendigo, John Roundhill, preached.

Deans welcomed two new members appointed since their last conference in Adelaide: Mary Lewis, Dean of Port Pirie (Willochra Diocese), and Kanishka Raffel, Dean of Sydney (Diocese of Sydney). They remembered in prayer the two Australian Deans unable to join them, the Deans of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, meeting this week in Wellington, and the members of NATSIAC, also meeting in the diocese of North Queensland in Cairns.

During their time together, Deans shared in daily worship and prayer, together listening to Scripture and joining in fellowship. In formal sessions, they reflected on the roles of their Cathedrals in promoting the good news of Jesus Christ in the cities and diocese they serve, and the challenges and opportunities faced by their congregations and ministries.

Recently appointed Dean of Syndey, Kanishka Raffel, said: ‘The Deans’ Conference is a unique gathering bringing together representatives of the Anglican Church from Darwin to Hobart, Perth to Riverina, Willochra to Townsville. It’s been a privilege to pray together for the progress of the gospel across our nation’.

Cathedrals: places of growth and sanctuary across Australia

In their report to the conference, each Dean reflected on the life, ministry and mission of their Cathedral. Many Cathedrals across Australia reported congregational growth.

The Dean of Melbourne, Andreas Loewe, said: ‘It was a joy to hear how many of our Cathedrals are experiencing growth in their ministry of equipping people to hear and follow the call of Christ. In our discussions we reflected on what it means to belong together as a family of believers, and how we can help bring together local congregations and visitors. One of the privileges of being a Cathedral is to be a home church both for our diocesan family, and to offer a hospitality of welcome that enables visitors to share in the ministry of daily prayer’.

Many Deans highlighted the positive impact on their Cathedrals and cities of their active advocacy to fully welcome refugees and provide a place of sanctuary for asylum seekers.

The Senior Australian Anglican Dean, Peter Catt (Brisbane), explained: ‘We reflected on the capacity of Cathedrals to lead social change, and on the cost of embracing such opportunities. Anglican Cathedrals were leaders in the Sanctuary and “let them stay’ campaigns, which prevented the deportation of almost 300 asylum seekers. As a result of this important advocacy, people from many backgrounds found a common ground with the Christian message of welcome, which led to a positive change in public opinion’.

Royal Commission: Cathedrals implement safeguarding measures

In a special session, the Deans heard from representatives of the Australian Church working on issues raised by the Royal Commission on institutional responses to child abuse, and considered the work of the Royal Commission on juvenile detention in the Northern Territory. The Deans expressed grief at the hurt and trauma caused by clergy and church workers, and strongly condemned any form of abuse. They affirmed the importance of public acknowledgement and repentance for past wrongs, and the need for transparency and openness of conversation to enable a process of healing and the prevention of future abuse.

In response to the report on the work of the Royal Commission, Deans reported on the implementation of safeguarding measures in their own Cathedrals to ensure that their churches are places of welcome and sanctuary. They prayed for survivors, witnesses and the work of the commissioners, as well as for those drafting and implementing state and diocesan legislation to protect children. They asked God’s blessing on those working with survivors to address trauma and to provide counselling and advice, and prayed for their bishops and other church and community leaders, and all who work towards the healing of relationships.

The Dean of Darwin, Keith Joseph, said: ‘In the Northern Territory we are very aware of the issues of child abuse, especially the cruel abuse of aboriginal children over many decades. Our national church needs to do more and move quickly on issues of redress for victims, recognising that we are one Body of Christ and therefore together are responsible. We give thanks for the work of the national Royal Commission and commend the newly appointed Royal Commission looking into issues in the Northern Territory’.

Deans report on their work and learn from one another

The College of Deans valued the opportunity to meet together in a spirit of unity and generous collegiality. They appreciated the chance to learn from one another’s experience, insights and wisdom, noting shared challenges and celebrating one another’s milestones and achievements. Through their reports and in wider discussion, they considered the following areas:

  • Promoting the good news among enquirers, migrants and others who find their way into Cathedrals, and through the civic ministry of Cathedral churches
  • Reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, including fostering of relationships and opportunities for joint worship
  • Ministry among refugees and advocacy for asylum seekers, including participation of many Cathedrals in the national Sanctuary and ‘let them stay’ movements
  • The work of the Royal Commissions on institutional responses to child abuse, and on juvenile detention in the Northern Territory, and the safeguarding of vulnerable people
  • Theological education, including fostering distance learning opportunities in rural areas
  • Challenges to sustaining ministry provision in rural dioceses and remote areas
  • Clergy well-being and increased opportunities for shared collegiate support in Cathedral ministry
  • Climate change and the challenge of extreme weather events, including exploring the use of new technologies to reduce carbon emissions
  • Cathedral Governance, including the current review of three Cathedral Statutes and Acts across Australia
  • Fiscal sustainability and ministry resourcing of Cathedrals
  • Heritage concerns and opportunities for outreach and civic engagement offered by the development of Cathedral precincts, especially in Adelaide, Darwin, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney

They thank Dean Rod and Mrs Penny McDonald of St James’ Townsville, Bishop of North Queensland Bill and Mrs Robin Ray, the Cathedral community and Townsville Grammar School for their gracious hospitality to them, and their spouses, during their stay in the Diocese of North Queensland.

The Australian Anglican Deans resolved to meet next year in Bendigo, Victoria, from 3-8 August 2017.

For further comment, please contact the Senior Australian Dean, the Very Revd Dr Peter Catt.