by Tony Brownlow
The Reverend Dr Stuart Piggins' article 'Reflections from Synod 2018' (AT Newsletter November 2018 and online here) was an interesting and heartfelt contribution towards solving the financial crisis that confronts Bathurst diocese.
In his article Dr Piggin wrote that he 'was encouraged' by the decision of Synod to give $250,000 per year for a period of six years to the diocese of Bathurst in return for Sydney's approval of the next bishop. However, before such assistance is accepted some serious consideration should be given towards the possible effects that such a gift might have on Bathurst diocese.
While each diocese has different needs and a different character they all fit into the whole of Christ's body—the Church.
When a diocese chooses a bishop the Synod or Committee established to make that decision seeks guidance from the Holy Spirit through a process of prayer, reading of scripture and consultation with church members regarding the needs of that particular diocese. It is very possible that if another group (in this case Sydney Diocese) becomes involved, without being through this careful process, that a compromise will occur that will see the Holy Spirit marginalized.
Dr Piggin argues that it may not be a problem if 'the Archbishop of Sydney respects the distinctive culture of those dioceses, such as their support for women priests'. But what if the diocese chooses a woman to be bishop? And surely if the Archbishop 'respects the distinctive culture' of other dioceses he will not put a condition on their choice. Whatever happened to unconditional love?
Added to this concern is what is happening in other dioceses. Muriel Porter's booklet, A New Exile? The Future of Anglicanism should be compulsory reading for all who believe the Anglican communion should be a broad church. In Chapters 1 and 2 she details how Sydney is eager to send clergy to cash strapped country dioceses suffering from the vestiges of drought and declining incomes. Muriel Porter also describes how the nature of these dioceses has changed. In her own words:
In their vulnerability, it has been relatively easy for their churchmanship style to change as energetic, well-funded evangelicals have targeted them in various ways. Sydney diocese is generous with its financial donations to some. In 2014, the Diocese of North-West Australia received $47,000, while the Northern Territory—a diocese with a Catholic heritage which has just consecrated a Moore College trained man as its bishop—has received $38,000.
(Muriel Porter, A New Exile, Northcote Vic., Morning Star Publishing, 2015, p. 25).
The irony is that Sydney sets up hurdles for priests trained in other dioceses from becoming rectors in Sydney, but is very keen to send its priests to other parts of Australia. Sydney is like a powerful country that wants free trade with other dioceses for its clergy, but places tariffs on priests coming into its own diocese. What we need is a fair interchange!
Before Bathurst accepts such a 'gift' the whole Anglican Church in Australia should look at other solutions. One possible solution would be for each diocese to donate $10,000 and each metropolitan diocese $20,000 thus bringing in a similar amount to Sydney's offer. Or maybe crowd funding could be tried by appealing to sympathetic Anglicans throughout Australia and the world. Or Sydney could, in a tremendous example of Christian charity and respect for other forms of churchmanship, give a donation of $250,00 a year with no strings attached thus reflecting God's unconditional love for us all. And I am sure others can think of more creative solutions.
The great genius of the Anglican Church has always been its acceptance of different ways of approaching God and its respectful listening as to how others understand God. We have parishes where worship is conducted by priests wearing chasubles and other parishes where worship is conducted by clergy wearing jeans and T shirts. All these approaches have a place in the Anglican Church if they bring people closer to God. It would be a pity to see this diversity being submerged into one monochrome culture.
We don't learn and grow from people who think the same as us; we learn and grow from people who think differently from us.