Safe as churches?

My Address, ‘Safe as Churches?’, NCCA Conference -Safe as Churches- Mar 2004 final formed part of the introductory presentations at the National Council of Churches Consultation in Canberra in 2004. I have listed it here on my blog in order to access it online.

Its concluding comment continues to challenge me, and us, the churches:

I recently released a Bishop’s vision for the Diocese of Tasmania in a booklet form entitled “a healthychurchtransforminglife“. Some ten days later I held a Service of Prayer and Reflection for all those who have suffered abuse. This Service was entitled “Out of the Depths” and the Order of Service was published in booklet form.

At the end of this Service a woman approached me with her husband and asked if I would sign both the “healthychurch transforminglife booklet and the “Out of the Depths: A service for those who have suffered abuse” Order of Service booklet.

I duly signed both the booklets. I was curious, however, and I asked if there was any particular reason for having the booklets autographed. The woman replied that when she heard my “transforminglife” launch address and read the booklet she was enthusiastic about its content but wondered whether this would just be another document collecting dust.

“But”, she commented, “now that I have seen you do the second booklet (“Out of the Depths”), I believe the first one. Thank you.”

The credibility of the Church depends on our commitment to making it a healthy church, a safe church.

May God help us to achieve this through our vital NCCA Conference ‘Safe as Churches?’.

Shalom, Bishop John Harrower

‘ahealthychurch…transforminglife’ 2004

A current writing engagement requires online access to this 2004 document, ahealthyChurchtransformingLife.

With the growing awareness in 2004 of needing to respond to survivors of child sexual abuse, the Anglican Church in Tasmania determined to do all that we could to build a culture of safety and wellbeing for children and the vulnerable. Our vision statement reflected our heart’s desire to be ‘a healthy church … transforming life’. 

The first part, ‘ahealthychurch’, was the challenge to examine our strengths and weaknesses with honesty and grace – nothing was to be ‘off the table’. As a diocese we committed to becoming what God wants us to be, mature disciples of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:28). In order to achieve this aim, every one of us needed to submit to the transforming work of God: ‘transforminglife‘ is God’s heart desire.

See the vision document, ‘ahealthyChurchtransformingLife‘ at, transformingLIFE[1] 

‘Mr Eternity’ – Book Review

‘Mr Eternity: The Story of Arthur Stace’ by Roy Williams with Elizabeth Meyers, Acorn Press, Sydney 2017

‘Eternity’, Arthur Stace’s copperplate script graffiti, continues to fascinate people in contemporary Australia, long after his death in 1967. However, not all aspects of this famous Australian are viewed positively.

“We generally do not like religion in this town (Sydney), are hostile to God-botherers and wowsers and bible-bashers. We could not like Arthur because he was ‘saved’, hell no! We like him because he was a drunk, a ratbag, an outcast. He was his own man, a slave to no one on this earth.” (Author Peter Carey)

So, who was Arthur Stace? The biography, ‘Mr Eternity’, provides many answers.

Arthur Stace, ‘using chalk or crayon every day for almost 35 years’, wrote a one word message: ‘Eternity’. He wrote throughout NSW on footpaths, railway stations, anywhere and everywhere – ‘perhaps half a million times in all’, including on the Sydney GPO’s main bell! Indeed, he was a ’God-botherer’ – his motivation and message came from God. It is also true that for decades he was a drunk and a criminal.

Arthur Stace’s criminal activity seemed to be the inevitable outcome of a life formed in a dysfunctional family of alcohol fuelled violence. Born in 1885, even as a young child he relieved poverty by petty theft. Abandoned by her husband, Stace’s despairing mother handed the children over to institutional care. The teenage Stace found that work in a coal mine gave access to alcohol. He became a ‘mean drunkard’ and increasingly ‘abandoned himself to the (Sydney) underworld’.

