Over the past fifteen years I’ve received unsolicited mail from two religious organisations: the Sydney Anglican Diocese and the Scientologists. In both cases this intrigues me, since during this time we’ve moved home quite often, and while there’s usually been a lag of about six months, eventually their databases have always - with no assistance from me – tracked us down.
The bottom line from both groups is always the same: they want money. Sure they’d like my participation/involvement/heart & soul/etc., but the closing paragraphs invariably include space for a credit card number and signature. Yet there’s also always something very different between their solicitations: one of the two never fails to begin by expressing concern for my well-being, both physical and spiritual, and warmly invites me to join them in their faith. The other only wants to make me aware of how crucial xyz project is, and how important it is I contribute financially. Despite having never made the slightest attempt to conceal my distain for their soul-destroying dogma, one group continues to profess – in their paraphernalia, at least – to offer a hand of friendship and welcome. The other appears to not care less about my personal circumstances: it’s their needs which are important, not anyone mine or my family's. And, for anyone who hasn’t already guessed, it’s the latter group of which Archbishop Jensen is the leader.
Given which I’ve found his Easter meassage bemusing. He’s quite right, Sydney, like any large city (and a great many smaller ones) can be an extremely lonely place. It is the role of the church to reach out to those who are lost and lonely, bringing them comfort and the love of God, and it’s wonderful Archbishop Jensen is professing a desire to reach those whom have been overlooked and forgotten by a world which measures popularity in terms of physical beauty and economic wealth.
It would be more wonderful, however, if the Archbishop was prepared to follow up his words with some sort of meaningful action, rather than just another distribution of Matthias Media’s “Essential Jesus”. The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the pressure being put upon “keep statistics favourable”, but the reality is that almost a decade of this pressure has produced nothing. Steady growth has occurred in those few parishes which could still be considered traditionally Anglican, but naturally no mention is ever made in diocesan propaganda of such an inconvenient truth. A cadre of politically and doctrinally acceptable parishes such as Christ Church St. Ives (which is located in one of Sydney’s most affluent suburbs, and at last count had a staff of 20) continue to be presented as Sydney Evangelical success stories, while parishes in less economically prestigious areas such as Sydney’s south west – a region encompassing over one million people – struggle with little support, no youth workers or outreach staff, and a succession of temporary clerical appointments. Archbishop Jensen may indeed care about the unemployed kids hanging around the main street of Lakemba, but none that I’ve ever spoken to know it. And I’ll guarantee he’s more familiar with London’s Heathrow Airport than he is with their world.
Nor will he be spending any time reaching out to them or anyone else in Sydney during the week following Easter – he’s off to Bermuda instead, where he’ll be planning to bring the same sort of “success” to churches in the rest of the world. With that sort of a role model it’s no wonder his faithful clergy aspire to do something more exciting with their time than minister to the lonely, the lost, the prickly and the unbelieving. Safer to just send them a letter asking for money, and leave the pastoral stuff to the Scientologists, eh guys?