Last week I had the privilege of being called by a Priest wrongfully dismissed from the Sydney Anglican diocese about fifteen years ago. I won’t tell his story here; not just because it’s not mine to tell, but because my prayer is that he’ll soon find the strength to publish it himself. Suffice it to say it occurred as a result of a number of blatantly unbelievable (and completely unsubstantiated) allegations of a non-criminal nature. Were he to have been working in a secular field it would have – even then – been illegal for an employer to fire him on the basis of such ludicrous accusations, and he would be entitled to significant compensation.
He’d spent more than a decade fighting for justice, and was finally told he could have the matter referred to the appropriate tribunal for review. “But”, Archbishop Jensen told him, “irrespective of the tribunal’s findings his license would not be renewed.” His many years of faithful service, both in Sydney and as a missionary abroad, counted for nothing: the arrogant vision of our diocese's present has no place for the wisdom of its past.
Through the struggle his marriage has remained intact, as has – even more surprisingly – his faith. Granted, there was an obvious cynicism in his voice when our conversation drifted to the machinations of power-brokers like the Anglican Church League, but even this was overshadowed by his hope for a future in which the bright young stars of the church’s firmament are encouraged to seek out lost sheep with the same fervor as they do clerical advancement and a seat on the more prestigious committees. “It’s the waste that God must find so appalling”, he said, “the waste of all this talent, learning, and understanding. While the Catholic process is to seek restoration between those dismissed and their church, we just discard them in a rush to find the next aspiring Philip Jensen.”
The vision we discussed was of a fellowship to support those who – for whatever reason – are on the journey through which he have passed. As we spoke we recalled those we once knew personally that have also since been flung upon Sydney Anglicanism’s dung-heap - not just the divorced, the gay, and the mentally ill, but all of us, including the internationally recognized theologian made to resign from Moore College for “heresy” (if he’s a heretic Luther was a Mormon) and the brilliant historian considered crazy for leaving academia to develop - among other ministries - a vibrant parish community among Sydney’s transvestite and transsexual sex workers – a ministry shut down as soon as he was forced to retire. The simple act of once more saying their names felt empowering: it doesn’t matter what a person accomplished before their fall from grace: once you’ve gone nobody can ever mention you again. Books and papers are dropped from reading lists, and life-long friendships never existed. Phone calls are never returned. Chance meetings in the street become awkward: don’t ever expect the hastily made promise to “catch up for a coffee” will be kept. Perhaps exclusion is part of the punishment, or – more likely – they’re worried whatever you’ve got is catching.
Which is why this idea of a support group is so exciting: the pathetic failure of the Connect 09 evangelism campaign to make any impact whatsoever upon society is proof enough that young men who think they know everything, but whom have survived nothing, cannot be the sole guardians of our church’s future. Certainly it’ll take a while for our vision to become reality, but I promise to post more about it here along the way. In the meantime anyone interested in finding out more is welcome to email me - I think you’ll find what emerges will be a pretty varied bunch of characters, both theologically and socially, as well as in terms of our experiences, but one thing I know will be constant: Christ didn’t give up on us, and we won’t give up on you.