When I was a child, I remember fads for French knitting, sometimes started in the Witham household and sometimes from Tambellup School. If you don’t know this craft, you take a wooden cotton reel, hammer four thumb tacks around the central hole, then loop woollen thread around the tacks and feed the leading threads through the long hole. If you have threaded correctly, a woven woollen rope appears at the bottom hole and grows and grows. This rope is then used to make pot holders and dressing gown girdles, and pot holders and … well; actually the dressing gown girdles are not much good, because they stretch out of shape quickly.
But French knitting is the sort of craft that keeps you occupied for hours. It whiled away the long 90 minute school bus ride. You could pick it up after tea and keep going for hours. I was always fascinated with the process, watching these four thin threads go in the top and re-appear as a beautiful woven lanyard.
Let me liken this process of French knitting to the way in which we reach out for new members. At the top are enquirers, each of them a single life, usually seeking something more in the Christian journey. At the bottom are the newly-professed, beautiful woven as new Franciscans and ready to be put to work in an appropriate ministry.
For the moment we don’t see the important work that happens between the top and the bottom, but I will come back to that. At the time of your Reports, most Regions in Australia report regularly that they have four or five enquirers. Let’s take the upper figure, because you may not be reporting the enquirers earlier in the year. There are seven Regions, so 35 Enquirers a year. I have been fielding about one Internet enquirer a month, so each year nearly 50 enquirers come to us.
Chapter elects about 10 novices to Profession each year, and it’s quite fascinating to watch the process as a wide range of individuals gather at the top of the cotton reel and an enthusiastic and smaller group appears out the other end two or three years later.
Although I can’t show it in the figures, this past year has seen quite an invigoration in the Enquiry process primarily because of the brochures Chapter authorised in Adelaide. Ian Randall’s design is outstanding. I have heard quite a few good comments about it. I would be interested to hear how they have gone in your Region, and whether the posters from Aotearoa-New Zealand also had an impact.
We should continue to use these publicity materials. Even if enquiries and eventually new members don’t increase because of them, they are effective in keeping up our position in the minds of ordinary Anglicans.
GROWTH OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA
STATISTICS OF THE PROVINCE (February 2011):
Australia and East Asia 238 (233 at 8/5)
Papua New Guinea 58 (59 at 8/5)
Australia and East Asia 36 (41 at 8/5)
Papua New Guinea 30 (29 at 8/5)
These are the statistics that will be published in the 2011 edition of the Anglican Year Book of Religious Life. Our Minister-General thought it would be helpful if we presented the statistics for our Province and for Aotearoa-New Zealand showing the numbers in PNG and the Solomons separate from the main group of Tertiaries. Both the Solomons and PNG are ambitious to be Provinces in their own right. PNG, in particular, has set 2017, the next IPTOC after this year’s, as its target date for separation.
Chapter last year approved a list of conditions for the formation of new Provinces. This list will go to IPTOC this year for ratification by the world-wide Order. The overall condition to be satisfied is the question, Why? A new Province has to justify the benefits to the Tertiaries in its boundaries and to the Order as a whole. Two of the other criteria are progress towards governance as a Province; and a meaningful financial contribution to the life of the whole Order.
After last year’s Chapter meeting, I met with Harold and Anselm to go through this list, and we identified these two as real challenges for the emerging Province. We note that there are currently only 80 Tertiaries in PNG – although that number increases significantly each year. The vision is that PNG will eventually have five Regions, one for each Diocese in the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea.
Most of the Tertiaries in the current Regions, Popondetta and Dogura, are subsistence farmers. Theirs is not a cash economy. We are invited, for example, to continue to contribute for fuel for the Franciscans in Mission dinghy, because none of the Tertiaries earn cash to pay for diesel.
Let us not pretend that travel across PNG and international travel for PNG Ministers can ever be cheap.
The Australian Province currently spends $8,000 a year to enable Harold and Anselm to participate in the Province, mainly by bringing them to Chapter. We contribute $1,500 each year to the Central Fund for travel for all our representatives to IPTOC and Provincial Ministers’ meetings, of which perhaps one-third of that would directly pay for PNG representatives. This means that we must continue to budget eight to nine thousand dollars a year for this.
These are huge challenges. We share them, and will continue to share them with PNG for many years, whatever the outcome in 2017. That’s the commitment in love that we continue to make. I enumerate the challenges now because I want us both to understand their size and not to lose heart. We worked together to buy and launch the Dinghy; we can work together to achieve the ambitions of the PNG Tertiaries.
• Firstly, I commit the PNG Province project to your prayers. We need to pray that we discern where God is leading the Regions in PNG. Being a Province may not be the same for PNG as it is for Australia. May God keep our minds open.
• Secondly, I encourage us to look for creative solutions to the twin challenges of finance and governance.
• Thirdly, I invite people to consider that the financial giving we in Australia have made to PNG is ongoing. Wherever our prayers and visioning lead us, PNG will continue to need our money in order to participate fully in the Third Order.
To help us in this process, I would like to explore the idea of gathering an “eminent persons’ group” that can meet in teleconference and by email to envisage the Province of PNG. We have senior Tertiaries in Australia with a long experience of PNG whose minds we rarely tap.
If the growth of PNG fits into the metaphor of French knitting, I expect that its success will depend on the strength of the leading threads that go to make the finished pattern: that is, firstly, the quality and diversity of the individuals that will seek to become Novices in PNG, and secondly, the attitude which we in Australia adopt to our resourcing of this process.
Helen and Harold will add to these thoughts in their Reports.
I am convinced that the middle part of the process of making the Franciscan community is crucial: the hidden time of novices being nurtured by their novice counsellors. You may have noticed in the responses to Helen’s questionnaire that new Tertiaries valued their relationship with the novice counsellor much higher than their contact with the local group, whom some found cliquey and confusing.
