Church Without Walls? Making Sense of Anglicanism
Sunday 27 November 2005
The Anglican Church has been described as ideally a church without walls, but on the inside there are divisions aplenty.
Margaret Coffey: Hello, welcome to Encounter. I’m Margaret Coffey. This week, Encounter is mapping Anglicanism, working out the significance of all those Anglican labels that sometimes thrust their way out of church debate and into the public forum. They are labels that don’t just attach to ideas; they attach increasingly firmly to places and of course to people.
Music: The Lord is my shepherd (comp. Goodall), ABC TV Themes 472 575-2
Joy Fox: My name is Joy Fox. I belong to St George’s Church of England. I’ve been an Anglican all my life. So that’s a long while isn’t it? I’ve been going to the same church since 1939 but it is just up the hill and around the corner. You usually go to the church where your bloke goes don’t you?
Margaret Coffey: Meet my neighbour, Mrs Fox.
Joy Fox: Would you like to go up and see it some time?
Margaret Coffey: She’s lived in the same house, gone to the same church, run the Cup Day street sweep and held her November open house, and charted social change through each newcomer to the neighbourhood for 70 years.
Joy Fox: You must realise that we have got different cultures here in Australia. You know, you had your Greeks and you have your Italians, we weren’t getting English people and you know what I mean – they are the ones that belong to the Anglican Church. It’s more or less my grandmothers and all of those, they all came from England, you see, and that’s where they brought out the Anglican religion with them. But it’s all basically the same. It’s all basically ‘do unto others’. Any religion is that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s just the golden rule. I like my church. Nice crowd up there, at St George’s.
Margaret Coffey: Mrs Fox is quintessentially hospitable, a joiner and doer, one of those people who are a building block of neighbourhood. I’d say she’s been like that since she went to work at 13. It’s clearly the way she has dealt with adversities. The cornerstone of her life has definitely been St George’s.
Joy Fox: You know, I’ve been an Anglican all my life and Church of England all my life. I’d say middle of the road. I believe that I go to church not because I am good, I go to church because it makes me a better person, or makes me feel a better person. I find that there’s something about going to church that you don’t get anywhere else. That’s what’s about being middle of the road. You know, I’ve heard about all the others but I really don’t know, quite know what it all means. As I say I’m just an ordinary Anglican. I’m just an Anglican.
Margaret Coffey: Like the generality of Anglicans perhaps, but the others, the Anglicans we get to hear about, like Archbishop Peter Jensen who is currently delivering the Boyer lectures, or the former Primate of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Peter Carnley, come into the public forum with highly specific labels, as evangelicals, as liberals, or progressives, or Anglo Catholics, or variations or combinations on one or more of those themes. We can be forgiven if, like Mrs Fox, we don’t know quite what it all means, even if we understand that there is a long history and at times a particular intensity attached to each of the labels.
Bruce Kaye: I think that one of the problems with the last 30 years has been that we have somehow lost a place, as strong a place, for the generality of Anglicanism. Sub groups have taken on a greater profile than the generality, and I think that is a sad thing because it means the way in which we relate to each other as Anglicans has become more difficult.
Margaret Coffey: Apart from being an Anglican priest, Bruce Kaye is an historian, a devoted keeper and interpreter of the Anglican story in Australia. He has written about the Anglican Church as ‘a church without walls’.
Music: Not Alone For Mighty Empire, (perf. El McMeen), Shanachie 97012
Bruce Kaye: Anglicanism is a religious tradition which is always somehow open to the environment in which it is located, and therefore it is not a sect-like religious tradition, and it is only true to itself when it remains open and without walls.
Margaret Coffey: Bruce Kaye’s Anglican ideal. The image works well to express Anglican openness to society, but less well to explain internal divisions. That’s where the labels come in – and there is every sign that these labels are not only becoming ever more emphatic and distinctive, but that in important ways they signify changing content. Bruce Kaye pointed to the last thirty years as crucial in this respect. Significantly, it’s a period that coincides with dramatic decline in Anglican Church membership after its high point in the 1960s.
Markus Richardson: In the forty years leading up to the end of the 20th century, attendance in Anglican churches halved. In the years 1991-96, they decreased by a further five per cent, and four per cent of congregations closed. So statistically the harsh reality is that the Anglican Church is a church in serious decline. Currently in Australia the average Anglican congregation has less than fifty members and an average age of 65 plus. What is going to happen? We are in serious trouble.
Margaret Coffey: That’s the background to the difficulties some Anglicans are having in relating to each other. Markus Richardson is a case in point.
