Wednesday, 15th November, 2000 - In which it all comes unstuck and the world crashes down on me. Almost.

Just when all seems certain, your world comes crashing down around you. That’s what it seemed like to me today. Cathy had her interview at the Tribunal this morning. I offered to come in with her and to bring Maddy as well as Mia. While Cathy (with Mia) was in the Tribunal office, Maddy and I went first to the Cathedral, then to the Liturgy Office book shop in the Cardinal Knox Centre, and finally to the Fitzroy Gardens opposite the Cathedral to play. It was a beautiful sunny spring day, and we had packed a picnic lunch to have later. I expected Cathy to take only about 1/2 an hour, but it was an hour and a quarter before she met us. I asked how it went, and she said, “Well, its an annulment, not a disolution” --“What! Why? Your first husband wasn't baptised!” -- “Yes, he was, as a Mormon” -- “But that doesn’t count” -- “Yes it does.”

It seems, as I discovered later today from Fr John Fleming, that Mormons use the correct Trinitarian formula when baptising people in water, and that means that it Rome considers it a valid Christian baptism, whatever the Mormons believe. Amazing. But this news had the effect of pulling the rug out from under my feet. This was precisely what Cathy didn’t want and what I was hoping to avoid for her sake.

Apparently, when the interviewer looked at her list, she saw that “Mormon” was on it. She then double-checked with the Vicar General before announcing that if Cathy wanted to keep going in this direction she would need to have an annulment. Cathy was naturally upset, but took the offered opportunity to change the interview into an initial interview for an annulment.

We didn’t talk much about this during our picnic lunch. I was glad it was such a beautiful day, and that we had a little leisure just to assimilate this new situation. Maddy enjoyed chasing the seagulls and walking through “the jungle” in the gardens. We went to the playground, and finished off our time there with chocolate ice-creams before returning home.

On the way home, Cathy was wondering out loud about witnesses for her application. I didn’t want to push her into a committment to go ahead. At one stage, I said “Well that’s it then. Perhaps I should just accept that it is God’s will that I don’t go ahead with this”, but Cathy replied: “But what will you do then?” which is exactly the question I have been asking myself for the rest of the day.

When I got home, I tried ringing Fr Denis Stanley, but he is in Canberra until tonight. Fr Anthony Fisher is overseas, so I tried ringing Fr John Fleming. John was out, but rang me later when I was down at the office. I was glad to talk to him. He did the research to discover that the reason Mormon baptism was recognised is because the formula is right. It was an education for both of us.

He gave me one very good bit of advice. He said “Trust Cathy”. Yes. This is exactly what I have to do. She has been supportive of me so far--she will, in her own time and in her own pace, decide and do what is best for us. I need to trust her in this--to lay off the pressure, to assure her of my love. Who knows? the process of annulment may even be beneficial for her.

But I do find myself wondering again and again: What if it doesn’t work? What if one or the other of us cannot get an annulment? What if I cannot become a Roman Catholic--then what? I am convinced my other two options--put on blinkers or try to change the LCA--would both be fruitless. But I cannot be professed as a Roman Catholic if my marriage is not regularised.

One thought that occured to me is that I could try to find some other means of employment and at least live and worship as if I were a Catholic, even if I could not be received into it. But that is last resort stuff. I need to trust God and trust Cathy. How apt the song was that the boys sang for me at our wedding supper:

Trust and Obey,
for there’s no other way,
to be happy with Cathy/Jesus
but to trust and obey.
I hate that song--probably because I am a lousy at either trusting or obeying--but now I have to do both. That and a huge dose of patience.

Sunday, 5th November, 2000: In which Cathy begins her dissolution process, I meet with Fr Fisher, and I'm bailed up by a Parishioner

During the week, Cathy rang the Tribunal to make time for an interview to begin proceedings for a dissolution of her previous marriage. She has an appointment for the 15th, and will go without me. She has to produce three character references for herself, and I have to do the same. I am asking Fr Denis, Fr Anthony, and my spiritual director. She is asking her pastor from St Paul's, and [two other friends]. The last two know already what I am doing, but this was the first time Cathy's pastor will have had his suspicions confirmed. When Cathy talked to him on Friday, he did not make any comment.

