– a Kiwi participant reflects on the Australasian ‘Anglican Future Conference’, Melbourne, 25-27 March.
Forty New Zealanders made the three hour flight across the Tasman (familiarly, ‘the Ditch’) to join 420 Australian fellow evangelical Anglicans and a handful of Africans for a three day conference on what the Anglican Church faces in the immediate future, particularly in this corner of the globe. Once the gathering had come together it became visually apparent that of those attending 85% were males, 95% Pakeha (white European) and 75% in the 30-60 age range. Every Australian State was represented and had some voice in the programme. It was by no means dominated by the Diocese of Sydney, or by the local weight of Melbourne.
We Kiwis took with us critical concerns that in this current year were threatening to break up our otherwise strongly cohesive Church. However it soon became apparent that our Aussie cousins had come to this Conference with different but equally pressing domestic concerns. And looming in the background, yet only occasionally raising its profile over these three days, was the issue of the nature and health of the Anglican Communion world-wide.
Anchoring this disparate assembly in plenary sessions each day were two outstanding guest contributors. Kanishka Raffel, a Rector from Western Australia, provided an exceptionally clear and helpful chapter by chapter exposition of 2 Peter 1-3. (How relevant to the issues facing the Church overall at this moment did we re-discover this Epistle to be!)
Canon Ashley Null (TEC) drew on his international standing as a scholar specializing in Cranmer and the English Reformation to argue the need for us to recover our identity as a reformation Church distinguished by the primacy it gives to Scripture in shaping its life and its worship.
He brought a freshness of insight and approach to an evangelical understanding of the Bible, Church and salvation. He spoke of ‘the evangelical temptation to focus on the authority of Scripture rather than on ‘the presence of Christ in the text of Scripture’, illustrating this from the Homilies Cranmer provided for the Book of Common Prayer, and the intentional design he gave to the BCP services. Cranmer’s purpose was to steep people in the pews unconsciously in a scriptural understanding of salvation through their regular participation in these new services of worship, as his Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent so well describes. (Our New Zealand Prayer Book captures this same intention in the eucharist response: ‘The word of Christ dwell in us richly’.)
Null also argued that in Reformation terms the essence which holds the Church together, giving it both a distinct identity and energy in mission, is the priority it places on ‘its Scriptures rather than its structures’. (Is it our organisation in dioceses, parishes and synods that makes us ‘Anglican’, or is it our articulation of the gospel – especially in our worship – as God’s love by grace reaching out to us unconditionally, no one excepted, to awaken in us in return a love for God?) He made a strong case that the attractiveness of the Anglican Church lies in its Cranmerian understanding of the gospel as first an appeal to the heart before it becomes a conviction of the mind or a determination of the will. A phrase Ashley Null reiterated daily was: ‘What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies’.