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Archbishop of Canterbury in Australia: We are doomed if we fight over power and control

17 October 2022

Muriel Porter, Australia correspondent, spoke to Justin Welby as he finished his visit to the country

Twitter/Justin Welby

Archbishop Welby (back row, centre) with ordinands at the Anglican church in the Yarrabah Aboriginal community in Far North Queensland, on Monday

Archbishop Welby (back row, centre) with ordinands at the Anglican church in the Yarrabah Aboriginal community in Far North Queensland, on Monday

AT THE end of his whistle-stop two-week Australian tour, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been reflecting on the similarities and differences he observed between the Anglican Church of Australia and other parts of the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England.

Among the similarities, he said, was the way that the impact of secularisation across the Communion was “reducing our capacity to deal with differences, distinctions. and value systems”. As an example, he cited the furore over the appointment of Andrew Thorburn as CEO of a Melbourne football club. Mr Thorburn had resigned after one day in post over his membership of a church that espouses conservative views on homosexuality and abortion (News, 7 October).

While not offering his views on the controversy, which is being seen by some as an issue of freedom of religion, Archbishop Welby said: “The most striking thing was that there was simply no meeting ground for discussion.”

Another similar issue across much of the Communion is declining congregations — as was the “atrocious legacy of abuse”, particularly in churches in Canada, England, and Australia.

Also, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are having to deal with the issue of justice for Indigenous people. It was, he said, a “huge challenge” to the Church to be seen not only to call for justice but to be seen to “do justice”.

As for differences, he noted the “wildly different” structure of the Australian Church, with its weak central authority in both the General Synod and the office of the Primate. He was also aware of the “considerable division” within the Anglican Church of Australia in terms of polity, theology, and especially ecclesiology.

“We have the same reality of profound divisions in England and across the Communion, but not so concentrated in one location,” he said, in an obvious reference to the diocese of Sydney. “I am not criticising it or approving it,” he added. “I am just saying that I recognise it.”

Repeating a key message of his visit, he said: “We need to cope better with internal differences of opinion in the Church. We have to learn, all of us, how to love one another better, and to listen to the prayer of Jesus in John 17.21 [‘that they may all be one’]”.

Despite the huge divisions over same-sex relationships and human sexuality, he was hopeful for the future of the Church. He was not saying that the differences did not matter. They did matter, they were “enormously important”, particularly for the people affected by them.

But through repentance and love for one another, God would work it out, he said, and they would get through the divisions.

On the other hand, if the divisions were about power and control, whether it was over something hugely significant or something unimportant, “we are doomed, if we do not live as the people of love”, he said.

He had been deeply moved by the experience of ordaining three Aboriginal women at the Anglican Church in the Yarrabah Aboriginal community in Far North Queensland on the penultimate day of his visit. The ordination, of one deacon and two priests, was “one of the most joyful ordination services” he had experienced, he said. “It was church being church, doing church — as church should do church.”

One of the new priests, the Revd Valmai Connolly, was quoted by a broadcaster saying that it was a historic moment not only for Indigenous women but the entire Yarrabah community. “I am just so honoured, and I appreciate him coming all this way to ordain us, local women, here,” she said. “It is so important for First Nations women to be in the clergy, because our people need a voice. We’re stepping up to be a voice for our people, to lift them up in all areas of life.”

Archbishop Welby had also been moved by his visit to the flood-ravaged city of Lismore, in northern New South Wales. “What touched me most deeply was the courage, the resilience, the grief, the struggle, the destruction — it was all there. If we ever want to see why climate change really matters, [Lismore] tells you all you need to know.”

And he had heard many stories of how ecumenism was flourishing all over the country. The experience of worshipping at a midday prayer service in the Lismore Roman Catholic Cathedral in Lismore “felt like being at home spiritually”, he said.

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