I had a meeting with Fr Anthony on Thursday, the last meeting for about a month, as he left for Guam on Saturday. We talked about Cathy’s dissolution application. I asked him for a character reference. He was more than happy to do this. He was also going to contact the tribunal just to “oil the wheels” a little by letting them know my situation. I also asked if he had taken my conversion up with anyone in authority in the Church. He said that the Vicar General [Denis Hart] knows, and that he was going to have an interview with the Archbishop [George Pell] on Thursday night. One of the topics on the agenda of his meeting was “the Lutherans”. He said that George probably didn’t know yet what this was about, but he would afterwards. He asked me what I wanted him to tell George--for instance, he was going to raise the question of my financial needs following my reception into the Church. He asked if I wanted him to raise the issue of priesthood. I told him to say that I was concerned 1) for financial security for my family, 2) that I should be able to serve the Church in some capacity, and 3) that I would leave it to George’s discretion as to whether this would be as a layman, deacon or priest. Anthony agreed that he thought this would be the best approach. Peter Holmes also met with Anthony later that afternoon, and he was also going to include Peter in his chat with George. I received a phone message on Friday to contact Anthony on his mobile to find out what transpired, but I couldn’t get onto him, and by Saturday morning, he had already left. Can I stand the suspense for a month???

I think Peter has moved a long way in recent weeks. He is on his way in, I reckon. He will probably get there before me. We talked together on the phone on Friday about P. It is SP’s suspicion that P. has never faced the question with true personal “angst” but that the issue if for him mainly an intellectual one. I put this to P. when he, his wife and son came around for tea last night. He said that he agrees, although he can see it becoming more of a personal issue soon.

Today was not the easiest of days on the parish circuit. At Casey, one of my parishioners bailed me up for being “too Catholic”. She believes that being Protestant is essential, and furthermore that being Lutheran means not being catholic. I said that I cannot hold this position. She asked me whether I thought the Lutheran and Catholic churches should reunite, and I said “yes, this is what I am working for”. To which she said “Not in your lifetime”. She is probably right. She was concerned that my “being catholic” was actually off-putting for those who wanted a “Lutheran” service. It did not help for me to try to tell her that I was not an isolated case in the Lutheran Church and that there were many others who held the same understanding of the Lutheran Church as "evangelical catholic". I felt more than a little rattled by this.

I ended up sending her and all Casey people a copy of my Reformation Sunday sermon, which was only preached at Knox and Frankston. I believe in this sermon I addressed the issues openly and honestly. I have had only positive feedback so far on this, although I know that this sermon is “doing the rounds” at the moment in printed form, and there will probably be some backlash before long.

Sunday, 29th October, 2000: SERMON FOR REFORMATION SUNDAY, 2000

Our Saviour’s, Knox; St Peter’s, Frankston.

Grace and peace be to you,
from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Reformation Day. What does this conjure up for you in your mind? What are we celebrating today as we sing “A mighty Fortress”, and hang red paraments on our altar and pulpit? Do you think of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg church? Or do you think of the four “alones” of the Lutheran Church: “Faith alone, Grace alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone”?

There is certainly a right and a wrong way of celebrating Reformation day. If, on this day, we celebrate the way in which the Spirit has led his Church into all truth over the last 2000 years; if, on this day, we give thanks for the constant guidance of God’s word in the scriptures; or if, on this day, we rejoice in the good news of the Gospel of free forgiveness in Christ, then, I think, we are celebrating Reformation Day day appropriately.

But on the other hand, if we celebrate this day as a triumph of Protestantism over the Catholic Church, if we celebrate this day as if the Word of God began with Martin Luther on October 31st 1517, when he posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg church, or if we celebrate this day in a way that suggests that Lutherans alone of all Christians teach and believe that we are justified by faith whereas other Christians, especially Roman Catholics, think they are justified by their good deeds, then, I think, we are celebrating Reformation Day in a way that is thoroughly inappropriate.

Sadly, I think Reformation Day has been celebrated inappropriately more often than we have celebrated it appropriately. This has become all the more clear for many of us as we have reflected on the implications of the Joint Declaration signed last year by the Lutheran Churches and the Roman Catholic Church saying together that justification comes by grace alone through faith in Christ. For years we have propogated a characterisation of the Roman Catholic Church;
namely, that they teach salvation by good works. We can no longer continue to characterise them in this way, because it is not true. It is necessary for us to reconsider our Catholic brothers and sisters, and to re-examine their teachings and practices in the light of this new agreement.


