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?