A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
16th May 2004
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Over the last few years in Synod our diocese has set its mind to reversing the trends of the last fifty years of declining membership. The diocese as a whole has been challenged to increase the percentage of the population regularly hearing the word of God in Christian fellowship.
As the Cathedral church of the diocese we must seek wherever practical to apply the decisions of the diocese. It is important if we are to be the Cathedral that we give leadership to the parishes. The diocesan mission is central to the policy of Synod - we can hardly ignore its implementation.
All growth in church attendance involves change. Sometimes we need to change to make growth possible. Sometimes, as a result of growth we need to make changes. However it is not possible to grow and remain the same.
Some of us love change and novelty. Such people get a charge of energy by trying new things. Others of us find change stressful, distressing and difficult. There is a love that we acquire of the established, the comfortable and the predictable.
Bringing change to a community like ours is very difficult. Congregations inevitably attract people who like things the way they are. Other people who do not like the way things are sooner or later move on to find some alternative. Over time the only people in attendance are those who do not want to change anything. This makes churches very slow to adapt to change.
As Christians we know that the only unchangeable elements of church are God’s. We cannot alter the truth of the Gospel or the character of Godly living that it teaches. There is no room for variation in our doctrinal or moral probity.
But beyond that as one of our 39 Articles declares “It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly alike; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, time, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word.”
Our Synod has accepted the many changes to our constitution that give far greater freedom for individual churches to vary their pattern of services to meet the changed circumstance in which we now live. We now have to work out the most God honouring and effective ways to bring the gospel of Jesus to bear on the community amongst whom we dwell.
The more multi-cultural that community becomes the more diverse will have to be our meetings in order to engage with and help the wide diversity of people who may come to the Cathedral. That diversity has to be either within one congregation or between different congregations.
It is possible to run different congregations for different sections of the population. It is also possible to have sufficient variation within a congregational meeting to attract a wide cross-section of the population.
At the moment we have only one congregation aimed at a specific sections of the wider society. “Fix” meets on Sunday afternoons and is specifically aimed at “younger people”. We do not yet conduct any ethnic specific congregations, though we have recently developed a great Asian Bible Ministry meeting for Bible study on Sunday afternoons.
On the other hand we have not yet achieved sufficient variation within our congregational meetings to attract a wide cross-section of the population either. The things that we do and the way we do them are very narrow in their range. While we may personally enjoy the Cathedral services they are not easily comprehended or highly valued by many people in our society.
This is the challenge of change ahead of us: How to meet the requirements of the multi-cultural society around us while not varying God’s standards.