Trauma, following service in the trenches of the 1st World War, contributed to Stace’s periodic arrests for drunkenness, although by the 1920’s he no longer engaged in Sydney’s underworld. The Great Depression resulted in mass unemployment. In 1930 a down-and-out Arthur Stace attended a meeting in St Barnabas Broadway’s School Hall for ‘a cuppa tea and a rock cake’. He heard the Rector R.B.S. Hammond speak of Christ and in the ensuing 37 years Stace would say, “I went to the meeting for a rock cake and came out with the Rock of Ages”.

Stace’s life was transformed by Christ. He gave up alcohol. He joined in the mission of St Barnabas’ Broadway assisting to rehabilitate lives broken by unemployment, poverty, alcohol and war service. Thus commitment to their welfare now featured throughout the rest of his life. He was 45 years of age when he became a Christian. If he was once a slave to alcohol and criminal conduct, he continued a slave, but ‘a slave to no one on this earth’, rather a slave to Someone who created this earth.

In 1932, two years after his conversion, Arthur heard Baptist preacher John Ridley conclude a sermon, “Eternity! Eternity! I wish that I could sound that word to everyone on the streets of Sydney. . . .Where will you spend eternity?” In Arthur’s own words he “felt a powerful call from the Lord to write ‘Eternity’. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket and, outside the church, I bent down there and wrote it.” ‘Eternity’, chalked in copperplate script, would become our nation’s most viewed graffiti.

An intriguing aspect of this graffiti ministry is the hiddenness for two decades of the artist’s identity. Only the intervention of Baptist Pastor Lisle Thompson in 1956 caused Arthur Stace at the age of 70 to reveal his identity via the Sydney Morning Herald as ’Mr Eternity’. This resulted in even more opportunities for the septuagenarian to share of his conversion to Christ and the resulting radical transformation in his life.

Arthur Stace’s dual commitment to welfare work and evangelism is an important aspect of this biography. His own experience of degradation, and then transformation through following Christ, fuelled his life’s calling. His skill and humour in handling interjectors during his open-air preaching was noted. His ‘inimitable style’ made him a sought after speaker. A local newspaper announced his visit, ‘Domain “Deadbeat” to Preacher’!

The various characters and their ongoing roles in Arthur’s life are well fleshed out. It was the Revd Hammond’s sermon that God used to awaken faith in Arthur Stace. Hammond’s influence and friendship were long-lasting and it was he who conducted the marriage service of Arthur Stace and Ellen Esther Pearl Dawson at St Barnabas’ Broadway in 1942.

Arthur and Pearl met as volunteers in a city soup kitchen. Pearl was a decade younger than Arthur and, interestingly, it was she who proposed to him! They are buried together in the Botany cemetery, their headstone reading “Rewarded and rejoicing in the presence of their Lord.” The footstone is engraved with one word in copperplate. You guessed it, ‘Eternity’!

‘Mr Eternity’ is an easy and fascinating read: a fine gift and an encouragement to faithful preachers!

This book review was published in the April 2018 edition of The Melbourne Anglican, here.

Out of the Depths – Service for those who suffered abuse

A number of recent events have come together to remind me of the ongoing need for opportunities for those who have suffered abuse and those who support them to reflect and pray.

I had the solemn privilege of leading such a strong pastoral service – a service which was suggested by a survivor of abuse. The service was held in Lent 2004 at St David’s Cathedral, Hobart, and in the north and north-west of Tasmania, and it commenced with the welcome:

Some are here because you personally have experienced the destructive effects of sexual abuse either in the church,… in your home,… or in your community.

Some are here because you wish to support survivors of abuse and pray for them.

Some are here to repent before God this great evil that was done in our church – and it was a great evil – I wish to take this opportunity to apologise unreservedly to any who were abused in any way by Anglican Church workers. I am very, very sorry. It should never have happened.

So for all these reasons, let us come to God together and I include myself in this time of prayer and reflection.