Markus Richardson: My name is Markus Richardson. I’ve been an Anglican priest for over 20 years now and involved in full-time ministry, but at present in a time of study and reflection and re-orientation where I will be going in the future.
Margaret Coffey: His identity crisis is in part driven by his conviction that there is a crisis of leadership in the Anglican Church.
Markus Richardson: If we are going to be a church that survives we will need real leadership. We desperately need leaders who are going to provide a vision and set a direction for us in the face of what is clearly the morbidity of the church.
Margaret Coffey: But it is also driven, he says, by his experiences in ministry since he graduated from Moore Theological College – that’s the engine room of Sydney’s radical Protestant evangelicalism that aims to produce thousands of trained people in the next 10 years.
Markus Richardson: I suppose I would be described as an evangelical, having come from a Sydney background and studied at Moore College, although I have worked in country and rural settings with a diversity of Anglican expression. I started in a cathedral and so immediately I was exposed to a wider expression and depth of Anglican liturgy and experience that I had grown to appreciate. I think probably the most significant label that I would put upon myself is an adjutant for change within the Anglican church, and in many ways those classic labels that we apply to the factions within the Anglican church aren’t going to help us to have a future in which we’re relevant, authentic and accessible to the wider community that is moving more and more away from the Anglican church.
Margaret Coffey: Let’s begin to deconstruct those labels, with Markus Richardson as our Anglican everyman, an adjutant for change emerging from evangelicalism and encounter with other Anglican traditions, which means his take will be distinctive.
Markus Richardson: There are in many dioceses, in many places in Australia, struggles for control and power by the various factions – I am talking about widely speaking those who would call themselves evangelical or fundamental, those who would describe themselves as Anglo-Catholic or traditional, and those who would describe themselves as liberal or progressive.
By liberal or progressive I mean those in the church who, generally speaking, have come to question the traditions of the church and the authority of the scriptures because they see those as being perhaps not relevant or attractive any more. So liberals are those who are reworking authority and revelation and how we might understand who God is.
Those who I think of and speak of as traditionalists or Anglo Catholic are those who love and cling to the liturgies and traditions of the church. Therefore they want to keep in place those structures and patterns and practices that have been in place for some considerable amount of time and I guess they feel there is some comfort and safety there. The first I would call an adaption model; the second, those who are traditionalists an avoidance model because we are escaping from the trauma of the world to behind our stained glass windows, just praying that they out there in the world would come to their senses and come and join us.
This third group we are talking about, the evangelicals, or some would think of them as fundamentalists, are those who broadly speaking believe in the authority of the Bible, the scriptures, as God’s word, and who work with great diligence I think to understand and make sense of the scriptures, to apply them as relevantly and as helpfully as possible to human lives and to modern life. So, there is less of a priority on ceremony and tradition and liturgy, and more of a priority on the Word of God, teaching, and discipling.
Really, all three groups to some extent have got something right and all three groups are lacking something, and generally speaking would benefit from the others, so partnerships, conversations, cooperations would only deepen the experience and faith of all three, I think.
Margaret Coffey: On ABC Radio National you are listening to an Encounter with Anglicanism and its parties. Markus Richardson’s background is evangelicalism. You’ll remember that he began his account of Anglican parties with the progressives, in his terms the adaption model. Someone like Bruce Kaye would put it differently – in his account liberalism becomes a dynamic, even positive model.
Bruce Kaye: Undoubtedly what we call liberal tendencies, or liberal disposition – a willingness to be a bit more open, a willingness to be a bit less committed to an extensive array of doctrinal views or theological attitudes – undoubtedly that has been a phenomenon in the last 30 years that has affected the other groups. If you look at, for example, the diocese of Brisbane, traditionally, a hundred years ago, it was a very staunch Catholic diocese, conservative in almost very respect. I don’t think you could say that now. There has been a kind of loosening, a generalising of that Catholic tradition, and I suppose you might call that a kind of liberalising.
And ‘liberal’ has a number of different levels to it or nuances to it. Liberal might mean you don’t want to believe too much about the inherited doctrines, for example, or it might mean that you have a fairly light level of credal commitment but you sit very loose to things which anything to do with institutionality, so your concept of the church, ministry, liturgy, all of those things which are the visible bits, you sit very loose to.
Now I think there is quite a large group of people in the Anglican Church in Australia like that. I think there is a diminishing number of people who are aggressively theologically liberal in the sort of 19th century sense of we don’t really believe too much and we want to make whatever we believe somehow consonant with modern scientific attitudes.