At the same time, it is necessary for us to re-examine ourselves, and to ask ourselves whether we have indeed been as faithful to God’s word as we would like to think we have been. All over the world, the Lutheran Church is facing many thorny issues --modern issues that never faced the Reformers--issues that we have to examine again in the light of God’s word and in the light of the truth that has been preserved and handed down to us by the Christian Church of the past.
Some of these issues are moral issues--I touched upon them a few weeks ago: issues pertaining to divorce and remarriage, issues pertaining to bioethics--such as abortion, euthanasia & genetic modification, issues pertaining to sexuality--such as homosexuality. But other issues are doctrinal: issues such as the Ecumenical movement and eucharistic fellowship among churches; issues such as the ministry and women’s ordination; issues such as the nature of the church itself and authority in the church; issues such as the right way of worshiping and conducting the liturgy.

If we are truly a “Reformation” church, then we need to come to terms with what “Reformation” means. For a start, “reformation” does not mean “innovation”--it does not mean “change for the sake of change”. The Lutheran reformers did not go to all the trouble they did 500 years ago, because they felt the Church of their day was “old-fashioned” and needed to “catch up” with the rest of the world. They did not want to “form” a new church, but to “re-form” the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of which they were a part. “Reform” means returning to the original form--not making a new form. It meant removing abuses. But even at the time of Martin Luther, there were reformers who wanted to throw the baby out with the bath water. That was not the way of the Lutheran reformers. The Lutheran reformation was a “conservative” Reformation. As I said a few weeks ago, the aim of the Lutheran reformation was to remove the rubbish but to keep all that was good, and pure, and beautiful. The Lutheran Reformation was concerned with God’s Word and with faithfulness to the Truth. It was not concerned with “modernisation” or “updating” the Church.

Secondly, Reformation is not a once-off event. The problem of abuses creeping into the Church was not simply a problem of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. It is as much a problem of the modern Lutheran Church. We are not immune to this problem. We are as human as the next denomination, and because we are human it is just as necessary for us to continually hold up our own church, the Lutheran Church of Australia, to the Word of God, and to seek the Truth, even if the Truth accuses us of wrongdoing or leads us in a direction that we may not have expected. And so we must always be “reforming” our own corner of the Church also.


But having said all that, we must also face some historical questions. Reformation Day is, after all, a celebration of an historical event, and all historical events are open to interpretation. If the Reformation is to have any real meaning for us today, then we must face some of these questions, difficult as they may be.

The first issue we must face is that, in order to be effective, true reformation must take place within the church, and not outside it. Lutheranism was originally intended as a reform movement within the Catholic Church. We have often been told that Luther did not intend to start a new church. Yet the outcome of the 16th Century reformation was precisely that: a new Church, the “Lutheran” Church, came into being. The Lutheran reform movement that was supposed to work within the Church became the first of many new separate “churches” or “denominations” separated from the Roman Catholic Church and from one another. We need to seriously ask ourselves how effective the Lutheran Church can be as a movement for reform in the Church Catholic if we have set ourselves up in our own cosy little denominational structures
with no responsibility to anyone but to ourselves?

In the meantime, the Roman Catholic Church that Luther set out to reform has adopted just about every change that reformers called for in the 16th Century. It is interesting, in fact, to imagine which Church Luther would join today if he were faced with a choice between the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The ineffectiveness of Lutheranism
as a continuing reform movement in the Church was enough to lead one prominent American Lutheran professor to convert back to the Catholic Church in 1990. He simply asked himself the question: If Luther did not intend to create a new Church what are we doing acting as if the Lutheran Church has a divine right to exist?

Today, the Lutheran Church must see reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church as its first and primary objective. We exist as a separate church because of a disagreement that arose 500 years ago. If, as our dialogue with the Catholic Church is showing us, many of these issues have now been, or are being, resolved, we should not continue to act as if our own self-preservation were the paramount issue. The primary issue for us will always be seeking to know the Truth in the light of God’s word. If the Truth leads us back into fellowship with Rome, then that is precisely as it should be. There is no place in the Lutheran Church for the anti-Catholicism that is prevalent in many other protestant denominations. We have no right to simply oppose what is catholic because it is catholic. If it accords with God’s Word and Truth, then, whether it is Catholic or Lutheran, we must embrace it.


The second issue we must face is the absurdity of a church that is continually embracing change for the sake of change. In this new millenium that is dawning upon us, change is so prevalent that we sometimes lose sight of that which does not change. Jesus Christ is “the same, yesterday, today and forever”--why then, is our church always changing?

You know the problem. With each new pastor who comes to your congregation there is change. I have been as guilty of this as any other pastor. In fact, at Seminary, we are told that we have two choices: the first is to change nothing for the first two years, then to make all the changes when we have won people’s confidence; the second is to change everything in the first six months during the “honeymoon” period. But to change nothing at all is not even given as an option!!!

