by Keith Stephens, Registrar and Secretary of Synod
As many will now know, I am leaving the Diocese of Adelaide at the end of April to take up the role of Diocesan Secretary for the Diocese of Perth. It is difficult to believe that almost seven years have passed since I commenced my role as Registrar and Secretary of Synod for the Diocese of Adelaide.
Sarah and I returned to Adelaide from Canberra so that I could take up this unique ministry. It was a confronting decision at the time, leaving successful careers, having to move out of my comfort zone, and knowing that this role would be unlike anything I had experienced as a Commonwealth public servant. Indeed the first few months in the role were nothing like I had imagined; problems, challenges, complex relationships and situations abounded. It was a steep learning curve for a Registrar who was not yet thirty.
I will never forget my first Synod, occurring only a few months after my arrival. For a start, I had never even been to a Synod before. With little in the way of collective corporate knowledge, we did the best we could to shape a meeting of the Synod and for the most part it went OK. That is except for the complexities of conducting a series of elections and not fully appreciating the finely nuanced specific voting requirements for each of the contested elections. Although the wailing and gnashing of teeth that took place over clunky elections was nothing compared to what took place when we introduced electronic voting at a subsequent Synod. Fortunately, we ironed out the kinks in the electronic voting system and by the following year it was working perfectly. Having said that, it was only used to determine whether the Synod wished to break early for the morning tea break. But at least we had a clear and precise mandate to get stuck into the scones! At the time Archbishop Jeffrey Driver called it Keith’s Folly!
Over the years, I have come to enjoy Synods. I think, perhaps I should see someone about this strange feeling? If I was to play a counting game, I think it is seven Annual Sessions of Synod, two Special Sessions and one Bishop Election Synod. In a small way, I am pleased that the Election Synod of 2016 was my last, as there was something conclusive about it, and for those who know me, I like outcomes, so this was a Synod where we as a Diocese had to work together to achieve something of such importance to the life of our Church. I received much positive feedback from many an old Synod hand; that it was “one the best Synods they had ever attended” some would remark, citing the culture and management of the Election Synod being different to past occasions. These were wonderfully affirming statements for the amazing team of Diocesan Office. After my first Synod, I coined the phrase for future Synods, “Remember what the Secretary always says... Synod is fun”. For a while it appeared on posters around the office, little stickers on doors and computer monitors. Nerdy fun, but a great rallying point! And seven years on Synods are still fun.
My time in Adelaide has been focused for a large part with responding to and working with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Over the duration of the Commission, I have worked hard to ensure that the Diocese’s history in this sobering space has been well told, and that our efforts to positively and pastorally respond to survivors of child sexual abuse reflects our Christian values and desire for repentance and to seek forgiveness for what our Church has done. As the Royal Commission comes to an end, concluding my role here in Adelaide adds a heightened sense of closure for me, in that I am leaving after that project has also come to an end. It is a sad and tragic side of our story, but my role has required that, from time to time, I work with survivors and seek to provide appropriate redress on behalf of our church. This work will always remain close to me, and it has been humbling to be entrusted with this special responsibility.
Registrars going back forty years have been confounded by Bishop’s Court. Like my predecessors, I have had more than enough Synods and meetings about ‘what to do with Bishop’s Court?’. Sadly, I will not be here to be part of the team that hopefully is able to achieve the proposed development at Bishop’s Court. If the project can be delivered successfully, it will help contribute to the resources of the Diocese for the next generation. The complexity of this project is substantial, and a project team is in place to ensure that it has every chance of success. At the same time, if for some reason it does not happen, we can say once and for all that we explored every option for Bishop’s Court, giving Synod the clarity to decide what might be the next appropriate action to take.
