Monday, April 18, 2011

Is this a wind up or a marketing flourish?

Mark Thompson, writing a post defending the Diocese of Sydney from the charge of congregationalism, mentions a forthcoming book about Sydney Anglicans. To keep focus on his topic he distracts not his readers by giving either author or title of the book. But a little Googling leads me to this announcement of a book due August, 2011:

Muriel Porter, Sydney Anglicans and the Threat to World Anglicanism.

Followers of the Australian Anglican Church and its colourful life - let's be honest, we Kiwis are a little drab by comparison - will know that Muriel Porter and the Sydney Diocese go together like Sarah Palin and the Democratic Party. They both profess to know a lot about the other but do not claim to be the best of friends.

Surely this title is either a wind up or a marketing flourish? The Sydney Diocese is strong in unity, numbers and missional aims, well heeled financially (do not let that little recent loss on the stock market fog your view of their overall, long-term wealth), and blessed with great leadership that keeps producing strong new generational leaders. But it is not a threat to 'World Anglicanism'. Of course the title might mean 'There is a threat to World Anglicanism and Sydney Anglicans contribute a tiny amount to that threat.' But that is not quite the force of the publishers blurb when we read,

"Under Archbishop Peter Jensen they are not just set apart from most other Australian Anglicans, but have become prominent in the leadership of the global movement that is threatening worldwide Anglican unity. Muriel Porter unpacks how Australia's largest and, until recently, richest diocese developed its ideological fervour, and explores the impact it is having both in Australia and the Anglican Communion."

Where does one begin with this piece of lazy reportage? First, there are many threats to 'worldwide Anglican unity', but you would not know it from this paragraph with its implication that there is only one threat, 'the global movement' (unstated, but obviously meaning 'GAFCON'). Secondly, there are not many Sydney Anglicans involved in the leadership of GAFCON. Archbishop Peter Jensen is prominent in the leadership of that movement (he is secretary of the Primates Council), but how many others are prominent in the leadership? (The distinct impression I have is that while ++Peter is away on GAFCON business the remaining Sydney Anglicans are beavering away in mission in Sydney). Thirdly, the easy impression is given that Sydney is no longer Australia's richest diocese without naming which has overtaken it. I could be quite wrong on this matter but I suspect that Sydney, notwithstanding a recent major loss on its financial investments is still the richest diocese in Australia.

Of course titles like this - I readily admit, as one known to be provocative in the titles of blog postings - may not be a wind up but a piece of marketing. If so, good on Muriel and her publisher. It's a cut throat market out there when selling books.

Here's the thing. There are many critics of Sydney and many criticisms, and I have been known to make some of them. But Sydney Diocese has a strength in numbers - of worshippers, of ministers, of students in its theological college - which should give all Anglicans pause for thought, especially those Anglicans wondering how much longer their tiny, aging congregations can hold on. Is there anything we might learn from Sydney about the gospel, about mission, about discipleship, about determination to renew the generations in the church?

Is Sydney Anglicanism a threat to World Anglicanism or a sign pointing the way to a better global Anglican future?


Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,
It might assist blog readers to know that Muriel Porter, from the Diocese of Melbourne, is the "lay general" of the liberal wing of the Anglican Church in Australia. She was also prominent in the ordination of women movement, which Sydney staunchly opposed. So you can understand why she has such a bee in her bonnet about Sydney and its evangelicalism. This book is the second she has written about Sydney, the first being "The New Puritans". The dedication of that book was to "those Sydney Anglicans striving to protect the mainstream Anglicanism of their forebears". So, as you say, not best of friends.

On your points about Sydney's strengths, don't get dazzled by their resources or political clout. Look at their missional focus - their Connect 09 program, their support of CMS, their bold outreach goals, and their equipping of individual believers for evangelism. It doesn't get as much press, but that consistent focus on outreach over many years is a key factor in their strength.

Andrew Reid

Kurt said...

“The Sydney Diocese is strong in unity, numbers and missional aims, well heeled financially (do not let that little recent loss on the stock market fog your view of their overall, long-term wealth).

“Little recent loss”? You have got to be kidding! Sydney leveraged its investment portfolio in the boom and sold when the market hit rock bottom. After losing more than $100 million, it was forced to halve its expenditure. It host about 1/3 of its asset value. Hardly a “little loss”!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Father Ron Smith said...

".....there are not many Sydney Anglicans involved in the leadership of GAFCON. Archbishop Peter Jensen is prominent in the leadership of that movement (he is secretary of the Primates Council), but how many others are prominent in the leadership?"
- Peter Carrell -

I believe that you are betraying your filial links with the Sydney Diocese here, dear brother! Were you not aware of the GAFCONisation of the diocese of Sydney. At least, the Diocese has been quite a financial contributor to the efforts of its Archbishop, Peter Jensen, in his foundational membership of the organisation of the GAFCON Movement?

The Jensen Family partnership in the Sydney Diocese has been party to all that has taken place within the Global South Movement - right from the raising up of their once-important web-site - where Sydney was featured as pro-Gafcon.

Muriel Porter is a respected commentator on the Australian Church scene - possible even comparable to the importance of yourself, Peter, as a respected blogger in the Church in New Zealand. She should not be under-estimated as one of the Australian Church members who has been at the forefront of the ordination of women in that country - and who is naturally critical of the Sydney refusal to ordain women - while they are yet open to Lay- Presidency at the Eucharist - something which no other province of the Communion has yet agreed to.

Fortunately for the rest of the Anglican Communion, the Sydney Diocese is not representative of most Australian Anglicans, and Muriel Porter is out to correct any misapprehension on that score. All power to her arm!

Andrew Reid said...

Dear Fr Ron,
Muriel Porter is certainly a prominent and important commentator on Australian Anglican issues (she isn't widely respected outside the liberal wing) and at the forefront of the women's ordination and consecration movement in Australia. But to suggest she is the spokesperson for what is representative of Australian Anglicanism is incorrect.
She is the leading lay representative of the liberal wing of the Australian Anglican church, but that wing is not the majority. No one group holds a majority. There are dioceses that are liberal (e.g. Newcastle), some that are evangelical (e.g. Armidale), some that are Anglo-Catholic (e.g. Ballarat) and many that are a mix (e.g. Melbourne). Sydney might not represent Australian Anglicanism, but neither does Muriel Porter. She has a view and is free to express it, but it is not the representative view of Australian Anglicanism. It represents the view of the liberal wing.
I for one would much prefer to see Muriel turn her undoubted intellect towards how to grow the Australian Anglican church, rather than how to continually attack a diocese she doesn't agree with.
Andrew Reid