We are so future orientated, that we forget that the past has anything to say to us anymore. “Tradition” has become a dirty word in the church; but in fact, “tradition” is all we have! Perhaps this is because of a false dichotomy that exists in protestant churches between “tradition” and “scripture”, as if scripture itself were not part of the Church’s tradition: carefully preserved for us since the time when the apostles and prophets first wrote it; handed down through successive generations of the church; faithfully interpreted and applied throughout the ages. “Reformation” does not mean “throwing out tradition”--if anything it means the exact opposite: it means rediscovering the tradition of the past, over and beyond the abuses and innovations that have sprung up recently, and being faithful to that tradition. Again, this problem of constant change rather than constant reform was enough to lead another world renowned Lutheran scholar to leave the Lutheran Church in 1997 and join the Orthodox Church--a church that has characteristically dedicated itself to the preservation of apostolic tradition.


So, you see, being faithful to the Reformation is not quite as straigthforward as you might have thought it. Celebrating Reformation Day should raise all these questions for us. It should raise the question of what it precisely means to be “Lutheran” (in the good sense of the term). To be Lutheran then does not mean to be “anti-Catholic”, nor does it mean to be “anti-traditional”. In fact, it is best perhaps to understand the Lutheran Church as being both “evangelical” and “Catholic” at the same time. In the words of the Augsburg Confession, “nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the Catholic church. For it is manifest that we have guarded diligently against the introduction into our churches of any new and ungodly doctrines.” The Church of the Reformation needs to hear this again, and regrasp its identity--not as a protestant anti-catholic Church but a reform movement within the Church catholic as Luther and the other reformers initially intended it to be. Otherwise, what reason do we have to exist? What is our role in the ecumenical church, if not to constantly seek the Truth as we have received it through the Church in the Word of God?

At times some of you have remarked to eachother--and less commonly, to me personally--
that your pastor is “very catholic”. Some of you would prefer it if I was a little less “catholic” and a little more “protestant”. I hope that what I have said today explains why this is not an option for me, and why I do not believe it is an option for the Lutheran Church. I am not ashamed to say publically that it is my constant ambition to make everything I am or do or say or teach catholic. For to me, the opposite of “being catholic” is not “being protestant”, but “being schismatic”, “being individualistic”, “being heretical”. I am a Lutheran Christian, therefore, in so far as I am catholic Christian. I see no other way to be true to either the Church of the Reformation or the Church that long preceded the Reformation, the Catholic Church.


In our Gospel today, Jesus said: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." I believe that seeking to remain faithful to God’s word seeking to know the Truth and to follow wherever it may lead, is the only way to be a faithful Lutheran. In fact, it is the only way to be a faithful Christian. It is the only path for anyone who seeks to be a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to belong to his church, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of all time. Amen.

Wednesday, 25th October, 2000: In which Mia is Born, and I am pinned by one of my elders

Well, the biggest change in the last ten days has been the birth of Mia on the 17th. This has really taken up all my attention. At the same time, it has also further disconnected me from my work in the parish (as if I am not disconnected enough).

Last night, at bible study, one of my elders asked me if I saw an article in the “Herald Sun” on Sunday 15th. I said “No”, and wondered what was coming next, because the author of this article, Evonne Barry, had interviewed me at Pastor’s Conference. Her article was to be on clergy stress, and several of the brethren volunteered for interview. I probably said too much to her, but this is what she wrote about half way through her article:

“A minister from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs said he was considering changing denominations. The stress of covering three congregations had brought his commitment into question. “Now I worry less about being so conscientious about my work,” the minister said. “I do what I have to do. It’s just about self-preservation.”

Dick reckons that as he read it, it could have described me. He especially asked himself “How many of these things actually applies to our pastor”. I told him not to ask those questions too broadly. I managed to sidestep the question of whether I had been interviewed. I don’t think it will be so easy if [one of my other elders] decides to eyeball me on it.

But this Sunday is Reformation Sunday. What am I going to say? I have thought of doing a dialectic “The Reformation on Trial” sermon, but in the end, I think I will just do something pretty personal, saying where I am coming from (answering the accusation that I am “too Catholic”) without saying where I am going to. I will have to be careful though.

Sunday, 15th October, 2000 : In which the Lutheran Doctrine of the Ministry is debated, Anthony Fisher gives a paper, & I learn more about anullments

There have been several developments this week.

