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Anglican Synod ‘may be the last’

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Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies discusses the role of Christianity in contemporary Australia at the Annual New College Lectures.

The establishment of the “breakaway” Anglican Diocese of the Southern Cross by the evangelical Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) movement may mean the 2022 General Synod could be the last, according to a leading evangelical Anglican minister and writer.

David Ould, Senior Associate Minister at St John’s Parramatta and an outspoken voice in evangelical Anglicanism, said the “complexity of having to respond to this situation” meant a future General Synod was now in question.

“I think the fracture in the house of bishops is now so profound that there’s unlikely to be any desire to meet together again. But we’ll see what that might look like,” Rev Ould told The Catholic Weekly.

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Two upcoming bishops’ meetings, one in October with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and another in the New Year, will test whether Anglicanism can resolve the intractable dispute over same-sex marriage that has given rise to the new diocese.

Rev Ould is not hopeful, telling The Catholic Weekly that there is a “rapidly growing lack of confidence in the current structures to deal with the current problems that we’ve got”.

Bishop Glenn Davies was commissioned as the diocese’s bishop on 18 August, and said it was for Anglicans “who can no longer suffer the jurisdiction of bishops who are progressive, liberal, overturning the teaching of scripture and particularly the teaching of our Lord Jesus on the question of marriage”.

“Bishop Davies told The Catholic Weekly that other congregations planned to join in the ‘near future’, and said that the diocese would soon engage in “church planting” in territories where ‘the Anglican Church is deficient in its authority teaching the Bible’.”

Critics have described it as “schismatic”, “fundamentalist” and a “cult” over the last week.

Speaking to The Catholic Weekly, Bishop Davies said GAFCON chair Bishop Richard Condie of Tasmania plans to move a motion in his synod to bring the two dioceses into communion.

“I’m sure similar will happen in Sydney too,” he said.

The diocese currently has a single congregation in Queensland, led by former St George’s Beenleigh pastor Rev Peter Palmer.

Bishop Davies told The Catholic Weekly that other congregations planned to join in the “near future”, and said that the diocese would soon engage in “church planting” in territories where “the Anglican Church is deficient in its authority teaching the Bible”.

It was a “slight irony”, he added, that he attends a parish of the Diocese of Sydney, is a Bishop of the Anglican Church of Australia, and will not be a member of the synod of his own fledgling structure, once formed.

GAFCON Chair Bishop Richard Condie, of Tasmania, at the 2022 GAFCON Australia Conference. Photo: GAFCON AUSTRALIA
GAFCON Chair Bishop Richard Condie, of Tasmania, at the 2022 GAFCON Australia Conference. Photo: GAFCON AUSTRALIA

The role is an “honorary” position providing episcopal leadership for congregations as the diocese takes shape.

“When we elect our first bishop then that person will most likely be a pastor in a congregation – part time pastor and part-time bishop, if you like,” he said.

“I imagine when we consecrate that Bishop we’ll have Bishops from the Anglican Church of Australia joining us in the consecration.”

Bishop Davies said the new structure would not impede the warm relationships developed over many years between Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops, despite differences in doctrine.

“It’s far more important to preach the Gospel and see people become disciples of Jesus – that’s the essence of our work,” he said.

He was also pleased that Bishop Condie had received messages of support from clergy of other denominations, both Catholic and Protestant.

“The statutes as set up allowed for those forms of service to be created. Now obviously some people don’t believe it’s what those laws should have allowed, but it’s what they did allow.”

“I don’t think Richard Condie got many texts of congratulations from Anglican bishops,” he said.

The breakaway diocese has been in development for around two years, after the Anglican Church’s appellate tribunal ruled in November 2020 that it was legal under the Church’s constitution to bless same-sex marriages already solemnised under civil law, even though the Anglican doctrine on marriage as such had not changed.

Dr Renae Barker, a legal academic from the University of Western Australia who attended the Anglican General Synod this year, said it was “important to understand the appellate tribunal sees itself as a legal body first and a religious body second”.

“The statutes as set up allowed for those forms of service to be created. Now obviously some people don’t believe it’s what those laws should have allowed, but it’s what they did allow.”

Bishop Davies, echoing the sentiments of many evangelicals, said the tribunal’s decision “depletes” the doctrine of the Church, calling it “just ridiculous”.

A spokesperson for Anglican Primate Geoffrey Smith told The Catholic Weekly he was on sabbatical and unable to reply to enquiries.

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