On the evening of Sunday 26 June, representatives of the Catholic Archdiocese and Anglican Diocese of Melbourne came together to celebrate Choral Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral and to mark a shared anniversary: 175 years since both dioceses were established on 25 June 1847—the day that the City of Melbourne also officially came into being.

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli, Very Rev. Werner Utri, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, and other members of Melbourne’s Catholic community joined Archbishop Philip Frier, Very Rev. Andreas Loewe, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, bishops and deans from across the Anglican Province of Victoria and many from the broader Anglican community to participate in the evening liturgy of the Anglican daily office, commonly referred to as ‘Evensong’—a meditative and beautiful service of sung prayer. The choirs of St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Anglican Cathedral Ballarat joined the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir for this special event.

It was a joyful but busy day for both communities, with 175th Anniversary celebrations taking place that morning at both cathedrals, featuring a special Mass setting arranged for the Anglican and Catholic liturgies by Dr Philip Mattias, Director of Music at St Patrick’s Cathedral, and a special Jubilee hymn composed for both dioceses by Dr Katherine Firth and Rev. Dr Christopher Willcock SJ, which was also sung at Evensong.

At St Paul’s Cathedral that evening, Archbishop Comensoli read from the Gospel of Luke, and the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral preached the sermon, drawing on the Book of Ecclesiastes to reflect on the past, present and future of the people of God in Melbourne.

‘Our reading is taken from the greater reflection on times and seasons that encompass the third chapter of Ecclesiastes,’ he observed.

For everything there is a season … For things that build up as well as things that tear down. For things that directly benefit us, and things that harm us. Time itself is a gift of God, and the remembrance of things past, too, is God-given, for ‘he has put a sense of the past and the future in their minds (Ecclesiastes 3.11).

We can draw encouragement and inspiration from the stories of those who have gone before us, Dr Loewe said—people like St Mary Mackillop of the Cross, or Frances Perry, wife of Melbourne’s first Anglican bishop, who played an instrumental role in establishing the city’s first maternity hospital. But we must also acknowledge those aspects of our history that demand our sorrow and repentance, he said, such as the dispossession of Aboriginal peoples, and the tragic betrayal of abuse victims within both the Anglican and Catholic churches.

In the earliest days of our dioceses, he pointed out, relations between our two communities were not as cordial as they are now, with the first Anglican Bishop, Charles Perry, ‘engaging his Catholic counterpart, Bishop James Alpius Goold, in formal proceedings on the use of the title “bishop of Melbourne”,’ Dr Loewe said. ‘The Colonial Office determined that both had the right to carry the title, which is why there are two Archbishops of Melbourne in our sanctuary today.’

We have come a long way, and the sermon ended on a note of thanksgiving and encouragement: ‘As we give thanks for the past, and look to the future of our church, I encourage you to place yourselves confidently into the hand of God. May we together journey on from this place in the spirit of our reading: with our hearts firmly fixed on God’s eternity. May we together rediscover the profound unity that each of us has with one another and with God, and in the strength of that gift work to overcome division and distrust.

‘May we together discover the joy that comes from doing what God calls each one of us to do, and in the strength of that gift work to promote his generosity and grace. May we together be equipped to right past wrongs, and in the strength of that gift work to share God’s goodness and justice, his peace and his love with those among whom he places us.

‘Above all, may we together discover the constancy and care of God our Father, who, by the life-giving power of his Son and the advocacy of the Holy Spirit, equips us for this ministry and calls us into his future.’

To reciprocate the hospitality extended by the Anglican community, St Patrick’s Cathedral will host Evening Prayer on Sunday 21 August at 4pm, with a special invitation to Archbishop Frier and members the St Paul’s Cathedral community. All are most welcome.