See the, Order of Service booklet for ‘Out of the Depths: A time of prayer and reflection with Bishop John Harrower for all those who have suffered from abuse’, Out of the Depths with Welcome and I acknowledge my debt to Beryl Carmichael in the adaptation and formulation of this significant gathering. [pdf with white background! – Out of the Depths – Service and Welcome on A4]

See also, Prayers for survivors of abuse and perpetrators of abuse, here.

David’s Prayer

It is twenty years since the death of my father-in-law, David Robin, and in honour of him and in order to be refreshed by his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I share a prayer that he wrote in his dying days. He simply entitled it:

David’s Prayer

Dear God, – in great humility – I thank you!

I thank you for the many, many blessings in my life.
I thank you for giving me a loving, caring wife and family.
I thank you for the family of the Church, for their prayers and their offers of help and support.
I thank you that you have given me (and have given Melva) great comfort and extra time of living beyond what was expected with the ill health we experienced.
I thank you for teaching me to ‘place my trust’ in you.

Mostly, I thank you for the guidance you gave me in my struggle over many years in trying to understand the mysteries of Jesus Christ.
For so long, I read and discussed the subject but could not come to grips with prayer. But then I experienced your wondrous love and the way you do hear us and answer us.
Thank you for all that – and, as I leave my friends and family, I look forward to the next phases of your promises.

I thank you in and through the name of Jesus Christ.

*A note from John:
David was profoundly helped in his searching and growing discipleship through the fellowship of the Church Missionary Society (CMS Australia) with which my wife (David and Melva’s daughter), myself and our family served overseas for nine years. The Bible teaching, shared experiences of God’s active work in the world, regular prayer meetings and the company of lively Christians from around Australia and elsewhere were treasured by him, gave him confidence in speaking of his faith, and helped him to increasingly place his trust in God. We thank God for David’s life, and for the ministry to us of ‘David’s Prayer’.

‘People of the Risen King’ – (Longer) Book Review

This is a more detailed review of Elizabeth Willis’ history of St Jude’s Anglican Church Carlton Vic Australia.

Essentials magazine, Autumn 2018, of EFAC Australia invited this contribution and I enjoyed the rewriting to expand on some features and include further features of the ‘People of the Risen King: a History of St Jude’s Carlton, 1866-2016’ by Elizabeth Willis, St Jude’s Anglican Church, Carlton, 2017

Encouragement and gratitude to God and his faithful servants: it was with these emotions that I closed this skillful interweaving of Church and society through 150 years: St Jude’s Anglican Church in Carlton.

Carlton’s socio-economic conditions and demography, clerical and lay personalities, theological emphases, liturgical practice, the Melbourne Diocese, and national and international affairs are colourfully integrated. Through testing times, diverse personalities and ever-changing ministries, the life and mission of the ‘People of the Risen King’ at St Jude’s Carlton is brought to life.

Carlton ‘larrikins’ blocking the entry of worshippers, the decline in attendance following the First World War, the depression, bulldozing to ‘clear the slums’, the building of Housing Commission estates, the opportunity to welcome ‘New Australians’, university ministry, discipleship training, parish partnerships, new congregations and relations with the Diocese of Melbourne: throughout it all we see the faithfulness of men and women to the work of God.

The ethos of the times is well captured. By way of example, the loss of faith following the First World War is highlighted: “subdued and grieving at the end of a horrible war when people were picking up the pieces and trying to make sense of a world where old certainties about progress and security had been shaken” produced stark challenges for the Church. A ‘Come to Church Sunday’ in 1919 seemed to miss the mark when it “exhorted people to go to church because it was a good thing to do, because it was a duty owed to God, and because their mothers would be pleased!”!

Anecdotes tell of incidents and characters. Vicar Lance Shilton in the early 1950’s was challenged at his first Women’s Guild meeting, ‘We’ve heard that you don’t believe in gambling. We want a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Can we have raffles at our fete?’ The Vicar concluded his ‘no’ with, ‘I am confident that by not having raffles at the next fete, you will make more money than you would ever have made before.’ The President replied, quick as a flash, ‘Would you like to bet on that?’ – This reader could not help but laugh!