Margaret Coffey: Why is it? Because they have left the church?
Bruce Kaye: Partly because they have left the church and partly because I think the intellectual culture has moved on from that kind of environment.
Margaret Coffey: Bruce Kaye. He says himself he is reluctant to be in the label business – one, because they are too readily used as rhetorical weapons, and two, because they tend to overlap and interweave with each other, even at points where you might expect them to be at their most distinctive.
Music: Recorded at St Peter’s, Eastern Hill.
Margaret Coffey: Take this Melbourne Anglican.
Peter Sherlock: My name is Peter Sherlock.
Margaret Coffey: He’s singing the bass line in the choir at St Peter’s Eastern Hill, Melbourne’s historical Anglo-Catholic church.
Peter Sherlock: I would describe myself as a cradle Anglican who has elements of the evangelical and the catholic in him. And I guess many people would describe me as a liberal but I am not sure if I would own that label for myself.
I was brought up in a slightly odd household in some ways – both my parents are Anglican priests, my grandfather is and so were three of my father’s uncles. So it runs in the family. Many Anglicans these days wouldn’t have that life-long background and I guess that is something that I keep reflecting on as to what that means for me.
It links in to my work as an historian of the 16th century in Britain where issues of the Reformation of course are always at the forefront of my mind, so I am always aware of that long history for the Anglican church. Yet at the same time in my childhood I remember going on beach missions to Portland in Victoria when I was about three or four, being very immersed in evangelical Anglican culture as well. So there is that tension for me between the tradition and the vision for the future.
Margaret Coffey: What does it mean for how you actually conduct your life as an Anglican?
Peter Sherlock: I have to think a lot about that one, actually. The first thing is that I go to church every Sunday almost without fail. There are weeks sometimes when I have too many church related things on and I want to get out of that but it is part of my life. I live and breathe it and even when I have doubts about my faith or decisions to make in my life I can’t imagine the church not being there. Held alongside that, I suppose, is taking the scriptures with the utmost seriousness, and it’s really important for me in church to have good biblically based preaching and to constantly be reflecting on the texts God has left for us.
Organ music: Recorded at St Peter’s, Eastern Hill.
Margaret Coffey: This day the preaching at St Peter’s takes up with Matthew’s gospel and a reading about talents. It turns that reading out to the world.
Sermon extract: What must our Muslim fellow citizens be feeling? There are ripples of unease moving through this very culturally diverse city of ours, and we all need to be encouraging voices of moderation and mutual respect. Now that can start with something very simple. I have a suggestion……..
Margaret Coffey: Here at St Peter’s practically everyone turns out to receive Communion. They kneel and take both bread and wine. It’s a marker of the Anglo-Catholic, as distinct from evangelical, character of the service.
Peter Sherlock: I am not someone who could engage in the spirituality of daily Mass, for example, as some Anglo Catholics do. Perhaps I am not up to it. So, yes, that sacramental side of it is very important to me but it has got to be balanced for me with the preaching and so on.
Margaret Coffey: And at least to that extent, Peter Sherlock remains true to his evangelical and reformed heritage.
Peter Sherlock: I recently decided that it was very hard for me to call myself an evangelical any more. I don’t like being negative about my identity but many of the things that go under the label of evangelicalism today I find very difficult, and I think some of those things have actually changed. So, for example, a very narrow view of scripture as a rule book I can’t live with in good conscience. I see scripture as a living text, a set of principles and strong ethical sense, but I don’t see a set of moral laws in the New Testament. So that part of evangelicalism, which not all evangelicals would adhere to, is something I can’t identify with strongly any more.
In terms of Anglo Catholic as another label, maybe that is where I actually am but haven’t owned up to yet. I guess my feeling there is that I don’t need to have a priest in a chasuble with six candles on the altar as a necessary thing in liturgy, but I do value the formality of the worship. That might include very modern hymns, guitars and all those sorts of things, but it has got to be done well, and I suppose that is the part of Anglo-Catholicism that appeals to me – the sense that, at its best, it has got to be done as well as you possibly can. At its worst, of course, Anglo-Catholicism liturgically descends into fussiness and I guess for me that goes back to like what I was saying about the scriptures. It is not a rulebook but it is about worshipping God to the best of your ability.
Music: Recorded at St Peter’s, Eastern Hill.
