Anglicans Together ...promoting inclusive Anglicanism

Phenomenal Sydney: Anglicans in a Time of Change, 1945–2013 by Marcia Cameron

Book review by Keith Mason



Book cover

This thoughtful, well-researched and most readable book succeeds at many levels.

First, for its scholarly recording of recent history.

After two introductory chapters, the work covers the era of each archbishop from Mowll to Jensen with a capping Preface by Archbishop Glenn Davies. Supplementing extensive access to primary and secondary written resources (including the polemical Australian Church Record), Dr Cameron has been able to interview many key players. She has already published widely on the history of the Diocese and her personal networks within Sydney circles are second to none. The upshot is a mirror held up to an entity that some perceive as stable but which changes significantly over time. Perhaps not the "semper reformanda" of an ideal Anglican polity. But we do see different people responding to Biblical truth in different ways, even (on rare occasions) truly listening to fellow travellers of different persuasions.

Second, for the breadth of topics addressed.

The provocative title highlights Sydney Diocese's "phenomenon of growth, of adherence to Reformation theology, and most of all, to a belief in the authority of the Bible". Naturally, the influence of Moore College and its Principals (particularly Broughton Knox) receive close attention, along with the impact of the Billy Graham Crusade and John Stott (both when his views were in and out of favour).

The book covers so much more, including the politics and impact of the Anglican Church League, the short-lived but grim REPA, Equal But Different, and Anglicans Together; the legalistic attitude to relationships in a Diocese most of whose clergy are laws unto themselves, caring little for the role of the Archbishop except when the office comes up for election; interactions with the wider Anglican Church at home and abroad; the mismanagement of inherited wealth; and the changes that society and different leaders have brought to church life since the Second World War.

PS: Marcia, in your next edition please write something about the constant yet evolving roles of clergy wives in the Diocese.

Third, for acute pen-portraits of key players (not just the clergy at the top).

The background, attitudes and leadership style of each archbishop are developed at length. Some of them have drawn strife upon themselves. For others, external events or determined undermining within Standing Committee have made life difficult. Cameron also tells us about the impact of others, including laity. The effective and fractious ministry of Dr Patricia Brennan is captured well. So too the influence of John Chapman. We are offered a vivid picture of Phillip Jensen, warts and all (pp. 191–200) ("a phenomenon in the Phenomenal Diocese...publicly he can be insensitive and provocative, privately he is kind, gracious and charming").

Fourth, for preserving unofficial yet important aspects of our recent history.

Cameron's interviews have enabled her to put flesh on many dry bones and to get behind the official record in many places. A "must read" is the highly critical report (pp. 229, 268–72) from the late Dr Jim Bates of his survey of preaching across the Diocese.

Cameron also demonstrates the impact of the Diocese's stiff-necked reluctance to align its professed theology of women's ministry with the formal ministries it will permit women to exercise.

On the positive side, the Rev Jacyinth Myles was encouraged by successive archbishops to embark upon what would become a thriving presbyteral ministry in a parish that none of the many mission-minded ordained men in the Diocese were or felt called to lead. On the debit side, we are told about the dispersal (for better or worse) of moderate Evangelicals forced to seek refuge in Melbourne and elsewhere. Unlike some, Cameron has gone out of her way to discuss controversial viewpoints from all sides rather than present a triumphalist or angry self-justification.

Fifth, for courage in offering evidence-based assessments of past and ongoing phenomena.

In the Prologue, Cameron muses about the challenges of writing about the recent past. It takes acuity and probing research, but above all courage. Yet the task is essential if facts are to be snatched from the teeth of time, in John Aubrey's words. Full marks therefore, for careful analyses of the adultery allegation that coincided with the end of Archbishop Gough's episcopacy; and the crude techniques used by the number-crunchers both to shun those not of their persuasion and to warn others tempted to think for themselves.

Cameron raises her eyebrow gently at the hollow "Biblical" defence of the Standing Committee's decision to endorse and fund the Scandrett v Dowling litigation proffered by leading Moore College academics. I do not always agree with the legal positions she adopts, but (to embrace a term, whose widespread abuse is discussed in the book) I am content to take a "liberal" standpoint on this.

Sixth, for a sustained examination of the women's ministry issue over the years.

Marcia traces the Diocese's long support for deaconesses and its belated welcoming of women into the ranks of parish councils and Synod. She addresses at length the struggles to limit the ministry of women, lay and cleric, within the worshipping life of the church (mission-field excepted) on evolving theological and legal bases.

My own involvement in some of these struggles cautions me to be careful. I will say this. Marcia is fortunate to belong to a parish where the preaching by women (including herself) is encouraged.

Not being a clergy-wife, she also has a freedom that many gifted women in the Diocese trim for fear of blighting their husband's careers. As to the ordination of women to the priesthood (even or especially as assistant clergy), Cameron has captured what I would call the "contradictions" of the tiny but very effective group of articulate wives of insider rectors who, under the 'Equal But Different' banner, lectured the men of Synod "with authority" about the biblical duty of all women to be submissive to all men!

Conclusion

No one interested in the Diocese can fail to be informed and moved by this book. Like a successful mediation, it will leave every reader satisfied and disturbed in different ways. But there is more than enough encouragement for those who want to see the Gospel furthered in Sydney despite the machinations of the largely self-perpetuating clique of controllers.

Marcia has done us all a great service by recording so much recent history. She has done the Diocese an even greater service by the firm though fair judgments put into the marketplace of ideas where (even in this Diocese) truth has its best chance of surviving. She has also shown how nothing lasts forever in a (largely) man-made phenomenon like a Diocese.