The Parish’s social work encompasses the ‘free seats’ of the nineteenth century and the Debt Centre of the twenty-first century: a wide embrace of society that is at no time loosened. In the 1890’s wealthier people moved away from Carlton and the Depression hit Carlton and the parish hard. “In the winter of 1892 St Jude’s began a twice weekly soup kitchen . . . On one Wednesday seventy-six families representing over 300 people were provided with forty gallons of soup . . . and 140 loaves of bread, as well as , tea, sugar and a large quantity of clothing.”

These impacts of changing demographics bring their own demands to parish priorities and possibilities. Hardly imaginable in 1866 would be the translation of sermons into Mandarin and Farsi in 2015!

The issue of liturgical changes and their cost to parishioners and clergy is not avoided nor the struggle to settle the ‘culture’ of a congregation and indeed of the parish. Would a congregation’s services have robed clergy, hymns, public prayer, charismatic expression, expository sermons, be family/children friendly, welcoming to the outsider, lay or staff leadership or some combination – and all in ninety to a hundred minutes?

Change is costly: the cost not always valued. A gracious and poignant reflection in 2004 from a now senior member, “Us young things took little notice of the cost of all this to the older parishioners, who had continued faithful through the hard times, and to whom we owed the continued existence of the church. We failed to respect the work of the Spirit of God amongst them.”

Insight is given to the significance of the gifting and emphases of the clerical leadership on the life and ministry of the parish. I appreciated the honesty of the personal challenges faced by clergy and the conflict within the life of the parish. In particular, conflict between staff is named while at the same time holding the tension of naming a conflict without blaming and its associated ‘reveal-all’ narrative. This history is no hagiography – and praise be to God for that!

Photos add to the narrative. After viewing the impressive 1905 St Jude’s Football Team, I looked in vain for recent vicars Boan, Adams and Condie in similar football team pose of crossed arms and attired in football shorts and sleeveless footy jumper!

A deftly placed photo of a fully robed bishop, robed vicar, two women wardens in smart casuals and a male warden in shorts and thongs, delightfully illustrate the Vicar’s words to the 1988 AGM, “I think that St Jude’s still retains great deal of its off-beat, imaginative and risk-taking style. It is still fun to be part of and, despite the apparent order and sameness of our life, the erratic, the irregular and the very funny still occurs!”!

The relationship between St Jude’s and the diocese of Melbourne is honestly traced with its ups and downs – and current healthy state.

The irony of writing of the seemingly endless struggle to maintain the parish buildings fit for purpose at the very time it is uninhabitable due to a deliberately lit fire in 2014 is not lost on the author. A multimillion dollar building project is currently underway.

Truly a stimulating read! Do leave time for reflection along the way, for this history is a reminder that through the changing circumstances of parish and societal life the Church is the ‘People of the Risen King’.

Thank you, Elizabeth Willis, for your fine work in bringing this parish history to us, and to the faithful saints of St Jude’s Carlton. Copies are available via St Jude’s,

An insightful and inspiring history!

My previous Book Review of ‘People of the Risen King’ is here.

See EFAC website and earlier Essentials here.

‘Shadows of the Cross’ – Book Review

Lent starts tomorrow! – a Lenten resource:

OT relevance to Jesus explored in Lenten study

“Our discipleship is enriched [through]… the relevance of the Old Testament to Jesus’… claims…”

Shadows of the Cross: Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament, by Michael Raiter. (Anglican Press Australia, Sydney South, 2017 $10.95)

Book Review by John Harrower

A recent conversation with a travelling companion of Jewish faith reminded me yet again that Jesus Christ was, like my companion, a man of Jewish faith. Jesus was born of a woman who was Jewish, raised in a Jewish household, carpenter’s shop and community. His ministry was in the context of the people of Israel, who with their religious texts and traditions were firmly established in the lands of their ancestors, their lands promised by God.