Margaret Coffey: It has to be said that this congregation at this particular service, one of five on a Sunday, is your average Anglican congregation, not very much more than fifty, but over the routine refreshment afterwards there’s lively expression of commitment.
Person 1: I hate to tell you but I’ve been here since 1937. My people have been here since 1900, you know the old Oxford Group coming back from there. Fr Maynard of course was a great socialist and influenced a lot of us in that way. In 1936 I joined the railways and came to Melbourne for the very first time, very nervous, my father came down with me and I had a letter from the local vicar to St Peter’s, Eastern Hill, and I have been here ever since except for a little break, wartime. My wife’s ashes are in the crypt.
Person 2: Well I’ve been coming to St Peter’s for five years, I actually found it on the internet because I wanted a place to sing so I Googled Melbourne, music, Anglican and got St Peter’s. The music started me here but what has kept me here as well is it’s partly an aesthetic thing, the liturgy of Anglo Catholicism and the emphasis on ceremonial and worshipping the Lord in the beauty of the holiness rather than being just plain and dour about it, but on the theology side I think what keeps me coming back is that it is a very inclusive idea of Christianity. I mean it is very true to the central teachings of the church, it is not flexible on that, but it has got a very inclusive idea of how one can be part of God’s family and valuing difference and celebrating it rather than expecting everybody to toe a line.
Person 3: It does worry me considerably that we have a shortage of young people here. But that’s the way of life nowadays. They say, ‘oh they don’t have to go; it’s a different way of life to your day’. Maybe it is but we still have the Great Architect up there who looks after us and guides us and he is the one I think we should follow, as I always have.
Music: Toccata in B minor (comp. E. Gigout, perf. John Dexter), St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. PRBS 801CD
Margaret Coffey: You’re with Encounter on ABC Radio National, and we’re touring around the identities on offer within Anglicanism, listening to people account for sometimes evolving identities.
Let’s return to our Anglican everyman, Markus Richardson, who calls himself an adjutant for change and an Anglican in transition, and whose evangelical identity is under the pressure of what he perceives as crisis in the Anglican Church. You recall he described liberals as living out an adaption model. Traditionalists or Anglo-Catholics, he said, were taking on an avoidance model. His first encounter with Anglo-Catholicism was indeed within his own family, then again as a young minister sent out to a NSW country town.
Markus Richardson: My godfather, he was a clergyman in a diocese other than Sydney, he was from Adelaide, and his understanding of the Anglican church was profoundly different from mine. His understanding of the Anglican Church was that we were essentially of the Catholic tradition and that there were seven sacraments in the church. So his whole understanding of the history and the authority and the role of the church stemmed from the model that he had been taught.
I had several very immature and black and white assumptions about what real Christians looked like in the Anglican context and what, you know, pretend ones looked like. As a younger man I to some extent was a bit of an iconoclast – I would have been happy to, you know, knock the stained glass windows out and let a little more light into the building and dispense with the robes which I saw as quite medieval and unhelpful. But I realised quickly in my experiences at the cathedral in country NSW that that little group that met on Wednesday mornings at 7 am, which I thought would have been kind of the worst service to have to attend, especially in the New England tablelands, it is so cold, I quickly realised that they really were the most passionate, faithful and responsive and lovely group of Christians that perhaps I’d ever had the privilege of leading in worship. That forced me to recognise that I needed to widen my understandings of where I was going to attach significance and what was really important.
Margaret Coffey: Markus Richardson, and he describes that recognition in terms of understanding not theology so much as culture.
Markus Richardson: I think probably more widely in Australia one of the caricatures that they would have of evangelicals and I guess of Sydney diocese is that they are proponents of a more propositional gospel, which is to say that this is a message which demands a response and there is a right response and a wrong response – we of course want to encourage people to make the right response. It is certainly true that the background and the context in which I was raised and educated lent itself in that direction. I’ve got to say right up front that my own personality type and sinfulness easily accommodated the idea that there was right and there was wrong and it is very simple. I would have in fact seen it as an act of love and service and genuine ministry to be persuading those who I saw as wrong to see things my way.
Now of course that is very, very dangerous for any individual or for any organisation. It doesn’t affect the truthfulness of God’s word or the gospel, it is more about a style, and the world we live in just is a world that doesn’t accommodate that kind of operation so easily any more. It is very dangerous.
Margaret Coffey: And you learned that the hard way, going out in the bush?