For me it is the multitude of little things upon which I reflect the most and are almost impossible to articulate in much depth. However, it is in the work that Diocesan Office does day in and day out to support, guide and shape ministry that I find satisfaction in a job done well. In my time, I have built and lead a highly performing team of people who each in their own way goes about their work with a genuine commitment to doing their best for others. Diocesan Office is a team of people who constantly amaze me with their innovation, perseverance and daily dedication to build God’s Kingdom. And, in all this it is the laughter, good humour and sense of team spirit that I have valued the most. No problem has ever been so impossible that was not aided by our weekly Bible reading, prayers and morning tea.
I often thought that I must be one of the most annoying people to assist. Knowing at least some of my own faults, I imagine that at times I am not an easy person to work with. Yet Susan Wilkins sails through the challenging times, always pointing me in the right direction if I was lost, or overwhelmed by whatever the crisis was at the time. I am sure Susan will not mind me saying this, but she was schooled in the “old fashioned” sense, and being Personal Assistant to a Master of an Oxford college for many years meant that my office for the most part has had a genteel reserve. In my more exuberant times and more stressed moments, I have been grateful for Susan keeping me level- headed and on task. Whatever will I do now without Susan by my side?
Of course much of my time has been dedicated to being a key advisor, supporter and friend to Archbishop Jeffrey Driver, and more recently to our Administrator (Sede Vacante) Bishop Tim. The closeness of our working relationships has been profound, the mutual respect that has been fostered between us adds to the meaningfulness of the work that we share. While I will always hold close the relationship I developed with Archbishop Jeffrey as we both worked through so much together, the good and the bad, to build a very strong partnership, it would be more than remiss of me not to say how much I have valued getting to know Bishop Tim more, and working closely with him while he has been Administrator (Sede Vacante).
These close working relationships, in my view, have enabled so much reform, new initiatives as well as rebuilding and transforming within the Diocese. I remember when I arrived in 2010, the Diocese as a community, did not have the same spirit of confidence and sense of opportunity that it has today. When I consider just a few examples, such as the development of the new congregation at St Barnabas Croydon, the revived parish community at St Margaret’s Woodville and the renewed sense of optimism in the Parish of Kangaroo Island, I can see how much has changed in the Diocese over the last few years. This optimism and zeal for building up Christ-centred communities is so encouraging; it has been a privilege to lead and be part of a team that has made a tangible difference.
On average the Diocesan Council makes approximately 200 resolutions a year, which works out to be approximately 1,400 resolutions passed in my time here in Adelaide. It is perhaps shameful to admit that I have not missed one meeting of Diocesan Council in seven years. Like my fondness for Synods, perhaps I should also consider seeing someone about this addiction to Diocesan Council! Statistics aside, I have valued working with all the members who have served on Diocesan Council over the years. There have been some significant decisions that have had to be made over the years, and as much as the Diocesan Council is a body of advice to the Archbishop, I too have benefited greatly from the advice, both in formal debates around the table, and from the many informal conversations and relationships I have formed with many of the members. While it is impossible to name everyone, I want to mention in particular The Hon David Bleby QC, recently retired Chancellor (Hawthorn), Mr Allan Perryman (St Peter’s Cathedral), Mr Alastair Lea (Burnside) and Archdeacon David Bassett (Kensington) who have been such invaluable sources of counsel over the whole of my time in Adelaide.
There is so much I could share about my time in Adelaide. My role has seen me work across so much of the life of our Church. There are so many wonderful people of the Diocese who I have met in so many different ways; it has been a true blessing to minister alongside so many. The decision to leave the Diocese of Adelaide and to take up the role of Diocesan Secretary of Perth was not easy; it has taken much prayer and discernment to try and understand what God’s plan was for Sarah and myself. Sarah and I believe that we have made the right decision, putting our trust in God that this is His plan for us. Adelaide is our true home. It has been wonderful to spend the last seven years with our family, friends old and new, and Sarah and I have truly felt that to be able to work in the Church and be part of building His Kingdom in this unique way in Adelaide has been a true blessing from God.
O Lord, in thee I have trusted: let me never be confounded.
A service of Choral Evensong to farewell Keith and Sarah will be held at St Peter’s Cathedral Wednesday 26 April at 5:30pm. All are very welcome to attend.