In the church calendar, last Friday was the feast day of Augustine of Canterbury, missionary and bishop (died 604). Augustine was a Benedictine Monk sent on a mission from Rome in 597 by Pope Gregory the Great to Britain, with the task of Christianising the land. An opportunity for mission had arisen with the marriage of King Ethelbert of Kent to Bertha, a Christian, who (it was hoped) would be able to help persuade Ethelbert to convert.
On the one hand, the mission was a great success: Ethelbert became a Christian, and so did thousands of others in a very short space of time, perhaps through the influence of a newly converted king; perhaps through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Augustine became the first “Archbishop of Canterbury”, a role that predates the existence of the Church of England, but which today is the highest office in the Church of England, and in the Anglican Communion worldwide.
However, it turned out that there were already many Christians in Britain before the arrival of the official party from the Church of Rome. It’s a reminder to us that we are all servants of one higher than any popes or archbishops. We are servants of the One who is building his church in both visible and invisible ways through the unstoppable power of his Holy Spirit.
In light of this, I was greatly heartened at Clergy Conference this week to hear from the brand new Archbishop of Adelaide on this very topic of growth. Archbishop Geoff Smith talked about a 4-fold growth that he is hoping to see in our Diocese: growth in numbers, growth in faith, growth in serving, and growth in generous giving.
But it wasn’t just a motivational speech telling us all to get busy. He has perceived a certain air of defeat in our Diocese… a fear that our church is slowly declining and there is not really much we can do about it. In contrast, he urged us to remember that God can provide all the necessary resources for growth. He said, “God will lead us if we are prepared to follow and to trust.”
There are many steps to this. But Archbishop Geoff was adamant that the first step is prayer. Start praying for growth (if we haven’t yet) and confidently expect God to answer these prayers.
So as we reflect on the ministry of the first Archbishop, let’s take the lead of our own Archbishop and commit our Diocese to prayer; then eagerly work for and expect God to flourish the ministry of the gospel in our city.