[Extract from the Sermon given at the opening of the 50th Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, October 6 2010]
Those of us who come to Synod may have self-selected in such a way that we need less convincing than others that the Church is still important; but we, too, know that being here has its oddities and its challenges.
Synod is about the Church. And Church is not, by and large, wildly popular. In a secular world that is indifferent or hostile to faith, and a religious world that is increasingly post-denominational, even many Christians are cynical about the institutional Church.
And after all, we Melbourne Anglicans are ourselves not “the Church” but a fragment of Church, one tradition or trajectory in a diversity that is two parts divine mystery and three parts human pride. The Church is broken, still struggling to free itself from everything we are called to oppose and transform in human life otherwise.
But the Church has never been imagined, even at the earliest point, as an ideal institution or community without contradictions or wounds. If you ever find yourself in a really wonderful, perfectly holy Church, it would probably be time to check whether it really was Church at all, or whether you and some friends had managed to filter out the undesirable and disagreeable people that, with the rest of us, actually make something that approximates a real Church.
Our deficiencies as Church, like our personal lacks, are not a meaningless mistake that we can strategize or theologize our way out of; however much we should hope to be freed from what limits us and our mission, the renewed life we are called to is not shiny superficial success, but the continued embodiment of Christ’s own life – this is why we are not just any “body” but the “body of Christ”. That life, that body, was offered to us in frailty as well as in power, and its reality today has both dimensions.
The Letter to the Colossians depicts Paul “rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”. This doesn’t mean that Christ’s work is itself incomplete – it means that we, like Paul, are called into forms of life that continue Christ’s own real life – the life of victory enmeshed with ambiguity, and even with suffering. It means we are called to be in community, not with those we agree with anyway, but those whom Christ has called to be with us.
In this Diocese we have the blessing of a diversity not much less than that of the wider Anglican Communion – and you know how that’s looking! So it is not an easy blessing – you will doubtless be reminded of this at some point before the end of Synod. But every word you hear that confronts or challenges this week, more even than those which warm or console, is a gift that offers us the possibility of being Church more fully and authentically.