We had a three day Pastor’s Conference at St John’s. Possibly my last. One pastor gave a paper on the Lutheran view of the Ministry, in which he tried to deny that there was any ambiguity in Luther’s own doctrine, and to put across some “via media” between “high church” and “low church” views of the ministry. He dismissed the “bridegroom” analogy, and played down the “persona Christi” aspects. He basically presented Walther's “transfer” doctrine. He dismissed Carl Braaten’s and David Gustafsen’s claim that Lutheranism cannot resolve the problem of the doctrine of the ministry from its own sources. He held to the old Hegelian idea that the truth is somewhere between two extremes. At one point he made the statement that those who hold high church views of the ministry do not accept that the ministry is only by God’s grace and simply want to lord it over their flock (or something like that...) and I piped up and said: “Do you really believe that? because if you do, you are saying that of me!” Few people were satisfied with the paper—they were almost all on one side or the other, and he really demonstrated that what he was trying to do was impossible. You can’t reconcile the essential ambiguity in Luther’s doctrine of the ministry.

Fr Anthony Fisher was a guest speaker on genetics. He spoke well, and I was proud to see that a Catholic had much to show these Lutherans. He arrived a few moments early so that I could introduce him to Peter Holmes and P. Peter hung around, but P., after a quick “Hi! I’m P.--I’m not ready to talk to you yet” dissappeared, and Anthony said: “I hope I didn’t scare him off!”. We assured him this was not the case. Peter then had a longer conversation with him asking if he could make a time to speak. Then I took Fisher in to meet our District President.

The President finally came out and made his opposition to the ordination of women public. Too late, too little, I think.

The Victorian District Synod was a boring affair to say the least. All reports. The one thing to come out of it for me was that I was clearly feeling dissociated from this body and its affairs.

I am seeing Anthony Fisher again tomorrow. He has me reading the Catechism and putting a tick or a cross next to sections—actually, it is all either ticks or question marks if I don’t understand something. There is nothing I come across and say: “No, that isn’t true, that’s against the gospel” etc., since I have accepted the authority of Rome’ magisterium to teach. He has also given me Aidan Nichol’s “The Shape of Catholic Theology” to read. After a rather dry start, I am enjoying it. In fact, what this shows that the difference between Lutheran and Catholic theology is in fact a very deep-rooted difference of method, a difference relating to the understanding of the place of human reason in theology. This will take me a long time to work through.

I have told my spiritual director (in passing at the District Pastors Conference) that I am seeing Fisher, and I also told V. V. was very upset and believed that I was doing this because I was ignorant of the true wealth of Lutheran theology. Dunno about that. How much does one have to know before one knows what it is to be Lutheran? Is Lutheranism some sort of gnostic sect that has different levels of knowledge? I don’t think so.

Talking to Marco Vervoost at the Conference was a rather sureal event. It was clear that we are both on the way out, and we felt like eavesdroppers on a conference that didn’t largely concern us. I put several items on the agenda: "What makes a valid Eucharist", and "Authority of the Ministry", but I don’t know if I will be around in a year’s time to discuss them.

The annulment is finally up and running. Apparently Fr Tony Kerin had a heart attack a couple of weeks ago. A “Fr Salvano” wrote to me and said that “a grave lack of discretion of judgement” on the part of both myself and my previous wife refers

to indications that at the time of marriage neither you nor your partner was in a position to sufficiently appreciate the practical rights and obligations of
marriage that you were undertaking. This may be due to factors in the background of either of you, the circumstances of the courtship and decision to marry, and any other factors surrounding the decision of either of you to marry the other.

On that basis, I feel rather confident that the petition will be granted. But then we also have to meet regarding Cathy’s marriage. Of this Fr Salvano wrote:
The term “dissolution in favorem fidei” means a dissolution of a marriage in favour of the faith of the Catholic party. I presume that Fr. Kerin means
yourself, in the future, in regard to this. The dissolution is granted by the Pope on the basis that it is established that Cathy’s first husband was not baptised.

Again, that sounds good. It is just a matter of establishing that her first husband's non-baptism is a fact (something we only have his word for, and he may be mis-informed), and getting the application in. Just have to wait...

I was a little bit angered by a member of my Casey congregation on Sunday. Apparently some Charasmatic healing celebrity is visiting Casey, and she said said that we should do what "all the other churches in Berwick are doing", that is, "cancelling their services for today and are sending all their people to this healing service.” I said, “Are you sure all the other churches are doing this? I don’t think the Catholics would have done so.” To which she replied: “But Catholics aren’t Christian, are they?”. She said this in the hearing of the wife of one of our members, who is a Catholic. I then entered into a vigorous defence of the Catholic Church as being the original Christians. I think she was a bit taken aback.