Markus Richardson: Yes, it was a real trial for me because here I was, fresh out of college, boned up with a great theological model and therefore all of the answers, and all of a sudden I was plonked into communities full of real, raw people. So I started to realise that I needed to be more like a chaplain to the town, the God man, who was available for everybody at whatever stage of the faith journey they were on or not, rather than the keeper of a club that had a very clear boundary, who was in and who was out.
Margaret Coffey: Historically in Australia, Anglican labels have tended to be associated with particular places for complex reasons, but, as we’ll hear from Bruce Kaye in a moment, those associations have never been entirely fixed. There’s no reason, for example, that it should be assumed Sydney has been and is for all time evangelical. Different factors come into play, not all of them internal church factors. People, ideas and ideals interact with local culture.
Peter Sherlock: I can’t remember the first time I came to the cathedral, but with all the masses of ordinations in the family there have been a few great events here, both as a child and then more recently as an adult. One of the things I love about the cathedral is simply where it is in Melbourne. You can’t come to Melbourne and not bump into St Paul’s Cathedral, and one of the great developments in the last year is having the new processional doors put in so that you can sit in Federation Square having a coffee and there the doors of St Paul’s Cathedral are open and there is a sense that you want to come inside and cross the square and have a look. So the cathedral for me really symbolises the place that the church does and could occupy in the world. We don’t get everything right here – it’s still under renovation – but the potential here is enormous, because people want to come in here. They are looking for something.
Margaret Coffey: So when those doors are open it is literally a church without walls?
Peter Sherlock: That’s exactly right, both in the sense that when you are inside the church all of a sudden all this light comes in from the world and you can see through to the outside, but when you are outside the walls come down. You don’t have to try too hard to get into the building, the church actually says we want you to come in and be part of this community.
Margaret Coffey: It’s a nice image of one kind of Anglican imagining of its relationship to society.
Bruce Kaye: I think all of the Anglican traditions have some sense of relating to the wider society. The difference I think relates to how they do it. The tighter kind of knowledge tradition, Catholic and evangelical we might call them, will tend to confront the wider society because they will come with some clearer, more sharply defined, and more precisely articulated notion of what the Christian truth is. So they will be interested in evangelism and the sense of bringing people into the church community. Whereas someone who works with a more general, more dispersed, more fluid kind of notion of authority in their Christian faith will be interested in listening to what the sociologist has to say, will be interested in listening to what might be discerned out there. It used to be a fashion to talk about listening to the signs of the times in order to discern what God was doing in his world – they do it in a different way.
Marcus Loane: Extract from service of enthronement of Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Most Rev Marcus Loane, 13 August, 1966
Margaret Coffey: Sounds like ancient history, doesn’t it, but it was only a generation ago, and a differently confident Church of England in Australia, as Anglicanism was still called. Former Sydney Archbishop Marcus Loane. His refusal to share a platform with the visiting Pope Paul V1 gives the impression that Sydney has always stood in a very specific Anglican tradition. But Bruce Kaye insists that that is not the case. History tells a story of shifts in character.
Bruce Kaye: The dispositions, as I would call them, have changed their locations from time to time. I mean if you went back to the early 19th century in Sydney it was a high church diocese. It wasn’t until the latter part of the 19th century that it tended to become more evangelical in a very kind of, we would say today, liberal sort of fashion, and the relatively tight style of evangelicalism that we see in the diocese of Sydney now really only begins in the 1930s with the politically securing a particular point of view in the diocesan structures. And that has had its ups and downs: you couldn’t compare, for example, the present sort of mode with the 1960s which was a much more institutionally, church-orientated, traditional form of evangelicalism than we see today.
If you went back to the turn of the century to the diocese of Adelaide, for example, it would be very Catholic, very Roman looking in many respects. That wouldn’t be true today. So the two big groupings, Catholic and evangelical, really begin to become organised at the beginning of the 20th century. That Catholic tradition flourished very much in the first 30 years of the 20th century. Since the Second World War it has not been so vigorous and at the present time has lost a lot of focus, whereas in the last 20 years the evangelical cause, the conservative cause if I can put it that way, because the Catholic cause in its conservative form has flourished in the last 20 years too, that’s tended to come to the fore.
So it is very variable, Margaret, and it would be a real mistake to imagine the present situation is the one that has always been. I mean, one hears people say the diocese of Melbourne has always been like it is. It’s not true at all – the first 30 years of the diocese of Melbourne was a very strict evangelical place, and the diocese of Sydney has not always been what it is now, and there is no guarantee that it will stay the way it is.
Margaret Coffey: What can we put these changes, these movements, down to? Is it the advent of a particularly strong personality perhaps or pressures of other kinds that are borne in upon the congregations?
