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Australian Church ‘at risk’

04 July 2014

RUSSELL POWELL

Victory: The Primate-elect of the Anglican Church of Australia, Dr Philip Freier (left) and the Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies

Victory: The Primate-elect of the Anglican Church of Australia, Dr Philip Freier (left) and the Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn D...

THE ability of the Anglican Church of Australia to "deliver on its mission" was at "great risk", the Primate, Dr Phillip Aspinall, Archbishop of Brisbane, said on Monday in his presidential address to the General Synod meeting in Adelaide. Dr Aspinall steps down as Primate today, at the conclusion of the meeting.

He identified the lack of sufficient expertise and resources in some dioceses; their failure to accept advice, support, and assistance from General Synod bodies; and the lack of authority in the Australian General Synod and its bodies to remedy these problems, putting the Church at risk. They were also "undermining the Church's credibility and trustworthiness in the wider community", he said.

These problems were not new, he said. He reminded Synod members that, 16 years ago, the Church had been warned that economics rather than theology would determine its future. Now, six of the 23 Australian dioceses were not financially sustainable, and three more were in "serious financial circumstances", he said.

There was a "mismatch" between community expectations and the reality that the national Church had very little authority, given the high level of diocesan autonomy. This "bottom-up structure" was "bewildering" to governments and outside bodies, and limited the Church's ability to react promptly to various situations, he said.

The dispersed structure meant that increasing diversity had diminished and weakened the Church's "internal sense of coherence and belonging together". The Church was now "reaping the consequences, as the wider community holds up a mirror in which we see ourselves".

Attempts to revise the Church constitution had so far failed: local autonomy had trumped catholicity at virtually every point, Dr Aspinall said. He challenged Synod members to be open to the possibility of recognising in each other "a common faith in Jesus Christ", and so see "what God might do with us".

In its first business sessions, the General Synod affirmed its commitment to the Anglican Communion, and openness to participating in any future consideration of a covenant proposal. A Bill to amend the Church's marriage canon to allow marriage where neither bride nor bridegroom was baptised, brought by the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, was lost.

He had argued that the change was necessary for missional reasons; this view was disputed by the Archbishop of Perth, the Most Revd Roger Herft, among other speakers.

Dr Freier is elected Primate

THE Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, has been elected Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, writes Muriel Porter. He will take over from the Archbishop of Brisbane, Dr Phillip Aspinall, who has completed the maximum nine-year term.

The Primatial Board of Electors, meeting in Adelaide at the weekend, elected Dr Freier on the fifth ballot. The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, was the runner-up in the final ballot. The Board comprises the Australian diocesan bishops, 12 elected clergy, and 12 elected laity.

Dr Freier, who is 59, and has been Archbishop of Melbourne since 2006, will take up the additional post today at the end of the General Synod meeting, which has been in Adelaide since the weekend.

After his election, Dr Freier said that strengthening the Church's contribution to rural communities, and sustaining a national presence, were important challenges facing the Australian Church.

Formerly the Bishop of the Northern Territory, Dr Freier has a strong record of ministry with indigenous people. He speaks several indigenous languages.

 

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