Jesus made the extraordinary claim that he was the Messiah, the Christ, of whom the texts of the Jewish people testify! In a post resurrection appearance Jesus reminds his disciples that “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). Our discipleship is enriched through a growing appreciation of the relevance of the Old Testament to Jesus’ personal claims and ministry.

Shadows of the Cross: seeing Jesus in the Old Testament gives such enrichment by opening up 40 Old Testament passages, one for each day of Lent, in easy-to-read two page daily reflections each concluding with a prayer.

Four sections comprising The Law, The History, The Wisdom and The Prophets, each of ten reflections, structure the studies. Eight sets of five questions for group discussion or personal reflection take us deeper. A mix of well-crafted general and personal questions facilitates a range of engagements with the Old Testament texts and their relevance to Jesus’ ministry.

Anecdotes commonly commence each reflection and give easy access to the theme. Thus the first reflection, ‘The Cross in the Garden’, begins with the story of the five hundred Australians who set out for Paraguay in 1893 on an ill-fated project to build a communist utopia. The study asks, “Why do our highest ideals invariably disappoint us?” and leads into “the fall of humanity” in Genesis 3 and then to consider the pastoral epistle’s warning, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray” (1 John 3:7). Reflection through story, Old Testament text, New Testament text: all leading to our life before God in prayer.

The author, Mike Raiter, puts to good effect his skills gained in teaching history and English to elaborate the context of the biblical texts.

Thus in developing the Day 11 study, “There has never been a day like this” – the sun standing still for the victory of Joshua and Israel as they did battle to occupy the land promised by God – the author’s storytelling reminds us of epoch-changing days: the Magna Carta, Wittenberg Door, first walk on the moon, the Twin Towers and a day when Rome ruled Palestine and the sun stopped shining at midday, and Jesus Christ died (only to rise again!).

Lament is a pervasive theme of the Lenten season. In considering Psalms 42 and 43, the author notes, “One of the great weaknesses of contemporary Christian songs is there are so few laments. We need songs of lament”. The image of the deer separated from the herd and panting for life-giving water is evocative of the psalmist’s lament which is then related to Jesus’ sense of abandonment in Gethsemane, “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). The study asks, “Can’t you hear Psalm 42 there?’ “Why, my soul, are you downcast… my tears have been my food day and night” (42:3,5). In prayer, we thank God for a Saviour who has known suffering and abandonment.

“Scales of Justice” (Day 36) brings a salutary warning from the prophet Amos against injustice and about the coming day of the Lord. “Little acts of dishonesty” are illustrated from the milkman diluting our author’s milk and from supermarkets which “falsely advertise bread, which was baked months before overseas, as ‘freshly baked today’”. The author doesn’t mince words in noting that Amos points to the final Day of the Lord when “Revelation portrays the merchants of the world weeping” because, “In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin (Revelation 18:17)”. Moreover, the prophet Amos speaks of a day when “(the Lord) will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight” (Amos 8:9). The Old Testament points to the cross of Jesus where darkness covered the land for three hours (Luke 23:44) – truly a “day of the Lord”.

I looked forward to each day’s reading and reflection, and I have no doubt that you too will look forward to these daily nutritional Lenten studies.

**This Book Review was published in the February 2018 edition of The Melbourne Anglican which available from your local Melbourne Anglican Parish. See also online news at,

Being a Church in Mission

Being a Church in Mission: Reflections from Tasmania on the Anglican Church of Australia, Anglican Institute Public Lecture 2016, Ridley College Melbourne.

“Imagine you are sitting in front of a Royal Commission Public Hearing. You are in the witness box having taken the Oath. Arrayed before you are Commissioners, barristers, staff, and because it is being live streamed, you are on view to people around the nation. It’s far from a relaxed situation! The Counsel Assisting the Commissioners asks, “Without asking for a sermon, Bishop, would you mind briefly assisting us with what are Anglican values as you see and understand them?”  What comes to your mind? What values define us?””