Bruce Kaye: Because these things tend to be contained within the dioceses in Australia – and that’s quite unusual on the global scene, almost unique in a way – an individual or group of individuals can have a big influence. And there is no doubt that, in the Sydney phenomenon, people like Broughton Knox and more recently the Jensen brothers have had a big influence on the way in which the diocese has developed.
Another factor in my opinion is the way in which the culture of the locality has changed. Sydney has a culture which is historically fairly contrary – it is a kind of oppositional culture. There is more sense in which, if you live in Sydney, you are an individual and you want to stand, so to speak, against them, the descendents of the guards and the convict chains or something, I don’t now what it is. Historically there is a tradition like that and as a consequence it is often a violent place. I think it is not surprising that Anglicanism somehow often reflects that, so that you get a culture in Sydney Anglicanism, which has echoes with the culture of the city itself. That would be true of Melbourne as well: Melbourne is in contrast to Sydney a more inclusive kind of culture. People in Melbourne join societies, they establish trusts, they are disposed not to be so oppositional, and therefore, I think, the environment to which Anglicans are relating affects the way in which they relate and effects the way in which they themselves operate.
Margaret Coffey: You are making a point there really about how permeable Anglicanism is to the broader society.
Bruce Kaye: Absolutely, you have only got to look around the world to see that. The challenge for Anglicanism is not how permeable it is or how malleable it is, but to what degree its resolution of that relationship indicates sufficient critical distance from the culture on the issues that are important to the practising of faith.
Voice: Why don’t we stand and sing …
Music: Recorded at St Jude’s
Margaret Coffey: And that’s an idea our Anglican everyman, Markus Richardson, puts this way:
Markus Richardson: Sometimes what our society most needs is for the church to keep its prophetic role of standing slightly aside, although fully involved, and saying, we don’t think this is the way to go, we’re not sure if God sees this as a helpful thing for us to be embracing or pursuing. And of course it is very difficult if you feel that there is some pressure on you to reflect back what society wants to hear. That of course is repeated time and time again in the Old Testament stories of the prophets who were in the pocket of the king rather than the prophets who stood faithful, and it was pretty risky business to tell the King what he didn’t want to hear. It remains risky in our society today.
Margaret Coffey: Anglican priest Markus Richardson, on Encounter. Here on ABC Radio National we’re checking out the identity badges in Australian Anglicanism, what it means to individuals when they say they are liberal, or Anglo-Catholic, or evangelical, just for starters. Some of these labels take on slightly different hues as they change locality, and Anglicanism experiences a different kind of permeability.
Richard Condie: Richard Condie. I’m the vicar of St Jude’s Anglican Church in Carlton. Most people come here because it is an evangelical church rather than because it is an Anglican church per se, although there are a number of Anglicans who identify themselves as such. But we also have lots of people who probably have a background in the Baptist Church, or some from Churches of Christ, some from other denominations but they are here because St Jude’s is an evangelical church.
Toula:So what it means to be evangelical – evangelical is a job description. In modern terms you would be the marketing arm of the church and what you do is you basically go and tell people about the reality that Jesus Christ was truly the Son of God and as a result of that you start doing Bible studies with people so you start reading the word of God and out of that you start understanding what God asks of us. It’s as simple as that.
Richard Condie: Being Anglican is certainly important to the leadership and to the structures and to the organisation of the place, and the recognition of ministry that we have and certainly the form of what we do is consistent with the Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican structures. Yet I think the identity of the people is just that this is a great church to belong to, and they will teach me the Bible, and that is what they are looking for.
Sermon extract: Today is Commitment Sunday …
Margaret Coffey: Today, people take their Bibles in hand, they have sermon note paper, and headings: You were dead; But now you are alive; and, finally, Responding to the Gospel. They jot on the notepaper as Richard Condie preaches on the text of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, with that essential Protestant theme, that “by grace you have been saved … this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
Sermon extract: Friends, we are the trophy cabinet of God’s grace. Look around you, look around you, see the people sitting around you, the person sitting next to you, if they are a follower of Jesus today, were once a person destined for death, but now they are a person who is alive.
Margaret Coffey: St Jude’s trophy cabinet has a revealing display. It says something about the porousness of Anglicanism at its evangelical end.
