Archbishop Freier elected Australia’s next Primate
Sustaining a national presence and strengthening the church’s contribution to rural communities are among the most important challenges facing the Anglican Church of Australia, believes the new leader, Archbishop Philip Freier.
As primate, Dr Freier is the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church of Australia, its spokesman to politicians and the wider community, but the role is more a first among equals than one with constitutional authority. He cannot instruct other bishops as, say, the Pope can.
“I look forward to the opportunity of working with the church around the country. The church across its parishes, schools and service agencies makes a powerful contribution to Australian society,” Dr Freier said.
Dr Freier was elected by a special synod of laymen, clergy and bishops from around the country, and takes over after the church’s three-yearly parliament ends in Adelaide on Friday. Brisbane Archbishop Phillip Aspinall is stepping down after nine years. The church’s general synod, or national parliament, opens in Adelaide on Monday.
Dr Freier, 59, has been Archbishop of the Melbourne diocese since December 2006. He was elected at a time of some division in the diocese, with one election synod failing to choose a candidate before his name was put up second time round. Since then, theological and churchmanship tensions have eased enormously in Melbourne, attributed in part to Dr Freier’s calm nature, even-handedness, willingness to listen, and desire to engage as widely as possible. He set out to encourage Anglicans. He is also regarded as an able administrator who has worked to stabilise the diocesan balance sheet.
Raised in a working class suburb in Brisbane, where his father worked for Queensland Railways, Dr Freier attended Virginia primary school and Hendra high school. He did a science degree, gained education qualifications and asked to be posted to indigenous communities. In Far North Queensland he was profoundly influenced by Aboriginal Christians and underwent what he calls a conversion of identity to become a strong Christian within the Anglican tradition.
Elected bishop of the Northern Territory in 1999, Dr Freier led many services in indigenous languages.
Coming from one of the smallest dioceses (by number), with some 15 parishes, to one of the biggest, with more than 200 parishes and more than 400 clergy, Dr Freier spent a lot of time in his first few years travelling the diocese and conversing with Christians and non-Christians. He has championed women in ministry, and became only the second archbishop to promote a woman to bishop (Barbara Darling in 2008). He has led a series of high-profile breakfast conversations in Federation Square, discussing important social issues with some of the foremost experts of the day.
Ordained deacon 1983, priest 1984, bishop 1999
Priest in charge Kowanyama 1983-1988
Rector: Banyo 1988-1993
Area Dean, Brisbane North,1992-93
Rector: Bundaberg 1993-99
Bishop: Northern Territory 1999-2006
Archbishop: Melbourne 16/12/2006-14
Archbishop Freier has chaired the Australian College of Theology and the national Doctrine Commission.
Bachelor of Applied Science, QUT, 1975
Diploma of Education, University of Queensland, 1976
Bachelor of Divinity, Melbourne School of Divinity, 1984
Master of Educational Studies, UoN, , 1984
PhD, history, James Cook University, 2000
Married to Joy, two adult children, three grandchildren
Hobbies: bushwalking, reading, visual arts
An Archbishop-elect who has experience in a scientific discipline that could augur well in the modern-day world of theological speculation on matters of gender and sexuality, Melbourne’s – Abp. Philip Freier seems an admirable choice to follow in the well-trodden footsteps of Dr. Phillip Aspinal (Brisbane), who is retiring as the Australian Provincial Archbishop after nine years in that role.
With a background of encouragement of women in ministry, Dr. Freier would seem admirably suited to the provincial Australian Church’s leadership – over the candidature of the recently-appointed Archbishop of Sydney, Dr.Glen Davies, whose diocese seems reluctant to appoint women to positions of responsibility in the local Church.
Interesting also is that fact that at this time, the new Sydney Archbishop, is in America – along with his immediate Sydney predecessor, Bishop Peter Jensen – supporting the newly-appointed Archbishop of the ACNA, +Foley Beach, at his election conclave. One wonders whether his implied alliance with the ACNA was one reason why Dr. Davies was not chosen by the Church in Australia to be provincial Head. The Anglican Church in Australia has no official connection with the schismatics in the ACNA sodality.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand