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Over two weeks in September Diocesan Update zoom meetings were held in four regions across the Diocese, in lieu of the Annual Synod in Goulburn, which will now take place in April 2021.

Bishop Mark opened his presentation by sharing a slide show of the year set to the soundtrack of Smoke, written and performed by Canberra Girls Grammar School student Lara Buchanan. It’s a song based on her experience of living through the bushfires of last summer, with all its challenges, and yet featuring the refrain ‘Don’t Lose Hope’, which has been the message for all of us this year.

He continued by reflecting on the Scriptural image of breath and how it speaks of the fragility and transience of human life in this world, but also of the renewing and life-giving work of God, then expanded on the way both of these aspects have been experienced across the Diocese in this extraordinary year.

Bishop Mark used the four questions asked of Ministry Units earlier in the year to unpack the journey so far across the Diocese.

1. What griefs and losses have we experienced during this journey?

There have been very real physical losses, particularly during the bushfires, as well as lost opportunities to gather and lost opportunities to celebrate as we normally would.

2. What signs of God’s grace have we experienced during this journey?

These have included the tireless disaster response from Anglicare, parishes and schools; parishes using technology to connect within and beyond their congregations with people hearing the good news through online evangelistic courses; and Diocesan staff and parish treasurers working to access government support.

3. What new skills and insights have we developed during this journey?

The Diocese has displayed a surprising capacity for change, hosting online conferences and gatherings, has deployed home-based learning from schools on a large scale and continued to engage with Anglicare clients in the absence of physical proximity.

4. What new relationships have we developed during this journey?

Local relationships in our neighbourhoods have been strengthened rather than diminished, with neighbourhood really mattering during the height of the pandemic and crises. We need to recognize and nurture these relationships.

What can we learn?

Bishop Mark summarised what we can learn from this by:

The past twelve months have highlighted the necessity of and opportunity for deepening our ministry and mission mindset from one of presence to one of engagement.

One way to do this is by reframing the questions we ask ourselves from ‘do we have Anglican worship in this community at a particular time and day?’ to more searching questions like ‘how is this community present in our Anglican worship, however and whenever this worship occurs?’.

There will be further exploration to come on how we can engage with the priority areas identified at last Synod:

  • Gracious and patient witness
  • Safe and sustainable ministry
  • Compassionate and skilled service
  • Creative and informed advocacy
  • Just and generous stewardship
  • Inspiring and empowered worship

Bishop Mark concluded by presenting some new initiatives to help us move forward, exploring ways for Ministry Units to take up the new opportunities, particularly relating to technology. There has been budgeting to assist licensed clergy to access professional supervision, and also to seed the development of regional administrative hubs. He proposed three focused engagement areas for 2021: Lent – a series of studies to understand pressing social issues; Easter to Pentecost – a time of intentional prayer for sharing the love and truth of Jesus; After Pentecost – encouraging outreach through evangelism activities.

In each meeting there was then a presentation by the local Archdeacon(s) on the particular challenges and blessings experienced across their region.

The Registrar then gave a presentation, speaking of the unique and challenging times, but also the many stories and blessings in their midst to be thankful for as we seek to be faithful to our Lord, through God’s grace, and continue to advance our collective mission. He then provided an overview of the range of activities that have been undertaken by BiC and the ADS since last Synod. These included:

▶ Bushfire Response – outlining the response provided to the 18 impacted parishes, including fundraising, insurance and first responder chaplaincy support, in particular noting the damage done and repairs required at St Peter’s Anglican College Broulee.

Hailstorm – noting the damage done primary to St Mark’s National Theological Centre, St Paul’s Manuka and fleet vehicles.

COVID-19 Response – an update on the Government stimulus initiatives (JobKeeper and Cash boost payments) and direct support and relief initiatives, which have assisted in mitigating the financial impacts to parishes that have lost most usual income-producing activities; also highlighting the significant work done by the ADS Risk & Compliance Directorate in relation to COVID-Safe planning and implementation for ministry units and agencies and the regular communications provided to keep ministry units and agencies informed of public health advice across ACT & NSW.

National Redress Scheme and Professional Standards – an update on the settlements made via both the NRS and our existing Diocesan Redress processes, noting that the issue of redress continues to be a significant focus for BiC, the Diocesan Finance Committee and Professional Standards bodies, particularly in the light of recent legislative changes in response to recommendations from the Royal Commission. A significant amount of work has been done to review all Diocesan Policies and Protocols and Guidelines pertaining to Safe Ministry and Professional Standards to ensure these are consistent and compliant with recent legislative changes and National Anglican Safe Ministry Related Canons.

BiC focus areas and mission priorities – noting that BiC has continued to pursue various mission and ministry initiatives through the lens of the six key priority areas as well as encouraging and supporting agencies and ministry units to embrace missional opportunities and enhance connections and engagement with local communities.

ADS key highlights – including the new and expanded SLAs, the roll out of Zoom to ministry units, an update on the ADS Fleet and the future Xero accounting project, involving engagement of larger parishes to assist smaller parishes, which the ADS had hoped to roll out this year but will now occur next year.

2021 Budget overview – noting that it is a conservative budget with a small surplus.

The number of attendees at each session was Goulburn/Southern Tablelands – approximately 25; Coast, Monaro, Alpine Region – approximately 35; Wagga Wagga/ Western Region – approximately 35; Canberra and Region – over 100.