Toula: Greek Orthodox background – my parents came out to Australia in World War 2, I grew up in a Greek church, but they also became Christians through, ironically, a radio station from Chicago, a Christian radio station in Greek, and mum for the very first time in her life was sent a Bible because there was an offer if anyone wanted to receive a Bible. A couple of weeks later a couple of guys knocked on the door and they started having Bible study with my parents and it was about a year and a half later that they understood what it meant to truly be a Christian.
Margaret Coffey: Listening to these people it’s harder to get a fix on what might be distinctively Anglican in their sensibilities. But something of what a tradition such as Anglicanism brings to the reading of the Bible begins to emerge.
Owen: First and foremost I think of myself as being a Christian. I don’t think of myself as an Anglican. I became a Christian at university. I really had no idea about Christianity or denominations and so when I became a Christian it was really up to the people who came to me to introduce Christianity to me. Those people were missionaries from Ghana who were Pentecostals and so I ended up a Pentecostal. When I came to Australia again I was simply introduced by a friend to the church. The things that drew me to the preaching were that it was willing to take the Bible seriously as the Word of God but willing to ask hard questions and avoid some of the imbalances.
I can give you a very concrete example – by simply appropriating Old Testament promises to bless us as Christians and not take into consideration some of the wider theology of the Old Testament leads to a misunderstanding and a imbalance in terms of what is now known as the prosperity gospel. And so their approach to God’s blessing was balanced in this community by looking at some of the teachings in the Wisdom literature which shows that it doesn’t work mechanically and you can’t expect to become a Christian and to have health, wealth and opportunities and jobs and marriages. It is not a promise that is plain sailing. People do suffer, as Christians, and you can’t expect to take those promises at face value – they were actually written to a specific people at a specific time, and so they don’t travel in a general way to us today.
Margaret Coffey: Anglicanism in this account at least constructs the lightest of frameworks. There’s quite a crowd at this particular service – twenties, thirties, most of them university-educated, professionals – and after they make their way to the basement to catch up. Many of them will go on down the road to a restaurant for a meal together, a way of meeting up since they come from all over the suburbs. St Jude’s is in fact a thriving evangelical parish drawing people into mission work on local housing estates, in other parishes and even overseas.
Richard Condie: I think the future of evangelical biblical Christianity is strong. If you look around the country that is where life is in churches that are like that. I think I am pessimistic about some branches of the Anglican Church that they have lost their way, they have lost the gospel that is at the heart of Anglicanism, and I think of when I read my prayer book and I read my Bible and I read the 39 Articles and the things that define Anglicanism, I see a biblical faith at the heart of that. And I guess one of the things I work for is the reformation of the church continually, that we keep reforming ourselves by the Word.
Margaret Coffey: Even if some members of his congregation don’t recognise it, Richard Condie belongs to an Anglican tradition. It’s the one where, broadly speaking, our Anglican everyman has decided to stay: after all those encounters with difference, and with himself, he comes back to those traditional emphases and contemporary criticisms.
Markus Richardson: Clearly, the authority of the scriptures and the content of the scriptures are profoundly important for us in terms of understanding what are the first things, and we must keep the first things, and what are the things of secondary importance that we can afford to be more relaxed about. That is why, for example, I would rather leave myself broadly speaking in the evangelical camp than the other two, simply because to some extent the other two are making adjustments that I see as not fundamentally being Anglican or helpful for where we are at in society today. The really big question I think for us as Anglicans is whether or not there will be any church left and, if there is, is there anything that we have got left to say.
Music: Toccata in B minor, (comp E. Gigout, (perf. John Dexter), St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. PRBS 801CD
Margaret Coffey: So, if experience brings you in a round about way back home to roughly where you started, the question for observers is where do all these Anglican identity holders, camp dwellers, get together, work out just how much they can say in common into the future, so that those of us listening might understand what Anglican – just Anglican per se – means.
Peter Sherlock: That is one of the great problems for the Anglican Church. We don’t know where to have a really good productive fight. There’s not really any forum to put our heads together and fight out some issues that need to be dealt with or come to a common mind. There’s a real problem in knowing how to talk to each other.
Even a formal schism, even a kind of formal split within Australia or outside Australia, even that would take enough people sitting down to decide for that to happen. So we’re stuck a little bit in this process I think of being endlessly fractured. And of course historically once one church splits very often it then fractures again into even smaller pieces. So many of us would try very hard to avoid a fracture.
Margaret Coffey: Peter Sherlock; and Bruce Kaye echoes him.
