It is a wee bit cheeky to talk about the Diocese of Sydney as a "neighbouring" diocese to the Diocese of Christchurch, but our diocese includes a portion of the West Coast of the South Island, and from there is only a stretch of water between us and the east coast of the Diocese of Sydney!
If the concern of this blog most generally is Anglicanism then the more specific concern is Anglicanism "Down Under" and that region of the planet refers to both New Zealand and Australia.
Within Down Under, for better or for worse, depending on where one sits geographically and/or theologically, the Diocese of Sydney is a "player". It is highly, numerically influential in the Anglican Church of Australia, it has played a significant role in the history and present of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (noting, e.g., three Bishops of Nelson in succession in the 20th century drawn from the ranks of Sydney clergy, and the influential role in the 2018 disaffiliation from ACANZP of a number of congregations), and it is critical to the life of GAFCON.
In this year, 2022, the Diocese of Sydney is asserting its influence as the Australian Anglican church works on its understanding of marriage and blessings of civil marriages. Where the assertion of that influence ends is a matter of concern to many Australian and New Zealand Anglicans, not least becasue Sydney has lent its support to the creation of a new Diocese of the Southern Cross.
Enough from me by way of setting the scene for noting a fascinating exchange of views on Sydney Anglicanism by Martyn Percy (an English visitor to Sydney) and John Sandeman (a local participant in the Diocese of Sydney, and sometimes commenter here at ADU).
Percy has written "Deconstructing Sydney Anglicanism: Past, Present and Futures: A Tetralogy" which can be read here.
Sandeman has responded with two posts on his blog The Other Cheek. First, "Martyn Percy takes on Sydney Anglicanism", then, "More Sydney Anglican Criticism, and a Response". In the first post he makes an acute observation,
"[Percy's] piece is curiously fuzzy at points and sharply accurate at others."
There is also a related exchange in the comments to a Thinking Anglicans post (but they are inter alia among some 90 comments when I originally drafted this post).
There is much to ponder in the paper and in the response (and much to appreciate about the respectful conversation they conduct between themselves).
The following are simply some things which strike me - by no means are they a guided tour of the main points or the deepest insights to be found in the exchange.
1. Percy reports this hitherto unknown dissension in the ranks of Sydney young adults:
"For example, the largest university church in the city (St. Barnabas Broadway) saw the students threaten revolt and secession over the stance of the Diocese on same-sex unions. They compelled the Rector to make their views known, and he (reluctantly?) obliged."
2. A Percy description of reading the Bible is a moment to think about how evangelicals read the Bible around the world, not just in Sydney:
"the attitude to scripture that is a form of pseudo-science. Or, is perhaps better understood as a specific mode of congregational engineering. The Bible is read as a ‘manual’, and applied to the breakdowns, repairs and maintenance in the life of a Christian. Thus, if facing the prospect of a divorce (family or friend), you may hear “turn to chapter X and verse Y of Book Z” as the answer and the means of resolution. The Bible is therefore akin to some car-repair manual."
Relatedly, there is also a challenge to all evangelicals about how we understand the authority of the Bible in its parts as well as in its whole:
"Treating scripture as one equivalent text, in which every single chapter and verse is equally authoritative, is a bizarre approach to the Bible, and not one that it ever asks of its readers. The Bible has no self-conscious identity – the title of this scared book being applied long, long after its (disputed) component parts were assembled and broadly agreed. (Though please note, ‘broadly’, not definitively). Treating each verse of scripture as comparatively, equally and absolutely authoritative is a strange approach to take to texts that are variegated in origin, genre and intention."
3. Percy almost makes a point but doesn't quite - let me attempt to explain. He notes in several places sentiments such as,
"To understand Sydney Anglicanism, one needs to appreciate its similarities to the Exclusive Brethren."
Alternatively, he speaks along these lines,
"Sydney Anglicanism is sectarian, for sure. But the roots of this stem from antagonisms locked into early Irish Brethren secession, and a complex spaghetti of class-related issues."
That not quite made point is this: whatever the roots of Sydney Anglicanism as we experience it today (Irish Protestantism, history of marriages between Anglicans and Brethren, etc, as outlined by him), there are exclusionary if not sectarian ways in which Sydney Anglicanism acts.
We see such acts in the support it gives to GAFCON (i.e. to member provinces of GAFCON which have more or less formally seceded from provinces of the Anglican Communion or directly from the Anglican Communion), and now, in 2022, to the formation of a new Diocese of the Southern Cross.
We also see such acts in the unwillingness to accept a female presbyter or bishop from outside the Diocese of Sydney as having the status of presbyter or bishop inside the Diocese.
Conversely, the Diocese of Sydney struggles to understand that the church could be broad (a both/and church) rather than narrow (an either/or church): cue the previous Archbishop of Sydney's urging those who wished to see change re marriage to leave the Anglican Church of Australia. Asking people to leave the church over disagreement is something the Exclusive Brethren do! A sect cannot cope with multiple views on a matter deemed critical to the identity of the sect.
The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is about to tour Australia. He will visit at least one ministry in Sydney city. Will there be a formal meeting between the Archbishop of Sydney and the Archbishop of Canterbury? [UPDATE: 9 October. I see some Tweets which say there are at least two or three events for the ABC in Sydney, and a dinner with the Archbishop of Sydney.]
In some ways the exchange between Percy and Sandeman is a discussion of how things are within Sydney and raises the question whether all critiques of the actual reality of Sydney Anglican church life made by Percy are valid.
My elucidation of Percy's not quite made point offers consideration of how things are when Sydney faces outside of itself: to the wider Australian Anglican church and to the Anglican Communion as a whole.
We can genuinely wish Sydney Anglicanism well as it engages in ministry and mission with the people of Sydney. Sandeman helpfully sets out challenging realities of being a gospel church in a growing, diversifying city.
We can also reasonably worry about Sydney Anglicanism's engagement with Anglicans outside of itself. if such engagement is driven by exclusionary, sectarian characteristics then is it an "Anglican" engagement with Anglicans?
If Sydney is an exclusionary sect, and it continues to seek for the Australian Anglican church to be remade in the image of Sydney, it is not possible to see this having a happy, peaceful, unitary ending.