Australian Church too divided, says bishop

by Muriel Porter, Australia Correspondent

Posted: 26 Feb 2016 @ 12:04 – CHURCH TIMES (UK)

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“Cannot stand by”: the Bishop of Newcastle, NSW, the Rt Revd Greg Thompson

THE Bishop of Newcastle, in New South Wales, the Rt Revd Greg Thompson, has refused to attend the forthcoming annual Australian bishops’ conference over the issue of homosexuality.

The Newcastle Herald reports that Bishop Thompson has written to the Primate, Dr Philip Freier, the Archbishop of Melbourne, declining the invitation to the conference, which is due to begin on 6 March, because “it would give the impression of a united Church that conflicted with reality”.

The report says that Bishop Thompson has accused the diocese of Sydney of demanding that the bishops sign up to a protocol on homosexual clergy; or the Sydney bishops would not attend any further bishops’ conferences.

At their 2012 meeting, the bishops adopted a protocol undertaking “to uphold the position of our Church in regard to human sexuality as we ordain, license, authorise, or appoint to ministries within our dioceses”. This followed controversy about the licensing of a priest in a long-term same-sex partnership to a parish in Gippsland, in rural Victoria.

The protocol was superseded in 2014 in favour of a simpler protocol: to uphold “Faithfulness in Service”, a general code of conduct adopted by the General Synod in 2004.

The latest push for a more specific bishops’ protocol dealing with homosexual clergy follows the induction of the same priest to another parish in Gippsland by the current Bishop of the diocese, the Rt Revd Kay Goldsworthy. That move was condemned by a resolution of Sydney synod last October, which said that Sydney viewed her action as “a breach of collegiality and fellowship”.

In a media statement, Bishop Thompson said that the resolution meant that he could no longer “simply stand by”. The statement continued: “for over 20 years, we have experienced Anglicans from the Diocese of Sydney establishing church activities in the Diocese of Newcastle in direct competition with our ministries.

“We have learnt to accommodate ourselves to this, but look with great concern on movements such as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans that are designed to elevate an alternate Anglican jurisdiction in Australia and New Zealand.

“I am looking to the bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia to affirm the importance of being able to express divergent views in common fellowship, as the Anglican Primates did in January. I am also looking to the bishops to affirm the leadership of each bishop within their own diocese.”

The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, has commented that the Australian bishops were “aware of the concern, not only of Sydney but also of bishops in other dioceses, about the alleged departures from ‘Faithfulness in Service’ and the protocols”. He was expecting the Gippsland issue to be fully discussed at the bishops’ conference.

Dr Freier has commented that he has “no reason to suspect that the [conference] environment will not be conducive to a shared sense of ministry”.


Bishop Greg Thompson, Diocese of Newcastle, NSW, Australia, writes of his concern at the border-crossing tactics of the Sydney archdiocese into his Newcastle diocese in the Anglican Province of Australia:

“for over 20 years, we have experienced Anglicans from the Diocese of Sydney establishing church activities in the Diocese of Newcastle in direct competition with our ministries”

And this has happened without the knowledge or consent of the Bishop or the diocesan authorities in Newcastle. This conservative, evangelical, divisive activity in other diocese in Australia is very similar to the activity of the GAFCON provinces of the Anglican Communion, whose initiatives in certain other provinces of the  Communion have resulted in schismatic activity, whereby alternative quasi-anglican churches – such as ACNA (“Anglican Church in North America”) and AMIE  (“Anglican Mission in England”) have been set up in direct competition with the official Anglican (ACC) Churches in those areas.

This culture of competition for ‘Anglican orthodoxy’ in the Communion has been at the heart of recent dissension among the Primates of the Anglican Communion – on issues of gender and sexuality, and biblical inerrancy – has brought to a head the possibility of a split in the Communion between conservative provinces – mostly in the Global South – and those in the rest of the Communion, whose more moderate views have been rejected by some of the so-called  FOCA, ‘Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’, who are claiming the moral high-ground on these issues.

The Sydney diocese, as many will recall, was – under the leadership of the former archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen – a leading influence in the formation of the GAFCON organisation, which set up its own faith accord in the ‘Jerusalem Statement’, professed an alternative to the agreed faith commitment of the ‘Lambeth Quadrilateral’. Since that time, another reactionary organisation,  the ‘Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’ – largely operated in Australia from the Sydney Diocese – is carrying on the tactics of the GAFCON Primates’ divisive initiative of border-crossing into the Anglican jurisdiction of other dioceses and provinces of the Communion. This cannot but foster a climate of schismatic separation within the Communion.

Bishop Greg Thompson (Newcastle, Australia) also mentions the activities of FOCA in New Zealand, my own Province. It is well-known here that clergy and lay-people attended the last FOCA Conference in Australia from New Zealand – among them people from my own diocese of Christchurch, and from the diocese of Nelson, whose bishop was also in attendance at that meeting. One can only hope that New Zealand will not become a battle-ground of this culture of separatism on the issues that have occasioned schismatic activity in other parts of the Anglican Communion.

The prayer of Jesus: “That they may be one, Father, as you and I are one”

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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