Bruce Kaye: What we need is a kind of renewed intellectual, theological, practical imagination about how we might all be Anglicans in Australia. And that will only come when we talk to each other and when we establish conversations across these differences. Theological colleges should talk to each other, for example. They don’t at the moment. There ought to be occasions when Anglicans can get together in assemblies or conferences which aren’t caught by the political agendas. But those are ways in which you can try and establish that kind of conversation which leads you to a better way of imagining what it means to be an Anglican in Australia.
Margaret Coffey: Right now in Melbourne Anglicans are in the process of electing a new archbishop. There’s a group of representative people working out a list of nominees who will be presented for election in February. It’s clearly a highly political process in which all those Anglican identities come into play. The public don’t get to hear about the conversations so there is no knowing how talk resolves differences. That Board of Nominators includes Susan Bazanna.
Sue Bazzana: I don’t think any of us really fit neatly into all of those categories and I don’t really think I fit neatly into any one, although I self-identify in an evangelical camp. The labels to me matter less than the relationships that I can develop with the people within my brand of Anglicanism and the relationships that I can develop with people outside of that. And so I try not to come with preconceptions about people and I hope that they don’t come with preconceptions about me because I often don’t fit their preconception.
Margaret Coffey: Susan Bazzana’s biography suggests something telling about contemporary Anglicanism, and perhaps a disposition useful for the future.
Sue Bazzana: Most people refer to me as Sue. I grew up in northern NSW, my family background is Italian Roman Catholic. I was converted to a relationship with Jesus through a Uniting church in my teenage years, I attended a Baptist church when I was at university and when I finished uni for a number of reasons I decided that I’d to worship at a church that ended up being Anglican and I didn’t really identify myself as an Anglican – I would have always just said I was a Christian – until fairly recently. I would still say I am a Christian more than I am an Anglican.
Margaret Coffey: Sue Bazzana is a lay person who works for an Anglican organisation and belongs to an inner city parish.
Sue Bazzana: It’s a congregation I guess you could call it low church, the music is contemporary – while it is contemporary it is not what I would call ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ kind of songs. The Bible is taught regularly and systematically, there is a fairly high emphasis in community life, lots of the people are really engaged in trying to work out how work and faith fit together. That kind of thing I find really attractive and intellectually stimulating. But we have a big outreach ministry that happens during the week in the church where we offer sort of social programs and food parcels for people who are disadvantaged in the local community, and I think that that is really important, and part of what it means for me to be evangelical is that we don’t actually separate that kind of gospel and justice thing that so often happens where people sort of fixate on, you know, ‘I want to be a social justice kind of Christian’ or ‘they want to be a Bible kind of Christian’. St Matthew’s is a congregation where those two things are held together.
There are things about Anglicanism that I really appreciate. I really appreciate that there is systematic Bible reading, that the creeds give us depth to what we are saying, that when we pray we don’t just pray about ourselves but we pray about our place in the world and for things that are bigger than my personal need and, you know, Mrs Brown who is sick today.
I think that what I look for in Anglicanism is around that liturgical depth and the breadth of having space and time and joy and celebration and teaching that is actually going to help me live my life in a way that honours God.
Margaret Coffey: Sue Bazzana – who sounds neither perfectly reasonable nor radically dismissive. Up the road and occupying the long held middle ground of faith is my neighbour.
Joy Fox: I suppose really the most important thing are the sacraments to me. I don’t suppose I really know what that means in life but it’s just something about going into church and taking communion it just makes me feel better that’s all. I always feel that God walks with his hand on my shoulder. Anything that I do I always feel that this is what God had in mind for me. You know, I deeply believe that this is what I have got to do for God. Be it anything in life. God walks with his hand on my shoulder – ‘Joy, I want you to do this for me’ – goes something like that in my life. I wouldn’t say I was good living or anything like that. I’m not a Miss Goody Two Shoes or anything. Just an ordinary person.
Music: Recorded at St Peter’s, Eastern Hill: The Lord is my shepherd, (arr. Goodall)
Margaret Coffey: This has been Encounter, making its way around Anglican identities. Many thanks to all the participants. Technical production by Paul Penton. I’m Margaret Coffey.
St Matthew’s, Prahran Article by Sue on the 2002 National Anglican Conference
St Jude’s, Carlton Interview with Richard Condie, Sydney Anglicans Net, April 2005
Former General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Australia, General Synod A Church Without Walls: Being Anglican in Australia (Harper Collins 1995) Anglicanism in Australia (gen. ed.) (Melbourne University Press, 2002)
Former Vicar of Glen Waverley Anglican Church
Peter Sherlock St Peter’s Eastern Hill, Melbourne