On that particularity, it is worth noting that Regional Ministers should introduce an Enquirer to their local group fairly late in the process. I read the guidelines as suggesting that meeting the group should be towards the end of the six-month Enquiry period, after the new person has had time to quietly establish a relationship with the Regional Minister and the planned Novice Counsellor. I regret that when I was Regional Minister I rushed the process, and Helen’s research actually shows the reasons to not rush.
I appeal to Chapter to continue to give high priority to the invisible but absolutely vital novice formation process. The quality of our formation is the key to a vibrant, faithful and active Third Order community.
The Guidelines for the existing process give both the rationale and outline the concrete steps to be taken by the Minister, the Novice Counsellor and the Novice. Re-read them regularly! The training modules for Novice Counsellors are there to be used and were designed for maximum flexibility: they work one on one, or with a group of Novice Counsellors. You can pick out one hour, or use all modules over a day, and every configuration in between; but please use them.
Helen will report formally on the review she is undertaking of the formation materials, in particular the 12 Novice Notes. Please support this in any way that she asks and give feedback to her, Janet Down and Denis Woodbridge even if they haven’t asked. Keeping these materials fresh and powerful introductions to the Franciscan life is vital, even if sometimes invisible.
It was good to welcome five new Regional Ministers at our Chapter Eucharist:
• Ken Reardon, QLD-B
• John Gibson, NSW-B
• Joy Bartlett, VIC-TAS
• Joan Manners, SA
• Rae Witham, WA
This is the most incoming Ministers we have had since, I suspect, Regional Ministers were made ex officio members of Chapter in the early nineties. Elaine Jeston (QLD-A) and Esmé Parker (NSW-A) are the only two mainland Ministers who were at our last meeting. Harold Joinoba (POP), Anselm Rupusina (DOG) and Gerald Ng (MAL) also continue, but the task of Minister is quite different from Australia in PNG and Malaysia.
I have become aware over the past 5 years of how demanding the position of Regional Minister is. For most Regions, it requires a considerable number of hours each week. I commend you on your commitment to our Order in taking the role on. Thank you for your willingness to serve your sisters and brothers in this particular way.
Chapter needs to value even more highly the institutional memories we still have, which reside both in Elaine and Esmé and in your predecessors in the job. As new Regional Ministers, I encourage you to seek out the information you need for your role.
In the past six years, we have developed our website (www.tssf.org.au), which is sadly under-used, and our electronic lists for communication, which can be directed across the Province, to individual Regions, to Chapter members and to other groupings.
While 67% of Australians are connected to the internet, David White tells me that only about one half of Tertiaries receive these electronic communications. The arrival of the National Broadband Network (NBN) may increase participation, but it is worth noting that some Tertiaries have chosen not to have the Internet because they see it as an example of a luxury warned of in Day 11 of The Principles. This caution about being online serves as a healthy reminder to the rest of us that having the finances to maintain a computer and pay for an Internet package is a privilege.
Those Tertiaries online enjoy the Franciscan community ranging from simply receiving emails to taking part in discussions on the Inter-Provincial Facebook page. It’s only a few short years since our Area meetings were the only occasion on which I met people with concerns and interests like mine; now I have an abundance of opportunities to engage with other Franciscans every day. Whether it’s reading a short passage of Franciscan writing or being encouraged to join in some activism on the Web or thrashing out issues like the Franciscan attitudes to military intervention, the Web can serve powerfully to strengthen our Franciscan vocation. Or more simply, I can start a real-time ‘chat’ with an individual Tertiary in Malaysia or a Roman Catholic Secular in North Dakota.
The challenge has always been to make sure that the 50% of Tertiaries who are not on the internet receive all essential communications, and that an effort is made to ensure that some of the sense of community that the Web offers overflows to that half of our membership.
It is also true that being so strongly connected has a dark side: we can waste colossal amounts of time on the Web. The Googlization of information can make us more consumerist. Rubbish lies around everywhere on the Web, ranging from pornography to hate speech to celebrity culture. These things can be dangerous to us or can trivialise our commitments as Franciscans. The connections we make with people in cyberspace are good, but they are thin gruel compared to relationships here and near. It’s not all good. As we encourage people to use these powerful new communications, we also have an obligation to point them into wise use of them.
It has been good that it has been David who has been developing our electronic communications over the past five years. David has the knowledge and technical skills to use the tools that are available which best serve our Province. He is also somewhat sceptical about the Web, and has been more discerning than others who are enthusiasts for internet culture.
I hope that the next Provincial Secretary will continue to use the internet to develop our community.
ANGLICAN RELIGIOUS LIFE YEAR BOOK
Every two years a Year Book detailing the Anglican Communion’s Religious Orders and Communities is published. For the past two editions and for the 2011 edition, the Third Order has had a separate page which includes details on each Province as well as the overall picture.
The editor of the Year Book is Petà Dunstan, the author of the history of the European Province of the First Order, This Poor Sort, and she has been sympathetic to our inclusion as a religious order in its own right. The task of collating the information has fallen to me, but I hope that one of the other Provincial Ministers will pick it up for the 2013 edition.
A stream of Franciscan books continues to appear. Most recently is Tertiary Susan Pitchford’s excellent God in the Dark, and Ilia Delio has just produced The Emergent Christ, continuing her themes of cosmic evolution and the world as sacrament. Interpreting Francis and Clare of Assisi was launched in Melbourne in December 2010. It arose from the meeting of Franciscan scholars in that city in 2009. It includes my piece on the Third Order in Australia and how we are inspired by St Francis. Books like these can be recommendations or gifts for those who like reading, not only for fellow Tertiaries, but also for others who we think might like to know more about being a Franciscan in the 21st Century.