Some of the historic and present links between our two Anglican Catholic parishes

This homily was delivered by the Reverend Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of Saint Peter’s Eastern Hill on the Patronal Festival of Saint Mark on Sunday 24 April, 2016.

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation’” Mark 16:15

Thank you Fr Stuart for your warm welcome, and the invitation to join with you in celebrating your Patronal Festival. The links between St Mark’s and St Peter’s, indeed between St Mark and St Peter, go back a long way.

If I may begin on a personal note, one of my first links with St Mark’s was an invitation, soon after I took up my incumbency at St Peter’s, from Fr Stuart and a delightful little group of clergy called “N.A.N.” – the Northern Alliance of Niceness! In a Church where being inclusive seems to be viewed as a sin, a little niceness and liberal collegiality goes a long way.

The links between our two churches go back to the early days of Melbourne, of course, when on 1st July 1853 the foundation stone of St Mark’s was laid as a church-plant (to use modern terminology) from the then seven-year-old church of St Peter’s; St Peter’s-in-the-bush, as it was then known.

A few years later, you had a curate here at St Mark’s by the name of Ernest Selwyn Hughes. He was deaconed in 1887, but fell ill soon after coming to St Mark’s, and took sick leave in England. While recovering he worked for a short time at St Peter’s, London Docks, and was profoundly influenced by the Vicar of the time, Fr Lincoln Stanhope Wainright (1847-1929).

The twentieth-century spiritual director and mystic, Evelyn Underhill, gives a beautiful insight into the daily life of this saintly slum priest (Evelyn Underhill, Modern Guide to the Ancient Quest for the Holy, p. 194):

Every day developed naturally from its invariable beginning; a long period of rapt devotion before the altar, which nothing but an urgent summons to the dying was allowed to interrupt. The morning was usually absorbed by letters and interviews with the growing crowd who brought him their difficulties and sorrows. The afternoon was given to the visiting of the sick, always one of his chief cares. He went with an untiring zest fro house to house and hospital to hospital, often those in distant parts of London which had patients from among his flock; and slept in the train between his visits to make up for the shortness of his nights. It was said of him that “if you want to know the Father well, you must be either a sick man or a drunkard.” … He was always ready to leave the ninety-nine good churchgoers and start single-handed to rescue one lost sheep.

It was this spirit and vision of AngloCatholic ministry that Fr Hughes brought back to St Mark’s when he returned to Melbourne in 1888, and within a year he had established the Holy Redeemer Mission, serving those living in the slums of Fitzroy during the depression years here.

After his curacy at St Mark’s, Fr Hughes strengthened the ties between our two churches, serving as curate and later Vicar at St Peter’s, and cementing in both our churches the Anglo-Catholic dual emphasis of “intense spirituality focused on the liturgy and a pastoral care for the poor” (Colin Holden, From Tories at Prayer to Socialists at Mass, p. 70).

These links between St Mark and St Peter have their roots in the earliest days of the church, if the second century witnesses are to be believed. In 140ad Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, is quoted by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (III.39): “This also the Elder said: Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers.”

Circa 160-180 AD there is a delightful Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark’s gospel, which notes: “Mark declared, who is called ‘stumpfingered’ because he has small fingers in comparison with the size of the rest of his body. He was Peter’s interpreter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the parts of Italy” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3, p.268. So, Donald Trump is not the first to be so-called!

Going even further back, Acts 12:25 tells us of Paul’s companion, John Mark, who is mentioned elsewhere as a disciple of Peter (1 Peter 5:13).

I could say much more of both our Biblical and historical ties, but what of today, and tomorrow? What might our links be in the coming decade? As we heard in today’s gospel from Mark: “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’”

Last year at St Peter’s we were blessed to have Bp Stephen Cottrell visit from the Diocese of Chelmsford in England. He spoke to members of both our congregations, and others from around the Diocese, about Catholic Evangelism and among other things the importance of the Mass in the task of evangelisation. In the final chapter of his book From the Abundance of the Heart: Catholic Evangelism for All Christians Bp Stephen posits the question: “can the Eucharist evangelise?” He pulls no punches: 

“I have worshipped in hundreds of churches. There is no nice way of putting this, but the worship in many churches of a … catholic tradition feels tired and lifeless” (p. 105).

We are often constrained by the architecture of our buildings, or congregations resistant to change, but Bp Stephen also points to failings in leadership, lowered expectations and a lack of nerve. Hard words to hear, perhaps, but an important mirror to hold up to ourselves as Catholic Christians in challenging times.

This being said, Bishop Cottrell lays out practical ideas for evangelismfocused liturgical renewal and concludes encouragingly: “for catholic Christians there is nothing more authentic and nothing which shapes our life more than our participation in the Eucharist” (p. 120).

In 2013 St Mark’s hosted Bp Gene Robinson, another Catholic evangelist who drew members from both our congregations together. I remember vividly hearing Bp Gene speak here to a full church, encouraging us to proclaim more widely an inclusive gospel, and not to be shackled by fear of what those in power might do to us as a result.

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’”

Proclaiming the good news of God’s inclusive love for all people, and inviting all-comers from the highways and byways to share in the great Eucharistic feast; this is the great commission on the lips of Mark’s Jesus. It is something we have worked on together in the past, something that we share today as we share in the real presence, and it is something that we will continue to do, by God’s grace, in our shared mission into the future.