by the Reverend Dr. Daniel Dries, Rector, Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney
Text of a speech to Synod
I rise to respectfully speak against this motion. I do so because I fear that our diocese is rapidly developing an image crisis second only to the Liberal party in the seat of Wentworth. Although that may sound like a flippant remark, it is something of which I am often reminded when walking down the street in a clerical collar.
A church should not be concerned with opinion polls and popularity per se, but when our reputation in society inhibits our ability to share the gospel, I believe we should be very concerned indeed.
Anglican churches should absolutely prohibit activities on church property which contradict the theology and doctrine of our diocese. However, what concerns me about this policy is that its language is so dominated by what we as a diocese oppose, that it completely fails to identify what we stand for.
In terms of our church halls, we must remember that many of us are not responsible for the construction of these buildings. Many of our halls were built by previous generations of faithful people, and were offered to the local communities as schools and places of meeting. Of course this was in a time when our churches and communities were much more intertwined. I fail to see how this policy, even in its amended form, will restore this relationship.
As someone who spends a lot of time driving around the greater city of Sydney, it seems to me that most of our churches and halls are firmly locked 5 or 6 days each week. What message does this send to our local communities?
I am not concerned about public opinion for its own sake, but if we continue to damage our reputation within society at this rate, we will become completely ineffective. Our voice in society is already not nearly as audible as we would like to believe.
We have spent much time in recent synods discussing levies, partly for the building of new churches, and yet we are in decline as a diocese. What is the point of building new churches if our reputation means that no one wants to come to them? Our reputation and engagement with society is so important.
While Jesus called people to repentance, he constantly engaged with society. The resurrected Christ did not sit in a darkened tomb waiting for good people to come to him. He engaged dangerously to share the good news.
Again, I don't think it is appropriate for activities to take place on Anglican Church property that are inconsistent with our faith and doctrine. However, why are our empty church halls not being used to house refugees or victims of domestic violence? It's unrealistic... Like it or not, this is what it would take for society to take us seriously. Like some of yours, my own parish hall is used as a homeless shelter, and I believe it is one of the most important ministries we undertake each week.
This policy doesn't prohibit homeless shelters, however, I'm struggling to understand why this document, simply entitled 'Property Use Policy', lacks any serious encouragement for parishes to use their property to establish better relationships within local communities, to say nothing of more effective stewardship?
For better or for worse, society thinks we are completely out of touch. In opposing this motion, I would simply urge members of Synod to consider very seriously our reputation in society, and our ability to share the gospel in a city in which the church only seems to speak in the negative.