Sydney and a new year

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
3rd February 2009

Tagged: community materialism

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The Sydney year starts in February. The long summer holidays are over with. Christmas is but a memory. The work starts in earnest and so we commence the Cathedral programme.

This year, as in every year, the Cathedral strategy remains the same.

The strategy is to prayerfully proclaim Christ to Sydney. This work has two foci:—“Building the Church” and “Reaching the City”.

Within the Cathedral we have many congregations that each aim at building. Not just building numerically but also building spiritually. Building into Christ-like character of loving service of each other and sacrificial concern for the lost.

It is the Christ-like concern for the lost that is the springboard for the Cathedral's other focus—“Reaching the City”. The city of Sydney is on our doorstep in several fashions.

It is the central business district where thousands come daily. We are surrounded by thousands of people living without their families mainly in high-rise apartments. But we are also at the very centre of a metropolis of nearly four million people scattered over a huge suburban hinterland.

But the city of Sydney is an even more complex mission field than that. People are pouring into this city from all over the world. We are one of the most multicultural cities in the world, or in the history of civilisation. The reasons people are in our city are many and varied. It is the home of arts and culture, as well as finance and business. It is a major provider of education as well as remaining the seat of government for the state of New South Wales.

Religiously Sydney has a confused history and a quickly evolving landscape.

From the days of our penal colony, Christians have had a leading role in framing our culture without ever being more than a minority amongst the community. With the present migration patterns our numerical significance has been waning since World War II. Our nominal adherents are decreasing with every census. There are now some parts of Sydney with very few Bible believers. Some alternative minority religions have been steadily growing with migration. But the real growth has occurred amongst the materialists—living for themselves in the pleasures of wealth.

Individualism and materialism have been promoted through the staggering economic growth of the second half of the twentieth century. Only rarely was it so crude as to articulate its philosophy “greed is good”. Though this week I read an article promoting individualism under a new word: “frending”. Frending is not making friends but dumping friends whom we no longer want or no longer suit us. It is part of the overcrowded busy lives of individualistic self-centred materialism. As the author of the article wrote: “These go against time-honoured traditions of community and society. We used to rely on our neighbours, as they depended on us, but in the age of frending, we act far more independently. The nuclear family is behind us, and we now live nuclear lifestyles.” (SMH Jan 28, 2009).

Interestingly, the next day the same paper reported on a well-being survey that showed people living in communities and connection with their neighbours were the happiest, while those in the isolation of the inner-city suburbs were the unhappiest.

We know that materialistic greed and self-centred individualism will never work but Sydney-siders keep trying. That is because Sydney is a godless city—full of lost people desperately running away from God. As God says, “claiming to be wise they became fools” (Romans 1:22). Without God people fill their lives with alternative gods that never satisfy. Sadly friends, for all its beauty, peace, industry and wealth—we live in the city of the lost.

Yet in the very midst of this godless city, there is a robust strength to Biblical Christianity that defies the prophets of doom who keep predicting the end of Christianity.

Each year we see the cause of Christ growing with the expansion of the city. All kinds of ethnic minorities who had little chance of hearing the gospel in their country of origin are turning to Christ. Our Theological College is full. Our missionary society is sending out more workers into the world. Our conferences and conventions keep growing and expanding. And here in the Cathedral our congregations are growing in numbers and commitment to the gospel as we see people come to Christ.

God is at work in our midst. He has not yet abandoned our city. We must not abandon it either. We must persist with His strategy of prayerfully proclaiming Christ to Sydney as we seek to build the church and reach the city.