Download the Lecture here, Anglican Institute Lecture 2016 – Being a Church in Mission (Tas) 11 April 2016

The audio of the Q&A session at the Lecture with Paul Cavanough and myself (unfortunately, the audio of my lecture was lost) is, here

‘Faith-Based Development: How Christian Organizations Can Make a Difference’

Of questions, there are many when Christians get together to discuss Faith-Based Organizations involved in aid and development.

Over the last year, I have heard;

When a Christian organization sends out Christmas cards with ‘Season’s Greetings’ rather than Christmas greetings, has it lost its way?

When a Christian organization employs non-Christians to drive trucks to deliver emergency supplies has it lost its way?

When a Christian organization dispenses with Church volunteers in order to increase ‘efficiency’ has it lost its way?

Bob Mitchell has some questions of his own as he brings theology, governance and development practice together in his compelling, ‘Faith-Based Development: How Christian Organizations Can Make a Difference’, Orbis Books, New York 2017.

In an age of ‘Fake News’, Bob’s data based research using interviews and focus groups from diverse geographical and cultural communities is a gift to truth-telling! Bob, we thank you! Your data based research strengthens your engagement with critical issues.

By way of example, while engaging with the vexed issue of a Christian aid and development organisation working in a Muslim context the research data allows us to hear Muslim and Christian voices. In Senegal, an open theistic society, it is said that it is “easier to speak to people of faith if you have a faith, even if it is different.” and “once a Muslim sees that the development organisation is about prayer and spirituality, then a Muslim will say, “Now we can do business together.”” (p.48)

Mitchell draws the conclusion that communities within theistic societies may have stronger resonance with an organisation from another faith when compared to secular agencies. (48)

Of course there are other contexts where a more closed and militant faith may work against cooperation in development.

The book is scholarly in its approach and wise in its reasoning as it draws conclusions on the nature of faith motivation, and the delivery and effectiveness of development.

*Full Address at Book Launch Melbourne: Faith-Based Development by Bob Mitchell Book Launch by John Harrower 6 April 2017

BCA Councillor Introduction

Here are the personal notes about my commitment to Christ and the ministry of BCA which I was invited to share in the Councillor’s Column of The Real Australian, Summer edition 2017/18

Following her return to Christ, my mother blessed me by encouraging my attendance, during childhood and youth, at our local Anglican Church. However, I drifted away and it was through a Bible study and God’s grace that in my twenties I knelt at my bed and prayed a simple yet profound commitment to Christ. My wife, Gayelene, also committed her life to Christ at that time and we give thanks that ever since we have lived together in the joy and comfort of God’s embrace.

We became BCA members while serving with CMS in Argentina for nine years. During that time, we felt we should continue our concern for mission in Australia and so we joined BCA and began receiving information and encouragement to support ‘Australia for Christ ‘.

Upon our return to Australia and involvement in parish ministry in Melbourne our support for BCA continued. This involvement with BCA deepened during our 15 years in Tasmania. BCA is a long term partner in the mission and ministry of the Diocese of Tasmania and, as Bishop of Tasmania, I was privileged to work closely in developing new opportunities for mission. Because we saw so clearly the vital support of BCA missioners in areas of need, I willingly accepted the invitation to serve as President of BCA. It is a privilege and joy to continue in that role, and give to BCA a little of the great gifts I saw given to Tasmania (during my 15 years serving as the Bishop of the Anglican Church of Tasmania).

Now, in Melbourne, we attend BCA functions and continue our support for BCA, including running a monthly prayer meeting in our home for BCA. What a joy it is to serve God through such a visionary, strategic and prayerful family such as BCA!

May the God continue to bless the Bush Church Aid Society and all who minister through her fellowship in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Right Rev’d John Harrower OAM

President BCA

Bishop Assisting the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia

*[Information about BCA’s mission, including prayer notes, at Bush Church Aid.]